Saturday, April 01, 2006

DOPEY DICK, THE PINK WHALE (1957)

That's right. You read it correctly. You can blink, shake your head, look around the room, read it again, refresh the page, restart your computer, and read it again. It is still going to say Dopey Dick, the Pink Whale at the top of this post. It is a real title, not a joke (especially not a dirty one, as far as I know), and it is from an actual Walter Lantz cartoon starring Woody Woodpecker (also not a dirty joke of a name, as far as I know).

Why is the whale pink? You've got me. No explanation is given. He's just pink. Why is he swimming around in the ocean biting Captain Dooley in the ass over and over again? No explanation is given. Dooley is the Ahab figure in this one, Woody is standing in for Ishmael, and the ship is called the Peapod in mocking tribute to the Pequod. Beyond all of this surface coating, there is nothing else to tie it to Melville's tale. It is about as tied to the original Moby Dick as was Hanna-Barbera's superheroic cetecean cartoon in the 60's of the same name, where Moby smiles a lot as he hangs out with two kids and a sidekick sea lion while fighting off underwater villains and despoilers of the environment. (I, naturally, really loved this show as a kid.)

Dooley is docked at a wharf and is trying to compel his men to take to the sea. When asked why, he points to the seat of his pants, where a large section of fabric has been torn away exposing some polka-dotted underwear. "To hunt down the critter who did that to me!", he yells, but the men want to know what they are hunting. When he mentions Dopey Dick the Pink Whale, the sailors flee the dock in terror. Not only that, but all of the rats on Dooley's ship hear the name and flee the ship, as well. Dooley swears he will sail if he can only find one swab with whom to sail, and he finds him: Woody Woodpecker, blissfully playing a squeezebox as he wanders the dock. Dooley scoops him up with a net and forces him at gunpoint to join his crew. Woody is fine with this; much like Bugs Bunny, he knows that he can handle any situation and come out on top. He asks why they are going to see, and Dooley is straight with him. Woody's reaction is to tell Dooley, "You;ve been hittin' the grog again, captain!" Dooley ignores him and fires a series of orders Woody's way, including a call to "Lower the Boom!" Woody does... and Dooley is smashed straight through the hull of the ship, where he sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The large bump on his head forces his hat up about six inches, and a quartet of tiny seahorses begin swimming in circles around it, as the calliope music from a merry-go-round plays about the dizzy Captain's noggin.

A map is then shown which portrays the ship's progress over the many months that Dooley and Woody chase Dopey Dick throughout the world. Finally, Woody spies the whale from the crow's nest, and Dooley grows a yellow stripe straight down his back, and then turns into a large chicken. He runs for cover, so Woody takes it upon himself to meet the whale. When the whale charges the ship, he bumps his head, and then complains about having to keep up this relentless chase scenario. He also asks Woody for an aspirin for his headache, and then the two of them hatch a plan to fool the Captain once and for all. Dopey Dick leaves, and the Captain comes out of hiding. "Has he gone?", he asks of Woody, but when the Captain looks over the edge of the ship, there is a large chomp, and the Captain realizes there is a new hole in his pants. "He did it again!", he sulks. (This scene actually makes little sense and there is no attempt made to show the whale even plotting such an attack, let alone pulling it off from the middle of the ship. The scene just dies.)

Dooley orders Woody to fire the harpoon, and Woody does... three times... right into Dooley's rear! When Woody lowers the boom again, Dooley tries to avoid it by grabbing the rope -- sending him flying straight up into crow's nest! Woody pecks the mast in triumph, but Dooley slides a metal support over it so that Woody bends his beak. Tying the pest up, Dooley makes ready to lash Woody 50 times with a cat o' nine tails, but when he swings it repeatedly, it starts a helicopter effect and spins Dooley up out the ship and into the ocean. Climbing aboard again, he chases Woody to the powder room (gunpowder, that is), but Woody slips out at the last second and secures the door. "It's dark in here", Dooley complains, so Woody lights a match and offers it to the Captain through the door. Dooley opens up, thanks him, and takes the match. After the huge explosion, a charred Dooley comes out and does their signature "I Hate You!" "I Like You!" bit with Woody, and then Woody makes for the highest point on the ship. Dooley climbs the rigging after him, but Woody cuts it and Dooley falls into the water a third time. Again, we hear a loud CHOMP!, and Dooley repeats the "He did it again!" line.

Dooley orders Woody to take to the sea in a rowboat to keep his eye out for Dopey. Woody calls for the whale, and Dopey lifts Woody up into the air, and then sprays him further up with the spout from his blowhole. They decide to get this over with once and for all. Dopey charges the Peapod, and Dooley becomes frantic trying to prepare the ship for the attack. He yells orders, but he is the only one there to respond to them -- and he's trying to escape! He yells to abandon the ship, but then a series of misfortunes prevent his escape: he lowers the boom on himself, tries to jump from the ship but gets bounced back up onto the tip of a harpoon, and falls through the deck and into a pot of stew. Dopey Dick keeps charging closer and closer through all of this and then, finally, rams the ship into smithereens! Dooley hangs on desperately to a mast that is bobbing in the sea, but then yells in pain and jumps out the water. "He did it again", he yells for the third time, and then Woody's familiar laugh is heard -- as he waterskis off behind the wake of Dopey Dick, the Pink Whale!

This film has so much of the feel of later Hanna-Barbera television cartoons, though the animation is better and slightly more complex. The early scenes with the frightened sailors are the best, and one wishes that he had taken to sea with a few of them for a little more variety in the shipboard scenes. Woody is Woody, and has a couple of good moments, but the whale scenes are weak, and his weariness doesn't wear well with the fury that he shows in the later ramming scene. Dopey Dick may actually be having fun at the captain's expense, but since we never see any of the butt-chomping shots, we never know what the whale is feeling when he does so. We just know that he has attacked Dooley -- again.

As for Moby Dick, he hasn't been the same to me since Gilbert Gottfried ripped the story apart with his LaGuardia Airport-Rice Krispie analogy. Biting off a captain's leg in a Biblical allegory is all fine and well, but once the story hits the middle of the 20th century, the whale is still named Dick, but he is now pink and has an anal fixation instead. You can't tell me, even in the '50's, that people didn't snicker when they saw this title on the movie screen.

They had to... it's one of the few genuine laughs in the film...

Dopey Dick, the Pink Whale (A Walter Lantz Cartune, 1957) Dir: Paul J. Smith
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

No comments: