Wednesday, April 26, 2006

HAWAIIAN BIRDS (1936)

"Birds are boring. It's like, 'Hell-lo! I'm a bird! I'm yelll-low!'" - Respectfully Anon.

Unlike the person above, who shall remain nameless for reasons that only a handful of people need to know (but I will tell you who it is in person should our paths ever cross and only if you ask me -- but, prepare to be disappointed, for you'll not know the person), I do not find birds boring. Truth be told, given their bursts of energy and variety of colors, birds are probably one of the more exciting classes of animals, when you take all factors into consideration.

But, I am in a like mind regarding the creatures when a film like Hawaiian Birds is viewed. Neither bad in conception nor in animation, the fault with the film lies yet again with Max Fleischer's story department, where a halfway decent set-up leads to much ado about nothing, only a failed suicide attempt -- yes! I said suicide attempt! And the film itself paints its story in a predictable manner that come across as both a tad too weepy and, well, for lack of a better term... boring.

It starts out beautifully, with gorgeous three-dimensional sets showing the volcanic landscape of a Hawaiian island matched against beautiful foreground plants and trees. A pair of romantically inclined birds flit above this landscape, pitching woo to each other and preparing to build a nest, while a warm Hawaiian-style ballad lulls the viewer into believing they are in paradise, a concept to which the song's lyrics attest. (It is interesting to note that while the birds have many human characteristics, not only employing props throughout the film in human fashion, but also having restaurants and, in this opening sequence, build a house with features like a human's home, the building of the home itself is done by the male bird entirely using his beak, adding a nice natural touch to the love sequence.)



Then the city birds show up. A troupe called the Big City Orioles, that is, and they are traveling entertainers, and once they land on a nearby branch and kick up a jazzy storm, dancing and tweeting, the lady bird is lost. She finds herself attracted to the leader of the troupe, tall and handsome with his bright chest thrust out boldly, spinning a baton while he leads his boys in their antics, and she slowly makes her way to their branch. With her cute face and grass hula skirt, the leader is enthralled by her ecstatic dancing to their music. He asks her to join his company, and she decides to run away to the big city. She scratches out a note on a leaf for her former intended, and flies off to seek her dreams in the wings of another bird. After putting the finishing touches on the house, the male bird discovers his mate is missing, and searches frantically for her, eventually making his way to the other branch and finding her note. It reads "Gone North - Goodbye," and he wastes no time in deciding to follow her across the ocean.



He instantly does not find the big city to his liking. It is snowing and freezing cold, and once he lands, exhausted from his journey, his Hawaii-bred body shivers intensely due to the lack of heat. He spies what he believes to be the outline of a bird frozen in the snow, but when he uncovers it, the object turns out to be a hood ornament in the shape of a bird. For his lost love, things in the big city aren't so swell, either. At the Oriole Nite Club, located inside a lamp, we see her new paramour literally kicking her out of his life and the troupe for an unseen and wholly unknown reason. We only know that he has no pity for her, and though snow is piled thickly on the ground, he doesn't hesitate to throw her out in it. She weeps and begs over and over for his mercy, but he smacks and roughly pushes back out into the cold again and again.

Giving up at last, she weeps and walks to the edge of the building, and after looking a picture of her former Hawaiian love, she kisses it, and then decides to end it all. She pulls a strand of grass from her hula skirt and ties it around her wings so she can't fly off at the last second. She peers over the edge and just can't do it. She tries again and still can't bring herself to end her life. On the third try, she manages to leap and she falls screaming headfirst to the ground below. Lucky for her, the male bird is bent over a discarded and smoldering cigarette trying to gather what heat he can from it as if it were a campfire. She lands squarely on his back, and survives her fall. When they realize that they have found each other, they are overjoyed. The film closes with the pair back in their native land, flying through the air, picking up leis from flowers, and finally, landing in their home and kissing sweetly, just before pulling the shade down on the window, and continuing their lovemaking.

There are a handful of cartoons that employ suicide as a device, but it is usually for comic effect, such as having a character blowing their brains out or exploding themselves by drinking nitroglycerine, only to end the cartoon on a ghost gag. (This happens several times in Warner Bros. cartoons.) But, rarer is the film that deals with suicide in a frank and serious fashion. Anytime that suicide is used, it is meant to be shocking, and it is; but here, because of the melodramatic approach to the story, you really get a feel for the silliness and desperation of the act. Despite this success, I feel cheated by the conclusion of the film. Perhaps on purpose, perhaps to downplay the role of the pimp that the lead oriole just may well be, we are not shown the circumstances surrounding her dismissal from the Big City Orioles. So, though she tries to murder herself due to the situation, there is no attempt at revenge on the part of the male Hawaiian bird. They merely turn tail and zip back to their home, and the story comes off as being unresolved. And the film is low-key enough, despite the melodramatics, that there is no real drive to the actions.

Overall, well made, but kind of a drag. Just a bit... boring.

And the birds aren't even yellow...

Hawaiian Birds (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1936) Director: Dave Fleischer
Animators: Myron Waldman & Sam Stimson
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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