Saturday, May 13, 2006

FIN 'N CATTY (1943)

Ah, the poor goldfish in the bowl. So immune to attack from above, and due to the spacial constrictions of its abode, left with very little room to manuever or plot one's escape. What is a little fish to do?

Well, if you are the fish in Fin 'n Catty, a fun two-character exercise from Chuck Jones in 1943, you exploit the weakness of your adversary to the Nth degree, and don't let up until that weakness totally overrides him. In case it is a cat that makes your existence unbearable, a little lightly applied water torture, pure hell to a fastidious and fussy kitty, will do the trick. Just don't go too far with that torture, for the tables of fortune turn very fast, and you could wind up losing something almost as important as your life. You could lose your precious, if limited in range of defendability, home.

"As everyone knows," an unnecessary narrator intones at the beginning of the short, "goldfish must have water in order to exist." Emerging from an open door in the side of a heap of coral, a derby-wearing goldfish sets out to wash the glass on his bowl. On one side of his doorway is a mailbox bearing his name, "G. Fish", abbreviated for cuteness, I suppose; on the other side is, for complete silliness, a water faucet next to a green bucket, and above them both, a tall squeegee lies against the side of his house. The fish picks up the bucket and squeegee, and makes for the glass nearby, through which we can see the murky linings of a cat's face, but of which the fish is seemingly unaware. The fish starts to clear the glass as the narrator continues: "But, goldfish hate cats!" The fish sees the feline's visage through the section of glass that he has cleaned thus far, and immediately bolts back to his home. He slams the door behind him, but his shade is left bringing up the rear, and the ghostly image reopens the door, and slams it behind itself, too.

The cat is left poking his finger daintily into the water at the bowl's brim. "On the other hand," the narrator starts again, "cats hate water--!" The merest trace of H20 on the cat's razor-sharp claw leaves him high-tailing it for the kitchen, where he grabs a paper towel and obsessively pats his talon dry. As the cat returns to the bowl for another try, the narrator finishes his dissertation on fish-feline relations: "-- but must have goldfish in order to exist." However wrong this may be in the big picture, it is appropriate to the plot of the picture, and thus, is easy enough to accept as motivation. "So--", the narrator leads into the remainder of the film, and the cat slips on a red rubber glove and dips his arm into the bowl.

The glove takes on a life of its own, as the cat's fingers seem to mimic the arms and legs of a human, even carrying a small satchel reading "Filet Brush Man - Sale Agent" via its thumb. Two fingers stride towards the door, and the thumb sets down the satchel and knocks on the door. (A nice bit is the pocket that the thumb rests itself in as it waits for the answer.) The fish opens the door up, but swiftly makes to shut the door again as he instantly realizes he is being duped. One finger steps into the door to hold it ajar, and the cat is shown feeling about, his eyes veering to the ceiling as he reaches about in the water blindly. Suddenly, he pulls his hand out the water, and a tiny pair of teeth are seen dangling from the tip of his now pain-filled finger. The fish pops up at the rim and grabs his teeth back, turning his back on the cat so as to fit his chompers back in his mouth. He dives back into the water, leaving a very frustrated cat behind.

But, he also leaves a cat with a new plan behind, as well. The cat dangles a worm on a hook on the outside of the glass, and the fish reacts the way that I react to pictures of Kristen Bell: dreamy-eyed, slack-jawed though smiling, and compelled to float towards them in a hypnotic trance. As the cat moves the worm upward to a point just outside and above the bowl, the fish follows in kind, but as the cat seems sure of his success, the fish pulls a water pistol out, squirts the cat in the eyes, and grabs the worm. The cat flees again to the kitchen to once more pat himself dry. He returns to the bowl to think about his next attempt, and comes up with a doozy: he retrieves a garden hose, and siphons the water from the bowl into another bowl set below it. When he looks at the first bowl triumphantly, he does a double take when he discovers that not only is the water gone, but so is the coral castle, the plants, the sand... and the fish. He looks at the second bowl, and there they all are! The cat jumps into action, and tries to siphon the water back the other way. He sucks on the hose, and sucks, and sucks... but nothing happens, and he starts to get light-headed. The reason? The fish is plugging the other end of the hose with his fin. G. Fish then blows into the hose, and the cat is doused in a blast of water, prompting him to run a third time to the kitchen for a dry-off.

Returning, the cat blows heavingly into the hose, and the fish blows up to the shape of the inside of the bowl, puffed up and huge. But, the air backfires on the cat, and it goes flying back through the hose, where the cat, unrestricted by the constraints of a goldfish bowl, not only blows up huge and fat, but he floats up into the air. He releases his mouth's grip on the hose, and the poor pussy goes flying crazily throughout the room. He lands face up by the bowl, and the fish is only too eager to revive him -- with a bucketful of water in the face! At first, the cat is grateful for the fish's aid, and he holds out his hand for a shake, but the fish holds out his fin, and the cat realizes that his own paw is full of water. He bolts once more towards the kitchen, but the fish is one step ahead of him. The finned wonder slaps a sheet of flypaper on the towel roller, and the cat cannot get the parchment off his face! He first shapes it baglike about his entire head; then it comes out like a turban; and a third attack leaves his head and face finally uncovered, but the rest of his body completely encased in the flypaper! The fourth attempt, stretching and pulling desperately, leaves him in the shape of a suitcase, with a section of his tail for a handle!

The fish is so pleased with his handiwork, that he marches back to his bowl blindly, and leaps onto a holepuncher handle, using it as a springboard, but as he tries to land in the water of his bowl, he finds his progress blocked by a china plate set across the top of the bowl, and he is knocked out. The cat is more than ready for this event, for he is already bedecked with a napkin tied about his neck, and gripping a knife and fork for each dismemberment of the fish. The tiny goldfish comes to, smiles sheepishly, and then zips away. He runs across the room, up the wall, onto the ceiling, down the wall opposite, and back towards his bowl. But, as he climbs up the side of the bowl, he finds the plate again blocks his path -- and the cat is resting atop the plate, hungrily taunting the fish, who pushes and pushes the plate with all his might. The fish stops and smiles slowly at the cat, who smiles slowly and even larger, showing every single fanged tooth, back. The fish bolts across the room again, and time seems to slip by him as he keeps running and running and running and running. He is gradually losing energy, and even his will to live, but ahead of him lies salvation in the form of a leaky faucet. The fish runs under the dripping water, but the drops disappear as soon as he reaches the drain. Above him, the cat is blocking the water with his finger.

A desert scene is shown as the fish crawls thirstily across the counter. It turns out to be a scene from an Ace Insurance calendar, but there is still a good reason for his heatstroke: the cunning cat is shining a sunlamp down on him. The fish spies a pool of water with a highdive and chairs and tables like those at a resort. He crawls to the ladder of the diving board and crawls up, but when he bounces on the board, the reality of his surroundings are shown for what they really are: the board is nothing more than the cat's paw in the midst of the fish's mirage, and likewise, the pool is really the cat's open jaws. The fish falls straight down the cat's gullet and his body is seen warping the shape of the cat's tail. The fish realizes what has really happened, and shoots rapidly out of the cat altogether.

The fish runs for the bathroom and slams the door on the shower shut behind him. He hops up and turns on the cold water, filling the entire shower with water. The cat is oblivious to this fact, and he opens the door and then slams it shut behind him, totally unaware that he is completely surrounded by his hated water. The cat locks the door behind, and then playfully swallows the key, never picking up on the fact that the fish is floating in mid-air before him. He backs the fish up, smiling smarmily the entire way, and he beckons the fish towards him with a waggle of his finger, which produces a myriad of bubbles that rise to the surface. At last, following the path of the bubbles, the cat slowly realizes where he is at, and he turns to the camera and mouths the words "Under Water?" which appear as bubbled constructions in the water before him. He panics and charges for the glass door, pulling on it to no avail, pounding relentlessly on his prison door. He starts punching himself in the torso, and then claws helplessly at the glass.

All of this frantic motion, however, has left him floating about through the water, and suddenly, he realizes that not only can he swim, but that he rather enjoys it. After doing a variety of tricks for the camera, the narrator returns to close the tale. "As we were saying, cats hate -- ahem -- cats love water!" The goldfish bowl is shown once more, with the feline taking a happy, bubble-snoozing catnap, crammed full into its parameters. He continues, "And goldfish hate cats!" A small glass of water is shown, with the castle and belongings of the goldfish sitting all about it on the tabletop, and with the fish leaning irritatedly against the inside of the cramped glass, tilting his hat in a very perturbed fashion, and occasionally skewering an eye toward the camera. Iris out.

Some of Jones' cartoons almost seem like sketchbooks to me; he is a master of the static reaction shot, and there are so many wonderful closeups of the faces of the cat and the fish, and he tells so much story while barely having his characters do anything. A slow grin; an arched eyebrow; a curled lip; a sideways glance. His beats and his silences work wonders with even the slightest materials, especially when he hit his stride with the Coyote. I'm not one of those who can pick out which animator did which scene; I know Ben Washam is credited as the animator in this one, and there might be others with their hands in here, but if Washam did the wonderful scene with the cat's gloved hand, then Bravissimo! to him.

We had a goldfish bowl for a brief period when we, my two brothers and I, were young. A brief period, mind you. We had a single goldfish in it, and I'm not sure how long we actually had it or what we named it (my mother probably remembers the name), but I do remember this: it was done in by death from above. As I said at the start, goldfish have this problem, and it is entirely by virtue of the domain in which we insist on placing them. Only, the "death from above" in this case was not the playful paw of a curious cat. The "death from above" was the cascade from a cup of milk that my baby brother poured benevolently into the bowl, believing that the goldfish was "thirsty".

I don't recall if we ever replaced the goldfish, but I do remember that it wasn't long before we moved onto gerbils. And if you think being a goldfish left you with plenty about which to worry, just imagine if you were two tiny rodents in a house full of crazy cats. And then, imagine that, once in a while, the three crazy young human children would take you out of the comfort of your cardboard-lined cage to let you roam about in a house full of crazy cats.

It's almost enough to make you miss being a goldfish, when that relatively disarming wall of water kept you at paw's length from lining the walls of someone's intestinal track. "Death from above" certainly allows you better odds at survival than "death from all sides".

You didn't know how good you had it in that bowl...

Fin 'n Catty (Warner Bros., 1943) Director: Charles M. "Chuck" Jones
Writer: Michael Maltese
Animator: Ben Washam
Cel Bloc Rating: 7

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