Monday, May 29, 2006

I'M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES (1930)

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (A Max Fleischer Screen Song, 1930) 
Director: Dave Fleischer
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

No, despite the old joke, this is not a song about Michael Jackson involved in illegal congress with his famous chimpanzee, though it's not hard to imagine such an activity. (Try scrubbing that image out of your head before you go to sleep tonight.) Rather, this is an old standard that the Fleischer brothers chose to bring to life in one of their famous Screen Songs, where the audience was instructed to sing along with a popular song while a bouncing ball hopped emphatically from syllable to syllable. But before the song would show up, three or four minutes of animated nonsense would ensue, sometimes only having a light relationship to the lyrics of the song, sometimes not. Released in 1930 (though the title card bears a 1929 date), I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles at least has bubbles galore, as the animals that make up the orchestra, which is supposedly playing the music in the cartoon, clean up before their performance.

As the program starts, a series of mice are lined up at a well, each one holding a pail to retrieve the water that is being pumped by the wagging tail of a puppy, which is tied to the pump handle. Each mouse carries his bucket behind a Chinese screen sitting in front of a large waterhole. The first mouse covers his eyes against whatever is occurring behind the screen; the second mouse sneaks a peek through his open fingers; and the third mouse cheekily tosses the contents of his bucket at the screen, knocking it down and revealing the rather detailed backside of a bathing elephant. When the pachyderm turns about to scrub under his armpit, it sees the audience, murmurs in surprise, and covers itself up quickly with a towel.

While a pig and a kitten sit in a basket, a mouse scrubs what appears to be some sort of cloth against a washboard. Then the rodent wrings out the object, and when it is satisfied, the mouse drops the cloth to the ground, and it turns into a freshly scrubbed and yowling kitten. The mouse grabs the next kitten to repeat the process. Finally, it sets the pig in the washtub and starts scrubbing away. A well-dressed dog in top hat and tails comes coughing into view, and he is carrying what is either medicine or liquor (the bottle does not bear the tell-tale inscriptions of either "XXX" or "RX"). He tries to unplug the bottle, but has his rear end poked by the curly-cue tail of the piglet, which only serves to introduce the thirsty canine to a great way to uncork the bottle. The action completed, the dog joyously splashes the liquid all over himself and through the air, finally pulling out an umbrella as he leaves the screen.

A mouse cleaning a giraffe can't quite reach up on the creature's neck, so he pulls his own tail upward to give himself more height. The trick only works momentarily, and after the giraffe mocks him for his attempt, the mouse looks about and comes up with a better plan. He slides the giraffe to where a hippopotamus is asleep on its back. The mouse climbs on its enormous stomach, and when the hippo snores, the mouse rises up and down accordingly, which gives it the chance to fully wash down the giraffe. He even scrubs inside the ears, which riles the giraffe and makes it growl at the mouse. Meanwhile, the puppy at the well has fallen asleep, causing the pumping of the well to cease. Another mouse holds up an alarm clock and triggers it. The noise wakes the puppy up, but the job is not finished. The mouse pulls a pair of dice from his pocket and forms them into a nice bone for the puppy to chew upon. The canine wags it tail in time with its happy chomping, and the cleaning continues.

We soon see mice helping to bathe every animal in the orchestra, and then a bunny rabbit in front of a circus tent pulls out a horn and blows Reveille. The animals stampede the tent and mash the bunny to the ground. The bunny gets up and shakes his bugle, and all of his teeth fall out of the horn, which form into a set of false teeth. The rabbit places them back into his mouth, but they squeak in a noticeable and annoying fashion, so he oils them prodigiously before moving into the tent. Also the conductor for the orchestra, he signals the band to warm up before addressing the audience directly. He speaks in a halting and exaggeratedly slow fashion, enunciating each syllable very clearly before moving to the next. "Well, folks," he begins, "we're all cleaned up for that old pop-u-lar song, I'm For-ev-er Blow-ing Bub-bles. The orch-e-stra will play the mu-sic, you sing the words, and I'll beat the time like this..."

The rabbit pulls a baton out of his pocket and taps it on the bottom edge of the screen, which fades from the animated scene to reveal the almost three-dimensional image of a series of bubbles riding forever upward along a darkened backdrop. A white ball starts to bounce in the left-center of the screen, and Billy Murray, the famous bandleader, implores the audience further in a voiceover: "You just heard what bunny boy said. Now sing along, folks! The trick is in following the bouncing ball. It's very simple. Let's see how well you can do it. Everybody ready? Let's go!" The lyrics for the song start to scroll up line by line up the now totally black screen, and the ball hops to each syllable, and the longer a note is held, the longer the ball bounces on that syllable. The lyrics:

"I'm dream-ing dreams;
I'm schem-ing schemes;
I'm build-ing cas-tles high.
They're born a-new;
Their days are few,
Just like a sweet but-ter-fly.
And as the day-light is dawn-ing,
They come a-gain in the morn-ing.

I'm for-ev-er blow-ing bub-bles,
Pret-ty bub-bles in the air.
They fly so high,
Near-ly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams
They fade and die.
For-tune's al-ways hid-ing,
I've looked ev-'ry-where.
I'm for-ev-er blow-ing bub-bles,
Pret-ty bub-bles in the air."

Through the song, tiny cartoon images have appeared underneath the word, somewhat envisioning what is being said in the lyrics. Near the song's end, however, when the chorus is presented for a second and final go-around, the background goes to white, the bouncing ball disappears, and the bunny starts playing with the words in the lines. He hops from word to word in the first line, and each word turns into a bubble pipe that blows a bubble that the bunny climbs like stairs to the next line. Sitting below the words, he blows bubbles from a pipe that carry off each syllable as they are sung; he grabs the word "air" and it stretches out into a dachshund, and when he releases the dog, it turns back into a bubble and floats away. 

"They fly so high" turns into a pond scene with a quacking duck, lily pads, rocks and cat-tails; in "Nearly reach the sky", the bunny, trapped inside a bubble, fights to escape and his exertions cause stars and then the moon to appear. When he falls out of the bubble, he grabs the moon, and his weight stretches the moon and causes it to blurt out like a trumpet. "Then like my dreams" gives the bunny a ride in an automobile, and "they fade and die" causes the machine to collapse in pieces, and the bunny places flowers on the steering wheel and then says a quick prayer. 

"Fortune's always hiding" reveals a trio of taunting, dancing money bags, which the bunny covets enough to sing the next line himself, but the syllable "-where" gets sung as "wh-ahhh!!" as a large moneybag sprouts out beneath his feet. It doesn't work out, though, as the bunny's tug on the string reveals a mocking jester's head on a spring. The bunny sings the last two lines himself, as well, and on the final words, each bounce reveals one of the orchestra animals, who blow bubbles from their instruments and are carried off the screen. The last animal is a little mouse, whose saxophone bubble pops and he starts to fall, only to be saved at the last second by a tiny parachute. Iris out.

The animation? Rudimentary, rough and primitive, and like many studios, possibly more than eager to prop up the picture with a gang of Mickey-like mice. On the other hand, everything is cute and pleasant, the animal designs are very appealing, and there is a quick and mild touch of raunchiness (being able to almost see up the elephant's backside was certainly a surprise), though if any films were ever designed to appeal to the entire audience at once, it was these films. Fleischer has developed the bouncing-ball picture back in 1924, and by this time, had the formula down pat, though the films by this point were including the music as part of their soundtrack.

In a different time, in a far more innocent-seeming era (though it really wasn't), with a less-jaded audience, these films must have been tremendous fun and offered an exciting breaking of that magical fourth wall. I, myself, do not like to sing along with anything where other people are concerned, and to say that I am a little shit during karaoke is a severe understatement. Rather, if the idiotic activity starts, I am out the door in a flash. Which is kind of weird owing that I come from a background where everyone I know can't stop singing, but then, when you think about it, this might be the very reason I dislike it so. But, I think given the right circumstances, I would be eager to help bring a night of these fun films back to life, with my own off-key warbling mixed in with the rest of the crowd, if only for a few hours.

[Oy! The things I will do to get people involved in appreciating older animation...]

"IIIII'mmmm for-evahhh blooowwwwing bub-bllllessss..."

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