Wednesday, May 10, 2006

WONDERLAND (1931)

My brother and father are visiting my grandmothers in Wisconsin this very week, and I should be there with them. I had to beg out due mainly to a conflict with duties at work (and with money being a little tight at this moment); I probably could have gone for a day or two, but I certainly could not have stayed for the entire week as they are planning. I miss my grandmothers immensely, and would like to see them again, for it has been too long. My Granny, my mom's mom, recently broke a hip, and she is 96 years old now, and I have so much I would like to talk to her about and ask her. And my Grandma, my dad's mom, is just the dearest woman in the world.

This rush of longing popped into my head as I started in to watching Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Wonderland, a 1931 short from Walter Lantz, not long after Universal took over control of Oswald from Charles Mintz, who in turn had swiped the character from Walt Disney. (Disney, just a couple months ago, famously and finally received the character back from Universal in a contract trade.) Oswald is laying over his grandmater's lap, and as she sews up his bottom, he sings:

"Oh, sew up the rip in my pants, Grand-ma!"

The sweet old lady, who is aiding in her task by a mouse who, on the passing of the needle and thread, is lifted up on the tail of a sleeping cat and then slides back down for the next pass, replies:

"Your pants have a rip in the seam!"

Oswald repeats his first line, and then their canary, who has been whistling frenetically throughout the song, sticks his head out between the bars of his cage, and wordlessly sings the last line in a heavy baritone:

"Do-do do-do-do do-do-do!"

The mouse carries the needle up the cat's tail one last time, but he jabs the poor pussy in the seat by accident. As the cat whimpers in pain, there is a loud banging at the door. Oswald climbs down off his grandma's lap to see who is making the racket. It is the landlord, who looks remarkably like Disney's Pete character, peg-leg and all (Pete was a nemesis of Oswald in his Disney years). He has just hammered a notice onto their front door that reads: "MORTGAGE - DUE TODAY - 6 P.M." After he warns Oswald that he will be kicked out if the money is not paid on time, the cuckoo in Oswald's clock pops out and yells "You're cuckoo! You're cuckoo! Yooouuuur nutsy!" The bird goes back to the clock, but not before hoisting his tailfeathers at the landlord, who takes it as the insult in which it was meant. He reminds Oswald of his conditions, but as he does, the cat pushes on the door frame and shifts the entire house a few feet. When the landlord leaves, he crashes through the open window, through which his fat body can't quite fit comfortably, and ends up with his head through the tree outside. He uproots the tree and walks off mumbling and growling.

Grandma cries "What shall we do!" over and over as she lifts the wig off her head. Oswald calms her down, and swears to get the money. The cat meows for attention, and rubs his tail on Oswald's backside, tickling him in the process. "Don't do that!", he orders the cat, and then Oswald goes outside, pulls a "For Sale" sign off the porch, and hangs it on the back hip of their scrawny excuse for a milkcow. Trying to lead the cow to market, he yanks on her head -- and walking off, he unknowingly pulls her head off, along with dragging her tail clean through her body! As Oswald continues happily bouncing to the ringing of the bell on her tail, the cow's body catches up to the tail-and-head combo, whereupon the tail reinserts itself into the neck and through the torso, coming out on its proper end, and then tying a bow in itself to hold it in place. They come to a frightening forest, where the trees are all rotted and bent, and one of the trees transforms itself into a horrible witch. She produces a bag and hands it to Oswald. Then, she hypnotizes the cow and turns it into a living one-cow band, with a squeezebox growing between its horns, cymbals for feet, and a cello for a torso. The cow plays its stomach with one hoof, and hold a trumpet in the other, blowing an awkward tune upon it.

Oswald looks at the bag in his hand, and discovers that it reads "Magic Beans". He gets overwhelmed with excitement, and runs back towards his home, yelling to inform his grandmother of the discovery. But, he trips over a log, and the bag of beans go flying, landing next to the hole where the landlord uprooted the tree, and most of the beans fall into the hole. Oswald is sad at first, but then his sadness turns to fear as he gets caught on the top branch of an enormous beanstalk that starts growing from the hole. On the way up, he keeps getting caught in tiny rainclouds, and on the third time, he is plucked from the branch and starts to fall. He catches onto a huge peapod, but the zipper comes down, and several peas plunk out of it, and Oswald is able to climb inside and zip it back up like a sleeping bag, where he stays for the remainder of the climb.

The beanstalk stops at a huge cloud, where a castle sits on its edge. Oswald swings over to an open window, but he almost falls, and only stops himself by grabbing onto a windowshade. He slides down at first, but pulls himself back up, to precariously rest on the windowledge. Inside the room, a small sharply fanged monster, which is fortunately chained to a wall, is snapping at a girl rabbit who swings on the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Oswald leaps over to the pendulum and pushes the girl out of harm's way. But the monster grabs the seat of Oswald's pants, and after tearing at them for a couple of swings, Oswald kicks the entire set of teeth out of the monster's jaws. Oswald runs to the girl's side, and together they peek down through a trapdoor to the castle floor, where a giant ogre is seen snoring away in a large chair. Suddenly, the monster tries to attack the pair, and they both are frightened enough to fall through the trapdoor. They fall for what seems to be several stories, their progress slowed somewhat by what seems to be a bridge, but is in reality part of a spider's web. They crash through it, and fall along past a long section of silkthread, and eventually they end up in the grasp of the huge spider himself.

However, they end up just above the open mouth of the sleeping giant. The spider releases them, and they fly up and down according to the snoring pattern of the giant. They finally find a perch on his forehead, and then hop down his body to the table beside him. The girl shows him a hen, and asks the hen to lay a golden egg. She pushes a button on the hen's chest, and a drawer opens on its stomach, from which she pulls a solid gold egg, which has "14-karat gold" written on it. Oswald tries this same thing, but an alarm goes off, the empty drawers pops Oswald in the stomach, and the hen's tail fans out and reads "No Sale". The alarm also has the unneeded side effect of waking up the giant. "FEE-FI-FO-FUM, I SMELL A RABBIT!", he yells, and gives chase after the three of them.

His tremendous clawed feet come perilously close to crushing them, but the rabbits end up getting caught in his toes, and Oswald, thinking quickly, steps on a corn on top of the giant's big toe. "Ow!", he yells, and then an actual stalk of corn grows out of the depression. Oswald, the girl and the hen jump onto the beanstalk, climbing down desperately, and the giant climbs after them. He loses his grip, and because the castle in the clouds resides in the heavens, a planet with rings like Saturn is resting beside the beanstalk, sitting with its rings pointed up. It splits the giant up the middle, reshapes his torso, cuts through his head, and passes on with the giant still in one piece. [I'm sorry if this is incorrect -- I think it's supposed to be Saturn!]

Down below, the landlord is taunting Oswald's grandmother, and she worries even more, saying "Oh, woe is me!" Suddenly, she sees Oswald coming down the beanstalk. Yelling the traditional "Curses!", the landlord picks up an axe and chops the beanstalk through in one swing. However, all this succeeds in doing is having the giant fall headfirst onto the landlord and smashing them both, presumably dead, into a hole in the ground, with the giant's nasty clawed feet sticking out. Each of the rabbits and the hen grab a claw and ride it around like on an amusement ride, and then Oswald stops to greet his grandmother. Behind him, the cat is making the acquaintance of Oswald's new girlfriend, but he brushes Oswald on the backside again. "Don't do that!", Oswald pleads.

Not so much Wonderland; not at all, in fact. Why they didn't just call it Oswald and the Beanstalkoutright is beyond me, but if you look at a list of Oswald titles from this period, the bulk of them have one or two-letter titles. [The reason for the brevity of these titles is beyond me, but perhaps someone can clue me in on the deal here.] The cartoon itself barely holds together as anything, though the character bits involving the cow and the hen are fun. The cat is the best part of the film: all of his bits are humorous, and the ending involving his tail actually works, mainly because I didn't know if the filmmakers had the attention span necessary to complete a running gag with its parts set so far away from each other. But the film succeeds in spite of its confusion of fantasy realms, though just barely, for while its thrills are rather generic, it still is coated with enough spirited goofiness to make us forget that it is all a little bland and sugary.

What does this have to do with my grandmothers, outside of the fact that there is a grandmother in the film? Nothing really, except a reminder to myself that while I pursue a whole new career and seem to have boundless opportunity in my sights, that I should try harder to realign myself with family members distant from my current locale, including those that I left behind in Anchorage. I should have gone on the trip to Wisconsin, and I am kicking myself now for not going. Not to get all sappy, but the true Wonderland lies somewhere within the hearts of your loved ones.

However, while I miss my grandmothers, that gold-egg laying hen would be frickin' sweet. Then I wouldn't have to worry about cash, and then I wouldn't have to work an uninteresting job and worry about nonsensical deadlines (that my bosses ignore willy-nilly anyway).

Just gotta find me some of those magic beans...

Wonderland (Walter Lantz/Universal, 1931) Directors: Walter Lantz & William Nolan
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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