Tuesday, June 20, 2006

THE CURIOUS PUPPY (1939)

The Curious Puppy? Not "Two Curious Puppies"? What happened to the other one since the last film? Did one of them lose his curiousity, and now he's called 'The Puppy Who Used To Be Curious But Now Goes "Whatever...'"? Did his curiosity kill him like it would a cat of similar stripe? Did one of them get demoted? What the hell is going on?!!

As it turns out, in The Curious Puppy, the follow-up to Dog Gone Modern, released earlier in 1939, that director Chuck Jones has split the buddy dogs up and has them playing opposite each other: one as the title pooch filled to bursting with impossible interest, and the other as a would-be vicious guard-dog in a closed-for-the-evening amusement park. Do you want to guess which one of this big-little duo plays the intruder? At the film's opening, the cutesy floppy-eared black-and-white pup passes in front of the closed gates to the park, but he is soon dragged back by his irresistible need to explore. He gets his rear caught going under the gate, and when he pops free, his legs get all wrapped up in each other. Setting himself right, he immediately starts to growl and bark at a black cat on a nearby roof. Whereas the dogs in Dog Gone Modern could plainly read each and every sign presented before them, this time around the pup doesn't realize that the cat is merely a prop on top of the Black Cat Cafe.

He climbs up the side of a building and onto its roof to get closer to the cat; the problem for him is that the building he has chosen to climb is the powerhouse for the amusement park. (Strangely, Carl W. Stalling doesn't use Raymond Scott's Powerhouse here, though he would in dozens of other cartoons.) The pup tries to climb down the other side of the shack, and in doing so, he triggers the Master Switch for the entire park. The pup forgets all about the cat when the buzzing and crackling of the electricity frightens him, and he hides in a garbage can for fear of his life. All of the lights come on, spotlights shine into the nightsky, and every ride starts up all at once, and the pup peers out of his hideaway. He starts to smile and climbs happily out of the can. However, all of the noise and light has woken up the sleeping watchdog of the place, our good buddy, the boxer. He is slow to pick up on what has happened, and he lazily wanders off to see what is causing all of the ruckus. The pup, meanwhile has become entranced by a ride called the Giant Swing, which is like on those viking rocking boats at modern carnivals, only this swings all the way around the bar to which it is affixed. (It had better go a hell of a lot faster to pull that manuever off.) The pup's pupils sway and spin with each movement of the swing. The boxer comes around the corner and sees the pup, and starts to growl ferociously. As the pup wanders into the House of Mirrors, the boxer chases after him.

At first running swiftly past each mirror, the boxer starts to distrust his own reflection, so he slows down and sneaks cautiously from mirror to mirror. As he crosses the last one, the pup sneaks across on the other side, or so it seems to the boxer. In an old vaudeville and movie gag that I personally consider to have been perfected to its closure by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the boxer and the pup match each other's movements exactly, no matter what the boxer pops out and does. Finally, the pup anticipates the next move wrong, and the mirror is discovered to actually be a doorway, and the boxer zips after his prey once more. A run up a rickety structure causes it to collapse, and the dogs slide down its inside and end up almost perfectly eye to eye, though the pup's head is upside down. The boxer chases him out of the House of Mirrors and into a photography studio, where there are numerous cut-out figures on which people can set their heads for novelty photos. The pup has decided to place his head atop the body of an old-fashioned bathing beauty, and it is not long before the boxer figures it out. When he leaps at the cut-out, the force of his dive causes the pup to fly out the window, down towards the ground, and end up landing safely inside an automatic popcorn machine.

The pup is astonished at his whereabouts, and after cautiously sniffing his bounty, he takes a huge mouthful of the snack and starts to chew it slowly. On the outside of the glass appears the angry face of the boxer, and when the pup finds out the watchdog is waiting there, he gulps down the food nervously and dives into the popcorn to lose himself. The boxer switches on the machine, and robot arms pop out and digs out some "pupcorn", depositing the pooch in a bag and then shaking salt on his upended tail. The arms shake the bag up, and the pup comes out right-side-up, only to have some butter poured on his head. (Luckily for him, it is not hot.) The bag is handed to the boxer, and he carries his quarry off triumphantly in his teeth. However, the sogginess of the butter allows the pup to fall through the bottom of the bag, and the boxer is none the wise at first. As he continues to march, he hears some agitated barking, and he turns around to see the pup going crazy at a carnival game with a sign reading "WIN A KITTY - 10¢!", which is graced with a huge rack full of kitty dolls. The boxer looks into the remainder of his popcorn bag as deep as he can to locate the pup, and after he realizes what has happened, he growls again and charges the pup.

Their chase leads them into a cave-like tower, which they climb up, and then the pup emerges atop a highly set walkway which ends in a steep, death-defying slide down to a beautiful pool of water far, far below. The boxer runs up and can't stop, crashing into the pup and sending them both sliding down towards certain watery doom. They lean back at an odd angle from the g-force inherent in such a descent, and when they hit the bottom, they slide gracefully across the water until they both slow to a stop on its surface. Then they plop down into the water. The boxer slowly swims and crawls onto shore, unaware that the pup has somehow attached itself to his back. Dumping the pup off, the boxer, who is none too quick in this one, realizes yet again he is the same dog, and chases him again.

The pup gets a good lead, and disappears around a corner. When the boxer rounds it, he is astonished to find an entire rack of toy puppies for sale, and each one looks exactly like the pup he has been chasing. He looks at it in frustration, and finally builds himself into a murderous rage and attacks the entire rack. He tears the puppies to shreds, smashes the frame of the rack to bits, and leaves puppy limbs, springs and heads all about the place. When the dust clears, though, he hears a quick bark and sees one puppy standing off to the side, wagging his tail. He dives on it, but when that dust clears, he looks to the outside of the gate, and there is the real puppy, panting happily and wagging his own tail playfully. The boxer starts to step towards the gate, building a low growl and puffing up in a massive rage, ready to go after him, but then something in his brain snaps. He loses his composure completely, and falls to the ground, crying and pounding the pavement in frustration. Iris out.

I know that there was only so much time allotted for each cartoon, but there was so much more for the dogs to encounter in the park, including a roller coaster and ferris wheel, that I can't help but think that there was a missed opportunity here for some real craziness. I like the slow but steady pace that Jones maintains through many of his films, but this one could have actually used a little amping up. And is it just me, or is the toy puppy ending a little bit of a cheat, since we've seen no evidence that those toy puppies can move at all, let alone bark? Of course, the bark most likely came from the dog outside, but the toy one is still moving its tail and lurching forward. The carnival atmosphere is certainly beautifully detailed, but I wish the House of Mirrors played a little with the shapes of the dogs; instead, we get normal mirrors and a tried-but-true comedy bit.

Still, a gorgeous and fun, if generic, cartoon to watch, especially for the fine animation of the Two Curious Puppies. Or, the One Curious Puppy, or the Curious Puppy and the Puppy Who Used to Be Curious But Now Goes "Whatever..."

Whatever...

The Curious Puppy (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1939)
Director: Charles A. (Chuck) Jones
Writer: Robert Givens
Animator: Phil Monroe
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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