Monday, June 19, 2006

DOG GONE MODERN (1939)

Two Curious Puppies? I'm not so sure that our girls could really be described that way. Sure, Isabelle is full of bluster and bark whenever anything even thinks of breathing within about a quarter-mile radius of us, or when she just thinks something is doing so, but otherwise the girls are scared of the shadows of their own shadows. We lock them in the kitchen during the day simply because they get security from it, and they will freak out if they have the whole big scary apartment to themselves for even a couple of hours. They constantly need a human around them to make them feel comfortable, and it is not rare that India balls up and shakes in fear or with cold when left alone off the bed or the couch, especially if Isabelle shows signs of domination. (OK, not if, but when she does.) As much as Isa ridges up her back at the evil neighbor dogs, and though I don't want to see this happen, I really do wonder how far she would take things if she weren't separated by the protecting fence or other leashes that keeps her from her "enemies list". But adventuring? Not for her. She lags behind on our walks, preferring to remain close to us, and often tries to get us to carry her chubby little body. The dichotomy in India's behavior, that while she seems scared of everything, outside she wants to run and sniff about and her need for walks is enormous, not to use the bathroom (we're pretty sure she's not even aware that's why we take her outside), but just to run. If she got close, we're pretty sure she would hightail it for a good while. But Isabelle? Blustery, tough-talking Isa? On the rare occasion she has fought enough to wrangle her way out of her collar to go tear the throat out of somethng, she immediately acts all ashamed and ducks down to the ground, usually running no more than about five feet, shaming herself into submission. Or maybe she just does all this to get attention, which she never lacks anyway. Ah, rescue dogs! So messed up in their little heads...

Not so Chuck Jones' Two Curious Puppies. They are always up for adventure, and never in the company of silly humans. They would only hold them back (literally) from their questionable activities. Such as sneaking into a model home of the future, which they do in their initial cartoon effort, Dog Gone Modern (great title, that) from Warner Bros. in 1939. The pups, a small floppy-eared pup of some indiscernable make and a taller, tough-looking and naturally dominant boxer, wander up to a sign proclaiming an "ALL ELECTRONIC MODEL HOME - OPEN FOR INSPECTION - VISITORS WELCOME - COME IN". Nothing like a bona fide invitation, I always say; they might be curious, but all of the trouble only stems from their actually being welcomed into the place. (Of course, the fact that they are dogs that can read might be part of the problem as well.) In front of the door sits another sign that reads "THIS DOOR OPENS AUTOMATICALLY THROUGH USE OF THE ELECTRIC EYE" and there is an arm on the other side of the path that shoots an infrared beam through to a hole in the sign. The boxer, not reading the sign, walks right through the beam and frightens himself when the door suddenly opens. He backs up, and then twice triggers the door to move again, before reading the sign. The little pup wants no part of this and has been hiding in a bush from the start, but the boxer motions that it is safe. The pup struts up to the door, but at the last second, it sees the beam as it hits his hindquarters, and the pup bolts forward, knocking both dogs through the open doorway in a tumble.

Inside, the dogs right themselves and look about, but when the boxer walks off with the pup noticing, the little guy panics and bolts forward again, knocking the boxer down in a heap. The already nervous boxer jumps up and growls at the attack, but then notices his buddy and calms down. Suddenly, a loudspeaker robotically shouts out this message: "Welcome. Welcome to the model home. Please feel free to try any of the modern conveniences created for your benefit. Thank you." The boxer wanders off, and the pup decides to do as the voice suggested, reading a sign which reads "TO DEMONSTRATE AUTOMATIC SWEEPER, PRESS THIS BUTTON". After the pup naturally pushes the button, the boxer returns to see the sign pop down from the wall, where a cigar is lit and then moves out over the floor and flicks ashes onto the carpet. Without warning, a robot with a dustpan built into its base shoots out a door around the corner, rolls up, and frantically sweeps up the mess. All this flurry sends the dogs hiding for cover, but then the robot recedes once again to its closet, and they come back out, a little more cautious than before. The pup walks underneath the bigger dog, but becomes curious again when it sees a sign between two dining room chairs reading "AUTOMATIC CONTROL" and presenting another red button. The pup climbs up on a chair to press it, but then the sign changes, reading instead "I WOULDN'T TOUCH THAT, CHUM." The pup just looks away and adopts a pose of utter frustration.

Entering the kitchen, the boxer finds a switch for an electric dish washer, so he turns it to the "ON" position. Robot arms in the sink grab a bowl, dunk it in the water, and then various devices reach from offscreen and do the scrubbing work before passing the dish to the other end of the sink. Back at the dining room chairs, the little pup is still wrestling with his urge to push the button, even though warned not to do so. He finally can't resist, and when he hits it, the sign again changes words, this time reading "OK, BUDDY. YOU ASKED FOR IT!" The sign slams out to form a tabletop, and the sudden dramatic action frightens the pup enough to send him careening through the kitchen door, where he knocks yet again into the boxer, who crashes into the pile of dishes on the sink counter. The dishwashing device grabs the boxer and starts to send him through the complete process as if he were a simple plate, and he is scrubbed, poked and prodded with various devices before being laid on top of the pile of drying dishes on the other end. On the floor standing next to a laundry basket, the pup reads a sign that says "NAPKIN FOLDER" and the dog can no longer contain his amusement at the silliness of all these devices. He starts to laugh out of control at the sign, but he doesn't watch where he is moving, and he accidentally presses the button. He is immediately grabbed by the ears and lifted into the air, where he struggles and howls, until he is shaped and folded by three rods, which allow a napkin ring to be placed over his hind end. He is then dropped into a drawer with other completed napkin sets, but he jumps out of a drawer near the floor and runs along, with all four feet placed directly below his head. Still howling in fright, he bumps into the now-dry boxer, and knocks him back into the dishwasher's path, where the poor guy gets yet another bath.

Fleeing for his life from the napkin folder, the still-trapped pup flies over the furniture and jumps into a vase, which crashes to the ground, leaving shards all over the floor, but freeing the pup from his napkin-ringed bondage. The problem is, he has triggered the robot to fly out of its recess again, and the sweeping maniac not only cleans up the mess, but also lifts the pup up by his ears as it checks underneath him for more refuse. The robot rolls off, but he is not all that fastidious, as it rolls into the hallway and sweeps the entire mess under the rug. Trying to remove himself from the horrible napkin ring, the pup wanders off and runs into an Automatic Bone Dispenser. Now, this is more like it! Pressing on the pedal meant to dispense the treat, the bone spits out onto the floor to the delight of the curious pup. However, he didn't count on the robot sweeper's mania to keep the floor clean at all costs, and the crazed robot immediately snags the bone before the pup can grab it. The dog gives chase, and when the robot discovers he is in trouble, he zooms through the kitchen with the dog fast behind. In the mayhem, the boxer gets knocked into the dishwasher again for a third bath. The pup charges the robot as it enters its closet, and a broom flies out and smacks the pup away, rolling him up to a white grand piano.

The dog's roll triggers the device, and a pair of robotic hands pop out to start playing music. The pup, curious as ever, leaps up onto the piano top to observe closer. He gets a little too close, however, and triggers the orchestra switch on the front of the piano. Soon, he is assaulted by all manner of musical instruments, all of them popping out of generally unseen areas on the piano, and all of them blasting at or hitting the pup as they charge through the number. A flute, saxophone, trumpet, kettle drum and a bugle blare out in the dog's face or incorporate his body into their playing, and three dummy heads pop up on springs and sing a verse of The Little Old-Fashioned Music Box. Finally, a tuba pops up with the pup inside, and it blasts the poor little guy across the room where he smashes into another vase. The robot zips up to clean up the mess, and the pup takes off in fear. He charges through the kitchen once more, again knocking his bigger buddy into the dishwasher. The pup stops when he reaches the robot's closet, where he spies the bone. He starts to grab it, but the robot rolls up, and the dog grabs his prize at the last second and hides it behind his back. The robot looks about for the bone, and when he gives the dog a couple of quizzical stances (he has no head for facial expressions), the dog conks the metal creep on top of his antennae.

The robot chases the pup up a flight of stairs, and when the pup, with bone in mouth, slides off the top on a small rug, he flies through the air as if it were a magic carpet. With his ears serving to steer him, he sails up another long winding staircase and up and down the halls of the second floor of the house. He comes back down and zooms past the robot, and into the kitchen. The boxer sees him coming and fears for the worst, yelping in fear, but he only gets picked up by the carpet and the dogs hits the garbage disposal, which slides them out of the house and down to the garbage cans outside. The robot snaps his fingers in frustration and heads out to the cans. When he rolls up, the little pup pops out of his can and smacks the robot hard with a small sledgehammer (you know, the type that most cartoon characters carry in their fourth dimensional pockets, only smaller). The robot grabs his "heart" in pain, and falls down on the ground dramatically. The little pup holds his bone, nodding to the camera in victory, but then a lid is dropped over his head and the boxer grabs the bone from him. He nods in a pleased and relaxed fashion at the camera, and the film irises out.

A few mild laughs, but this film was made in the era before Chuck Jones really made with the funny. His films were too Disneyesque at this time to go for the brazen, outrageous and sometimes wicked fare that he would produce with regularity less than a decade later. The dogs are cute and well-realized, but their characters are rooted in their simple recognizable dogness, not in some sharply developed character traits. That said, I have always liked this cartoon, partially out of the fact that I have seen it a hell of a lot, partially out of the fact that I love Chuck Jones' work, and also due to the excellent robot at large in this film. It turns out that he is the real personality in this film, and Jones gives him a full range of emotions, without even having a face to rely on for reactions. His body tells everything about him, and his design has always reminded me of the robot assistants that Gyro Gearloose always had in his lab in the Disney comics that I devoured as a kid. I also like the fact that the dogs think that the devices in the house, outside of a borderline interest in their workings, are ridiculous to the extreme. In a house tightly and coldly run by robots, why should anything living reside there? There is no room for the living when there is nothing left to do there. Imagine the horror movie that would result if a human confronted that same robot over his right to put something on the floor. Chaos...

Chaos is what would ensue if our girls encountered this house in their travels. They wouldn't be able to handle the tables and signs popping out of walls. Everything would make Isabelle bark and growl, and India would just shake in a corner at the first intrusion into her fragile peace. The robot would appear, and Isabelle would growl, ridge her back up, and stand her ground... for about three seconds. Then, because I know her full well, Isa will crouch low to the floor and there will be chaos.

Chaos... hot, frightened yellow chaos all over the floor. Let's see the robot clean that mess up...

We've had no luck with it.

Dog Gone Modern (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1939)
Director: Charles A. Jones (Chuck Jones)
Writer: Rich Hogan
Animator: Phil Monroe
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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