Tuesday, June 06, 2006

GYPPED IN EGYPT (1930)

Right now, my Anchorage friends (The Bohemians) have just gotten through their first of two weekends at the Three Barons Faire, an annual renaissance festival that we have taken part in since the end of high school. (That's about 23 years, folks.) I haven't done it for four years now, and since I have left Alaska, there is little or no chance that I will ever see the Faire again. I burnt my emotional bridges with the thing a few years back, and while I would find some fun in it were I to perform in it again, I have no desire to do so. Honestly, the law of diminishing returns had been placed in effect for me about ten years ago, and when you get to the point where doing something makes you go, "Well, I've got to do the @#$^$%$%ing Ren Faire again!", then it's high time to skedaddle. If you are not going to put your heart into something, then don't do it.

It just so happens that I said those very words time and again, and thus, I didn't do it anymore. No longer would I dressed in the garb of a "swarthy" Moor (for the Moors were whom we portrayed at the Faire, though we were called the Blue Court -- the court, that is, of Ali Akbar Mohammed el Mut Amin the Magnificent). No more would this pale white boy with the blondie-est blonde of towheads pretend that he was one with the Sands of the Deserts. Funny then, how, as I was queueing up the next cartoon for this column over the weekend, that the damned thing reminded me of my mock Arabian brethren back home, and how the whole thing made me rather wistful for my past days at the Faire, telling extremely bad puns from behind a puppet stage.

The animated short is called Gypped in Egypt, and true to the pattern of recent days, it is an Aesop's Sound Fable released by Van Beuren in 1930. Yet again, this one stars the pre-Tom and Jerry (human version) duo of Waffles the Cat and Don Dog, off again in another adventure that will undoubtedly lead to much nonsense, interrupted here and there by musical interludes. Iris in, and we see the pair swinging back and forth on a hammock, only as they swing, the background painting of a desert seems to be moving behind them. As the camera pulls out, we see that they are swaying beneath the belly of a huge, gangly camel, who struts along lazily as the pair doze comfortably. However, the camel comes to an abrupt stop, and kicks the duo out of their naptimes. They land on the desert sands, with pyramids set off in the near distance, and Don hangs his disbelieving tongue out of his mouth when he spies a watering hole nearby.

"Water!", he cries as he points, and the cat and camel repeat the word, and then all three skip merrily towards the miracle, with Waffles and Don making the requisite "Egyptian" hand signals as they go. A tall, rail-thin bird stands placidly by the side of the watering hole, and as the camel tries to sneak his head into the precious liquid first, Waffles and Don are forced to wrestle his head for possession. The camel escapes their grasps, and tries again, but this time, Waffles punches the camel in the head three times and knocks the camel out cold. However, in the midst of this melee, the rail-thin bird bends down and greedily sucks up every last drop of water from the hole. the now-fat bird flies off into the sky, and Waffles and Don are left alone with their unconscious camel.

From off on the horizon, the Sphinx magically slides up towards the pair, and when it gets halfway to them, it reaches its giant head out towards them menacingly and speaks gruffly, "You killed him!", referring to the camel on the ground. Waffles tries to shift the blame to Don, who is standing alongside, looking as cool as one can possibly be in such a situation. Suddenly, about a dozen diaphanous pyramids start to swirl on the sands all about Waffles and Don, frightening the cat to distraction, but not bothering Don the least bit. This trend continues when a ghostly stampede of camels seem to be heading towards the pair. Finally, they find themselves falling through the sands themselves, and the drop into the tomb of an unnamed pharaoh. After three bats wing their way directly over the heads of the cat and dog and then towards the camera in a fun series of fanged closeups, Waffles starts worrying even more about their fate.

Don languidly eyes the slot on the side of the tomb and drops a coin into it. The lid on the sarcophagus opens, and a skeleton sits up, removes a handful of ribs, and clacks them together like castanets. It then jumps out of the case and dances gaily around the tomb. On the walls, the heiroglyphics come to life, and cattle, people and rowing slaves all move in time with the music. the skeleton finishes his little dance and hops back into the coffin, but he leaves his shinbone and foot behind. Don picks up the remains, and when the skeleton reaches back out and demands "Gimme my leg! Gimme my leg!", Don gives it to him, conking him full atop the skull. Don leans into the coffin, and Waffles, in his panic, pushes Don into the closing sarcophagus. The lid raises once more, and the skeleton pulls Waffles in, too. A terrible fight ensues, all hidden from our eyes, of course, but it is guaranteed that the scrappy little Don probably has things well in hand. The fight is so violent that the golden statue that adorns the tomb gets up and flies out of the room. The coffin raises up on its end and spins about, and then slides towards the camera, taking up the entire screen.

The screen splits into two halves that dissolve into the next scene, where we see Waffles strangling Don. He stops and shakes his head in disbelief, but Don is unconcerned. He is eyeing the beard on the chin of a figure on a mummy case standing before him, and he wastes no time in tugging on it. A horrid siren fills the air, and a chariot drops into place, and off a descending pole slides a skeleton wearing a fire helmet. The siren continues as the chariot, pulled by two helmet-wearing cats with invisible reins held by the skeleton fireman, races to an undetermined destination, and Waffles and Don ride along as hundreds of skeletons flee the palace (or wherever they happen to be) in a panic.

After a short ride, the pair are bumped off, and fall through a trap door into another room. Sitting on the floor is a stone crouching figure with its hands held out, palms down. Don walks up and pushes on the fingers, and they turn out to make music like a rudimentary piano. After a few more strikes, a stone slides open in the wall, and a skeleton grabs the figure and stretches it out into a conventional-looking piano. As Don starts to putter about with it, another trapdoor slides open, and the skeleton pops up (with a stool) to join Don in playing. They start pounding out a fun ragtime version of Chopsticks, and when they are finished the two shake hands in friendship. And then Don, much to the consternation of Waffles, removes the skull from the skeleton, whose body goes limp with the action. Don calmly tosses the skull over his shoulder, and Waffles struggles not to drop it in his fear, but he does anyway. It hits the floor, and a stone panel opens up in the wall behind, revealing a staircase.

They race up the great winding case, their shadows cast tall on the wall beside them as they climb round and round, the camera moving with their efforts. They finally reach open air at the top, and the staircase disappears behind them. A skeleton reaches out as if to grab them, but closes a gate across an elevator car instead, and the car starts moving upward. From the outside, we see a tall obelisk, and then there is a cutaway revealing the elevator with the trio inside as it ascends to the top of the obelisk, and we notice that the skeleton is wearing an operator's cap and holding the lever. At the top, Waffles and Don walk out backwards into the air off a stone plank, never noticing their is nothing beneath their feet. Waffles says, "Nice ride!" to the bowing operator, who stands on the plank and laughs maniacally. Don blows him a raspberry, and the operator bolts back into the obelisk-avator and the stone planks slames shut. For the first time, the pair notice their dire situation, and Waffles runs through the air trying to save himself. "Let us in! Let us in!", he yells, but Don pulls him off the obelisk, and down they plummet. They hit the sand and start to run toward the horizon, filing past a dozen pyramids, but then the swirling, accusing eyes of the Sphinx rise up above the horizon and scare them enough to make them run back the other way. And that's the end!

What the hell??!!!? Did I just see Waffles and Don KILL A CAMEL???!!? There is no Oz-like ending where it was all a hallucination? Of course, they could be trapped forever in the hallucination. Maybe the camel is only passed out, maybe not... truthfully, since the entire thing seems to work like a fever dream, I don't think the plot matters one bit, which, just like with the later Tom and Jerry shorts, is the strength of the series. And how laid back can a cartoon character get? With Don always acting opposite to the way in which both Waffles and the audience expects him to act, he doesn't even think about a situation before using his recalcitrant personality to get them out of it; he just plain doesn't care where he is at any point. Even in a moment of dawning friendship with his skeleton piano partner, he doesn't think twice to pop the head off his new pal -- he just does it... 'cause it seems like the thing to do. If "whatever" were the catch phrase of the Thirties instead of in the Aughts, he would be the character voicing it. A marvelously disjointed and wacky adventure. With a seemingly dead camel...

We always wanted a camel at the Ren Faire. Drew up plans to make an elaborate camel puppet which two people could pretend to ride, with little puppety fake legs hanging off the top for each person, while they walked about in the costumed legs. Had the same idea for a baby elephant costume, too, but never got around to making it either. As we put on a circus each day, "Akbar and Amid's Circus of the Damned (The Worst "Damned" Show at the Faire)" they would have been welcome additions if we had done them. In fact, I have a notebook full of ideas that I had always wanted to bring to fruition for the Circus and the Faire, but budget, time and talent took their toll on this course.

And now, I sit in the air-conditioned comfort of my Anaheim apartment, as the sun beats down at a heavy 90 degrees, girls in bikinis strut around the pool outside my window (some of them probably shouldn't be doing that, either -- eewww! to that one there), and I am thinking, as I sip my big cool glass of iced tea, about my friends sweating their way through fight shows, circuses, processions, prayers, and mock court rituals and espionage, all the while wearing some not necessarily comfortable costumes in some sunny mid-60's weather. Where would I rather be? Pretending to be a Moorish puppetmaster while hanging with my friends, or sitting and relaxing in the cool of my abode, watching silly 1930's cartoons of a cat and dog having surrealistic nightmare adventures inside a pyramid in the desert sands of Egypt?

Well, despite the girl who just undid her bikini top, all in all, I'd rather be in Granada...

Gypped In Egypt (A Van Beuren Aesop's Sound Fable, 1930)
Director: Mannie Davis and John Foster
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

No comments: