Friday, June 30, 2006

THE PRINCESS AND THE PAUPER (1940)

Nicky Nome, the former Chief Gnome, is at it again, bringing his do-goody-good aid to the rescue of fairytale lovers everywhere, and this time in the Arabian Nights vein. Oh, yes... and though he is without the aid of his beloved horsehopper (that's right -- a grasshopper with a horse's head, and yes, in one film, Nicky did a little mackin' on his "pet"), Nicky still gets results by having at his disposal the mighty help of a magical Chevrolet Coach, whose corporate fathers lended the money to have this diguised advertisement built especially to trick moviegoers into thinking they were watching a straight cartoon.

As said, The Princess and the Pauper, the fourth Nicky Nome cartoon, is set in the lands beyond beyond, where an anachronistic narrator Bob Hope's his way through some sketchy dialogue and snidely presents each scene's action. He starts "Once, or twice, upon a time, there was a king who ran this classified ad in the local Town-crier..." Indeed, a town-crier holds a sign in the city square reading:

"Be it known o'er the land where the King holds sway,
that at the King's Palace at sundown today,
His Majesty offers his daughter's fair hand
To the wealthiest suitor in all the land."

The announcement is signed "Bey-la-hay Rex". In verse, the people in the square curse the name of the wizard who has duped the king for the Princess' hand, a notorious cretin named Ali-kazam. Speak of the djinn, the fat, greedy Ali-kazam himself arrives in a parade of camels and elephants, reaching the front gates of the palace in a shower of boos from the crowd. The narrator clues us in to his motives by saying "This Ali-kazam might be Public Cluck Number One, but it's hard to see how he can lose! Being a magic wizard, all he has to do is wave his wand like a swing band leader in a groove, and Zing-O! There's a gunny sack full of jewels!" Sure enough, Ali-kazam presents such a sneaky prize to the King, who gushes like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. The king gladly hands his daughter over to the wizard, and as he pitches woo to the poor little cutie, the narrator makes like a Spike Jones record and says (in the cadence of a track announcer), "So it's Ali-kazam leading at the backstretch, Ali-kazam at the waist..." etc.

Suddenly, all heads turn as another suitor enters the arena, and the narrator asks "Who's this dark horse coming up?" as a trio of dark African servants march toward the throne. They part to betray a scrawny little fellow with whom the princess is immediately taken, and he, her. He impresses the king at first with an array of tricks on his yo-yo, but when the king asks to see jewels, the lad pulls out a slingshot and a mix of marbles. The king tries the slingshot, but snaps himself in his stupid head, and has the lad thrown out. This is done by one African servant whipping the carpet so that the lad is thrown to the front door, and then a second servant cries "Well, looky dere! Hot diggety!", and slaps him in the ass with a paddle which sends him crashing down the front steps of the palace. The lad sees stars from his bumps and bruises, and then a couple bubbles start dancing around his head. One lands on his hand, and out pops the magical Nicky Nome, who offers his service freely to the lad.

The kid explains his plight to Nicky, and the gnome tells him about a Valley of Jewels. "But how will I go?", the lad asks, and Nicky obliges by pushing his armsleeves up and casting a spell. Suddenly, a magic flying carpet is woven right under the boy's feet, and it picks him up and into the air. "Hi Ho Linoleum, awayyyyy!", the narrator weakly reads, and the carpet flies all about the parapets before zooming off for the Valley of Jewels, which he finds in short order and is suddenly very, very rich. The wizard, meanwhile, consults his crystal ball in "magic mirror"-style and finds out the princess loves another, and that the object of her affection has just discovered massive riches. The wizard calls for his giant vulture, which he boards and frantically tries to take off on, but when he heads for the open front door, he crashes through the wall instead. (The narrator adds, "It's a good thing he's just renting the place!")

As the lad flies back to the palace with a carpet full of jewels, he cuts through a rainbow, changing color with each bar. "He shouldn't be taking detours through any rainbows, just to get himself all dolled up!", the narrator gruffly opines. (This creep is really wearing thin on me... and fast...) Waiting in the clouds ahead is the wizard on his monstrous vulture, and he divebombs the boy when he least expects it. The jewels fly into the air, but Nicky Nome produces a large trunk, and the jewels fall into it and sit safely on the back of the carpet. Why, just like in a car trunk, eh? I wonder where they are going with this? The vulture appears again, this time with magical guns that fire blasts of spells at the carpet; Nicky Nome, though, is even more powerful and constructs a steel cage on top of the carpet that protects the boy from the blasts. Could this be the chassis of a Chevrolet Coach? A magical smoke cloud gets inside, however, and chokes the boy, but Nicky adds airvents to the side windows which sucks the smoke right out. Ali-kazam has taken to skywriting "CURSES FOILED AGAIN!" with his vulture, but then turns back for another attack. He produces some very bumpy clouds, which shake the carpet about like a bad section of road, but Nicky throws four serpents under the steel frame, which coil up and act as springy shock absorbers. The vulture grabs the carpet and unravels it, but four sections of carpet like skis remain beneath the snakes, and the carpet lands safely in a slide on the sands of the desert.

The vulture keeps trying to attack, but Nicky transforms the entire contraption into a fully decked-out Coach, and the vehicle zooms off, leaving the vulture and the wizard atop it spinning, stumbling and fumbling in the car's wake all the way back to the palace. The wizard is knocked into the air, and he lands in the bells of a tower. The clappers in the bell come to life and attack the evil wizard, some of them becoming boots which kick him, and one of them develops a face which bites him in the rear. Another parade of camels and elephants is seen, this time with the king riding the pachyderm while he plays with a yo-yo, and the new prince and princess bring up the rear in the coach. The narrator, even if we didn't ask him for it, offers up the hackneyed "moral" of the story: "A poor but honest citizen can practically always marry the king's daughter and live happily ever after -- if he knows the right people!" This is Nicky Nome's cue to appear, and he does, right in front of the closeup of the front grille of the Coach. The emphasis, after all, is on Chevrolet, and their logo is distinctly on view. The end.

Whatever strides this series made with the previous picture, Peg-Leg Pedro, they sure stepped back a notch with this one. And it is all due to only one thing: the crappy narrator. Loaded with sayings that only marginally have anything to do with the action, I'd like to think that even in a day when the items were current that he sounded like the annoying jackass that he seems to be now. There is a drive on his part to seem "hep", but he just digs at your flesh with his canned corn. The animation is just fine in the picture, though -- much like the last film -- and I really enjoy the scenics of the Valley and the surrounding countryside. This would actually be on a par with the last film, and it is actually very well done, but the narration really slows the ol' Coach down.

And the Horse-hopper, the most unique element of the series? Where is he/she? Given that Nicky is now a full-fledged magician in this one, producing everything with a mighty wave of his tiny hands, did he have to make some sort of sacrifice to obtain such dark power? What hath Nicky wrought? It's all fine and well to run to the rescue of true love, but was it at the expense of his own illicit relationship with a mammal-headed insect, carefully tended through three variously-rendered films?

Did Nicky surrender to the Dark Side?

The Princess and the Pauper (A Jam Handy Organization Film, 1940)
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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