Wednesday, June 21, 2006

SNOWTIME FOR COMEDY (1941)

It's strange, but the time when I seem to miss the snow the most is in the middle of June. I've already run through exactly why I was not missing the ice and snow this past "winter" (for it must always be written in quotes in California when spoken of as a local season). All of my reasons were perfectly selfish and perfectly on the mark. But, here it is, around the beginning of summer (officially) and I am missing the snow. But not just any snow. I'm missing summer snow.

At least once a summer, and in ways that were never planned, I would end up either with family or friends on a trip through or to a place up around the Wasilla/Palmer area in Alaska called Hatcher Pass. Graced with a tourist-attracting long-ago abandoned mining area full of rusty equipment and deteriorating shacks, the Pass is a long and winding, extremely pleasant drive which takes you through some very scenic mountain terrain, and many people go there to hike or fish or hump or do all that other Alaskan touristy jive, which is all fine and well -- have a great time if you must do it.

Personally, I always liked it when we would drive to the top of the pass and end up at a small mountain lake, where there were often hundreds of marmots popping in and out of their burrows, and people would run off the mountain on their hang-gliders right in front of us. My beloved and belated pup Blip swam there on a number of occasions and barked at an awful lot of marmots (even tried to dig a couple out), so it has special memories for me. A couple of my old good friends even got married in the Pass on a particularly windy day. (I say "old" good friends, for I've not heard of their doings for a while now.) But the best part of Hatcher Pass for me was to drive through (well, not me driving, for frig's sake!) in June or July, when you would get to the upper levels and there would still be snow by the sides of the road. I would always take the time to make a pile of snowballs and throw them either at whoever was with me, or at their car, or just at the nearest object that looked good to smack with a very wet snowball. It is usually in the absence of something that I really want to do that thing, and finding snow on a hot summer day was usually enough for me to make even the most mundane trip through the pass a success.

There's no summer snow in Snowtime For Comedy, the third and final of Chuck Jones' Two Curious Puppies films, from Warner Bros. in 1941. It's all winter-fallen white freshness, and a perfect day to cavort and romp in that cute and curious puppy fashion. Having first conquered a housecleaning robot in Dog Gone Modern and then having battled each other in an amusement park setting in The Curious Puppy, the dogs are once again good buddies and chasing each other playfully through the picturesque snow-laden streets of the small town where they live. Up a hill, over a wooden bridge and up a set of stairs the small dog, who is carrying a bone that he does not want to give up, runs with a boxer who is twice his size fast on his heels. So fast on them, in fact, that he crashes into his smaller pal, who has stopped short at the top of a very long ski jump. The boxer's momentum carries the two of them down the steep ramp, and when they reach the bottom, they fly through the air: the boxer at the rear, the pup in front of him, and the bone hanging just out of reach in the lead. The bone hits the landing hill first, and when the dogs touch down, they climb over each other and jostle for position to grab the bone first. The pup and the bone shoot through a snow drift, leaving two distinct outlines in their individual shapes; the boxer shoots through where the bone did and leaves the impression that the bone outline is now in his outline's mouth.

In reality, neither one has the bone yet, and the small pup finds himself jetting uncontrollably across an ice-covered pond. However, just ahead, he sees that the ice has broken open and he tries unsuccessfully to stop himself before reaching it. Instead of falling in, though, he hits a small calved-off piece of ice, on which he skids across the water until he slows to a stop in the middle of the water. Every now and then slipping frighteningly, he struggles to keep himself upright. The boxer, meanwhile, is also skidding across the ice. He avoids the open water, but a dam that is being completed by a busy beaver lies just ahead of the dog, and the boxer smashes right through it, much to the frustration of the beaver. Several pieces have laid themselves about the dog in the shape of a teepee, but as he shakes them off, he slides right into some deep snow, through which he continues to zip until he smashes (unseen) into the base of a pine tree. The squirrel who resides in the tree runs down to check out what has happened, and the dog drags himself out of the snow, slowly regaining his actual shape but falling and stumbling upon the ice in a daze. He sees the bone on the ice not far away, and building up a burst of speed, he somehow manages to make it to just about an inch away from the delicious treat. But when he tries to grab it, the wind kicks up, his snap misses the bone, and he is swiftly carried backwards towards the tree, smacking it this time with his anterior end, and disturbing the confused squirrel on a second occasion.

The pup, meanwhile, finds his icy craft has started to split in half on him. He is stretched between the two sections, but he pulls himself up on one of them and rights himself. Then that section splits in two, and he is left with his right and left sets of legs sprawled out, and then those ice chunks split in twain, leaving one for each foot. The boxer has gotten out of the snow by building up into a run, and he shoots once more towards the bone. He has too much speed, though, and when he snaps and misses at the bone, he ends up in a crab-like position while he sails back toward the now-rebuilt beaver dam. The boxer smashes it once again, and he ends up covered by a log cabin, from which he pops his head out and peers at the camera quizically. He loses the shelter, however, when his rear end falls through a hole in the ice, and he ends up stick with his bottom in the icy waters.

The little pup, at this point, has made it to the edge of the water and hops onto the full ice, but a crack appears behind him when he lands. He backs up further and further from the crack, but it follows him, getting bigger and bigger all the time. He bolts and runs full-steam ahead, which is appropriate, since when he, too, crashes through the yet-again rebuilt beaver dam, he comes out covered in wood so that he looks like a tugboat. He jets towards the pine tree in the snow, but so does the crack in the ice, still getting larger and larger, and after the little dog smacks into the tree's trunk, the ice follows him and splits the tree completely in two. No one is more confused than the little squirrel, who ends up stretched out between the two halves of the treetop, wondering what has happened to his home. The boxer has a new problem of his own: how to extricate himself from an icy pair of pants. Pulling himself out of the water, he soon discovers that he can't walk properly because the bottom half of his body is surrounded by perfectly-shaped ice. After a good deal of falling, spinning, sliding and tumbling, he finally is able to push the ice off his rear, only to half it flip through the air and land over his head and front legs.

The pup, now freed from the iceblocks and the icecracks, walks across the frozen water and spies the bone just ahead of him. He leaps upon it, but it slips out and sails through the air. It flies over the once more rebuilt beaver dam, and it is disrupted a fourth time as the pup crashes through it again. The bone lands on the empty seat on a ski lift, and the pup runs up the hill after it. The boxer kicks and pulls and gets his icy casing off his head, but he slips on the ice, and the thing falls over his butt. He stares at the camera with a look of "what are ya gonna do?" The seat with the bone has reached the top of the lift-hill, and it dumps the bone off. We can see buildings off in the distance, and we know what is coming next for the little pup, and sure enough, when he dives onto the tempting bone, he starts to slide down the ski run. Eventually, as he tries to stand up, he falls down and turns into a snowball, which continues to build until he ends up inside a giant snow-dog, still gripping the bone, about fifty times his normal size.

The boxer finally gets the ice-pants off his butt, but as he walks away victorious, he hears a horrible shaking and rumbling coming up behind him. He turns in time to see the enormous snow-dog plowing down the hill, running down tree after tree, and the sight leaves the boxer goggle-eyed in astonishment. He turns and runs right through a snowdrift, while creates a long shaft of snow that he pushes in front of him for several paces. Finally, the snowdog over takes him, and he is sucked into its mass. Ahead of the snowdog lies the for-the-last-time rebuilt beaver dam, but the beaver isn't waiting around this time. He bolts for the safety of a nearby hill, and below him there is a terrible crash. When the snow flying through the air clears up, he is amazed to see that in place of his once-ordinary dam, there now lies an enormous snowy replica of the Hoover Dam, which covers the massive area between a couple of hills. The pup pops up out of the monstrous creation with the bone set atop his head on a drift of snow; the boxer, too, pops up with his ice-pants stuck once more over the top of his head and shoulders. Iris out.

The most successful of the Two Curious Puppies films, Snowtime for Comedy also points up the problems inherent in the characters: that there is little to the personality of these dogs outside of the fact that there are two of them, they are curious, and that they are puppies. Indeed, the boxer seems to be a different dog in each of the films, with wildly differing motivational triggers displayed, and it is only in the last film that he even seems "puppyish" in any extreme. Visually, this film is on a par with the first two (they are all sumptuously designed), but it surpasses the second by taking its action to that "next level", building up to a rampaging climax that The Curious Puppy sorely missed. But even with this achievement, it is clear that Jones and crew have exhausted the potential in the characters, even going so far as to recreate the slide scene from the second film by turning it into the ski jump scene in this one (it is not reusued animation, just reconfigured).

There is also an interesting twist on the "comedy in threes" dynamic in this film. While the beaver has his dam smashed a grand total of five, count 'em, five times via the antics of the puppies, it still follows the "threes" rule by having the boxer smash it first twice, then the puppy bowls through it twice himself, and then, with both dogs encased in the giant snowball-dog, they both get their third shot at the dam by destroying it for the fifth time total. I won't even try to figure out the equation for this formula, though I'm sure Leif or Frank would send it to me if they cared at all. Not that I do...

What I do care about is seeing summer snow again, and not due to some global-warming accident of freakish nature whereby Anaheim is laid low by a mid-summer snowstorm. (Though it would be interesting to see; Jen and I would be the only ones going "Wimps...") I doubt that I will ever get back to Hatcher Pass again; except to visit friends and family, I have no real desire to return to Alaska for the foreseeable future. And with family moving to Washington and Idaho, I'm sure I will find myself in a vacationing winter setting at some point. It's not the same, though, as that feeling that overtakes me every summer, whether in Alaska or California or Seattle (where I have often visited), where I start to actually miss snow, and long for a good chunk of the stuff to wallop someone in the back with a well-timed missile when they are least expecting it. Serves 'em right for turning their back to me... fools! Tiny fools! I''ll crush you all with my snowball stockpile! I'll take you all down! I'll rule the world! Hahahahahahahaha! Ha!

Hmmm... Hadn't thought about that. I have the sneaking suspicion that snow seemingly brings out the hawk in me. Maybe it's a good thing I have moved to OrCo, SoCal...

Snowtime for Comedy (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1941)
Director: Charles A. (Chuck) Jones
Writer: Rich Hogan
Animator: Robert Cannon
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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