Saturday, November 21, 2015

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus (1916)

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus (Hearst International Film Service, 1916)
Animator: Leon Searle
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

So, what would you rather have from a cartoon titled Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus? A cartoon that truly reflects the original Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse as they were portrayed in one of the most original and important pieces of art ever created (my opinion), the famous comic strip created by George Herriman? Or would you rather have the characters engaged in a full adventure that takes place in a circus setting and uses all of the elements that one expects to see when placed in such an environment?

You won't get either from Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus. While the two characters certainly look exactly like their comic strip versions, and even talk in the "slanglish" speech that Herriman employs for his characters as well (albeit in word balloons only, since this is a silent film), at no point does the film attempt to duplicate the famous backgrounds and perspectives of Herriman's wonderfully rendered and surreal imagining of Coconino County, Arizona.

Instead we get a very basic white background at the beginning, along with the back end of a ticket wagon and opposite it, the entrance to the "Big Circus" tent. Krazy Kat, looking pretty much as in the comics, wanders around the ticket booth, and asks via word balloon, which lays out each letter in her statement in order, "A ticket an' a half." The ticket seller gives Krazy the ticket and a half, and after Krazy moves to the entrance to the show, she turns around and waves her paw. [Note: Krazy Kat is notoriously non-specific, and quite fluid, as to sexuality, but to make things easier in describing the action, I have gone with Krazy as a female in this case.] 

Krazy commands, "Come on Ignatzes darlink!" and then moves inside the tent. Into view comes Ignatz Mouse, himself looking exactly as he does in the comic, with his stick legs and arms, his round little body, his face all wound up in frustration at the world, and his curled tail. He stops at the entrance and motions that he is listening to what is occurring inside. Instead of moving through the open entrance (he has a half ticket after all), he decides to look under the edge of the tent and then enter that way. (I guess mice are rather prone and used to sneaking about, so maybe this way is more natural to him.)

We get a telescopic view of Krazy Kat's bottom perched on the stands inside the circus, with her tail swishing back and forth in excitement. Ignatz strides up and looks at her tail quizzically, and then ascends up its length to take his place alongside the Kat for the show. Krazy's tail continues to dance around a little before the camera switches angles. We next see Krazy put her arm around her beloved, but Ignatz takes a look around and then hurriedly hides in fear behind Krazy, peeking out a couple of times at what is coming towards them.

A dog, no larger than crazy herself, walks into the frame, and stops in front of Krazy and looks up at her. Krazy greets the dog with "Hello! Lynxie How is it by you?" The dog responds, "Oh, putty nice! Seen any nice fat mice about, Krazy I'm hungry as a bear?" [Note: The punctuation use is as it appears in the word balloons.] Krazy, worried for Ignatz's life, shakes her head back and forth to tell the dog "No". Lynxie responds, "Well if you see any let me know even if they ain't so fat!" The dog wanders off and out of the picture for good.

Ignatz ducks back out from behind Krazy, runs forward to watch the dog depart, and we see his knees quake in fear. Krazy asks him, "Ignatz why is mice sech cowards?" in her strange argot. "Fool I ain't a coward!" he replies instantly, but we see his knees rattle together once more to negate his statement. Krazy picks up on this and challenges him. "You gota show me!" she says. "Poof I'll show you Krazy!" he spits back. 

The scene cuts to a series of dressing room doors outside, with the large circus tent as the only feature in the background. Ignatz marches with purpose up to the door in the middle, marked with a number "2" and a large star. He leaps up and peers through the keyhole, and we see the legs and bottom torso of a seated human female preparing for the show. Ignatz breaks the fourth wall and turns and gives a wink and a knowing smile to the audience. Then, without even knocking, he pulls open the door to the dressing room and runs into it.

He flies up to the female and throws his arms into the air, yelling "Boo!" at her. We must assume there is a scream, for the only reaction we see if that the circus star pulls up the hem of her dressing garment and reveals two shapely legs clads in stockings. Her knees also rattle together briefly, and then she steps up on stool to get out of the reach of the invading mouse fiend. A word balloon spells out "POLICE HELP!" as Ignatz casually strolls out of the dressing room.

Krazy asks, "Well?" and then follows up with, "Shux that ain't brave Anyone can scare a mere womans". Ignatz replies, "All right Krazy Let's see you do it!" Krazy walks into the dressing room, points her fingers at the female like guns, and yells, "SPOOF!" The next thing she knows, Krazy is swatted hard into the ground with a broom. She is told to "Skat" and then pushed down with the broom again and again. The End.

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus is only three minutes in length, and never tries to do too much within that span. It gives us a simple comic situation and carries it through. It never comes close to approaching the complexity or far more robust language of the comic strip, and granted, this is pretty much a given considering the severe limitations of the animated art form in 1916. There were relatively few studios and animators growing the art form at that time, and conveying a storyline based around the joys of linguistic gymnastics would also have been impossible in the silent era as well.

So you have to take your pleasures where you may. I may be disappointed that the true possibilities of Krazy, Ignatz, and the missing member of the love triangle, Offisa Pupp, were never really explored onscreen, except in a couple of brief instances (those would be the 1936 Charles Mintz cartoon, L'il Ainjll -- which I will be writing about next week -- and a short cartoon that appeared on Sesame Street in the early 1970s, where brick-throwing explains the word "love" to the prepubescent audience. (That wouldn't happen just a few years later, and it may explain why, apart from possible copyright violations, the Sesame Street piece has sadly disappeared from view, even on DVD reissues.) 

But if you want to see Krazy and Ignatz where they still look something like the Krazy and Ignatz in the strips, then you need to take advantage of the few silent cartoons that have survived. Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus may not be Herriman's vision, nor gives us much in the way of circus antics, but it's better than nothing.


For my first take on the later cartoons of Krazy Kat and my love for the original comic strip, visit my post from May 11, 2006 at

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