Monday, November 30, 2015

L'il Ainjil (1936)

L'il Ainjil (Columbia/Screen Gems, 1936)
Dir.: Manny Gould and Ben Harrison

Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

It is my guess that for many of you, L'il Ainjil is not a film you have ever run across before. Hell, I didn't see it until a couple of years ago, and I went into seeing it with great, built-in misgivings thanks to Leonard Maltin. 

L'il Ainjil was released in 1936 as part of Columbia's long-running Krazy Kat series, in which the Kat looked and acted nothing like the original version that George Herriman created and made famous in the comic strip of the same name starting in 1913. (It ran in Hearst newspapers until Herriman's death in 1944.) The silent films originally created in tandem with Hearst did have a Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse (two of the strip's three main characters, the third of whom is Offissa Bull Pupp) that looked pretty much as put down on paper. They did little that pertained to how they acted in the comics, but they at least looked pretty close. But none of the Southwestern flavor of the settings and backgrounds of the strip made it onto the big screen, and because they were silent films, none of the rich, poetic verbosity and little of the mangled language (they did use word balloons in the cartoons early on) made it either.

And the driving force of the Krazy Kat strip, the strange love triangle dynamic between Ignatz (who loved to throw bricks at Krazy's head but didn't like the Kat), Krazy (unidentifiable as either male or female, and who took Ignatz's missiles to be messages of pure love), and Offissa Pupp (who was in love with Krazy but hated Ignatz and went to extreme measures to stop the mouse from throwing bricks, even though Krazy had little but disdain for Pupp) never made it to the movie screen at that time at all.

Krazy kept making films, and the world hit the sound era, and things just... evolved. Over the years, Ignatz disappeared from the movies. The series was taken over by Columbia at some point, and soon enough, Krazy was just another adventure-seeking Mickey clone -- he got cuter and round, and even obtained a girlfriend -- and became engaged in rubbery antics with all manner of barnyard animals and anthropomorphic musical instruments and furniture. Though there are moments that still play well in the earlier shorts, as the series continued at Columbia through the early 1930s, they became increasingly rote (and sometimes well below that near the end). And, of course, nowhere near what Krazy Kat was in the comics, which in my opinion -- based on a combination of Herriman's dual talents at superior draftsmanship and fantastically written, original satire -- continues to serve as one of the finest pure examples of individual art ever created.

L'il Ainjil is almost, kind of... should'a-would'a-could'a... sort of almost the way it ought to have been done for years and years. The character we see in L'il Ainjil is almost -- and I only say "almost" with reservations, because L'il Ainjil is still fairly wide of the mark -- the real Krazy Kat.

Not that the people who made it think that way, and this where the misgivings I mentioned at the start of this article were built initially. Directed by Columbia veterans Manny Gould and Ben Harrison, who were hugely responsible for the steady descent of the series, L'il Ainjil was conceived as a desperate change of pace from what they had been doing in the series to that point. According to Leonard Maltin's usually indispensable tome on the art, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons (McGraw-Hill, 1980), animator I. (Isadore) Klein convinced producer Charles Mintz to let them try to make a Krazy Kat film using the actual characters and love triangle plot from Herriman's strip. This meant bringing back Ignatz Mouse (though I prefer when he is called Mice) and, for the first time on camera, Offissa Pupp. But Klein had to deal with the increasingly pedestrian style of his directors, and even though he loved the backgrounds that were created for the film, he ended up deeply disappointed in the final result. Klein's partial quote from Maltin's book was, "...but it was a senseless story, throwing bricks, and that was the end of it."

And here is where Maltin screwed me. He closes the subject on L'il Ainjil by saying bluntly, "The cartoon... is just as bad as Klein remembers it being." That's it. Of course, when I am told something is remarkably bad, I want to see it almost as much, and sometimes even more, than I would a greatly revered classic.  But, it would over thirty years after first buying Of Mice and Magic (I have first editions in both hardcover and paperback) before I would have a chance to see L'il Ainjil, though I would read through Maltin's overall, still quite excellent and informative book several times over those decades. And because I prefer to base my cinematic knowledge first in that which I have seen for myself, then supplementing it with secondary information gained from published sources, and finally coloring in what I have seen and learned with the ofttimes educated (but sometimes not) opinions of others about the subject, I had no other recourse but to watch L'il Ainjil with my own eyes to find out just what was so "bad" about it.

Nothing. There is nothing that is outright bad about L'il Ainjil. That there was a sense of disappointment regarding the film by the animator who led the charge in getting it made is understandable because L'il Ainjil is not a success by most means of measuring a film's quality. But in comparing it to the most immediate predecessor in the Krazy Kat series (that is available to see, that is) -- 1935's heavily racially stereotyped and dull Kannibal Kapers -- the intent behind making L'il Ainjil for the true Krazy Kat fan of that era not only comes off as bold but also somewhat noble.

At the outset of L'il Ainjil, following the title card, we meet Offissa Bull Pupp and Mrs. Kwakk Wakk as they walk towards the camera in a forced perspective as the road rolls away underneath their feet. They are rushing hurriedly forward, with Offissa Pupp swinging his truncheon wildly above his head. 

Offissa Pupp (in Billy Costello's instantly recognizable voice) sings along in an operetta style:**

"I am all the law and order,
___ ___ ___, ___ ___ ___
of the county known as Coconino!"

And then Mrs. Kwakk Wakk adds in:

"Nino!"

Pupp continues:

"There's one rascal ___ ___ ___ me,
Ignatz Mouse, and  ___ ___ me!"

And then Mrs. Kwakk Wakk reveals the purpose behind their purposeful march:

"Don't hit Krazy Kat upon the bean-o!"

And Pupp adds:

"Bean-o!"

[**I have listened closely to what Pupp is singing dozens of times now, and still cannot make out clearly what is being said. I have left blanks in the spots where the lyrics are still to be determined. If you have better ears than I, and the answers seem reasonable, I will update this in the near future. Feel free to leave comments below.]

The pair then join hands and begin to dance while pale examples of Herriman's Arizona-inspired rocks and mountain scroll along past them in the distance. Suddenly, Krazy Kat dances into view. Offissa Pupp and Mrs. Kwakk Wakk stop their merriment to stare at the lovelorn cat, who spins about with a tremendous smile on her face. (For purposes of clarity, I haven chosen to establish Krazy's gender as female in this article, though her gender is generally considered fluid.) Krazy departs and continues to dance along, as houses and trees pass behind the cat. After leaping into the air, Krazy ducks her head into a flap in a booth ahead of her.

It sounds like something hits Krazy in the head, and the angle switches to the other side of the booth. We see a scowling Ignatz Mouse standing next to a pile of bricks. One after one, Ignatz picks up a brick and hurls it at Krazy's head, not even waiting it see it bounce off the cat's noggin before picking up the next one. But this is not enough for the mouse. Krazy has been smiling like an idiot thus far throughout the mouse's cruel but wrongly interpreted onslaught, but then Krazy shows surprise when she sees what is coming. Ignatz mounts a modified machine gun onto the counter of the booth and starts shooting bricks even faster at Krazy's head. The cat is knocked back through the flap at the back of the booth.

When she rises from the ground, Krazy flies up into the air with a happy smile still on her face, and then rushes to duck her head back into the flap to catch more bricks. Offissa Pupp only sees Krazy from the rear of the booth and scratches his head in confusion. He chuckles due to his adoration of Krazy and her strange behavior, but then realizes something must be amiss. He and the nosy duck march to the booth earnestly and see Krazy's body with her head still through the flap. She swings back and forth, clicking her heels with each hit of a brick (still completely unseen by Pupp and Kwakk Wakk).

Pupp picks up Krazy's tail and pushes the end of it like a doorbell or buzzer. Krazy's head pops out of the flap as she backs up, and we see that her ears have turned into the bells that used to adorn the tops of older telephones. They ring fast and loud, and Krazy pulls out a telephone receiver (with a cord) from out of nowhere. In the only word she will say throughout the cartoon, Krazy asks, "Hello?" Pupp is overjoyed to hear Krazy's voice, and responds, "Hello!" but then realizes this silliness is blocking him from his job in finding out what is happening on the other side of the booth. He swings Krazy away by her tail and out of the frame with a crash. Pupp puffs up his chest and adjusts his pants and ducks his head into the flap to see for himself. We hear a brick hit him square on the noggin, and he falls out backwards from the flap onto the ground.

On the other side of the booth, Ignatz realizes what has just happened. Hurriedly, he pitches the machine gun under the pile of bricks and forms them into a small chimney. He reaches over the counter and pulls out a long white beard, and then also pulls out a bell and a large sign that reads "Xmas Fund" on it. He starts to wave the bell in the air. Pupp gets up and comes around the side of the booth and sees the beard-wearing Ignatz forlornly ringing the bell as if to ask for donations for the needy. Pupp is ever the softie at heart, and readily flips a coin into the chimney.

Enter Krazy Kat from the side of the booth. She sees the sign and the chimney, but then sneezes, blowing the bricks from the false chimney up into the air, and causing them to rain down onto the head of Offissa Pupp! The brick-throwing machine gun too is revealed, and Pupp looks ready to clobber Ignatz. The mouse looks him in the face and laughs musically at the police dog. "Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha-ha!" and then waggles the bell under Pupp's chin ticklishly. Pupp smacks Ignatz on the head with his truncheon and then drags the mouse away. Mrs. Kwakk too is riled up and overly excited by the capture of Ignatz, and she quacks wildly before conking Krazy on the head herself. (It must be pointed out that the duck is doing exactly what she was trying to stop in the first place: the further abuse of Krazy Kat.)

Pupp marches to a small jail that looks fairly like the one that Herriman himself would have drawn, and throws Ignatz into it with his truncheon, crashing the mouse through the front door. Pupp pulls out a large key, locks the door, and then swallows the key in one gulp, with his neck taking on the shape of the key briefly. Offissa Pupp then reverts back to the operetta style from earlier and sings:

"Ignatz Mouse, it's safe to say,
you will not toss a brick today!"

And Mrs. Kwakk Wakk finishes:

"Or any other day in Coconino!"

Pupp adds:

"Nino!" 

The pair dance away as before, and we next see Krazy Kat sneaking from tree to tree, with one rubbery leg stretching far out from behind one tree and then over to the next, pulling her body behind it. She gets to the jail where Ignatz sits in a second-story cell window with bars across it. She whistles to get the mouse's attention and shows him a large gift basket. He can't reach it with his tiny mouse arms, so Krazy lights a cigar sitting in the basket to rocket it upward. The basket lands in his arms, and he takes it inside. He first puts the cigar in his mouth happily, and then dumps all of the fruit out of the basket. The last item to pop out is a pie with a zipper running around its circumference. He unzips it and reveals all manner of tools with which he can perform an escape, including a saw, a drill, an axe, and even a good-sized, classically cartoonish bomb. He grabs the saw and drill and gets to work.

Krazy stands outside, with large hearts flying around and dissolving over her head. The jail starts to shake and bulge out in various places as Ignatz uses the escape tools. There is more stretching and shaking as bricks start to pop out of the building, and then entire holes are smashed out here and there. Another criminal is seen in another cell window on the second floor, hanging on while the building rocks back and forth. Finally, the building gives way, and the criminal's entire cell is sent flying, smashing the bricks off of it when he lands, upon which his cell door swings open. The criminal runs away.


Meanwhile, Krazy has bricks raining down on her, and she runs to avoid them. But then one of them hits her directly on the forehead, and she falls instantly into a love swoon, with more hearts popping in the air above her. She goes back into her leaping, spinning dance from the beginning of the picture, eventually running into Mrs. Kwakk Wakk. Krazy grabs the duck's wings and starts to dance with her, leaving Pupp to scratch his head. Mrs. Kwakk Wakk desperately tries to break Krazy's grip, and quacks wildly. By the time that they dance back to the police dog and Krazy switches partners, the duck is thoroughly exhausted. The cat and dog dance a quick round and come back to the duck, and then Krazy dances on her tiptoes around both of them.

Krazy dances back to the jail, where we see that the only thing that remains is a long pipe extending up from the foundation, on top of which rests Ignatz's jail cell, with the mouse still behind bars. The cell swings back and forth through the air, with bricks being shot out cannon-style through the chimney on top of the jail cell. Pupp rushes forward to check out the situation, but hears Mrs. Kwakk Wakk being attacked by the other criminal who was set free by the explosion of the jailhouse. The crook gets pretty "handsy" with the duck, and she wallops him a couple of times with her umbrella, but it doesn't stop him. Pupp jumps on the crook and they start to fight and roll about. In the melee, Mrs. Kwakk Wakk takes a couple more swings at the criminal, but hits Offissa Pupp soundly each time.

Ignatz sees what is happening and reaches down to the ground to pick up his machine gun. With a pile of bricks laying about, he has unlimited ammo and starts firing down in the direction of the criminal. He brains the criminal several times over, and then the gun allows Ignatz to shoot the bricks in such a way that it builds a brand new jail around the criminal, locking him inside. (I am not sure where the bars in the window come from, but oh well...) 

Ignatz leaps down from his cell window with a brick already hidden behind his back. Pupp and the duck are overjoyed at the capture, and the police dog rushes forward to shake the mouse's hand. Pupp departs, and Krazy walks up to Ignatz. The mouse looks only briefly at the brick before he wings it and hits Krazy once again. Pupp runs back into frame and chases Ignatz into the distance, with the mountains of Coconino County behind them. Iris out. 

As I mentioned, compared to some of the relative crimes of the later Krazy Kat cartoons against the art of animation, L'il Ainjil is the preferred choice. Yes, even when it goes against the true nature of the strip and mistakes what was cleverly satirical for slapstick violence, it is still a far cry better than what came before. This may be damning with faint praise, but so be it. I get a small rush just from knowing there is an older cartoon that actually use more than just the two most famous cast members of the strip and that they made a fairly decent show of replicating the look as well, including the backgrounds. And frankly, it is a lot of unthinking brick-throwing (and shooting), but I would rather see Ignatz -- and an Ignatz that actually looks like Ignatz -- throw a thousands bricks in one cartoon than not throw a brick at all. Especially when one realizes there are nearly 200 Krazy Kat cartoons, and this is the only one with Offissa Pupp and Mrs. Kwakk Wakk.

I am a bit astounded that Maltin passed this one off so quickly. It also makes me wonder if he actually watched it when he wrote his book. He gives no real detail about it and lets the quotes from Klein explain anything that was in the cartoon (which is little). All he is says is that the film was as bad as Klein remembered, and if he didn't actually watch it and just paid lip service to having done so, I am deeply surprised he wouldn't take a sharper look at the film to determine its true level of "badness". Naturally, he implies that he did just by his statement, but even a quick look at L'il Ainjil reveals it is not merely another product of the same line from whence it was built. It is an aberration from that line, and deserves to be studied a little closer than it has. It showed the wild potential that could have been had by this series if they had simply followed the original creation a little closer. We could have been talking about one of the classic cartoon series if they had developed these themes further (and would have hopefully brought more of the wordplay of the comic strip to the movie screen).

Just by its intent, L'il Ainjil proves, even at this belated date, that it has its heart in the right place and certainly beats out the Krazy films that preceded and followed it, even if the short disappointed its creators. It may have missed wildly, and it may have everyone in the balcony inexplicably booing it, but L'il Ainjil still throws a pretty mean brick.



RTJ



IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT:



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tom Turk and Daffy (1944)

Tom Turk and Daffy (Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, 1944)
Dir.: Chuck Jones
Animators: Ken Harris and Robert Cannon
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9


So, why aren't there any great cartoon turkey characters? I not asking why one (such as Tom Turk in this cartoon) isn't well animated. I am asking why there are no truly memorable, living through the ages, Cartoon Hall of Fame-style turkey characters.

Ducks? We have plenty of them. Donald and Daffy at the start, along with all of Donald's various relatives and his girlfriend (Daisy, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Uncle Scrooge, etc.) On television, Darkwing Duck, Yakky Doodle, and Count Duckula are fairly prominent. We are pretty good with famous ducks. And even beyond fame, ducks are pretty well represented in the animation world.

We've got memorable roosters (Foghorn Leghorn), chickens (Chicken of Cow and Chicken, Clara Cluck, Lady Kluck from Disney's Robin Hood, Foghorn Leghorn's Miss Prissy and her little egghead son, and SuperChicken), geese (Donald's gluttonous cousin Gus), and even a pretty tough little chickenhawk named Henery. And, of course, Tweety Bird is way, way up there (though held barely aloft by tiny little wings) in popularity as a bird character.

But turkeys? What gives? There have certainly been turkey characters that show up here and there. Any adaptation of Chicken Little invariably has a Turkey Lurky within it. Warner Bros.' The Woods are Full of Cuckoos has a caricature of Sophie Tucker named Sophie Turkey amongst other celebrity cameos. There are others, but these efforts are few and far between, and it seems there has been no real attempt given to develop a regular turkey character as a leading star in a cartoon series. (At least, not that I can recall or discover.) And this seems wrong since they play such a huge part in our world. Hell, there is a holiday each year that, despite how we want to convince everyone it is about family and thankfulness and blessings, is really about how many damn turkeys we can knock down in a single day.

Turkeys are certainly strange looking birds to most people, and it would seem the comic possibilities are endless with their odd proportions, those omnipresent and sometimes disgusting-looking wattles, and their general anatomical structure. Since chases are so common to animation, one would think that at least one half of the great chase duos in cartoons would be taken up by a turkey character. After all, their one purpose in the human world is to be devoured (no one raises them because they are cute), so the motivation for the other half of the duo is there. Make it a wolf or a fox or some other predator, and let them have at it. It seems a natural.


And thus we come to Tom Turk and Daffy, a cartoon from 1994 directed by the great Chuck Jones. We don't just get Daffy Duck in this short; we also get his frequent co-star Porky Pig as a porcine pilgrim out to collect his Thanksgiving meal centerpiece. Well, Thanksgiving is never actually mentioned, but the pilgrim costume is pretty much a dead giveaway. (The holiday, along with turkeys, has been given relative short shrift in animation history itself.) Daffy does confuse matters at the beginning of the film when he is seen making a snowman while he sings a Daffy-only version of Jingle Bells. As he sings and packs snow on his creation, the earmuff-wearing Daffy thinks he hears the far off sound of gunfire. He strains to hear, and pulls one muff of his ear (the gag here is that a duck's ears are not external, so why the muffs?) and he hears the definite crack of a gun and a resulting clanging noise, which rattles the duck enough to make me shake from side to side.

Into view runs a large turkey, yelling at a breathless pace, "He's after me! He's gonna kill me! Don't let him kill me! I'm too young to die! I've got my whole life before me: Love! Travel! Good books!" As he finishes speaking and turns to crying loudly, he climbs on top of Daffy's body and wraps himself around the duck. The weight of the large turkey starts to make Daffy slowly sink into the snow, as Tom yells, "Hide me! Hide me! Hide me!"

Daffy pops up out of the snow and grabs the turkey by the neck. "Here, pull yourself together, Tom!" He slaps the turkey across the face once, "Snap out of it!," and then twice. "You're vergin' on the hysterical," the duck adds as he shakes Tom by the neck. He throws the turkey to the ground and jumps on him. "C'mon now, brace up! Brace up!" The turkey lies nearly lifeless on the ground.

"There, that's more like it," Daffy says, and then picks the turkey up by the neck and starts to drag him. "Now, let's see now. Where do I hide this seagull?" He drags the bird to a large, snow-covered rock, picks it up, and slides Tom's head underneath it. He drops the rock onto Tom's head, and the turkey's body jumps up in the air and back down with the impact. "No no, a little too obvious. Little too obvious...," he mutters and drags Tom off again.

Daffy arrives a small hole, and he picks up Tom by the neck, sits the turkey's plump rump on top of the whole, and attempts to push him down into the hole. He rushes off briefly and comes back with a pole, and starts to jab Tom into the hole with several violent thrusts. The attempt is unsuccessful, as Tom's head, tail feathers, and feet are still sticking out of the hole. "No, no," says Daffy. "Even more obviouser!"

He next drags Tom to a thin tree and crams the turkey's head into a hole in its center. He starts to push Tom's prodigious torso into the tree, as we see, far off in the distance, the wandering form of Porky Pig, dressed as a pilgrim and bearing a blunderbuss. Daffy jabs Tom over and over again in the rear to force him inside the tree, but the result is Tom's head popping out the other side. Seeing Porky's advance, Daffy drags Tom all the way through the tree by stretching his neck out to an insane length and popping him out.

Porky strides fully into view, and comes upon Daffy standing next to his snowman, as the duck sings Angel in Disguise. Out of the rear of the snowman are a full set of turkey feathers. As Daffy holds Porky back with a stiffened arm to the pig's forehead, Daffy sees he has left the turkey uncovered and slams shut a rear flap on the snowman, which looks like the back of a pair of pajamas. Porky relents on his advance, and tells the duck (with his usual stuttering), "I'm looking for a darned old turkey!"

Daffy spits out a mock angry retort, mocking Porky in the process. "Do you mean to insinuate that I'd hide your darned ol' t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-turkey?" "I was certain he came this way," the pig replies, but Daffy holds firm. "Well, I ain't talkin', see! My lips are SEALED!" The close-up on Daffy's face transforms to show his entire beak is indeed sealed with a vise, a pair of padlocks, and a series of Christmas seals. "I ain't no stool pigeon, see!" he adds. The camera zooms toward the snowman, where the snow goes briefly transparent to show us a cutaway with the turkey inside. Tom says, "What a pal! What a pal! What a pal! What a pal!" and then Tom adds one more final "What a pal!"

Porky starts to walk off with his head hanging low. "Oh, dangnabbit! And I had everything ready for a nice, big t-t-t-turkey dinner." Daffy continues to defend Tom by saying, "Not a word out of me! I ain't no squealer," but then Porky's words finally reach Daffy's tiny brain. "I'm not... Turkey dinner?" "Uh huh," says Porky as he continues up the hill away from the duck. "And with chestnut dressing too." Daffy makes a yummy noise, but then catches himself. A halo appears above his head as he says, "No, no. I won't talk. They can't make me! I'm no stool pigeon!" 


But the duck is weak. He asks of the departing pig, "Cranberry sauce?" as his halo is replaced by a pair of devilish horns instead, with his salivating tongue hanging out of his mouth like a wolf. "Yeah," says Porky, "and we have mashed potatoes and green peas." "Mashed potatoes and green peas?," asks Daffy, as he starts to sweat guiltily and tug at his white neck ring. The halo reappears along with a pair of white wings on his back. "No! No! They won't sweat it out of me! I won't be a stool pigeon! I won't be..." Daffy weakens, and he turns back to the sweating, craven thing with devil horns. "And... and... candied yams?"

When Porky affirms that candied yams will indeed be part of this amazing meal, Daffy reaches his breaking point. He collapses to the snow-covered ground and starts pounding his fists. "The yams did it! The yams did it!" Suddenly, a large stool pops out of the snow with a sign reading "Stool Pigeon." Daffy's body transforms into that of a pigeon, and he coos loudly from the seat of the stool. He zips off, gets to the snowman with Tom hiding inside, and then pushes it across the field and over the hills just past where Porky remains on the hunt. 

Porky looks up and sees the snowman, with about two dozen signs surrounding and pointing at it, reading variations on "Here is the Turkey" and "He's in Here" and "25 Ft. to Turkey". Porky starts to head towards the snowman, as Daffy is consumed by guilt. "I didn't want to do it! It was those yams! Oh, those nasty yams!" Tom realizes he is suddenly in trouble. As Porky threatens to blast Tom out of the snowman, Tom burrows out through the snow Bugs-style, and comes up behind Daffy, who is still pounding his fists into the snow. Tom removes his own tail feathers and sticks them on Daffy's behind. He yells, "Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! and ducks down into the snow.

"So, there you are, you ol' turkey!" yells Porky, and Daffy is confused. "Turkey? Who's a turkey?" he cries, but turns his head around and realizes his fix. "Now wait a minute, Miles Standish," he says as the pig marches towards him with the gun. "I'm a duck!" He hangs on the edges of the blunderbuss and says, "I can swim! Observe!" Daffy slings himself up and over Porky's head, and dives into the snow. He starts to swim through it with a freestyle stroke, then hops up and starts running. Porky speeds after him, and they race up and down several hills, with Daffy's body turning into a snowball as he rolls downward and then un-snowballing up the next hill. Finally, he turns into a snowball that gets smaller and smaller until he disappears completely.

Porky comes to the point where the snowball disappeared, and looks around in great confusion. Then he is smacked on the left side of his face by a thrown snowball. He looks in that direction, but then another snowball hits him on the back of his bald head from the opposite direction. He looks in each direction over and over, but then a third snowball drops onto the top of his head, driving him into the snow pile. Porky lifts his head, only to be hit with twin snowballs, one of each side of his face. A third, much larger snowball shows up instantly and hovers in the air in front of Porky's bewildered face. He lowers his head and the snowball ducks down with him. He raises his head high and the snowball follows suit. As soon as he brings his head back to its normal resting place, Daffy pops out of the snowball bearing a large mallet and conks the pig square on the noggin!

Daffy splits and speeds over to a small pond and scoops up a pail full of cold water. He throws the water out of the pail in Porky's direction, and as the pig comes to from the mallet hit, the water ices up into a solid block in the shape of the pail and smashes into Porky's face, knocking him flat on his back. "Tsk, tsk," Daffy says as he wanders into view. "Cold as a cucumber." But Porky is not done for yet. He sweeps onto his feet with anger on his face and his blunderbuss ready to blast.

The duck doesn't wait around and zips off over the hills. Porky follows rapidly and charges up to Daffy as the duck stands nonchalantly against a tree. As Porky raises his gun, ready to smash the stock down on the duck's head, Daffy pours a small glass of water over himself It freezes instantly into an icy casing covering the duck, and Porky's savage blow only serves to split the front half off the ice, and cause Porky to quiver wildly in pain. Daffy zips off and grabs another pailful of water from a creek. He throws it across the creek, and it crystallizes into a very nice truss style bridge. He crosses the bridge, but when Porky follows, he is stopped by Daffy, wearing a cap and a change maker, underneath a sign reading "Toll Bridge 10¢".

Porky pays Daffy the necessary dime, and he is allowed through the gate and off the bridge. Porky runs off to hunt his quarry, but comes to speeding stop suddenly and peers at the viewer. We are then taken through a series of quick takes, as Porky is first seen wearing a dunce cap with an dull stare on his face, then he transforms into a bottle with the word "Dope" on it, and then finally as a candy with a "Sucker" wrapper on it.

He then reappears with the most amazing grimace on his face (the kind that just screams "Chuck Jones was here") and throws down his gun in anger. He builds up speed by kicking a huge pile of snow behind him and bolts off with his hands grasping towards Daffy, who is still on the bridge. He sees Porky, who has somehow gotten his gun back, coming fast, and so Daffy takes off. Porky runs straight through a pile of snow, and when he comes out, the snow is in the form of a tank with the blunderbuss performing as a cannon. When Daffy runs over the last snow hill, Porky cuts a swath right through it.

Meanwhile, Tom Turk is quietly playing with the snowman, humming to himself, as Daffy comes running while screaming, "He's after me! He's after me! Don't let him kill me! I'm too young to die! Save me! Save me!" It seems the tables have turned, and Tom decides to "help" Daffy in the same manner in which the duck originally "helped" him. He throws Daffy's head under the same snow-covered rock. He tries to stuff the duck inside the same tree but uses a pole to do it. Tom punts Daffy to the highest branch on another tree, but then chops down the tree, which smashes to the ground on top of Daffy's prone body. He finally throws Daffy off a high cliff so that his beak gets stuck in the ice, with his body and legs whipping back and forth. As the film irises out, Tom's voice speeds up as he runs to and fro, trying to hide Daffy's body "Here!," "No, here!," "Here!," "No, here!," etc.

While I generally get riled up about non-predatory birds (bugs and worms don't count) like Donald and Daffy (or even Woody Woodpecker) when they have displayed cannibalistic tendencies here and there throughout their careers (especially with Donald, where it is a curious blind spot in the supposedly safer, more family-oriented Disney output), I am quite fine with Daffy's reaction when the yams "do him in" in Tom Turk and Daffy. After all, there is all that delicious food, and it is only a turkey after all.

Maybe that is the problem with a turkey becoming a regular cartoon star. All anyone is going to think about is eating him. So, why go through the torture of getting to know one intimately in a prolonged series of outrageous cartoons when ultimately, his fate has already been decided? He is just too, too delicious, no matter how preposterous turkeys may look on the outside. You will watch Mr. Turkey cavorting about all cute as he runs circles around whoever his nemesis is in his cartoon, and then all it will take is one single slip. You will forget the cartoon and just stare at Mr. Turkey, licking your lips as you start to ponder how he would look on your dinner plate. You will think long and hard about those mashed potatoes. And gravy. And stuffing. And cranberry sauce... and those yams. Those candied yams!

It's enough to drive even a vegan duck daffy with hunger...

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 http://cinema4celbloc.blogspot.com/2006/05/bars-and-stripes-1931.