Monday, February 13, 2006

Butterscotch and Soda (1948)

Butterscotch and Soda (Famous Studios/Paramount, 1948)
Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 8/9

Crash and burn. That's Little Audrey's main problem. The girl eats impossibly large amounts of candy, then burns out once the sugar high finally fizzes off. The girl is a little chocolate speed freak; it's no wonder nearly every one of her early films involves her "taking a trip" to a mythical fairyland, though usually covered by the excuse of a bad dream during a catnap.

Little Audrey was Famous Studios (and Paramount's) replacement for another "Little" girl: Lulu, the famous heroine of Marge's popular comic series, lost to the studio in a contract dispute. Audrey looks nothing like her predecessor, and has her own complete world with which to contend, so there is no copyright infringement at work here; she is merely a different girl on which the studio could (eventually) hang a series, though most of her cartoons came out under the Noveltoon banner. Like other Famous stars, she was quickly draped with a highly restrictive formula that hampered the storylines; unlike many of her fellow characters, her films (due to their fantasy structure) were often a little more inventive, with the writers having to come up with a handful of gags in each cartoon appropriate to whatever fantasy world she was seeing in her head at that time.

Compared to the Casper the Friendly Ghost series, which had a pure fantasy setup due to its ghostly hero and had the potential to be far more inventive, the Little Audrey films are actually (on the whole, and this is just my personal opinion) twice as engaging as Casper's films, especially in a visual sense. This second film for the series (the first was Santa's Surprise in 1947, though she also did a cameo in Olive Oyl For President before this film) is no exception, and is actually a fairly perceptive and shocking, though basic, primer on addictive personality.

Butterscotch and Soda sets the true tone for the series, as it is the first to deal with Audrey's fantasy world within her head (in Santa's Surprise, she and a group of international cuties actually go to Santa's home); the set-up of Audrey, though, runs on longer than normal, so the fantasy world actually gets short shrift time-wise. Audrey also has a slightly more bulbous head than she would have in the cartoons immediately following (typical with the first appearance of a character, her design still seems unfinished, though her ubiquitous blue dress, pigtails, shoes, socks and white panties outfit are already established from the beginning). In the first shot of her, with her wild, widely set apart eyes greedily staring at a monstrous bag of chocolate, she almost seems as if she could devour Tokyo is she so chose (though such a thing was not to be considered yet as of 1948).

Audrey says "Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo! I think that I will choose this one!" and then grabs a handful of chocolates from the bag, devouring them all in a single gulp. She repeats this, causing her stereotypical big black mammy of a housekeeper (replete with kerchief, striped stockings, and a slovenly, though busybody, shuffle) to nag her incessantly about not eating her lunch. Her lunch, it turns out, could feed an army, with a steak so big that I believe it could choke Gwangi, and the housekeeper catches Audrey wolfing down her non-nutritious sack of sweets, and forces the little girl to the table. "I just can't understand a child eating candy 48 hours a day,” the mammy character says, as Audrey not only uses a fork to pick up bites of her lunch, but also uses a second fork to stuff even more candy into her mouth from the bag now tied to the side of the table. The first fork, however, never makes it to her mouth, instead being held out behind her to feed the dog on the floor, who salts each piece before he bites it.

The mammy discovers what is happening, when Audrey reaches behind her to feed the dog another piece, the fork will not come back. She turns around to find the Mammy lying on the floor behind Audrey, with the fork in her mouth instead of the dog’s, glaring at the little girl disapprovingly. She picks up Audrey and locks her in the bedroom for "the whole weekend, if that's what it takes", especially as she notices at the last minute another bag of candy marked "Friday" hanging from Audrey's window sill, followed by bags marked "Saturday", "Sunday", "Monday", and "And Always". (A popular Frank Sinatra tune of the day was Sunday, Monday or Always, and the gag is punctuated by the closing strains of its chorus.) 

Once the mammy leaves, Audrey goes into a true addict's panic, tearing the room apart looking for more candy. She remembers where her final stash is hidden (in the ceiling lamp), but a mouse has beaten her to it. Almost collapsing on the bed, she imagines her umbrella is a candy cane, and bolts towards it but only ends up with a mouthful of umbrella. Her pet bird becomes chocolate in her mind, and when she tries to grab it from its cage, the bird flies about the room. In an astounding moment, the shadow of the bird on the wall transforms into that of a giant vampire bat that cloaks the room in darkness. The darkness then shifts to that of Audrey's open, screaming mouth, as the camera pulls back to reveal the little girl gripping the wall, and further pulls back as she continues to scream, in a true Hitchcockian moment almost straight out of Spellbound, with the girl tiny against the tremendous walls of her room, each one painted a different hue, which then swirl into a kaleidoscope of spinning color.

The ride stops, and we see a shiny red cherry, and when the camera pulls back, the cherry is atop a gigantic sundae, surrounded by candy cane fields. We are obviously in some sort of Candyland setting. Audrey is sitting on a chocolate brick road, and the sweet-addicted little piggy wastes no time in chomping hungrily into one of the bricks. Her attention is diverted by the fields about her, with lollipops growing from the ground, and marshmallows hanging in the sky like clouds.

Little Audrey begins to pick huge handfuls of lollipops, filling up a sack as she goes, even while grazing the entire time. Her bag gets even bigger as she fills it with Boston Baked Jelly Beans, which she pans from a giant pot, and Licorice Drops that are dropped from a dump truck. She passes by signs that read "I'd Walk A Mile For A Caramel" (whether this is an intentional joking comparison with an equally addictive item, I do not know, but doubt highly), and finally the bag is so big that it completely dwarfs the little girl.

Then Audrey reaches her limit. She begins to develop moving red and white stripes on her face like a barber pole and she grows steadily more nauseous. Her tremendous bag of candy shape-shifts into a large, menacing ghost who points accusingly at her and chases her as he sings the following swingin' but evil song, accompanied by various denizens of the Candyland:

Bag Ghost: 
"You've got the Tummy Ache Blues!
The Tummy Ache Blues!
The Tummy Ache Blues!
You've got the Tummy Ache Blues
From eating all the candy you did!"

Flying Black Gumdrops: 
"You're red right down to your shoes!
You're wolfin' down gum in bunches of twos!
You've got the Tummy Ache Blues!
You're gonna be the sorriest kid!"

Chocolate Bar Ghost: 
"You bit off more choc-o-late than you can chew!
You went and made a big, big pig of little you!"

"You've got the Tummy Ache Blues!
The look on your face is tellin' the news!
You've got the Tummy Ache Blues
From eating all the candy you did!
From eating all the candy you did!"

Through this ordeal, the candy fiends keep chasing her and she struggles to keep her distance from them. After some candy canes with sledge hammers (who were working a chain-gang on a Rock Candy Mountain) go after her, she ends up slogging through the muck on Fresh Fudge Road, and a Candy Steamroller driven by what looks like a Tootsie Roll heads towards her for a final flattening. The screen swirls again, and Audrey is sitting on a chair in a dark room surrounded by the all of the candy fiends again. This time, while singing a reprise of The Tummy Ache Blues, they force Audrey's mouth as wide as it can possibly go and pour the contents of an unending bag of candy into her helpless maw.

Audrey wakes up in her own bed with the mammy dripping water on her from a cool washcloth. She offers Audrey "all the candy you want!" and Audrey panics, practically flying from the room. The final shot shows the dog sitting at the table and dining with two forks the Audrey did before, only this time Audrey is the one on the floor, salting each piece as she happily eats her dinner.

I don't know about most people, but this is the sort of cartoon, if you see it at the right age, that will stick in your imagination for life. It is more frightening than probably meant, though clearly it was meant to be somewhat that way. Nowadays, even with the supposed sophistication of kids due to the culture growing up so much faster, we tend to coddle kids of the age for which these old cartoons were once made. They will find nothing even a thousandth so shocking in a Backyardigans or Bob the Builder episode, for examples, even if the filmmakers were telling a story with similar intentions. This is because the fright is reduced to a minimum and any lessons that involve something that might be scary are always always undercut these days with a knowing wink at the audience; no such outlet is to be found in this cartoon.

While I did not see Butterscotch and Soda as a child (I think my track record of collecting my childhood obsessions and fears will show clearly that this one would have stuck with me forever), it is certainly memorable when viewed as an adult, so I certainly understand those friends of mine who have hesitantly fond memories of the terrors within it.

Myself, all I know is that I have a swell song to sing when those ol' Tummy Ache Blues kick in...

And in case you haven't seen it:

[Editor's note: The text and photos for this article were updated on 12/9/2015.]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that. I am 48 years old, and saw that episode when I was about 6. I have never forgotten it, and searched for it on many occasions; this is the first time I have ever seen it discussed.

Anonymous said...

I can't thank you enough for the in-depth plot summary. I saw the episode when I was only 4 years old, and it has never left me. I remember being so frightened that I literally cried and fell to pieces if any Little Audrey cartoon was on the television screen. Through the years, (I am 47 at present) the song "Tummy Ache Blues" has frequently popped into my head, complete with melody and what I believe are accurate voice inflections. And the image of Little Audrey's mouth being forced open and stuffed full with candy haunts me to this day. So maybe it's true that all the nerousis of the past 43 years, including drug addiction, paranoia, loneliness, hostility, and marital problems, all stems from that episode. Hey, in our day, blaming one's problems on someone or something else is in vogue, so why not?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that. Does anyone know if this available for purchase?

Rik Tod Johnson said...

I have the film on a 4-disc DVD set called "Classic Cartoons Vol. 1 and 2". The cartoon is in the public domain, and thus, is probably available on a couple dozen sets, and all relatively cheap. This set has 60 cartoons and retails for $9.98. The downside is that the films are usually pretty terrible condition-wise. Basically, you get what you pay for, but, if you want to locate it quickly, here is the link to buy it:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that as well. I was probably 10 or so when I saw that (I'm 24 now), my grandmother had given me a bunch of old tapes with old cartoons on it, and I specifically remember being scared by that episode. The tummy ache blues song will still pop into my head every so often. Nice piece of nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

While Little Audrey was force fed by candy characters in the dream as punishment, it reminds me of the scene of Dabney Wharton Coleman in the dream scene as punishment for bigotry, in "Hit the Road, Newdell" in "Buffalo Bill."

Anonymous said...

The tummy ache blues song was catchy, but the portrayal of the maid is grotesque, offensive, and virulently racist.