Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dancing on the Moon (1935)

Dancing on the Moon (A Max Fleischer Color Classic, 1935) 
Dir.: Max Fleischer
Animators: Roland Crandall; Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 8/9

There are shots in Dancing On the Moon alone that make the entire Max Fleischer Color Classics series worthwhile. Long revered by cartoon fans for their unique visual depth, but top loaded with overly sentimental pap and cutesy pie characters, the Fleischers’ desire to match Disney's Silly Symphonies led to stagnation in the story department, and there are very few films in the series that actually approach the self-described "Classics" label. But everyone has their favorites in the series; I can quickly name three that I have adored for years, not so much because they are technically perfect cartoons in all categories, but merely because they are terrific (sometimes scary) fun and have held up for me over the years: Cobweb Hotel, Small Fry, and the 1935 film I am discussing here, Dancing on the Moon.

And as I said, there are shots that sum up that magical genre of science-fiction fantasy equally as well as any major film in the same genre. I'm not speaking of the “science” in so-called “science fiction”; I am talking about the fiction part: that dreamlike fantasy element that makes us eager to journey with Flash Gordon in his wobbling tin ship to battle evil galactic emperors; that causes us to wish we could leap a half mile into the clouds like John Carter on Barsoom; and which makes us long to catch a rocket and fly to the moon, just like the honeymooning couples in this film. Maybe Georges Méliès got to the place first cinematically in Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Voyage to the Moon) in 1902, but I have long felt that several of the scenes in Dancing are equally as memorable, if not also equally unlikely in conception.

The very first shot in the film is one of those memorable images. It is not a drawing of a rocketship, but rather one of the Fleischer Studio's ingeniously constructed three-dimensional props, which is mounted on a ramp pointing towards the skies. It is a dark and beautiful moonlit night, which is a good thing, since the moon is exactly where this rocket is heading, and it is supremely fortuitous to have a destination with itself as guide. The rocket is exactly the sort of vehicle one should wish to have for a trip like this, not that it could actually make it to the moon in reality, but, because this is a fantasy journey, it is the space-fantasy ideal of a Luna-bound rocketship. It is therefore perfectly suited to take the romantic-minded there, as well.

While the ship is festooned with signs offering a "Honeymoon Express to the Moon" and "Tonight - Dancing on the Moon - One Dollar Per Couple,” the leonine pilot, resplendent in captain's hat and coat, steps out of the side-hatch and sings his pitch to the couples with voice a-roaring and delightfully (like much of the singing in this film) off-key:

"Dancing on the Moon,
Your girl in your arms!
Far away from all the crowds,
Up above the silvery clouds!”

Then a line made up of willing couples strolls along toward the ship, gaily sing the second verse:

“Dancing on the Moon
With you in my arms!
Flying through the little stars,
Venus, Jupiter and Mars!"

The bridge to the song arrives courtesy of a recently wed bovine couple, who clutch each other lovingly as they croon:

"We'll soon be on the milky way,
Please don't hesitate
To close your eyes and sway
We're going to the pearly gates!"

A pair of adorably rotund penguins waddle up to finish the tune:

"Dancing on the Moon,
With you in my arms!
And our hearts will hum a tune
When we're dancing on the moon!"

Captain Lion greets each couple as they enter the ship. After pairs of honeymooning seals, elephants, and the just introduced penguins climb in, we are shown a frantically hurrying alleycat couple, who are obviously worried about making the ship on time. The tomcat practically drags his beauteous mate through the air behind him by the arm. There is a cut back to the ship, and after the giraffe and bear couples enter, the captain climbs in and the door starts to close behind him. The cats scurry through the darkness, desperate to catch the rocket, and when the door is nearly closed on the vessel, the groom leaps inside just in time, his hand still clutching the paw of his beloved, who dangles above the ground. The ship shoots up the ramp, the groom cat's grip slips, and his new wife is left on the Earth, angry and grousing at her mate. He promises "I'll be back soon, Wifey!”

It is in the ride through space that the film truly fulfills its fanciful promise. A shot through a portal in the rocket's nose allows us a spectacular, nearly 3D head-on view of the moon, with the cat pacing about sadly in the foreground, that I feel is the equal of many similar shots in more famous live science-fiction films. As the little cat plays a pitiful and lonely game of solitaire, the numerous couples snuggle and cuddle on a series of couches, and in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Love-bug, kiss each other shyly.

I haven't mentioned the fact that there is no mention of the lack of gravity in space, and it seems a silly thing to mention, when the animals next stick their heads out of the portholes on the ship, and therefore, break a handful of other scientific laws in the process. Who wants to worry about a body-exploding vacuum when you are on your honeymoon? Unless you are Tom Savini, no one does, and so, just do away with the glass on those windows from the start, and the laws of science will just have to adjust accordingly.

The animal couples stick their heads out into space and sing the title song again, this time only the second verse (with a slight variation in the first line) and the bridge. When they mention the various wonders of space, we see Venus, Jupiter, and Mars, with statuary of their representative gods displayed on their surfaces; likewise, as they sing of the Milky Way, a line of stars and cows drifts through the heavens. At last, the moon is fast approaching, and from the nose of the ship we get a P.O.V. shot with the moon dead ahead. As the ship prepares to land, a face appears on the surface of the moon and cheerfully greets the vessel with a very Kate Smith-like "Hello, everybody!"

When the ship finally lands, the couples head eagerly past a sign reading "Honeymoon Lane" leading into a wonderland of heart-shaped arches. The now stag groom cat mopes his way over to a moon-rock and sits down, bemoaning his loneliness and missing his beloved. The couples all find individual roosts in which to pitch woo to each other. The seals say “Kootchie kootchie koo!" to each other, and slap each other playfully; however, the slaps get harder and more competitive each time, and the cooed endearments harsher and meaner, until at last, Mrs. Seal wallops her mate hard enough to send him backwards onto the ground.

The giraffes wrap their necks about each other, and at the base of his wife's neck, Mr. Giraffe points out that "This is a good spot for necking!" (Oh, how shocking! My, my...) His wife's voice purrs out like Mae West and bids him to "Come up and see me sometime," which he does, and they do indeed neck with each other. Elsewhere, the cow playfully rings her bell each time that her bull plants one on her lips.

Mr. Bear launches into another verse of the theme song, as he waltzes about with his beloved. She picks up the second line, and then both complete the verse in tandem:

"Sway to the rhythm of my heartbeat!
There is nothing quite so heavenly
as the stars above
to a pair that's so in love!*
Honey, I just seem to be..."

Then, all of the couples join the bears in singing the first two verses of the song again, and they all dance hand in hand, revolving in time across the surface of the moon. Their dance leads them back towards the ship, but as they do, the sad little groom alleycat (who just moments before was entertaining himself with a game of cat's cradle) does a modified shuffle during a swell trombone solo, while spinning about almost in slow motion. (On a commentary on the Somewhere in Dreamland DVD, animation historian Jerry Beck mentions that it is probably the first version of Michael Jackson's "moonwalk" dance, and he is probably right). All of the animals climb aboard the ship for the return trip to earth, and the ship sputters its way into the void and leaves one magnificently filmed 3D orb for another. The ship lands, and the participants are greeted by a flying line of storks, each carrying a baby animal in a bundle.

It is this point where we get confirmation that "dancing on the moon" means far more than just actual dancing upon the moon, and makes it clear that the Fleischer boys apparently must have caught a previous rocket trip to the Planet of the Ribald Euphemisms. It turns out that "dancing on the moon" is somewhat akin to the old "submarine races" line on Happy Days; only here, once you "dance on the moon," you are greeted with a bawling child on your return from the heavens. The elephants receive a pachyderm child, as does each animal couple, etc. All except Mr. Alleycat, who is told "No!" by the stork, because after all, the cat was making like Billy Idol and only dancing with himself, and that is no way to end up with a kid. Mrs. Alleyat is not happy with this, either, and she pummels her husband on his return as the film fades out.

This film is truly endearing, and only those with the hardest hearts can resist its charms. While I am notorious amongst my friends as a hater of weddings, I have no problems with the act of marriage (for I am a great believer in romance); likewise, while I despise the crazed baby culture in which we seem to exist and on which we dote, I have nothing against those who wish to sensibly bring a reasonable amount of offspring into the world. So, it's all cuteness and light, filled with an enjoyable 1930s tune with a catchy refrain (which has sunk into my head for the last week), and some deep and memorable shots of rocketship fantasy gone mushily romantic. Sigh...

(This is the point where my girlfriend will remind me of how much of what a 13-year-old girl I can be...)



And in case you haven't seen it:

*Update 8/9/07: I initially asked for help with this line, as after about 6,000 rewinds (figuratively), it still made little sense to me. Barliesque and I had a conversation about it in the comments, where he thanked me for helping him with his own transcription, and where he recommended a solution to the "stars above" line. I had erroneously placed an exclamation point at the end of the preceding line, which made the following one make no sense to me. I have changed it according to his line of thought. Thanks, Barliesque! - RTJ]

[Note: This article was updated on 12/26/15 with a couple of text changes and new photos. Also, the girlfriend I mention in the text is now my wife. Though we will not be “Dancing on the Moon,” at least not to create the results shown in this film. And she still delights in reminding that, from time to time, I am a 13-year-old girl.]


Barliesque said...

Transcribing the lyrics to this little gem was a real challenge. Thanks to your blog, I was able to make some corrections to my transcription. Likewise, I can fill you in on the words to the verse:

Sway to the rhythm of my heartbeat!
There is nothing quite so heavenly!
Ask the stars above
to a pair that's so in love
Hon, I just seem to be...

Barliesque said...

Oops... that should be "As the stars above" rather than "Ask the stars above"

Rik Tod said...

Yeah! See? With either "ask" or "as", the line still doesn't make any sense: "As the stars above to a pair that's so in love..." What to a pair? I still think we are missing something here.

I do appreciate your kind words. Glad I could help with your transcript. Let me know when you get your own blog up and running!


Barliesque said...

No no, it makes perfect sense. I'll elaborate:

There's nothing quite so heavenly as the stars above. That's how it seems to us--a pair that's so thoroughly in love.

...musical breaks in the singing are probably suggesting new sentences that aren't really intended, distorting the sense of it for you. ...oops, that and my inclusion of the exclamation mark at the end of the second line. Heh-heh. I'll fix that right now...

Sway to the rhythm of my heartbeat!
There is nothing quite so heavenly,
as the stars above
to a pair that's so in love
And I just seem to be...

Rik Tod said...

Pardon me while I take on the tone of the Goofy Gophers, but: Oh, no, no, no, no... I simply must apologize for my error! It is I who set the exclamation point after the second line to begin with, and once you remove it, the "stars" line (and the ones immediately following) make perfect sense, as you suggested.

Thanks for the help, Barliesque. Now, might I direct you to my post for David Hand's The Cuckoo, where I was similarly tripped up by some drunken tongue-twisted lyrics in the fourth and final verse of the nightmare song.

I'm not sure one is supposed to actually understand what is being said at all, but the confusing line does rhyme with the one that follows, so something must have been coherently written at some point.

I thank you profusely once again.


Elisson said...

For some dopey reason, the tune from this Fleischer classic has been rattling around in my head like a Killer Earwig all week.

I haven't seen it in years, but I remember it well - and your post brought it back to me so vividly.

I have also never seen it in color, as our family had naught but B&W television sets back in the 1950's and early '60's.

Thanks for a wonderful post. I feel like I'm dancing on the moon!

Kaamanita said...

Wow this is a very great blog. Thanks for transcribing the lyric. Maybe you can watch the video clip at the youtube right here

Anonymous said...

Dancing on the Moon is so romantic! There are nine species of couples acting like human beings! They are Bears, Cows, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Penguins, Seals, Lovebugs, and Cats! The white female cat is left behind and at the end she beats him up. If the Black Cat is Doctor Who, he going back in time to tell the Lion wait for few minutes longer. Dancing on the Moon is like the Doctor Who meets Omaha's Wild Kingdom!

Anonymous said...

"He promises "I'll be back soon, Margie!"

To me it sounds more like "i'll be back soon, wifey!" perhaps...

Anonymous said...

I am hearing "WIFEY" rather than "MARGIE" too. :)

Jbug said...

I've been trying to find out who wrote the song and wasn't it written for this cartoon or is it one of the standards? I like this cartoon and song very much and so does my great grandchile.

21nurses1 said...

I remember watching this cartoon as a small child, around age 4/5. It was one of two cartoons from that era that was truly upsetting to me, as the poor cat was left alone on a honeymoon trip while everyone else had a partner, was happy, content, singing etc. I hated watching it, and the memory of sadness from this story has haunted me on and off to this day. I didn't know if I would find any information online, but here it is, an entire site devoted to this classic cartoon. Just thought I'd share another perspective; from a small child's view (mine), it was rather traumatizing.