Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ain't Nature Grand! (1931)

Directors: Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising
Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 0:07, b/w
Animators: Friz Freleng and Norm Blackburn
Music: Frank Marsales
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

Ah, wilderness! I moved away from it, at least, away from the largest single measure of it in the United States, when I left Alaska, and to a certain extent, I miss it dearly. Mainly, I miss the possibility that my dad might call me up spontaneously and ask me to go camping the next weekend. I'm sure that once he gets down to Idaho for good that we will get together and hit some of the National Parks together that lie outside of Alaska. But for now, I am a city mouse, and I shall have to live vicariously through outdoors adventures in the movies to get my camping kicks. In the great outdoors, I never seem to sleep more comfortably or seem as relaxed as when I am curled up in a sleeping bag, breathing in the fresh forest breeze, or just hanging about the campfire with friends or relations (or both).

Not that I shall find such happiness with Bosko when he takes to the outdoors in Ain't Nature Grand!, a Merrie Melodies from the Harman-Ising team in 1931. Not only has he taken the woods with only a fishing pole at his side, but he has also left civilization without his girl Honey, and especially without a reasonable plot or interesting situations. Bosko has left with so little, that he seems to have left half of himself behind as well, since he only seems to appear onscreen for about that much of the picture. In fact, the creators seem somewhat bored with the little guy in this picture, and spend much of the time communing with the worms, birds and bees rather than following the exploits of their supposed lead character. Outside of a couple whimsical moments, the film seems so lacking in anything interesting that upon viewing it, the film threatens to dissolve into snow on my television screen, somewhat like a reverse version of a magic picture poster.

After shooing his dog away, Bosko sits down on a lakebank to pursue a little fishing pleasure. For him, that is, not the fishies. Of course, he sits down next to a sign reading "NO FISHING", and while something will come out of this set-up, if you think any conflict with a park ranger or policeman will ensue here, then you have the wrong film, buster. Bosko wishes to bait his hook with the worm that he brought, but the little fellow pleads for mercy and a big-hearted Bosko lets him go. Desperate for something else to use as bait, Bosko has the swell idea of removing the letters N and O from the sign, not only using them as worms for the hook, but also making his actions completely legal (at least, on first appearance).

In an extended sequence, the worm scurries off to his hole, but a bird coyly follows him, but when the worm makes him out, the bird gives rapid chase to the panicking wriggler. The worm dives into a hole but the bird tries to pull him out. Luckily, there are three other holes nearby that form a square with the other hole, and the worm stretches his body so that he laces through all of them and ties himself about a plant stem. He then pulls the bird through all of the hole, subsequently defeathering the naked avian in the process. The bird picks up his feathers and dons them anew like a coat, and after the worm blows a raspberry at him, the bird highhats the wriggler and struts off.

Meanwhile, Bosko is getting no bites at first, but finally a fish grabs on and Bosko pulls him from the water. The little fella slips free of Bosko's grasp, but after a couple of similar swipes, Bosko finally manages to hang on to him. Bosko ask rhetorically, "Ain't that cute?", but the fish spits in Bosko's eye and makes his escape. Not that flibberdigibbit Bosko cares; he is off chasing a beautiful butterfly. (This part has some particularly fun animation, with Bosko and the butterfly moving closer and farther from the screen in turn throughout the chase.) Bosko comes upon a waterfall, where bees dance from rock to rock and a spider plays his web like a harp and rings flowers like percussional bells. Bosko starts to "La-la-la!" along with the music and then prances and skips through the waterfall and over the rocks. On the far side, a pelican spits up four frogs, and the amphibians link arms with Bosko and form a kickline.

A large spider dances along to the music, following by four spider babies (and I don't mean the Jack Hill sort). The spider shimmies up to the top of a flower and spreads its legs out, and the little spiders spin about from the legs as if they were dancing about a maypole. All of these sorry excuses for entertainment can only lead to trouble, and it does, in the form of two mischievous bees and their dragonfly buddy. The bees pluck a daisy, strip it down to two petals, strap it to the dragonfly's bent tail, and then wind up the daisy. The flower works like a propeller and the dragonfly zooms off with the bees on his back like bombadiers on a warplane. (Uh, the dragonfly can fly already, boys - he doesn't need a propeller.) Regardless, the illusion is completed by the fact that the bees have hefted a rock up with them, and when they fly over the still dancing Bosko and his froggy pals, the bees bomb the rock onto Bosko's head. The bombers then head to a tree and grab a beehive, tap it with a section of thin hollow log and then use it to machine gun Bosko with bee after angry little bee. They force Bosko to leap into a fountain, and the bees depart. Bosko pops up to the top of the fountain and poses like a statue. Iris out.

Zzzz... huh?! Wha-?! Oh, I'm sorry. I must have dozed off. Seriously though, what's up with the proportion on these bees? When they pick up the rock, it is barely the size of the pair of them together. But when they drop it on Bosko, it is bigger and wider than his head. When they get near him, it is easy to see that the size of the rock must have changed in mid-drop. Perhaps the bees (or beetles of some variety - they are bigger than all of the other bees and their unused wings are different, but they bear stripes like bees do) have magical abilities that allow them to change the mass of hurled projectiles. Or perhaps they used their mutant X-bee/beetle powers to effect this transformation.

Whatever they can do, if this is the best that Bosko's middling (though well-animated by Mssrs. Freleng and Blackburn) wilderness has to offer, then I need to dream about camping somewhere a little more exciting and not so generic. Someplace where the characters break into some actual scat singing instead of poncy la-la-la-ing. Someplace where the frogs skip the kicklines, and mainline instead with a trumpet valve. Some savage wilderness where a hot chick with a high garter dodges monsters and wolves, even of the human variety, disabling them all with her cool way with a red hot jazz tune. Anyplace but here in Generic Goody-Goody Land.

Mmm-mwyah! Huhmmm... why am I so sleepy? Oh, that's right. I've barely slept in days. Must be the city life and the business walk of the damned. I think it's time we escaped, my son! (Thanks, Ian Dury...) Hit the open road and take a relaxing trip to revisit the beauty and grandeur of nature. And, in the words of the similarly afflicted Mr. Fudd, get some "west and wewaxation at wast!"

Just can't do it in Bosko's neck of the woods. He'll la-la-la me to death...

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