Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Barnyard Brat (1939)

Director: Dave Fleischer //
A Max Fleischer Color Classic, Technicolor
Animators: Myron Waldman and Tony Pabian
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

Who deserves a spanking in The Barnyard Brat? The obnoxious little donkey turd named Spunky, the indecisive mother named Hunky, or the far too anxious to commit child abuse barnyard animals? Well, none of them. (Except that little brat donkey is asking for something horrible to happen to his innards...) No, the Fleischer Brothers deserve the worst beating imaginable for unleashing this weird series of donkey films on mankind. While I am the generally the biggest defender of the Fleischer Brothers in even their most unsuccessful turns (such as their forays into feature films), I have no love to spare for the Hunky and Spunky shorts, even the Oscar-nominated original short from 1938. Released as part of the Color Classic series, which went to great lengths to duplicate the mood and look of Disney's Silly Symphonies, the Hunky and Spunky featured an adult-and-child donkey pair possessed of little or no visual appeal whatsoever. Grotesque and grating at every turn, I'd sooner watch a donkey show than one of these donkey cartoons. At least with the donkey show, disgusting and weird as it might be, you'd at least can guess the sort of hellishness into which you are descending.

In The Barnyard Brat, the title refers to the annoying childish braying of Spunky as he throws an immense tantrum. He won't eat his hay, and just brays and cries. A grandmother duck comes up and motions to Hunky that she must punish Spunky with a good smacking. Spunky raises her hoof, but can't go through with the action. A rooster says something about smacking the brat, but Hunky tries to get her charge to eat a bucket of oats. Spunky butts the bucket into the air, and it sticks on his head. Hunky pulls the bucket off, but takes a spill and falls into the water trough. Spunky runs off and pulls all the wool off an unsuspecting lamb. The mother sheep discovers this and reports it to Hunky. Spunky drinks all the water in a small pond full of ducks, and they are left in the mud. The mother duck reports this to Hunky. Baby chicks, who are enjoying some corn off the cob, are shooed away by the pushy Spunky, who steals the corn and eats it.

The barnyard animals have had enough. After the rooster forms a committee and devises a plan to teach the youngster a lesson, the goat runs the bucket from the well towards Spunky and butts it over the young donkey's rear. The other animals winch Spunky towards the well with the bucket's rope, and then dunk Spunky over and over in the deep water of the well. Hunky, moping off by her lonesome, hears her child's cries of anguish and runs to his rescue. She kicks various items of trash at the barnyard animals to disperse them, and then she pulls Spunky out of the well. She tries to console the screeching Spunky, but he only kicks her in the face several times. Pushed to her limits, but unwilling to punish the kid directly, he does the only thing she can: he takes him back to the well and drowns him.

No, we couldn't be so lucky. Actually, she spanks him by turning the crank for the bucket and letting it swing around and around, swatting him each time. The barnyard animals cheer his comeuppance, and then Hunky brays to him that she wants him "to be a good boy." Spunky seems to do just that, and he attempts to make amends by skipping over to the corn bin and dropping out several ears for the other animals. He invites them over to partake of the kind gift, and they happily run over to do so. As they fill their mouths with the corn, Spunky kicks the bar out of the corn bin and covers the whole lot of them with a heaping pile of corn. He laughs and slides down the mountain of corn, but Hunky is waiting at the bottom. The gloves are off. She takes a swipe at his head with her hoof, and chases him into the corral. Iris out.

I don't know what is less appealing: the creepily large head that rests on Spunky's tiny shoulders or the use of child punishment as the theme for an entire cartoon. My own feelings towards the spanking of children are muddled, but then again, I wouldn't bring them into the world to begin with. Certainly there are children who need to be reminded of their place now and then, but I don't think the solution to this question is going to be found in a Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Especially when the solution to the question involving Spunky is that he should be swiftly and mercilessly eviscerated and then rendered into shellac. It's hard to work up any sympathy for a character when the immediate impulse at even his most appealing moments is to have him disemboweled.

Or, perhaps there is another way to go. How about a new form of donkey show? How about we take Spunky and shove his giant noggin up Hunky's ass? I go to Tijuana to see that. In fact, it's the only reason I'd go there. And the only reason I could possibly wish to allow myself to be in their company again.

Oh, crap... there are several other H&S films with which I must deal. Ohhhhh, crap...

[A word of warning if you are planning to look up images of Hunky and Spunky on the internet. Turn your safe mode ON. My goodness, the things you will see otherwise...]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oddly, Spunky turned up again in at least one late '50s Paramount/Famous Studios cartoon. Of all the characters to revive. But then, when your resident stars are Herman and Katnip....