Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Countdown to Halloween: Trick or Treat (1952)

For the month of October, Cinema 4: Cel Bloc is taking part yet again in an annual internet celebration known as the Countdown to Halloween. To find out more about the Countdown to Halloween, and to see a list of participating websites and blogs, go to http://countdowntohalloween.blogspot.com/.

Trick or Treat (1952)
Dir.: Jack Hannah
TC4P Rating: 8/9
When I hear the words
"Trick or Treat," I don't think of handing out candy, kids coming to the door, or even going door to door myself back in my own too brief time as a costumed kid. I mean, I do think of those very things, but they come paired together with something else entirely.

When I hear the words "Trick or Treat," I instantly think of a certain tune, as in a melody to which the words "Trick or Treat" can be sung, and then I think of what I consider to be the followup line to those words: "Quack quack!" (Or in true Disney Duck-ese, "Wack wack!")

That's right... like so many things in my life, even annual holiday tradition is mostly tied up in stray snippets of animated antics, throwaway lines by Bugs Bunny, ridiculous slapstick, and songs that never came anywhere close to the Top 40. Regular movies, too, dominate my grey matter in a sort of cinematic Slushie, but they are trumped slightly by the influence of cartoons, my first serious love of an art form. In a major disaster, if I indeed believed that the idiocy of "thoughts and prayers" actually did anything at all, it is most likely that all the intended recipient would gain from me would be the flickering image of Jerry the Mouse's Uncle Pecos strumming his guitar and blowing his big, white, droopy mustache out of the way of his mouth so he could sing, "C-C-C-Crambone!"

For years, I couldn't wait for Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color to air their Halloween show just so I could catch the Donald Duck short, Trick or Treat. It was the greatest thing in the world to me whenever it aired, along with the equally vivid The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The usually irascible Donald decides to not give Halloween candy when his bratty nephews – Huey, Dewey and Louie – ring his doorbell. He pranks them hard, but he raises the ire of a passing witch, who decides to teach the mean duck an even harder lesson. The premise is simple enough, but this short is absolutely drenched in fantastic Halloween atmosphere and detail.

The title song to Trick or Treat itself is absolutely vital to my memories of the short, of course, though it is the final lesson tag on the song that turns out to be the most singable and, therefore, memorable. But we will get to that later. Let's go to the beginning, where the song starts to play as we see an image of Donald Duck that has been whitewashed onto a fence lining a street. We imagine it was done by either Huey, Dewey or Louie – or most likely all three – and as the credits begin, we hear the voices of the Mellomen singing that title theme...

"Trick or Treat
Trick or Treat
Trick or Treat for Halloween

Better give a treat that's good to eat
If you wanna keep life serene

Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat the whole night through

Little scalawags with fiendish gags
Can make it tough on you

So when ghosts and goblins by the score
Ring the bell on your front door

Better not be stingy or your nightmares will come true!"

The credits roll on, showing up on another section of whitewashed fence, on the side of what could be either a red house or a barn, and finally, the title of the short painted on a window. The film proper irises in on a small town in the night time, the camera resting just beyond a rickety fence and the shadow branches of an empty, autumn tree to show us the town beyond. The camera zooms in at the steeple of the local church which cuts through the glow of the yellow moon in the sky behind it.

Suddenly, a dark figure on a broomstick zips across the moon and past the steeple, cackling wickedly. The film cuts sharply to a closeup of a witch's warty, red-nosed face, who flies off on her broomstick into the background to float briefly outside the steeple. A couple dozen pairs of eyeballs light up the black of the belfry, and the witch blows them a raspberry and yells "Boo!" loudly to roust all of the bats into the night air. She grabs her broomstick and uses it to ring the church bell several times as the bats fly air hurriedly, with the witch flying straight through their numbers to disperse them in varied directions.

The melody of Trick or Treat continues to play as the witch lands on a nearby fence and toddles along the top of it, using her broomstick to pop her upward to skip a fencepost or two. She encounters a black cat resting on another fencepost. Leaning forward so that her face meets the cat's, she lifts her pointed cap up over her eyes and says softly, "Boo!" The cat jumps straight up into the air with his bat arched, fur ruffled, and claws out, and caroms off into the night.

The witch continues on her merry way, climbing back on her broomstick and hopping fencepost to fencepost. She next comes upon a large pumpkin, but when the pumpkin suddenly turns and shows the face of a lit Jack-O'-Lantern, even the witch is given a sharp start! She and her broom hide behind a tree and then they see the Jack-O'-Lantern is moving along the top of the fence, seemingly on its own. "What manner of ghoul is this?" she asks curiously, but when the end of the fence is reached, it becomes clear that the Jack-O'-Lantern lies atop the head of a small figure wearing a white sheet to resemble a ghost, only with a tiny duckbill sticking out of a hole in the sheet and feet walking along underneath. Behind the ghost steps a second duckling bedecked in a devil costume (complete with pitchfork), and bringing up the rear, is yet another similarly sized duckling wearing a witch's hat and brandishing a broom over his shoulder.

The ducks are heard singing the Trick or Treat title song, but this time, each real word is replaced by the quack (or wack) of a duck. (Even though there is no part in the film where English and duck are mixed like I described at the beginning of this piece, the effect of the film was that a mashup occurred in my brain for the rest of my life.) As the trio saunters up to the front door of a house, the witch watches them lovingly in mid-air as she sits on her broomstick. Their trick or treating ways and costumes have already won her over as they step in unison to the song, and when they reach the front door, the devil duckling uses his toy pitchfork to press the buzzer on the doorbell.

Inside the house, we get our first non-fence look at Mr. (and Uncle) Donald Duck, who cries out, "Uh oh! It's the boys!" He jumps up to grab a bowl of candy sitting on the table next to his comfy chair, but moves it aside to reveal a couple sets of firecrackers. He opens the door to greet his nephews, and they happily respond with the customary "Trick or treat!" and open their candy bags expectedly. Donald keeps up the ruse of not being a dick by saying, "One for you... and you... and you!" He manages to conceal the true nature of what he has placed in their bags, like any terrorist, and steps back into the house. The boys turn to head to the next house, but their bags suddenly explode... one, two, three!


The noise is loud enough for the witch's broomstick to suddenly rear up like a horse and whinny in terror! The witch manages to grab the stick at the last second, and coax it back to calmness by saying, "Steady, 'Bub! Whoa! Easy there, old boy!" Back at the house, Donald laughs at the saddened faces of his three little nephews as they stare down at the smoldering remains of their now popped and useless candy bags. But Donald, ever the jerk to his own kin, has to escalate things. He reaches up to grab a rope, says "Now here's your... TRICK!" and pulls the rope, which is attacked to a large bucket over the heads of the boys. They get drenched in water, which shouldn't normally be a problem for a duck but they are wearing special Halloween costumes after all and have a full night ahead of them. Donald continues to laugh uproariously at the trio, and then, as he steps back into his house, he yells out "So long, boys!" and slams the door on them. Now, he is a dick, not a duck.

Up high on a tree branch, the witch spies the scene and feels for the little ducks, even while recognizing their true nature. "Oh, bless their little black hearts!" She flies down to them, where Huey, Dewey and Louie are sitting on the edge of a sidewalk, nursing their woes. "I saw the whole thing, kids!" As her broomstick brings her to earth, she tells it, "Down, Beelzebub! Down, please!" The boys spy her and are both shocked and delighted by her presence. "Oh yeah, a real witch!" This overjoys the witch, who shouts out, "Oh joy! Thou do believeth in witches!" She pats each one on the head and says, "Just for that, I'll help thee get thy candy!"

The witch runs up to Donald's doorstep and rings the bell. Inside, Donald is looking through the window and says, "Uh oh! Another one!" He eagerly opens the door, obviously planning more mischief while thinking the witch is just another kid in a costume. "My name, sir, is Hazel," begins the witch in introduction, "Witch Hazel, that is!" Donald, ever dubious, doesn't hesitate to reach out, say "Oh, yeah?" and pull on her nose, stretching it about a foot! He lets go of her nose and as Hazel is thrown backwards, she is doused with more water from the bucket above her head. Donald laughs again and slams the door on her.

Hazel and Beelzebub run back to the boys, where she says to the ducklings, "That quacking rogue is tougher than I thought!" She grabs the boys and forms them into a football huddle, with the broom struggling to find a decent entry point. "We're going to need some gruesome ingredients," she tells them, "A cauldron of swamp water" is heard just before the scene fades out. Not long afterward, the shadow of Witch Hazel looms large on an empty, orange wall in an alleyway as she spreads her arms over a bubbling cauldron. She begins an incantation, which gets going rather traditionally with the Shakespearean intro...

"Double, double toil and trouble; 
Fire burn and caldron bubble..."

...but then things turn far cuter than the usual body part version of the Bard's ingredient list...

"Eye of needle, tongue of shoe,
Hand of clock that points at two!"

Witch Hazel stops briefly to place a finger under Devil Dewey's chin and says sweetly, "This is the real thing, y'know? Right out of Shakespeare!" She picks up the next set of instructions as the boys continue to bring her the necessary wares...

"Neck of bottle, tail of coat..."

She hesitates slightly as she considers the final item...

"Whiskers from... the billy goat!"

She cackles her wild laugh again as the ghostly Huey brings her a pair of whiskers, saying, "Here you are, Hazel!" She admires the whiskers for a second, gasping "Ah... repulsive!" She drops the goat whiskers into the pot and there is a huge flash of flight from the concoction before it erupts in a miniature nuclear explosion. The boys are shown in closeup with their faces briefly green and then red from the changing colors of the blast, their mouths agape in wonder.

Hazel hops up the cauldron to taste test her brew. "Delightfully gruesome reaction!" is her response to the explosion, but when she tastes it, she spins about in place while her hat pops off her head to the sound of firecrackers. She spins back up to stop in front of the boys. Almost drunk on the potion, she kicks out her foot and tells them, with a hiccup and her voice modulated to sound affected, "Kids! This stuff's loaded!" She picks up a Flit gun (look it up, though I could have just said "bug sprayer") and soaks up a massive dose of the potion. While she does this, Beelzebub whinnies in triumph, flies up under the rears of Huey, Dewey and Louie, picks them up, picks up Hazel, and the group rides off into the night sky.

At Donald's house, the greedy duck is picking out some grapes from his overcrowded pantry when he hears the distant cackle of Witch Hazel, still riding through the air with Donald's nephews. "What in the heck was that?" Donald asks, in one of my favorite reactions ever in a Donald Duck cartoon. He runs to look out the window, and sees his nephews riding along with the witch. "No!" he says, rubbing his eyes, "I don't believe it!" They scream in delight as the broomstick whisks this way and that, and poor Donald has no idea what is in store for him. The title music to Trick or Treat starts up again as the Mellomen pick up their song once more, as the cartoon switches gears just past the halfway mark of its 8-minute running time from very entertaining to truly amazing...

"Trick or Treat
Trick or Treat
Trick or Treat for Halloween...

When the pumpkin shells cast evil spells..."

Witch Hazel and the boys fly up to the normal, smiling Jack-O'-Lantern sitting on Donald's fencepost and squirt some of the potion on it. The once safe, complacent pumpkin whirls about in midair, its friendly mouth contorting and stretching while growing huge, sharp fangs. Its eyes switch to a devilish glare as the Jack-O'-Lantern leaps to Donald's window and wails and moans wildly and incomprehensibly in the frightened duck's face!

The Mellomen continue...

"...Your little white house turns green!
Your little white house turns green!
Your little white house turns green!"


Hazel flies the broom to the side of Donald's abode and sprays a paintbrush sitting in a bucket of open paint. The brush comes to life and starts to paint a zigzagging green stripe along Donald's white house. The duck opens the window to protest how stupid all of this is, but the brush flies right past his face, painting it green in the process.

Hazel sprays an older style fence where three poles meet up in corner. As the fenceposts turn into a trio of spooks, the Mellomen sing...

"Every post is a ghost
If you've got a witch's brew..."

Hazel then sprays the gate on a fence...

"And if you want your gate
To circulate – Ho! Ho! – ..."

...which comes to life by springing up in the air, where a solo ghost plays it like a harp, singing...

"...We can do that too!"

From his window, Donald's expression turns to one of sheer fright as he sees the ordinary items in his yard turn into ghosts and demonic pumpkins, who continue to sing as they march up to Donald's doorstep...

"Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat for Halloween

When ghosts and goblins by the score
Ring the bell on your front door

You'd better not be stingy or..."

Just before the final line, the evil-looking Jack-O'-Lantern flies all the way up to Donald's face to sing in its dark, deep voice...

"...Your nightmares will come true! Oooh-oooh!"

The shocked and exhausted Donald stands in his doorway as Hazel and the boys fly through the front door and push Donald all the way through the house and peg him against the door of the pantry with the end of the broomstick. "Now, are you going to treat," asks Hazel of the greedy duck, "or not?" He agrees to their demands, and turns to start gathering goodies from his pantry. Hazel tells the boys, "Kids, this pigeon's a pushover!" Donald hears the word "pushover," and it turns him back to his normal self right away. He starts to slam the goodies back into the pantry and then swallows the key to the door for good measure. (Hazel even listens closely to his stomach as he swallows it, where we hear it rattle against other metallic items. It is probably not the first time he has resorted to such tactics.)

Hazel will not be deterred. "I've just been itching to cast a spell on you!" Beelzebub has clearly heard this before, as the excited little broom runs in place for a second or so before rushing forward to run up behind Donald and pick him up off the floor by his shirt collar. With the soles of Donald's duck feet before her, Hazel begins an incantation as she sprays the magical concoction on those feet...

"Hocus pocus!
Magic shower!
Put his feet
Within my power!"


The broom releases Donald, who can only look down helplessly as he loses control of his own two feet, which kick and shuffle about wildly. As the potion kicks in fully, his feet turn blue and raise him magically off the floor briefly. As he touches the floor, Donald asks, "Hey! What was that stuff?" but before he gets an answer, Hazel orders, "Feet! Kick out that key!" His feet flutter magically again and then the right foot stretches out and kicks Donald in the stomach. Then both feet join together and kick him several times, finally settling into a sustained rhythm. At the sound of the beat, Hazel cries out, "Yippie! Look at him dance!" The broom runs into the witch's arms, and she strums the broom like a guitar and starts singing a hoedown tune...

"Oh, dance with your feet just as fast as you can!
A-flippin' like a flapjack..."

Donald's legs stretch out and then slap together hard...

"...In a pan!
Oh, a-hoppin' and a-jumpin' like a flea on a griddle!
The key for the door is the key for the vittles!"

Donald bounces on his rear end several times, so that the key finally shoots up out of his mouth, but he manages to grab it and swallow it again. HIs blue, enchanted feet keep kicking him in the rear and stomach, and he is sent flying up into pots and pans hanging from his kitchen ceiling. He crashes his head into each one in time with the music of the witch's song. Hazel continues...

"Do-si-do! Now mind the rules
With your own flat feet just a-kickin' like mules!"

Hazel applies even more potion to the soles of his feet, and Donald rears up exactly like said mule, kicking wildly into the air and snorting out of his nose. Hazel sprays more potion to turn a tiny plant into a huge cactus as Donald's feet pull him across the room towards it.

"Oh, promenade away out west!
That's where the cactus grow the best!"

The cactus pokes Donald in the rear end and he cries out, but when the keep leaps back out of his mouth, he grabs it firmly in his teeth. Still gripping it there, the witch sings...

"Now swing down south
and turn on the heat!"

Donald's feet turn his rear towards the hearth of the fireplace, where a smoldering fire awaits him. Donald panics and grabs the rug, but his body simply stretches out farther and farther towards the fire, his bewitched feet compelled to obey all orders. Hazel concludes the song...

"Now end the dance
And take your seat!"

The fire singes Donald's tail feathers slightly, and he drops the key onto the floor. The ducklings and the witch celebrate their triumph, but Donald isn't done yet after he hears Hazel say cockily to his nephews, "Nothin' to it!" He says his standard catchphrase, "Oh yeah?" and flings the key underneath the locked pantry door. This infuriates the witch, who hops up into the air so hard we see that she is bald underneath a wig, as she yells, "Now you've made ol' Hazel mad!" She runs up to the duck and sprays his feet with renewed vigor, chanting...

"I'll cast a spell that's double grim!
Smash that door down, feet... with HIM!"

"What?" cries a surprised Donald, but there is no stopping this spell. He begs and pleads, but his feet ram his head several times into the door of the pantry. The door does not give way, and as Donald twirls his dizzy way across the room, Hazel continues to spray his feet. She tells him...

"This hurts me more than it does you!
Now, take a longer start... ABOUT A MILE OR TWO!"

Donald cannot help himself as his feet carry him out the front door and all the way up a distant hill, where he is framed by the full moon. Hazel tells the boys to be ready "'Cause here he comes!" Donald charges through the night air at full force all the way to the house and through the pantry door. There is a huge crash and we then see Donald lying prone on the floor surrounded by piles of candy and goodies. The broomstick starts sweeping around him in a surprisingly natural activity. Hazel says to the boys, "I thought he'd listen to reason."

Huey, Dewey and Louie run up to their uncle and his now open supply of goodies and start collecting their rightful share. "Hooray for Uncle Donald!" they yell out, but the poor duck can only sit up and protest with "I won't do it!" Beelzebub, handy as ever, taps him hard on top of his noggin and knocks Donald out for the night. Hazel realizes it is almost dawn and calls her loyal broomstick to her side. She waves goodbye to the boys, and they wave back with glee. The smooth voices of the Mellomen return to close out the cartoon...

"So when ghosts and goblins by the score
Ring the bell or pound your door

Better not be stingy or your nightmares will come true--ooooooh!"

As Witch Hazel and Beelzebub climb up to fly across the moon, a Jack-O'-Lantern leaps up into the full frame of the cartoon and says a simple "Boo!" while smiling merrily at the camera. Iris out.

So, apart from the fact that three youngsters from a dysfunctional family talk to a complete stranger on a dark night, are coerced into performing black magic, and then willingly take part in a home invasion and robbery of their abusive uncle's household, this is a pretty great family cartoon, right? Well, I think so, but I don't have kids to worry about, so I will leave your decision on the matter to you and yours. For me, this cartoon has completely captivated me since I first saw it as a kid until watching a couple of times again just today.

This is probably my favorite short out of all director Jack Hannah's work, and it stands as a marvelous example of topnotch latter Disney – as in the stage where the shorts series were winding down for Mickey, Pluto, and Goofy by 1953, but Donald remained as the sole regular series for several more years. Trick or Treat, befitting its title, is just dripping with Halloween atmosphere from start to finish, with a couple of decent scares (that fanged Jack-O'-Lantern!) included with the laughs. And while I am a massive Donald fan, the best part of many of these shorts is when the duck gets his comeuppance for his rudeness and downright pettiness; this film follows through on that promise in high order. There are actually three stages to the revenge the witch gets on him as he continues to fight back and be as ornery as possible. I would admire his pluck if it weren't so much in service of his sheer greed, especially against his own relations.

Besides the Mellomen's singing, three other voices are prominent in Trick or Treat. Of course, Clarence "Ducky" Nash provides the quacks and often indecipherable language of everyone's favorite ducks, and that deep voiced Jack-O'-Lantern is none other than Disney regular Thurl Ravenscroft, himself a member of the Mellomen and one of their founders. The most memorable role in the film is, of course, Witch Hazel, and she was brought to life by master voice talent June Foray (herself sadly departed this past July at the age of 99). Foray, famous for voicing Tweety's Granny at Warner Brothers as well, would also (eventually) provide the voice for a separate character named Witch Hazel for Chuck Jones. (Bea Benaderet performed the role for Jones in the first film he did with the character, and then Foray took over thereafter) My all-time favorite of June's roles was Rocky the Flying Squirrel in the Bullwinkle series, but I have a special place in my heart for her work in Trick or Treat.

And then there is the music, with not just one original tune, but two, though the hoedown is pretty standard with its only real distinction being the directions she gives Donald's feet. But that theme song has resonated with me through the years, and has gone through my head each October for the past 50 years or so. Sure, as I mentioned far above, the song in my head is in slightly altered form from the one sung in the cartoon. But who among us hasn't twisted a song lyric here and there to fit our mood or situation? I do it all the time, and every Halloween, you will hear me marching along (in step with Huey, Dewey and Louie in the cartoon), singing...


"Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat (Trick or Treat)
Trick or Treat for Halloween

When ghosts and goblins by the score
Ring the bell on your front door

You'd better not be stingy or
Your nightmares will come true-oooohhh!"

Happy Halloween, friends and followers...

RTJ

*****

Buy it on DVD if you can, but in case you haven't seen it...



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Countdown to Halloween: Merry–Go–Pumpkin (1988)

Gumby Adventures: Merry–Go–Pumpkin (1988, Episode 38)
Dir.: Art Clokey
TC4P Rating: 5/9

Normally, I would have preferred to start my reviews of the short films of Gumby, that world famous clayboy, with the films that brought him into this world – Gumbasia, the three-minute short that inspired his creation, or Moon Trip – the true Gumby pilot film – and not a middling episode of a televised revival series from the late '80s. But, opportunity presented itself... Seeing as how my Halloween season has been largely dominated by time spent at a particular theme park of great note, a short drift through the Gumby catalog of films found me stopping on a short named Merry-Go-Pumpkin, which takes place at an amusement park (of absolutely no note whatsoever) called PumpkinLand. What better choice for Halloween?


When creator and director Art Clokey decided to start creating new Gumby episodes in the '80s, he enlarged his primary cast a tad by introducing a sister for Gumby named Minga. (He also brought in, weirdly, a mastodon named Denali and a chicken named Tilly. Yes, Tilly was around early on briefly, but the '80s-'90s version was far more realistic in design.) Both were more natural looking – one with fur; the other, feathers, as you would expect – and neither had the basic clay-like quality the rest of his main cast possessed. (Prickle, Goo, Pokey, and Gumby's parents were all recognizably clay-based.) Minga wasn't a particular achievement; in fact, she was pretty much just another Gumby except her clay came out in points on the side so it looked like she was wearing a dress, and her clay was pink colored instead of green. (She did have green hair, though, so maybe that was a nod to her Gumby-ness. It doesn't really matter anyway. Clay is clay...)

The toyland setting in which most of Gumby's adventures takes place has always been an oddly inclusive one from the start anyway. You have the basic concept of a boy made of clay, who lives and plays with a few extraordinary friends (a talking horse who ends up in mischief constantly, a dragon/dinosaur who often thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, and a blue, flying mermaid who spits goo bubbles). One would think that the land they inhabit would be largely clay-based, but instead it seems to look more like a child's playroom. Toys are strewn about in many of the adventures (not all). The main antagonists, those grumpy, spying Blockheads – who quite literally have stylized toy blocks for heads – run about and cause trouble, all the while running through a world where actual toy blocks form part of the basic landscape.

And then, Gumby and his pals often meet and have adventures with characters who are far more realistic looking facially, almost like dolls come to life (though they too were clay figures), such as King Ott, his daughter Anne, and the other denizens of the Kingdom of Roo. (And, of course, there was the evil Dr, Zveegee.) On the other hand, characters like the musical notes, Too and Loo, and their nemesis, the Sour Note, as well as the friendly Professor Kapp, were very much of more abstract clay design, like Gumby and his usual gang. (Don't even get me started on Gumby's weird bee pet, the Groobee.)

Basically, Gumby's world, whether part of a child's imagination at play or just simply a toy-based realm of magical probability, is somewhere that any sort of adventure can happen merely on the whim of whomever the creator happens to be. Sometimes surreal, sometimes real, usually a combination of the two, Gumby films operate with a set of rules all their own. Sometimes the adventures are far-flung, thrilling excursions to distant lands, kingdoms or even fairy tales, sometimes Gumby is an explorer to the moon or a jungle, and sometimes, there are the more mundane, day-to-day activities of his family and friends. So, it goes in Merry-Go-Pumpkin, which starts out at Gumby's home where a birthday party is being held for Minga. Gumbo and Gumba, Gumby's parents, with Prickle, Goo, Gumby and Pokey in attendance, present their daughter with a birthday cake.

After the usual half-hearted belting out of the lamest song ever written (seriously, no one should have ever collected royalties on that piece of tripe, if only on the general principle of "just cuz..."), Minga blows out the five candles on her cake and is told that Gumby has a special surprise for her. Prompted to speak, Gumby blurts out, "The band and I are taking you to PumpkinLand! You can go on all the rides!" Minga is overjoyed, applauding very precisely and happily (I really do like the way she claps in this scene), and says that it is exactly what she wished for her birthday.

The five pals climb into Gumby's jalopy and zoom past toy after toy on the road toward Pumpkinland. Gumby mentions to Minga that "Dad gave me enough money to buy all the ice cream and popcorn you want." Note that he didn't specifically mention anyone else in the car, but regardless, the other three drift into a reverie about the foods they wish to eat at the park. Just like white people in the modern age during autumn, all of the foods require a heavy use of a certain large orange gourd at their base. Pokey hopes to have a "pumpkin puff"; Goo dreams of a "pumpkin ice cream fudge sundae"; and finally, Prickle wishes to order up a "pumpkin burger and a pumpkin shake" for himself.

Gumby drives his car through the PumpkinLand gate and into the busy parking lot. At PumpkinLand, all of the booths are designed to look like (or are made out of) giant pumpkins. Even the ticket booth out front looks like a pumpkin with a rectangle cut out to ease customer service. (Then again, all of the booths and even the ride cars pretty much have the exact same design, with a couple of notable variations.) Gumby already has tickets in hand, and he and his friends don't hesitate when they pass the ticket booth and just glide right through the turnstiles to the park. The ticket taker, who looks like a regular human, does a double take himself as the weird fivesome speeds past him as he grabs their tickets.

At the edge of the park, dark shenanigans are brewing, as the usual pair of trouble-seeking Blockheads, "G" and "J", are seen carrying a pair of ladders to the chain link fence that lies on the perimeter. They climb over the fence with a brief tumble leading to one Blockhead slapping the other in a customary piece of comedy business for the duo. The pair then move on to the main wall to the park, itself adorned with a large pumpkin atop each spire. The conniving pair climb it easily, but are spotted by two security guards working the front entrance. While human, the pair of rent-a-cops zip about without ever moving their legs, looking almost exactly as if they are each riding a Segway years before such a device were invented by Dean Kamen. Seeing that the Blockheads have successfully clambered over the main wall, the cops go into panic mode, waving their arms about, spinning in circles, and yelling about tracking the culprits down.



At a sign spelled "Pumkin [sic] Pups", while the rest of the gang pass by without looking, Pokey cannot help himself. He stops and drools at the prospect of having some of the delicious fare at the park, especially at the nearby booth titled "Giant Pumpkin Puffs"The camera goes to a closeup just to make sure you don't miss out on the fact that Pokey is drooling like a maniac. "Something I've always wanted," he says, "a pumpkin puff!" Well, nobody is holding you back, horsey. Get to it!

Meanwhile, the others head for a ride called the "Pumpkin Wheel", which is essentially a Ferris wheel ride but the cars are shaped like pumpkins (as is to be expected from here on out). The overly excited Minga is there first, turning to the others and jumping up and down in anticipation. Pokey is seen sitting down at a table to try out his very first pumpkin puff, which turns out to be a large dessert roughly shaped like... a normal sized pumpkin, only a little lighter in color. But the very second that his food hits the table, the Blockheads – who had been watching him from behind the booth – run up and swipe the pumpkin puff away from poor, surprised Pokey! The security guards have been right on the Blockheads from the start, and they zip past the table repeating, "There they go! There they go!"

Back at the Pumpkin Wheel, everyone is spinning slowly around through the air. Prickle seems to actually be on a date with Goo, as he has his arm completely around her shoulder. Behind their car, Gumby and Minga ride along, happily taking in the sights from high atop the ride. Two cars behind them, unbeknownst to everyone else, the Blockheads ride along as they hide out from the guards. However, the cops are sharper than anyone could expect, as they spot the Blockheads right away. The pair converge at the base of the ride, prepared to wait out the rest of its run to capture the little red fiends. The Blockheads are on to the guards as well, and they risk life and little clay limb to hop out of the ride car and slide down the steel beams of the ride to the ground below in a single swoop. Still waiting at the bottom, the guards realize their error, and one says, "They got away! They got away! C'mon, Sandy!" The Blockheads hightail it across the park, passing all manner of different sized pumpkins, with the security guards in hot pursuit.

The gang has left the Pumpkin Wheel and are seen climbing aboard the Pumpkin Train Ride, a short locomotive comprised of only three shiny cars. As Gumby and the crew load on, the Blockheads run up the blue steps leading into the front compartment. In the coolest shot of the entire film, after the second Blockhead, "G", has boarded, it seems the camera completely switches its orientation, shifting without an edit to the other side of the train, where the Blockheads come running out of the lead car and back down the blue steps. (It's a nifty camera trick.) Blockhead "G" closes and locks the door behind him, and then runs over to the Train Control panel – which is inexplicably unguarded and completely out in the open – and he joins "J" in taking over the controls to the vehicle. 

The train takes off and goes incredibly fast, with our friends trapped on board. Goo worries "Isn't this too fast for pumpkins?" and then, through his window, Prickle sees who is at the controls. "Am I hallucinating or were those the Blockheads running this train?" Gumby backs up his friend, and the train goes ever faster towards a large loop in the railroad tracks. It survives the loop, but the Blockheads use a hammer to shift the rails so that the next time the train comes around, the cars get stuck in a permanent loop. The train loops time and again, faster and faster, until there is an effect much like a snowball rolling down a hill. The cars all ball up into one giant pumpkin, that breaks free of the train tracks and rolls across the amusement park.

"G" and "J", intent on making their escape, hear a rolling noise getting louder and turn around in time to see the giant pumpkin flatten them hard into the pavement. Their bodies are flattened together, and their eyes roll about as they attempt to look around them. The giant pumpkin starts to lose size and speed and rolls back out into the three cars of the train once more, but the people inside roll out of each car in mashed spheres featuring many eyes and facial parts. The first ball pulls apart to reveal the twin security guards; the second pops apart to give us back Gumby, Prickle, Minga and Goo! "G" and "J" come to slowly, and pulls themselves from the pavement in time to see the guards coming after them again.


The gang hears everyone laughing over at the eatery area, and find a completely engorged Pokey smashing through a chair and onto the ground as he continues to stuff his face with pumpkin puff after pumpkin puff. His now gargantuan body is in the shape of a massive orange pumpkin, and his legs just dangle helplessly off the ground. "Pokey!," yells Gumby, "Stop eating!" He tells Pokey that "We're gonna have to take you home in a truck!" Later, at Professor Kapp's office, Gumby and his pals are joined by Denali the Mastodon and Tilly the Chicken as the doctor gives his prognosis. Kapp says it is a case of acute indigestion, and Pokey's response is to grab his head and say, "Cute! Smoot! Ah!" as the film irises out.


The film loaded with pumpkin action, and it is somehow done without a single mention of Halloween, which is kind of nice for once. Pumpkins are seasonal, for the most part, and so they fill more time in the calendar than just simply the main holiday associated with them today. (Thanksgiving lays claim to them too after all, and I have had many a pumpkin pie in league with Christmas gatherings.) Apart from that, it is merely latter day Gumby nonsense as usual; nothing taxing on the mind at all, but nothing to offend either. If Gumby's world weren't so strange to comprehend on its own terms, I might be able to write of the series as mere fluff, but I, like many more of my cross-generational type, grew up watching Gumby quite often on television and he is part of my being.

I have owned a set of Gumby figures – just Pokey, Blockhead "J" and the clayboy himself –  for most of my adult life, and if he doesn't represent one of my favorite animated characters, he is at least in the conversation of most influential. His stop-motion antics were a clear influence on my love of that style of animation, and along with the Rankin-Bass holiday specials, he was part of my main introduction to the form until King Kong and the films of Harryhausen eventually came into view for me. Both Gumby and creator Art Clokey's other '60s series, Davey and Goliath, were around off and on throughout my childhood years, and as stilted and white bread their respective universes, I simply can't imagine a universe without him.

And yes, just like Gumbyworld, that universe has toys strewn all about the place. Who wants to clean up in a playroom that large?

RTJ

*****

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