Friday, October 31, 2014

How John Wayne Won the Thanksgiving Dinner

There's something fishy going on here.  Well, the Oscars were just starting out in the 30s and 40s... okay, 1927, to be a little more precise.  And somehow MGM's cartoon producer Fred Quimby had the inside scoop, as this is the fourth Tom and Jerry cartoon to win an Academy Award.  Ol' Freddy got eight golden statuettes total.  A lot less work than on features, right?  Boy, those were the days.  Nowadays it seems like the Academy voting block just goes with the most handsome title.  Of course, Pixar wants to corner the market on animated shorts as well.  It's the New York Yankees business model all over again.
As for The Little Orphan, well... this is the first Tom and Jerry that doesn't live up to the Oscar hype.  Sure, it's a fine and slick actioner and all, but metaphorically it's a little troubling at least and criminally negligent at worst.  Best not to think about it too much.  Best to think of it as a focus group-ed version of The Milky Waif.  After all, Nibbles seems to be the only name the filmmakers can think of to call a young hungry grey mouse.  Also, the focus group didn't seem to care for the proactive, downright robotic Nibbles of Waif, so this instant case Nibbles does a lot less running towards food.  NANNY STATE!
We start with a similar introduction: there's a knock on Jerry's door one night, there's confusion amidst the introductions, Jerry reads the note attached to the little brat, and then it's on a quest for food.  (Another aside: I am shocked!  Nothing about 'Bide-a-Wee Mouse Home' on the Wikipedia page!  NOW what am I going to do?!!!!)  Jerry's mouse cave is barren.  Dude doesn't even have any cookies!  For shame.  So, out into the house proper they have to go.  First stop: the cat's bowl of milk.  I kinda like how Tom has to do a double take to help him wake up.  Maybe he just dreamed that he saw two mice usurping his bowl of milk!  Yeah, that's it.  Welp, just to be safe, why not gulp the whole thing down in one big loud slurp.  Then, of course, back to sleep he goes.  A lone drop of milk runs down one of his whiskers, and Jerry positions Nibbles to drink it up.  Finally!  An actual example of trickle-down economics.  Much classier than the one Bill Maher talks about.
Well, that's all well and good, but you're probably asking yourself at this point, but Movie Hooligan!  Where's the blatant racism that seems to run through a lot of these Tom and Jerry cartoons!  We'll get to that in a second.  Let me just point out first that, unlike The Milky Waif, Tom's household in The Little Orphan is currently enjoying your proverbial seven years of plenty.  And, as the note on Nibbles' chest pointed out, it is Thanksgiving Day, and the African American maid has just placed the turkey upon the table, for the dinner with no guests.  No invited human guests anyway.  Is this the sequel to The Million Dollar Cat?  Did Tom get Alan Dershowitz to win his appeal?  Did he decide to move back to the country where a million dollars goes a lot further?  So many unanswered questions, so many botched metaphors, so much harder to enjoy the action.
Okay, so African Americans insulted... check.  The only thing left to do is insult Native Americans, seeing as how it's a Thanksgiving pic and all.  Well, they build up to it slowly, but the battle lines are starkly drawn when Jerry decides to help himself to the pilgrim hat on one of the small statuettes on the table, and Nibbles does the same.  Meanwhile, as Jerry is busy leading Nibbles around the table, Nibbles takes an interest in all the wrong foods.  When Nibbles runs afoul of an orange that proves harder to digest than it looks, Jerry helps Nibbles cough it back up by slapping him in the ass with a giant knife (flat side, of course).  Nibbles spits out the orange and it goes sailing... yup, right towards the cat.  The cat swallows the orange, much like the dog almost swallowed the Nelson Muntz fish of Cat Fishin' fame, but it's the cat, so naturally the orange has to stay put.  Tom sneaks up on the table, using that strategically placed feather duster.  Could it be?... yes, it could!  Just as live turkeys sat on the heads of Native Americans in all them Warner Brothers cartoons of old, so now does Tom don the feather duster upon his head and rises like an evil sun behind the innocent mice, who want nothing more out of life than to fill their little mouse bellies.  I hate to admit it, but I was kinda rooting for Tom this go-round.  This used to play on cable a lot in my ill-spent youth, and I had no appreciation for metaphor back then, but I seem to recall finding this clever at the time.  It's like that old folksy expression: first time's funny, second time's silly, third time's a spanking.  I'm at the point now where those little mice need a spanking.  Alas, it's just not funny, so it shall never be.
And so, there's the usual shenanigans, and the African American maid seems to have gone home for the evening, so it's time for chaos to reign.  But try as he might, Indian Tom just can't defeat the mice pilgrims.  I will just say this: the part where Nibbles stabs Tom in the ass with the fork, and there's the pause where Tom's face turns red just before he screams and jumps skyward... mwah.  Pure class.  (BTW, 'mwah' is the kissing sound when you do that Italian gesture, putting your fist to your mouth, then opening your hand like a flower.  Molto bella!)  I'll just cut right to the chase here.  Jerry launches a lit candle at the cat, and the candle lands at the base of the cat's tail.  There it sits, smoldering, a big pile of hot wax and fire.  Soon, however, all of Tom's fur is quickly consumed in flames, as though someone poured accelerant all over his fur... how do you spell 'accelerant'?  Apparently, that's not it, according to Blogger's infallible Shpellinggh Chequeckueur.  After that, it's the champagne bottle's triumphant return.  The bottle empties like your proverbial jet engine, and it's aimed for Tom, sending Tom across the room and into the china hutch at the end of the living room... there you go!  The Chinese are insulted as well.  I seem to recall seeing the part on TV where Tom goes flying across the room, powered by said champagne bottle, but on the DVD he's still dressed up like the racist caricature that the candle turned him into, so it must have been cleverly edited for television.  Oh well.  Probably for the best that I don't remember it.
EPILOGUE - Tom waves a white flag.  We just see his arm amidst a big pile of broken dishes.  He's just lucky the colored maid doesn't whoop his ass with a broom.  Incidentally, she didn't have any lines?  Figures.  They probably edited those out as well.  Anyway, we end up with the two mice and bandaged Tom sitting at the dinner table, praying before eating.  I don't know about you, but it seems a little disingenuous to me.  Maybe I'm just cynical.  The Truce Hurts.  How soon they forget.  And so, this ill-conceived Thanksgiving dinner is about to begin when... lo and behold, Nibbles springs into action.  Hunger deferred is hunger denied.  Nibbles jumps inside of the turkey and quickly strips the bones clean.  Clearly Nibbles is a metaphor for the Donner Party.  The cartoon ends with a close-up of Nibbles patting his swollen belly.  Digest it slow, kid, because you ain't the star of your own series yet!

***
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

1 comment:

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