Monday, February 23, 2015
Der Lauf Der Mäuse, or Which Kicks More Ass? Designs on Jerry? Or Trap-Happy Porky?
Ah, Rube Goldberg. His name echoes through history for two reasons today. One, because it's, like, the go-to name for White Power and other anti-Semite groups to hold up as the reason for their existence on the fringes of society, but two, because once upon a time, he used to be known for making strings of dominos out of non-domino-type objects. And he was good at it! So good, in fact, that William Randolph Hearst put his stuff in the cartoon section of his newspapers... something like that. Next to that cartoon of the Tammany Hall octopus, and stories of how Hoover defeated the much hated Bonus Army. Hey, he's got your bonus right here, pal! But motion pictures are nothing if not strings of non-domino-type objects all lined up to hit each other in a certain way, some more monotonous than others, like the Transformers movies. Ironic, because the Transformers seem to possess free will and/or awareness above that of humans. Anyway, cartoons just love stuff like a good old fashioned Rube Goldberg machine... but how exactly did they get to the idea of cats putting these things together? Mind-boggling. What will our children's children say about us? Which brings us to our two cartoons this week: Trap Happy Porky and Designs on Jerry. So which kicks more ass? You'll just have to wait to find out. (hint: it's Trap Happy Porky)
DESIGNS ON JERRY
And so, we find Tom the cat hard at work, sitting at a desk, working on a blueprint. That's right, a blueprint for a mouse trap. After a hard day of slaving away at the easel, it's time to get some well-earned sleep, while the same old dreams of capitalism run amok just for you fill his heads. Shaking hands with rich white men, factories erected with your name on it, what have you. Like George Carlin says, it's called the American Dream because you gotta be asleep to believe it. But whatever. I'm no right winger myself, but even I'm thinking right off the bat that Tom's so-called "mouse trap" is highly dubious at best, and criminally negligent at worst. It's like people who think living in a house with an alligator-filled moat to protect it is a good idea. Sooner or later you're going to fall into the alligator pit and... well, it won't be a narrow escape like in all them Warner Bros. cartoons where the bad guy escapes with a torn shirt and a couple bruises.
And so, while the cat slumbers and dreams, the dream that is the cartoon comes to life! We pan over to the blueprint, and the crude stick drawing of the mouse, which springs to life. Its first act upon achieving consciousness and movement? Well, it runs right over to Jerry's hole in the wall, tries to wake up Jerry and warn him of the war that is coming. Jerry rubs his eyes in disbelief and goes back to sleep. Love it. That may be the highlight of the cartoon for me right there.
But the blueprint version of Jerry ultimately triumphs and, even though it can only speak in non-English squeaks, Jerry is able to put two and two together to deduce that Tom is up to no good, albeit in a unique way. It's about this time that the blueprint version of Tom the cat comes to life, and tries to get that mouse. I'm just going to cut to the chase and say that, sure, Blueprint Tom is cruel to Blueprint Jerry, unwinding Jerry down to just his little stick legs and what not, but Blueprint Jerry reconstitutes himself after that battle, and ultimately wins the war with the help of actual Jerry. Now, when I was younger, I was probably happy with what they did to Blueprint Tom, but the older I get, the more I can't help but think to myself... oh, dude, that was just vicious! I can't even blog about what they do to him... okay, actual Jerry sucks up Blueprint Tom into the pen that actual Tom was using, then they empty Blueprint Tom back into the ink bottle from whence he came. Why, the water serpent from James Cameron's The Abyss would be appalled.
In a way, I'm reminded of the structure of the Back to the Future movies, where Biff has to be defeated before a feat of time travelling can get accomplished. Which brings us back to Tom, who wakes up and sets his trap in motion. Oh, I almost forgot... the two Jerries tinker with Tom's blueprint before Tom wakes up. I dare not spoil that, dare I? Anyway, so Tom's "Better Mouse Trap" is set into motion and... spoiler alert, it should've been called a "Better Cat Trap." Big surprise. Now I have to check the closed captioning on Tom's retort... couldn't be much lamer than the one at the end of Bone, Sweet Bone... the Looney Tunes cartoon, not the adult film. I'm assumpting there's one called that. I should point out that Tom's "better mouse trap" employs, among other things, a pool table, a rifle and a giant, heavy safe. People want a better mouse trap, they just don't want to live in it.
TRAP-HAPPY PORKY... AND A FEW LIQUOR-HAPPY CATS
Love this cartoon. Which is why I should probably recuse myself from reviewing it, but what the hell. YOLO, right kids? YOLO. Alas, Trap Happy Porky isn't available on the first five or six volumes of the Looney Tunes DVDs. Does this deserve to be consigned to the dust bin of history along with most of the Looney Tunes directed by Art Davis? I say no! No, damn it. For one thing, it's directed by Chuck Jones, and I'm sure some of my fellow film geeks are aware of him. For most film geeks in the internet era, it's either Chuck Jones or Robert Clampett when it comes to fetishizing the WB cartoon directors. Friz Freleng, a close third; the rest tend to fall by the wayside these days.
Anyway, since a copy of Trap Happy Porky isn't at hand, and they only have selected clips of it on the YouTubes, I'm just going to have to work from memory here. I mean, check out YouTube. They've got Trap Happy Porky, but it's all chopped up like that snake on the "Don't Tread on Me" flag. Disgusting. Well, Trap Happy Porky is no snake in the grass. It's celebrated by fans of animation and alcoholism alike. Sure, it's more evidence that Chuck Jones was jealous of what Robert Clampett had going on when it came to Warner Brothers cartoons, and how he tried in vain to copy Clampett's sense of anarchy, with his results coming out too neat... but I'll leave that one for the experts and family members of the Clampett and Jones families to decide. I'll just try to stick with the plot here.
So Porky Pig's asleep one night in his suburban home, WHEN SUDDENLY... a loud racquet wakes him up. He goes to investi... investiga... go downstairs to see what the noise is all about. And sure enough... yup, it's mice. The traps he set for them are no longer sufficient. Time to call an expert. And soon enough, a cool cat arrives at Porky's doorstep. It's not Sylvester, but rather a new character, the kind that are often seen in Art Davis Warner Brothers cartoons, when he wasn't employing the entertainment services of Daffy Duck. And soon enough, the cat's setting up a very elaborate trap to catch the offending mice. There's just something about these very elaborate traps that make the generic mice in Warner Brothers cartoons just sit there and wait to see how it ends. And yes, a similar trap was employed in Tweetie Pie, but it seems to have been truncated a bit, and of course, Tweety was cleverly edited in in place of the mice.
The main takeaway is: the trap is effective. The mice get stunned, if not outright killed, and they are removed from Porky's house. And if that isn't cause for celebration, I don't know what is. Porky's way of celebrating is to go back to sleep. The cat, on the other hand...
SECOND ACT - Porky is awoken again, but by the sound of a piano with its keys getting all mashed to hell. Porky goes downstairs to find a different kind of pest in the house this time... the mousetrap-making cat has a few of his drinking buddies over, and they're singing some songs; songs from the Warner Brothers soundbook, I'm assuming. Porky tries to throw them out, but is surprisingly uneffective at it. Porky gets thrown out of the house a few times himself... and for all of you out there who think of cartoon characters merely in terms of whether they're wearing pants or not, that part's definitely for you. Well, Porky's had enough, so it's time to go into town again for another solution. No wonder that fat boy's so tired! Porky returns home with a mean-ass bulldog. Porky quickly runs back upstairs to go back to sleep, in anticipation of the carnage below that's surely to take place. If that isn't a metaphor for American Imperialism, I don't know what is.
To Porky's horror, Porky goes back downstairs to find that the bulldog has JOINED IN in the orgy of drinking and singing, becoming the tenor of the group, no less! What else is an animated pig to do? Porky steps into the chorus, shrugs at a crucial moment, and keeps singing. Iris out. Good luck getting that one out of the craw of your memory. Inception achieved.
TWEETIE PIE (1947)
Another game of cat and mouse... or bird, rather. I think for me the funniest moment would have to be... well, this one's full of funny moments, but somehow I can't bring myself to give it four stars. I should try to figure that one out. But one of the funniest moments could be filed under "progressive comedy," and I'll attempt to explain. Sylvester tries to get at Tweety by stacking up all the furniture in the house and climbing that Furniture Mountain up to the summit where the bird cage is. Needles to say, Sylvester the cat spectacularly fails... I know, it's an "epic fail." Am I the only one getting tired of that term? Must be. The lady of the house hears the epic racquet, and goes downstairs to investigate. Fueled by adrenaline and the infinite strength that all cartoon characters seem to possess, Sylvester quickly rearranges all the furniture in the room... but gets beaten by a broom anyway, just on general principles.
Now, the progressive part. Sylvester builds another ... okay, I have to watch it again. The first Furniture Mountain falls because Tweety saws a crucial lode-bearing leg on one of the tables. So, Sylvester's no dummy and quickly learns from his mistakes, and his second Furniture Mountain is made of tables with un-saw-able metal legs. Sylvester gives them a good tap for good measure before climbing to what surely will be a well-earned midnight snack. And once again, Sylvester gets up to the cage to find it empty. Sylvester looks down to see Tweety... wielding a blowtorch! Now that's what I call progressive comedy.
At the film's climax, Sylvester builds the mousetrap from Trap Happy Porky (1945). And I guess that's part of the problem right there. See, tiny cartoon animals need to be distracted with the new, not the recycled from two years ago. Well, it was a different era, and the average kid in attendance in the audience was probably not going to throw a fit because the mouse traps were the same in two cartoons.