Sunday, July 26, 2015

Koko and the Beanstalk

Slacking off again.  As usual, I gotta keep this one short, even though it's a Fleischer Inkwell short that's twice the length of a normal one.  And as you can guess from my banner headline, and from the title of the short proper, Jumping Beans (1922), it's a racist tirade against those people to the South of California... I mean, it's yet another retelling of Jackson and that damn beanstalk, which I don't think started out as a metaphor for American imperialism, but rather an alternative to the tower of Babel.  Anything that man can't do, nature surely can!
We start once again with the busy hands of Max Fleischer as he draws some stuff on his canvas.  There's a pretty cool effect here that anyone who's used Adobe/Macromedia Flash for any length of time will surely appreciate.  Max creates a virtual lasso of ink which slowly but surely wraps itself around Koko's outline.
As usual, Max f... messes with Koko, and Koko is unable to free himself completely from the ink lasso.  Max has to get a pair of scissors to cut Koko free... shyeah, right.  Total plot device.  Total plot ploy.  The remainder of the lasso piles itself atop Koko's head, thereby creating Kid of Kid 'n Play fame!
Okay, enough of Act One messing around.  Time to introduce the new conceit to this thing.  Max gets out this big ol' box that says "Mexican Jumping Beans" upon it.  He opens the box and out comes about a baker's dozen of jumping beans.  Man!  That's kind of a ripoff!  I guess they need a lot of space.  But those were the days.  If they were selling 'em these days, they'd cram them into an Altoids box or something, tighter than chickens at a factory that supplies McDonald's.  Max lets them jump around on his table a little bit.  Koko gets scared by them, lol.  Well, Koko's about their size, so... it's like if we humans are facing off with a rabid pit bull... okay, a Red Zone case that Cesar Millan hasn't rehabilitated yet.  Better?  It gets worse for poor embattled Koko, as the beans jump into the canvas.  The horizon line remains split in half the way Max left it unfinished.  Lol.  Koko says "Get that thing outta here!" as a jumping bean gets close to him... okay, okay, verbatim.  Koko says (and I quote) "Hey!  Take it away.  Take it away!!!!!!!"  Max feels Koko's pain, so what does he do?  Yup, you guessed it!  Max throws the rest of the jumping beans into the canvas for Koko to avoid.  Wotta jerk.  But perhaps Max has the right idea, because Koko eventually conquers his fear of the Monolith... I mean, the jumping beans, and now is trying to grab one.  The bean commandeers Koko's hat, and the hat starts jumping around.  Hey!  This is more fun than the bubble!  Max just sits back and laughs, kinda like Dean Martin at the Three Stooges in that 4 for Texas movie... I believe that was the one.... yup.  Oh, what silly old men.
And so, Koko gets the idea to plant the jumping bean, and he digs a hole with his feet like a dog while holding the jumping bean on the ground.  The bean starts to sprout, but Koko stamps down on the ground where the lump is.  Wotta jerk.  Max intervenes and feeds the bean some drops of water.  And then... BOOM!  Your epic beanstalk reaches for the sky.  O joy!  O bliss!  Endless profits!  Our troubles are over!  Ah, but there can be only one, because it's a kind of magic... something like that.  The sun looks on in horror as the stalk grows up past it.
And so, Koko begins to climb... is that Max giving us the finger at about 3:47 on the videodisc?  Let me examine this a little closer... nah, he's just pointing at something.  Happened to Gumby all the time.  Clokey's hands occasionally get into the shot.  Well, what can be said?  These things are exciting to put together!  Mistakes get made!
Anyway, back to this late breaking story.  There's a clever shot of Max talking to Koko, and the camera's up high, looking down on Max.  Genius.  Okay, not Einstein genius, but close.  I guess I have to qualify it as "on-the-fly" genius or split genius between small and large.  But I think we can all agree that someone at some point said, "Ooh!  We should have the camera looking down on Max!  You know, Koko's point of view?"  To which they replied, "That's silly.  Just have the camera at face level with Max looking up... hmm.  Maybe you got something there.  Why don't we try it both ways just to have some coverage?"  And so, Koko keeps climbing, as egged on by Max.  This is more epic than the time Koko fiddled with the lever that destroys the world.  That one doesn't seem to be on this DVD collection!  Boo.  And so, Koko keeps climbing, up past the comedy planets, past the chubby, smiling, Anglo-Saxon-looking crescent moon, and up past the warning sign they placed on the beanstalk proper, occasionally looking back down at the earth below.  Guess he made a lot of the distance early on.
And finally, he reaches the top.  Now, it doesn't exactly look like the land of clouds that we were always told that it was in the fairy tale and in other incessant incarnations of the same story.  No, it looks more like Time Bandits or something.  We eventually see the landscape, and it looks like a combination of sandy desert, and Russian spires in Moscow's Red Square.  Very Baron Munchausen-ish!
And so, Koko gets busy exploring this wondrous new world, running towards the cityscape until... yup, here comes the giant.  There's a visual gag involved that I dare not spoil, but we do get the trademark "Fe Fi Fo Fum," and the chase is on.  The animation looks a little clunky on that giant when he's following Koko... and I love it!  And then... yup, Koko manages to hide from the giant long enough to make the giant run past.  I don't believe it.  But it works, and Koko heads right back to the stalk.  He prays, he tries to climb down, but he's too paralyzed by fear.  And then... he starts falling.  Falling, yes, Koko's falling, and he keeps calling me back again.  You can tell that Koko's getting closer to earth because the background gets lighter and lighter.
And then... BOOM.  Koko makes a snow angel in the ground... except that there's no snow, and it's actually a deep Koko-shaped hole that he quickly uses a ladder to climb out of.  He then pulls up the bottom of the hole to smooth out the ground again, thereby simplifying the animators' jobs.  Dayamn!  That was a faster recovery than the giant at the end of... Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk.  Of course, that impact crater looked more like the Grand Canyon.  Also, it's arguably not as fun as the comparatively more iconic Beanstalk Bunny.... "He's Jack!"  Love that.
And yet, despite everything, despite the rousing adventure, despite surviving the fall without a lengthy stay in hospital... Koko is strangely ungrateful.  "Just wait, I'll fix you for this," Koko tells the audience... or is it just Max?  Frankly, I feel a little guilty myself.  And so, as often happens in these Max v. Koko battles, it's time for a little equitability.  Koko's got a pen of his own, and he draws himself a nice rubber stamp, carving out a shape of himself on it.  Ah, narcissism.  He then draws an inkpad, and it's time for the replication process to begin!  Um... Koko gets a little help from some dark magic in making these lifeless images take form.  And so, that Halloween episode "Send in the Clones" is bourne.  Koko creates a giant army of Kokos, and once they're all assembled, the original Koko gives the order: "Get that guy with the mustache!"  Alas, America's current mustache fetish has a price after all.  And so, the Kokos all run past the stamp pad... which seems to blink out of existence once per second.  At about 7:51 on the video disc.  Sloppy work, guys, sloppy work.
Oh, I don't care for this type of insurrection.  "What are you up to NOW?" asks Max as the army of Kokos advances, four deep.  Why, it's positively worse than the cockroaches in Creepshow 1!  Less sanitary by far.  Oh, but the homages aren't done yet.  Max gets backed into a corner, where a Lasso Unit of Kokos is waiting.  One Koko throws a lasso over Max, and Max has a rather difficult time trying to get it off.  A second Lasso Unit launches a volley.  Soon, Max is in a tighter bind than Gulliver ever was!  And it's still seventeen years off!  If Max isn't the Babe Ruth of animators, well... I don't know who is.
And so, the Kokos are triumphant, and they start dancing over Max's freedomless living body, and it's all Max can do but look on in horror... oh well.  Okay, so they didn't have the time nor the expertise to manage more than one still frame of Max.
Now, you know me... I hate to bring current events into these things.  But I did see a thing online on the computer about an up and coming documentary about Walt Disney.  They had quotes from Walt Disney "experts" saying that there's no evidence of Walt being anti-Semitic... or at least, any more or less anti-Semitic than anyone else in Hollywood at that time.  Sweet vindication at last.  Of course, I can't help but think to myself, 1) that they have to say that at all makes it true, and 2) he sure seemed to hate them Fleischer boys!  Bet he wasn't sorry to see them go out of business after Pearl Harbor, as was apparently the case!  In any event, I'll stick up for Walt in this one instance, for Max pulls out a little pocket knife in order to cut himself loose from the binds of the Koko army.  What gutter trash.
Anyway, true to the Inkwell short traditions, the Koko army now has a second mission.  But what on earth could it be?  They're using ropes to climb all over Max's office, but why?... oh, now I get it!  I'm very slow at figuring these things out.  Geez, no wonder the State won't hire me!  They don't want morons, that's for God damn sure.  And yet, I keep applying for their jobs.  Shame on me and my stupid mind.  Anyway, the Kokos are headed for that damn inkwell!  Into it they file, sliding down a rope.  Meanwhile, cut to Max who's almost broken completely free of the couple dozen ropes.  The arms race is on.  Will all the Kokos make it into the inkwell?  Or will Max catch the last couple and bring them to the Koko version of Guantanamo Bay?  The answer may surprise you... so I'll let you watch the end yourself.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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