Sunday, August 23, 2015
Koko the Dog Whipperer
Anyway, or next Koko short is called Koko Trains 'Em, and it's a first, because apparently, footage of the original title cards was lost, or filmed on flammable stock and lost in a warehouse fire, because they've been replaced by modern title cards, lovingly reconstructed. Semi-lovingly... I'm just so sick of that ubiquitous Times New Roman font. Freagin' Windows! Why, I'm even sick of it in the original Predator now. It's also a first because, as you can see from the attached photo that's not part of an evil email attachment scam, this seems to be the first time, in the chronological order of the DVDs, that Max has worked with a live dog. Kittens, plenty! But never dogs. I guess he was a cat person or something. And so, accompanied by one of his relatives, Max finds inspiration anew in drawing a dog for a change. Awwww, the cute little devil. He's gonna grow up and work with The Little Rascals someday.
Alas, the canvas has a mind and an agenda all its own, and soon, Max's unfinished doodle morphs into a quasi-fractal shape, and then into the shape of Koko. "What is that?", Max's lady companion seems to ask, thereby quelling the gripes of all the lip readers in the audience. And so, the Gilliam-esque hand of Max Fleischer sets about erasing this god-awful visage from his canvas right away. The very idea! A dog turning into a clown. What would the Bridge Club say? And so, Max tries a second time, and ... yup, once again, the canvas is not having it. Not only does this second dog eventually morph into Koko, but this time, Koko's got his full black outfit, and not just a rough outline. Max tries a different tactic, and sets this drawing of Koko aside, and starts over with a fresh canvas. "WHAT ABOUT ME?" the now animated Koko seems to ask from his lonely perch, the proverbial Ozymandias / Damon Dash that he is. We jump ahead to a finished drawing of the dog that's holding fast and not morphing into anything else, and Max gets up to mess with Koko a little bit... I failed to appreciate the technical achievement here at first. Or maybe it's nothing new. Max wags his finger, or rather, his fist with the ink pen in it, at Koko, admonishing him for being such a pain in the a... for being such a nuisance, and Koko gets miffed and turns away. Note how the movements of Max Fleischer are seamless; they must've done a split-screen type of deal or something, as opposed to complete stop-motion, which probably wouldn't have worked out, considering the scene. There seems to be a new animator working on Koko here, as I don't remember Koko's angry face looking quite like that before. As a consolation prize, Max draws a whip in Koko's hand, and the film starts to live up to its title. Time for Max to draw a circus background... but Koko's an apprentice at the animal training game, so he's going to start by whipping a dog, much like the cartoon dog that Max was trying to draw earlier.
Next scene: this Koko short also seems to be the first time that we focus directly on a words-only comedy setup. We see a price sheet for the circus, and only a little bit at a time; you know, time enough to absorb one punchline at a time. After all, there's only so many laughs one can cram into a comedy! Even Dave Barry knows that, and he can't write a sentence that's not funny. Not one. Every single sentence has a punchline to it. And to a lesser extent, P.J. O'Rourke probably writes that way; of course, when he appears on Bill Maher's show, he doesn't seem to let anyone else talk, but that's another story. The storytelling in the Koko Inkwell shorts just got a little more mature.
And so, we iris back to the circus, where Koko's got the whip, and he's getting a little boastful. "He'll do anything I say!" says Koko, pointing to the rather dour-looking dog before him. Koko cracks the whip, and the dog begins to wiggle its ears... eventually. Another command and the dog does a flip... in a way. The dog splits its own body in half along its stomach... how to properly explain this. Not down the middle, so we can see its brain, mind you, but a top half/bottom half type of deal, legs and torso... gosh, I'm a great writer, aren't I? The filmmakers involved must've figured that this was a big deal, because soon it's on a loop, and the dog is doing this dismemberment-rememberment trick over and over again. It's a little sick and twisted, but arguably tastefully done in comparison to what it could have been. The audience pours into the tent... the surprisingly homogenous audience, as if they're on some sort of a loop as well! No ticket takers? No peacock makeshift fence? Oh well. Also, note the shading on the houses and buildings in the background; we don't usually see the hand drawing all that stuff!
Koko's holding the whip so that it looks like a giant finger. I seem to recall seeing that image somewhere before... anyway, for his next trick, Koko will make the dog beg for food. The dog does so, and the audience erupts in thunderous applause... now, maybe it's just me, but... I know, I know, it was a different era. And even though this short is from the 20s, the dog does an impression of Theodore Roosevelt. Well, the shelf lives of presidents was a lot longer back in those days. Also, people back then probably thought that we'd be talking about McKinley or Calvin Coolidge or Millard Filmore forever and ever. Roosevelt? Puh-leeze. What a flash in the pan.
And so, the tricks come hard and fast from there. One after the other. Which is why "playing dead" seems to be the last straw for the dog. Clutching its chest, and wandering about in a dithyrambic, Dionysian-inspired daze for a bit, the dog eventually falls to the ground, and stays fallen. The Pavlovian audience erupts in the same loop of applause, of course. But then... to Koko's horror, the dog's not getting up to take a bow! Either Koko has no patience, or the dog actually did die. Try as he might, Koko just can't get that darned dog to wake up and continue the act. Completely out of options, Koko tries to tempt the dog with some food... no, wait. What is that? Oh, it's a flea! Well, that's just mean. Koko's plan is to wake the dog up with a flea. Boy, he ain't kidding. Fleas will keep you awake at night. I know because they're all over my bed with a vengeance. And so, Koko takes a tiny house out of his jacket pocket, and out comes the goofiest looking animated flea I've ever seen. It looks like a black crescent moon; talk about unflattering! If I were doing an animated flea, I'd try to make it look like a tiny alien from the Alien movies, with the copyright lawyers' approval, of course. And so, the flea gets to work seeing if the dog's actually dead. I guess if the dog is dead, then it's on to Phase Two with the vultures. Anyway, the flea lands on the dog, and gets out a tiny pair of pliers. Oh, it's food around the corner for it, Hallelujah brother.
Well, as devious as the plan may be, it works, because the dog leaps up and starts scratching, and dancing much like what happens in those The Three Stooges shorts when someone gets a bee or an ice cube under their clothes. I dare say that Koko is about to feel Max's managerial pain once this dog vows to get revenge. Will the dog make copies of itself and become an angry dog army and go after Koko in vengeance? Well, Koko's having far greater concerns, as his whip is developing a mind of its own.
To cut to the chase, the dog's still scratching, but Koko eventually gets the whip back into its holster. Meanwhile, as it turns out, there were other residents in that tiny flea house and, like the proverbial clown car that it now is, a loop of fleas starts to jump out of the house and into the world proper. Soon, the audience that rushed into the circus tent earlier is now leaving said tent at about the same speed to escape this plague of fleas. There's a letterboxed shot of the fleas leapfrogging their way into the countryside. Apparently, these fleas are an invasive species, and because they're very small, they should colonize all of America in about two weeks. Starlings will take a couple decades.
While all this is going on, we see Koko still happily whipping away, while the new Dominion of the Fleas is all but complete. Even inanimate objects aren't safe from the fleas' incessant biting and gnawing. Wood products aren't safe. Statues aren't safe. Soon, the live-action world from earlier isn't even safe! The only one who doesn't seem to be scratching is Koko, and he returns to the live-action puppy from earlier, and messes about with it for a while. Koko scratches the puppy on the nose a couple times, and rides the puppy around a little bit like a tiny pony, and is generally oblivious to the chaos around him. The fleas keep jumping from their house, and the fleeing audience eventually find their way to the real world and end up plummeting like lemmings into Max's waste paper basket. However, Koko eventually does realize that something's not right in the world, as Max's pens and paint tubes and all the other inanimate objects on Max's desk are moving around... alas, they don't seem to be scratching themselves from flea bites, unfortunately, as time and the budget wouldn't allow it, but Koko sees the writing on the wall and jumps into the inkwell, which Max promptly closes. And so, the cycle of these Inkwell shorts is once again complete.
Now as some of you may have discovered, you can find anything on the web. Well, except for the code of a decent video game, you can find anything. Well, a good programming tip will cost you a membership in Experts Exchange. Also, searching for a very, very specific picture is still pretty tough. And if you want to find a throwaway gag in a film, well... good luck with that. But I seem to recall that there was a Stooge short where characters in an old-timey portrait were scratching themselves because of flea bites... damn, I'm good! The sequence is from Self-Made Maids and... well, it's not all the same, as the "girls" are being bitten by ants instead of fleas.... think I'll submit it to the IMDb anyway, to which I'll get an email saying "Um... you need to back off a little bit, Bro. Drink a little less coffee or something."
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan