Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Curious Case of Koko the Clown

Welp, this is it, folks.  The last short on the last DVD of Popeye Volume 1 is just something called Let's Sing With Popeye, and you can guess what that is: clips from the very first Popeye cartoon with Betty Boop, accompanied later by the lyrics and the bouncing ball.  But apparently the Fleischers did invent the bouncing ball, which pops up from time to time, if only ironically, when there are lyrics to be followed.  There is, of course, the trend of YouTube videos of popular songs that just have the song's lyrics, and even though there's no bouncing ball, the proper words will light up at the right time, kind of like on a Karaoke display.
But let's get to the last Koko short called Koko Back Tracks, and again, the original title cards are missing, and again, Koko looks angrier this time.  Well, that's what happens when you change lead animators.  And once again, Max pins Koko down with his fingers, rolls him up, and stuffs him back into the inkwell.  And this time, Max's hands are actually in front of the camera and the bright lights, not just cutouts of his hands.
Now, I often will tell present and future screenwriters to take note of certain things, and this Koko short is rife with them.  Needles to say, it demands a second viewing, what with all the thought put into the plot.  Like The Sixth Sense, but shorter and less downbeat.  But I think this is the first time, at least in terms of DVD order, where Koko is able to cause damage after he's been put back into the inkwell.  I'll try to ruin as few surprises as possible, but needles to say, the ink bottle finds its way onto the floor... last, I might add... and a veritable Koko puddle crawls around on the floor.  Now, maybe this is hyperbole, but this is probably where James Cameron got the inspiration from for the water snake in The Abyss and, of course, for its liquid metal counterpart in Terminator 2.  Max soaks up the Koko ink with a rag... or does the Koko ink choose to seep into the rag?  This may be open to interpretation after all.  But the outcome ultimately is that Max wrings out the rag, and Koko ends up on the canvas once again... sans outfit.  Boy, the Hays Code will have a fit when they see this!
After a scene that would make Gypsy Rose blush, Koko ends up with his clown outfit on... but it's on backwards.  All he needs now is a little lipstick on the collar, and he'd get that divorce for sure!  Koko complains to Max once again, and points at Max rather sternly.  In fact, Koko seems to point at all of us at the same time.  I know some critics hate the recent developments in 3D technology, but filmmakers seem to have been reaching for them since the dawn of cinema... including that creepy chewing guy.  Wonder if I can find that on the YouTubes?... Whoomp!  (There it is).  Yup, no doubt about it, Eric Blair predicted YouTube, because YouTube is nothing if not the Memory Hole.  Oh sure, the copyright lawyers will fight and fight, but they have yet to send the Gestapo after YouTube's servers, like they did with Kazaa or... one of those things from ten years ago.  The party rages on behind the scenes.
And as per usual, Max and Koko seem to be speaking very different languages.  Koko very specifically states, "Hey, my suit's on backwards!  And you didn't draw my hat!"  ...oh, I tell you darling, I just don't care for how angry Koko looks.  True, I won't cry over it... probably won't find that on YouTube.  A long time ago I saw a documentary featuring a grown woman crying because of a clown.  No time to sift through all the video game-related crying-because-of-clown links.  Anyway, Max starts to draw, but it doesn't look like Koko's hat.  In fact, Max seems to be drawing a lion's head!  Well, there's a certain wisdom to ... I mean, a method to Max's madness, as this does end up taking care of Grievance 1.  As for Grievance 2, well, Max draws a kangaroo, much like the one that Sylvester ended up tango-ing with on several occasions.  Poor Sylvester, caught between a grey bulldog and a baby kangaroo that he mistakes for a giant mouse.  Wotta dummy.  Anyway, I hate to spoil this one, too, but Koko triumphs over his fear and his enemies, perceived or otherwise, and he does get his hat back.  As for his groove, well...
ACT TWO - Might as well break it up like this.  And so, the notion behind the slightly vague film title starts to get laid out more plainly, starting with a chicken.  Then, a larger notion is drawn by Max.  Max draws a camel with a basket on it for riding.  A cartoon dog emerges from the basket and waves at Koko as if they're old friends.  Well, Bimbo was Koko's sidekick for a while; I have no idea who this upstart is.  Anyway, Koko climbs up to the basket and off they go... except the camel's going backwards!  What the deuce?  This continues for a while until Koko and the dog get separated.
Okay, now for the part for screenwriters to pay attention to.  A cartoon bear appears and... well, I really do hate to keep spoiling the plot's surprises, so let's just say that it's similar to the ending of... I believe it's called What Makes Daffy Duck.  I believe that's the one.  Now, normally I hate to reference an Arthur Davis Warner Bros. cartoon, but his Daffy Duck ones aren't as lame, mostly because of Daffy Duck's mere presence.  At least the plot is a little more interesting than, say, Bone Sweet Bone.  That's probably the worst, but arguably there must be something to it, as it's virtually the plot of every Adam Sandler movie ever made.
Anyway, this whole bear episode eats up a good chunk of time, if nothing else.  Koko and the dog then find themselves in one of those creepy office complexes, where a bunch of people have to share one sink.  Most awkward small talk ever!  Fortunately, all of the Forestry Council and the aerospace contractors are out to lunch, so Koko's got the sink to himself.  However, once again, the film's slightly vague title comes into play again, for not only does the water run backwards, but it seems to gravitate back up the faucet from whence it normally flows outward!  Which begs the question: is time just flowing backwards, or is there a black hole stuck in the faucet?  Evidence slowly points to the second theory.  Koko seems to blame the dog for all the weird sh... stuff that's happening, and off they go.  They have only one recourse left; they've put it off for long enough.  Time to take that door marked "Etavirp"... oh, wait, it's "Private" spelled backwards.  They open it and... hmm!  Looks like Max's studio!  Normally Koko doesn't have to go through a door to get there.
ACT THREE - And so, Koko and his new dog friend decide to ... actually, that's still a little fuzzy to me.  They see the giant clock in the town square, and they decide to make it run backwards.  Is it to get revenge on Max?  Usually Koko will at least say "I'll fix you!" to Max, but that doesn't happen this time.  They just get right to work running the clock backwards.  As we all should know by now, the way to make time run backwards is to take the largest clock in town and run it backwards.
And by Jove, it does indeed work.  A guy runs up to the camera, checks his pocket watch, and sees it start to go backwards, thereby causing him to run backwards past the same guy who steps out of the way a second time.  If nothing else, it must've been cold when they shot all the live-action stuff, as the horses' breath can be seen.  There's also a skier; maybe they went to the Catskills for that one, who knows.  Also, a guy un-eats a banana, thereby influencing the Martin Amis novel, "Time's Arrow"... oh, right, that was Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" that did that.  Seriously, the whole novel goes backwards.  You'll read it and ask yourself, "Really?  Seriously?"  Well, his dad was a famous novelist, anyway.
The affect of this altering of the flow of time has a slightly more damaging effect on Max, as his body ends up slowly spinning around.  Koko goes back into the inkwell, still on the floor where it was left.  And then... everything goes back to normal, and Max corks up the inkwell again.  See?  He was okay after all.  As for me, it's almost 3 in the morning, and I should be off to bed.

***1/2
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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