Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Next Looney Tunes: Sexual Perversity by Ch-Chuck Jones

Oh, it's so time for the guys in the audience to get uncomfortable, because we're going to a place that even Shrek fears to tread: it's time for Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears.

ACT ONE

These DVDs have too much clarity... at least, until I get the Blu-Rays for the Looney Tunes that apparently don't exist yet.  But I just noticed that, during the Warner Bros. logo, the lettering shifts a little bit when Bugs does his frown, while sitting on the WB logo.  Sloppy work, guys, sloppy work.  Anyway, I'm not sure how many of these Chuck Jones serials there are: Road Runner, Bugs and Daffy and Elmer... he even took over Tom and Jerry for a while, but that's another studio.  But according to the "Connections" page of Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears... a page, incidentally, that gets harder and harder to get to these days, what with all the new features of the IMDb that they keep changing... this is indeed the first of what became a semi-running series of cartoons.  As it happens, there were a couple stories to be told with this family of bears, but this (instant case) seems to be the only outing of theirs without the benefit of a fourth wall.
And so, the three bears are introduced with a nice, classical musical flourish, which will be thoroughly de-classic-ified over the course of the next seven minutes, at least in the context of a PG-rated type of cartoon.  They're all sitting there at the kitchen table: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and the largest of the three, of course... Baby Bear.  ...we'll get to that wall calendar soon enough, but I'll demure to the film experts over at Maxim magazine to properly fetishize that particular incidental detail.
"I'm hungry!" declares Baby Bear, voiced by Stan Freberg, incidentally.  Why doesn't he ever get credit for these things?  Three Little Bops may be the only one!  (slight correction: Freberg played Junior in others, but not this one.  It's actually voiced by Beaky Buzzard himself, Kent Rogers.)  In response to Baby Bear, the violence between Homer and Bart is bourne.  Baby Bear suffers his first of many hits from Papa Bear in this outing, and others.  What's Brewin', Bruin? is particularly nasty as well, but Papa Bear suffers his fair share of abuse as well, even if Baby Bear's unaware of it.  "CANTCHA SEE I'M THINKIN?" declares Papa Bear in return.  Mama Bear's clearly seen it all before, as she barely ... hardly moves from the position she's in, sitting there, slumped up against Baby Bear for physical support, hand firmly upon chin.  She looks tired.  Weary to her very bear bone marrow.
For the animation buffs out there, which somehow seems to be a dwindling demographic here under the Pixar-dominated regime, we had with the Popeye serials what was referred to as the "Fleischer Shake"... something like that: a brief loop of animation that would repeat, if only so that the characters wouldn't just sit there, completely motionless.  Gotta give them something to do!  Well, Chuck Jones' animators were kept even busier than that.  As with Bugs counting his strokes in My Bunny Lies Over the Sea, there's a long sequence of Papa Bear wordlessly, yet mouthing something to himself, and counting his fingers, hatches a plan to either fix Junior's hunger pangs, or to merely temporarily stave off the boredom and malaise that seems to be the bear family's average state.  (Note to the camera operators: I did notice that, when they zoom in on Papa, the camera goes out of focus a little bit.  Sloppy work, guys, sloppy work.  Just what nearsighted idiots did they have working those lenses anywho?!!!!!)
And so, the meta-idea, as the hipsters might call it, is bourne.  "Remember the story of the Three Bears?" asks Papa to his assembled troops... Baby and Mama.  Papa takes a well-earned victory lap of sorts, even if it is just at the kitchen table, standing as tall as he can atop it.  Papa is a leader again, and he has a clear purpose... and as The Matrix Reloaded taught us, it is purpose that created us.  Purpose that connects us.  Purpose that pulls us.  That guides us, that drives us... yecch.  I can't take it anymore.  It's like I ate a whole bar of Trader Joe's French Nougat or something.  They obviously don't make it and or sell it anymore, it being the single greatest creator of Type 2 Diabetes ever recorded in medical journals.
But someone has to kill Papa's buzz.  Junior does it first by getting out silverware and a napkin.  Papa Bear's a bit like Moe keeping Curly in line.  Now, some parental groups out there might take exception to Papa Bear's nearly constant physical abuse that he heapes upon Junior... heaps, that is.  I say, first of all, it's not human beings we're talking about here.  It's bears, and bears are allowed to physically abuse each other.  That's just biology.  And second... GO TO POINT NUMBER ONE!!!  INFINITY!
Of course, Mama Bear has to get in on the act as well, pointing out that all they have is a bunch of old carrots.  Nothing to make porridge with, as per the instruction manual.  (the story of Goldilocks)  Papa has a mild anger explosion (smaller than, say, the one at the end of What's Brewin, Bruin?  Of course, to reverse nature back to winter, it'd have to be a much stronger anger, dontcha think?) and he says "Well then make........ CARROT SOUP!!!!"

ACT TWO

Fade in on the table, lol.  The carrot soup has been prepared, and the bears have their bowls in front of them.  Another example of 'Less is More.'  "Welllll...... LET'S GET STARTED," grumbles the tiny Papa Bear.
Mama Bear goes first.  She clears her throat and begins... I think that's my new favourite nuance that I didn't notice before.  This must've been one of Bea's favorite things to do, when she looked back on her career.  Now, here's something the hipsters in the audience ought to appreciate about this cartoon, and ought to speak rather directly to them and their sensibilities... two different entities, BTW.  Deliberate bad acting!  I guess Jones and company had to suffer through their fair share of it... maybe Vaudeville.  What with the Cherry sisters and all.  "Oh!" says Mama Bear.  "My soup's... my porridge is ... too hot!"
Papa Bear rushes through his lines.  "Oh, uh, my soup's too hot."
Now, for all the fans of early celluloid burps, here's an example of one.  They were damn few and far between, as I'm sure we can all agree upon.  The Hays Office tried to squelch them all, but missed a few.  There was one in the first Stooge short, Woman Haters.  That's the only one I know for sure, off the top of my sleep-deprived zombie head... damn.  Not even a hyperlink.  Of course, they're cracking down on Darius67987 and the like, so Woman Haters is probably gone from the likes of YouTube anyway these days.
But back to the instant case.  Junior screws up his line as usual, and Papa administers quick corrective punishment.  Mama Bear quickly takes charge in her stilted way, and gives us another gloriously bad line reading.  "Now let's all go for a walk, and when we turn, the porridge will be just right," she says... more or less.  And off they go, tra-la-la'ing away.  I need to re-watch this to see if Papa's enjoying himself or just getting angrier.  Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but The Movie Hooligan!  What about that Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa were in the Three Bears house with the three bowls of porridge?  Yes, yes, I remember.  Bart takes the bowl of porridge that's too cold, and pours it into the bowl that's too hot.  "I don't know why they didn't think of this before!" says Bart.  I don't think that season's out on DVD or Blu-Ray yet.  Have they been re-issued on Blu-Ray yet?  It's a prohibitively expensive hobby, I've noticed, especially when you're as short on cash as I am these days.
Now the three bears are like Pauly Cicero.  They might move slow... but that's because they don't have to move for anybody.  And when they return to the house, they swish into action, and quickly hide in the closet by the stairs, ready to pounce on Goldilocks.  As with the Stooges, the bears' heads pop out from behind the tattered curtain, with noises courtesy of that nut Bob Clampett.  Dad growls as he struggles to stick his head out from under the bottom of the head stack.
...you're telling me it's practically the half way point, and Bugs hasn't even made an appearance yet??!!!  I hate to have to ask, but... is Bugs phoning it in on this one?  Maybe.  But the bears must've made one hell of a carrot soup, because its aroma literally carries Bugs from out of his hole in the ground and in through the bear's window.  Ah, cartoons.  Bugs noisily slurps away at the carrot soup.
AND THEN... the bears are about to kill him, but they change their minds at the last minute, and instead pretend to be bear skin rugs on the floor!  What manner of plot device is this, anyway?  I don't think Bugs is buying it, though.  "Where's the ketchup at?" asks an annoyed Bugs as he starts in on the big bowl.  Same thing happened in A Bear for Punishment... love that one.  I mean, The Bee-Deviled BruinHowever, A Bear for Punishment is nothing if not patriotic!

ACT THREE

And so, Bugs' tummy is full.  What better thing to do than burst into song?  I was going to mention The Hudsucker Proxy and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but the characters in those laugh instead of bursting into song.  No, it's A Night at the Opera that comes to mind.  Chico, Harpo, and the guy filling in for Zeppo get their bellies filled at the populist buffet, and the Zeppo stand-in says "I feel like singing!"  Weakest excuse ever.  But that's what Bugs does, and he rolls around on the bears pretending to be bear skin rugs.  You know, just to rub it in a little more.  Boy!  Bugs really is a little stinker.
Now I have a theory that I'm working on, trying to amass data to build my case.  My theory is that Carl Stalling had more fun on Bob Clampett cartoons than on the cartoons of other directors.  But I don't have a high 'n' yet, and it's certainly not a random sample that I'm drawing from, so there's bound to be many Type I and II errors ultimately.  Plus the whole thing smacks of subjectivism, for all you Ayn Rand fans out there, and I know you're out there!  How she was able to worm her way into academia so effectively I'll never understand, but will begrudgingly respect.  Anyway, Bugs ascends the bear staircase, like the social parasite that he is, and the bears give chase.  Papa Bear goes first, then Baby and Mama close behind.  They turn into a line of bear dominoes, and fall over.  Carl Stalling's drummer, needles to say, goes to town.  Sure, not as fun as, say, the big explosion in Draftee Daffy... see what I mean?  My theory's got something, right?
"I'M KING FORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR  ADAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY-YAH!!!!!!!," sings Bugs, in glorious off-key (okay, maybe I just imagined it so), and slams the bedroom door shut behind him.  The bears fall over anew, and there's more jazzy drums... albeit not as jazzy.  Let me re-watch it a sec here... yeah, it's more military style than jazz, that second one!  Papa Bear screams "Now don't forget your LINES!!!!"  Good thing Bugs is already asleep, right?  Junior gets his line wrong, so wrong that it was dialed in from an entirely different Mother Goose chapter!!!  Another thing Shrek stole.  Another giant smack on the head for Juior, and in they all go into the bedroom to go through the text of Goldilocks.
"Oh, uh, somebody's been sleeping in my bead," says Papa like someone who... some guy who doesn't know what acting is.  Mama ahems again... now it's just getting old.  "Oooooh!" says Junior, while looking at Papa.  Weary of another slap to the head, he does manage to remember the right line.  And then, we pan over Stage Left to see Bugs sleeping in bed.  The instant that Junior finishes his amended line ("Someone's STILL been sleeping in my bed!") there's one of the Looney Tunes whooshing sounds, and all three bears are quickly pounding the crap out of Bugs.
Next scene: ...actually, it's still the same scene.  We pan to the right to see Bugs standing there, munchy-wunching away on lumptiks of carrot.  I seem to recall seeing this when I was younger, and being slightly troubled by that part.  I mean, that's just all-out cheating, isn't it?  Bugs was in the bed!  A mere second ago!  Well, to be fair, even though the scene almost totally isn't, Bugs doesn't usually have to resort to this kind of blatant use of the Get out of Jail Free card.  I mean, even the first Screwy Squirrel cartoon reveals at the end that... SPOILER ALERT... they was twins all the time.  "What's up, Doc?" asks Bugs, mouth full of carrot... disgusting...
Amid the sound of the bed getting pounded to submission, Mama Bear is the only one to hear Bugs' iconic, epic, game-changing line, and she turns around, fists raised, and starts to prepare to get in a big ol' punching match with Bugs.  So much for the speed from earlier, when the three bears in concert pounced upon Bugs in a hare-trigger instant, so to speak, pun intended.  Now, sure, the screenwriters amongst you could be cynical and say that this is all just a big plot device... but you have to at least admire where the filmmakers are going with it.  Having run out of tricks, Bugs tries to butter up Mama Bear with flattery... and it works!! EWWWW!!!!
There's a bit more horseplay among the guys before the big finale.  Bugs runs downstairs, with Papa and Junior eventually in tow.  Papa does the ol' Go Through the Wrong Side of the Door routine that Stan Laurel did once... as well as others, I'm sure.  Junior also picks the wrong side of the door, and the filmmakers hold on the result to wait for the laugh... then they all ay-yay-yay back inside.

EPILOGUE

Mama Bear went along with Papa's agenda up until now.  "DON'T YOU DARE LAY A HAND ON HIM, YOU BRUTES!!!" she says to Papa and Junior.  Papa and Junior back off of Bugs.  Now it's Mama Bear's turn.  She sighs a happy sigh and laughs, asking Bugs to tell her "more about my eyes."  Bugs now struggles to get out of this new mess he's created for himself.  "Now cut it out!  People are lookin' at us," pleads Bugs, but to no avail.  Bugs tries to escape, but each door he comes to, he opens to find Mama Bear in a different costume.  I seem to remember a similar construct on The Simpsons once, when Marge was taking a very symbolic drive in the car, with every stop being a milestone in life.  I wonder what feminists would think of this part of the film; the correct answer is probably that they don't because they would never watch something like this.
But try as Bugs does to escape, he even finds, to his ultimate horror, that his own rabbit hole provides no asylum from Mama Bear.  He emerges with bear kisses all over his face, and ends up running towards the horizon, screaming, clearly heading for the nearest nut house.  His screams overlap a little bit with the "That's All, Folks!" ending, for God's sake!  Now, you might call this future-proof filmmaking and all that, and you'd be right, even though I'm getting a little burned out on that particular phrase myself.  The ending still makes me squirm, that much I know.  Despite that, this one's still not one of the four-star classics to me; certainly not the best Chuck Jones Three Bears cartoon.  But it's the only one on the official DVDs, probably because of Bugs.  That's how it goes, even in Looney Tunes land.

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

1 comment:

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