Sunday, April 03, 2016

Low Sierra

Shows you what I know!  Some movie critic!  Apparently, this is the first Road Runner and Coyote cartoon.  The coyote's eyes were yet to be perfected, but otherwise it's a pretty consistent series.  Bad pun for a title, coyote keeps getting killed, humiliated, what have you... rightly so, of course.  No one's disputing that.  But every great series has to start somewhere, and the very first Road Runner is on Volume 1 of the Looney Tunes 4-disc Golden Collection, and it's called Fast and Furry-ous.


As with all of the Road Runner cartoons, this first one starts with the right plot formula, as handed down on high by D. W. Griffith, Lousy B. Mayer, and Cecil B. Demented.  You introduce the character(s), then put them through their paces.  Something game-changing, or whatever they'd say back in the '30s... party starting?  Earth-shattering?  Real George?  The Berries?
Now... I hate to be a buzzkill, but... either that, or I actually really enjoy being one, if only in the context of a blog... but for all my bird friends in the Masters program... actually, there were only one or two.  The rest of the bird people were kind of jerks.  Anyway, the genus of the Road Runner is actually Geococcyx, but they knew that... hmm!  Wonder if Charles M. Jones used the actual Latin name of the species in one.  Well, that's why I'm only a Movie Hooligan; a Movie Maven like Leonard Maltin or Jerrold Beck would know the answer right off the top, and I mean right off the top.  Wikipedia also says that there are two Road Runner species, G. velox and G. californianus... (stifling childish chuckle)  The Linnael name of the Coyote is (again, according to Wikipedia, which goes without saying, n'est ce pas?) something called Canis latrans lestes.  Can you believe that?  There's no link between road runners and coyotes on their official Wikipedia pages!  What, are they trying to be objective scientific documents or something?  You better believe the douches over at Conservapedia would have it!  ...someone else will have to look that up.  I'm actually not interested.
Mark Twain once said that a coyote will travel 15 miles for its breakfast, 30 for its lunch, and 60 for its dinner... something like that.  Sounds like a pretty good diet, actually!  Bet it keeps the weight off.  Of course, if I tried something like that, I'd have to nap constantly due to hunger-induced dizziness.  Gawd, I hate that, the fat, lazy American that I am.  Anyway, as what usually happens in all of these things, we get the quasi-scientific character introductions, and the coyote's usually checking out the road runner.  Then, the coyote tries to give chase to the road-runner, just by himself, with no extra devices or anything.  The road-runner gives its version of a scoff, sticking out its tongue, saying "Meep meep!," then taking off towards the horizon.  The coyote stops and stares.  He thinks he's moving but he goes nowhere, yeah I know everyone gets scared... sorry, I hear that way too much at the gym.  And so, having failed to catch the road runner without implements external (or internal, spoiler alert)'s time to stop and think.  Maybe there's another way to ... let me rephrase.  Surely, there's more than one way to skin this road runner?


We might as well call this Act Two, the part where the yet-to-be-named Wile E. Coyote decides to use brains instead of his brawn to try and catch them ol' Duke boys, git-git-git... I mean, the Road Runner.  First up: ... a pot lid?  Seriously?  He's really going to try this?  The coyote's really going to just stand there behind a rock, and when the Road Runner gets close enough, stick out a pot lid?  Well, spoiler alert, as it happens, funny story... not only is the Road Runner super-fast, but it can stop on a dime as well.  Wile E.'s reaction to finding this out is priceless, I just might have to resort to a second still-frame.
Now, according to the commentary by the way-too-excited Michael Barrier, (I mean, geez!  It's like listening to Quentin Tarantino on the crack or something...) one of the hard and fast rules of the Road Runner cartoons is that the Road Runner never does harm to the coyote.  Well, this was the first one, so the proverbial cement was still drying on the rules.  Spoiler alert: the Road Runner does some quick Judo on the coyote, and holds up the pot lid his own damn self, which, of course, the over-infuriated coyote runs smack dab into.  I tell you darlings, these Looney Tunes screenwriters must've dealt with some very frustrated people in their day.  May have done a whole Pvt. Snafu cartoon about the subject, how mistakes happen when you're frustrated, and we lose WWII... something like that.
Next feat of brainage: One Genuine Boomerang, not from the Acme Corporation.  The box says 'Guaranteed to Return' on it.  Again, the rules of harm are bent a little bit, as the Road Runner is one step ahead.  I mean, he's not one of Asimov's robots, is he?  As it happens, Road Runner has purchased 'Another Genuine Boomerang.'  This is the kind of thing that surely will piss off your friends who take things way too literally.  I mean, what a very specific context!  And furthermore, the Road Runner's boomerang didn't return to him/her, right?  But look at the box!  I mean, LOOK AT IT!  Such blatant silliness!  I can't take much more of it!  As for fans of flawed animation, well... one can't help but notice that Wile E.'s tail disappears when he catches his boomerang in hand.  And like Oppenheimer, I think of that line from the Bhagavad Gita... anyway, you can probably guess what happens to the coyote's boomerang...
Next brain game: like the middle-class Republican he is, Wile E. Coyote tries creating his own school crossing, and dresses up in a schoolgirl's outfit, wig and everything.  This gag would live on in compilation reels where Coyote poses as a "sexy" hitchhiker, with a different sign from the Road Runner.  As for this one, well, we find out that road runner's can't read, but they at the very least have friends that can write and, worse than that, their friends have a very dry sarcasm, the kind of thing that might summon tears in grade school.
Next game of brains: Coyote tries out his first rideable rocket, lol.  Alas, he doesn't quite get it where he wants it to go.  Just like the Darwin Awards!  Go figure!  To be fair, it's a pretty sturdy rocket, and it didn't explode on impact... maybe it just ran out of fuel.
Next brain game: our first giant boulder, complete with comical (if only to us) blueprint of how it's supposed to work.  Pretty straightforward affair normally, you would think.  I can't help but wonder what the coyote would do if the road runner actually did get crushed under this giant boulder.  Would the coyote be able to extract the flattened road runner in time before it began to spoil?  I doubt it.  I mean, he would have to dig under... anyway, the rock's center of gravity wasn't where the coyote thought it was, and of course, the rock falls backwards onto the coyote.  Alas, Wikipedia only includes some of the Laws of Cartoon Physics.  But it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that, in cartoons, gravity tends to favour the good guy, and work against the bad guy.  This maybe ... SPOILER ALERT: this is one of the few times when the coyote's head is still visible when he gets crushed by a giant boulder.  Apparently, they didn't trust the audience at first, lol.
Next brain game: our very first painted tunnel.  They even have it at an angle where the illusion doesn't work.  Spoiler alert: it's not the end of the cartoon, so a bus doesn't drive out of the tunnel, but rather the road runner re-emerges from the new dimension and runs over the coyote.  I forget which one it's in, but my favorite gag is when the coyote draws a tunnel with a broken bridge in it.  The road runner, I believe, makes it over the bridge, so the coyote tries.  The coyote ends up in his painted tunnel, and ends up falling through his painted broken bridge.  Whoa, dude... am I right?
Next feat of enhanced predation: dynamite... I gotta go to work.  Needles to say, it's a quick one, similar to how great damage is done to the space-time continuum more quickly with a flying car and a Mr. Plutonium unit in the 2nd and 3rd installments of... ah, skip it.
Next feat: an Acme Super Outfit.  This section was re-used in one of the feature length Road Runner movies... maybe this one?  How many were there, after all?  In any event, what happens to the coyote is almost too real to be funny.  But I do remember the music flourishes on this one.


World War II was over a few years now, but the role that science played in the winning of that war is not to be taken lightly.  And just as David Hilbert felt that mathematics could solve any and every problem (in mathematics), except maybe the problem of getting people to like mathematics, there were some who felt that science could also solve any problem.  Mostly stuff like feeding the world with soy-based milkshakes.  As for our Mr. Wildy Coyote, as Ted Cruz might call him, he's trying to avoid the high cost of rocket shoes for the time being.  Maybe the power of downhill skiing will give him the right opportunity to catch that blasted old Road Runner!
Now, the setup is sure to drive your engineering friends crazy, however.  The main component of the Coyote's Rube Goldberg skiing device is the giant refrigerator, suitable for a typical domestic kitchen.  Now, the government may have had plans for a refrigeration unit large enough to cover a mountainside with ice, but it wouldn't be small enough to barely fit on a coyote's back.  Or maybe they'd just have planes fly overhead and drop something bomb-sized on the area they'd want frozen.  So leaving that aside for a moment, there's also the problem of the refrigerator's power source.  It must be solar-powered as a) there are no outlets in the desert, and b) he's got no cord!  Where's the thousands of feet of orange electrical cord?  What price comedy?  Maybe this was rectified in a later episode, we just don't know.
And so, the device is fired up.  The refrigerator starts spewing out perfect ice cubes, and a meat grinder is used to chop up the ice cubes into a layer of frost suitable for skiing.  I keep going back to the example of a kid's train.  First of all, they're way way too expensive, and there's never enough tracks or cars to have decent fun with.  Okay, so maybe you get one of those lame Brio numbers with the magnets on them.  As soon as you get past a certain number of cars, the train starts to fall apart.  But the coyote gets his wish, and soon he's within range of the Road Runner, going downhill about as fast as the road runner can.  Equitability achieved at least a second time!  But unlike the Road Runner, the Coyote can't stop this crazy train once it's started.  The Road Runner stops, and watches the train wreck whizz right on past him.  The Coyote looks back in surprise, love that constant optimism... then looks forward to see the cliff coming up fast.  Alas, it's time to look to the Cartoon Laws of Physics again... let's try this hyperlink instead for a change. 
So, the first law of Cartoon Physics states that any body suspended in space (in Earth's gravity) will remain in space until made aware of its situation.  Take fat Elmer Fudd in Wabbit Twouble, for example.  When he realizes that he's got a great view of the canyon because he's hovering over it, he leaps back onto firm ground, jiggling in Bugs Bunny's thin arms.  Clearly, these laws are far too simplistic to really do justice to the comic complexity of these here Looney Tunes.  For in this instant scene, Wile E. is all too aware of his situation.  He needs a couple shots of Jagermeister to take the edge off.  And to rub things in a little more, the coyote's ice-making machine adapted for the downhill skiier sputters and dies mere inches before making it to the other side of the chasm.  Who knows?  Maybe the trail of ice left behind was strong enough to hold up on its own.  Sure, it'd need some extra counterweights and things to maintain its shape, and ideally it'd be completely across the chasm like a very, very long wooden board... but Wile E.'s the bad guy here, trying to reach for the moon to satisfy his hunger, so gravity finally takes over.  Wile E. spins down to the canyon floor, refrigerator still tied to his back, and the animation here looks a bit clunky, at least compared to his future 3D-ish plummets to various canyon floors.  Chuck Jones himself was on Bob Costas' "Later" show on NBC and told a story one time about how one of his editors started laughing uncontrollably while working on a Road Runner cartoon.  Jones went to investigate and the guy said, "I'm sorry, boss, I'll change it back."  To which Jones replied, "You change it and I'll kill you!!! What were you laughing at?"  The guy was laughing because the sound was turned down, and when the coyote fell to the canyon floor, there was a quiet explosion sound.  In the instant case, there's a loud sound; clearly, progress had yet to be made.
Next scene: the aftermath of the great fall.  After the ski pole stops shaking, the mangled refrigerator begins to produce ice cubes again, and the meat grinder continues to grind them up into a fine snow.  The coyote gets partially covered with the snow, then holds up a sign that says "Merry Xmas."  Quick fade to the next anti-triumph... very quick fade.
Spoiler alert: it's the last big trial run of the picture, so to speak, pun intended.  There's a quick epilogue to finish this off, but every once in a while you have to have a long stretch for one idea.  A bunch of non-sequiturs strung together is, well... it's just the work of the devil.  Wile E.'s had enough of the bodily harm for now.  Now it's time to skip the Acme catalog for a while, and try a more trusted brand, Fleet-Foot, makers of the wildly popular Jet-Propelled Tennis Shoes.  Hey, it worked for Andre Agassi for a while!  And once they're taken out of the box... I guess they don't come with that protective layer of wax paper, oh well... the coyote laces them up and tests them out.  They work!  Not only do they respond to the wearer's wishes without extra buttons or remote-controlled devices, but they have pretty decent stopping power as well, something that the Coyote typically doesn't account for in his own designs. 
Spoiler alert: in more cost-cutting for the background designers, the Road Runner shows up just as the Coyote's in the middle of his tests.  The Coyote looks surprised.  The Road Runner sticks his tongue out at the Coyote, says "Meep!" and leaves behind a dust cloud, saying "Meep!" again.  The Coyote takes off running, Stage Left.  The dust settles, and the Road Runner's still standing there, looking smug as usual, of course.  Sorry, but I gotta do another still frame here.  Wonder how close I am to my space limit?  Have I used up my one gig yet?
The Coyote tries playing the Road Runner's game, but the Road Runner's always one step ahead.  They play another round of... oh, how shall we put it... Dust Cloud Tag?  The Coyote stares at the Road Runner's dust cloud very intently this time, but when it dissipates, finds there's no road runner!  The Coyote's yellow eyes turn white very briefly, but he figures correctly that the Road Runner's headed Stage Right, and off he goes.
This brief stretch where the Coyote catches up to the Road Runner is exactly why I never did like that Atari coin-op video game of the Road Runner saga.  It's from their mid-80s lineup of games that included such hits as "Championship Sprint," "Paperboy" and "Marble Madness," my personal favourite.  New sounds, that same stupid font, and slightly next-level graphics.  Ooh!  They also had an Indiana Jones game.  I could never summon up enough personal courage to try any of those myself.  Looked too expensive, for one.  But that Road Runner video game, I couldn't take it.  You play the Road Runner, and you get caught by the Coyote!  That's not right, is it?  No.  No it's not, damn it.
Anyway, back to the cartoon.  More skimping on the backgrounds, as they use the same background for a wide shot, then an even wider shot where the Coyote and Road Runner look like dots.  And then... next scene: we come to the highway cloverleaf in the desert.  More pork from the ... the Tennessee Pavement Authority?  I didn't do very well in high school civics, as you can tell.  Wildly overestimating the traffic in the desert, we've got a multi-level highway with just three connecting loops instead of the usual four.  Must've been relatively new at the time.  The coyote clearly gets hypnotized by this new device, and finds himself either looking down or looking up at the Road Runner, several levels away.  In another violation of the edict that the Road Runner does no harm to the Coyote, the Road Runner runs over the Coyote and knocks him way off his feet.  A mild teasing, let's call it.  This just pisses off the Coyote that much more, and the chase continues anew.  Eventually, the two dots meet up on the same level of highway, they jump from the surprise (101... I mean LoL), and they take off again, Stage Right.  Heavens to Mergatroid!
The chase continues along that same old stretch of highway, but the Coyote's shoes start to sputter and give out.  I guess he should've sprung for those Fleet-Foot Jet-Propelled Marathon Shoes.  Either way, the gas mileage is probably not good.  Plus there's the oil and the timing belts, it just never ends.  But at the very least, the Coyote just gets spun around real good.  No explosion, no falling from cliffs, it's one of the nicer things that's happened to him.  The Coyote watches as the Road Runner again fades into the horizon, but he looks up to see a hopeful sign... a sign that says "Short Cut."  Doesn't seem that short to me, but the Coyote hopefully and happily bounds down it to get that one last stab at the Road Runner.  Fade to black.


Whoa dude.  A stab indeed!  The coyote's waiting behind a sign with an axe.  I'm of parenting age now, and I squeam... squirm at the damnedest things now.  Don't give kids any ideas about axes.  They tend not to wait for the lesson afterwards.  The lesson seems to be is something along the lines of the Chicago way, if you will.  The Coyote hears the usual "Meep meep!" and gets ready to strike with his axe.  But that's the thing about the Road Runner.  The Coyote brings an axe, and the Road Runner brings an oncoming bus.  Sure you might do some damage to that grill in the front, but... WHAM!!!!!!  All the colors of the rainbow... except green... and look at all the pretty stars!  There's Hedy Lamarr, and Alexis Smith, and Dorothy L'Amour and Baby Schnooks and... Sufferin' Succotash!  It's Ann Sheridan!  Woo-hoo!!!!!!  I better go.................

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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