Monsters Inc. So maybe there's something here, if I can get past the surface charms, which arguably won't be easy.
We have the main ingredients that were in Bad Luck Blackie: a teeny cat, and a large dog. Hard to say which cartoon is more sadistic, but it's probably safe to say that Tex Avery's outing is more up front about it. Way more. That Tex himself provides the cackle of the bulldog, well... he had the best audition! Why don't you give him a break?
I forgot to mention the music over the opening credits... I think even Carl Stalling didn't know what to compose to sum up the film entire. Too deep in uncharted waters. But we do begin a little more conventionally with an exercise in scale. We see a scary pair of blue eyes... and really, when you get right down to it, aren't all blue eyes a little scary? Take Cal Ripken Jr., or Robert Downey Jr. at the beginning of Tropic Thunder, for two junior related examples. We pull back to get introduced to Pussyfoot, a tiny black cat, sitting in a can of salmon, next to a cigar. You know, for scale, in case the can wasn't enough. For WB executives, not enough.
Next, the bulldog. The bulldog, Marc Anthony, much like the Roman empire his name connotes, rushes over to the veritable Christ-like figure that the cat represents... I'll just drop that comparison for the time being. The dog gives the teeny cat its fiercest snarl it can muster, but the cat's too busy cleaning its fur, as most cats are. Oh, this one was made by cat lovers, no question. The cat gives a cute meow, thereby perplexing the dog. The dog snarls a second time, but the cat walks OVER THE DOG'S TONGUE... mid-snarl, mind you... and up the dog's leg to occupy some high ground for a change. But before the cat settles down to sleep, the dog's back clearly isn't soft enough, so the cat has to knead it a little first. I'm telling you... made by cat lovers. The cat finally curls up and makes for some beauty rest.
The dog's reaction? Nothing but love. Aw, how cute. Now, I'm going to fault the sound people, because the dog seems to give the cat a little kiss, but we don't hear it. The cat looks up and gives the dog a tiny lick. There's no turning back now... it was meant to be. The dog is hopelessly, forever in love with this teeny cat, and the dog slowly walks away with the cat on its back. My eyes are tearing up a little bit as I write this.
Whoever loved that loved not at first sight? Of course, it was the dog's second or third look that really did the trick, didn't it? So much for that old saw!
As with most affairs, the cold realities of the real world soon come crashing down upon these states of bliss. Marc Antony heads home with his teeny soulmate, only to be quickly reminded that said home is an ungainly mess, with displeased human masters at the helm. The lady of the house sees the big lug of a dog and lays down the law quickly and firmly, of course. "Don't you DARE bring another thing into this house!" says the beseiged housewife. Did I fail to mention that Chuck Jones is the undisputed master of psychology? Here's but the latest example: we see the dog from behind with the cat on its back as the housewife's laying down the law. After the law's laid down, the dog gracefully removes the cat from his back and covers it up with a dish, all hidden from view of the housewife. Genius. Genius of the highest order. The filmmakers know sneaking around, too, apparently!!!
As the filmmakers can attest to, cats probably don't like having anything placed over them, like a giant off-yellow dish. They barely like getting into the carriers to go to the vet. Somehow they always know when a trip is coming. And soon, Pussyfoot is scurrying around with the dish on top of it. The generic housewife with the hot legs spies it, of course, and screams "A MOUSE!!!!" Take that, housewife from the "Cow and Chicken" series!
Panicked, Marc Antony gives chase... but he seems to be going slowly round that corner. Next scene: the housewife's first impression comes to fruition, as the dish is leaning up against the wall. Marc Antony removes the dish and finds a mouse hole in the wall that seems quite a bit larger than the average cartoon mouse hole. Marc Antony reaches in, grabs the first living thing he finds, and lovingly places it on his back, and continues that slow gait from earlier, trying in vain to recapture the magic of that first one. Never as good, is it, folks?
The old bait and switch, as it turns out. There's comedy to be had, even in romance, as it turns out. I guess this cartoon is indeed a Rom-Com! I can't think of many others like it, and I discount the stinky Pepe Le Pew series, if only out of protest. Marc Antony sees Pussyfoot eating at his dish and laughs. That's when it hits him: well, what do I got on my back? A mouse! The mouse gives Marc Antony a kiss, unknowingly channeling what Pussyfoot did earlier. However, Marc Antony doesn't like the mouse as much, and off his back he quickly goes, and back into the mouse hole, no less! For some reason, I expected the mouse to pack his bags and leave, but that's another cartoon. Could someone find that one for me? Anyone at all?
Next scene: Pussyfoot starts playing with a ball, and ends up scurrying around atop it. Marc Antony is amused by this, but it quickly turns to horror because, while Pussyfoot has temporarily mastered the art of not falling off the ball, he or she has not mastered the art of aiming the ball in a way to avoid the detection of the housewife that Marc Antony would prefer. Acting quickly, Marc Antony pretends that Pussyfoot is a wind-up toy, and the housewife buys it! However, Marc Antony kisses the housewife's foot, just in case. Doesn't hurt, I suppose.
Then, basically the same scenario happens, except that Pussyfoot gets into a tiny model car and drives around all over the damn place. Pussyfoot ends up driving under a rug RIGHT AT THE HOUSEWIFE. Marc Antony goes under the rug after the mischievous cat... this particular cat is just that special. The dog ends up grabbing the housewife's ankle. The housewife shrieks, but we see the cat react. Interesting visual choice!
Next scene: the kitchen, where Marc Antony is trying to teach the cat some rules of the house. The cat, however, gently bats at the dog's finger, as though it were a toy mouse or something. The dog finds this adorable, but... well, I would take that as an alarm. Our current cat is sometimes not so gentle with her claws. Also, she caught a hummingbird the other day. And a featherless baby chick before that. And yet, we just can't bring ourselves to hold it against her. Oh, those cats will have you feeling suici... I mean, in denial. In denial. Forgive me!
As Marc Antony should know by now, there's no place in the house that's safe from the housewife. Particularly the kitchen, but... what? What did I say wrong? Anyway, acting in haste, perchance to repent in leisure, Marc Antony puts the tiny cat in the closest drawer he can find: the flour drawer. The housewife asks Marc Antony what he's up to. "You look VERY guilty!" says the housewife. Marc Antony shakes his head, and seems to predict the animation of Chuck Jones' Grinch years later.
Next scene: the housewife, brushing Marc Antony along with a broom over to his bed basket, says "Now, you sit over there while I make the cookies." Figures, right?
From there, this simple setup is milked for practically all that it's worth. Bob Zemeckis couldn't have handled this much better. We watch as Pussyfoot is carried along in a cupful of flour towards almost certain doom. Never mind for now that even the busiest of housewives would probably notice a small animal sitting in a cup of flour. Don't ruin the drama for me, all right? Marc Antony looks on in horror while all this is going on. I thought cookies were a good thing! I don't get it!
Next scene: Marc Antony does just about everything he can to get Pussyfoot out of the mixing bowl, but is shut down at every turn. His finest moment, of course, is when he's confidently dangling the mixer's cord in his foot, then points at himself when discovered. Who, me? Unfortunately, human trumps dog, and Marc Antony gets whisked away by the housewife... damn, but she must be pretty buff! Draggin' that heavy-ass dog away like that. Next scene: Pussyfoot emerges, covered in a mixture of flour and milk and... dayamn! So the cat was about this close (thumb and forefinger...) from getting, um... hurt by the blender? Cold-blooded. Even Hitchcock himself was going, "Tea and biscuits! These things aren't for kids!"
However, the dog doesn't realize that the cat is now safe, hence the next few scenes. Incidentally, speaking of Hitchcock, I'm starting to question the wisdom of that one scene he described as being an example of tension: the suitcase bomb under the table. No, that's just a basic example for the Rubes... okay, maybe not so basic. Thank you, Dr. Syntax. I thought for sure that Hitchcock's IMDb page would have it. But it is one of those things that gets quoted to death, like how college admissions people get so, so tired of Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world." Barf. Suddenly, I'm put in mind of Tom Cruise's chewing gum bomb from that first Mission: Impossible movie from 20 years ago. Damn, I'm old. But you know what? So is De Palma. The point Hitch was trying to make was about creating dramatic tension (for the cinema), and Chuck Jones learned the lesson, indeed. A seemingly ordinary action for one can become a thing of horror for a second. In this case, for poor old Marc Antony, who thinks that Pussyfoot is being turned into a cookie. Why, this scene's so good, even Pixar can't improve upon it. But that doesn't mean they can't steal it for Monsters, Inc. ...did I mention that already?
Next scene: the housewife is certainly bad at reading dog's emotions. Does she not see the veritable stream, the delta that forms the mouth of the Mississippi, streaming from the dog's eyes? The massive puddle of tears in front of him from which even the hardiest of lichens can find no home? Somehow, Mel Blanc's howling-crying doesn't do the animation justice.
Now, some have rightly pointed out that the housewife seemed to have no cat shape amongst her various cookie cutters. To which I respond, it seems to be an ancient cinema tradition. For example, in A Serious Man, when Lawrence Gopnik lays out his troubles to various rabbis, the filmmakers skip right to the rabbi's reaction, with Larry adding "Plus, she wants a gett." ...okay, bad example. No, an example of this comes from the Marx brothers. Take Monkey Business, for example. Harpo's inside this puppet show mini-theatre, and one of the detectives has Harpo by the leg. THE VERY NEXT SCENE: the detective's hanging on to a fake leg, and Harpo's able to make his getaway... okay, another bad example. The only other example that doesn't illustrate the point that comes to mind is Minority Report... the movie from 2002, not the failed recent TV mini-series, trying to cash in on "Breaking Bad" and all that. It's the scene where Tom Cruise is inside a car that's being automatically assembled. Now, the robot arms seem to place one of the car seats right on top of Cruise... did I give too much away already?
Anyway, sure, the housewife lady doesn't seem to have a cat cookie cutter, but what better shape of a cookie for the scene? It's got the same blue eyes, for God'z zake!!!! The dog's sadness multiplies tenfold, and he places the cookie lovingly on his back, goes around the corner, and starts crying some more, even though he should probably be completely out of tears at this point.
The mischievous little cat's okay, of course, and the dog is happy anew. That is, until... yup, the jig is up. No more wind-up toy, no more powder puff... the housewife sees that it's a genuine little cat, and Marc Antony's back is against the wall. The only thing left to do is plead, crying some more for the housewife. Man, but that dog has a lot of spare molecules for tears! It's the Kubler-Ross model all over again... but in reverse, something like that. If we replace anger with deception, then it's deception to make the housewife think the cat isn't real, then depression when Marc Antony thought the cat was turned into a cookie, then bargaining. The housewife eventually lets Marc Antony keep "that dear little kitten," and the kitten almost gets crushed by Marc Antony's dropped lower lip. The music almost sounds like the theme from The Godfather!
HOWEVER, there are a few stipulations. "Remember, you've GOT to take care of it!" says the housewife. Marc Antony happily nods at that. "And let him share your bed!" says the housewife. Marc Antony's smile drops considerably. As does mine; I thought Pussyfoot was female. Oh well. "And clean up after him!" says the housewife. Marc Antony's hand that's holding the cat almost turns into a fist at this point.
Soon, we're back in the kitchen with Marc Antony wagging his finger at Pussyfoot in a vain attempt to impart these new house rules, but all Pussyfoot wants to do is get some more beauty sleep. At least 16 hours a day for cats, you know! And once again, Pussyfoot kneads Marc Antony's back, and curls up and goes to sleep. Marc Antony covers up Pussyfoot with some of his back skin for a blanket.
You know, I have a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot more of this Marc Antony and Pussyfoot... but I gotta wait 'til Vol. 4, Disc 4 for a couple more. So worth it.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan