Sunday, June 05, 2016

Mutton: Impossible

Chuck Klosterman was recently on "The Daily Show" flogging his new book called "But What if We're Wrong?"  It apparently takes a look back through history at how people used to think the earth was flat, and how the sun went around the earth... basically, everything Tommy Lee Jones said in the first Men in Black.  Trevor Noah said he'd never read a book like that before.  Sure, he could've brought everything to a halt and said that he'd not seen a book like it since Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."  Oh, but that was, like, fifty years ago?  What about the here and now?  We want to see living, breathing authors on our TV shows, not dusty, moldy-old books by, as Letterman might quip, some "dead guy."  But I'll spare you the thousands of dollars spent on my Master's degree and give you the gist of it: textbooks.  That's the pinnacle of the academia craft, it is.  Coming up with your own textbooks, with new, tough problems in it to solve.  But don't make 'em too hard, though!  Word will get around and no one will want to take your classes.
Which brings me in a roundabout way to our next Looney Tunes cartoon called Don't Give Up the Sheep.  According to its IMDb "Connections" page, this is the first of a series of seven.  I forget which one was a consistent Saturday morning favorite, but I don't think this one was it... probably Double or Mutton.  Great title!

ACT ONE

I guess when you invent a timeless character like Wile E. Coyote, you can't help but create a similar character, if only to get the hell out of the desert for a while.  But all the details can't be set in stone right away, for just as "Snake" Jailbird used to live at 742 Evergreen Terrace... oh, it's under "Goofs" instead of "Trivia."  Makes sense... so too was the sheepdog first named Ralph, but focus group testing found that, once the wolf was given a name, it just sounded better with the wolf as Ralph and the sheepdog as Sam, if only for the alliteration of one.
And so, we come upon a lush, green slice of paradise, spoiled only by the threat of unionized labour, and all the machinery it has inspired.  A time clock on a tree, for Gawd'z zake!  Getting paid for lunches.  Weekends off... wait a minute!  I'm not Mr. Burns!  Boy, this Fox News must be getting to me.  Anyway, Ralph Sheepdog greets Fred Sheepdog (no relation), the guy with the night shift.  Ralph's got the coveted 8 to 5 shift... and only slightly north of a baker's dozen sheep to guard!  Cushy!  Well, when you've put in as many years as Ralph, you gotta get something out of the deal.  Incidentally, as I've said once before, to any present and future comedians who might try to make yet another joke about it, we take Labor Day off because work sucks.  I know your job doesn't suck, and I know Tim Allen made the most cans, or whatever the hell he did at his first job, but for the rest of us who are in this for the long haul... we need a break.  A long break, and away from you, hopefully.
But no sooner does Ralph settle in to his shift, than along comes the reason for his job.  A wolf, sneaking along with tail in the air, tries to figure out a way to get between Ralph and the sheep.  The wolf imagines the sheep as cuts of meat on a plate, and licks the entire border of his muzzle in anticipation... hmm!  That kind of looked like a ham at 1:10, but what do I know?  Besides, every cut of meat dreams of being honey glazed ham, don't it?  Except beef, of course.
So this lone wolf is ready to act upon this lush field of sheep.  But Ralph is a fierce opponent one on one, so the wolf needs every advantage he can steal for himself in order to succeed.
First solution: the time clock proper.  Many have tampered with it, mostly to their detriment, but maybe the wolf will succeed where everyone else has failed.  Tick Tock Tuckered comes to mind, for one... that's the only one so far.
The wolf's plan is to disorient Ralph, and the clock, in rapid succession, falls on lunch, the end of lunch, then the end of the day.  Alas, peer review, in the form of the church clock, reveals the actual time... hmm!  The zooming in on the church clock doesn't pause at all for emphasis.  The zoom-in abruptly ends.  Boy!  You gotta be quick around here!  Anyway, Ralph quickly returns to his post to see the wolf carrying all of the sheep slowly away.  See, the wolf's problem is he got too greedy.  He tried biting off more than he could chew and... WHAM!  Ralph Sheepdog returns the sheep to the pasture the same way the wolf was trying to take them away.  I guess animators like to do that kind of stuff; makes the job a little bit easier, and it's funny.  But that's the Middle Class for you.  They don't want to cheat Father Time out of a full eight-hour day of work.  They're just trying to get by like everyone and everything else in his life, unable to buy the political favours that, say, the Koch brothers can afford.
We linger on the be-lumped head of the wolf, dazed, sitting in a hole in the ground, with little tiny sheep dancing around its head instead of stars.  Ready when you are, Raoul!
Next ruse: something a little less ambitious, but involving mimicry, bio- or otherwise.  We see the pasture, and then a small green bit of shrubbery... hoh boy... starts moving in quickly.  See, that's another problem right there... but I guess we'll ignore those for now.  Next scene: a close-up of the nearest sheep to this hot new tumbleweed on the block.  The shrub gets up next to the sheep, and the sheep looks over at it.  Lol.  And then... POUNCE!  The wolf/ghillie combo engulfs the sheep and starts making a fast getaway off the battlefield.  Maybe that's part of the problem, too.  Maybe the wolf should've moved off the pasture at the same cadence as it moved onto it.  But what do I know, I'm no tactician.  I'm an ass-nailer!  Gym four times a week, hour and a half plus stretching... I'm getting off track again.  So the wolf's walking away with the sheep inside his plant suit and... wait.  Was that something behind me?  The wolf has to stop to check his immediate surroundings.
As we can see, the sheepdog takes a perverse pleasure in mirroring the wolf's every tactic.  Not only does the sheepdog have a good tree suit, but the branch arms are functional as well!  With equal parts precision and brute force, the sheepdog delivers a real shiner to the middle of the bush.  Another head lump gets raised, stars emanating from it like lava from a raging volcano.  Just like in the last section we watched.
As with any first blow, the wolf is thinking, maybe it's just an accident.  The wolf continues happily along, dreaming of some great pasture-to-table sheep recipes and... WHAM!!!!  The second head lump.  Carl Stalling's orchestra supplies the same musical flourish for that one as well.  Okay, that was no accident.  The wolf only had one head lump after the first unsuccessful episode, and doesn't want to risk a third.  The wolf puts the sheep back, and it goes right back to munchy-wunching away at the grass, as though it didn't just become the wolf's dinner.  Clean mental slate, I guess.  I hate to think of sheep getting PTSD.

ACT TWO

Next ruse: surely Greek mythology can teach us all a thing or two about catching sheep?  The wolf spends some quiet time away from the laptop and the smartphone to catch up on some reading.
People always talk about how America needs more than two political parties.  The Greeks and Romans used to have more than one God, figuring that Mother Nature in general, and the world in particular, were very complex, multivariate places, and having one God control all that sh... stuff just doesn't make any sense!  Relegation, man!  That's where it's at.  Gods were much closer to man's image back then.  I can barely find my car keys, yet I'm supposed to manage all the beasts of the air and the sky?  I don't think so!
And so, drunk off the pages of history he's been reading, the wolf exits Stage Right, then comes back on Stage Left in the best Pan costume he can muster.  I guess he figured his legs were already hairy enough.  Alas, the world at large tends not to share the excitement about very specific subjects that one individual can experience.  The wolf gets up close to the sheepdog and... what can I say?  The older I get, the more I like reactions like that of the sheepdog.  It's kinda like Powell, Homer's brother, that one time... "So many conflicting emotions... how to express them?"  Sometimes you just gotta punch Homer in the face.  His brain can take it, after all, unless you're Drederick Tatum and can really throw a punch.
The wolf staggers off, and the floutist in Carl Stalling's WB orchestra has more fun than any flute player in a serious orchestra will ever have in their career entire.  Why, they're practically Ian Anderson in their peers' eyes!  They've been dining out on that story for years, how they were there at the recording session...
Next ruse: digging to China.  We're treated to the rather unsavoury view from the sheep's legs.  The wolf's head pops up in the distance, then darts back down again, as bad guys' heads tend to do.  Probing for weaknesses in the Status Quo is a never-ending task.  And so, the wolf gets busy digging a tunnel.  FINALLY!  A smart approach to this business of quelling the growling stomach. 
The wolf's claws are very suited to digging a tunnel quite quickly.  Boy, I'll bet his fingernails are dirty, though.  It always takes me a long time to dig a hole in the ground.  I don't know where he gets the speed and/or will to carry on.  But again, the wolf gets too greedy.  He probably should've stopped after one sheep, and picked one in the middle of the field, preferably behind other sheep that might go unnoticed by the sheepdog.  But they start vanishing in rapid succession, and quite loudly at that.  The sheepdog looks on in horror, as anyone would.  The sheepdog then runs down to the battlefield proper to investigate.  The sheepdog then disappears as all of the sheep did!
As usual, Carl Stalling's orchestra telegraphs in advance what's about to happen.  A roll from the timpani and... KABOOM!  Lol.  Boy, that wolf explodes a lot.  And so, the sheep get put back much as they were taken away, only a little bit faster.  Next scene: the wolf's putting all the dirt back, thereby closing up his network of tunnels.  He should be thankful!  No head lumps this time!
Next scene: Just as the Joker in The Dark Knight said to the assembled gallery's rogue... rogue's gallery of Gotham gangsters that they must "kill the bat man," so too does the wolf decide to take a rather nasty stab at the sheepdog.  Of course, he's still unable to do the deed himself, so he orders the solution from the Acme Corporation in the form of "one wild-cat."  Long story short, the wild-cat goes down the hill towards the wolf instead.  I guess it would've worked otherwise!  Perhaps the wolf should've climbed up one of the trees in the distance where it thought that it would be safe.  Oh well.

ACT THREE

Not willing to waste a good rope, the wolf's next idea is to try swinging down onto the pasture like Tarzan, and grab one of the sheep that-a-way.  The wolf's plan seems to work, and the flock seems to have grown considerably in number.  But why aren't we seeing the sheepdog's reaction to all of this?  Well, screenwriters take note: it's all to set up the next joke.  See, instead of grabbing one of the sheep, the wolf instead grabbed the... oh, skip it.
Next scene: the wolf finally realizes what's happened, but manages to make a hasty getaway and climb up the length of the rope.  Notice the large tree growing so dangerously close to the edge of that cliff.  Only in the cartoons.  And then... dang!  This cartoon's worse than I am!  Time for a tangential story thread.  The wolf saws the edge of the branch with the rope tied to it... I know, I know, harder and more satisfying than just untying the rope.  And then, when the saw finally makes its way through the whole branch, the tree shakes a little bit, just like in the Coens' True Grit, when Matty Ross cuts the corpse loose from the tree.  The wolf reacts when the sheepdog finally hits the ground.
And then... what's this?  Now the sheepdog's cutting down the wolf!  It's Screwball Squirrel all over again, folks.  I guess the gag hasn't been done quite like this before.  And with the way it all ends, I think they're trying to make comparisons between this wolf and Wile E. Coyote, but that's just me.  I'm tired of trying to say that they're two totally different beasts.  I give up.
Next ruse: underwater.  A sheep is having a drink at the nearby lake, and the wolf is there, ready to strike.  One reed for air, and he's ready to go.  Off he goes under the water towards his quarry and... yup, you guessed it, the sheepdog's also ready.  Well, it's near the end of the film, so time for some fireworks.  The sheepdog's poundings sounded vaguely like TNT, but now it's time to use an actual red stick of it.  The sheepdog drops one down the wolf's breathing tube, and apparently the wolf doesn't notice.  A few seconds go by and... well, what can I say?  I'm a fan of a well done underwater explosion.  The giant bubbles are a nice touch.  The only one that's funnier would have to be the time Yosemite Sam got trapped in Bugs' chewing gum bubble... Rabbit Every Monday, I believe it was.  Why that one wasn't on the first DVD is beyond me.  Wiser heads prevailed in these decisions, I guess.  And of course, the wolf makes like a downed sub or something, floating to the surface, then turning head down before sinking like a stone.  Daffy did a similar gesture, but said "Mother!" before slipping beneath the surface.

EPILOGUE

Now, before you go thinking that the wolf's got no speaking lines, well... you're in for a treat.  The wolf's last ruse is his most devious yet, and it involves... well, haven't I already spoiled this cartoon enough with my jib-jabbering away?  It's still less cruel than, say, Two Gophers from Texas.

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

1 comment:

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