Sunday, August 28, 2016
Junk in a Trunk
"Ah, I ain't so little!!!" says the braggadocious young chicken hawk named Henery Hawk. Love that little pest. As with countless other appearances by that little darling, there's an adult chicken hawk that he's just too little to hunt chickens. Alas for us modern audiences, animated chicken hawks at the time were lousy parents, and they would use a command and control approach with young Henery, who would of course rebel, and find out the hard way that he was indeed, in fact, ill-suited to hunting chickens on his own. Which may be why I kinda appreciated it when that one rooster gave Henery a good hard slap in... which one was it? Lemma check. Okay, apparently, The Squawkin' Hawk. It's been a while. Used to watch that one on my old VCR tape, and it seems that's the only way left to watch it now, but who knows? Maybe it's on volume 6 of the DVDs. Hope springs encoded, in billions of little zeroes and one's... and now, with that new richer color paradigm, (I forget what it's called) EVERYTHING has to be re-done. Everything. Laurel and Hardy, Three Stooges, everything. And let's try and get the ratios accurate, people! The Stooges probably weren't in widescreen originally. Not everything is 2.35:1, people, even though there's a whole industry now dedicated to clipping the tops and bottoms of old TV shows.
...where was I? Oh yeah. Still very far behind, if memory serves. Okay, I should begrudgingly mention that young Henery does get in a nice setup to a joke. Young Henery goes through three reasons why chickens are big and scary (monsters, at least to a little runt suck as Henery) but ends with "Well, what are we waiting for?" The older, decrepit, be-dentured chicken hawk lays down the law and storms off to the vanishing point, thereby making more work for the animators. McKimson always liked to be a jerk that way... and yet, it never had the panache of a Tashlin sequence, who would also push his animators and in-betweeners to the breaking point... we never did learn the older chicken hawk's name, did we? Kinda like how we find out that Jerry Reed's character in The Survivors (1983) is named Jack, mostly through osmosis.
And so, Henery rebels against the law of his land by establishing a decree of his own, that he's going to get his first chicken today... with the proviso that "that's that." Something like that. QED, And Stay Out, Make it so, what have you. These things persist from culture to culture, as it were. Now, if you're paying close attention, mainly because you're not having a good time, sitting there, enthralled, just trying to soak it all in: the colors, the backgrounds, the sounds... you'll note that young Henery says he's never even seen a chicken. Young Henery's nothing if not full of confidence. Oh, he's a big time confidence man, and he never dwells on his shortcomings and or weaknesses. That guy could be president someday! The hawk's a genius, I tells ya!
Next scene: the portal to Ferndale Farms, and... man, say what you will, but that old dude moves and stops with the speed of a much younger cartoon character! Unless it was funny that he does a little shaking and baking. No, this is clearly a mission of conquest. He breaks the fourth wall and confides in the audience that "a kid would just be in m'way." He hated to have to tell him falsehoods about chickens, you see... oh, the mind games to come. He has no idea. Sorry, spoiler alert. This old softie also has to provide the audience with a warning for the weaker souls in the audience, saying "You'll probably hate me for what I'm gonna do, but..." As they say, Death be not proud.
Next scene: the decrepit old chicken hawk invades the sacred halls of the chickens. Ah, the good old days. How I pine for them. Sifting through loose hay, trying not to touch the chicken droppings within, collecting warm eggs. But suburban chickens are a tangential part of my work day now, and I saw a chicken digging through the leaves, and a tear damn near came to my eye. Anyway, the chicken hawk's in the coop, and he lets loose with a diabolical laugh... whoa, dude! Where'd that come from? Game face officially on. Better call the Police of All Things Creepy, because you just might get creeped out.
Next scene: the chickens get scared. Cleverly, most of them go "A HAWK!" and it sounds like a "regular" cartoon chicken noise. We're also, of course, treated to tawdry chicken knickers and... did the one at 1:42 sound like Curly? How to properly misspell the noise? It's kind of a "Nung, nung, nung"... you know, like what Bart Simpson did in one of the Halloween episodes, thereby prompting Lisa to say "I've seen your Curly too!" Say what you will about Shemp, but I've yet to hear someone replicate his trademark... noise. Useful for sleeping or expressing anything from surprise to a threat of violence, you gotta have a 50-year old smoker's lung to do it properly, or so it would seem.
We're close to the Act break, and the introduction of Foghorn Leghorn is probably as good a reason as any to initiate one. "Unhand those fair barnyard flowers!" exclaims Foghorn as he marches from the vanishing point and right on up to the chicken hawk, who now has two of Ferndale Farms' chickens in hand, and is trying desperately to hide them behind his back. Where was the speed and agility of earlier? Gone, apparently. Anyway, long story short, this may be the one and only time that Foghorn has actually done something useful! Defending helpless chickens is something he doesn't usually do, and even here it seems a little inadvertent. Meanwhile, the chicken hawk's two victims are alive but dazed. I guess we're supposed to ignore them.
Foghorn beats the crap out of the elder chicken hawk, using his large stomach to land the major blows. Well, you can't argue with results! One last wallop with Leghorn's stomach, and the elder chicken hawk goes flying far away, practically over the property line of Ferndale Farms!
"Hey, uh... was that a chicken, pop?" asks Henery. Pop? Oh, puh-leeze. I say it's either his grandpop, or the eldest creepy uncle. I guess we're supposed to ignore Ma Chicken Hawk. Well, she did have The Squawkin' Hawk, so that's about all she can hope for. Bruised and embittered, and apparently quite embarrassed, "Pa" Chicken Hawk tells Henery the lie that will inform the thinking of the rest of this picture, referring to Foghorn as a "loud-mouthed shnook." Ah, Yiddish. Where all the best showbiz words come from. Admit it, English. Okay, okay, U.S. English is exempt from that... jerks.
"Well, I'm not after a shnook! I'm after a chicken!" says the robotic Henery Hawk, and marching past Foghorn he goes. Let's keep this Crazy Train going, folks. We've got celluloid to burn here, about four and a half minutes of it. Man, but I could go for some "Rope Limit" right about now. Alas, the instant case will provide no comfort; spoiler alert. Oh, and I should take this opportunity to note how there's a flash of yellow on the elder chicken hawk's back. They had the technology to make it fade in and out, but apparently not the inclination to do so. The camera guys and the editors would have had to work some serious overtime to get that done. Still, you blink and you miss the yellow stripe. Gotta keep your eye on the ball for that one... sorry, spoiler alert. Anyway, I just recalled! I recalled viewing this one on a Saturday morning many moons ago, and I did indeed like Foghorn's eyeball-related pun. And even the delivery. But now that I'm older and wiser, and just plain out of time, frankly... there's just no time to enjoy anything anymore. And frankly, Henery himself is more than a little jaded. Henery paces around in front of Foghorn as Foghorn does his shtick. Henery just stares angrily, a brow more furrowed than even Charlie Sheen in his ill-spent youth on the silver screen, and walks away, saying to the audience "Boy! Shnooks sure are noisy things!" Now, that's jaded. That's a lack of intellectual curiosity for your fellow creatures on this planet.
Next scene: but soon enough, the Gods of the Plot provide some new wrinkle. The audience knows that Henery has stumbled upon the Ferndale Farms dog house. But we have to just sit there and watch as Henery tries to process all this new information. "This must be a chicken's cave!" says Henery. Hoh boy... now I know how parents feel for the first ten odd years of their child's life. They just can't wait for their children's brains to develop enough to discover strategy, and where they thought they've hidden the cash and the weed. Fortunately, the Gods of the Plot have added an additional bounty. Henery might not know what a hammer is, but he does know all about violence. Quite well versed in it, coming from a chicken hawk household. And like a duck to water, wagging its little tail like a dog (so cute...), Henery just goes right on over to that said hammer, picks it right on up... dayamn! That little fat boy's strong!... and WHAM! Within seconds, faster than it had time to grow, the dog's got a glowing red lump upon his head and is out clod... cold. Darkness warshed over the dog, darker'n a black steer's... sorry, I'm rambling again. Look at me. Also, the dog conveniently lost the rope round its neck. A rope that so often foiled its attempts to take a bite out of Leghorn in other Leghorn affairs. Okay, focus, Movie Hooligan. Fogcus. Get the lens guy to pull that focus.
Next scene: "Now THERE'S a strange means of locomotion!" says Foghorn Leghorn, I says, when he gets an eyeful of the dog with the teeny chicken hawk underneath it... he can't see the chicken hawk yet, but judging from the look on his puss, he seems to have put two and two together already. After all, when there's a stranger in your midst, strange things tend to follow in these here ... I say, these here Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies affairs. Foghorn lifts up the unconscious dog by its tail and sees Henery just chugging away. Boy, but these tiny cartoon characters have super abilities. Jerry Mouse and his super strength, Speedy Gonzalez and his super speed, Tweety with similar abilities and his overpowering cuteness.
Henery Hawk is revealed at about the 3:43 mark or so. It's a tight close-up, and soon we're pulling back to include the quite large Foghorn Leghorn in the frame. You can tell it's a close-up, because of the tiny shadows that the clear cels make on the background paintings. After all, movie stars are shot with bright lights... even the animated ones. At this point, Foghorn gives one of his most memorable lines, asking Henery "What's the gimmick, son? What's it all about?" Henery, full of pride, and not using the angry voice, says "I just caught myself a chicken!" Foghorn gives us another memorable moment, when he lets out a belly laugh... he clutches his belly with his strangely-human wing hands, in addition... and he interrupts his own laugh with an "Ah say." That may be another first, hopefully not a one and only.
And so, Foghorn tries to explain to the teeny weeny chicken hawk its error, but Henery's a tough nut to crack indeed. Also, maybe Foghorn's approach was a little weak. He starts slow, merely saying that he himself is, in fact, a chicken. "Rooster, that is!" he adds, getting up close to young Henery, and forcing the animators and in-betweeners into more overtime. The difference between hens and roosters might be a bit much for young Henery to process at this point. "Don't gimme that! You're not a chicken!" says Henery to Foghorn.
"What am I then, boy?" asks Foghorn. "You're a loud-mouthed shnook!" says Henery. Members of the jury, note Foghorn's reaction to this. Annoyed. Very, very annoyed. Makes me wonder how Chuck Jones would have handled the scene. Just curious. Oh, if only there was a blog that analyzed these things up close, touching upon every nuance... can't think of one. It's like the prize fighter who talked about his plan to beat his opponent. And then, the guy gets hit, and it's on to Plan B, because Plan A is out the window. And gone with the wind. The point being, I can't think of a time when a Chuck Jones character became irritated... for some reason, I'm thinking of the lion in Inki and the Mynah Bird when it blinks really fast about a hundred times... Then, of course, there's the teeny patriarch of the bear family who often found himself building up to an explosive rage. Foghorn's bout with annoyance doesn't last as long, and it's probably the one time the animators got a bit of a break. The camera guys, however, had to switch between two cels over and over... that must've been a bit annoying for them.
And so, Foghorn switches to Angry mode. Note that the dog is still dazed, with the glowing red head lump. Foghorn wildly gestures with his strangely-human chicken arms, and he starts hitting the dog. As it happens, this was just the thing the dog needed to come out of his daze. But is he grateful? At all thankful for Foghorn's cruel-to-be-kind gesture? Of course not! Why would he be? Why, if Foghorn didn't hit the dog, the dog still might be in a red-lumped daze now! I suppose that's preferable! And so, the dog gets up and out of the way of Foghorn's flailing arms, kicks Foghorn in the ass, snaps his dog fingers and says "Shnook!" Thereby reinforcing Henery Hawk's extremely narrow world view.
And so, we see Henery Hawk pushing this big-ass trunk along, going right past Foghorn. "You're WAY off, son!" remarks Foghorn. "You caught yourself a TRUNK!" he says, hitting the trunk when saying the word for extra emphasis. Oh, F.L. So ill-prepared for strategy. See, Leghorn lives in the moment and has no ulterior motives, or so it would seem. All he needs is a man bun or some weird-ass goatee and he'd fit right in with your modern day hipsters. Oh, and tattoos. Lots and lots of tattoos. Not circus freak or biker levels, mind you. Just the right amount. Does anyone just have one tattoo that they build on for their whole lives? You know, so they can do a time-lapse YouTube thing? ...no. Not even putting a link to it.
And so, we get my absolute favourite moment in this celluloid affair. The dog stands up out of the trunk, and that thing happens again where Foghorn starts flailing his strangely-human chicken wings around, and the dog falls victim once again to collateral damage. Particularly when Foghorn says "trunk" during this spell, and the dog's head gets knocked rather completely out of the frame. I tell you darlings, if they don't have this clip in the afterlife, well... it just won't be heaven, that much I can tell you.
Cross-fade to next scene: With supreme confidence in both his teaching abilities and his own personal safety, Foghorn holds up a picture of a roasted chicken ($5.99 at Costco), points to himself, then gets a big platter from the top shelf and lies down on it. "Still trying to prove you're a chicken, eh?" says Henery.
"Shnook!" says Henery. Lord help me, I still hate that little Tweety wannabe. Foghorn don't look too happy, either.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, but The Movie Hooligan! All this is all well and good... but where's the big final explosion? Don't these cartoonies for the tiddly-winkies always end with a big explosion? Well, never fear, my impatient friends, for your prayers are just about to be answered. Foghorn does a slow double-take, then gives an unprecedented second look of shock, for he sees his young protegé Henery Hawk... and I think we should probably refer to him as a protegé at this point, given how much attention Foghorn's putting into him... carrying a lit stick of dynamite towards the dog's house. Let's call him Butch. I forget the dog's name, but it's probably something butch.
"Don't do it! I'll get blamed for it!" exclaims Foghorn as he runs over to stop young Henery from carrying out his latest act of mischief. All the Southern charm and wisdom has gone rather completely out the proverbial window in this moment of panic. Alas, you can probably guess how the master puppeteers of the plot strings want this one to turn out. Foghorn's a few milliseconds too late, the firecracker goes off, and Foghorn is left standing there, smiling half-guiltily, with the spent remnant of the dynamite stick in his oddly-human chicken hand slash wing. I hate to spend too many words on this one, but long story short... I know, I know, weeks and weeks too late for that... the dog gives Foghorn a WWE-worthy beating, and calls him a "good-for-nothing chicken." I guess the dog doesn't find any of this terribly amusing; poor choice of words, from my comfortable POV here in my mother's basement.
But note the phrasing there, Counselor. Henery is finally convinced, having gotten his second opinion that all wise scholars should always seek and try to obtain. In the two shot, Foghorn launches into another tirade. "That's what I've been trying to tell you, boy!" says Mr. Leghorn. Meanwhile, Henery slowly steps back away from Foghorn. He grabs a shovel that's just out of the camera's range, where all good things (and a few bad ones) exist in cartoons, and WHAM!!!! Henery uses his super strength and super speed to bring a shovel down upon Foghorn's head. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't particularly care for that. More Yankee aggression and duggery of skulls, quite frankly.
But it is the end of this celluloid affair, and all of Henery's dreams have finally come true. (Speaking of dreams coming true, I should point out that in the final scene before the iris to black, there's a foreground background of leaves and stuff that moves a little bit faster than the main background. Talk about animators' dreams coming true!) Henery's dragging Foghorn away by one of his feet, saying "He talked me into it!" To which, Foghorn quips "I'm just a loud-mouthed shnook!" This isn't one of my favourite Foghorn outings, but Foghorn's performance in it is one of the best. Kinda strange how that works sometimes.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan