Sunday, August 07, 2016

Environmentalism in the Movies: Lumber Jerks

Oh, these are the bad times.  With the rise of televisions and their antennae across the land, what was Hollywood to do?  Everyone was staying at home instead of getting all dressed up for a night out at the movies!  Imagine.  And with shows done on the absolute cheap like "Tom Terrific," people like Isadore Freleng and his ragtag crew had a harder and harder time justifying their massive studio salaries, and all the time they took to develop their little Nickelodeon peep shows for the tiddly-winkies.  Case in point: our next Looney Tunes, Lumber Jerks.  The backgrounds have considerably less detail, the music's by Milt Franklyn, Stalling's understudy... and frankly, the Goofy Gophers, well... they ain't exactly my favourite characters in the WB stable of animated stars.  And even the Goofy Gophers were a lot more perverse in their '40s work.  Take the big hammery finale of Two Gophers from Texas, for example!  I hear they're planning on putting it on Volume 119 of the Looney Tunes DVDs.
But sometimes you just gotta take your meds and revel in the extra talkative, verbose characters such as these two.  Especially on a quest such as mine.  For some reason, the older I get, the less I can do that; gotta work on that.  After all, when you try to look for Chip and Dale cartoons on YouTube, well...

ACT ONE

Scene: an autumn forest.  Ugh.  See what I mean?  You compare this background to something from the '30s and '40s and... well, there's just no comparison.  But soldier on we must without the benefit of the voice of the Road Runner, Paul Julian.  We pan up onto a lone tree, then clumsily zoom in upon it.
Next scene: the introduction of the two darlings we will follow for the rest of this cinematic outing.  They do look much cuter than their late '40s incarnations.  Well it was a different era, and having baby fat and not knowing three different styles of Martial arts was still okay.  How they avoided a Disney lawsuit is beyond me; one of the great untold stories of Hollywood.  Either that, or even Disney lawyers just focused on the main bread and butter.  You know, stuff like Ferdinand the Bull, and all the copyright infringement that that timeless classic inevitably inspired.  Yeesh.
For you audiophiles out there, you'll notice and love how the little rodents' voices are echo-y while they're inside the tree, then not when they emerge again to daylight.  Why, they're a couple of gophers that even Nora Ephron would love.  Upscale types just trying to find a prime piece of real estate, like everyone else.  I guess the problem is wanting to have a lone hilltop to yourself.  Nature abhors a vacuum, as well as a couple of greedy, pint-sized little f... twerps.
"THANKYO," says the one gopher to the other.  I'm not even going to differentiate the two at this point.  But one does sound vaguely like Stan Freberg, and one sounds vaguely like Mel Blanc.  I'm going to assume that the THANKYO is an homage to... I believe it was the Marx brothers' A Day at the Races.  And remember: if you've never been so insulted in your whole life, well... it's early yet.
More pruning of budgets.  I mean, take the scene at 0:52... I guess that's supposed to be grass.  At least the one sequence in Clampett's Baby Bottleneck had the excuse of psychological experimentation when going for the single-color backgrounds.
Next scene: the two little darlings start gathering, hoh boy... "nuts" for the winter.  Thereby informing the last five years of David Letterman's monologues.  Of course, even he is turning into an environmentalist.  Brought to you by "The Years of Living Dangerously" on Nat Geo.  Second season!  I guess after about the tenth season of that show, the title will be a lot less provocative.
Anyway, they each get a large handful of acorns... for them, anyway... and start hopping along at six beats a second.  The second follows in the trail of the first; you know, to make it easier on the animators.  And then... time to kill some time!  They start climbing up a staircase inside the great tree that is now their home.  Are they going to trip and fall, and have to stop?  Check and mate.  "I TOLD you to be careful!" Blanc tells Freberg.
Next scene: when they get to about the fifth floor or so, we find that the rest of the tree has been mysteriously lopped off, right in the middle of the day, no less.  You contrast this with Bluteau's operation in Axe Me Another.  Is a group of lumberjacks really going to go to all that trouble just for one tree?  Really?  Seriously?  Well, that's the kind of suspension of disbelief that we gotta do this go round.  No two ways about it.  Makes I Gopher You seem a little more plausible... okay, if not by that much.  Alas, I gotta wait for Vol. 6 to get to that one; maybe more.
"I think we should take definite steps to regain our property!" says the overly verbose Freberg.  "Agreed," says Blanc, considerably less verbosely so.
Next: some second unit work... I mean, important plot building stuff.  We see the one rodent running around in a section of forest and... oh, sloppy work, guys.  First of all, he's got no shadow under him.  That's strike one.  Then, he runs in front of this one tree, and a little too close to the tree's base.  Perspective, guys.  Perspective.  We'll suspend our disbelief in terms of the plot, but not in terms of the frickin' visuals.  Anyway, while the one is completely lost, the other exclaims "I FOUND it!!!!"  They both get together at the edge of a cliff, and the clueless one says "Where?  Where is it?"  Notice that his mouth doesn't move.  More skimping, thanks to Hanna and Barbera's laissez faire attitude towards their early TV work.
Next scene: a lake being used by the logging industry.  The kind you can't go fishing or swimming in.  And it's positively full to bursting with felled trees.  Freberg is one step ahead of us when he says "Don't you anticipate some difficulty in locating our particular tree?"  Oh, it's just the beginning of it, my friend.  Just the beginning.

ACT TWO

Next scene: we see the little darlings scampering amongst the trees floating in the lake.  After only four seconds of this establishing shot, one of them says "I've located it!"  Boy!  If they ever teamed up with the police, well... I personally don't have anything to hide, but they could probably find it just as quickly anyway.
"Now all we have to do is row it back!" says the other one.  Next scene: by Jove, there they are, rowing their tree back to... the top of their hill?  Oh, that promises to be epic.  Epic epic... is that a phrase yet?  I'm sure it'll be soon in coming.  Probably in reference to the first debate with just Hillary and "The Donald."
At first, they seem to be chugging right along.  However, the two gophers and their oars eventually get overwhelmed by the river's current.  Here's probably the best line of the whole pic right here: Freberg says "Our progress seems to be in the wrong direction!"  And then... time for a little terror.  One of the little darlings spots the waterfall up ahead.  The music is sufficiently dramatic, of course.  Franklyn learned from the best, after all!
Freberg says "I beg your pardon, but I think there's something you should know!"  Once Blanc sees the waterfall, they both begin rowing furiously.  However, it's not enough, and soon the whole log is going over the waterfall.
Next scene: the boys are taking a little well-earned rest... gee, but I sure hate to spoil the surprise.  But they are the good guys after all, and not even a waterfall is going to dampen their spirits, so to speak.  However, all that exercise was a good cardio workout... maybe a little too good.  They're weary now, and need a lot of rest.
Unfortunately, they've gone from the frying pan to the fire, aquatically speaking.  "My, we were in a very precarious predicament, weren't we?" says Freberg to Blanc.  Alas, that waterfall was nothing compared to what they're in for.
ACT 2.5: No sooner do they try to get some shuteye, when their log starts going up the mechanized chute that takes many a log into the sawmill.  Once it reaches the top, time for a quick homage to Laurel and Hardy's sawmill-based classic, Busy Bodies.  As you may recall, that one ends with a very tall band saw sawing the boys' car perfectly in half.  Here, a large circular blade cuts the boys' tree in half along its length.  The blade is just large enough for our benefit, so we can see that it is indeed circular.  In reality, however, it seems a tad bit small to cut the whole tree.
"My, but you snore loudly!" says Blanc to Freberg... see, he thought that it was the other one snoring, as opposed to a very large saw blade that nearly killed him.  And soon enough, another one goes zipping by... thereby inspiring Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Oh, but you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?  Freberg turns around and shows us that the blade didn't miss him completely.  Oh, these things just aren't for kids.
It's the third blade passing by that finally scares the boys off of their long and onto a part of the factory that's not beset by passing blades.  And now that they are out of harm's way, they try to figure out what the hell is going on.  Freberg's the smarter of the two, and he comes up with the big theory: "It definitely looks as if they are bent on the destruction of our forests!"
At this point in the proceedings, the two gophers cede their starring role, and let the inner workings of the sawmill take over.  We watch as a log is quickly converted into sawdust by a rather nasty contraption.  It looks like a giant, weaponized version of a gear you'd find in a cute little music box.  Then, we're treated to some industrial mixing, liquid is poured into a machine that looks vaguely like a copy machine, and then, 25 seconds later, the punchline.  I hate to spoil it, but the product rolls down a little ramp and ends up in a pile marked "Artificial Fireplace Logs."  The next feat of industrial incompetence is a little less ironic: an entire tree is ground up in what looks like a tree-sized pencil sharpener.  A delicate robotic arm grabs a toothpick-sized bit of wood out of the grinder, which slides down a ramp into a box marked "Acme Toothpicks."
"We'd better investigate as to what happened to our tree," says Blanc to Freberg.  Next scene: the boys come across a room filled with furniture.  Apparently, there really are no humans at all in the place.  I find that a little hard to believe for a 1950s era sawmill, but never mind.  Small point.

ACT THREE

"There goes our tree now!" says Blanc, but  he sounds like he now has Freberg's voice.  Even the filmmakers themselves got confused about which is which!  Anyway, one of the little darlings leaves the safety and comfort of that horrible furniture showroom to go rescue their tree, which is being whisked away on one of the conveyor belts.  And like the gophers themselves, their tree doesn't have any particularly distinguishing marks on it, nor any sign of the extensive network of gopher-sized staircases within.  Of course, that's a level of detail that even Disney wouldn't have attempted at such a time.
"I shall save it!" says Blanc (in Blanc's voice.)  Alas, the conveyor belt's even more determined than the river in taking away the boys' tree, and soon after his feeble attempts to push the tree out of harm's way, both the tree and the squirrel get sucked into whatever industrial process was next for the tree.
The other gopher covers his eyes as we all hear the loud buzzing that happens when tree meets saw.  Fortunately for the parents in the audience, the gopher comes out the other side, a little dazed, and with a couple of curly bits of very thin wood atop its head.  He's now sitting on a flat board, incidentally... dayamn!  Must've been a hell of a saw!
Now, as the Trivia page for Lumber Jerks informs us, the one who just went past the saw with the tree starts singing a nursery rhyme about a little girl with a head full of curls.  And I apologize in advance, because I'm just not in the mood.  Yes, I'd make a terrible stepfather.  But then, it's an important part of the job, ain't it?  The cowardly squirrel who made no effort to save their tree from the saws tries to "snap" the other one "out of it."  Can you de-hero a hero?  Can you tell a sunrise not to be brilliant?  Can you tell Donald Trump to stop threatening the life of Hillary Clinton?  Seriously, though, could someone do that?  It's... it's kind of a felony.
Oh well.  Back to the action.  The two little rodent darlings venture out onto the docks where the trucks are, and FINALLY!  We see a couple people.  There's a couple dudes, carrying furniture onto a truck.  Boy, but those were the days.  A sawmill with a furniture shop inside of it.  Those probably don't exist anymore, if they ever did.  But thanks to the gopher's superior detective work, which I'm assuming is centered around their superior sense of smell, they find the very pieces of furniture that their tree was made into. 
But how to stop that pesky truck?  Time for some more direct action.  Why, these two mere teeny weeny rodents have just the idea, and the very tool to do it, too!  (note: they do a little pacing before coming up with it, followed by far too many formalities)  They have a length of tube, and they stick it into the gas tank!  Take that, Greenpeace!  Why, they even do the thing where someone sucks a little too much air, and ends up getting a mouthful or two of the deadly, combustible liquids within.  Thereby informing the thinking of a similar scene in Lethal Weapon 3... and others, I'm sure.  I'd be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd... I mean, if the Looney Tunes writers came up with the idea themselves.  What next?  Sugar in the gas tank?
Alas, the gopher's idea comes a tad too late, and just as they start de-fueling the truck, it takes off, I'm assuming in the direction of market.  We watch as the gophers follow a long wet trail of gasoline.  A couple cross-fades later, and boom, there they are within striking distance of said truck.  AND THEN... time for some more strategy, or "stragedy," as a certain cartoon cat might say.  The two gophers' eyes get big (like Rudy Giuliani's when he apologizes and tells a real big fib for Donald Trump) when they see the truck driver and his assistant heading back into town with the smallest gas tank you could think of.  Naturally, they scamper out of the way.  I think because, in Cartoon Land, when two gophers are following your truck, it's not long before you put two and two together, and you realize that the gophers did it.  Just a theory, mind you.  Incidentally, the truck driver carrying the gas can is voiced by Bugs Bunny, one of the rare times that Bugs stopped by the studio to do dubbing work.  Lol.

EPILOGUE

Cross-fade to the gophers' handiwork.  You have to at least hand it to them.  We may never know how they got all that furniture off the truck, but they seem to have done it.  Unfortunately, they've left a rather easy-to-follow trail to the place they call home.  What's the deal?  Even dumb criminals usually aren't that dumb.  On the other hand, no jury in the world would convict two gophers, probably not even in Gopher Court.
And so, we end as we began, with the same hastily painted background tweaked ever so slightly, with the addition of the furniture trail, and at the top of the hill, what at first glance kinda looks to me like a Totem pole made of furniture.  You know, the kind a white guy might make.  But the gophers seem to have done that as well, with no cranes or pulleys in sight.  They're nothing if not determined.  Determined and flowerily, flowingly verbose.  They're two things!
And so, we find the two little darlings atop the precarious pile of furniture... see that?  I didn't even call them gay or anything!  Damn... I knew I wasn't going to make it.  We find them seated in front of a television.  "Isn't our home much nicer than it was before?" asks Blanc of Freberg.  Freberg says "Oh yes!  Much nicer!"  Now, I don't know how they figure that.  Exposed to the elements, easy pickins for winged predators... but who knows?  Maybe they can duck into one of the cabinet drawers when danger rears its beaked face.  Reminds me of that one quick gag on "The Simpsons"... I think it was one of the first times the family went to D.C.  The subplot was a crooked Congressman who was lobbied by a timber lobbyist.  The lobbyist has two pictures: one of a full forest, and none of the animals can move.  The second is a fully logged forest, with nothing but stumps left... and all the woodland creatures were using the stumps to serve tea on.  I'm assumpting that Lumber Jerks was the inspiration.
As for their lighthearted jab at TV, well... I'm assuming this was during the time when the movie studios were in a panic because of the seemingly looming threat of TV, well before the Looney Tunes themselves became a mainstay of it.  But technology will probably always be an inspiration for artists, whether it's Sting's obsession with cyborgs on his second solo album "...Nothing Like the Sun" or that one episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" where an announcer says "We interrupt this video game to bring you a special news bulletin."  I believe it was Buster Bunny who remarked on the unusualness of that.

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

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