Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bell, Book and Carrot

Okay, now here's a Cinematic Confession for ya... I really ought to post it to that Facebook group, but I'm nothing if not a lazy man.  When I think of my favourite Looney Tunes Merrie Melody characters... Witch Hazel isn't in my Top 10.  But I do like her laugh, and the cloud of hairpins she leaves in her wake when making her hasty exits, whether it be to Stage Left or Stage Right.  Oh, she can do both.  June Foray is the female Mel Blanc, no question.  Still... let's see if I can make it through Broomstick Bunny.  Sorry if I've offended any of my dear readers, but to my credit, there doesn't seem to be a whole disc devoted to Witch Hazel on any of my five volumes of Looney Tunes.  Does that not deserve to go under "Undisputed Facts"?  That which both the prosecution and defense can agree upon?


You know, the older I get... I hate to keep saying that, but alas, it's true.  But when I was a younger lad, and going through my M.C. Escher phase, I would've been much delighted by the following scene: we zoom back from a second floor doorway to find ... boom!  No staircase!  Oh, right, it's a witch's house.  Still, don't they have to abide by fire codes and what not?  I say that, despite knowing full well that there's a giant heat vent over the black cauldron we find Witch Hazel stirring.  Dang, but that's a big house.  Must be next door to Buster Keaton's old Italian villa.  Then again, we're well past the Golden Age of Cartoon Backgrounds.  When they didn't have to compete with the veritable instant gratification of TV, they spent more time on such things.  Now everything's just outlines.  As few lines as possible, and get it on the animation stand.
As for the plot, well... screenwriters, take note.  Her extremely paper wasteful calendar shows that it's Halloween.  Ah, the promise of Trick or Treat-ers.  Still, Witch Hazel seems awfully engaged in her recipe.  Seeing as how she's got the giant cauldron, I guess everything on the recipe will go by gallons rather than tablespoons.  Apparently, it's a general purpose witch's brew she's cooking up at this moment.  And even witches gotta sing while doing something; the ever-helpful IMDb informs us, on Broomstick Bunny's "Soundtracks" page that it's a variation on "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You."  Another one of those songs you've heard a million times in a Looney Tune, but never thought to actually look up... just me?  Thought so.  Sorry.
And so, we move on.  We see the witch's cat, and... dayamn, but that cat is skinny!  Doesn't even move like a normal cat!  Also, it's acting more like a dog, following Witch Hazel around all over the place.  Well, cats do that sometimes, like if you're in the garden, and they can't find any tasty small things to kill.  I don't even know why they bother; all those fur and feathers to spit out and or cough up later.  Ick.  And so, Witch Hazel's on her way back to the cauldron, but... screenwriters take note.  Keep things moving along.  Have a setting only once, if absolutely necessary.  Take Burn After Reading, for example.  Here's the Coens' most blatant plot device they've ever used.  Osbourne Cox is at home, speaking into his little hand-held digital recorder, talking about the "fabled Murrow's Boys" and what not and... boom!  Off in the distance, a phone rings.  Cox runs downstairs to answer it.  A cheap, cheap way to introduce the basement that figures heavily in the plot later on.  Sloppy work, guys... crazy sloppy.  Anyway, back to the instant case.  Witch Hazel walks past a mirror and... she has to stop.  I guess Disney didn't own a complete copyright on Snow White because, as it happens, Witch Hazel's mirror has a little magic of its own.  In a slight twist, however, Hazel's query is the opposite.  "Who's the UGLIEST one of all?"  Ha ha.  So original.  Didn't see that coming.  The genie appears and decrees that... yup, Hazel's still got it.  Positively hideous with her gangrenous complexion... and what's the deal with her tooth?  A green bottom tooth, with a niche in her upper lip for it to fit into.  What is she?  Part crocodile?  You know... that would explain a lot.  Of course, genetic mutations have traditionally not been associated with the witches themselves.  No, if anyone's going to turn into a human-animal hybrid, the WITCH is a'gonna do the turnin', b'atch!  Wordness to the turdness... oh, that's my new phrase of the month.  Lol.
And so, Witch Hazel gets a chuckle out of her tenuous situation which up until now seemed so secure.  A big chuckle, then exits Stage Left, leaving behind a cloud of hairpins... or is it Stage Right?  See, the hairpins should hover there, then move in the direction in which she went.  Sloppy work, guys.  Slpooy.


I'm going to call it here because now comes the part with Bugs, as was promised in the film's opening section... right?  Ooh!  And the title.  However... remember now, remember what day it is!  Halloween, that's right.  For our benefit, Bugs takes off his costume and gives a couple lines of exposition... gotta go!  Dinner time.
...okay, I'm bacque.  So embroiled in her task is Witch Hazel... she's damn near like a computer programmer, I dare say!  Sorry, can't think of any more examples of people who have to close themselves off to the world to get their little tasks done... well, okay, maybe the Brontë sisters.  (Currer Bell indeed)  Or Cathy Guisewite when she was working in her heyday... ack indeed.  So, for some of you, this is where the plot just might begin to break right down.  Just break right down; didn't take much.  And so, as prescribed by the plot... the filmmakers aren't making Slacker here, after all.  These two seemingly opposing plot threads were bound to converge sooner or later... not as blatantly as 1993's Amos & Andrew, but still.
And so, having told us what he's up to, Bugs makes his way to Witch Hazel's house and raps on the door.  Meanwhile, Hazel complains that she needs one more ingredient to finish up her giant cauldron of brew.  WHEN SUDDENLY... there's a knock at the door!  Guess that ingredient will have to wait for later.  Hazel runs to the door, Stage Right... apparently it's not as urgent, and she didn't crack herself up beforehand.  On the plus side, she didn't lose any hairpins!  How many does she have?  Next scene: Bugs holds up his paper treat bag and says "Evenin', Granny!"  Don't even get me started.  Bugs just isn't in touch with the regular folks... it's TRICK OR TREAT!  YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SAY "TRICK OR TREAT"!!!!!!!!!!  Am I in the room?!  Note the bright green color of Bugs' mask.  It's not quite (0,255,0) but close!  About 220!  Sorry, Photoshop users and others might get that.  It's too inside the digital beltway.
Thankfully, the last word Bugs says is "witch," so Granny ... I mean, Hazel, gets engaged in the conversation.  "I don't remember seeing her at the Union meetings!" she says.  Okay, time out.  First of all, Hazel clearly isn't a devotée of the arts of ventriloquism, and she doesn't notice that Bugs is a) either the greatest ventriloquist of all time, or b) um... HE'S WEARING A MASK.  And second, Hazel has been indoors for so long, she doesn't realize that it's Halloween.  Sure, she saw it on the calendar when she ripped off the page for October 30th... I guess that's all the gripes.  Oh, and third... well, we'll get to it in a second.  Hazel says to Bugs, in a rather grandmotherly way, "My!  Isn't she the ugliest little thing?"  And then... oh, how to describe it.  Hazel stops herself, and makes kind of a squishing noise with her mouth.  Genius.  See, you can't be afraid to embarrass yourself if you want to reach the stratosphere of the Voiceover Actor community.  "Ugly?" says Hazel, then she makes half of the bullet noise as she disappears in another cloud of hairpins.  The urgency of the situation is back.
She's back in front of the magic mirror again, asking the question from earlier.  The genie of the mirror appears, using the curved glass on the animation stand that gets employed in such special effects type deals as these.  The genie has a little bit of latitude, despite the lack of a visible neck, and he... I'm just assumpting up top that he's a he.  It comes up later as well.  The genie gets a gander of Bugs looking inside the house... more rudeness.  We'll deal with that later.  The genie, having seen Bugs and, like Hazel, unawares completely of either masks and or Halloween, so it would seen, makes the shallow, surface-only judgment, in that poetic-like way of his, that becostumed Bugs is now the ugliest one of all.  With the flop sweat starting to flow, Hazel's very foundation of existence is shaken to its core.  Love the electric sound she makes at about 2:29 or so.
Another cloud of hairpins, and Hazel finds herself running to the front door at slightly less than light speed.  She drags Bugs inside, saying "Come in!" several times in a row.  You just don't get that kind of hospitality anymore... well, maybe once on your first tryst, but that's about it.  Cross-fade to next scene: Hazel and becostumized Bugs are sitting at a small table that you might find at a European café.  And it's time for a little shop talk.  Hazel does that creepy walking thing with her fingers... just on the table, though.  Again, tryst stuff.  Apparently Hazel is really really preoccupied with her looks.  If you're looking for turning little boys into mice, well... do I have to post links for everything here?  Mr. Bean's in it!  Look him up yourself.
For some reason, I am reminded of those moments in the non-Trump orange monster pics where Bugs turns into a gay hairstylist.  I guess that's not too far out on a limb.  But enough of this gay banter.  As host of this little witch get-together, it's Hazel's responsibility to provide nourishment!  Snacks!  Hazel gallantly recuses herself and leaves two clouds of hairpins behind: once when she leaves the table, and a second time when she's looking from around the corner of the doorjamb.  Lol.  That one's my new favourite.  And of course, Bugs says what we're all thinking: "...she was someone's baby once't."  ...what?  Well, I was thinking something along those lines.
Act Two and a Half: Just like the Wicked Witch of the West and her bucket of deadly water in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, so too does Hazel possess the ingredients of the potential destruction of her ugly... ugliness.  Yeah, English is a weird language.  I mean, "beauty" is a noun, but "ugly" isn't.  See, if I were real good, I'd have a whole list of little quirks like that.  So far, I've just got "cupboard" and "clipboard."  English is no monolith.  Anyway, Hazel prepares and serves this potentially disastrous brew.  She pours fake witch Bugs a cup of it.  Bugs hesitates, if only for a plot device.  "Come on, come on!" says Hazel.  It certainly doesn't help her cause, dontcha think?  And on top of that... no cookies?  I can't drink a cup of tea without some damn cookies!  Some nice Pepperidge Farm Milanos or sumpthin'!  Okay, the first cup to cleanse the pallet, THEN a cookie to go with the tea.  But no.  Nothing.  Just the tea.  Almost as awkward a scene as with Alex and the subversive writer and the guy who would eventually wear the (first) Darth Vader costume... I mean, outfit.  All the other Dark Side officers have more 20th century Earth-style military uniforms, but only Vader rocks the black cape.  That's hierarchy for ya.
So what's Bugs' move here?  Get a mouthful of the brew and spit it out later?  I dunno... I mean, Bugs is already pretty.  Alas, we don't get to see how Hazel's potion would work on him.  Instead, it's time to Keep it 100(TM), and Bugs takes off his mask.  "Mask?" Hazel asks of herself.  And then, seeing that it's a rather large talking rabbit, asks "A rabbit?" of herself.  Caught up in her own world, time for another cloud of hairpins, as Bugs says "Couldn't tell, could ya?"
And so... as with all these witch spell recipes, there's various garden variety things you have to get.  Why, take the list to your immediate left, for example! dorsal fin?  OF WHAT?!!!!  Probably a shark, huh?  Reminds me of the vegetarian restaurant nearby that serves an all meatless menu, but they have fake meat items like shark fin soup.  Love that place.  Should probably make another link for it.  And so, you've got things like butterfly wings you got to get, mandrake root, nightshade, five-leaf clovers, a little driveway chamomile... and the last item to get, if there's poor character development in the plot, you have to get the smallest leaf off of a plant that ONLY grows on the tallest mountain in the region, and ONLY blooms during the last blue moon of the summer, but ONLY in a freak snowstorm that ONLY occurs every... every 359 years!  My God!  That's TONIGHT!  We've gotta get moving!  Quick, pack the Vanagon with only the essentials!  As for Broomstick Bunny, well... incidentally, very few broomsticks in this one so far... as you can see from the attached picture, that big final ingredient has to come from a rabbit.  A far more insidious plot development.
Next scene: meanwhile, back in Hazel's spacious tea room, Bugs informs us that his Spidey Sense(TM) is tingling... I'm sorry, he refers to it as his "delicate inner sense of danger."  Think about that for a moment.  It occurs to me that this is a rather complicated passage of dialogue, and you probably wouldn't hear something like that, such character introspection from, say, a Looney Tunes from the 30s or 40s.  If this isn't a sign of maturation, I don't know what is.  Maybe Clampett did something similar in one of his works.  Anyway, for the extra jaded cinephile out there, you can probably guess what's coming.  Bugs continues to walk, Stage Left, completing his thought and...
yup, she's baaaaaaacck!  Good Lourdes, but she's got a big nose.  For some reason, I didn't notice until now, but here it takes on an extra proboscis monkey-Durante quality.  And so, we hold on this silent standoff, if only for the benefit of the music... you know, Milt Franklyn's pretty good score.  Apparently, Carl Stalling kept helping, just off the books or something.  He didn't know what to do with himself upon retiring, apparently.  It happens.  It's all Bugs can do to distract Hazel from her new-found goal of dropping that cleaver.  Bugs exits Stage Right, leaving only a couple clouds of dust... and NO hairpins!  If only to relieve her tension, Hazel sinks the cleaver into the floor where Bugs was once standing.  She can always buy another!


A little too early for Act Three, but this is more for the benefit of the action fans in the audience.  For a big rousing chase begins at about 4:18, with Hazel's laughter well preceding her... much like Belloq's laughter once Indy takes off running, but strangely without the echo.  Well, those were the days, you know.  These guys didn't sweat the little details so much, or defy cartoon audio conventions too much.  Sure, they sweated out details, but this time they didn't stop and say to themselves "Wait!  You can't even SEE Hazel, and yet, here she is, laughing as loud as ya please!"
Next scene: more Escher-like stairs.  Man, but she's got a big place.  Definitely an usurped Hollywood mansion.  Next next scene: ...finally!  Here we go.  Now we're talking.  Bugs runs past the broom closet.  Hazel goes past it, then doubles back.  She's had enough thrill of the chase for tonight; now it's time to get the ingredient she needs to finish her latest and greatest.  She grabs a broom and... oh, I dare not spoil the gag.  Sure, maybe it gets milked a few seconds too long, but whaddayagonna do?  Not as long as what happens next, mind you!  Bugs thinks he's gotten away, but for once, the bad guy's one step ahead of him!  However... it seems like a bit of a letdown, if only for me.  I mean, really?  Seriously?  A fishing pole with a carrot on the hook?  That's it?  This is a low-level witch we're dealing with here, clearly, apparently.  Where's the beef?  Where's the MAGIC?  Is that asking so much?  They're just saving the good stuff for the end of the film?  Wotta gyp.  And so, Bugs goes along willingly, munchy-wunching away on that carrot, Hazel reeling away on the reel, pulling Bugs in.  She scoops up Bugs with a net on a stick, and it's fade to black time.
Next scene: fade-in on Hazel sharpening up that damn cleaver from earlier.  She finally pried it from the floor; there'll be time to repair said floor later.  Reminds me of that one with the bull who used a big wheel-shaped rock to sharpen his horns.  Bugs is tied up about as completely as he can be with thick rope.  He's still wearing his giant witch shoes from earlier.
Next scene: Hazel is on her way over to Bugs.  The sharpening stone was a few rooms away, it would seem.  She makes another one of her little jokes and... boy!  She likes her own jokes a lot, doesn't she?  No wonder she was asking about Bugs' hair earlier!  How many hairpins she got in there?  Dayamn!!!!
Next scene: the cleaver's about ready to fall again and... well, it's different, anyway.  Bugs is so completely in a corner, facing down an enemy so merciless... then again, Bugs is being pretty sexist, don't you think?  Oh, when did Bugs EVER shed tears for Elmer?  None.  Not one.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it was Bugs that brought Elmer to tears on more than one occasion!  What a Richard.  But, you can't argue with results.  Also, it's kind of a Chuck Jones trademark.  I forget if we've encountered his sad eyes routine yet, but it's in Little Orphan Airedale, and brought up as a matter of tradecraft, even!  Okay, orphan dog tradecraft, not our intelligence services.  You might remember that it led to the inspiration for the cat first seen in... Shrek 2, maybe?  I don't think I saw the third one at all, and definitely didn't see the fourth one.  What's the matter, HBO?  Are they too old already?  Are they not better than A Bug's Life?  Must they lie in home video purgatory forever, never to be seen again?  Like A Bug's Life?
Next scene: Bugs cries a few silent tears, and Hazel finally loses it.  Incidentally, listen to June Foray's commentary.  Even she stops talking during this scene!... nope, got that wrong.  She stops about 4:42, then there's 50 seconds of commentary silence!!  Oh well.  Sometimes less is more.  Michael Barrier on the other hand... yap yap yap!  Just kidding; I like that guy too.  Plus, he's got actual interviews with many of these people!  Gotta give him some props for that.
Hazel even gets in a good joke here: sad Bugs reminded her of Paul, her pet tarantula... I'll give you a minute.  Okay, back to the plot.  Bugs wriggles out of the ropes just enough to move his feet.  He walks over to the cup with the beautifying potion in it, don't forget!  But while he's doing this, he gives Hazel a rather interesting bit of advice in our carpe diem-obsessed era we live in.  He says "Look, Granny, we can't carry the torch for our loved ones forever!"  There's got to be a way I can sneak that line into casual conversation somehow.  "You gotta pull yourself together!" adds Bugs... okay, maybe not.  Now, for you audiophiles out there, you'll surely like it when Bugs grabs the cup's saucer with his mouth and walks it over to Hazel.  "Here!  Drink this!" he says, with the saucer still in his mouth.  For some reason, I'm reminded of what happened to Wheezy Joe... and you BETTER know what I'm talking about!


In one form or another, the concept of morphing has actually been with us for a while, long before Terminator 2: Judgment Day put it on the map in no uncertain terms.  If you use the "search" feature on this very blog, why... you might be able to find reference to some Fleischer cartoons, and one to Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid... okay, thought I had more than that.
Anyway, the point being, the main takeaway here, the Teachable Moment  (TM) if you will... Hazel transforms and or morphs into a sexy babe!  Note the rings of light that usually signify drunkenness and or dizziness.  And there's another thing, incidentally.  Usually it's Tex Avery who's the flesh peddler in chief in these celluloid outings for the tiddly winkies... your Swing Shift Cinderellas and what not.  Usually it's a wolf ogling a human woman... incidentally, ain't that always the way, when you get right down to it?  Aren't all marriages and relationships like that, essentially?  She's a model, and he's a giant, hairy, slobbering nincompoop?  But Chuck Jones?  This is unusual... save for the occasional Bugs Bunny cross-dressing event; okay, more than occasional.
Hazel quickly finds her giant, hairy, slobbering nincompoop when she goes over to the magic mirror and asks her usual question about who's Queen of Ugly Mountain.  She gets quite a different answer this time, heading back for that broom closet.  She gets the right broom this time, and takes off into the night, with the genie close behind.  Bugs has to get the last word, of course... and what a corny one it is, too!  Ugh.  Nancy Kerrigan would never stop vomiting.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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