Cannibals were nothing new to comedy. They were presumably well established in literature as the movie industry sprung onto the scene, from the likes of novels such as “Robinson Crusoe”, exposure in National Geographic, and pulp fiction jungle yarns. Both live and animated genres made ready use of them. See for example, Disney’s Alice Cans the Cannibals (1925), or a neat live -action talkie, Educational’s Thru Thin and Thicket, or Who’s Zoo In Africa (1933), from the Masquers’ Club. Later talking cartoons abounded in them. Examples include Cannibal Capers (Disney Silly Symphony, 1930), Africa Squeaks (Flip the Frog – MGM 1931), I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You (Paramount – Betty Boop, 1932), Trader Mickey (Disney – UA, 1932), On the Pan (RKO Van Buren – Little King, 1933), Robinson Crusoe (aka Streamlined Robinson Crusoe in home movies) (Terrytoons/Educational, Farmer Alfalfa, 1933), Jungle Jitters (MGM Willie Whopper, 1934), Mickey’s Man Friday (Disney – UA, 1935), Kannibal Kapers (Columbia Charles Mintz – Krazy Kat, 1935), Molly Moo Cow and Robinson Crusoe (RKO Van Buren – Burt Gillette Rainbow Parade, 1936), Jungle Jitters (Warner Merrrie Melodies, 1938), It Happened to Crusoe (Columbia Screen Gems, 1941), Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (Warner Porky Pig, 1941), Pop-Pie a la Mode (Paramount Famous ,1945), Swiss Cheese Family Robinson (Terrytoons – Mighty Mouse, 1947), Which is Witch (Warner – Bugs Bunny , 1949), The Stowaways (Terrytoons – Heckle and Jeckle, 1949), His Mouse Friday (MGM – Tom & Jerry, 1951), and Spare the Rod (Disney RKO – Donald Duck, 1954), to name but a few. For even more, see Thunderbean’s DVD, Uncensored Animation v. 2: Cannibals!.
What was a new, and somewhat counter-revolutionary, idea, however, was the concept of an otherwise “good guy” character – sometimes a well-known star – developing cannibalistic traits. There was usually, though not always, a common motive – downright hunger. (Shades of the Donner Party.) Of course, a cartoon character, having little restraints on his baser instincts in the first place, would be likely to go to great lengths to satisfy this need.
Many (including myself before researching this article) may be likely to misattribute the origins of this animation trail to a more prominent studio and director. Surprisingly, it all appears to have begun with underbudgeted, always playing “catch-up with the others” Walter Lantz, who was barely getting used to the new luxury of Technicolor, and the surprise development of two recent back-to-back original personalities – Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker. In only his third starring outing, Woody (without his usual “Guess who?”), launches into the still outrageous, and somewhat unnerving, Pantry Panic (11/24/41) – recently a staple of public domain VHS and DVD.
No director is credited on this film (most sources attribute it to the anonymous hand of Lantz himself). Alex Lovy and Lester Kline get animator billing, while Ben Hardaway (formerly director at Warner Bros., and later to take over Woody’s voice chores from Mel Blanc) and L. E. Elliott share writing credit. Notably, the majority of sources credit Woody’s voice for this outing as Danny Webb, also doubling in the role of the cat.
In an opening premise, largely lifted within a year as quick as you can say “production schedule” for Daffy Duck’s early solo vehicle, Daffy’s Southern Exposure (Norman McCabe, 1942), Winter is drawing on, and Mr. Groundhog’s weather predictions have all of birdland scrambling for warmer climes. But Woody, our hero, is too preoccupied with enjoying his morning swim to heed the warnings of his fellow townsfolk to evacuate. As he prepares for his next swan-dive off a diving board, Winter hits – freezing him in an iceblock mid-dive. He crashes onto the frozen pond, observing “Must be hard water in this place.” A stiff breeze blows him airborne, where two humanized clouds bat him around like a badminton bird. Finally landing in his home, an intertitle advises us of the passing of time: “The Next Day, and 130 degrees below zero. (Sounds authentic.)” Another gag virtually lifted for the Daffy cartoon of the next year (“At Thirty Below, we find our hero…Gosh, we can’t find our hero!!”) Woody scoffs at the winds outside, having a pantry full of food. The front door blows open, and a compact cyclone enters to suck up all the food from the table, spin Woody around a few times, and make a hasty retreat over the horizon. A second intertitle now advises us it is two weeks later, and starvation is staring Woody in the face. We cut to just that – a twin to Dickens’ ghost of Christmas future sitting across the table from Woody. A third intertitle states it is now one month later, and a hungry little kitty cat has come to the village. The cat is of course twice Woody’s size, with a booming basso voice. Hungry enough to eat a woodpecker, he knocks on Woody’s door. Woody opens up, and as the two eye each other, we see in two respective thought clouds the vision in their mind’s eye – each other, steaming on a platter, surrounded by boiled potatoes. A first “trope” of this genre, to be revisited by many an episode below.
Woody invites the cat in, announcing he’s planning to have a dinner of cat – – fish. He offers to take the cat’s scarf, just missing strangling him in the process. In a second “trope” of the cannibalism genre, the cat “breaks the fourth wall”, stating to the audience, “You know, I think that pigeon tried to choke me!” Woody next notes that the cat must be cold, nudging him backwards to warm up – by shoving him into an open stove and slamming the door. Again to the audience, Woody delightfully declares his anticipation of a forthcoming meal of “feline fricassee”. The cat escapes, wielding a meat clever, and Woody winds up in the stove, popping in and out of the stove lids as the cat takes swipes at his head with the cleaver. Woody somehow slips out too, and as the cat looks the other way waiting for his next move, Woody pours catsup on the cat’s tail. The cat pulls his tail free just in time – and we reach trope #3 – Woody taking bites out of a line of bare sauce defying gravity in mid-air. (This sauce gag was used again by Chuck Jones in a non-cannibal cartoon where only the good guy was being pursued – “Lost and Foundling” (1944), with the sauce from Sniffles the Mouse’s arm being ingested by a hungry hawk.) The cat and bird continue their chase, winding up together in a large kettle hanging in Woody’s fireplace. In an absolute defiance of metallurgy physics, the kettle mysteriously develops the attributes of rubber, revealing protruding (and totally unconvincing) full-shape silhouettes through its walls of Woody and the cat in battle inside.
Now comes the weirdest part of all. From nowhere, a large moose appears at the front door. (His “Moo” is poorly performed by the same actor playing the cat, so that when we first hear it, it seems like it’s coming from the cat instead.) Both Woody and cat see food possibilities in this new intruder, and give chase out the door, the cat with his cleaver, and Woody with a large carving knife. Gruesome? It gets worse. The camera wipes to a new shot, revealing the picked-clean skeletal remains of the entire moose! We pan over to Woody and the cat slurping the last flavorful morsels off the last bones. The cat announces, “That was pretty good. But I’m still hungry.” Woody, with the evilest glint in his eye, replies, “Yeah? So am I!” Both whip out their respective carving weapons, and the scene becomes a blur in a whirling knife fight, as we fade out to end credits. Is this the ending of a Woody cartoon…or of West Side Story?
Woody’s voice for this last line is entirely different in register than the rest of the cartoon, and obviously unspeeded. Was it even the same actor as the rest of the film? Or is it possible that someone at the studio decided to spoof the censors or Lantz himself, recorded a hasty “alternate” curtain line, and in his spare time animated an alternate ending to match it, closing the cartoon the way he’d like to see it, but figuring it’d get cut in the final print? Similar things happened in Bob Clampett’s unit at Warner Brothers, in the instance of “An Itch In Time”, where a gag-scene was added to the print in the belief the censors would cut it, of the flea-bitten dog scampering all over the house dragging his rear-end on the carpet, then stopping cold and breaking the fourth wall by stating to the audience, “Hey, I’d better cut this out. I may get to like it!” To their surprise, the censors let it pass. Maybe Lantz’s boys also caught the censor on a lucky day.
While this cartoon wasn’t truly cannibalism – as both protagonists are not of the same species – there’s no doubt that Woody has ventured into dangerous deviations from his presumed normal appetite of wood-boring bugs. The humanized and equally-matched qualities of each character make us forget they’re not alike, leaving a macabre effect definitely beyond the normal tolerances of the average child. A cartoon for adults? But not from the more to-be-expected usual sources of adult fare such as Fleischer or the other New York studios. From a studio usually populated with rabbits and pandas, this one catches you off-guard and unawares – and hits right between the eyes. I remember my first viewing of this in my teens, and coming out with a final reaction roughly equaling, “What the h—?” Is it any wonder that Lantz let this one slip into the public domain? It just didn’t seem to fit the family-friendly fare of the Kellogg’s “Woody Woodpecker Show”, and I wonder if it was ever screened there – and if so, in what kind of edit?
Fast forward a few years, and two studios appear to be in a race to come up with a follow-up to this animated nightmare. Why? Let’s just say, both competitors were seasoned veterans (or at least getting there) of the industry, and were probably grumbling to themselves, “Hmmph, I could do it better.” The first to reach his production quota was Charles “Chuck” M. Jones, in an entry for Warner’s new reigning star, Bugs Bunny, Wackiki Wabbit (7/3/43). Also a cartoon that’s slipped into the public domain – did studio owners lose their stomach for bloodshed over the years? Actually, this one has no casualties – at least not onscreen. Jones had more class than that. Does Bugs become a cannibal? No (that would come later). Instead, we are introduced to two new characters – a pair of newly shipwrecked sailors (reputedly voiced by Termite Terrace veterans Michael Maltese and Ted Pierce). As they float aimlessly over the waves on a makeshift raft of minimalist design, resembling a prop-to-be from the background of an average UPA Magoo cartoon, the two begin hallucinating that each other is some form of desirable foodstuff. One morphs in the eyes of the other into a giant hamburger, prompting the other to request “And hold the onions.”
The second eyes his partner’s leg like a drumstick, and attempts to apply a liberal coating of salt to it, until caught in the act. The tasty-leg one now starts eyeing his own foot, placing it on a platter, and pulling out a knife and fork. His partner pulls out a bib, anxious to join in the feast. But tasty-leg won’t share, pulling back his foot into the grasp of his arms as if to say, “This is mine.” The cannibal premise is abandoned at this point as the two sight land, and have a typical encounter with Bugs Bunny as the only inhabitant of the island, hoping to include him on their pre-printed Menu reading “Rabbit”. But of course, our hero evades them for seven minutes, then manages to slip away on a passing ocean-liner, leaving our sailors marooned. As they finally realize they’ve been duped, they turn to each other with broad smiles – and respectively morph into a giant hot dog and hamburger, who chase each other off into the distance. A decidedly more “palatable” bill of fare than its Woody predecessor, with nice variances on the “mind’s eye” point of view trope . Despite being the only cartoon I know of to briefly touch on the idea of self-cannibalism, local stations never seemed to have reluctance to run this one for the TV crowd – it was a particular favorite of Channel 11 locally in California.
Tex Avery was simultaneously busy at MGM – and about to reveal what would become something of a cult classic. What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard? (11/27/43) While this cartoon reputedly gave some studio executives the willies, it appears to have had a marked influence upon at least some theatergoers, and in particular one other studio – Walter Lantz!, who may have finally realized, “So, that is how you do it.”
A pair of desert buzzards bemoan the lack of meat on the hoof they’ve experienced for months (with less-than-coincidental similarities to wartime meat shortages). One opens his beak to reveal cobwebs inside, and a sign reading “Closed for the Duration.” The other (voiced as a sound-alike to Jimmy Durante) states what he’d give to have a nice juicy t-bone steak, with the gravy just oozing out of it. We are treated to a dissolve to a full screen image of such a delicacy – and, knowing the audience’s likely scarcity of encounters with the genuine article of recent (how many ration points would one cost?), a slide invades the frame, announcing a 3-minute intermission for drooling, signed “The management”. A passing hare attracts their attention, but through a bit of clever wordplay evades their dinner plans. As their meal escapes over the horizon, Durante vulture announces he’s so hungry he could eat…“anything.” The other vulture agrees, as we revisit the “mind’s eye” trope – each viewing the other headless, and fully plucked, ready for the table. Both buzzards make departures in opposite directions, bidding each other “See you later.”
Later comes sooner, as they both zip back into frame wearing bibs and armed with knife and fork, sprinkling salt on each other. Both simultaneously attempt to take a bite – but merely lock beaks together. They again feign departures in opposite directions – only to return armed with meat cleavers. As each realizes they’ve been matched and caught in the act, they develop sheepish grins, and part again. While Durante ponders what to do next, his pal coats his arm with mustard and places it in a large hamburger bun, then takes a chomp. Durante shakes him off, then (in trope #2 – realization), asks, “What are you trying to do – eat me?” His pal states he couldn’t if he wanted to on account of a bad tooth, and invites Durante to look inside, “way back there”. It is, of course, the “head in the lion’s mouth” situation, and Buzzard 2 seems to have bitten Durante’s head off. Of course, Durante pops his head back out from among his neck feathers, remarking to the audience, “What a repulsive way to make a living!”
Now Avery injects his own new trope into the genre – the “surprise reveal”. The camera settles shortly on a close shot of Durante buzzard, as we hear an offscreen crunching sound. The camera then pulls back, revealing Buzzard 2 dining on a portion of his tail feathers like a stick of celery. The gag is repeated several more times between the buzzards in variants. In a scene drawing inspiration from Bugs Bunny’s Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (1941), Durante buzzard, while seen in close-up looking up a cookbook recipe for Vulture stew, suddenly finds himself in another camera reveal within a pot of boiling water, standing waist-deep in broth. When asked what’s cookin’, Buzzard 2, in chef’s hat, announces the bill-of-fare as the recipe’s same, and offers Durante a taste.
Almost a self-cannibalism, but it doesn’t count the same as Jones’s in that Durante doesn’t know what he is doing. One bite – and Durante leaps skyward out of the pot with a scream. In a later scene, Durante turns the tables. The buzzards are fighting hand to hand in a twirling whirlwind of activity. Buzzard 2 slips out of the whirlwind and brings back the boiling pot to place under what he thinks is the still-fighting Durante – only the whirlwind diminishes to reveal it consists of only one stray feather. As the camera closes in on Buzzard 2 scratching his head, it pulls back again to reveal that Durante has slipped the bottom of a cooking pan underneath him, and clamps down a lid on top, placing him in a nearby oven. But Avery’s not through there. For a third time, the camera surprises us by panning left to reveal that the place Durante’s decided to rest while waiting for dinner has been replaced with the conveyor belt of an automatic meat slicer. Barely escaping its sawblade, the two eventually wind up in a chase around a boulder (freeze-frame this chase if you can for a delightfully changing array of lethal weapons in the buzzards’ hands on each pass).
Suddenly among their midst, also caught up in the chase, is the same hare we saw earlier in the picture. The buzzards realize their food shortage is over, dragging the rabbit to a dinner table, where they play tug-of-war as to who will have him. The rabbit pushes both of them off, announcing, “Wait a minute! Ain’t you guys forgettin’ something?”, and pulls out a daily calendar, announcing that this is Meatless Tuesday. (Check your wartime references.) The buzzards break down in a fit of crying, as the rabbit gives us a high sign and the image almost irises out. Suddenly the screen is filled by a large red slide reading “PATRONS ATTENTION”, accompanied on soundtrack by a loud gong sounding like it was lifted from the end of a chapter of a Columbia serial. An announcer’s voice calls our attention, and informs us that “Due to the numerous requests received in the last five minutes, we are going to show you the steak again.” And we see just that as the cartoon climaxes for its fade out.
Avery’s laugh-getter, as mentioned above, did not go unnoticed. Who’s Cookin’ Who? (Universal/Lantz, Woody Woodpecker, 6/24/46, James “Shamus” Culhane, dir.), marked Woody’s first return to the genre. A bit of a shakeup had occurred at Lantz since “Pantry Panic”. The old regime of Alex Lovy and occasional directorial stints by Lantz himself had been for the time-being abandoned. Relative newcomer to the director’s chair Shamus Culhane had taken the reins – with a vengeance. Initiating a whole new style of visual, featuring Chuck Jones-inspired minimalistic backgrounds and substantially simplified character designs (gone are the days when Woody’s feathers seemed to sport every color of the rainbow), Culhane avoided the budgetary extremes of former Lantz director Burt Gillett (probably to the sighs of relief of management) and seemed to concentrate his efforts on plotlines and rapid timing, expressive character posing, and creative camera angles (sometimes potentially rivaling Frank Tashlin). Amidst this new approach, the idea somehow got green-lighted to create essentially a remake of Pantry Panic, but cross-it with influence from What’s Buzzin, Buzzard?
This episode opens with voice-over by Woody over illustrations from a storybook of “The Grasshopper and the Ants” (with a bit of an obvious nod to the Disney title of the same name). Woody stops reading when he gets to the part about the Grasshopper spending the winter cold and hungry – and is finally seen tossing the book away as just a lot of hooey. A passing file of ants carrying food tidbits attracts Woody’s attention. To Woody’s surprise, the last member of the line is the grasshopper, also carrying food! (And voiced about as close as the Lantz boys were able to muster in resemblance to Pinto Colvig.) When the grasshopper also advises that he was taught the lesson of the need for work, Woody ignores him – and settles into a hammock for a long nap. In the fashion of Pantry Panic, a slide intertitle announces it is now six months later. The same hammock is now seen, with the entire scene blanketed in snow – Woody included. Woody emerges from the snowy lump in the hammock, announcing he’s hungry.
He retreats to his home, but, unlike Pantry Panic, his cupboard is bare. Signs in each food receptacle announce such things as “Empty”, “All Gone”, and writing inside the bottom of a cooking pot states (a la Tex Avery), “Dark, isn’t it?” Woody asks the audience if anyone will step into the lobby and get him a candy bar, only to be physically pushed out of the frame by another sliding intertitle. Here, we get a repeat of the identical title and visual gag from Pantry Panic of starvation staring Woody in the face. A howl is heard outside, and Starvation announces “That is the wolf at your door.” Woody instantly pulls out a cookbook – “How To Cook a Wolf”. Woody ventures outside, masquerading as Little Red Riding Hood. Return to trope #1, as the Wolf imagines a cooked Woody and starts sprinkling salt on him, while Woody imagines a cooked wolf and starts pouring ketchup on his leg. A booby-trapped “basket of goodies” sucker-punches the wolf, while Woody leaves a trail of signs to “Grandma’s House”. The wolf arrives, learning from a note on the door that Grandma’s gone to the Palladium.
Donning Grandma’s outfit and jumping into bed, the Wolf reads up from a book, “New Ways to Cook Red Riding Hood.” Now Lantz borrows Avery’s “surprise reveal”. The camera pulls back, revealing that Woody’s lit a fire under Grandma’s bed and is fanning the flames with fireplace bellows. In a return to a setup from “Pantry Panic”, the wolf leaps out of bed, landing in the fireplace kettle. As Woody fans the flames in the fireplace, the wolf grabs him into the pot and switches places with him. Woody switches back with him – and before they know it, both of them have sneaked out of the pot and are fanning the flames simultaneously. The fight moves to the kitchen stove venue, also from Pantry Panic. While the wolf thinks Woody’s inside, Woody returns to Avery’s trope of applying mustard and a bun to the Wolf’s tail and takes a bite. The Wolf attempts to put Woody in a meat grinder (a prop also used in What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard?), only to have Woody substitute the wolf’s tail within for painful results. (A particularly expressive scene strikes me as being animated by Emery Hawkins.) Woody appears in a chef’s hat, announcing a meal of waffles -but opens a waffle iron which the wolf, on closer inspection, realizes is empty – until Woody slams it down on the Wolf’s face (perhaps the most violent scene in the film, as the wolf whimpers pathetically).
The Wolf emerges with his face reduced to a waffle impression – while Woody pours syrup on him. The close shot on Woody pulls back for another “surprise reveal”, as he suddenly finds himself standing in a pan, and the Wolf slams down a lid. While the pan cooks in the stove, the Wolf sets up condiments on the dinner table using a bowling alley pin-setter. But the pan when taken out of the oven appears empty – until Woody appears hidden in the lid and gives his trademark peck to the Wolf’s head. The wolf tosses a spear at Woody, catching it in his neck feathers and pinning him to the wall. In another surprise reveal, the spear starts turning, and the camera reveals hot coals placed under Woody and the Wolf turning the spear like a rotisserie. The scene now dissolves to reveal the still spinning Woody actually back resting in his hammock on what is still a spring day, getting wrapped up in the hammock ropes from being spun in the wind. It’s all been a dream. As the hammock splits and releases Woody to the ground, Woody sees the ants and grasshopper pass again with another load of food. Woody wastes no time in learning from his lesson – joining the ants’ food parade laden with the wolf, all tied up, being carried on his back. Woody gives his signature laugh, and we iris out.
Lantz and Culhane must have been well satisfied this time with audience reaction to this gentler, funnier remake. So much so that a revisit to the same situation was put into production inside of less than half a year. Fair Weather Fiends (Univeral/Lantz, 11/18/46) utilizes the same Wolf from Who’s Cookin’ Who?, and comparatively seems rushed into existence in the form of less fluid animation and a less convincing and more contrived excuse for bringing Woody and the Wolf together again. Our scene opens to a long shot of an ocean yacht cruising the sea, dissolving to a stern view of the ship’s name – “The Palsie-Walsie”. We pan up to see the deck laden with food, and Woody and the wolf respectively gorging themselves on turkey legs and hamburgers. (Doesn’t this already feel contrived? Why are Woody and the wolf now friends? Since when has either had the wherewithal to own a yacht (they are definitely not stowaways here), and how rarely has Woody been able to rustle up his own banquet of food? All normal character motivations seem to have been jettisoned with the flotsam.)
In an obvious budget-cut, special effects are borrowed from reused animation for a waterspout and storm to hit (lifted from Dick Lundy’s The Sliphorn King of Polaroo). In a nod to the style of Pantry Panic, the scene is interrupted by a sliding intertitle – “Day after day, the storm mounted in fury – Then suddenly it dismounted.” Merely running the waterspout animation in reverse, the two are now seen washed up on a desert island. The wolf tightens his belt, which has a meter built into the buckle that tightens from “Full” to “Empty”. Woody states he is just “skin and bones”, opening his chest feathers like a vest to show off the mere skeleton of his rib cage inside. They find an oyster shell and briefly fight over it, the wolf claiming it for his own – but is disgusted to find inside only a glittering pearl necklace – no meat. About a minute of time is eaten up on a gooney bird (apparently the only inhabitant of the island) who wards off their attempts to capture him (was Culhane remembering the hare’s brief intrusion in What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard?).
Now comes the inevitable trope #1 – thought visualizations over Woody’s and the wolf’s heads of each other with an apple in their mouth on a steaming platter. As in “Buzzard”, both pretend to leave in different directions in search of food – but merely run in a circle around the closest palm tree and collide behind it. The wolf and Woody pokes their heads around the front of the tree, the wolf announcing, “Look what I found”, and raising his arm into view, on his side of the tree, clutching Woody’s tail end. Woody matches him: “So what! Look what I found!”, and holds up the wolf’s tail and pants on his side. (The dynamic of this scene is at least clever, as obviously, neither character is standing on the ground, and are being suspended in mid-air by sheer will power.) Both attempt to take a bite of their “find”, but exit in a whirl of pain when bitten. The wolf resorts to standard trope #2 – a visually exaggerated aside to the audience, “You know, I think my friend tried to eat me.” Woody spots a fish-shaped wooden sign reading “Fishing”. (Again contrived – did the gooney put this there? Why doesn’t it say “No Fishing” to give Woody a reason to continue to pursue the wolf, rather than stand as what would be an invitation to any normal person to try fishing for a meal instead? Especially since Woody produces a pole and line from nowhere which could have been used for genuine fishing if the characters had any sense?) Woody ties the wooden sign to a fishing line and throws it at the wolf.
Enter trope #3, as the wolf pours catsup on it (does catsup go well on fish?), but has the plaque pulled out of his hands as he bites, leaving him eating the catsup in mid-air. He pursues the “fish” as it is reeled back into a bush. Jumping headfirst into the bush, the foliage falls, revealing him in a simmering stewpot tended by Woody. Directly lifting from “Buzzard”, Woody informs him that the soup he’s cooking is “Creme De Wolf”, and to “Try some”, offering the wolf his own leg. Originality dying, the wolf does the expected, chomping into his limb. The payoff of the sequence is different from Buzzard, but sort of a lift from a past success of Culhane – Andy Panda’s Fish Fry (1944) – as the wolf leaps skyward and is seen applying first-aid bandaging to his wounded limb as he sails through the sky. Upon his falling back to earth, Woody jumps into a log. The wolf picks up the log, and feeds it into a convenient nearby bread slicer. (At least the characters in “Buzzard” appeared to be supplying their own respective props – who’s the prop man in this picture?) Sorting through each slice, the wolf can find no Woody in the center, and scratches his head in a waist-high close-up.
Enter trope #4 – surprise reveal as camera pulls back to have him standing in Woody’s meat grinder. (They just reversed positions from the last cartoon – the wolf had already used the meat grinder in Who’s Cookin’ Who?). Extricating himself from the mechanism, the wolf grabs a wooden club and advances right toward Woody. In a sequence mirroring the “array of lethal weapons” bit from “Buzzard”, we cut back and forth between Woody pulling a knife (remembering Pantry Panic, this seems to be his first weapon of choice), the wolf a woodsman’s axe, Woody a scimitar (a leftover prop from The Greatest Man in Siam?), the wolf a headsman’s axe, Woody a flame thrower, the wolf a cannon, and then both of them in Sherman tanks. They collide head-on at the junction where the gooney bird is proprietor of a lunch stand – “Gooney’s Hot Dogs and Hamburgers”. (Wonder where he gets his clientele – do shipwrecks happen every day?) Spotting the abundant food, all is forgiven as the two gorge. Except that Woody has a longer memory than the wolf and hands him a hamburger with the wolf’s leg inside, for a repeat performance of the bite-yourself gag. Standard Woody laugh, and iris out.
The comparative lack of spark in this second outing of the Woody/wolf “team” signed the near death-knell for the wolf. He would not return to the Woody series, and would be revived only twice (more in design than in personality) by Paul J. Smith, in the one-shot The Dog That Cried Wolf (1953), a script originally intended as Andy Panda’s comeback but in which Paul Smith ultimately copped out and replaced Andy with a generic farmer, and in Red Riding Hoodlum (1957), where he just misses meeting up with Woody again – as Woody hands the whole cartoon over as a specialty for Knothead and Splinter before the wolf appears.
The Uncultured Vulture (Columbia/Screen Gems, Phantasy, 2/6/47, Bob Wickersham, dir.) – Gestation period must not have been long for a Screen Gems cartoon, as this one plays practically like a poor-man’s remake of “Fair Weather Fiends”. The number of genuine laughs feels nearly as barren as the desert island on which the film takes place. Unlike Woody’s island, this one has no foliage in which to hide props, excepting a single cocoanut tree. The lead character feels lifted directly from What’s Buzzin, Buzzard? – right down to talking like Jimmy Durante. His prey, a lost professor/explorer, briefly turns the tables and pursues the vulture, using trope #1 visualizing him cooked, and the vulture using trope #2 – realization in an aside to the audience – briefly. While the old stewpot is again used by the vulture, no creative gags seem to come from it – nor are there any Avery-style surprise reveals, or cooking sauces. Only a handful of gags register brief smiles.
A chase in circles around the perimeter of the island – causing the island to begin rotating in place like a treadmill under their feet with the cocoanut tree spinning like a top in the center. The professor chopping down the cocoanut tree with an axe slice by slice to get at the vulture – only to have the vulture pop out of the top foliage wearing the palm fronds as a grass skirt and playing a ukelele, presenting a long-enough distraction to allow the vulture to bash the Professor over the head with the instrument a la “El Kabong”.of later years. And the final payoff, where a dirigible lands on the island marked “Searching Party”. The professor, simmering in the stewpot, tells off the vulture,“You though you were gonna get to eat me.” Except the searching party isn’t looking for him. The dirigible is full of vultures looking for the title character. Realizing he is now hopelessly outnumbered, the professor resignedly sprinkles salt upon himself, as we iris out.
Along Came Daffy (Warner, Daffy Duck, 6/4/47 – I. Freleng, dir.) Seemingly inspired by the studio’s own Wackiki Wabbit, a similar setup is structured in the confines of an isolated and near-snowbound cabin. Two lonely trappers (a prototypical Yosemite Sam and his black-haired lookalike brother) cope with starvation and a mouse who steals their last pea from a tin can. As brother one paces the floor, we go into trope #1 visualizations again, as in brother two’s eyes his lower half is transformed into a pacing pair of chicken drumsticks. As brother two rises from his chair, knife and fork in hand, brother one visualizes brother two as a triple-decker club sandwich with a cherry tomato for a nose. This is as far as the cannibalism goes, as they eventually find a better mutual target upon the arrival of traveling cookbook-salesman Daffy Duck, resulting in the usual Warner-style mayhem and an intent interest in duck recipes.
Snow Business (Warner, Looney Tunes, Tweety and Sylvester, 1951, released 1/17/53 – I. Freleng, dir.) – In a curious twist on his usual role, Sylvester becomes predator and prey at the same time. Freleng returns to his notion of snowbound cabins from Along Came Daffy, this time with the residents being Sylvester, Tweety – and a crazed starving mouse. Granny’s stranded in the village on her errand to pick up supplies, with the roads back blocked for what is announced on the radio as a six-week closure. Tweety and Sylvester check the house for food. While there seems to be two lifetime supplies of birdseed on hand in every cupboard and closet, no cat food. The usual chicanery develops as Sylvester attempts to lure Tweety into pots and frying pans. But the surprises develop as a mouse, who states he hasn’t eaten in so long he’s forgotten what food looks like, decides the image of Sylvester will do as a substitute. No trope #1 morphs here – the mouse is satisfied with eating Sylvester just the way he is. First chewing off the fur from his tail like a piranha, the mouse next swings in on a string with a Tarzan yell and chews vigorously on Sylvester’s ear. Sylvester ties to knock him off his head with a ladle, but seems to have more success in clunking his own head. Chasing the mouse back to his hole, Sylvester bends down to look inside – and in a scene traditionally edited by CBS for The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, a gun barrel emerges from the mousehole and almost blasts Sylvester’s head off. Sylvester boards up the mousehole, then returns to his cooking pot. Tweety has escaped, but the mouse reappears behind Sylvester and pushes him into the pot. Escaping painfully from its confines, Sylvester chases the mouse back though a newly-gnawed hole in the board he just hammered in, and fills the hole with the end of a wooden mallet.
After another unsuccessful attempt to cook Tweety, we get a trope #4 surprise reveal as camera pulls back to reveal the mouse again, cooking Sylvester’s tail in a toaster. Sylvester puts out his red-hot tail in an ash tray, and chases the mouse back to hole where the mallet has also been gnawed through. While Sylvester waits outside the hole, the mouse reappears above Sylvester on a shelf, pushing a bowling ball. Clunk, and Sylvester is out like a light. His leg is dragged into the mousehole by the mouse, and suddenly Sylvester is seen outside the mousehole rotating on the floor. Inside, the Mouse has rigged up a rotisserie, basting Sylvester’s leg over an open can of “canned heat”. As Sylvester screams and leaps out of the hole, his leg still slightly aflame, he grabs an axe and attempts to chop his way into the wall. But Granny has arrived in the nick of time with a large backpack, having hiked up the mountain with food. But what kind of food? She’s mixed up the order, and brought nothing but more birdseed! The last scene shows Tweety and Sylvester at the dinner table, with the cat learning how to eat birdseed whether he likes it or not. But his tail is pulled into another mousehole, where the mouse applies a bit of seasoning and prepares to dine himself. Outside, Tweety asks how Sylvester likes the seed. We hear the offscreen crunch of the mouse biting into Sylvester’s tail – Sylvester screams, flies up into the air, and lands on his face, with his bowl plopped upon his head. Tweety gets the curtain line, stating “Oh, come now. It can’t be that bad.” A superior and largely original effort, building its script with some of the fewest borrows from previous cartoons
8-Ball Bunny (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 7/8/52, Charles M. “Chuck” Jones, dir.) – Remember how I said Bugs had not yet stooped to cannibalism in “Wackiki Wabbit”? Well, Jones nearly gave him the chance in this one. Bugs is lost in a quest to keep a hastily-made promise to return an Ice Frolics penguin (a character previously seen in Jones’ Frigid Hare in 1951) to his natural habitat (not realizing in the final payoff of the film that the penguin was really born in Hoboken, NJ). The trek takes them through many lands, and meeting many people. Crossing an ocean in a small canoe, Bugs’ thoughts are heard to the audience. “Ten days without food…and I’m sta-a-a-rvin’!” Bugs recalls the earlier observation of a hobo he thwarted, hearing his voice stating “Penguins is practically chickens.” His glazed eyes dart in the direction of the penguin. Trope #1 again, as Bugs’s thoughts are projected onto the penguin – reduced to a plucked and golden brown chicken. Bugs rears up in a sinister mode, about to villianously pounce on the defenseless bird – but stops himself cold, turning to the audience with a crazed expression and shrieking, “WHAT AM I DOIN’!!!!!!!!!!” Bugs may have been the only character in Hollywood to snap himself out of a cannibalistic appetite instead of depending on circumstances to do it for him. Just for good measure, later in the picture, Bugs and the penguin meet some real cannibals in the Amazon jungle, but escape the stewpot when the natives are scared away by the entrance of an animated Humphrey Bogart, repeating his catch-phrase from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Pardon me, but could you help out a fellow American who’s down on his luck?”
Chew Chew Baby (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 8/15/58 – I Sparber, dir.) – Not to be confused with the Woody Woodpecker/Wally Walrus episode of the same name from the 1940’s, which has nothing to do with our subject. Not a lot has been written about Paramount’s “Modern Madcap” series of one-shots. I always think of this cartoon as a “Modern Madcap”, although it was released just before that series banner was inaugurated, because it seems to have all the qualifications to have been released as a “Madcap” if it had debuted the following season. An all-people cast, rather than funny animals. Dark macabre humor, more akin to The Addams Family than “Casper the Friendly Ghost”. A cartoon seemingly aimed at the adults rather than the kiddies. These ingredients would often become something of a signature trademark of the “Madcap” series, distinguishing these cartoons, despite their often restrictive budgets, with their own brand of approach. Certainly, Paramount was not the first to try this. Fleischer, in a different way, gave animation audiences their first reasonably-mature fare with the Superman series.
UPA vigorously experimented with dark subjects on Rooty Toot Toot (1951), The Jaywalker (1956), and the absolutely humorless, The Tell Tale Heart (1953). Paramount was in a sense merely “keeping up with the Joneses” in entering this field, having already developed an affinity for ultra-simplistic and angular character designs and backgrounds in the UPA style in previous outings such as Cock-a-Doodle Dino (1957) and Dante Dreamer (1958). After all, these style changes meant big savings on the budgets over the previous full animation of Baby Huey and Herman and Katnip. But Irv Spector (writer of this cartoon, and reportedly instrumental on formulating the new-style character designs) seemed to continue to churn out an engaging array of flat-yet-personable characters, including the pesky Grateful Gus (1958) and Monsieur Le Matchmaker (in L’Amour the Merrier (1957) and Le Petite Parade (1959)). As for the use of dark humor, this would recur in the Madcaps time and again. Husbands wanting to bump off their wives. (The Plot Sickens (1961).). Suicide (From Dime to Dime (1960).) Murder by gunslinger (The Ringading Kid (1963).) A title character smashed to death on a bar (Finnegan’s Flea (1958).) Among others.
Why all this unsavory behavior? Perhaps it should be remembered that these were the same animators who for a decade had toiled under the auspices of such as Myron Waldman, determined to bring a gentler fare to the screen aimed at the tiny tots, including a seemingly uncountable number of “Casper” cartoons, raising him to number two status as Paramount’s headliner character under Popeye. Perhaps the Madcaps were a way of letting these frustrated souls “vent off steam”, by trying wild ideas that would have never passed Waldman’s standards. Cartoons for the cartoonist. And a polar opposite to the Disney approach that many animators outside that studio had tried to grow well away from. I believe these cartoons should be viewed in this light, and if the product sometimes feels a bit unsettling to animation purists, it should be remembered that the vast majority of the most extreme episodes of the Madcaps did not see television distribution (or at least got very little of it), so that they were unlikely to get mixed between the wee ones’ dose of ghosts, ducks, and cats and mice. Only the kids in the original theatrical audiences were probably exposed to them – and most kids in those days had parental supervision to guide them.
Several factors mark this cartoon as a milestone. First, it was Izzy Sparber’s last film – he died shortly afterward (hopefully not from the content of his project). This appears to be the only cartoon ever to mix the trope of character cannibalism and the inclusion of a real cannibal into the primary plot of the same film. And, it appears to mark the last time a major studio was able to get away with using a cannibal character without the NAACP picketing their product. (Or did they? Anyone know?)
Despite its political incorrectness, and its dark plot content, the film is reasonably funny if viewed in the proper mood and context. Its plot line is really not much darker than live-action comedies to follow, such as Robert Morley’s Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978), an underrated macabre classic. Steel yourself for unprovoked homicide, and venture on.
A loudmouth American tourist (voiced by Jackson Beck) safaris into the jungle. There he meets a pygmy tribe. One little guy poses for a picture, with a smiling protruding lower jaw revealing a grin that is all teeth, extending three times his body width. The tourist comments to his jeep driver how he gets a kick out of these little guys and how you never know what they’re thinking. However, the audience knows by way of Trope #1 – a thought visualization, showing the tourist boiling in a pot. The tourist leaves, with a laughing jibe to the cannibal, “If you ever get to Cincinnati, look me up.”
The scene changes to a slide show of the tourist’s photos in his living room. As he tells his guests about his pygmy encounter, the doorbell rings. In the middle of his story, he opens the door, not even noticing that it’s the pygmy, who walks right in and seats himself in a chair. As the tourist reaches the part in his story about having told the pygmy to look him up, the pygmy laughs. Tourist finally takes notice, wondering aloud, “Hey, how did he get here?” The pygmy, who wears a bone tied in his hair, gives the bone a twirl, and floats across the room like a helicopter. “He flew!” comments the tourist, as we fade out.
The scene changes to later that evening, as the tourist, now in a nightshirt, attempts to settle down to bed, having set a mat and a pillow in the corner to accommodate his house guest, whom he has named “Chew Chew”. As the tourist drifts off to sleep, Chew Chew applies catsup to his arm, and is about to take a bite, when the tourist wakes up, asking him “What’s eating you?” Caught in the act, Chew Chew feigns a toothache, and the tourist promises he’ll bring him to the best dentist in town the next day.
The following morning, Chew Chew meets the dentist. Chew Chew’s popping eyes at seeing him let us know an idea is hatching. As the tourist waits outside, the dentist asks Chew Chew to open his mouth wider…wider…wider. Chew Chew is seen as nearly all jawbone as the dentist looks in. Suddenly, outside, the tourist hears a loud snap roughly akin to a bear trap. Chew Chew emerges from the office, appearing fully cured. As he and the tourist leave, the camera focuses on the office door ajar – inside, no one – just the dentist chair and the drill pendulously swinging back and forth. Murder #1.
Feeling hungry, the tourist takes Chew Chew to an automat (for those who don’t remember these, they were like self-serve cafeterias with lots of coin-operated windows with various foods inside). Chew Chew observes an open window being filled with a pie by a human hand. He gives a smile to the audience as if to say, “You know what I’m going to do.” From a new shot behind the window, we see the attendant’s hand grabbed, as he is pulled bodily through the small window and disappears – followed by the same bear-trap sound effect. Murder #2.
Next, outside on the street, Chew Chew notices a passing motorist giving a hand signal. The hand is grabbed. Driver disappears out window. Snap! Murder #3.
To confirm our suspicions of what’s been happening, the two pass a tailor shop, with a dummy mannequin displaying the latest fashion. Now visible, Chew Chew lags behind, opens his jaws, and snaps up the dummy with one gulp. Then, as his stomach tells him its only a fake, Chew Chew spits out the dummy into a nearby trash can.
A local bus presents our next scene, Inside, it’s standing room only for the tourist and Chew Chew. Spotting a couple sitting in the frontmost seat, Chew Chew, in full visibility to the audience, makes with another snap – and the two are gone. Murders #4 and 5. He then hails the tourist to come over and join him on the seat. The tourist laughs, “First seat I’ve had on this bus in 32 years!”
On the street again, the tourist introduces Chew Chew to Fred, an old school chum on the corner. While we see close up of the tourist in the middle of his introduction, we hear another offscreen snap. Fred is gone. Murder #6. The tourist, realization not yet sinking in, says, “No, no. I said meet him, not eat him.” Dawn finally breaks in his head, and the tourist turns instantly green. Prying Chew Chew’s jaws open, he checks to see if Fred is still there – just missing getting devoured himself by another snap. A wild chase ensues through the tourist’s home, and back out into the street. In a direct lift of a central plot idea from Tex Avery’s Crazy Mixed-Up Pup (1954), the tourist runs across a street and is run down by a passing truck like a flattened pancake. An ambulance immediately arrives on the scene, the medic announcing that this man needs an immediate transfusion. Perhaps the medic needs training on matching bloodtypes, as along comes Chew Chew in pursuit – who is grabbed by the medic as an unwilling blood donor. The transfusion is performed. As Chew Chew rises groggily, we see a definite transformation in the tourist. His lower jaw grows exponentially, achieving dimensions larger than Chew Chew’s. And he develops the same wild-eyed look of savagery as Chew Chew during the pursuit. As the tourist’s eyes fall on Chew Chew, Chew Chew’s oversize jaw drops to the ground in total shock. The tables are turned. Our tourist is now in hot pursuit of Chew Chew. Closer…closer…then suddenly the snap again, as the screen flashes in alternating black and white like a lightning bolt, with the large letters “The End” filling the screen as we fade out.
Definitely a “different” cartoon The only cartoon in which our “good guy” actually got to eat the bad guy. And the highest body count in a Noveltoon or Madcap (7 murders). But don’t feel too bad – Bob Clampett and Tex Avery topped this body count in respective films all in one scene – with umpteen corpses falling out of a closet door in both Clampett’s The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) and Avery’s Who Killed Who? (1943) (“Ah, yes, quite a bunch of us, isn’t it?”). And each of these two films were regularly shown to the kiddies. To quote Heckle and Jeckle, “Don’t worry, chum. This is only a cartoon.”
“Deep Freeze Squeeze” (Universal/Lantz, Chilly Willy, 3/1/64 – Sid Marcus, dir.), marks what appears to be the end of our trail. A bit of a reunion here, as Marcus is aided and abetted on animation by his old stablemate from Columbia/Screen Gems, Art Davis. Marcus seemed to have a knack in his short tenure at Lantz of mining old “gold” from the past for new revivals – sometimes from films in which he had possibly had a past personal involvement (such as the lift from Screen Gems’ Topsy Turkey of a gag for Woody Woodpecker in Birds Of a Feather (1965), where Woody opens a panel in a tree trunk and produces a sink, to announce, “I wash my hands of the whole thing”), but usually from other directors and studios. This time, however, he simply digs back into the Lantz vaults. With three cannibalism cartoons already on their roster, Marcus makes it a fourth, only this time not with Woody. Chilly and Smedley are elected as the unwilling victims of forced famine.
In a remote polar outpost, they wait at a cobweb-covered dinner table, as Daws Butler (serving as narrator as well as character voice of Smedley) announces that “The supply is only two days late. But up here, a day is six months long.” The plane finally arrives, but in the flurry of activity between Chilly and Smedley to direct the plane where to drop the supplies, Smedley inadvertently draws an “X” on a spot consisting of thin ice – and the supplies crash into the drink. One can of beans is rescued, and a furious battle ensues as to who will open it. Did I say can of beans? The contents turn out to be one bean, which is summarily stolen and eaten by a cameo mouse (Marcus seems to have remembered the pea from Along Came Daffy). Now come the tropes. Chilly loses it entirely, transforming into some of the wildest, most pathetic facial takes the studio would ever turn out. Trope #1 takes over, as the empty dinner plate transforms in Chilly’s eyes into a pie. Chilly devours the plate, crunching it noisily, then eyes Smedley. Smedley is seen transformed into a walking hot dog. As Smedley tries to figure out what Chilly is looking at, Chilly liberally applies mustard to his backside and takes a bite. Trope #2 as Smedley confides to audience, “I got a sneakin’ hunch that little feller thinks I’m food.” Smedley tries to tell Chilly that penguins don’t eat dogs, then in close-up to the audience states “I think I got to him”.
Enter Trope #4, as camera pulls back for surprise reveal of Smedley standing in a frying pan as Chilly holds him over hot coals. Smedley runs for the radio room to send an emergency S.O.S. for more supplies, including “Waffles.” Visible signs of aroma permeate the shot, and we pan behind Smedley for another surprise reveal of Chilly waffle-ironing Smedley’s tail. It smells so good Smedley is convinced it’s real. He radios a “thank you” to the supply house, then takes a bite (echoes of “Buzzard” and “Fair Weather Fiends”). Smedley shoots up from the pain into the far reaches of space, hitting headfirst the underside of a passing Nasa orbiter. He falls back to earth, only to land headfirst in a stewpot much too small for him. Chilly applies several mallet blows to squeeze him into the small pot, and closes the lid as its contents simmer over a barbecue. The scene dissolves to an exterior shot of the returning supply plane. Chilly and Smedley both hear it. Chilly is snapped out of his daze, and Smedley manages to extricate himself from the pot. In a repeat of the earlier supply delivery scene, Smedley again marks out an “X” for the supply drop. This time, however, the ice is broken from underneath by a large whale, who swallows the entire delivery, then submerges.
Now it’s Smedley’s turn to go off the deep end. He too develops the wild and crazed look previously seen on Chilly, as Chilly, realizing now he’s the target, is transformed in a Trope#1 return to a small walking fried chicken. Smedley, wielding a cleaver, beckons him with “Here, chick, chick, chick”, and the two take off in a chase to horizon. Iris out. While several of the ideas in this film are old, tried and true, Marcus’s direction is crisp and lively in timing, and Davis’s or whoever’s animation is superb in expression and eccentricity, making the film one of the high points in post-Alex Lovy Chilly episodes, and a guaranteed laugh-getter.
Honorable mention goes to Figaro and Cleo (Disney, 1943), a follow-up to the characters from “Pinocchio”. While not truly dealing with cannibalism (as the characters are normally predator and prey), the film explores Figaro’s baser instincts to turn on his old friend Cleo the goldfish for sustenance when deprived of his daily ration of milk. Trope #1 is used again, Figaro visualizing himself in a high-chair at a banquet table with Cleo center stage fried on a plate. Figaro even morphs briefly into a miniature tiger to show off his aggressive instincts. But of course, Cleo never develops a mutual appetite for the cat, so it isn’t quite in the category of our other entries above. But an enjoyable (although politically incorrect for the inclusion of a Mammy Two Shoes) cartoon with some originality nonetheless. Two other cartoons, spoofing Robinson Crusoe, borderline on making the title character into a cannibalistic fiend – Fox and Crow’s energetic Ku-Ku Nuts (1945) and Alex Lovy’s Chilly Willy venture, Robinson Gruesome (1958). But in both these films, the appetite is one-way rather than mutual, and the pursuing character feels more like he is chasing his natural prey in a call of nature rather than his own species – so they don’t seem to quite fit this discussion.
So, for those of you who weren’t taking notes, here’s a handy recipe card:
Thus, another trail ends. With all this carnivorous behavior, sounds like a good time to hit the refrigerator for a leftover drumstick or wing. Bone appetit!