Return with us to the afterlife – be it heavenly bliss or devilishly amiss, as we continue in “judgment day” for errant toons who pushed their luck too far.
This week (with apologies), a potpourri of “stuff we missed” due to an inadvertent reversal in order of intended segments of this article last week. Let’s hope in the process that the Saints will praise us, and that we give the Devil his due. A further thank you is noted to all the commenters who joined in last week’s post (and in particular, the extensive list from R.L. Locke, to which the reader is directed for further supplementation), coming up with many titles I’d overlooked or which were at least marginally within the scope of this discussion. I’ll be embellishing below on a few that may have already been brought up in such discussions, but which merit some special highlighting. But wait – – there’s more! Even the commenters missed a few more juicy ones, so read on below for the details. This article may be a bit beyond the scope of any one person’s memory, and is becoming a real collaborative effort.
“Goin’ to Heaven On a Mule” (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 5/19/34 – Isadore (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – The initial question is, why do this cartoon at all? The Al Jolson original from “Wonder Bar” was already a human cartoon – more outlandish than this film could ever get. But Warners obviously wanted to promote the song – so go through the whole thing all over again. A jug of white lightning is the cause of it all. Although I said we wouldn’t be reviewing shoulder angels/devils yet, this film crosses over, as a stereotypical black loafer’s good and bad sides battle it out as to whether he should or shouldn’t drink. Our “hero” just leaves them to their fight, and takes a drink anyway – prompting a spiraling lens distortion of the camera to get us into the dream sequence. The man rides in the manner the song suggests – with another fellow angel attempting to thumb a ride along the way. He arrives at the gates of “Pair-o-Dice”, whose gates are topped with giant versions of such white cubes. (This gag is reused in “Clean Pastures”, discussed below.) Various inhabitants roam the streets of clouds. (More scenes reused in part in “Clean Pastures”).
Our man stops at the Milkyway Club for some entertainment – and an obligatory giant slice of watermelon. Two angels perform a twin piano act – which becomes an eight-hands arrangement when they also play the opposite pianos with their wingtips (a gag reused for a Fats Waller character in “Clean Pastures”). Our man looks out a window – and sees in the back of the club a “Gin Orchard”, with trees bearing “XXX” jugs marked “Forbidden Fruit”. He sneaks outside, turns the warning sign the other way, and downs a jug. St. Peter catches him red (or is it black) handed, and states, “You’ll pay for this!” Two burly angels grab hold of the intoxicated clodhopper and place him in a steel box with door marked, “Chute to Hades”. They close the door, pull a rope, and we hear sound of a toilet flushing. Our hero plummets down an endless tunnel – but the scene dissolves back to him and his jug where it all started. Disgusted with himself, he throws the jug over his head, and clear over the barn. Having second thoughts from almost the instant of the throw, he darts up and races around the other side of the barn, catching the jug before it breaks, and mops his brow in a sigh of relief for the iris out.
“The Goddess Of Spring” (Disney/United Artists, Silly Symphony, 11/3/34 – Wilfred Jackson, dir.) – This title got a censorship board approval certificate ahead of its credits – but it’s almost odd that it did, as its themes are pretty adult fare. A female abduction? Our heroine kidnapped by Satan himself to be Queen of Hades, with the ceremony self-performed by Satan without the benefit of clergy? It’s a little unsettling even to modern eyes. But Disney figured he had to stick to mythology and the story of Persephone – and somehow got away with it. The whole thing’s a singing operetta, not quite Nelson Eddy but borderlining on Jeanette Macdonald. While the Goddess is pretty flat in character, Satan and his mischievous imps save the performance with full Technicolor gusto. After erupting in fiery reds-against-blacks from the Earth, Satan descends with his bride into a multi-hued and densely populated cavernous world, where he and his imps sing the praises of “Mighty Hades” in a lavish production number using a mammoth pipe organ, color changing flame pits, and towering shadows over the stalactites magnifying the imps’ every leap and prance. If anything will stick in the head about this cartoon, it’s this number. (The color-change flame was borrowed with lesser effect in “Sunday Go To Meetin’ Time”, discussed below, and also ripped off by Columbia for a dance number in a non-afterlife cartoon, “Swing, Monkey, Swing” (1937).)
Oddly, despite RCA Photophone soundtrack, the choral work on the song is very indistinct – such that even the close-captioners have never been able to accurately transcribe the entire lyric of the tune. If anyone knows of any published lyrics for this piece, it’d be nice to know. Anyway, the Goddess ultimately talks Satan into a deal to keep the planet from dying – spend half the year on the surface, half the year below. She returns above (in a scene that honestly lacks the usual Disney euphoria, the Goddess looking for all the world like the “sadder but wiser” woman of experience), and sets the seasons right.
“Good Little Monkeys” (MGM/Hugh Harman/Rudolf Ising, Happy Harmony (2 strip Technicolor), 4/13/35) – Another of those “bookstore come to life” cartoons that had become something of a Harman/Ising stock in trade (and would still be used as a stock setup by Frank Tashlin in several episodes at their old haunts at Warner’s). Several scenes are modifications of old shots from Warner’s “I Like Mountain Music” (1933), and others would be later reworked from this film into 3-sttrip color for H-I produced, Friz Freleng directed “The Bookworm” in 1939. Most retreaded of all were the title characters, the “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” monkeys, whose repetitious song not only is heard four times in this cartoon, but carried over for repeating to several sequels, including “Pipe Dreams” (1938) and “Art Gallery” (1939). The whole theme of this H-I miniseries seems to be to destroy the reputation of these monkeys by leading them into trouble.
In subsequent episodes, they would be induced to smoke, and to commit arson (was this supposed to be fun?). In this one, their tempter is the devil himself, fresh from the book, “Dante’s Inferno”. At least the devil seems a milder seducer than others, not causing the monkeys themselves to commit vile acts. Instead, he lures them with food (set to a prolonged musical rendition of “The Peanut Vendor”), then, for purely gratuitous reasons, shows them the lure of a Salome-style Arabian Nights dancer. (Though this was late in the game, I wonder if this film was produced just before strict enforcement of the Production Code, as the Salome dancer is realistic enough you’d have thought she couldn’t get past the censors.) The monkeys get an eyeful, but blush and run away – straight toward the “Inferno” book. The devil takes hold of them and attempts against their struggles to drop them into the abyss. The usual array of boy scouts, Police Gazette cops, musketeers, Napoleon’s army, etc. come charging to the rescue. Surrounded, the devil lets the monkeys go, and jumps back into the inferno, as Tarzan and his elephant enter, close the book, and the elephant sits on it. Fairly lame stuff, even by 1935 standards. But, being in color, MGM and H-I must have believed it to be a hit, and the needless sequels thus ensued.
“Pluto’s Judgment Day” (Disney/United Artists, Mickey Mouse, 8/31/35 – David Hand, dir.) – This cartoon plays fair with us – as we see right away from the start of the fantasy angle that Pluto is dreaming. Having been chastised by Mickey for always chasing cats, including a little kitten that Mickey’s now befriended, Pluto sulks before the fireplace, and falls asleep. A transparent talking cat opens the front door, and challenges him: “Hey, you big bully! C’mon outside and I’ll knock your block off!” A transparent Pluto rises from his sleeping form, takes the bait, and chases the cat into the woods. A mystery cave shaped like a giant cat head (looking for all purposes like the early inspiration for Aladdin’s “Cave of Wonders”) turns beams of light on Pluto from its eyes, and rolls up the road as if its tongue to slurp Pluto inside. Pluto slides into the bowels of the Earth, and a spotlight suddenly illuminates him on a podium marked “Public Enemy No. 1″. Self-propelled manacles and chains grab hold of each of Pluto’s feet, his neck, and his tail. More spotlights illuminate the darkness, revealing a cat judge’s bench, an all cat jury box, and a prosecuting cat attorney. Pluto undergoes a grueling trial by a “kangaroo court” – no, actually, they’re all cats.
The jury deliberation takes only as long as it takes the cats to walk in one end of a revolving door and back out the other side. A unanimous “Guilty” verdict is spelled out on football cheerleading cards. The sentence: “Put him in the hot seat!” Above a hellish bonfire, Pluto is suspended in a chair with a hole in the seat so that flames can play on his rear end, while other sparks tear at the rope holding the chair up. As the rope is about to snap, we dissolve back to the living room fireplace, where an ember lands on Pluto’s rear and wakes him. Pluto is now overjoyed to lay slurping kisses on the kitten, for an iris out. (A final note on this film – the soundtrack over the current reissue titles is odd, in that the sounds of Pluto and the cat are first heard over the static title card showing the name of the picture, well ahead of the animated sequences. Was the original an animated title, showing Pluto and the cat chasing back and forth amidst the titling letters?) As mentioned in last week’s post, this film provided direct inspiration for material and endings for both Paramount’s “A Mutt in a Rut”, and Tom & Jerry’s “Heavenly Puss”.
“Sunday Go To Meetin’ Time” (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 8/8/36), and “Clean Pastures” (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 5/22/37), both directed by Friz Freleng, are both extensively reviewed in Christopher Lehman’s respective articles on “The Censored 11″ from Warner Brothers, this website, to which you are referred. They offer in Technicolor, respectively, views of Hades and again of “Pair-o-Dice”. An interesting torture in the former title is the placing of our victim upon a gigantic pinball machine, with the victim as the ball (a gag lifted nearly intact by Columbia for a later Krazy Kat episode, “Krazy Magic” (1938)). “Clean Pastures” gives us great music and great black celebrity caricatures, as the jazz contingent of the angels band together for a recruit drive to boost the stock and soul count of “Pair-o-Dice Preferred” past “Hades, Inc.” “Meeting Time” takes an acquired taste – “Clean Pastures” appeals to almost everybody.
“Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur” (Warner, Merrie Melodies, Daffy Duck, 4/22/39 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – An early slow-paced Jones effort, which an intertitle announces is set “for no particular reason” in the stone age – “probably before any of you people were even born.” A caveman (resembling Jack Benny) and his pet brontosaurus hunt a duck breakfast. After several evasions by Daffy of the intended breakfast skillet, Daffy lures the caveman with an endless string of “Burma-Shave” style advertising signs to the duck of a lifetime – towering ten times the size of the caveman and his dino. It’s actually a giant balloon Daffy has pumped up. He hands the caveman a knife, and the caveman cautiously stalks upon the duck and plunges for the heart. Tremendous explosion! All that seems to remain is a few tattered strips of fabric drifting down from the balloon. But we hear a harp playing, and pan upwards. The dinosaur, wearing an angel halo, reclines on a cloud, playing a lyre. Above him, the caveman on another cloud, in angel robe and halo, glowering at something above him. On the highest cloud, Daffy, also an angel, who tells the audience, “Maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea after all.” The caveman gives Jack Benny’s traditional, “Goodnight, folks”, and we iris out.
“Wotta Nitemare” (Fleischer/Paramount, Popeye, 5/9/39 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Willard Bowsky/George Germanetti, dir.) – In one of the most visually creative entries in the series from the Florida studios period, Popeye has a restless night, as his dreams are invaded by images of yet another confrontation with Bluto. But the setting is strange – amidst heavenly clouds, Popeye attempts to woo Olive, portrayed as an angel at the pearly gates. But just as Popeye is getting romantic, Bluto materializes right in his lap, dressed in a sort of hair suit making him resemble a beast. Bluto takes off with Olive himself while heaven’s gates close in Popeye’s face, trapping him temporarily. (The camera dissolves back to Popeye’s bedroom, where Popeye actually has his head stuck between the bars of the footboard of his steel bed.) Back in heaven, Popeye pursues the duo on their outing, following on a bicycle. But the bike’s front and rear wheels grow and shrink at random. Bluto, riding a tandem bike with Olive (although Olive is doing all the pedaling), reaches back and yanks Popeye’s front wheel off – converting Popeye’s bike to a unicycle. Suddenly, a steamroller appears from nowhere, headed right at Popeye. Popeye turns the unicycle around and pedals his best – but the wheel morphs into a large shell, and Popeye finds himself riding atop a large snail!
Knowing he can at least run faster than that, he abandons his transportation and hotfoots it. But the road develops the texture of putty, and hold his feet in place like glue. The steamroller hits – but disintegrates into floating fragments, as the camera dissolves back to the bedroom, revealing that Popeye has ripped his pillowcase open, sending feathers flying everywhere. Back in heaven, the trio reach a picnic grounds. Olive declares that if Popeye wants anything to eat, he’ll have to gather some firewood. Popeye at first sees none – until a split log magically appears on the ground. He reaches for it – and it disappears on touch. The process is repeated again and again, Popeye muttering that it must be dead wood. He finally kicks one log, and it doesn’t disappear – but it’s outrageously heavy beyond its size, and Popeye can’t lift it. Bluto pushes Popeye out of the way, easily lifts the log – and it multiplies into a half-dozen more. Bluto returns to the campsite, and by merely dropping the logs, they convert into an open fire. A discouraged Popeye sheepishly returns, and tries to reach for something to eat from the picnic food. But each time he reaches, one of his friends appears from nowhere – Eugene the Jeep, Swee’pea, and Winpy – and beats him to the food! Bluto finally gives Popeye an arbitrary sock and tells him to get out – sending Popeye over the edge of a cloudbank, where he struggles to cling to the cloud’s edge (in the real world, he’s clinging to his bedsheet).
Olive protests, and gets pushed into a tree by Bluto, where her head gets stuck in a knothole. Popeye tries to fight Bluto, but every time he lands a blow, his fist slows to near motionless, and a pillow develops on the end of his hand so that Bluto receives nothing but a pat. Bluto, on the other hand, gets Popeye in a stranglehold (in the real world again, Popeye merely has his bedsheets knotted around his own neck). The fight continues, all in Bluto’s favor, with Popeye starting to see stars – which morph into a sky full of multiple jeering heads of Bluto, then Olive, and converge into single giant heads of Bluto and Olive giving Popeye the horselaugh. Bluto finally socks Popeye over the edge of a cliff. As he falls, Popeye reaches for his secret weapon – only to find inside his shirt, to his panicked dismay, cans of carrots, beets, corn, and beans! The last can is finally his good old spinach, which he downs in large mouthfuls – only to dissolve back to real world and find he is eating the stuffing out of his mattress. “He can’t get away with it!”, declares Popeye. Without even changing out of his flannel underwear, Popeye races outside and down the block. There he finds the real Bluto, doing nothing but leaning against a lamppost. Without provocation, Popeye launches into a whirlwind of punches, knocking Bluto to the ground and blackening his eye. “That’ll hold you for a while”, mutters Popeye, and heads back home, Bluto shrugging to the audience as if to say, “What’d I do?” Popeye leaps back into bed, and resumes his dream, now sleeping peacefully, as Olive plants kisses on him back in heaven.
“Eliza On the Ice” (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 6/16/44, Connie Rasinski, dir.) finds Mighty assisting in the famous escape of Eliza from wicked Simon Legree from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Most of the animation in this film looks to be from an earlier period – and is probably redrawn in Technicolor from the last Terrytoon released through Educational, “Eliza Runs Again” (7/29/38, also directed by Rasinski), withheld from television distribution by CBS and currently unavailable. There are quite a few lifts of gags from Tex Avery’s similar 30’s spoof fot Warner Brothers, “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow” (1937), again reflecting the probable origins of Terry’s animation in the 1930’s. But some new footage is added to bring Mighty Mouse into the picture. Watching the frenetic chase through a telescope from a cloud high above is the shapely but deceased angel of Little Eva. She flies over to another cloud, on which there is a pay phone, and asks an operator to place a call to Mighty Mouse. In a cutaway view inside a star, Mighty is seen in silhouette awakening in a bed on the “ground floor”, climbing a stair through a second story, and up to his own phone on a third story in the top point of the star. Eva gives him the word that Simon is up to his old tricks again, and Mighty speeds to battle, making short work of Simon on a runaway riverboat. Eliza is rescued atop an ice floe just short of plummeting down a waterfall. The plantation cheers, as Little Eva blows kisses from her cloud, and Mighty stands triumphantly beside her.
“Hot Spot” (Warner, Private Snafu, July, 1945 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir,), presents the Devil, both in his native terrain, and topside when he receives a phone call indicating that he has competition in the form of a place called Iran, rumored to reach 180 degrees. Grabbing his maps and a guide book, Satan (voiced by radio veteran Harold Peary of “The Great Gildersleeve” and “Fibber McGee and Molly”) narrates a scenic jaunt to this garden spot – rock garden, that is. At first, the only one around who appears comfortable is a camel – but even he comments, “I don’t care what you say, I’m hot!” But while Satan’s guidebook recites the heat statistics (which he dismisses as “Chamber of Commerce stuff”) and states that human activity is reduced to a virtual standstill, along come the U.S. Troops with supplies bound for Russia – who seem unstoppable in their activities. Satan comments, “Why, they work like the very……Me!” As the film progresses, Satan perspires profusely, takes salt tablets (topped with more salt from a shaker), strips to his boxer shorts, and whips up a shade umbrella and bathtub – while the troops and Snafu keep marching on. At the film’s end, Satan returns to his domain exhausted – but is met with a surprise. “Hey, what the hell are……”, he remarks, as the camera pans to reveal the camel, who has taken up new abode in the underworld, and states, “I don’t care what you say…I’m cool!”
“The Intruders” (Terrytoons/Fox, Heckle and Jeckle, 5/9/47, Eddie Donnelly, dir.), though briefly brought up in the reader comments last week, deserves some special treatment. An early installment in the series, this episode, one of my personal favorites, takes great strides in cementing and embellishing the respective personalities of the two magpies, and in setting up their favorite formula of providing mayhem throughout the subsequent years – an irreverent brush with imposing authority. This appears to mark their first meeting with the classic “tough” white bulldog, who is guard dog for a palatial estate. While the dog terrorizes other neighborhood wildlife, H&J treat him in their usual flippant manner as if no obstacle at all to their securing a plush new home. The dog is run ragged as the magpies cavort in a bird bath, croquet court, and swimming pool with diving board. Every time the dog thinks he has the upper hand, and lets out with his favorite saying, “Now let that be a lesson to ya”, the audience already knows the magpies have him set up for another fall – telegraphing us in advance to laugh and making the gags register the funnier.
Finally, the birds dip into a year-old gag lifted from the previous season’s Gandy Goose “Peace Time Football” (and to be used again a year later by the birds in “Gooney Golfers” – a booby-trap constructed in nested layers: the outer layer a traditional cartoon black bomb with lighted fuse – which pops in half to reveal a golden gift box – which in turn pops open to reveal a doggie bone. The initially frightened bulldog regains his confidence, saunters over and accepts the gift bone – except the bone also has a lit fuse in it, and explodes with the force of an atomic bomb. The scene dissolves to heaven’s entrance in the clouds. The dog, now with a pair of angel wings, stands proudly before the entrance, stating, “Well anyway, they’ll never get past these gates.” From behind him, a giant mallet, nearly filling the screen, crashes down on his head. Holding its handle, Heckle and Jeckle, also with angel wings, and already inside the boundary line. “Oh, no?” they chime in a unison taunt to the dog, and race off happily among the clouds, with the dog in another hopeless pursuit. Animation is exceptionally good and on-model throughout this cartoon, and all gags score, marking one of the neatest and most satisfying landmarks in the birds’ career.
“The Circus Comes To Clown” (Paramount/Famous, 12/26/47, I. Sparber, dir.), the first official revival of the :Screen Song” series originated by Max Fleischer, finds Blackie the Black Sheep in his only cameo outside of his own sporadic Noveltoon starring appearances – attending a circus, where the Man on the Flying Trapeze has stolen away the heart of Blackie’s girlfriend. In typically violent Famous Studios’ solution to the problem, Blackie in the final sequence takes aim at the trapeze artist with a shotgun, and blasts while the performer clings to a trapeze by his teeth – leaving after the blast only the artist’s dentures clinging to the trapeze bar. The camera dissolves to the heavens, where the trapeze man, now an angel with a harp, proceeds upwards over the clouds by stepping on multiple trapezes made of cloud puffs, and finally landing at and entering into the pearly gates, which close behind him with the words “The End” printed on the doors.
In the feature department, two comments last week astutely reminded us of my omission of reference to a segment from Disney’s “Make Mine Music” (RKO, 4/20/46 ) – Nelson Eddy’s “The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met”. The heaven ending to this tragic opera is nicely summarized in Andrew Keiswetter’s comment to last week’s post, to which the reader is directed. But his reminder prompted myself, and subsequently R.L. Locke in his comment, to write up the other two Disney “package” feature segments that involved heavenly excursions. “The Martins and the Coys” (also from Make Mine Music, although censored from the video release) features the Kings’ Men (vocal quartet from “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show) performing the musical story of the famous hillbilly feud (set to a tune popularized by Ted Weems and his Orchestra on records), as each hillbilly clan bumps off the other “by the dozens”. All the ghosts rise as angels, and assemble atop two respective clouds on either side of the feud boundary line. They respectively root for the last surviving Martin and the last surviving Coy to settle the score once and for all – but the Martin is a maiden, and the Coy a strapping young man – and as the song goes, love “kicked them in the face”. A wedding ensues, while the angel ghosts cuss themselves silly, prompting thunder and lightning from their respective clouds. We seem to have a happy ending for the couple – until marital reality sets in. They are more adept at the skills of street brawlers than of great lovers, and the battle of the sexes rages. The angel onlookers erupt in respective cheers, and the singers note that they “don’t cuss no more…’Cause since Grace and Henry wedded, they fight worse than all the rest did, and they carry on the feud just like before!”
Also from Disney’s later “package” film, “Melody Time” (RKO, 5/27/48) comes Dennis Day’s (star of The Jack Benny Program) telling of “Johnny Appleseed” – the tale of the young pioneer who spent his life with a cooking pot for a hat, a bible, and a sack of apple seeds, planting apple orchards throughout the new frontier. Prominent in the cast is Johnny’s alter-ego – an old-timer guardian angel (also voiced by Dennis Day), dressed in more traditional pioneer outfit and coonskin cap, who provides the verbal motivational kick-in-the-pants for Johnny to “get a-goin’” into the wilderness. At the end of the film, Johnny himself is an old man, sleeping under one of his trees. The angel returns, and bids Johnny to get up. Johnny does – but in transparent form, leaving, to his surprise, his mortal “husk” behind. Johnny protests that he still has so much to do, but the angel points out that heaven is in need of apple orchards, too – so Johnny’s work is just beginning. In fine Mary Blair background work, puffy clouds aloft are depicted as resembling an “apple orchard” sky, as the final fade out leaves our heroes in the hereafter.
“The Flying Turtle” (Lantz/Universal, Foolish Fables, 6/29/53 – Paul J. Smith, dir.) – In this, one of a short-lived series of ersatz fairy-tale one-shots (probably inspired by a series of nearly concurrent Coca Cola fairytale spoof theatrical commercials Lantz had been producing, and with the same heavy dependence on Laverne Harding animation as exhibited in those commercial shorts), we meet Herman – a turtle who has developed the curious fanaticism of believing he can find a way to fly. Observing his recurrent and futile failures is a local bald eagle, who breaks up with sarcastic laughter as each of the turtle’s schemes crashes in flames. But the turtle, after getting dunked in the ocean from his latest nose-dive, spots a series of fish wearing jewels – and traces them to a sunken treasure chest. Deciding that the main obstacle to his flying career has been inability to start from a high-enough altitude, he bribes the eagle with a fortune in jewelry to take him aloft. The flight continues, with the turtle repeatedly insisting he wants to go “higher”. “My ears are popping”, complains the eagle. They venture beyond the stratosphere, amidst heavenly bodies, and into outer space (the eagle donning NASA style flight gear long before space shots were commonplace).
Finally, the eagle reaches his limit. “The end of the line, Shorty”, he tells his passenger. “Roger! Watch me fly now!”, replies Herman. Herman pulls a fast one, and yanks off two of the eagle’s tail feathers before jumping, and attempts to flap them for propulsion. But the speed of his descent frazzles the two feathers to mere stems, and Herman’s speed keeps increasing – and increasing – as he reenters the stratosphere, sending him into a helpless spiral. He falls so fast he outraces the camera, and descends out of frame – and we hear a tremendous offscreen crash. The camera stops following, and rests in place, as the narrator says “And that is the end of our story – – and the end of Herman. But wait – – What’s that?” Distant harp music is heard, and the camera pans up, finding above the clouds a golden set of gates and sign reading “Turtle Heaven”. We dissolve inside, and Herman, now an angel, sports a pair of real wings: “I can fly. I Can fly. Oh, boy, I can Fly!!” Perhaps Lantz’s most bittersweet ending, obviously inspired by “The Whate Who Wanted to Sing At the Met.”
As notable from the extensive comments last week, it is possible to expand the parameters of this article to several brief “ascensions”, though in fact many of those referenced in the comments do not actually get the subject character to an arrival in either Heaven or Hell, nor feature the appearance of an existing angel or devil other than the principal character himself. (In fact, at least one comment referred to Chuck Jones’ The Hypo-Chondri-Cat – but this cartoon doesn’t really count, as the whole setup is a brain ploy by Hubie and Bertie, and Claude Cat isn’t actually dead, nor does he reach a real heaven. If we include this, we’d also have to include Donald Duck’s Soups On (1948), where Huey, Louie and Dewey play the same kind of games upon a very alive Donald.) As brief scenes of transformation from living to dead are abundantly plentiful, it is notable that the combined efforts of this writer and the readers have still failed to provide a truly exhaustive list of same. While I do not claim that the following fills anything close to all the missing holes, here are a few bonus transformations not previously mentioned:
Although Tex Avery’s Red Hot Rangers was commented on last week for converting an extinguished fire into a mini-angel, no mention was made of the exact same gag originally showing up in Mutt and Jeff’s recently rediscovered, Playing With Fire (1926).
Goofy and Wilbur (Disney/RKO, 3/17/39 – Dick Huemer, dir.). Goofy believes his pet grasshopper Wilbur has been devoured by a frog, who in turn is swallowed by a crane. Goofy imagines Wilbur sitting on a cloud in heaven, wearing angel wings, playing a tiny harp, and with a golden spittoon to spit in.
A Corny Concerto (Warner, Bugs Bunny (and everyone else), Merrie Melodies, 9/18/43 – Robert (Bob) Clampett, dir.) – In this all-star sendup of Fantasia (marking the only early theatrical appearance of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Elmer, and even Beaky Buzzard on the same bill), the second segment, “Blue Danube”, features a youthful Daffy Duckling trying to fit in with the swans, who are ultimately kidnaped by Beaky Buzzard. Daffy takes off into the skies after him with teeth gritted – morphing into a “Flying Tiger” fighter plane. Beaky turns literally yellow, and Daffy gives him a paralyzing sock, places a keg of TNT in his hands, and pulls a cloud out from under him. Beaky falls to Earth as the explosive blasts – and Beaky is instantly transformed into an angel’s robes (with wings held on by a waist belt), a “14K” halo, a giant harp with a figurehead shaped like a little duplicate of Beaky, and a large red balloon tied to his rear end to hold him up, as he floats away into a rainbow.
Hide and Peak (Paramount/Famous, Herman and Katnip, 12/7/56 – Dave Tendlar, dir.), finds Herman and a trio of his mice friends on a rare leisure excursion, mountain climbing on a snowy peak. Katnip (climbing with the suction of two plungers tied to his feet), spots the climbing party and decides to join them – for lunch. Ultimately, Katnip rolls down the hill as a giant snowball, plunges over a cliff, and slams into a rock ledge below, where the snow reshapes atop him to form a grave and headstone. Out of it float nine cat angels, singing a yodeling song, working with transparent climbing pick-axes to scale thin air to the new heights of the heavens above.
A further famous ascension (or should it be a descension, despite the fact that one ghost floats up?) occurs twice under the direction of Friz Freleng – once with Daffy Duck in Show Biz Bugs (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 11/2/57 ), noted by a commenter last week, but even earlier appearing in the overlooked Porky Pig title, Curtain Razor (5/21/49), where the parallel role is played by an anonymous wolf auditioning for talent agent Porky. Both characters announce the special act they’ve been saving – and emerge dressed in a devil suit. The wolf performs without narration, but Daffy verbally embellishes, an act that consists of consuming multiple forms of high explosives (Daffy including an up to date one – Uranium 238), striking an ordinary match (as Daffy cautions the audience, ‘Girls, you’d better hold onto your boyfriends!”), and swallowing the match. It’s a real disappearing act, as all that’s left are charred burn marks on the floor. Both Porky and Bugs are amazed at their respective performers, and applaud for more. But the performers reappear – now as transparent devil ghosts, to reply with the one drawback to the act – “I can only do it once!”
I’m being “hounded” in two weeks’ comments to say something about All Dogs Go To Heaven. Yes, it falls into the category. But frankly, I have little to say. I must confess I’m not a big fan of Don Bluth animation. A good animator, yes (although with a repeated tendency to animate characters whose mouths open too wide, as if their jaws were dislocated). But not generally a good director. Too many of his films seem to “give up too easily”, setting a premise in adequate fashion, but copping out with a too quick, too simple, or too improbable sudden finish that leaves the audience dissatisfied. His best films were probably The Secret of N.I.M.H., The Pebble and the Penguin, and Anastasia. But little else really makes the grade. I sat through “All Dogs” in the theater, but was generally unimpressed. Not his worst picture, but definitely not his best. I don’t even remember a hell sequence (seems contrary to the title!). I do remember feeling dissatisfied that Ernest Borgnine’s character made it to heaven, too (though he obviously didn’t want to stay there).
I also remember feeling that some of the animation looked “shaky” on the big screen, as if ink and paint had done a poor tracing job or the camera registration pins were wobbling – suggesting that Bluth was “cutting corners” from the meticulous neatness otherwise exhibited in Anastasia. Don’t get me started on the direct-to-video sequel – I’ve never seen a frame. Nor on the TV series – I sat through two episodes, then gave up. I don’t own a print of this film, nor is one readily available for free review on the internet. So that’s about all I have to offer on the subject. In response to another comment inquiry, these articles tend to focus on the genre of short subjects, as there are generally so many in a trail that coverage of features has to take a back seat for spatial logistical reasons. Summarizing 80 to 120 minutes simply takes too much space. If a feature is truly notable for some aspect that can be shortly summarized, or if an article happens to simply run short, feature animation will from time to time get more coverage. But if your favorite happens to not get mentioned, it’s just a matter of priorities. Feel free to drop in your own additions in the comments section to these posts.
Comments last week further brought up a few select ventures into the realm of television animation (often another luxury that space does not always permit full coverage of). To these, I add a few more (Note that I began my write-up of the first of these below the night before a late post to last week’s article briefly mentioned the same episode – so we both independently reached the same conclusion that it was memorable!)
It is curious that in all the years of theatrical animated films, no major studio appears to have dealt with what is now a common trope for stories involving the devil – selling one’s soul. Television finally made up for this oversight. Hot Spells (10/31/92) an episode of the Darkwing Duck TV series from Disney, was reportedly only aired once, on the ABC network Saturday morning edition, and has never been released on video. Standards and Practices censors seem to have had their scissors out against this episode – and ultimately banned it from further rerun. Why is unclear, as its material was actually far from outrageous, and no worse than those of other series discussed below.
Morgana Macabre (Darkwing’s “Addams Family” style would-be girlfriend) is scheduled to give an academic presentation before her old university – a school for witches and warlocks (long before Hogwarts). Darkwing’s adopted daughter Gosalyn is shocked to hear Morgana tell of how much studying, science and mathematics go into casting a simple spell – and disappointed that she can’t just learn some magic herself by a quick wave of a wand. The three pass a mysterious doorway, which Morgana says encloses the Library of Forbidden Spells (which self-accompanies itself with a mysterious music sting every time the library’s name is stated). Morgana’s father states that the spells within extract too great a price to be used. Darkwing replies, “What! Waiting for the softcover edition?”, but it is explained that the spells may require the loss of the soul. Watching these activities on a TV screen is he devil in the underworld, who sees opportunity to get do-gooder Darkwing on his resume. Posing as a janitor, he lures Gosalyn into the library, claiming he moved all the forbidden books to the basement. He provides her with a book to cut out all the unnecessary mathematical corners – “Magic Made Easy”. By merely wiggling her fingers, Gosalyn produces a live monster familiar. She takes the book, and tries out more powers, producing a large monster with the disposition of a man-hungry kissing female, who immediately falls in love with and chases after Darkwing, then after Morgana’s father. Morgana suspects use of a forbidden spell, but the dean thinks Gosalyn is a child prodigy, and books her for a presentation in place of Morgana. Gosalyn returns to the “janitor” for ideas for a presentation. (In a clever cameo, the devil is seen with two of the magic water-carrying broomsticks from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, asking them “What do you mean, you don’t do windows?”). The devil pens in an added finger wiggle diagram into her book, and tells Gosalyn to “knock ‘em dead”, then asides to the audience, “You know I will!” Morgana spies Gosalyn rehearsing outside the lecture hall, and realizes she is using a forbidden book – but the claws of the devil clamp over her mouth before she can warn Gosalyn, and Morgana is abducted.
At the presentation, Gosalyn tries her new spell – which raises from the floorboards of the stage and opens the gates of Hades. The faculty try to amass their spells, but are beaten back with one blast from the devil. “Well, that was easy”, he quips. Darkwing makes his appearance, but the devil has his ace in the hole – Morgana, inside the gates, tied to a stake. He offers a trade – Darkwing’s soul for Morgana – and Darkwing consents. Their places are swapped, and the devil starts to close the gates. Gosalyn launches her familiar at the devil, but with a wave of his hand, the devil disintegrates it, telling Gosalyn, “Hey, who do you think your powers came from?” The gates close and descend into the ground – and Darkwing is gone. Discovering from Gosayln that the devil defrauded her about the book, the faculty concludes Darkwing’s contract isn’t binding, and combine their mathematical powers to make a rescue. After massive calculations and potion mixing, they manage to duplicate a spell to raise Hell’s gate again and hold it open for a little while. Morgana and Gosalyn, in cartoony reporter disguises, manage an interview with the devil as a ruse to free Darkwing. But the devil is about to give chase. Here is where things get a little weird, as there seems to be an abruptly sudden ending with an inexplicable plot hole – it appears something was spliced out of the broadcast version, either for content or because the script was running overtime. In the broadcast print, the man-hungry kissing monster reappears, and the devil merely goes racing off as it chases him. But this would make no sense, as we already had the plot point driven home that the powers that created it were the devil’s own. My guess as to the missing material would be the following. Upon seeing the monster, the devil would state to Morgana and Gosylyn, “Ain’t you forgetting something? What I make, I can take away!” He would then wave his hands for another disintegrating zap – but the monster would still be standing there. “Hey, what gives?” Gosalyn would reply, “That’s not your monster.” And Morgana would add, “We just whipped this one up ourselves!” Then, the devil’s panic, and the chase into Hades we saw on the screen. In the final scene, Gosalyn apologizes to Morgana and Darkwing, and Darkwing prescribes a punishment of taking her comic books away. Gosalyn protests at “Cruel and unusual punishment”, and pleads, “C’mon, Dad. It’s not like I played hookey or something! It was just your soul!”
“Tiny Toons Night Ghoulery” (5/28/95), a prime time special from Steven Spielberg, presents a short specialty, “The Devil and Daniel Webfoot”. Babs Bunny, introducing each segment in mock Rod Serling fashion, presents a tale in which attorney Pluck Duck (as Webfoot) attempts to provide legal defense to Montana Max, who has sold his soul to the devil for a cool $10 million. (As Monty puts it, “a man’s gotta eat!”) When Plucky hears the price paid, he tries to get in on the action himself, telling Satan he knows of a “slightly tarnished” soul that’s “a steal at $20 mil.” The devil responds, “I wouldn’t give you forty cents in recyclable cans.” The irate Plucky thus replies. “See you in court”, but the devil insists “I choose the jury.” He assembles a juty of ghosts of “the most vile scum to ever walk the colonies”, including pirates, thieves, traitors, and network executives. Plucky inspires confidence in his client, by asking Max, “Can I get paid in advance?” Greeting his audience as “gentlefiends of the jury”, Plucky demands that the devil demonstrate the basis for his claim. The devil obliges – an unscrolling contract signed in blood. Plucky quickly asks Max, “How are you fixed for sunblock?” A chasm opens in the floor below Max, and he falls into the abyss, vowing revenge on his “cheap shyster”. “Cheap?”, replies Plucky. “Just wait’ll you get my bill.” Max’s hand reaches out of the pit, and he pulls in Plucky too. They both land in hell’s fiery realm. Plucks reacts, “This looks like……..” The devil appears, and with a gracious bow, welcomes him. “That’s right, Mr. Webfoot. Sonner or later most attorneys end up here!” He jabs a pitchfork at Max and Plucky, who run screaming into the caverns. The devil pulls a zipper on his skin, and a costume opens, revealing Babs Bunny inside, who, in classic Bugs Bunny fashion, asides to the audience, “Ain’t I a devil?”
“A Pinky and the Brain Halloween” (10/19/97), a primetime episode of the WB series, has Brain’s latest world-domination scheme (a network of hypnotic Jack-o-lanterns) disintegrated by Pinky getting a peanut butter cup stuck to the remote control. Brain chastises Pinky, then complains that he’s done everything short of sell his soul to take over the world, and shown nothing for it. A voice comments at his plans for tomorrow night – “The same thing you did last night – and the night before that – and the night before that – – and you’ll FAIL!” Above them in the branches of a tree appears the devil, in humanized guise as “Mister Itch – Proprietor of Wayward Souls” (voiced by Garry Marshall). He offers Brain the easy road to his goal – a contract, for Brain’s soul. He even provides a free no obligation demonstration of his powers, which Pinky leaps at the chance to try with a wish typical of his usual non-sequiturs – asking for a “radish rose whatchamawhoozits” kitchen appliance. The devil provides him with a tool – built out of the Brain himself in metallic form (though Pinky complains that the object is really a “melon ball whirlybob”). The devil transforms Brain back to normal, and Brain is almost impressed by the demonstration to sign on the dotted line – but he is jerked back to reality by the irritation of anyone having called him a failure. He resolves that he’ll still take over the world on his own, without supernatural help. But as Brain stalks off, the devil confronts Pinky, saying “Perhaps there is another way…”
That evening, back at Acme Labs, Brain scoffs at how impossible the devil’s boasts were to offer him the world with a snap of his fingers. He analogizes to Pinky by picking up a pencil stub – “And I can take this magic wand, wave it, and Alakazam – the world is mine!” Suddenly outside the lab window, he hears a chant rising from a swarm of people outside. Looking out, he discovers the courtyard filled to capacity with throngs shouting “Hail Brain!” The devil appears in the laboratory, congratulating Brain on being ruler of the world. “But I didn’t sign your contract”, protests Brain. No, but Pinky did! Pinky justifies his actions, reminding Brain that he so often called Pinky worthless, that selling his soul “seemed like a bargain.” The devil disappears with Pinky, but leaves Brain with a crown, a throne chair, and a conversion of Acme Labs into “Acme Castle”. Brain soliloquizes, “Am I terribly wrong here?” But looking out the window at the adoring crowd (who even erect a statue in his honor), he answers himself – “Naaah!”
Days pass, and Brain realizes life at the top is lonely without his companion. Employing his old rival Snowball the hamster (voiced by Roddy McDowell) as a court jester doesn’t help at all. Snowball (mostly to get Brain to leave so he can take the throne for himself) plants the idea in Brain’s head to try to get Pinky back – and even provides him with directions for the entrance to Hades (a hatch beneath the building of the local DMV). After miles and miles of DMV style lines, Brain fakes his way past the admission clerk at the Hades main entrance, by giving another name he’s known by – Rush Limbaugh. The clerk can’t find the name on his directory, but comfortably concludes, “Must be an oversight – Welcome to Hades!” Pinky meanwhile is enduring a series of tortures – and discouraging the devil completely, in that he seems to enjoy everything being done to him, whether it be stretching on a rack or charring on a barbecue spit. Brain finally makes his way into the torture chamber, feigning that he needs Pinky back because Pinky’s the only one who knows where the food pellets are back at the lab. “Nice try”, says the devil, but insists that the only way Brain can get Pinky back is to defeat the devil at some contest.
Brain challenges him to compete in “rhythmic gymnastics”. The devil laughs – “Who do you think invented that infernal sport?” An arena event ensues, officiated over by the devil’s imps. Brain performs a ribbon dance in tights. Yawning, the devil gives Brain’s act a big finish, by dropping a stalactite from the ceiling on him, reaping Brain a perfect “10.00″ from the judges. Brain, crushed but spirit unbroken, defies the devil to beat that. The devil stands practically still, lets his ribbon fall to the floor and burn up from hell’s heat, then merely walks off. The judges score him an “11.00″. The devil notes that he just said “a contest” – not a “fair” contest. Pinky appears doomed for eternity, but consoles himself and Brain with the thought that at least he’ll have a “radish rose whatchamawhoozits”. “What…” inquires the devil, and Pinky reminds him that as an added term of his contract to sell his soul, Pinky had had the devil write in a promise to provide him with the kitchen appliance. The devil tries to oblige – but every gadget he materializes is for another use entirely, and Pinky and Brain realize he doesn’t even know what the “whatchamawhoozits” is – so the contract isn’t binding. While the devil haggles with his attorneys who side with Brain that the contract has been breached, Pinky and Brain make a run for it. Despite converting into his traditional red fiery self and shooting fire and brimstone at them, Pinky and Brain make an escape – but not without the price of Brain losing the world again (much to Snowball’s additional dismay). As Brain plans for tomorrow night’s new scheme of world domination, Pinky asks his usual question, but with a modification: “What are we going to do tomorrow night? Get a radish rose whatchamawhoozits?” Brain, in an unusually receptive mood at having his friend back, concedes, “Well, perhaps.”
I’ve had a pitchfork in my back long enough. Next week a new topic. As for this article, let’s just send it to press and say to H – L-L with it.