Love Business As Usual, Or Blinded By The Pixel Light

4 Feb

Ex-Disney artist Louis Schmitt's cute crooner skunk causes a rabbit audience to experience some very un-Disneylike feelings in L'IL TINKER (1948)

by Kevin Wollenweber

I hate this time of year!

I disregard it the way some folks have been known to disregard Christmas or the onset of summer and its weekly fun beach parties.  I smile when I hear Dishonest John sneer “I hate love!”  No, I wouldn’t quite put it like that; I don’t “hate love”, I just hate not being in it!

However, animation over the years has glorified love, predominately from the male point of view, so that is what I pick up on when I watch the classic impressions.  There are the love triangles so often seen in classic cartoons.  We’ve seen Tom, the cat in the TOM & JERRY cartoons constantly finding himself there, especially in the cinemascope classic, “BLUE CAT BLUES” in which both Tom and Jerry commit suicide over a love so hopelessly lost despite all the material presents they lavish on their intendeds.  There’s the

A depressed Tom sits on the railroad tracks awaiting the train in Blue Cat Blues


love unwanted, as in the POPEYE cartoon in which he’s hounded by extremely handsome women who just won’t take “no” for an answer (one time in a gymnasium and the other, in the Famous Studio days, while vacationing in the mountains), and there are the regrettable marriages so often outlined in Warner Brothers cartoons, from Daffy Duck in “HIS BITTER HALF” to Foghorn Leghorn’s feeling that he’s demeaning himself by sitting on the egg while his own bitter half is out with the hens of the barnyard.  One could almost guess that the animators were venting against their own romantic and marital “bliss” situations, but I won’t over-analyze, here.

Popeye bashfully reacts to the affections of a Mae West-like gym instructor


Then there are situations similar to mine, the ones I identify with like “LI’L TINKER”, the story of a lovelorn little guy who just happened in this case to be  a skunk—not the overly optimistic, lusty type, like Pepe LePew, but just someone who strikes out again and again, even when he dons that crooner look and gives out his rendition of Frank Sinatra’s then popular hit, “All or Nothing at All”, sending a covey of cute little female bunnies into undulating, bumping and grinding hysterics…until they get close enough to sense an alarming defect.  No matter what he does, he can’t get a break.  That cartoon has a rather strange and delightful ending, but *MY* hell continues.

Two Disneyesque bunnies hit each other on head with mallet

The throes of passion, as only Tex Avery could portray them, in L'IL TINKER...

In a way, I also identify with that ol’ wolf in the various “red” cartoons as he sits there in the crowd, tearing at and chewing up the tabletop as the shapely girl sings and teases onstage.  She sees him slobbering at her feet and the chase is on, but, in all fairness, the girl in those cartoons, as revealed especially in “SWINGSHIFT CINDERELLA”, is hounded by many, many desparate and letcherous hungry mouths and bulging eyes.  Needless to say, it ain’t like those air-brushed romances that will no doubt get splashed in our faces on television and movie theaters as if we set our blankets down on an otherwise quiet beach, only to be hit full in the face by that mighty wave that surfers look for and pulled out to suffocate under the tide.  Hmmm, I take that back—I would welcome the mass attack of that much female affection, but I’m tired of it being just on television or in movie theaters.  If I were a Hollywood director, I could make it happen for a grueling day on a hot soundstage, like a live action version of those cartoons or of a Buster Keaton silent film I’d only recently heard about in which he is chased all around his hometown by what seems like thousands of potential brides in fancy dress, just ready for the altar.

Tex Avery's Wolf stands tongue-tied in reaction to Swing Shift Cinderella

Tex Avery's Wolf meets SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA (1945)

Even a rather mediocre movie was made around the hit song, “LOVE POTION #9”, a movie that turned out to be rather boring and stupid and, overall, not as frenetic as I expected that it might be.  I almost expected a remake, in color and with sound, of that Buster Keaton farcical dreamscape, but it was an uninspired vehicle to try and introduce actress Sandra Bullock to the world.  Hey, I’m sure she would like to forget that thing, too, so I won’t dwell on it.  I just would have made the film quite differently, perhaps more resembling the screwball comedies of a bygone era, complete with those old camera tricks and Tashlin/Avery physicalities and cartoonishness, for lack of better phrases.  I’m a guy, and I found so many moments in that film to be highly insulting!  Thank you, Netflix.

I’m not going to talk about those wonderfully cherished romantic movies, comedies or dramas, because those ideals were never mine from the get-go.  Maybe that is why I chose and cherished the more cynical cartoons that sometimes tell it like it really is, even if predominately testosterone-laden.  I apologize, forever, for that, but there it is!

But there are bits of pop culture that I like representing the “season”, as it were, beginning with a few Bosko and Honey cartoons like “BOSKO’S DIZZY DATE” or “BUDDY’S DAY OUT” (“woogie woogie woogie?”) on up through

Buddy swings Cookie back and forth as she plays the ukulele in Buddy's Day Out

Buddy and Cookie making "woogie-woogie" (or is it "woojee-woojee"?) in BUDDY'S DAY OUT (1933)

“DON’T LOOK NOW”, a cartoon that pits li’l Daniel Cupid against a little Hot Stuff-like devil, both voiced rather humorously by former OUR GANG Comedy star Tommy “Butch” Bond.  The nasty trick that the devil pulls on a couple about to be married is to rig up little kids that the soon-to-be husband would obviously not know about.

A little devil in a derby bribes two little bear twins to break up a pending marriage, from Don't Look Now

The little Hot Stuff prototype bribes some kids to bust up an impending marriage in DON'T LOOK NOW (1936)

The little doughboy and the little devil are like those rival OUR GANG kids, vying for the public affection.  There is also “MR. AND MRS. IS THEIR NAME”, a few years before, with its enjoyable title tune with Busby Berkeley type production and evil villain that almost gets the mermaid.  The musical number in the cartoon is not illustrated in Busby Berkeley fashion, but you can imagine that it could be.  There is “HONEYMOON HOTEL” that is closer to the mark, as the lovesick insects enjoy their romance, so hot that it literally starts a fire in the bug hotel in an elaborately frightening climax.

Then, there are the OUR GANG comedies, one of which gives this post part of its title.  My all-time favorite is an early talkie called “THE FIRST SEVEN YEARS” in which all the kids in the neighborhood seem to enjoy playing at being married…all but poor Jackie, who complains to Kennedy the Cop that he wishes he had a wife (“all the kids is got one”).  Kennedy, as usual, doesn’t take Jackie all that seriously and proposes that he be a “cave man” and go up to his love and grab her forcibly to take back to his dwellings.

A little girl beats up on a little boy in an Our Gang short

Jackie's "cave man" approach proves to be a dud in THE FIRST SEVEN YEARS (1930)

Jackie tries this, but his desire, Mary Ann, literally rubs and stomps his face into the dirt, proving who the better half really is.  Jackie returns to Kennedy, disheveled and wanting better advice.  Kennedy suggests, more seriously, that he go home, wash his face and ears and dres up for his love, but a new boy in the neighborhood sneaks onto the scene in the meantime.  Jackie and this new boy are forced to literally fight an elaborately staged duel, dressed as the swashbucklers in Mary Ann’s storybook.  Mary Ann, of course, is dressed as the princess, but as the duel commences, she is pulled into the frey, and the two combatants end up ripping their way through a neighbor’s clothesline, slitting holes with their swords through lawn furniture and eventually bringing out the adults to finish the fight.  Gee, ain’t love grand?

There are other films in which Jackie and Mary Ann show a slight bit of affection and childish teasing at love for each other as only kids can do, but the crowning glory to those lovesick films is the introduction of schoolteacher, Miss June Crabtree.  It became a trilogy in which Jackie gets the chance to express his childlike love for his pretty schoolteacher, Miss Crabtree.  He rides with this pretty woman who gives him a lift to the schoolroom, unaware that she is the new teacher with the otherwise ugly last name.  She’s anything but the ugly hag that Jackie has drawn as insult, and he finds this out the hard way, ending up being sent home and crying under a tree in the sun outside, but the teacher doesn’t forget him, bringing him a dish of ice cream while the other kids eat theirs together inside.  We see her, from the waist down, slowly approaching Jackie as he sobs there, embarrassed by what had gone on and feeling betrayed by his friends, and he looks up at that beautiful figure and one more time professes his love to her as the scene fades to black and the ice cream glob barely makes his lips.

Two kids in makeshift "armor" fight it out in The First 7 Years

Our noble "knights" battle for lady love Mary Ann, from THE FIRST SEVEN YEARS

The final short in this trilogy is the one called “LOVE BUSINESS”, a kind of romantic comedy of errors that would probably have been better suited to kids much older.  Mrs. Cooper (not Jackie’s real Mom, but a mother figure played by actress Mae Wallace) decides to take in a border, but Jackie doesn’t realize that the person answering the ad will be the woman of his dreams, that same beloved schoolteacher.  Jackie wakes up, bleary-eyed, having spent the whole night moaning in his sleep about the woman he loves, calling her all sorts of cute pet names and not realizing that he is instead whispering in his baby brother’s ear and driving him nuts!  Wheezer and Mary Ann taunt him all through breakfast until Jackie wants to wring their necks, and then comes the complication of having to face his fascination as she might be moving in for a while with them!  The kids taunt him further at school, all except Norman “Chubby” Chaney, who is preparing to profess his own love to Miss Crabtree that very evening, dressed up and carrying a box of candy.

Jackie Cooper sitting on the couch with his teacher, Miss Crabtree. From Love Business

Jackie and the object of his affections, Miss Crabree. From LOVE BUSINESS (1931)

As Jackie’s Mom listens to Chubby rhapsodize in his reverie of true love, she recognizes the prose and sees that Chubby is reading from a paper.  She grabs the paper out of his hand and realizes that Jackie’s little brother had set Chubby up by giving him Mom’s old love letters.  The film closes as we see Wheezer in bed, well protected from what we imagine would be Mom’s furious onslaught!  Ah, me, love is indeed beautiful when you’re a kid!  Love and Trix are for kids, and we are silly rabbits, all!

Made slight changes to some of the captions, 2/4/10


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