Happy Henfruit Pt. 7: “Eggs-istentialism”
Origin stories are a dime a dozen for superheroes. Having multiple such tales for a barnyard fowl is a bit rarer. As Rod Serling might say, for your consideration, case in point:
Baby Huey may be one of the only stars in cartoon history born twice. He was initially hatched in his debut performance, Quack-a-Doodle-Doo (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 3/3/50 – I. Sparber, dir.). Mama Duck waits in her cozy little house with an ample supply of diapers, formula bottles, etc. for the arrival of her first egg, but as usual with so many cartoon poultry, is getting nothing to show for it. In fact, the baby supplies have developed cobwebs between them from waiting so long. Mama tries to keep up her strength by taking a dose of her daily vitamins, instructions clearly reading “Take ONE daily”. Today, she decides to throw caution to the wind by swallowing a week’s supply, then sternly settles into her nest as if she means business. With sudden fitful twitches resembling the earlier “Cilly Goose”, and sound effects resembling a car backfiring, a mammoth egg explodes into view below her. She quacks the news to all the girls of the farmyard, as the giant shell hatches – producing a masive yellow pot-bellied duckling, already six feet tall. “Duh, sorry I’m late, ma”, says the obviously dimwitted youth, shortly followed by the question, “When do we eat?” Attempts to weigh him break the baby scale and send the needle bouncing off its spring. For a diaper, he is outfitted in a burlap flour sack (the only film in which this would be a part of his wardrobe). A blue bonnet completes his ensemble, as he continues to claim that he’s starving. The duck community chef sounds a dinner bell at that moment, setting out a full trough of corn. Huey outraces the rest of the population, dragging Mama through the air behind him, and promptly swallows the day’s entire food supply. “He’s a pig, not a duck” mutter the other mothers. Huey next tries to join the local ducklings in a swim in a small pond, until Mama advises him in the middle of a dive that he hasn’t learned to swim. “Duh, now she tells me”, pouts Huey. No matter, as the water proves no hazard – Hury’s impact empties the pond entirely, and adds a crater to its muddy bottom in Huey’s image. Now the other ducks declare Huey a menace to society.
Mama and son are given their walking papers to leave the community. But bigger problems take center stage, as a ravenous fox swoops down on the flock, wielding an iron mallet. Mama tries to push Huey to safety in his carriage – but Huey’s weight soon exhausts her to the point she can no longer run. Huey switches places with her and skips along carelessly with Mama in the basket. The fox strikes a blow straight on Huey’s cranium – but what’s to break when there’s already nothing inside? Huey thinks it’s a game of tag, and grabs the fox back, clutching him so tight around the throat that his face turs deep blue. Fox (voiced for the only time in the series by Jack Mercer) sets the scene for the formula that would become the standard recipe for Huey scripts to come, playing along with Huey’s idea of games, while actually setting various traps for his demise. Engaging Huey in a game of hide and seek, fox lays fake paw prints leading out onto a board extended over a cliff. When Huey reaches end of the board, we see from below that its far end has been sawed through, and is held in place only by a supporting pin of wood which fox pills out with a string. Huey falls into a canyon, where fox waits in chef’s hat and with a stewpot of water boiling on a fire. Huey misses the pot and hits one of the burning logs, which flips the pot into the air and upside down on the fox. When fox pops out, he has ingested all of the steaming water, and has assumed the shape of a boiling teakettle as the steam escapes from him with a whistle. Next, fox posts a sign over a knothole in a tree: “Look in here, stupid!” Huey does, and comes eye-to-metal with the business end of a double-barreled shotgun. But he grabs hold of the barrel and lifts fox out of the tree just as fox pulls the trigger. Huey’s grip is so powerful, the bullets can’t exit, and the gun blows up in fox’s face. An anvil dropped on Huey’s head from the barn merely cracks in two. As the fox attacks with a carving knife, Huey establishes another part of the standard plot formula, as he finally realizes, “I think you’re trying to kill me.” The two disappear in a fight cloud as the knife fight ensues – but out of it pops fox, skinned and reduced to a pair of BVD’s, and races for the hills. Huey is welcomed back to the community as their hero, and Mama shows off her brand new fox fur coat.
A mere three years later, time marches backwards, and Huey is born all over again. In Starting From Hatch (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 3/6/53 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.), a newspaper headline in the “Barnyard Eggstra” edition announces “Duck Lays Huge Egg – Mother Eggcited”. At her nest, Mama tells the audience, “I knew I had it in me.” An alarm clock tells her its time to do her shopping, and she leaves the roost, attending to the egg’s needs by leaving a hot water bottle over it. The fox comes along, this time preferring eggs to poultry, raiding the nests of the neighboring chickens. But passing Mama’s window, the chicken eggs pale in comparison to the barrel-sized orb in the nest. “What an omelette that’ll make”, the fox (now voiced by Jackson Beck) declares. Getting it home, the fox attempts to crack it on the stovetop. But not a dent, no matter how hard he slams it down. At a blacksmith’s shop, the fox’s sledgehammer blow merely cracks the anvil on which the egg is resting in two, but not the shell. Fox is about to employ an axe, when Huey pops out, already pre-dressed in his bonnet and now white diaper, looking for Mama. An axe blow to Huey’s neck from behind rebounds as if Huey were made of rubber, twisting fox into a spiral. Huey repeats his “Sorry I’m late, Maw” line, and mistakes fox for his mother. The stage is set for the usual formula of fox ruses. Fox fixes Huey a bath – in water boiling so hot, it bursts the measuring thermometer. Huey thinks it’s grand (fox commenting, “That duck ain’t human!”), and invites “mother” to “Come on in, Maw. The water’s fine.” Fox shoots upward through the chimney pipe, soaring into the clous like a skyrocket. More typical violent gags, including a cannon camera and a 2000 foot drop, continue to put the fox in mortal peril. For once, fox has had enough, and bursts through the house wall, yelling “No. No. Let me go. You’ll kill me!” Thinking “mommy” has abandoned him, Huey starts crying. Back from shopping comes real Mama, spotting the opened eggshell. She lifts Huey into her arms, and gives him a bottle, saying “Here’s mommy, darling. Don’t cry.” Huey pauses in his drink to take in the countenance of this newcomer, then happily turns to the audience for his curtain line: “Duh, I’m the luckiest duck in the world. I gor two mommies!”
Born To Peck (Lantz/Universal, Woody Woodpecker, 2/25/52 – Walter Lantz, dir.). is
to Woody Woodpeker cartoons what The Old Gray Hare was to Bugs Bunny – a journey through time to see what our hero was like in the distant past, and what he’ll be like in the hopefully distant future. Told entirely in pantomime (excepting Woody’s laugh), we open in the remnants of what once was a forest, with nearly every tree reduced to a splintered stump, and a sign visible with enough holes in it so as to resemble Swiss cheese, reading “Woody Woodpecker was here.” But this is a vision of a sad future, as, standing at the base of the only standing tree is Woody himself – without a trace of the signature red head, his topknot having turned stark white, and with a long white beard to match. He is stoop-shouldered, supported by a cane, and tries desperately to peck at the tree trunk – but without making a dent. His nose, from years of serious workout, has softened to the point that it folds on impact like an accordion. As the decrepit creature tries in vain to straighten out his bent beak, his mind’s eye wanders back to memories of the past. In his thought cloud, we see a gradual turning back of the clock, progressing Woody back to his youth when he could devour a whole tree with one series of pecks upward. To his school days when he could poke enough holes in the schoolhouse to resemble a sieve. To his toddler days when he could escape a playpen by consuming it stick by stick. And finally to the day he was delivered by Old Doc Stork as an egg. Papa Woodpecker brings the new bundle in to Mama. All Mama can see in her mind’s view is endless hours of egg-sitting – an activity she’s obviously had enough of, as she already has a string of seven small daughters in tow.
She leaves Papa to do the dirty work. Papa notices some activity inside the egg, and holds it up to a candle, revealing the silhouette of baby Woody attempting to peck away at the eggshell from the inside. Papa decides to give him some help by pecking opposite to him at the outside of the shell. The two birds meet nose to nose as the egg hatches, Papa’s beak taking a beating from Woody’s determined pecks. Woody comes equipped with a junior version of a timepiece he had previously displayed in “The Redwood Sap” – a special watch. The earlier version had lacked any hour mumbering, instead depicting only the various meals of the day to point to, and with an alarm in the shape of a dinner bell. Here, the meal pictures have been replaced with illustrations of a baby bottle and a bowl of mush. As the alarm rings, Woody seats himself in a high chair and pounds the table with knife and forl, demanding in pantomime what’s for dinner. When nothing is served fast enough, he starts taking his frustrations out on the furniture, devouring portions of the chair. Offered a spoon of mush, Woody not only eats the mush, but the wooden spoon as well. Papa tries a trick to stop Woody’s ferocious pecking – offering Wody the wooden handle of a hammer. Woody eats the handle upward – and gets his head trapped in the hammerhead. But the trick backfires on Papa, as Woody uses his neck to bash Papa on the big toe with the hammerhead. Efforts to feed him with a baby bottle leave Woody quite dissatisfied with the rubber nipple, which he removes from the bottle and stretches over Papa’s beak. Eventually, Papa is so caught up in the stretchy rubber, he is wearing the nipple like a suit, and dangling in it from the limb of his treetop home. Woody gets him down by pecking away the base of the tree itself, causing the old homestead to collapse along with Papa. As Pop lies in a heap, with a phone receiver balanced on his head, Woody shows his only act of charity, inserting a coin into a slot in Papa’s nostril, and “dialing” with Papa’s eyeball to call the local ambulance service. Then Woody is off to pursue his wood-pecking career. Time phases through stages back to the future, and thought-cloud Woody and real-life Woody are now of matching age. The old geezer in Woody’s thoughts taps the real Woody on the head, and points to a location offscreen, with the definite indication in pantomime of, “Don’t you think it’s time to go?” Real Woody sadly nods, and shrugs his shoulders to the audience as if to say, “What else can I do?” Woody approaches a high cliff, covers his eyes, and jumps.
Panning the shot to the ground below, an open grave rests in the canyon, with a headstone reading “Reserved for Woody Woodpecker”. But this somber scene just can’t be permitted to last – and like the salvation of Scrooge from the graveyard, an artists hand enters the scene with eraser, and erases the entire background to white. Then a paintbrush enters, and just as quickly paints a new backdrop – the Fountain of Youth! Woody falls in – and is miraculously rejuvenated to his normal youthful self. He is so happy, he decides to celebrate by zeroing in on a nearby clump of trees as target for tonight. Unfortunately, he should read signs before he leaps – and hits a solid barrier, not realizing it’s the petrified forest. He is briefly knocked silly, but before the iris can close, manages to give us his happy trademark laugh anyway.
The Egg-Cited Rooster (Warner, Foghorn Leghorn, 10/4/52 – Robert McKimson, dir.) – A lively entry in McKimson’s series, benefitting greatly from many scenes of expressive Rod Scribner animation. In a situation mildly paralleling “The Henpecked Duck”, Foghorn, who for once has tied the marital knot with someone other than Miss Prissy, is saddled with the job of egg-sitting, while the Missus attends a bridge game. A nagging battle-axe, Mrs. Leghorn cautions Foggy that if he leaves the egg for even a minute, he’ll get more lumps than a bride’s mashed potatoes. Foghorn humors her: “Yes, dreamboat…” (then in an aside to the audience, adding) …”Tugboat, that is.” Watching everything with a smirking smile is Barnyard Dawg, reveling in Foggy’s helplessness. “Put ‘em all together, and ‘dey spell ‘Mother’”, he jeers at the rooster – then adds injury by tossing a watermelon on his head, reminding Foggy that if he makes one move off the nest, ‘I will tell your old lady.” Foghorn resolves that if he could get someone to mind the nest, he’s pay Dawg a “social call”. Comes along Henery Hawk, who’s decided to hunt chickens “Indian style” with bow and arrow and tomahawk. “Me last of Mo-hawk-ans”, he declares after shooting Foggy with a suction-cup arrow. Foghore convinces him that he’s too old and tough to be tasty – what Henery wants is a fresh chicken “like the one in this deep freeze”, he says, pointing to the egg. All Henery has to do is sit on it an “thaw it out”. Once Henery is seated, foghorn complains that he covers about as much as a “flapper’s skirt in a high wind”.
But it’s enough to allow Foggy to trap Dawg in a set of stocks, rig light bulbs and an electric socket to him, and have Dawg light up like an electric sign, with his nose flashing, “Eat at Joe’s”. Returning to the henhouse, Foggy averts disaster, as Henery, tired of sitting, is about to apply a mallet blow to the eggshell. Foghorn bluffs that the first egg may be a slow hatching one, but he’s got a fast-hatching one also (in a box, marked “Hen-Grenade”, complete with pull pin). Telling Henery it needs plenty of heat, he sends the hawk to place it under “that warm Dawg”. Dawg’s house is exploded, and the grenade (which somehow has a yolk and whites inside it) sizzles fried on Dawg’s tummy. Dawg tips off Henery he’s been tricked, and the two team up against Foggy. Using a basic distraction of “look outside”, Henery steals Foghorn’s egg. Dawg then calls up Mrs. Leghorn’s bridge club, and informs her that hubby’s deserted the nest. But Foghorn isn’t licked yet, and snatches the egg away. A wild chase ensues, with each of the three trading possession of the egg, yelling ‘I’ve got it”. Finally, Mrs. Leghorn arrives and bashes foghorn on the head. “He got it”, shout Dawg and Henery in unison. Henery claims Foghorn as his prize, but Foggy protests that Henery’s no Indian, and that his little tomahawk couldn’t hurt anybody. Henery lands a blow with it on Foghorn’s head. The camera pans down, revealing Foghorn’s comb neatly scalped off his bare forehead. “I could, I say, I could be wrong”, Foggy declares for the iris out.
The Orphan Egg (Terrytoons/Fox, Dinky Duck, 4/2453 -Eddie Donnelly, dir). – a Disneyesque Dinky episode, which I actually found seemed to demonstrate greater storytelling advantage if played with just its visual, minus its routine and somewhat distracting soundtrack. (I.E.: It would have been great for old home movies). Dinky spends his days around the barnyard and forest doing good deeds – rescuing a drowning grasshopper, and a turtle turned upside down (a cute twist has Dinky unable to flip over the heavy turtle shell – so instead he yanks the turtle out of the shell through the neck hole, and together they both push to flip the shell over). But Dinky stumbles across a loose egg in the grass, with no sign of a mother. Hoping to hatch it, he takes it to Rudy Rooster’s henhouse, and slips it under one of the hens. She complains to Rudy about the appearance of the mystery egg. Rudy examines it – odd in color, and, tested with a shoe-sizer, several sizes too big. His answer is to boot the egg out the door. Dinky races to catch it, and barely saves it from shattering, although getting doused in a mud puddle for his troubles. Dinky takes the egg to his own home, observing a criss-cross crack the shell endured from the kick. Dinky gently repairs it with a pair of band-aids, and, with no one else to help, hatches the egg himself. A large, gangly, featherless chick emerges. Dinky carries the infant to show what he saved to Rudy. Rudy is not only unimpressed, but aghast, as the little one starts devouring every stray ear of corn or other morsel of food in sight, and even takes a hungry nip on a pig’s tail, and Rudy himself. Rudy banishes Dinky and the chick from setting foot in the barnyard again. Dinky sadly trudges home with his charge, while the baby bird sticks out his tongue at Rudy. The calendar pages go flying off from month to month, as a montage of shots show Dinky rounding up food, more food, and even more food, by the wheelbarrow full, all being delivered to his unseen fledgling inside his home. Ultimately, a fox surprises Dinky on one of his food deliveries. Dinky eludes him and runs to warn the barnyard, but only succeeds in directing the fox to the bigger game or Rudy’s henhouse, where he bags the whole flock. Dinky smacks the fox on the head with some farm tools, and the fox follows Dinky inside the door of his home. A momentary pause – and fox is confronted by the emerging form out the doorway of what Dinky’s been raising all these months – a full grown bald eagle, still wearing Dinky’s criss-cross bandages on his forehead! The battle rages, and the fox is ultimately carried skyward in the eagle’s talons, and dropped headfirst to get stuck upside down in the bottom mud of a nearby stream. Rudy and the chickens hail their new heroes, as Dinky and the eagle take a victory lap around them in the sky for the fade out. Moral is in essence Eek the Cat’s old byline: It never hurts to help.
Don’s Fountain of Youth (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 5/30/53 – Jack Hannah, dir.), is another of those rare episodes where the eggs of a non-avian species take center stage. Donald and his nephews are touring the Everglades in what appears to be an old Model-A style Ford. The kids are typical modern youngsters of the day. For recent generations, parents see their kids lost in addiction to video games or cell phones. For the duck family, the similar addiction is comic books, making them oblivious to all scenic wonders around them. When Donald tries to take the comics away, the kids break into a temper tantrum/crying jag, and won’t shut up until the comics are returned. “Kids”, Donald mumbles. At this moment, the car radiator overheats. Donald frantically looks for water, and finds a small flowing pond. As he fills a bucket, he notices a signpost: “This spring was mistaken for the fountain of youth.” Conveniently, the signage is constructed of two separate boards nailed to a post. Donald hatches at evil idea to teach the kids a lesson, and rips the top board off the sign, so that it now simply reads “The fountain of youth”. Producing from his pocket an old baby bonnet (Donald keeps the oddest mementoes on his person!), he walks into the pond, dons the bonnet, and pretends he fell in, calling for help. When the kids ask if he’s all right, he responds “Da Da boo!”, and points to the sign. The kids assume the worst, and “baby” Donald plays up his role. “Me want comics”, he says, snatching the kids’ literature. When one of the nephews tries to take it back, Donald repeats the nephews’ crying tantrum, and the nephew relents to shut him up just as Donald did. Except Donald takes further revenge by ripping pages out of the comic book. Another nephew gives Donald a light slap on the hand. Donald takes the crying tantrum to a new extreme, wailing and pounding his fists on the ground. “Unca Donald’s a spoiled brat”, remarks a nephew. Another decides there’s one way to fix that, and breaks a branch with some flexibility off a nearby tree to “switch” Donald with. Seeing this, Donald realizes a new tactic is in order.
In the sand nearby, he spots a sleeping alligator, tending to a ground nest in which rest two eggs. Donald pilfers one, and places it on the ground under his baby bonnet. The nephews return, lift the bonnet, and to their shock speculate “Do you suppose he shrunk down to – – that?” They light a match behind the egg, and cven the silhouette inside resembles a baby with a long duck beak. The nephew holding the switch breaks into tears at what he was about to do to their uncle. Behind the bushes, Donald can’t resist laughing himself silly – so much into the joke, that he becomes oblivious to the danger of the nearby alligator, who he sits upon while laughing it up, then brings around the bushes to share in the laugh. “They think it’s me”, he says, pointing to the egg. Mama reacts in shock, now noticing the egg is hers missing from the nest. She bops Donald on the head with her heavy tail, knocking him out and causing him to collapse in a seated position atop her other egg. Mama then takes off after the nephews, who try their best to save Unca Donald by a series of lateral football passes of the alligator egg. Finally, a nephew ditches the egg into the bushes, where it rolls back to Donald on the nest, then hatches. At that same instant, the second egg under Donald hatches too. Two baby alligators now assume Donald is their mama, and cling to his ankles. Donald tugs at their tails, but they won’t let go. Mama overhears their small cries, and arrives on the scene. Donald continues to tug at the two infants, lifting his own legs with them as if performing a square dance. Mama only sees her babies being abused, and the usual wild chase ensues, with Donald even swallowed for a brief instant. Cornered in tree, Donald is felled by a mighty chomp of Mama’s jaws, severing the tree trunk. The tree falls, spilling Donald back to where the nephews have found the cracked egg shell. (An odd continuity error occurs here – Donald has been bare-headed ever since he left behind the baby bonnet – yet tumbles out of the tree wearing again his blue sailor hat! I guess it got cold waiting in that tree.) The nephews assume Donald hatched out, and are gladdened to have him back. But along come the two little gators again. “Oh no, not that. Come on, boys, let’s scram!”, says Donald. In the blink of an eye, they’re back in the car and disappear down the road. The gator babies watch helplessly and shed a tear. Along comes their real mama – but having never seen the likes of her, the two babies react in frightened shock. Mama catches on, and solves the problem of winning their love, by giving them a reassuring “Quack Quack Quack Quack”. The babies embrace mama’s face for a happy iris out. (In historical context, this film probably provided Hannah with valuable experience that would prove handy in his later career, familiarizing him with the animation of alligators – a talent he would use to full advantage at Walter Lantz, in perfecting and refining the character of Woody Woodpecker’s popular foil, Gabby Gator.)
The fine art of egg juggling deserves a mention here. I’ve saved one title for discussion out of chronological sequence, to pair it with its rival from another studio. Mouse Cleaning (MGM, Tom and Jerrry, 12/11/48 -William Hanna,/Joseph Barbera, dir.), the taboo title that stopped all work of Warner Home Video on Blu-Ray remasters of the chronological Tom and Jerry, features the threat to “Thomas” from Dinah (aka “Mammy Two Shoes”) that if one speck of dirt is in her house when she gets back, there’ll be one less cat. Jerry is of course right there to ensure one mess after another. In a creative scene, Jerry tries out a circus act by balancing on a clothesline like a tightrope while juggling a dozen eggs. Tom carefully waits under him, hoping to catch anything he might accidentally allow to fall. But Jerry doesn’t wait for an accident, and diverts his tosses so that all the eggs shoot sideways and head for a wall. Caught by surprise, Tom barely “beats” the eggs to the wall and diverts them each upward, now assuming the role of juggler himself. Jerry complicates things by spinning a pie on top of a fork, then tossing both into the air. Tom catches the fork handle on his nose and continues the pie spinning while still juggling. Then Jerry pulls a throw rug out from under Tom’s feet. Everything gets tossed into the air. Tom grabs an egg crate and miraculously manages to catch all 12 eggs in their respective pockets without breaking them – but gets the pie landing smack on his face.
The only rival to this act came from the pen of Jim Tyer, in Heckle and Jeckle’s Satisfied Customers (Terrytoons/Fox, 2/4/54 – Connie Rasinski, dir.). The two magpies are using the local supermarket as their own personal free lunch counter. The bulldog manager is tripped up on a pair of banana peels, and crashes into a display of eggs. The eggs fly into the air, and the bulldog engages in the most dazzling display of rapid-fire juggling in attempt to save the entire day’s shipment. Heckle and Jeckle applaud from the sidelines, and add even more razzle-dazzle by tossing in several cans and bottles between the flying egg shells. The bulldog finally gets things under control with arms outstretched, on which are precariously balanced along his shoulders and on his head eight columns of combined eggs, cans and bottles – with one extra bottle balanced on one foot! “And this is the topper”, says Heckle, removing the dog’s nose like it was a cork, and pouring into his sinus cavities a whole shaker of pepper. While we never see the expected fate of the eggs, the force of the sneeze blows the dog out from under them, then through an end display of cans with such force as to carve the dog’s silhouette through them, and finally through the market’s deep freezer, leaving the dog to come out the other end as an icy snowman, which Heckle and Jeckle decorate with two lumps of coal for eyes and a carrot nose. (I also can’t resist mention of a discovery that the censors couldn’t quite remove on most prints: At 3:27, look for a sudden dissolve from an explosion gag. If you freeze the right frame, you’ll see one of the rare blackface gags to appear in a Heckle and Jeckle cartoon.
What makes this one most notable, however, is it’s a direct steal of the same gag censored out of most prints of Tex Avery’s Garden Gopher (1950), with a speedy white character stopped in his tracks by grease so he can’t run – then blasted into a black character who just slowly “moseys along”. The drawings are so identical between the two films, one can bet the Terry boys brought a sketchpad to the theatre when viewing the Avery film.)
Stork Naked (Warner, Daffy Duck, 2/26/55, Friz Freleng, dir.), has been visited before in my previous article, Holy Matrimony! And a Stack of Storks (Pt. 2). It is the only episode of Freleng’s “drunken stork” cartoons in which the stork’s delivery is of an egg instead of a visible baby. Unfortunately, the intended recipient is Daffy Duck, who’s had it up to here with previous episodes of fatherhood. Daffy lays a militaristic obstacle course of booby traps to prevent the stork’s visit – but neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor duck, shall stay this courier from his appointed rounds. The delivered egg hatches – but a slight mistake has been made, as the emerging chick looks like a miniature twin to the delivery bird. A happy and sadistic Daffy flies through the skies with the newly hatched bird bundled in a bandana held in Daffy’s beak, stating, “For once, that stork is gonna get a dose of his own medicine!”
Baby Huey wasn’t the only duck to hatch twice, Tom and Jetty’s Little Quacker doubled Huey’s record, being born four times. His first hatching was in the titular episode, Little Quacker (MGM, 1/7/50), where, in similar fashion to Chuck Jones’s “Flop Goes the Weasel”, Tom swipes his egg from a nest for a quick breakfast, but on cracking it open finds a live fowl instead. As with the weasel in Jones’ film, Tom merely shifts recipe books to one titled, “How To Cook Roast Duck”. While the remainder of the film is typical chase material, one clever gag has Tom attempt to include bread stuffing in the recipe by having Quacker eat through a loaf of bread, with each slice being processed like a piece of paper going through a typewriter. In Just Ducky (MGM, 9/5/53), the hatching provides only one shot of preliminary framing for an episode focusing on Quacker’s inability to swim like his mother and siblings, and the resulting repercussions when he gets mixed up in the usual chase with out cat and mouse protagonists. (This and the next cartoon may mark the only instances where Hanna-Barbera stole from Terrytoons, as Terry had just had Dinky Duck in the same predicament the preceding year in Sink or Swim (8/29/52), with a more original premise of Dinky being convinced by a wise Owl to combat his fears by using a “sky hook” to hold him above the water, and a well-paced dramatic chase with an alligator.) Happy Go Ducky (MGM, 1/3/58), has Quacker’s egg painted in Technicolor hues as a delivery from the Easter bunny. Quacker this time has an insatiable habit of swimming (he’s really over his fears by now from the previous episode above), in anything that will hold water. The gag lift from Terry has Tom Scotch-tape Quacker back in the eggshell – a steal from Terry’s The Hard-Boiled Egg. But Quacker eventually floods the whole house, bringing with him all the other young ducklings from the local pond for a swimming party.
The highlight of Quacker’s hatchings, however, is That’s My Mommy (11/19/55) a plot that starts out quite traditionally, but develops a brilliant twist. As we’ve seen so often in the Lost Chick/Booby Hatched tropes, Quacker’s egg rolls out of mother’s nest, half-hatches, and he wanders under the sleeping Tom. For a change, instead of a gentle hatching, Tom rolls over onto the egg, crunching it with a loud crackling, and nearly flattening Quacker. But Quacker is unphased, and greets Tom with cheery bliss, addressing him as “My nice Mommy.” Tom is quick to seize upon a fortuitous circumstance, and, as Quacker drowns him in an endless chatter of terms of endearment, Tom sets up two twigs with split branches for braces, ties Quacker to a third straight twig, and lights a fire between the uprights, placing Quacker in a do-it-yourself rotisserie. Along comes Jerry. Shocked at the sight of Tom’s latest mayhem, Jerry grabs the stick with Quacker away, and places Tom’s tail over the fire instead. In a normal T&J episode, an alliance would at this point be struck between Jerry and the duck. But this time, Quacker is in no mood for friendship – his devotion to his huge furry “Mama” is so deep, he is blinded to Jerry’s intentions, and sees Jerry as the villain bent on abduction. Beating Jerry off, Quacker returns to the waiting arms of “Mama”, with Tom giving us a knowing glance with raised eyebrows, communicating his knowledge that he doesn’t just have a duck here – but a gullible pigeon!
Tom uses various “motherly” ruses to lure Quaker to the oven. He fixes Quacker a bed – in a bread pan with a dough pillow and blanket. He makes Quacker a dinner of bread mix, spoon-feeding him until an oversize rotund Quacker announces that he’s “stuffed”. But every time Quacker is inserted into the oven, Jerry is always there for a nick-of-time rescue. Not to say that Quacker helps any one bit. In fact, during one rescue, Quacker bombards Jerry with a shower of the vegetables that were to serve as the garnishments around him on the serving plate. Jerry finally drags the stubborn little featherball into his mousehole, and shows him an animal book with opposing pictures of a mother duck and mother cat. “That’s not my mommy!” shouts Quacker at the sight of the duck picture, and slams the book on Jerry, reducing him to a two-dimensional figure. Quacker returns to Tom again, and before Jerry can do anything further, Tom captures Jerry in a set of nested kitchen canisters and throws the whole set down a well. Tom prepares a pot of boiling water. “Are you gonna make dinner again?” asks Quacker. When Tom nods, the loving son pulls him away from the pot, and insists he take a rest, while Quacker prepares dinner for Mommy for a change. Looking in Tom’s recipe book, he notes the first ingredient as a “young duck”. “Where we gonna get a young duck?”, Quacker begins to ask – but his speech freezes on the last word, as in his mind’s eye, he sees the picture book illustration again, with a little duck that looks just like him. “I get it”, he says sadly. “I’m the young duck.” Even with this realization, his love remains fiercely strong, as he resigns himself to his fate. “If my nice Mommy wants a duck dinner, my nice Mommy’s gonna have a duck dinner.” He walks up the stirring ladle to the edge of the boiling pot, and slowly waves. “Goodbye. And I still love you, Mommy”. Even the hard-hearted Tom can’t stand up under this pitiful scene – he seizes Quacker away from the boiling water, speaking one of his rare dialogue lines: “Nooooo!” Duck and cat embrace, while two rivers of tears erupt from Tom’s eyes. By the time Jerry finally emerges from the well, there is no one to be found in the kitchen. Tom is instead out in the local pond, giving Quacker his first swimming lesson. Quacker points with pride to him – “That’s my Mommy!”
The Ostrich Egg and I (Lantz/Universal, Maggie and Sam, 4/9/56 – Alex Lovy, dir.), provides a fast-paced romp carrying on the lives of wedded couple Maggie and Sam, originated by Tex Avery in the Oscar-nominated Crazy Mixed-Up Pup (2/14/55). (IMDB attributes some work on this film to Avery himself.) Seems that this time, Sam’s been accumulating all sorts of natural history stuffed animals and trophies, leaving the wife to the daily task of dusting them. She threatens him not to bring another such thing into the house. Only this day, the postman delivers Sam his mail-order Ostrich egg. Trying to hide same, Sam throws it under a chair cushion, then sits on it – of course, hatching out a full grown bird (with a face that bears a remarkable resemblance to Woody Woodpecker). Sam spends the next five minutes attempting to conceal the bird, while it swallows everything in sight, and periodically is half-seen by Maggie, driving her near crazy. The bird swallows a dressmaker’s model on a stand, and develops instant feminine physique, causing Maggie to mistake the bird for “another woman”. But one big smack of a kiss from the bird makes Maggie see reality. Sam is told to get rid of the bird on threat of divorce. Every method or contraption to dispose of the bird backfires on Sam, until the bird mysteriously disappears after another failed trick. Sam happily races home to tell the wife it’s gone, but is shushed by Maggie as he enters their home. She leads him tiptoing to the bedroom. Inside the bed rests the Ostrich, who (without any sign of a visible husband) has become in a family way, surrounded by a half-dozen new little ones. (How come they’re small when Mama hatched full grown?) “Aren’t they cute?” observes Maggie. Repeating a gag from Avery’s original cartoon, Sam goes “cuckoo”, with a little bird popping out of his brow, and American flag banners and streamers popping out of his ears and mouth.
The Eggs and Trixie (Gumby, 8/17/56) is one of the most enterprising installments of the original “Gumby” run of double-length episodes on NBC. It gives director Art Clokey the chance to sculpt in clay a Ray Harryhausen-style “Lost World” of dinosaurs, presenting an interesting comparison of the respective animators’ styles, and an example of how far a little dedication can stretch the limits of a television budget. (Clokey would only get the chance once more in his “classic” period to revisit such themes, in the one-reel episode, “Hidden Valley” from a later season.) Gumby daydreams as a student at a natural history lecture, and imagines himself in prehistoric times. There, he meets a small girl triceratops named Trixie, who frets over a recurrent and heartbreaking problem. Mother triceratops is on the irresponsible side, and whenever she lays a nest of eggs, leaves the nest unguarded to look for food. Something always seems to happen to the unguarded orbs, and Trixie never gets any little brothers or sisters. As she shows Gumby the latest nest, a creature is already crunching on one of the current brood. “I see what you mean”, says Gumby. “We’d better get a wall built around the nest right away.” “Wall? What’s that?”. replies Trixie. Gumby cuts some small trees into logs and hammers them into an encirclement around the eggs on the ground. But just as the enclosure is completed, a brontosaurus cranes its long neck from above and swipes an egg in their midst. The bronto balances the egg on its snout, then flips the egg across the lale to a brother bronto for a game of toss/keep away. Gumby dives into the water, but is picked up on the head of a bronto, tossed into the sky where he almost collides with a Pterodactyl, and lands on the head of another bronto. This bronto is apparently the family leader, and inquires in gentlemanlike fashion if his brothers have been giving Gumby trouble. Gumby tells of the eggnapping, and the good bronto calls to one of the bad ones to toss the egg over. “Nothing doing. Finders keepers”, replies the bad brother. “Them you can’t play in my pond anymore”, says the good one. “Oh, all tight”, pouts the bad brother, and the egg is returned.
Sliding down the good bronto’s back, Gumby almost meets an untimely end, sliding right into a crocodile’s mouth. But he tickles the croc from the inside, and is spit out, along with the egg. Returning the egg to the nest, Gumby and Trixie now face a new challenge. A volcano begins to erupt nearby, and shoots rocks out of its crater. One lands on several of the logs encircling the nest, toppling them. Two eggs are cracked. Five left. The volcano’s eruption has a second effect – causing a jungle stampede of all the dinosaurs. Gumby and Trixie can do little more than to duck for cover, as the huge and frightened beasts swarm past. The huge foot of a tyrannosaurus lands squarely atop the nest enclosure, flattening it. When the dust clears, Mom has returned, but the nest is destroyed. Almost – for Gumby has hidden behind his back two eggs he was able to rescue before ducking for cover. Gumby decides they must get these eggs to an incubator before anything else happens. “Hatching” an idea in the point of his head, Gumby takes Trixie to his modern-day home at the toy shop, and to a toy oven just big enough to hold the eggs. Setting the temperature on low, he and Trixie wait for the new arrivals. Meanwhile, Pokey happens by, and wonders what eggs are doing in the oven. With a pop, two baby dinosaurs emerge from the shells. Pokey lets out a terrified whinny, and runs for high ground, the two little dinos in pursuit. Trixie is overjoyed at meeting her new siblings, while Pokey cries to Gumby for help atop a high pile of toy boxes. The cries of Gumby’s name dissove back to the classroom, where the professor is attempting to rouse him. The professor asks Gumby to name the dinosaur he has drawn on the blackboard. “Trixie”, replies Gumby – then correcting himself, “I mean, triceratops!”
Cock-a Doodle Dino (Paramount, Noveltoon, 12/6/57 – I. Sparber, dir.). is a surprisingly creative and influential late entry in the Paramount one-shots, animated in the studio’s budget-cutting but as yet still artistically-staged mock UPA flat style. One may wonder about the film’s gestation period, given the appearance earlier in the year of the Gumby episode discussed above, and ponder whether two studios just happened to bring the dinosaur egg center stage at about the same time, or if the impact of the Clokey film popped the grain of an idea into the hasty pens of Paramount’s writers. In any event, this appears to be the first major use of the dinosaur egg in a 2D production – and to make things different, it’s not set in prehistoric times, but in the present. Its most basic plotline takes the Ugly Duckling trope to its logical extreme – but crafts on some surprise twists and heartstring tugging.
Following the Lost Chick/Lost and Foundling trope, we get another runaway egg – this time lost out the back of a truck marked “Archaeological Expedition”. The dino egg rolls along the road, down an embankment, and neatly into the nest of a hen in a chicken house. The hen’s two other eggs hatch first, with her immediately Christening the newborns with names (“Alfred” and “Harvey” – an in-joke for referencing Alfred Harvey who was handling the studio’s comic book distribution – and who would acquire the rights to this film within a few short years). But the third egg – the new arrival – only mildly twitches. Taking a lift from Booby Hatched, the hen heats up her rear end to red hot from a stove, then settles on the egg. The trick works, and a purple brontosaurus – comparatively small, but still four times the size of his brothers – emerges. “Danny”, he is named. (I guess Mom never counted how many eggs she laid in the first place, as she accepts the surprise addition readily, despite slight surprise at his size and color.) Before leaving the chicken coop for his first walk, the dino spots the straw Mom’s nest is built from, and inhales the whole nest into his mouth like a vacuum cleaner. Instantly upon swallowing, he begins to grow in bursts and spurts (set to the musical accompaniment of tympani drums). Now with his head through the roof of the chicken coop, Mama can only comment, “My, you’re a big one.”
Outside, Mama shows Danny how to scratch for his food to dig up worms. Danny digs with his huge hind feet, and something worm-like springs from the ground. Danny chomps into it and attempts to pull it from the dirt. In reality, it is the root of a huge tree standing nearby, which Danny drags sown through the earth and up into his mouth, swallowing the tree whole. Again, the swallow completed, Danny expands to where he towers over his mother and siblings, and as a rainstorm hits, Danny is able to offer the family shelter, running along with mom and the chicks safe and dry underneath him. They all duck into the farmer’s main barn – but Danny spots a fresh load of hay stored in the hayloft. Another inhale – and Danny grows so large, the barn structure is reduced to loose boards and splinters hanging along his huge back and shoulders. The farmer pops his head out of the house to see what the ruckus is, and springs into shock reaction – a dinosaur!
A dissolve, and we see the proprietor of a circus (“Famous Circus” a sly reference to the former name of the studio – recently renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios by the time this cartoon went into release) counting out the sum of ten thousand dollars for one live dinosaur. Danny is packed into the cage compartment of a huge circus truck, while his mother weeps bitterly at losing her “baby”. Danny is taken to the city, where he is billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. While he draws huge crowds, the audience does not consist of satisfied customers – as Danny just lays in the circus center ring, absolutely motionless, save for a huge tear from one eye. The audience claims fraud, insisting that he’s not alive, but stuffed, and demands its money back. A team of veterinarians is called in, but get little more than reflex kicks from tapping the dino’s leg. One asks Danny to say “Ahhh” – and gets a first clue to the problem, as Danny instead responds “Cock-a Doodle Doo”. Now moved to a large clinic, Danny is placed across eight psychiatrist’s couches lined in a row, as a Sigmund Freud wanna-be inquires when he first start thinking he was a chicken, only to get another rooster crow from a sad Danny. Newspaper headlines declare the dinosaur to be wasting away, and another headline indicates “No hope for Danny.” Back at the barnyard, the weeping mother hen spots a stray copy of the late-evening edition lying alongside the road, and frantically races toward the city in hopes of saving her boy. (Someone somewhere is channeling some old concepts here – perhaps harkening back to Fleischer’s Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy?) She arrives at the medical center, easily finding the room in which a motionless Danny lies on the ground with eyes closed. Mama begs him to open his eyes and speak to her, assuring him mommy is here for him – but gets no response. In an interesting dramatic staging, Mama sadly trudges away as if lit in a darkened room only by one jagged spotlight. Slowly, however, Danny’s eyes pry themselves open, and the sight of Mama brings to him renewed strength. He finally responds with a soft “Cock-a-doodle doo”. With the sound of a cymbal crash, the jagged spotlighting breaks into a fully-lit room, as Mama reacts with all the force of mother-love, and embraces Danny for a fond reunion. The show must go on, and the next day the circus resumes – but with a change of billing: “Danny Dinochick and Family”. Now Danny has plenty of life for the performance, as Mama places each of the chicks sequentially on Danny’s head, and Danny lifts his neck to give the little ones slide rides down the expanse of his huge back and tail. A pleasant and memorable episode – which, as will be seen in our final installment, seems to have been well received and long remembered by a certain Bill and Joe as they transitioned from the big to small screen.
The Bongo Punch (Lantz/Univerasal, 12/28/57 – Alex Lovy, dir.) is essentially a limited budget reworking of Harman-Ising’s “The Little Bantamweight”, with the brief hatching of another rooster who does not want to fight. The only major differences are that the story is set to a calypso beat, and the rooster’s secret weapon is a bongo drum instead of liniment. I hope to focus further on this one in a subsequent article related to calypso music, so will leave further discussion of this title to another day.
Next Week: We’ll finally try to put a “wrap” on this eggs-hausting subject.