Party Animals – and Other Species (Part 7): Frosting on the Cake
We’re winding down our series of celebrations to pass the cold days of winter. As with our exploration of vacations last year, there comes a time when even a toon must face the normal trials and tribulations of everyday life, to which we’ll return next week. For now, we’ll pop the last corks on what little is left of the bubbly, and drink a last toast to films that celebrate in style.
Breaking with pure chronological treatment has caused me to get a little careless in overlooking some theatricals in sequence, so again I’ll begin with a couple I almost missed. First, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit gets a chance to play party host, in The Birthday Party (Lantz/Universal, 3/29/37 – Walter Lantz, dir.), inviting over troublemaking ducklings Fee, Fi Fo Fum, and Fooey (Lantz’s answer to the Dionne quintuplets). The quints each have their own birthday cake, while Oswald and his dog Elmer the Great Dane share a larger one between them. Each of the quints blow out their respective candle except born mischief0maker Fooey (the only black duck of the five), who extinguishes his flame by smashing the candle with a hammer. Elmer gets some unexpected calories and the makings of a bad case of indigestion, when Oswald’s attempt to blow out candles on the large cake only succeeds in blowing the whole cake across the table, and straight down the throat of Elmer, lit candles and all. Elmer at least solves the canfle problem by spraying into his mouth a whole bottle of seltzer. Meanwhile, Fooey, again up to no good, takes an unprovoked whack at Elmer’s tail with his hammer. Elmer chases the fowl, but is intercepted bu Oswalf, who cautions him not to chase their guests, and to go lie down. Two of the other ducklings try out one of their presents – a toy archery set – in the manner of William Tell. However, the duck holding the apple “ducks”, and the suction-cip arrow hits
Elmer squarely on the nose. Elmer is again told to lie down, and covers his eyes with his paws so he doesn’t have to see what may be coming next. The archery twins have improved upon their game – the target duck increasing the size of the object upon his head to a pumpkin, and the archer duck using a plunger instead of a toy arrow. This time, Oswald takes the shot in the kisser. As Oswald struggles to remove the plunger from his face, another duckling tries out a b.b. gun, taking aim at the baubles on a ceiling chandelier, then severing its suspension wires, causing it to fall on Oswald’s head just as the plunger was coming loose, and pushing his face right back where it started. Various chases continue between Fooey and a runaway toy top, and Elmer vs. Fooey riding in a power-driven mini-racing car. After a round of the “in and out the doorways” endless hallway gag, Foeey and the rest of the quints are finally chased outside, after bumping several times into Oswald for a repeated running gag with the plunger. Finally prying his face loose from the plumber’s helper, Oswald calls Elmer home, leaving the quints to make their exit down the road. Oswald superficially disciplines Elmer for his ungentlemanly behavior, but, when nobody is looking, slips Elmer a bone as a reward for driving the quints out, then shakes his paw with the resolve, “No more parties.”
The Sultan’s Birthday (Terrytoons/Fox, Mighty Mouse, 10/13/44 – Bill Tytla, dir.) is a visually elaborate Terrytoon, looking downright expensive for the studio’s usually restricted budgets. Made during Mighty’s prime years of production before the influx of the Jim Tyer influence, animation is all quite neat and on model, only flawed by the somewhat wobbly work of the inkers in some scenes. Backgrounds are lush and atmospheric, and color and lighting choices exceptional. Per IMDB, a rare directorial appearance outside of Paramount for Bill Tytla adds drama and engaging action sequences to the mix. Top it all off with more of that seductive female mouse dancing (strongly suggesting the work of Carlo Vinci, as with “Krakatoa Katie”), and it’s a visual delight.
An original background from “The Sultan’s Birthday”
Avoiding stock storytelling formula, and neither relying upon singing or stated over-narration, the film is played nearly entirely in pantomime, with only two points of brief exposition by a narrator. In the Middle East, where towers, spires, and minarets sway to exotic music, a gala royal celebration takes place to honor a plump and well-fed mouse sultan’s big annual day. His entire populace gathers in the great square to wish him well as he appears publicly on his balcony. Bearers of exotic gifts, foodstuffs, etc. parade into the palace, placing one offering after another before the potentate. But among the prizes bestowed upon him by his well-worshipers is a curtained chaise, carried by multiple bearers. The sultan’s interest is piqued, and he beckons an aide over to learn what is inside. The aide’s whispers make the sultan’e eyes widen – and so do ours – as the curtains part to reveal the gift of entertainment – by a gorgeous harem-style dancing-girl mouse in thin facial veil. She shimmies and undulates in provocative fashion, approaching close to the throne. In a suggestive piece of animation, which I’m almost surprised got past the increasingly permissive censorship boards of the 1940’s, the Sultan is so amorously moved by the performance that in alternating fashion, he caresses his own fat legs while she dances. She responds by caressing his head and tickling under his chin, sending him briefly floating in air, to land with a plop upon his velvet pillows when she pulls away. But the day is not destined to proceed peacefully, as, presumably from a rival land, an aerial armada of flying carpets approaches in WWII flying formation overhead, piloted by cats. A blitzkrieg, if you will, commences without any direct wartime references, as each carpet comes equipped with a quartet of machine guns mounted in its forward edge.
Another gorgeous original background from “The Sultan’s Birthday”
The sultan, hearing the commotion outside, boldly energes on his balcony, scimitar drawn, only to witness a bomb bay door open from the underside of one of the carpets, dropping a series of aerial bombs in his direction. These “smart bombs” pursue the sultan into the palace itself, making a u-turn after him when the sultan changes direction. The sultan finds a hiding place just before the bombs reach the same entry point they came in by – and four bombs exit the palace precisely in sync to intercept the craft of four of the carpet-flying cats. But now, the cats themselves fly into the palace, pursuing the sultan with their artillery, and filling the air space of the great hall. The dancing girl has taken cover in a large jug of the kind Ali Baba’s thieves hid inside, but is spotted by the chief of the cats, who clamps a lid down on the jug, then flies off with it, followed by his squadron. (Odd – the cats were in a position to take over the land – yet are absolutely satisfied in capturing a single girl. Ah, the power of a pretty – – face.) The mice desperately try to launch a counter-attack, firing from their windows every available gun they possess, and converting all their minarets and towers to pop open at the roof and become anti-aircraft weaponry. But the cats continue flying away, seemingly proving the marksmanship of mice is terrible. Only one object gets hit – a star in the heavens, perched next to the crescent moon. (A neat piece of symbolism, resembling the Turkish flag.) The star spins – and miraculously changes to – Mighty Mouse! (This is his first appearance in the familiar yellow shirt with red cape.) From here on, you know how things turn out. Dogfights abound, and many a carpet goes down in flames. Mighty knocks down whole flying formations like rows of bowling pins. The cat chieftain is wrapped up in his own carpet and tied tight with a knot from Mighty’s red contrail. And the earthen jug with out heroine falls, but Mighty saves her with the usual power dive. The girl is carried back to her adoring public upon the shoulders of Mighty, for the fade out.
Now back to the TV era, picking up from last week. Dibble’s Birthday (2/28/62) – It’s business as usual in Hoagie’s Alley. Top Cat’s using the police phone again, and Officer Dibble’s on the warpath when he finds a soda pop bottle in the place his receiver should be. But a call from the Sarge reminds him that today is not only his birthday, but the day he has to report for his annual physical. The Sergeant ribs Dibble about whether he needs a wheelchair to make the doctor’s appointment. As Top Cat laughs, Dibble boasts that he’s not ready to be put out to pasture for a long time to come. But Dibble begins to feel otherwise, when he overhears a conversation between the Sarge and a commisioner, about retiring every one of the old wrecks on the police force (not realizing they’re talking about the fleet of police cars in the back lot). Dibble misses some letters on the eye chart, then can only watch as a young officer ahead of him doesn’t break a sweat after 40 chin-ups, while Dibble is left panting after seven. Dibble self-concludes that he’s a washout.
Meanwhile, Top Cat hatches another get rich quick scam. Dibble’s birthday can be turned into a profit, if his gang campaigns for contributions of gifts for the officer’s natal day – then they hock the goods. Instructing his boys to pad the pitch a little (as for a faithful public servant on the force for 20 years, even though Dibble’s only served for 10), the cats load up on an impressive array of presents, including a TV set, electric clock, and numerous other appliances and apparel. But while Top Cat takes inventory with eyes seeing only dollar signs, he finds his gang were in earnest in wishing to give presents to the troublemaking officer – and just won’t go along when they find TC’s plan is to hock everything. Along comes Dibble, stumbling upon the alley full of presents, with TC as yet not having hatched a good explanation for their presence. Yet Dibble is so downtrodden, he overlooks everything without even raising his suspicions, then resolves to head back to the precinct to do the proper thing – turn in his badge. Even the hard-hearted TC is swayed, by Dibble’s mood and the gang’s sadness at seeing him go, to let an actual party take place, and (worst of all), to let Dibble have hs presents. But Dibble is in a self-absorbed zone of his own, and shrugs off all efforts to wish him glad tidings, and even a faked “disturbing the peace” incident in hopes of rousing his sense of duty.
On his way to the precinct, Dibble is stopped by the Sergeant in a squad car, who wishes him many happy returns. Dibble says not to give him that line, as he overheard the Sarge’s earlier conversation. The confounded Sarge tells Dibble he’s crazy and that Dibble just scored the highest marks on the physical for his age bracket on the force, and points to the squad car as an example of the real “wrecks” he was talkimg about. Dibble is rejuvenated with the news, and returns to TC’s alley with a new vigor to do some serious throwing the book at the felonious felines. He storms in to find the presents piled around his police phone pole, and first accuses the gang of clutter – then of fencing as he sees the expensive items marked on the boxes. A disgruntled TC is not allowed a word in edgewise, and is forced to allow Dibble to rant and rave about calling for the wagon, until Dibble notices an envelope slipped ino the door of his police phone – TC’s and the gang’s birthday card. To complete Dibble’s chagrin, Benny presents Dibble with the present he rounded up – a gold-plated police whistle. Dibble becomes misty-eyed, apoligizes, and walks away with the whistle alone, mind-blown that it’s just what he always wanted. Top Cat’s old instincts kick in again, since Dibble’s already happy with what he got, and again suggests hocking the rest. But the gang load the items on their shoulders, and head off after Dibble to give him the rest of his presents. Unable to beat them, Top Cat joins them in racing after Dibble with the last box left behind – although now it’s TC getting misty-eyed, noting “There goes the loot”.
Fowled Up Birthday (Lantz/Universal, 3/27/62), was Jack Hannah’s initial installment of “The Beary Family Album”, Lantz’s last new theatrical series. Hannah would unfortunately helm the series for only a mere couple of episodes, with the task of producing the seemingly endless remainder falling into the lap of the overworked Paul J. Smith. Quality levels went pretty steadily downhill from there.
Hannah’s concept of the female characters of the series was much different than Smith’s. Bessie Beary was a typical sitcom mom, and reasonably pretty and docile, in her original appearances. Smith chose to redesign her looks and personality, as homelier, and considerably more feisty – almost a furry Mrs. Meany. A precocious daughter, Suzy Beary, was included in Hannah’s cast, but rarely appeared in the Smith episodes, and was written out entirely within a few short seasons. And while the son is referred to as “Chuck” (short for carrying on papa Charlie;s name), he becomes simply known as “Junior” in Smith’s installments. Most crucially different, Hannah provided the series with an antagonist – a wicked-tempered goose, who became known as “Goose Beary” (pun fully intended). Smith would again write the character out after only one episode.
In a nutshell, this episode presents the tale of how Goose Beary came to be adopted as part of the family. On the event of Suzy’s birthday (which Suzy self-promotes in the living room by picketing back and forth carrying a large sign, and singing “Happy Birthday to me” – set to the same original “Happy Birthday” song Darrell Calker penned for Maw and Paw’s “Pig in a Pickle” previously reviwed, though by now Calker can only afford a dixieland combo to perform it), Charlie Beary is sent out to the butcher’s for a chicken for the birthday dinner. However, there’s a major commotion at the butcher’s shop, as the back room is being nearly torn apart by a live goose too tough for the butcher to slaughter. The red-eyed beast hisses its fiercest, as the butcher has to hold it at bay with a chair as if attempting to tame a lion. “You monster”, he calls from the safety of the next room, “I’ll get rid of you if it’s the last thing I do.” Along comes sucker Charlie. Knowing a patsy when he sees one, the butcher offers Charlie the goose at a special one-half price. The butcher makes his way back into the back room, and after a scuffle, emerges with the goose hogtied and with an additional rope tied around its beak. “Hey, that’s a big one”, saus Charlie. “And gift-wrapped, too”, responds the butcher.
Charlie carries the bird home, leaving it in the garage for slaughter, but Suzy spots dad entering the garage, and thinks Goose is her present. She sneaks inside after Charlie leaves, and unties the bird. Grateful, the bird instantly bonds with Suzy – but maintains its absolute hate for Charlie. Suzy leaves to get Goose some dinner, whil Charlie returns with a sharpened axe. With Goose unexpectedly free, Charlie panics into a tactical retreat, and has the seat of his trousers bitten off by Goose. Goose pursues Charlie around a corner – but comes up nose to barrel of an old blunderbuss Charlie has found. “This is it, goose”, threatens Charlie – but Goose fearlessly chomps on the barrel of the old gun, clamping it shut just as Charlie pulls the trigger. The gun inflates from the pressure, and blows up, blasting Charlie backwards into the side of a brick chimney, where the loosened bricks perform a knockout punch upon his head. That night, the birthday party takes place, Goose now seated in the position of guest of honor, with ribbon around Goose’s neck as adopted pet. Charlie silks at the end of the table, one arm broken and in a cast, and as he reaches for a slice of birthday cake with the other hand, Goose chomps viciously ipon his remaining good hand. “Someday I’m gonna cook that goose”, says Charlie, for the iris out.
If Kelloggs could sponsor a half-hour Yogi Bear all-star birthday special (reviewed last week), why not a party special for Woody Woodpecker, whom they were also sponsoring? However, Walter Lantz was a newcomer to TV, and never threw himself headlong into meeting the grueling demands of TV schedules – especially on his ever-decreasing budgets. So the best Kellogs could manage from him was 15 minutes, with Spook-a-Nanny (8/65) – the only self-standing Woody episode produced for TV. (Two pilots for new characters (Sam and Simian in Jungle Medics, and Space Mouse in The Secret Weapon) also premiered on the show, but went nowhere except straight into the comic books.) Naturally, some budgetary shortcuts become necessary. Certain scenes are repeated more than once. Other animation is reworked from stock scenes from pre-existing theatricals (such as a scene of Woody limbering up his fingers to play the piano – from original animation of Chilly Willy doing the same thing in Half-Baked Alaska). Directing chores appear from visual evidence to be split between two then-current resident directors – Sid Marcus and Paul J. Smith (though Jack Hannah provides integrated animation with Lantz himself to introduce the film). The Marcus drawings are particularly tell-tale, matching the current restyling of Chilly Willy and Smedly (scarf added to separate heads from bodies), and certain eccentric Woody facial expressions that were unique to Marcus’s productions. The film, centered around a Halloween party, bears the unique distinction of being the largest aggregation of Lanrz properties produced under his tenure at the studio – only rivaled after the studio’s closure by short credits sequences for resyndication of the old cartoons. It was in several instaces the only time certain characters would meet one another. (Most of the cast had never previously met Sugarfoot, nor had any of the Woody cast except Woody and Wally ever met Andy Panda (now voiced by Daws Butler in his Augie Doggie mode), nor any of the rest ever met Homer Pigeon, Space Mouse, or Cuddles the great dane (from the theatrical short, Dig That Dog)). Conspicuous by their absence are Inspector Willoughby and the Bearies, whom television audiences would as yet have no familiarity with, as their films were not yet in stndication over the airwaves.
Basic plot has Woody wearing a sheet, trying to trick-ot-treat at a house where the rest of the gang has gathered for a party. The group decide to pull pranks on Woody rather than hand out candy. As Buzz Buzzard puts it, “Tricks, not treats”. A frustrated Woody faces booby-trapped doorbells, water hosing through the keyhole, pies in the face, and a pumpkin dropped on his head by Chilly Willy from an upstairs window. Woody tries to storm the place with a dash of speed, only to face the old “open the door before he hits” gag, zooming through the house and out the back door. Then comes Woody’s chance, in perhaps the funniest moment of the film. Tripping along through the woods in time to their own music comes a quartet of ghosts, all wearing Beatle wigs and playing rock guitars to a rocking version of “The Woody Woodpecker Song”. (An odd trubute to the fab four.) Woody grabs the sheet off the smallest ghost in the rear, leaving nothing but his instrumenr. Woody dons the fresh sheet himself, and gains entry through the still open back door as Buzz is frightened back inside. The ghosts continue their serenade, and head straight for a wall, disappearing unto it. Woody is not so lucky, walking face first into the very solid structure. The ghosts re-emege in the opposite direction, and Woody takes up the lead. But Chilly Willy approaches from behind with a large mallet, clobbering flat two of the ghosts, but not quite doing in the third, whose Beatle wig scampers away like a wounded dog under its own power. Chilly then clobbers the lead ghost several times, only to find it’s Woody, who is finally welcomed to join the party. The remainder of the film is a production number of the original composition title song for the episode, with running gags of a pin the tail on the donkey game, with Wally Walrus sticking the tail in all the wrong places, including the rear ends of both Buzz Buzzard and Sugarfoot, getting horseshoe kicks for his troubles. Woody gies his final laugh, punctuated by making horrific faces directly into the camera lens, for the fade out.
Yogi Bear’s arctic cousin, Breezly Bruin (Hanna Barbera, The Peter Potamus Show), had the instincts of a swinger, and a natural sense of rhythm and footwork – so had no resistance whatsoever to attending even the smallest of musical get-togethers – even if they happened to be on Colonel Fuzzby’s off-limits army base. In Stars and Gripes (11/4/64) , the old Cinderella tale gets kicked about for another go-round, with Breezly meeting the local fairy godmother who ‘handles the fantasy bit” for the area, and wishing to crash a Military Ball. The fairy supplies Breezly in style, providing him with a personal jeep and the uniform of a 10-star general. The glitter alone of those pointy adornments on his shoulders mesmerizes the crowd, including Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzby. Breezly dances up a storm, and adds to the musical accompaniment by providing solos on his own set of drums. As Breezly carries two WAC’s in his arms, Fuzzby comments “Those Pentagon boys really know how to live. Either that, or I guess I’ve been up here too long.” Fuzzby, anxious to learn anything of what the big boys at West Point know, inquires about their karate training courses – snd receives personal lessons in judo flips from Breezly – the hard way. But as midnight chimes. Fuzzby finds no mere general sitting atop his back – only am oversized polar bear. With his wheels gone too, Breezly makes a timely escape by fastening an outboard motor to an ice floe. “It’s not exactly a pumpkin coach and horses, but it moves”, he remarks.
Breezly’s Birthday Bonanza (12/16/64) is essentially a reworking of Yogi’s Slap-Happy Birthday, reviewed last week. Breezly plans “Operation Fuzzby”, with the secret assist of every other soldier on the base but Fuzzby himself. He rounds up food from the army kitchen, uniforms from the quartermaster, and gains camp access repeatedly with the assistance of the MP’s. But Fuzzby always seems to be showing up to spoil the plans, including intercepting Breezly in a supply warehouse with a head-to-head battle of forklifts. But Breezly finally manages to amass everyoe and everything into the recreation hall – for the planned surprise birthday party for the Colonel. The old gag of blowing out the candles too hard and splattering the cake on the Colonel’s face is repeated – but the Colonel’s too happy to be angry with Breezly. “Breezly, you’re all heart.” Lifting closing line from Doggie Daddy, Breezly closes, “That’s my Colonel who said that.”
The Pogo Special Birthday Special (Chuck Jones, 5/18/69 – Chick Jones/Ben Washam, dir.) is not nearly as special as everyone hoped, as chronicled in an extensive feature article previously appearing on this website. For our purposes, amidst a diversity of opinion between the swamp folks as to which is the best holiday of the year, the realization strikes Pogo Possum that a loner among their bunch. Porky Pine (a “norphan”), is alone in the world with no family, and doesn’t even know when his birthday is, so really has no holiday at all. Porky, a low-key deadpan character, keeps largely to himself, with the exception of a secret longing to get in for the first time on the action of Valentine’s day, having a crush on French feminine skunk Mademoiselle Hepzibah. Hearing all the holidays discussed by the others, Porky wants to be the first this year to ask Hepzibah to be his valentine, but is a poor selector of a suitable present for her, presenting her with a cactus, which, despite Hepzibah’s good intentions, produces involuntary laughter, leaving Porky feeling humiliated and rejected. Only after he leaves does Hepzibah realize that, with a little water, the succulent produces a bouquet of beautiful cactus flowers. Hepzibah wants to make amends, and, learning from Pogo of Porky’s lack of a known birthday, the two hatch the idea that why couldn’t they celebrate it, anytime? A surprise party is planned to take place at Hepzibah’s home. Porky meanwhile continues to roam the swamp alone (muttering to himself at hearing of yet another holiday, “National Butterfly Week”, that he’s never heard of a National Porky Pine Week, or a Porky Pine minute, or even a second). He overhears two rabbits refer to “the big party”, and asks “What party?” Realizing who has heard them and that’s he’s not supposed to know about the event, the rabbits freeze in place, then hop off without a word of reply to Porky. A bug comes along pushing a present, and without looking up at the owner of the spiny pair of feet above him, asks, “Hey Mister, which way to the – – – party?” Upon seeing it’s Porky, the bug makes a hurried exit, mumbling, “Oh, blabbermouth. I was supposed to tell everyone but him.”
Porky becomes painfully aware that something’s going on that he’s being left out of. He passes Hepzibah’s tree, and overhears more talk of a party, with two bugs engaged in wrapping a present observing that invitations were sent out to everyone but Porky. From through the open window, Porky places his finger on the ribbon of the bow the bugs are working on, so that they can finish the knot. The bugs suddenly realize, “It’s him!”, and pull down a windowshade in Porky’s face. Porky finds the present firmly tied to his finger, and sadly walks away, now knowing for sure he’s been shut out. He mulls over the busy schedule he has that would prevent him from attending a party anyway (with such pressing activities as going to bed), then figures he’d better return the present, or face more trouble at being accused of swiping it. He returns to Hepzibah’s, which is now dark and quiet. But when he opens the door, calling into the darkness that he’s come to return the present he didn’t steal, the lights go up, and “Surprise” is heard from everyone in the swamp inside. Deadpan Porky’s reaction can only be described as “stunned”, as he finds himself nearly buried in presents. “But what about this here?”. he inquires, holding out the present tied to his finger. Hepzibah informs him that is his present, from her. Untying the ribbon from Porky’s finger, she opens the box, revealing a large colorful bouquet, and asks him the $64 question – “Will you be my valentine?” Porky manages to express an almost-blush, as Hepzibah kisses and embraces him. The bouquet, which turns out to be comprised of colorful butterflies, sings Porky an all-holiday re-lyric to “Happy Birthday”, while skyrockets fill the air in a fireworks display, and the butterflies settle upon the happy couple like a festive garland (except for their musical conductor, who lands on one of Porky’s quills, and grumbles in the manner of Yosemite Sam for the iris out).
Ho Ho Ho. It’s the Buzzard’s Birthday (Hanna-Barbera, Blast-off Buzzard, 10/15/77), originally aired as part of the “C.B. Bears” hour, os actually a title misnomer, as it appears that the cartoon’s premise is not celebrating for the buzzard, but the Buzzard setting up various booby traps for the birthday of Crazylegs Snake. For those of you unfamiliar with the series (and who isn’t), this was the closest thing to outright plagiarism Hanna-Barbera ever produced, being an identical copy of the setup for your basic Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote confrontations – right down to the same desert backgrounds and settings, and presentation of stories entirely in pantomime. Crazylegs (who avoids being called a Blue Racer to avoid further copytight infringement), is the fastest snake on Earth, and wears a crash helmet to prove it. The buzzard is attired in aviator’s helmet, though his flying is often raggedy, leaving behind a trail of molting feathers. Everything else about the series is pure Road Runner. The first half of this cartoon actually has nothing at all to do with birthdays. Gettig hit by a bakery truck, the buzzard is hit by the idea to lure the snake with a cake. He sets a birthday table and cake above the snake’s hole, and plays instrumentally on trumpet a chorus of “Happy birthday to You”. The sname accepts a seat at the table, and attempts to cut the cake. A mechanism emerges from the cake, to which a sack is attached, and flips over the top of the cake to bring the sack down over the snake. However, the mechanism does not stop there, and keeps flipping – tossing the cake right into the buzzard’s face, and allowing the snake to escape.
Next, the buzzard leaves a surprise package above the snake’s hole. It is a large wind-up racing car, in which the snake goes for a joyride. The buzzard’s secret weapon? A remote control device to draw the car back, straight to him. Crazylegs notes the reversal of course, and reaches his expanse out of the car to snag a nearby boulder. The car, now tethered, makes a loop around the rock. But when it co,es around the other side, it has changed passengers, now carrying a bear who must have been asleep behind the stone. (Since when do grizzly bears live in the desert?) The buzzard waits with roasting pan and lid for the car to return, but when the car arrives with the bear, the buzzard quicly realizes its passenger is too big to allow the buzzard to clamp down the pan lid. The bear takes a swipe (angled offscreen), then walks away. The buzzard stands motionless – then severs into five slices from the impact of the bear’s claws. Finally, the buzzard sets up a backdrop, stool, and a wobbly camera tripod for a birthday photo opp, and summons the snake out of his hole again to sit on the seat of honor for his picture. However, the buzzard has concealed the area underneath the stool with a sheet over the seat – so that the snake can’t see the sticks of TNT lying in wait for him, hooked to a detonator plunger hidden behind the camera tripod. The snake takes his position, while the buzzard walks to the tripod, on which is mounted a 1920’s style camera wuth a shade curtain for the cameraman to stand under. Pulling the curtain over his head, the buzzard blindly probes with his foot to find the dynamite plunger – and steps on a piece of cactus instead. The buzzard emerges howling and jumping in pain, and hops over to where Crazylegs sits, frightening the snake away, while the buzzard sits on the stool to remove the cactus thorns. The wobbly tripod chooses this precise moment to give way, causing the camera to fall – straight onto the plunger handle. Emerging from a heap of charcoal, the buzzard, denuded of feathers, stumbles over to the seat of the earlier birthday table, and collapses into a chair. Crazylegs appear, and presents the buzzard with a cake of his own. The buzzard weakly smiles – then passes out face-first into the cake, for the final fade-out.
Spike’s Birthday (11/1/80), from Filmation’s Saturday morning “Tom and Jerry Comedy Show”, shows glimmers of probably looking better on storyboard than it ultimately turned out. Though fleeting on screen and not held in the manner key poses might have been presented in an original episode of the series, if one looks carefully, there are many scattered drawings which while not drawn with the craftsmanship of MGM, at least strongly resemble poses one might have expected from the original animation team – making one suspect these frames were closely modeled off of drawings that probably appeared on the storyboard – likely drawn in original style. So the film allows a sort of a game of what “might have been”, imagining how it could have looked under stellar direction and with a staff of artists up to the task. The plot is a typical following of the classic H-B formula initiated from “Puss Gets the Boot” – find something that will place Tom in severe trouble – then leave it to Jerry to make that something a reality. This time, the event is Spike’s birthday party. Their mutual master has decorated the living room with banners and ribbons, and set on the dinner tablecloth a multi-layer chocolate birthday cake, and a huge juicy steak. Tom, not knowing who they’re for, is about to grab some of the choice goodies himself, when Spike walks in, and tosses the cat into a trash can. Spike is about to head for these choce foodstuffs himself, when the master insists that before Spike’s party, he must receive a birthday makeover at the groomers. (Shades of Pluto’s Party.) Spike is dragged away kicking and clawing, while the Master places Tom on guard with instructions to watch that everything stays okay while they’re gone – or else. The master’s threats may seem idle, but Spike’s added comment, “And that especially means, keep an eye on my birthday grub”, seems much more intimidating to Tom.
Tom sulks as the next hour progresses, bored and disgusted with his guard duty. Jerry, of course, has heard everything, and gives a wink to the camera, letting us know what he intends to do. Unhooking one end of a ribbon fron the wall, Jerry performs a Tarzan swing, grabbing up the birthday cake, and carrying it to atop a china cabinet. In the same manner as “Puss Gets the Boot”, Jerry toys with the cake while Tom attempts to scale the cabinet to retrieve it – then flips the cake across the room before Tom can get his paws within reach. Tom outraces the cake, standing in catcher’s position to stop its fall – but only winds up with the pastry smashed upon his own face, and lying in pieces on the floor around him. With another jungle swing, Jerry grabs the steak, carrying it in the opposite direction, where he tosses it into a large aquarium tank. Cats not taking to water very well, Tom races for the closet – and emerges in a skin diver’s mask and swim fins. Entering the tank, he finds a small fish nibbling away at the steak. Tom separates the steak from the fish, and playfully toys with him, keeping the steak just out of reach of the fish’s jaws, then pitching the fish away. What he didn’t count on is that the Master apparently collects piranhas – and a school of them attacks Tom and the steak. Tom escapes from the tank with all his midriff fur eaten away – and the steak reduced to nothing but an O-bone. Jerry laughs himself silly, and, with only fifteen minutes left on the clock until the master’s return, Tom has no available time to take revenge on Jerry. Instead, Tom heads for the freezer, but finds the meat drawer empty. Desperate, Tom spots outside in the yard a tree log which the master had been sawing into cross-sections. One wooden disk is approximately the dimensions of the steak. Grabbing some paint and brushes, Tom creates an artist’s rendering of a steak painted on the wooden disk.
But what about that cake? Tom tries to shove the bits and pieces and the gooey frosting together in hopes of recreating the shape of the cake, like a potter molding earthen clay – but it shapelessly falls back into a puddle no matter how hard he tries. Knowing he needs a solid base to give it some body, Tom spies a child’s red wagon outside, and swipes all four tires off it, then sticks the tires in the frosting – creating a four-layer birthday cake replica. Everything is placed back on the tablecloth just in time for Spike’s return – gussied up in a ribbon as was Pluto, and angrily blushing in embarrassment. But no amount of humiliation can’t be cured by a feast – so Spike happily digs in. Tom, as well as Jerry, are at first wary of what Spike will think at biting into a delectable sliced log – but the bulldog is so tough, he happily crunches away, without even noticing! Tom begins to smile, and points to Spike while looking at the audience as if to say, “Get him”. The cake receives similar treatment, and Tom believes he is in the clear. Unril an unusual moment of generosity possesses Spike, placing Tom back in peril again. “Tell ya’ what. Why don’t ya’ join me for my birthday feast?” Tom freaks out, and scrambles to make a hasty escape, but is grabbed by the tail by Spike. “I insist”, commands the bulldog in his most friendly but commanding tones – and Jerry doubles up in the last laugh, as Tom is force-fed a healty slab of “tired” birthday cake.
Hog-Wild Hamton (Warner/Steven Spielberg, Tiny Toon Adventures, 9/18/91). With his parents off for a second honeymoon, Hamton Pig receives his first opportunity to be left in charge of the house without a baby sitter. Mama gently cautions that she doesn’t want to come back and find “a pig sty”, and Papa jokingly quips, “Just don’t blow up the house.” At linchtime at Acme Looniversity, Hamton tells Plucky Duck he’s doing nothing but staying home this weekend, as his parents left him in charge. One word that Hamton’s parents are away, and Plucky converts into a sort of living siren, leaping into the air with his eyes flashing, yelling to all “Party at Hamton’s house!” Plucky informs Hamton that it is his civic duty as a youth of America to throw a party when the folks are out of town – “How do you think parties happen, anyway?” “Well, I hadn’t given it much thought”, replies gullible Hamton. He begrudgingly invite Plucky over, with the provisos that he not touch anything, and not say a word about it to anyone. “Hey, my beak is buttoned”, says Plucky – all the while pasting sticky notes on Gamton’s back to set him up as a walking billboard, inviting all to come to the big event. By evening, the entire student body of Acme Loo is lined up at Hamton’s door. Not to be “caught unawares”, Plucky has also smuggled into the house several baskets and a table full of refreshments, and the party’s on! Hamton falls into a dead faint, then opens his eyes to see his parents against a peaceful blue sky, saying they’re here for him. Hamton says he had the most awful dream that the house was overrun with partygoers, and that Mom and Dad had come back and killed him. His parents gently inform him, “Sorry, son, this is the dream.” “And when we do come back, we really are going to kill you.”
With a poof, Hamton snaps back to reality, and the madness going on inside his home. Dizzy Devil raids the kitchen, cleaning out the contents of the refrigerator. “Why didn’t you just eat the whole thing?” asks Buster Bunny. Dizzy obliges, expanding into refrigerator size as he swallows the whole appliance, then spits out ice cubes. Plucky tries out the hi-fi stereo system, but activates a totally square CD of Barry Manilow, until Hamton retunes the set to a rocking version of the Tiny Toons theme. The girls compliment Hamton as a host, and tell him he should throw parties more often, and Hamton starts to get into the spirit of things, beginning to believe that Plucky was right. But a ring of the doorbell threatens to dampen their spirits. Egghead Jr. (the silent brain-boy of the Foghorn Leghorn series) cameos as Hamton’s next-door neighbor, handing Plucky and Hamton a written request to turn the party down to a dull roar, as he is studying for a final exam. Plucky confronts the chicken, booting him and shouting “What are you gonna do about it?” Egghead demonstrates on Hamton, from instructions in a book on pressure points of the nervous system – one touch on Hamton’s arm leaves him writhing on the floor, with his arm swelled up in agonizing pain. But the lunacy continues unabated (including Gogo Dodo tributing Fred Astaire’s “dancing on the ceiling” bit from “Royal Wedding”, and turning upside down the center of gravity for everyone else in the room at the same time). Plucky finds an ersatz “Mr. Microphone” device, and broadcasts the music to the whole neighborhood, short-circuiting a noise reduction helmet Egghead Jr. has resorted to to assist his ability to study. A military glee club is hired by Plucky to entertain, and bring along their cannon to provide appropriate backing for their vocal rendition of the 1812 Overture. This is the last straw to Egghead, and the little genius activates a remote control from his desk, as his house opens down the middle to reveal a missile silo , with missile launching straight at Hamton’s. The odd weapon does not explode, but extends a mechanical hand from its nose cone, finding the house’s sensitive “pressure point”, which collapses and destrots the home entirely. Panicky Hamton climbs our of the crater left in the wake, and yells as if to convince himself, “Maybe I can fix it.” Plucky calmly comments “Denial. Last stage of the doomed.”
All Hamton is able to salvage is four boards and a few shingles, which, even after hammered together, quickly fall apart. Plucky attempts to convince Hamton to fabricate a story to his folks that the whole incident was part of an alien abduction, but, when Hamton’s parents arrive, Hamton immediately snaps under pressure, and blurts out the entire truth. The parents are not altogether displeased with the news, informing Hamton that they’re proud of him, since they thought Hamton had no talent for making friends at all, and now they can cancel the planned therapy sessions they’d signed him up for. But they add that there’s still the matter of punishment for blowing up their home. Hamton sees in his mind’s eye himself on death row, heading for the chair, and states “Only a miracle can save me now.” One arrives on cue. Hamton is the only Acme Acres resident who enters Publishers’ Clearing House sweepstakes just to get the magazines. A limousine pulls up, from which steps Egg McMayhem (a parody of Johnny Carson Show emcee Ed McMahon), announcing Hamton has won the grand prize – a brand new house, delivered by crane fully constructed onto their lot. Everything is forgiven, as the film ends with Egghead Jr. handing McMayhem a note to cease his aggravating laughter, then applying another pressure point touch to McMayhem’s leg, leaving him hopping painfully up and down.
(Blooper) Bunny (Warner, Bugs Bunny, Greg Ford/Terry Lennon, dir.), produced in 1991 but held back from theatrical release, instead premiering on Cartoon Network in 1997, is a witty self-parody of both the Bugs Bunny 50th Anniversary promotion of the previous year, and a “mockumentary” send-up of any number of “The Making of” specials and bonus extras for various theatrical features. The occasion is Bugs’s 51 1/2th anniversary in show biz, beginning with publicity spreads on the front pages of Vacuity, Peeple magazine, and Sports Illuminated’s swimsuit issue (showing Bugs in a striped Victorian era swimsuit, shivering from the cold), among other various magazines. We see a clip from Bugs’ televised anniversary spectacular, featuring a song and dance number set to the same music Bugs and Yosemite Sam tap-danced to in the 1940’s in “Bugs Bunny Rides Again”, featuring appearances by Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and of course Sam. But then comes a behind the scenes look at the making of the special. In probably the only use of computer animated backgrounds in a Bugs Bunny short, introductory shots are shown as if taken by a hand-held camera walking through the set in three dimensions. Bugs rehearses the best read for his line of mock-modesty, “I’m so unimportant.” Yosemite Sam violently protests being hoisted by crane into a giant hollow birthday cake, accusing the director of placing him in the role of a “hoochie coochi girl”.
Elmer Fudd is found in his dressing room applying Minoxidil to his whole-head bald spot, from instructions in a pamphlet from the “Hair Cwub For Men”. Daffy paces the floor, protesting the entire concept of the special. “Who writes this slop? The next thing you know, they’ll stick me with three snot-nosed nephews. I wouldn’t put it past them!” Finally comes the performance, where virtually everything goes wrong. Bugs receives repeatedly missed tosses of a cane for his dance, because Daffy is the cane thrower, again complaining that his contract does not provide for such extra duty. Daffy also steps on Bugs’ dance cue, entering the scene too early, then walking beak-first into a microphone before exiting. Then, he misses the cue altogether, as he takes an offscreen “pit stop” in the little boy’s room. Elmer smuggles a real gun and live ammunition onto the set in place of the harmless pop gun he is supposed to use, setting Daffy’s head feathers alight like a candle when Bugs ducks the shot. “I thought it’d be a gweat birthday surprise if, after 51 1/2 years of twying, I finally bwasted you”, says Elmer. Daffy, snuffing out the flame, insists on the cameras rolling as he gives Elmer a severe “dressing down” and informs him to expect a call from his attorneys – a tirade that loses steam as Daffy steps on a loose floorboard and gets his beak wedged in the upturned board. Finally, Yosemite Sam (assisted by a team of cowgirls as his make-up artists), ignites the candles of the birthday cake from the inside, which are actually fireworks, setting off a glowing display for the finale.
As the cameras cut, Bugs takes Sam aside and comments “I though there were supposed to be five rockets”, instead of the four we’ve seen. “There were five – and I lit ‘em, too”, responds Sam – then suddenly wonders what became of the other rocket. The cast notices the answer – it’s hooked into the back of Sam’s belt. Sam becomes jet propelled, soaring around the studio, and straight into the camera, knocking it over. From a low angle as the film continues to roll, we see Bugs bending over the prone Sam out of camera range, whose voice is heard over the closing credits cursing as only Sam can curse. The camera returns to Bugs for one last shot, commenting to the crew, “Eh, maybe we can fix it in the editing.” Instead of the usual concentric rings, the hand-etched lettering “That’s all folks!” passes before the camera as if the printing on the tail leader of a projected film.
I’ll let the Animaniacs music video The Big Wrap Party Tonight (Warner/Steven Speilberg, 2/24/96), largely speak for itself. It’s an all-star affair, curiously thrown on open invitation to Hollywood in the Warners’ water tower. The cast is loaded with celebrity caricatures too numerous to mention, plus the entre cast of every Animaniacs segment, and some additional cameos from Tiny Toon Adventures and Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. When the banquest feasting ends, the Warners spring a surprise – there’s a bill for attending. And the only one who pays is studio owner Thaddeus Plotz, whose credit card (stolen by Yakko) gets debited for the whole affair.
Per expressed preferences of this site’s editor, we won’t be going comprehensively into more recent toons in this series for the foreseeable future. But it should be briefly noted that toon celebrations continue well into the not-so-distant past, including an all-out Hollywood-style wild party of the type that have brought about recent police raids, in Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” (2015), and an off-the-wall South of the Border fiesta for a moustached Mexican Mickey Mouse, battling to save a village from an army of living birthday piñatas, in “¡Feliz Cumpleaños!” (11/18/15).
The Party’s over. It’s time to call it a day.
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