Back to School (Part 7)
For this session, Paramount predominates, with six entries involving the subject of education, as we wend our way into coverage of the late 40’s and early 1950’s. However, we also include some notable side excursions with the modern styles of UPA and the more traditional yet updated treatment of Goofy at Disney, so that our course of study remains well rounded.
Little Red School Mouse (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 4/15/49 – I. Sparber, dir.) – In an old barn, classroom instruction is provided for young mice by a German-accented mouse professor, who lectures in song about the dangers of a cat. His lesson, much like that of Miss Pickerel in the studio’s earlier Educated Fish, is patterned after the fashion of “Schnitzelbank”, with repeating phrases about “eyes so big and green”, “teeth so sharp and mean”, etc. The entire class quickly adopts the message that the cat is their natural enemy, and the professor asks them to get tough and show their stuff – prompting the students to pelt a chart of the cat’s features with eggs. Enter a new student, freshly enrolled for his first day of instruction, but late for class. The lecture is almost over, and the chart obscured with dripping yolks, so he has no idea what’s going on when teacher asks if anyone has any questions about cats. Raising his hand, the new pupil asks the most innocent and foolish of questions – “What’s a cat?” The astonished professor keels over in a faint at the thought that all his effort has resulted in the student learning nothing. The rest of the class break Into hysterical laughter and jeering ridicule, placing the new student into a position of abject humiliation. The little mouse sadly trudges out the door of the barn, feeling much smaller than his already diminutive size.
In an alley nearby, a cat, wearing a battered top hat and cape and with the manner of an old thespian, surveys the garbage cans for his daily sustenance, pining for those distant days when he last feasted on a mouse. It looks like a bony fish skeleton will have to do, which he refers to as “Smorgasbord”, until he hears weeping on the opposite side of the alley fence. The little mouse is dejectedly heading home. The cat makes a few attempts on the mouse’s life, stabbing blindly at the mouse with a fork through a fence knothole, then placing a mousetrap in his path. The tearful mouse merely kicks the trap aside, back through a hole in the fence, where it snaps upon the nose of the cat. Finally, the cat hears the rodent wail at being the only mouse who doesn’t know what a cat is – and gets the picture. Darting to the mouse’s side of the fence, the cat states, “My little tidbit, your troubles have ceased. You are now perceiving what is indubitably known as a member of the feline family.”. All the while, the cat’s tail is busy building am open fire to simmer the little mouse in a frying pan. But the mouse is so overhoyed at the discovery of his new companion, that he asks the cat if he can show him off to the rest of the class. The cat is intrigued by this idea, envisioning a tray of mouse sausages with mustard at the ready. He agrees to accompany the young rodent to class, and finds this takes no effort at all, as the eager mouse drags him all the way back to the barn, the cat not hiving to move a muscle. In an aside to the audience, the cat reveals his hidden claws – shaped like sharp metal carving knives.
Inside, the mouse anxiously calls for the professor’s attention, proudly announcing that he knows what a cat is now, and proves it by pointing, “Look!” Teacher jumps entirely out of his wardrobe as he stares into the intense green eyes of the mouse’s show and tell project. The cat leaps upon the classroom desks, slashing his claws every which way in attempt to snare any fleeing morsel in the room. Most of the mice scurry into a mousehole, then zipper the hole shut. But the professor remains the principal target-for-tonight, and is pursued back and forth within the barn. The little mouse, now realizing he has unleashed something more than he expected, sets up a seies of booby traps for the cat. Placing the handle of a mallet into a knothole in the floor, the mouse bends the mallet head backwards with a string, then cuts the string with precision timing as the cat passes, flattening him briefly. The cat pops out of the compression like a spring, hitting a beam and sliding back to the ground. The mouse sets up a bent saw below to act as a slingshot, propelling the cat headfirst into the bottom of a large metal washtub. The cat’s head remains stuck in the wash basin, with his hands and body on the opposite side of the tub’s base. Activating a water hose, the mouse fills the tub with water, submerging the cat’s head. “Help! I’m drowning!”, sputters the cat, running aimlessly but unable to remove the tub from his head. Only when he collides with a large metal roller (a manual model pushed by a handle, instead of a steamroller) is the water knocked out of the tub, so the cat can regain his senses and pry himself free. Now, the cat takes up the roller, and pursues the mouse at full speed. The mouse runs up a ramp leading to the upper flooring of the barn. The cat tries his best to pursue, but the weight of the heavy metal roller prevents him from reaching the top of the ramp, bringing him to a standstill. The clever mouse grabs a large axe, and chops apart the handle with which the cat has been pushing the roller. With nothing left to support its weight, the roller rolls backwards, flattening the cat like a pancake. To add the final blow, the mouse brings down upon the cat a sign mounted to a wooden pole, smashing the cat as if her were hit by a fly swatter. The final scene depicts a celebratory parade, lead by the professor and the little mouse, who is carrying the wooden sign, now bearing on its front the motionless flattened cat. “He had nine lives but now there’s none. We got rid of every one.”
A Haunting We Will Go (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon (Casper), 5/13/49 – Seymour Knietel, dir.). The third entry in the continuing story of Casper the Friendly Ghost (which had not yet made a regular series, being issued instead as random specials), marks a somewhat sad milestone, being the first cartoon to fully set what would become the “formula” for about eighty percent of th Caspers yet to come. We all know the drill. Set Casper in a situation where he is ostracized by the ghosts for his friendliness. He goes out into the world to find a friend, but scares everyone silly, until some mall child or young animal who doesn;t know better befriends him. Add a villain, a scare from Casper to save the day, and a reunion between Casper and his playmate, then iris out. (While the previous two cartoons came close to these elements, they at least had some unique moments, such a Casper trying to commit suicide(???) and getting adopted in episode one, and failing to rescue his friend in episode two, but just as happy with him as a fellow ghost.) Here, the introductory scene takes place at a haunted little red school house. A ghost schoolmarm conducts the class in a shriek-filled chorus of the title tune, as the camera focuses upon mottos written on the blackboard, such as “Boo unto others as you would have others boo unto you”, “Fright makes right”, and “I will spook when spooken to.” Casper is of course the class dunce, for only wanting to make friends. The teacher announces, “For homework tonight, we will go out and practice what we screech.” The schoolhose empties with spirits flying everywhere, while Casper slowly emerges, walking right through the boarded-up entry of the deserted school. The rest, as they say, is predictable and off-point for our article, with Casper befriending a newly-hatched duckling, and eventually scaring off a hunter. Maybe I’ll tell you more if I ever do a series on duck hunting – but I doubt it.
Campus Capers (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon (Herman), 7/1/49 – Bill Tytla, dir.) – One of a small number of transitional Herman cartoons made before the introduction of his partner Katnip, and after the severance of his association with Milquetoast Henry the henpecked rooster. Already, another formula is beginning, though it appears fresher in view of its lack of heavy prior use. Taking place on the campis of Harbard University at an Alumni dinner in an auditorium, the graduates of former classes (all mice) celebrate the glories of their university with a college fight song. A circle of mice devour a layer cake from the bottom up, sucking up last the decorative lettering in icing as if it were strands of spaghetti. Classes in period garb from 1940. 1920, and 1900 join in musical praise of their respective graduates. All is well until a college fight chant is taken up, berating their rival university, Quinceton (a school most likely to promote an adversarial spirit in the mice, as they accept cats). “Down with Quinceton’s scary cats!”, they chant. Passing just behind the hall’s rear wall is a burly quarterback from Quinceton named Knucklehead, who overhears the verbal challenge through a barred window of the building. “Down with Harbard’s sissy brats!”, Knucklehead challenges back. Bending the window bars, Knucklehead gloats, “Oh, boy, what a Quinceton crash this’ll be.” He leaps into the hall, causing most of the mice to take refuge inside a grand piano. Knicklehead settles in front of the 88, and pounds with gusto on the keys, shaking up the mice and wrecking the piano. His final blows jettison the mice off the strings and out the window, where they lie scattered about on the sudewalk outside, moaning and dazed.
As would become the usual, in moments of crisis, count on Herman, the smart outsider, to arrive from nowhere. In this early entry, he makes a grand appearance, as a taxi pulls up on the street behind the building. No, Herman is not a paying passenger within the taxi. He is insead hitching a ride in style, in the arms of a decorative female radiator cap figurehead. Sliding down the curves of the metal figurine, Herman approaches the Alumni Hall, waving a Harbard banner. “For dear old Harbard, I would die”, he shouts. “You will if you go in there”, responds one of the mice on the sidewalk. They inform him that Knucklehead broke up their party. “What, again?”, responds Herman, who is apparently no stranger to such situation. Assuming his old duties as football captain, Herman calls for the alumni to rally their forces with him to oust the intruder. “Let’s get ‘im, fellas, dead or alive.” The mice chant back, “We dig ya, Herman. We’re hep to your jive.” They slip back into the hall, where Knucklehead has kicked back at the banquet table, devouring their food and champagne, while singing Quinceton’s college song. :Line up, fellas,” Herman instructs his troops, “We’ll give him the old flying wedge”. The mice form a football formation, until they notice Knucklehead sharpening a carving knife to dig into a roast turkey. While Herman continues to call signals, the mice behind him develop yellow streaks, and all scatter, leaving Herman to unknowingly run the play alone. But Herman is still plenty powerful, knocking over Knucklehead’s chair, and causing a watermelon to fall onto his head, taking the shape of a football helmet. Still unaware that he has no backup support, Herman calls out, “C’mon, team. Once more for dear old Harbard.” But Knucklehead is staring him in the face, as Herman looks around to find no teamwork. Thus begins the traditional, obstacle and prop studded chase and violent sight gags that would become the basic formula for most Herman and Katnip cartoons to come.
Knucklehead pursues Herman into the hall kitchen, where Herman dives into a block of Swiss cheese. Knucklehead places the cheese into a deli slicer, and thin-cuts the cheese into a row of slices. He flips through the slices like pages of a book, expecting to find one dissected mouse. Instead, Herman, despite being much wider in size than any slice, miraculously pops out from the cheese, and is propelled upwards to a meat rack, where he grabs a hanging salami and clobbers Knucklehead with it. The cat is knocked cold, falling with his face only inches from the slicer’s blade, and his tongue protruding. Herman gets a cruel idea to provide maximum psychological scars. He grabs from the shelf a beef tongue, and sticks it into Knucklehead’s mouth. Then he turns on the slicer, whose blade begins fine slicing the tongue. Knucklehead revives, and reacts in utter terror, believing his own tongue is being cut off. Ultimately discovering his real tongue still firmly planted, Knucklehead curses Herman as a little “cut-up”, and pursues again. The chase moves to the recreation room, and onro a bowling alley. Herman avoids stepping upon the slippery alley wax by grabbing the end of a towel for drying hands tied to the post of the ball return rack. Knucklehead passes him, slipping down the alley and scoring a headfirst strike, from which he emerges, transformed into the shape of a giant bowling pin. Herman grabs a ball, and picks up a pain-inducing spare. But as the other mice cheer Herman’s bravery, Knicklehead launches the ball back from the pinsetter’s pit, scoring a strike on Herman, as the ball smashes into the side of a pool table. Inside the table’s interior, Herman emerges from one of the holes of the bowling ball, and attempts to exit through the table’s pockets. Knucklehead leaps upon the table, plugging five of the pockets with his hands, feet, and tail.
Applying a little moisture from his own tongue, Herman reshapes the fur on the tip of Knucklehead’s tail into a facsimile of himself, and lets his voice be heard through the remaining side pocket that he is surrendering and coming out. Instead, he carefully threads Knuklehead’s tail upwards through the hole. The cat chomps upon the “mouse”, then leaps in pain from the self-inflicted wound, flipping the whole table upside down upon himself. Herman drags the cat out from underneath, flattened like a pancake, and attempts to slip him out of the hall under the front door. But the flattened cat curls upwards as he is shoved through, his head reentering the hall through the mail slot. As he pops back to normal shape, he grabs up Herman in apparent victory, and returns with him to the kitchen again. The cat prepares a mosse sandwich, applying pepper and mustard to our hero, who starts to say his prayers, until an idea hits him. As Knucklehead places the sandwich into his mouth, and is about to chew, he hears the muffled refrain of his own college fight song from inside his mouth. Pulling the sandwich back to investigate, he finds Herman waving a small Quinceton pennant. Is Herman an alumnus of the cat’s university? (Well, maybe they’re co-educational.) At any rate, the cat is momentarily fooled, and refusing to eat a fellow classmate, tearfully joins Herman in a nostalgic chorus of “their” song. The cat is so emotionally carried away, he fails to notice Herman climb to the ceiling atop a wagon-wheel chandelier, and saw away the support chain, causing the fixture to fall in Knucklehead. The cat is trapped inside the center hole of the wheel, and Herman gives the wheel a firm push, rolling the cat through a plate glass window, and off down the road, hopefully in the direction of his own college dormitory, for an exit. Herman’s team leap into cheerleading formations, standing one atop another to form the letters of the name “Harbard”, and cheer their university and the heroics of Herman (despite his traitorous turncoat masquerade as the enemy), for the iris out.
Teacher’s Pest (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 3/13/50 – I. Sparber, dir.) – Junior Owl is all charged up for his first day of school – at least after mother owl howls in his ear, “Wake Up!” to get him out of bed. Mother inspites Junior with a look though a photo album, at the other wise owls along their family tree, including emperor Napowleon, a chemical genuis known as the Wizard of Owls, and current professor Owlstein. (There was of course also Night Owl, a playboy who was the black sheep of the family.) Junior happily struts to school, convinced of his own inherited genius, and sings a little song in which he declares that though he’s “only startin’ kindergarten”, he’ll be graduating soon. On his way, he walks right over the chest of sleeping Wolfie (still a recurring character, despite the disappearance of his original partner, Blackie the black sheep). Wolfie rushes ahead, and lies in wait, with his jaws wide open in Junior’s path. The bird walks into the trap, but finds an escape route through Wolfie’s ear without missing a beat of his song or puncturing an eardrum. Then Junior tells the wolf he hasn’t got time to be eaten today, as he is heading for his first day of school. Wolfie uses this information to full advantage, racing up the road, and reversing a pair of road signs pointing to “school house” and “Wolf’s house” to point in the opposite of their intended directions. Returning to his own house, Wolfie applies a coat of red paint to the front, and misspells over the door “Skool Howse”. Junior reaches the crossroads and the reversed signs, and observes, “Good gosh. I can’t read writing.” Smacking a drop of spit in his palm to see which way it splashes, Junior starts to head in the direction of the real schoolhouse, until Wolfie stretches his arm to impossible lengths, dragging the kid back to his own domicile, where the wolf now stands in a cap and gown, ringing a school bell. Junior hands him nn apple. The worm inside is no fool, and seeing the wolf, heads for the hills, taking a wormhole with him. Wolfie takes Junior inside, where a large black pot waits in the center of the room. “Youse is me choice pupil, and for that, you get the choicest seat. He places Junior into the blackness of the empty pot. Junior complains that he can’t see the teacher. Wolfie fixes that, by filling the pot with water from a hose, causing Junior to float upwards into view on top. “Peek-a-boo”, declares Wolfie.
Class begins, with a rhyming lesson in mathematics. “One two, I like you. Three four, lock the door. Five six, chop some sticks, Seven, eight, lay ‘em straight,” (Straight around the pot, that is.) “Nine, ten, I eat again”, concludes the wolf, slamming a steel lid down upon the pot. But there is a knock at the door. Junior’s Mom, following the misdirected signs, has arrived with a basket of lunch for Junior. Gazing through a peephole in the door, Wolfie envisions Mom as roasted on a large platter, and welcomes his prospective main course in. As Wolfie locks the door again, Junior appears from under the pot lid, stating, “This humidity is killing me”, with steam gauges appear in his eyes, needles reading at the boiling point. Mom is aghast at discovering Junior’s predicament, and lifts Junior from the pot a split secong before Wolfie can slam the lid down again. While Junior races into the clear, Wolfie pursues fatter Mom, slamming a box down upon her, from which she slides in cubic form, labeled as a box lunch. But Junior returns, announcing he’s learned his lesson, and begins to recite. “One, two, fooey on you”, smacking Wolfie in the face with a pair of mallets. “Three, four, on the floor” (Wolf falls to the floor, his face bearing a pair of black eyes, between the pages of a spelling primer open to the letters “F” and “L”, so that with the black eyes, they spell out the word, “FOOL”. “Five six, chop some sticks. Sevenm eight, lay them straight”, recites Junior, chopping wood to knock the wolf unconscious with the flying boards, “laying him straight” across, then into, the boiling pot). “Nine, ten, don’t do it again”, concludes Junior, placing the pot lid over the wolf. Pressure builds, and the wolf is blown through the roof and into the sky, losing his cap and gown, while at the same time attempting to fan his steaming tail. He lands in a stream, and his ears protrude from the water like a periscope, as he disappears downstream and away. Mother hugs Junior for the timely rescue, announcing, “Today, you are a man.” The wolf’s cap and gown float down from the sky, landing upon proud Junior, who concludes the film with a repeat of his boast that “I’ll be graduating soon.”
Goofy Goofy Gander (Paramount/Famous, Little Audrey, 8/18/50 – Bill Tytla, dir.) – Here’s one that definitely belongs on an Animation Trail. Snip an idea from here, an idea from there, paste them together, and you’ve got a, sort of, new cartoon. Start out with a borrowed theme from another studio. You will recall that Terrytoons’ Nancy premiere in “School Daze” revolved around the idea that learning from comic books was more interesting and superior to real life study. Little Audrey is of the same opinion, bored with the class’s assignment to memorize and recite Mother Goose rhymes, and instead conceals hidden between the pages of her grade school primer the latest issue of “Phoney Funnies”, a comic book featuring Pin Head and Bird Brain, a pair of would-be crooks. Pin Head calls himself a “sharpie”, with a brow and chin that come to a razor point. Bird Brain is a “stooge” type, with a hairdo resembling a bird’s nest, and a hole in the side of his cranium, providing a bird-house style entrance for an actual bird that lives inside his skull. As Audrey reads of their exploits in a failed attempt upon the gold at Fort Knox, the teacher calls on Audrey to recite. Thoughtlessly picking up from the last line of dialogue of the comic, Audrey assumes a gun moll demeanor, and tells the teacher, “I ain’t talkin’, see?” The kids roar with laughter, while Audrey is sent to the dunce’s corner to study her nursery rhymes, and, totally bored and frustrated, falls asleep. (Doesn’t this sound like the setup from Little Lulu’s “Bored of Education”, previously reviewed?) As Audrey dozes, the book in her hands grows in size, and out of its pages flies a lovely, “modern” Mother Goose, strongly resembling the teacher. (More parallels to the growing book in “Bored of Education”, as well as a liberal dip into the world of Fleischer’s “Mother Goose Land” for Betty Boop in 1933.) The Goose provides aerial transportation for Audrey into the world of Mother Goose (much the same as how Betty got there), as Mother Goose explains that those in her land are quite alive and hep to the jive, and that what Audrey sees will open her eyes. Little Boy Blue is fast asleep – on the stage at the “Haystack Club” night spot, but when he awakes blows a bebop wail on his trumpet, while two sheep and a cow provide vocal accompaniment in the style of your choice of current “sister” acts making the circuits. In a rather mature gag for a grade schooler, Mary’s little “lamb” turns out to be a human white-haired sugar daddy – “and everywhere that Mary went, she’d fleece him for his dough”, using her crook cane to steer him into a jewelry shop. Just the kind of role model every mother wants to instill into their juvenile daughters! Little Tommy Tucker sings for his supper – although his day job is street sweeper. However, his face and build are no strangers to the audience, as he is so pencil thin, he is eclipsed by the broom, and emerges as a caricature of Frank Sinatra. He breaks into song with a chorus of “Let’s Get Lost” (another direct lift from the past, using the same number wth which he swooned Olive Oyl in “Shape Ahoy”). Audrey and Mother Goose both swoon and faint atop the goose, who flies resolutely onward, toward a fairgrounds atop a tall mountain.
At such grounds, we discover that Audrey is not the only newcomer to this land. From behind a pole emerge, now in fully animated form, comic book refugees Pin Head and Bird Brain, who commit their first crime in the realm by swiping a penny from a tiny pig, and depositing in in a streetcar conductor’s change machine worn on a belt arounf Pin Head’s waist, into a compartment marked “Penny Larceny”. But there is bigger game afoot, as they observe the jackpot of jackpots – a public display of skill by the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs. Here we have yet another lift from the past, with a reuse of set and animation from previous Noveltoon, “Cilly Goose”, as the goose lays egg after egg to a conga-beat syncopation of the Chicken Reel. Audrey has to put on sunglasses to get close enough to observe the glitter of the egg pile. Pin Head and Bird Brain pull out a pair of “gats”, and announce a “stick-up”. Audrey instantly recognizes them, and comments that they don’t belong in here. The crooks hijack a long sedan, placing the eggs in the rear, and their source, the goose, in the rear seat with Bird Brain to hold her hostage, then careen down a spiral mountain road to make a getaway (taking a brief detour through Humpty Dumpty’s wall, where the famous egg does not crack, as he rearks in Edward G. Robinson’s voice and face that he’s “hard-boiled”). Audrey races to the rescue, borrowing Mother Goose’s flying goose, and Boy Blue’s horn. She swoops in closer and closer to the crooks’ car. The crooks fire a spray of bullets in Audrey’s direction (not having the “bird-brains” to shoot the goose down and take out the pilot at the same time). The bird in Bird-Brain’s head even adds to the fire, by pitching eggs from its nest. Audrey twists Boy Blue’s horn into a U-shape, catching the bullets in the bell of the horn, then curving them back at the crooks. The villains stop shooting, and Audrey leaps off the goose’s neck into the car, wrestling with the crooks to make an arrest. (By the way, who’s steering to keep the car on the road?) Exit our dream sequence, to find Audrey on the floor in the classroom corner, wrestling the legs of the dunce stool. Teacher is astonished, but Audrey has turned over a new leaf, with a new-found respect for Mother Goose, as up to date after all. From out of Audrey’s hair pops Bird Brain’s bird, declaring, “She’s hep to the jive. Mother Goose is sure alive.” Audrey of couse breaks into her trademark laugh at this interjection, for the iris out.
Gerald McBoing Boing (UPA/Columbia, Jolly Frolics, 11/2/50 – Robert Cannon/John Hubley, dir.) – The Academy Award winning Dr. Seuss tale of a boy who can’t speak words – and only talks in sound effects. Naturally, such a phenomena has a drastic effect on his ability to receive an education. Gerald is driving his dad, Mr. McCloy, crazy with random effects ranging from auto horns to a keg of gunpowder, and Dad insists that Gerald must go to school to learn words. But the teacher has other ideas, and Gerald is sent home with a note pinned to his jacket, reading as follows:
“From Public School 7 to Mrs. McCloy:
“Your little son Gerald’s a most hopeless boy.
“We cannot accept him, for we have a rule that pupils must not go ‘cuckoo’ in our school.
“Your boy will go ‘boing’ all his life, I’m afraid.
Teacher, First Grade.”
However, as most animation fans already know, Gerald’s life does have a happy outcome. Dejected and friendless, Gerald attempts to run away, and is on the verge of hopping a fast freight train, when he is stopped by the owner of a radio station, only identified musically by the three chimes used by NBC. The man has been searching for Gerald many long weeks, to offer him a position to supply all the sound effects needed for his radio programs. Gerald singlehandedly performs vocally all the sounds of a rip-snorting gun battle in a Western saloon, and becomes an instant broadcast hit. “Now Gerald is rich. He has friends. He’s well fed. For he doesn’t speak words. He goes ‘boing boing’ instead.”
By Leaps and Hounds (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon, 12/21/51 – I. Sparber, dir.), opens on the impressive olde English architecture of the edifice of Fox Hound College, where a brass plaque sets forth the motto, “Through rain, snow, sleet and hail, we’re always on the fox’s tail.” The hunt master is a dog himself, portly in build, with white whiskers shaped like a distinguished Englishman’s moustache, and a bright red hunting suit. He calls roll in the courtyard to a class of eager and seasoned foxhounds, who respond to the call of their names with traditional stereotype English expressions such as “pip pip” and “rather”. Through the gates of the college races in a small young foxhound named Herbert, for his first day of training. Herbert is so small, he has a recurring problem of tripping over his own long ears, and tumbles headfirst into the Master, bowling him over Herbert introduces himself, and boasts of his blueblood pedigree. The Master asks him if he knows what a fox looks like, and Herbert finds himself at a loss. (Isn’t this wfere we came in, with “Littke Red School Mouse”?) The Master demonstrates, with a hairbrush tied to his tail to exhibit a “bushy tail”, a stretch of his nose to display a “long pointed snout”, and a baring of his dentures to display “sharp teeth”. “Now do you know what a fox looks like?” he asks. Herbert replies, “He looks like you, teacher.” “Hopeless”, grumbles the Master, while the other dogs snicker. The Master assigns Herbert to the rear of the pack, directing him to follow and not get lost. He also issues Herbert a small hunting horn, advising him that, on the chance that he sees a fox, blow the horn, and the pack will do the rest.
Out on the hunt, attempting to pick up the fox’s trail, the pack approaches a path between two trees, where a fox rests in a suspended hammock. Hearing the approach of the hounds, the fox pulls on the ropes by which the hammock is suspended, which is strung like a clothesline through pulleys, moving his hammock into the concealment of one of the trees. The hounds pass without noticing him, and he tugs in reverse on the rope to place himself back in resting position above the path. But far in the rear approaches little Herbert – who is too unobservant to even take note of the hammock’s occupant. Encountering a stream just beyond where the hammock is strung, Herbert dips his toe in, and shudders at the water’s coolness. To get across, he reaches for the only thing hanging from above him – the fox’s tail – and performs a Tarzan-style leap, using the tail as a vine to cross the water. Unfortunately, his weight also drags the owner of the tail out of his beauty rest, and splashes him rudely into the drink. The fox is madder than a wet hen, but naive Herbert catches first sight of him, and attempts to address him. Despite the pup’s small size, the fox is quickly aware on sight that he is a foxhound, and dives for cover into the stream. Herbert pokes his head underwater, and asks the cowering red critter if he’s seen a fox about. The puzzled fox catches on that he’s dealing with a newbie, and responds, “There’s no one here but us fishes”, curling his lips into the “O” shape of a fsh’s opening and closing mouth. Herbert advises him to let him know if he does see one, so that he can blow his horn and summon the hounds. The fox realizes this kid might cause him trouble – and also sees a chance to give the hounds a few headaches while dealing with this young upstart. He emerges from the stream, suddenly “remembering” that he did see a fox hereabouts, and leads the pup to a cave. From a safe place of concealment behind some rocks, he directs the pup to look in at the “fox” inside the cave. What Herbert observes is in fact a large brown bear. Herbert remembers his instructor’s words, but forgets to look for the bushy tale, instead content with observing the “long pointed snout” and “sharp teeth” of the cave’s occupant. “My word! A fox,” concludes Herbert, and blows his horn loudly for the pack. The dogs and Master come a-running, and charge into the cave – then just as quickly, the pack of dogs fly out again, the recipients of mighty smacks from the bear’s paws. The bear personally carries out the Master by the collar of his coat, and states in Cockney accent, “I say, can’t a ‘bloke hibernate in peace?”. then boots the Master out with a swift kick.
Herbert is again at a loss to explain what happened. But the Master is not at a loss for words, hanging Herbert’s horn upon the pup’s snout, and stating, “You can blow this horn until you’re blue in the face. We are not coming back!” These are the words the fox has been waiting to hear, as the pack departs. Grabbing up Herbert, the fox takes over Herbert’s education in his own way. “Want to see a fox?”, he asks, then proudly displays his bushy tail, long pointed smout, and sharp teeth. Herbert finally absorbs the lesson, and realizes he’s been played for the fool. He blows madly upon his horn, but the Master remains true to his word, ignoring the call, and remarking “Silly ass”. There is no recourse for Herbert but to flee for his life, as the fox pursues with a sharp axe, chopping sown a tree in which Herbert hides, slice by slice. Herbert is at the top, hiding among baby birds in a bird’s nest as if one of them. The fake fledgling is quickly revealed, by dangling a juicy worm in front of his face, revolting the startled pup. The chase resumes, and Herbert is dead-ended into a box canyon. However, as the fox prepares to deliver a lethal blow, Herbert takes advantage of the time of day, looking down at a watch on his paw. “Four o’clock! Time for tea,” “So soon?”, responds the Fox, dropping the axe. They proceed to some rocks that serve as a tea table and stools, as Herbert produces a teapot, cups, and sugar bowl. Predicting a later, more well-remebered Bugs Bunny gag, Herbert asks, “One lump or two?” “I’ve a sweet tooth, guv’ner. Seven lumps, if you please”, responds the fox. Producing a bat (not sure if the animators got it right, as you would think he would use a flattened cricket bat), Herbert clunks the fox with seven blows. The final scenes find Herbert back at the academy, with the fox tied up on a stool in front of the class. All the other students, who came up empty-handed, are now wearing dunce caps. The Master asks Herbert to tell the class how he made the capture. “I gave him his tea, and seven lumps”, Herbert responds, pulling out the bat again and demonstrating his technique on the teacher’s noggin. A close shot on the teacher’s head reveals seven numbered, cube-shaped lumps as they appear on the Master’s scalp, for the iris out.
Teachers are People (Disney/RKO, Goofy, 6/27/52 – Jack Kinney, dir.), takes a look at education from the opposite side of the coin – from the grade school teacher’s point of view. We can only wonder how out former country bumpkin Goofy acquired a teacher’s degree, as well as respectable suit to dress for the occasion of facing a class of rebellious grade-schoolers. But somehow, the brainless buffoon is transformed into a fountain of knowledge for our next generation to take inspiration from. That is, if he can get the kids to sit still long enough to let any of his wisdom sink in. First step is getting the class in the front door. For this. Goofy assumes the role of a crossing guard, holding up a hand-held Stop sign to oncoming traffic at the crosswalk. He proceeds to the center of the street while traffic screeches to a halt, allowing the kids to cross the road. Poor Goof forgets, however, that the sign is his symbol of authority, and pockets the sign inside his jacket before leaving the street. With nothing to stop them, traffic in both directions instantly resumes full speed, leaving the Goof to dodge vehicles right and left, then leap for the sidewalk to save his own neck. Inside the school, all is already mayhem, as the unattended kids are flinging at each other every stray book and paper in the place. Goofy equips himself for his task, by donning a baseball umpire’s mask and chest protector. This protective gear allows him to survive a trip across the front of the classroom to a safety zone behind a music chart, from which he blows a whistle to bring the class to otder, and begin a chorus of “Good Morning”. As the song is sung, Goofy observes a non-flattering chalk drawing of “Teecher” on the blackboard. His first reaction is that of an educator – correct the spelling error by drawing in an “A”. Only then does his reaction become personal with regard to the insulting drawing, which he attempts to remove with an eraser. While his back is turned to the class, a rear-view mirror extends out of Goofy’s jacket, revealing a youth named George about to take aim upon him with a slingsht. George is called to the front of the class, and ordered to empty his weapon into the teacher’s desk. The slingshot, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg, and George also deposits into the desk a switchblade knife, a revolver and bullets, firecrackers and skyrockets, a mousetrap, and a ticking hand grenade (which Goofy coolly deposits into a wastebasket which he keeps filled with water for just such an emergency). (This cartoon is rarely if ever shown today, in the terrorist-tinged 2000’s – but who in the 1950’s coud have dreamed that these preposterous pranks might someday become realities?)
Goofy calls roll, as his pupils engage in such extracurricular activities as dunking girl’s pigtails in inkwells, slipping frogs down each other’s backs, and tossing paper airplanes at teacher (Goof being adept at catching them effortlessly in mid air and crumpling them into the wastebasket). Only George does not respond, as he is outside the window, attempting to sneak away with fishing pole and can of worms, The long arm of Goofy’s authority snatches him by the collar, back into the classroom, where he is seated in the dunce’s stool. Goofy calls for “homework”, which in his class consists of each pupil presenting Goof with a shiny red apple. But again, one is missing, as George is eating his himself. When Goof attempts to get it back, George pulls the old chalk scratch on the blackboard gag again to frazzle him. As George makes faces at the class, Goofy pulls down in front of him a map of the world, and attempts to conduct a geography lesson. Such classes in Goofy’s time were much the same as in my later grade-school days, as Goofy wrestles with keeping up with current events, attempting to explain the new names and boundaries assigned to countries which no longer match the illustrations in the students’ out-of-date textbooks. To Goody’s relief, the noon bell sounds, and the kids spend an hour littering and laying waste to the playground, while Goofy gobbles down a small orchard worth of apples. He does take time, however, to listen to a story being told by George to his classmates in a whisper just outside the classroom window. When the unheard punch line is reached, Goofy blushes bright red in innocent embarrassment (ah, those travelling salesman stories do get around). Returning to his desk, Goof passes a chart he had prepared for a lecture, illustrating “birds” and “bees”. Given that the students’ sense of humor seems light years more advanced than this basic lesson, Goofy wisely tosses the chart into the trash.
Noon break over, the kids drag themselves unenthusiasticaly back into class (with George only returning by being prodded in bodily by the Goof). A spelling lesson mimics the prompting from the audience of Tubby to Litte Lulu in “Bored of Education”, as George is asked to spell the word “Cat”. George immediately peeks at his next-desk neighbor’s paper for an answer, but the other student holds the paper away. George pulls a water pistol on the student, who shows him the paper. “K-A-T, Cat.”, answers George. “Wrong”, snarls Goof, while the second student, who had the setup rigged to fool George all the time, snickers. George nevertheless retaliates with a blast of water from the pistol into the second student’s face, The remainder of the day’s activities are quickly summarized by a narrator (voiced br Alan Reed (TV’s original Fred Flintstone)), including art (where George continuously spashes red paint upon Goofy’s clean suit), crafts (where George learns to use a screwdriver to disassemble school desks), and afternoon tests (where a chain of students copy answers from each other’s papers, all routing back to the desk of a student closest to Goofy, getting answers from a master copy of the test Goofy has carelessly left visible from his trousers pocket). “Little hands make the time pass quickly”, observes the narrator. The students take this literally, pushing the “little hands” of the classroom clock agead to 3:00 p.m. when Goofy isn’t looking. Dismissal time hits earlier than expected, and the day ends for everyone except Goofy, who puts on a trashman’s sack and pointed stick, and begins picking up the paper debris from the halls and schoolyard, turning to reveal an additional piece of paper fastened by a student to his pants with a safety pin, with the words “Kick Me” thereon. Goof also cleans erasers, and endures a parent-teacher meeting, where a tough mug complains about Goof criticizing his son’s grammar, expressing his own sentiments by a punch to Goofy’s nose. An iris begins to close upon a final shot of the schoolhouse, as the narrator pays final verbal tribute to the noble teaching profession – when an explosion rocks the building, blasting out walls and windows. “There are times when disciplinary action must be taken”, observes the narrator, as George is given a sentence to write over and over on the blackboard, “I will not bomb the school again.” (Again, who would have thought this cartoon could have predicted events of nearly 70 tears later?) But George’s handwriting resuls in repeated scratching on the blackboard, leaving Goofy’s nerves again jangled as he attempts to grade test papers far into the night, while the real iris out closes.
Forging forward, we’ll follow the fifties further, next time.