Unpredictable As Weather (Part 1)
“A lot of weather we’ve been having lately”, once quipped Oliver Hardy to make conversation, in the classic feature Way Out West. Such profound words could never be truer than in the present day. Nationwide cold snaps and record-breaking heat waves. Atmospheric rivers that transform a drought-plagued coast into concern for mudslides, early thaws, and overflowing reservoirs. Year after year, ever more extremes.
So, ‘tis the season when we should turn to the parallel existence of our toons, who’ve been dealing with climactic changes and extremes of temperature for decades. Our current trail will thus focus on the weather – in all forms. Drought. Tornado. Blizzard. You name it – and a toon’s been through it. Hardy stock, these creations of pen and ink. True survivalists. We’ll be prognosticating a forecast of rough seas, low ceilings, and foggy, foggy dew, and see how our favorite stars weather the storm. Perhaps their plights will teach a few lessons we may someday put to use ourselves, when nature’s onslaught catches up with our own personal lives.
Today’s group of films will focus on the silent era. As usual, glimpses from this period are sketchy, and it’s difficult to impossible to say who was the first character to face the elements in their rawest form. Title lists from lost films seem to provide little guidance on this topic in determining episodes likely to have featured climactic perils – so rather than speculate, we’ll simply present a representative sample of favorites from what titles are known and available, covering a good number of the most popular stars of the silent days.
Paul Terry gets in early with If Noah Lived Today (Aesop’s Fables (Farmer Al Falfa), 1924). Terry, along with most other major studios, would take considerable inspiration from the Biblical Noah story – and why not? It was a natural for animators, allowing them to trot out a menagerie of every species of animal they could sketch. For some, this aspect of the story would be the primary driving force for the productions, with plots twisted around to divert away from the original flood peril and save on costly special effects (such as, for example Max Fleischer’s first Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark, or Terry’s own Amateur Night on the Ark or Noah’s Outing, all of which for such reasons will not be visited along this trail). We’ll stick to the stories of the fabled sailor that include the raindrops – of which there were many, as will be seen.
Farmer Al Falfa, as was customary in Terry product, assumes the role of Noah. The old tale of the flood takes a few new twists in keeping up with modern technology, as the forecast for torrential rain is first achieved by means of a giant barometer in a planetarium observatory. The dog manning the weather station calls Noah’s attention to it, and the two of them head immediately to the PDQ radio station, where Noah transmits an emergency broadcast on all frequencies. “Run for your lives! Beat it for Jersey! Big flood coming!”, shout the airwaves. Many animals receive the message in their own ways. A cow has antenna wires strung between her horns and her erect tail. She relays the message to the bull, who blows a warning call on one of his removable horns, leading the herd into the hills. A cat and dog use a clothesline as their antenna receiver, which not only results in their own retreat, but the departure of the clothes on the line, which assemble themselves into the shape of their intended wearer and race away. A hen wheels away her nest of eggs in a baby carriage. Lightning threatens and strikes a discarded soup can, from which a herd of mice depart with their children and furniture. A lightning bolt strikes a table one mouse is carrying, and becomes lodged in the wood like the point of a saw. The mouse takes time out to pry the jagged bolt loose, but it takes off in pursuit of the rodent. Noah leaves the radio station, and waves everyone into the mouth of a mammoth cave. Terry is none too careful about having the animals board the craft two by two, instead opting for animation simplicity by utilizing repeating cycles of the same species of animals entering the cave again and again and again. He even includes a repeating cycle of several brontosaurus charging up to and entering the cave – animation no doubt recycled from some stone-age epic, very inappropriate for a cartoon supposedly cast in the setting of “today”.
After a pause, out from the cave comes the modern-day equivalent of the ark – a flying dirigible, bearing the name “Shenandoah” (a reference to a navy dirigible which was well-known in its day, yet coincidentally crashed during a thunderstorm in its later career with many fatalities – not in the manner of the Hindenburg, as it used helium instead of hydrogen, but from updrafts which drove it beyond the tolerance altitude of its gas bags, causing them to explode from differences in air pressure). Some effective lightning scenes and a massive downpour follow while the craft becomes airborne – including what could possibly by Terry’s first use of the oft-repeated gag of having it rain “cats and dogs” – with such species pouring down from the clouds. This gag actually didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the setting of a Noah cartoon – wouldn’t all these new animals be more strays that Noah would have to pick up? There is a well-animated shot where the banks of the ocean rise above the shore, flooding the mouth of the cave from which the airship just departed. As for the remainder of the film, Terry fans have largely seen it before in at least half a dozen repetitions. A small balloon is tied to the rear of the dirigible, separately carrying two skunks. For no good reason, the skunks decide they’d rather ride aboard the mother ship, and scamper across on the tow rope. The animals panic, running around and around, tipping the ship end over end like a football in flight. Farmer Al eventually gets spritzed, forced to hang his soiled laundry out on a clothesline suspended with another toy balloon, and still has the skunks running around his neck. This setup was practically repeated verbatim in the sound short, Skunked Again in the 1930’s, with Al aided and abetted by both Kiko the kangaroo and Puddy the pup.
Koko the Clown provides three qualifying appearances below where weather is a factor. The Storm (Fleischer, Out of the Inkwell, 12/20/24) Per IMDB – other sources claim 1925)) lacks some exposition, as currently available prints are music scored and missing their intertitles. For reasons unknown, Koko is minding a baby, dressed in a junior clown suit, but not yet old enough to be wearing the make-up. Max seems upset at the kid’s bawling, so protests to Koko to keep him quiet. Above, a storm is brewing, both outside Max’s studio and on Koko’s drawing board. A first few raindrops fall on the kid’s noggin, inducing a new round of crying. Koko decides to change baby’s diaper, but gets things crossed up so that it is fastened over the child’s head like a bonnet. In a politically incorrect gag, the baby pulls the fabric down over his head, changing iys appearance as ig he is wearing the hood of a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Baby retaliates by giving Koko an upper cut to the jaw. The storm continues to mount, as passing clouds overhead form ito the shape of the Hebrew letters “Kosher for Passover”, then lightning bolts transform into weird shapes, including that of a stereotypic Chinaman, the globes of a pawnbroker’s sign, and a mug of beer. Max decides to increase the effect of the rising wind upon Koko, by turning an electric fan toward the drawing board, blowing Koko’s hat off, then slipping into the fan’s trajectory substitute head gear for Koko, including not only various styles of hats, but a Johnny Appleseed steel pot, and an inverted goldfish bowl. The baby dodges bolts of lightning, giving one a sock, causing it to collapse like a fallen ribbon onto the ground, and be given s fighter’s count of ten before being declared out. The bolt then revives, and the baby rides it along the background like a wild stallion. Koko meanwhile is having troubles of his own. The wind is so powerful, it blows every detail of facial featuring cleanly off of his head. No matter, as Koko suddenly turns around, revealing that he is “two-faced”, with another full set of facial features on the other side. He tries to raise an umbrella, but every time he does, the rain stops. When he folds the umbrella back up, the rain starts again. The secret is off to one side, where the baby has found a rotating traffic-control “Stop” and “Go” device, with which he is controlling the timing of the downpour. A bolt of lightning now crashes down to make a hole into Max’s roof. Max is so scared, his hairline recedes off his brow, descending temporarily to invert irself on his face as a beard. Koko finds himself engulfed in a pair of tornados, which twist him into the transformed shape of a barber pole. Max’s drawing table is being pelted with crumpled-up sheets of drawing paper in the powerful fits of wind, and another lightning bolt blasts away Max’s suit, reducing him to his underwear. Koko and the baby are blown off the drawing board, spiral around together like a pinwheel, then land in the inkwell bottle. Max wastes no time in plugging the bottle neck with his index finger, long enough to find the stopper, and cap up the episode in the usual manner.
Alice’s Balloon Race (Disney/Winkler, Alice Comedies, 1/15/26) is one of the more memorable entries of the Disney series, though Alice has fairly little to do except tag along for the ride. The action all goes to her cat Julius, making it look like it should be a Felix cartoon. Alice and Julius enter a balloon race for a $10,000 prize, in an emtry looking like a football-shaped blimp with a two-passenger gondola, the gondola L-shaped to include an exterior observation deck from which they can wave at the cheering crowd. Their three competitors choose more traditional ball-shaped balloons and baskets. Among them is a silk-hatted taller cat, of the Oil Can Harry type, who we’ll refer to as the villain. The takeoff occurs when a dog fires a cannon shot as the starting gun, the cannonball severing all of the crafts’ mooring ropes. One competitor is out instantly, as his balloon for unknown reasons never gets off the ground. A second one is quickly eliminated, when his craft bumps too close to the villain’s, and the evil one retaliates by puncturing the other’s balloon with a pin. So the race is immediately down to Alice and the villain. With Alice out of sight in the gondola, Julius pilots the blimp for a pass just in front of the villain. The villain shouts and flails his arms in protest, then defies gravity by deflating his own balloon, packing it in the basket, then tiptoeing through space underneath the blimp, to pop up again in front of Julius and re-inflate the balloon. The villain grabs hold of the nose of the blimp, and shoves the craft downward, almost as if he were downing a football in the end zone. The blimp lands on the ground with a thud, but is structurally okay, except ir seems to have lost some of its buoyancy. Julius tries to relaunch it, but it just won’t stay up. He carries it on his back, bounces it on his tail, blows at it from underneath with his own breath and with a fireplace bellows, but it still comes down plop on top of Julius. Alice makes a brief appearance to scold Julius, until he recruits a hippo lounging nearby for a dose of red pepper from a shaker, and a powerful sneeze. The forceful breeze gets Alice and the blimp aloft, but Julius misses the boat, and is left on the ground. Alice (in a long shot which is merely animated instead of live action), lowers a rope ladder to Julius, but forgets to tether it to anything, so it merely slips out of the gondola as Julius climbs. Julius reaches a height of about three feet below the gondola, and runs out of ladder. He falls to the ground, briefly breaking into crumbs before reassembling himself. Producing a rope from nowhere, Julius casts one end of it skyward, the rope end hooking over the rigging of the gondola and falling back to within Julius’s reach. Julius ties the other end of the rope to his tail, then hauls on the opposite end, lifting himself as if by pulley back to and into the gondola.
Now the weather begins to play a part in the festivities. Some well-animated lightning begins to strike on all sides of the airship from an ominous black cloudbank above. The blimp attempts to dodge it, first by flying in fugure-8 patterns, then spinning in place to avoid hits near the nose and tail. Without explanation, the gondola separates from the ship, and is blown to a position behind it. It flips end over end, briefly dropping out, then catching its passengers, as it is supported in flight by the mere force of the wind. Julius looks out to see what is going on, and jumps over the observation deck rail, to walk on air and physically push the gondola to a position where it rides atop the body of the blimp. Lightning attacks in sideways strikes from both sides, with the gondola leaping and ducking to avoid each bolt. Suddenly, the blimp body is finally struck by lightning, which appears from underneath, and transforms into the shape of a drill, spinning to produce a gaping hole in the gas bag’s side. The craft falls deflated to the ground with a crash. Alice is again briefly seen, thrown from the wreckage and staggering woozily, oddly hearing the music of birds around her head, which appear not as the usual circling aviary, but as three miniature chickens playing saxophone, banjo, and violin. Julius is still falling, having slowed his descent by a built-in parachute which has popped out of his tail. He lands on the back of a dachshund. The two animals react in surprise at seeing one another, each producing a comic-strip thought balloon above their head with a question mark in it. Julius grabs the two balloons, and ties them onto each end of the dachshund’s long body, which immediately rises aloft to rejoin the race. He adds propulsion by detaching and converting his tail into a pair of oars. But the dog’s backbone can’t stand the strain, first drooping then snapping in two, (Anyone for hot dogs?) Julius falls again, but his fall is broken upon the belly of a sleeping elephant, who just happens to have a picnic basket lying nearby. Resourceful Julius pulls from behind his back a bicycle pump, insets the hose into the elephant’s nose, and inflates the helpless beast to balloon size. Hooking the picnic basket onto the elephant’s trunk, Julius is off again. Alice, you notice, becomes unimportant throughout the second half of the cartoon, and is left behind, without even being seen on screen, Julius’s only acknowledgment of her being to wave downward in her direction as he ascends.
Julius reaches with his paws through the air like oars to gain some forward momentum, but realizes things are too slow. A large passing bird provides the solution, as Julius grabs its tail, allowing the frightened bird to tow him along at high speed. He finally catches up to, then passes, the villain’s balloon, with the usual shouting of curses by the angered villain. But another lightning bolt makes a direct hit on Julius’s paw, causing him to lose his grip on the bird’s tail feathers, and also his high speed. The villain catches up, and reaches out with one paw in deliberate over-extension toward the camera to get at Julius. Julius abandons the basket, climbing up atop his elephant balloon. The villain laughs, scoffing at how slow Julius is, and merely waves him off as no competition, then picks up speed to leave him behind. Julius meanwhile finds that riding on top leaves him more exposed to the elements. A small cloud centers itself directly over Julius and begins a downpour. Julius removes his marvelous tail again, transforming it into an umbrella. The cloud retaliates, forming a hand extension, which snatches away the canopy of the umbrella. Julius’s next move is to break off a small piece of the remaining handle, to serve as a cork to plug up the hole in the cloud where the rain is coming out. He restores what is left of his tail to its original position by ingesting it through his mouth, causing it to reappear on his rear after traversing his digestive system. But the elements are not through with him. A lightning bolt shoots in sideways, chasing Julius off the balloon, and jabbing him with its point a few times in the rear end. Julius stops in mid-air, holds his ground, and grabs hold of the point of the lightning bolt, twisting it into a harmless U-shaped curve. Another bolt appears, headed in the opposite direction. Julius hops upon it, and rides it back to the elephant balloon, where the force of his landing upon the craft gives it enough forward push to catch up with the villain again. This time, Julius doesn’t wait for the aggression, but attacks first. A small lightning bolt appears between the two balloons. Julius grabs it, and tosses it like a spear at the villain’s gas bag, puncturing it. Nature, however, mimics the same idea, casting its own bolt into the elephant to do the same. Both craft plummet to the ground. It is quite amazing that with all this time of assumed forward flight, who should be on the ground but Alice, still at the scene of the earlier crash, impatiently pacing back and forth. (So have the balloons merely been flying in circles?) Both deflated balloons come crashing down around her. Now, with everyone disqualified, the villain can do nothing but angrily chase Alice and Julius for revenge, as the three of them disappear over the hills.
Lots of Water (Bud Fischer, Mutt and Jeff, 1926) finds our tall and small duo commuting to Balmy Beach, Florida, where Mutt has acquired what he believes to be a sound investment in real estate. The opening shot predicts the charade known from the opening of Hanna-Barbera’s “Top Cat” series, as our heroes are seen through the windows of a luxury train, in a passenger car reading “President’s car” – only to have the locomotive gain speed and pull on ahead, revealing our heroes actually commuting by way of a hand car on a parallel second track to the rear. Another train approaches on the same track as the hand car, but Jeff avoids a collision by performing a feat of super-human strength, lifting the steel rails above their heads to allow the locomotive to pass over the top of them. They arrive at their destination, and get their first view of their lot – a house on a small knoll, completely surrounded by Everglades swamp water. An odd gag has them gain access to the house by Mutt projecting images of himself in an arc from the banks of the swamp to the house, then the two scamper over the projected images like a bridge before they disappear. Oh, well, whatever works. Jeff is ordered to sweep up the place, while Mutt tries out the bathtub for a much0needed bath. A clever gag mirrors the bathtub scene in Buster Keaton’s “One Week”, as Mutt loses the soap over the side of the tub, and tries to reach for it, then notices he is revealing his butt to the camera. He retreats into the tub with embarrassment, then disappears from view below its rim. One foot of the bathtub suddenly extends as if made of rubber, caused by Mutt’s hand inserted within, which stretches to reach forward a few feet and grab the soap bar back to a position within Mutt’s reach. Jeff meanwhile busies himself with the broom, not noticing that the water level surrounding the house is rapidly rising. A small trickle of water creeps in a door crack, and Jeff does his best to mop it up, taking no particular notice of its source. A second truckles in, and Jeff engages in a game of “divide and conquer”, trying to split the puddle in two, and keep its halves from joining up again. An eye dropper removes the mess temporarily, but more water is just around the corner. Jeff finally takes a peek out one door – and water liberally flows in. Jeff slams the door shut, and tries to escape out the back door.
A wall of water greets him, coupled with the additional welcoming committee of – an alligator! Jeff is chased round and round the room by the beast. Meanwhile, Mutt’s bath is interrupted when he attempts to turn on the shower, and finds the pipe plugged. He fiddles with the valve and shakes the pipe, revealing the source of the clog – a second alligator emerging from the shower head. A well-timed shot shows a cross-section view between the two rooms of the house, as both Mutt and Jeff race in circles in their respective rooms with the gators in pursuit, and simultaneously attempt to tug and shake at the closed door between their respective rooms to get to the other side. (An opportunity for a payoff on this gag is missed when the door is finally opened. I would have had each of them charge into each other’s rooms, with the door closing shut again. Then each one is surprised at meeting the second gator, and the scene is reversed as each is chased around the room again, and simultaneously tugs at the door in attempt to get back to where he’s been.) Instead, our heroes race up the chimney and out onto the roof. The two gators follow, but Mutt gives each a sock in the jaw as they emerge from the chimney, knocking them into the surrounding water. The gators continue to snap menacingly below, so Jeff decides to shove off, disconnecting the rain gutter from one side of the roof, and using it as a long paddle to start the house floating downstream. Some nicely-animated effect shots follow, with the house floating down a river that is quickly developing into white water. Mutt sees the gators catching up to the open front door, and tries to shoo them away with splashes of water in the face, bit they gain entry, with only the tail of one visible in the open doorway. Mutt reaches down from the roof, grabbing the tail in attempt to pull the beast out. He fails to see the second gator’s head emerge from the chimney behind him, grabbing hold of the seat of his trousers with its jaws. Mutt pulls, and a living loop results, as the two gators have linked themselves jaw to tail, causing Mutt to be pilled backwards into the chimney, until all three are spinning in and out of the chimney and doorway. The loop is only broken when Mutt’s pants are pulled off, and he uses the chimney as a substitute set of trousers until he can get back into his real pants. Suddenly, greater danger looms – the house is about to go over a waterfall. Just as it teeters on the edge of the drop-off, Jeff uses quick thinking, and allows one of the gators to chomp onto the end of the rain gutter and swim backwards. pulling the house backwards also into a nearly level position on a rock. Now Jeff attempts to fight off the gators again, shaking the clutching jaws loose of the rain gutter, and batting at the gators with it like a stick. A wild swing connects with Mutt instead, sending him flying over the falls. With all his might, Mutt swims vertically, driving himself up the falling water, and back onto the house. But his repositioned weight sets the house into imbalance, and it too totters over the edge. Now Jeff dives for the rear door of the house, and impossibly begins running against the flow of the vertical water, pushing the house back up to its rocky perch. Mutt extends his hand to Jeff in congratulations for his deed – until Jeff sneezes. This is the final blow, and the house tips off and over the falls again, smashing to bits on the rocks at the foot of the falls. Mutt and Jeff wash up on the riverbank, where a sign indicates more lots for sale. Another salesman appears, asking if the boys would be interested in purchasing some choice waterfront property. The boys waste no time in collaborating to beat the living daylights out of the salesman, for the fade out.
The Non Stop Fright (Pat Sullivan, Felix the Cat, 8/21/27) has been visited once before in our extensive survey of airplane cartoons (several of which may qualify for revisits here due to their storm sequences – I’ll no doubt return to a number of them, though I may selectively omit a few lesser ones along the way). Felix reads of a $50,000 prize offered to the first to make a non-stop flight to Timbuctoo. Felix puzzles over how to enter the event. The answer presents itself in the form of a passing man carrying a sandwich-sign advertisement. Felix spies a nearby manhole, opens the lid, and prods the hole along into position to cause the man to fall in. The sandwich boards are left above-ground. Felix grabs them, and fastens them to either side of a rain barrel turned sideways. The man’s head emerges from the manhole, with a visible spiral spinning over his head to indicate dizziness. Felix lifts the spiral off the man’s head, and fastens it to the bottom of the rain barrel, forming the effect of a spinning nose-propeller. And suddenly, Felix is off.
Felix spends a good deal of time negotiating a cloudbank, where his plane gets temporarily trapped in one of the puffy moisture balls. To eliminate the problem, Felix places the barrel’s tap spout into the side of the cloud, and opens the valve. Rain water pours from the cloud, diminishing it to nothing. However, Felix’s plane, once freed, flies off without him, leaving Felix to fall onto the back of a second cloud, which transforms into the shape of a horse, After some prodding, and efforts to keep the horse’s shape from splitting in the middle, Felix succeeds in getting his new steed to pursue his aircraft, then produces a lariat from nowhere and lassos the plane, while the “horse” holds the rope steady for Felix to board. Next, Felix faces a lightning storm. Felix grabs one of the passing lightning bolts, breaks off its end, and converts it into a dueling sword, fencing with the further bolts which follow. A low ceiling drops lower and lower, until Felix is pushed below the ocean waves. He endures some underwater adventures when he tries to refuel from a “hose” which is actually the arm of an octopus. Eventually, Felix escapes his piscatorial battles and sights land. But Timbuctoo is not a friendly place, and inhabited by cannibals. Instead of a prize, Felix finds himself on the menu, and only manages to make a last-minute escape by yanking off an elephant’s skin, then inflating it like a balloon to sail away for the return flight.
Koko Hops Off (Fleischer, The Inkwell Imps, 9/17/27) involves another transatlantic flight we’ve visited once before. Koko and Fitz wind up in a competitive air race to Paris, with objective of winning a coveted “Flying Cup” which Max’s new assistant has drawn on a large sheet of paper. Koko flies a genuine-looking plane, while Fitz rides on a wooden crate which he has thrown over a duck, whose neck and wings extend through the boards. Together, the two battling contestants wing their way toward France. Max’s assistant doesn’t make things easy for them, setting up a “synthetic storm” consisting of an overhead electric light fixture which he intermittently flashes on and off with a pull string to simulate lightning, and water he spits from his mouth at the drawing board to simulate rain. Koko and Fitz spend the night playing hide and seek inside a black rain cloud to dodge the deluge and electric jolts. The next morning, the two pilots circle the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, interfering with each other’s effots to make an approach and land first. Max’s assistant seizes the opportunity for a cruel joke, and slides out from under the two the background containing the Eiffel Tower, replacing it with background of the starting line from which the race began. Koko and Fitz’s efforts have been all for nothing. To top off the prank, the assistant presents the boys with the Flying Cup anyway – which sprouts wings in place of its handles, then flies out the office window and over the horizon. Furious Koko swats at Fitz, flattening him into a pancaked shape resembling the outline of a plane. He hops atop the flattened Fitz, also taking hold of Max’s fountain pen. In a final flight, Koko circles the assistant, jabbing at him every which way with the pen point, until the young man’s face looks like it has broken out with the measles. Koko glides into the safety of the inkwell, capping himself in for the standard finish.
And then there’s the well-known Koko’s Earth Control (Fleischer, The Inkwell Imps, 3/31/28), which marginally fits our category. In this surreal episode, Koko and Fitz come across a secret nerve-center to the goings on of the planet, in a mechanized station, much like a railroad switch tower, marked “Control of Earth”. Inside, Koko encounters a bank of levers and switches to control the climates of the planet, including one switch which changes the view outside from sunny to rainy and back again, and another which alternates the view between day and night skies. Fitz, however, becomes transfixed upon a giant lever, over which a warning sign is hung with the foreboding information, “If this handle is pulled, the world will come to an end.” Fitz mischieviously snickers, and his hands begin to reach for the handle, making it painfully obvious that he is irresistibly drawn to pull the handle, no matter what the consequences. Koko nearly has a heart attack when he discovers what Fitz is up to, and cautions Futz to stay away with an oversized extended warning finger, then uses the inflated finger to spank Fitz on his rear. But Fitz disappears from Koko’s view, and emerges begind him, hiding under the shadow cast by Koko’s feet. The handle is inevitably pulled, and things begin happening in a hurry. Screen-jarring lightning effects recur throughout the remainder of the picture. The sun and the moon meet on the same side of the planet in the sky, and the sun melts the moon away like so much green cheese. Then, the laughing sun nearly swallows Halley’s Comet, which lands in its open mouth. Koko starts saying his prayers, and sticks his head into the dirt like an ostrich to avoid seeing what is happening. Even the ground is not safe, as the devil’s head emerges from it to peer at him. Fitz also has his troubles, avoiding falling into a chasm created by the cracking of the ground in an earthquake, and battling a menacing tree that springs to life to attack him. A view from space shows the entire planet in the drawing board expanding and contracting as if its insides were a bubbling percolator, finally exploding. Koko is blasted off the drawing board, landing on the window sill of Max’s office, to discover that the real-life world is in the same fix. People run in the streets helter-skelter, as the planet violently tips from one side to another. Two men on the sidewalk appear to be fighting gravity and crawling up the sidewalk sideways, through use of a tilting camera mount. Cut-out animated photos of buildings make the New York skyline appear as if the skyscrapers are toppling over upon one another and into the streets. A cross-dissolve makes it appear that the landscape below is inundated by a tidal wave. (New York would be drowned more efficiently via special effects in the RKO feature “Deluge”, a few years later.) Koko jumps back into the office, joining Fitz on Max’s desk as it violently tips from side to side, with the two characters trying to keep their footing. Without even finding the inkwell, they dissolve into a puddle of black ink – the end of the world for at least them – for the fade out.
April Maze (Pat Sullivan/Copley Pictures, 9/14/30), though released with sound, might as well be a silent for its amateurish synchronization and lack of attention to any matter really necessitating a soundtrack. It was one of the last gasps of the original Felix series, with its writing far below the series’ prime. Sullivan’s non-committal approach to sound woud soon mark the death knell of the studio, and it was becoming clear that, as in all of animation history, a cool cat was being eclipsed by a competing mouse for the top star bill of the animated world.
Felix and two kitten offspring exit the house with plans of a picnic. A damper results on their doings when a rolling black cloud looms overhead. It takes on the shape of a lion, and lets loose with a few mighty roars (that is, they would be mighty, if the studio could afford decent audio effects). The cloud then transforms into the shape of a crowned, devilish king. He tosses a lightning bolt at Felix’s picnic spread, harpooning a roast chicken, then hauls the bolt back with a rope, where the king consumes the chicken in one gulp. Then comes the deluge of the wet stuff. Felix’s kids hop into the picnic basket, with which Felix takes off running, followed by a quartet of barking hot dogs left unconsumed on the picnic blanket. The hot dogs catch up with Felix just as another lightning bolt powerfully lights up the shot. When the electric glare clears, Felix is now also riding inside the basket, with the four hot dogs in harness up front, and Felix cracking a whip over them like the leader of a sled dog team. The kids spend a few hours wailing in the house over no picnic.
Then, the sun breaks through outside. The cats skip off with basket to the countryside again, only to be briefly driven back and drenched by another rising storm front. Finally, the clouds appear to be gone for good – but the afternoon is no more successful, as the slowwwww-paced efforts of a rabbit and bear leave them in control of all the picnic goodies. Felix and family trudge sadly homeward, only to discover another picnic basket left on their doorstep by a suspiciously-large bird. Foolish Felix thinks the basket may be loaded with more picnic goodies – but instead finds inside about a half-dozen more kittens to deal with, all hungry and eager for a picnic.
We’ll take some “sound” advice from the first talkies, next time.