Wrapping up 1943 and moving into 1944, we find more “Situation Normal” for our airborne toons. Once again cleared for takeoff, the battle rages, at home and abroad, this time bristling with considerable star power as some of animation’s favorites re-enter the fray. Education for the troops also does not falter, as once again we visit with America’s favorite “foul-up”, Snafu, as well as examine an extended-length color special providing interesting insights into the lengths that pilots could be expected to go to ensure that their secret installations remain a secret. One can wonder whether many units actually took the time to follow all the ideas recommended by this production. If they did, at least it must have provided something for idle hands to do between actual missions.
The Infantry Blues (Warner, Private Snafu, September, 1943 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – Dogface Snafu’s “dogs” are taking a beating, marching day in, day out, until his shoes have to be provided with their own exhaust valves in the toes to let the steam out with each step. When Snafu, carrying full regulation pack, encounters a sign indicating the next rest room to be 18,000 miles away, he’s had it, and wishes aloud that he’d joined the tank corps, where the lucky stiffs can perform their duties on a nice soft seat. Enter Technical Fairy First Class, who recites a spell sounding like the spiel of a tobacco auctioneer, concluding with the words, “Sold to the tank corps.” In a twinkling, Snafu is seated in the turret of a lumbering tank, pleased as punch at how much better this’ll be than the old infantry. Until he gets his first taste of running the vehicle over rough terrain. As the metal monster bounces from boulder to boulder, Snafu is thrown around inside the vehicle like a marble inside of a tin can. So much for that soft seat, as he finds it Impossible to remain seated in it. With great effort, Snafu clutches for and pulls back on the brake, screeching the vehicle to a halt, precariously teetering off the edge of a high cliff, with Snafu dangling out of the huge gun barrel. “This kinda work just ain’t my meat. I wish to hell I’d joined the fleet!” shouts Snafu. Another wave of Technical Fairy’s wand, and Snafu is at the helm of a P.T. Boat.
Unfortunately, Snafu has never tested himself for seaworthiness, and an x-ray view of his stomach shows his acidic juices forming waves to rival the ones he is encountering on the ocean surface. His ship hits the oncoming surf head on – removing the ship from view, but leaving Snafu flying forward, to crash through wave after wave. “Give…me… AIR!”, sputters Snafu. Sounds like another wish to Technical Fairy, and Snafu finds himself in what he believes is the softest job of all – in the egg-shaped cockpit of a twin-fuselage P-38 Lightning. Seems like smooth sailing – until a slight pull on the control stick shoots the plane upward in a directly-vertical climb, leaving the planet in the distance behind him. Snafu pushes forward on the stick, looping the plane over, until it spirals in a dizzy dive, the two fuselages winding together in a braid. A cutaway view of Snafu’s skull shows a dark curtain pulled down over his brain, as he blacks out. He pulls out of the dive so close to the ground, three trees have to physically duck to get out of the way. The plane soars upward amidst a series of rocky peaks, then collides head on with one, the impact detaching Snafu’s cockpit egg, while the wings and body soar on ahead without him. The egg tumbles down the face of the cliffs, jettisoning Snafu, who lands right back where he started, at the foot of the rest room signpost where the trouble began. “I see you’re back, sir. Here’s your pack, sir”, says Technical Fairy, returning to Snafu his regulation infantry gear. Snafu’s learned that “All the services are tough”. To the strains of “Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous”, he and the Fairy march on, chanting, “So whether you fight as soldier or gob, get in there and pitch, and finish the job.”
Brief honorable mention for Jasper Goes Fishing (George Pal/Paramount, Madcap Models (Puppetoons), 10/8/43 – George Pal, dir.). It’s Sunday (any Sunday), and the Scarecrow and his crow pal don’t take well to being woken up so early in the morning by the local congregation’s church bell – or by Jasper passing by, rehearsing a song he’s learning for Sunday School. The Scarecrow decides to break Jasper of this habit of getting religion, by another of his usual fast-talk pitches to Jasper about knowing of a terrific secret fishing hole. The Scarecrow extends his wooden arms a mile wide to show how big the fish are waiting for the catching, while the crow mutters that this is a bigger lie than he told in the last picture. Jasper is convinced to play hookey, and they toss in a line at the Scarecrow’s favorite fishing spot. However, an underwater version of a Sunday congregation meeting is taking place among the fish below, who are outraged at the sight of a hook, breaking tradition of no fishing allowed during the meeting. Their deacon predicts the action of Famous Studios’ later Little Audrey cartoon, “The Seapreme Court”, by taking hold of the line and pulling the violating parties in. The congregation dashes after them to take vengeance. Among the pursuers is a squad of “flying fish”, which the crow observes are also “Dive bombers!”, dropping actual bombs in our trio’s path. Our heroes ultimately take refuge in the barrel of a cannon from a sunken ship. Behind it swims the deacon, lighting one of those incredible cartoon underwater matches to the cannon’s fuse, and shouting. “Praise the lord! We’ve got the ammunition!” With a blast, our heroes are launched out of the watery depths, back to their own domain. The Scarecrow and crow race back to the cornfield, while Jasper manages to sneak into the back door of the Sunday School just in time to hear the last words of the day’s lesson. As the preacher closes his book, he dismisses the congregation with the recommendation that they all go down to the river and get in some real good fishing. Jasper turns white at the suggestion, and faints on the spot, for the fade out.
War Dogs (MGM, 10/9/43 – William Hanna/Joseph Barbera, dir.) – Yet another cartoon about the training of dogs for military service – a bit late in the game compared to the rival productions, Andy Panda’s Canine Commandos at Lantz, and Gandy Goose’s “Patriotic Pooches” at Terrytoons, but with better, more memorable gags. Hanna and Barbera make one of their rare excursions away from the Tom and Jerry series, utilizing some character designs that would eventually make reappearances within the cat-and-mouse cartoons (such as in the subsequent year’s “Puttin’ On the Dog”). Their subject mutt receives training in all forms of service duty, first with classroom instruction to learn to identify military objects as opposed to non-military objects. On a series of charts, the dog is exposed to a set of “flash card” style images of persons and objects to establish recognition. The first picture is of a machine gun, which the dog correctly identifies, mimicking its sound and vibrations with a vocal “rat-a-tat-tat-tat”. Next photo is of a shapely young girl in a bathing suit. The dog has even less trouble identifying this, as his eyes bug out, and he emits a long wolf whistle, staring intently at the poster. The instructor’s hand pulls down a third photo of an enemy plane – but the dog pushes it aside to continue staring at the girl, until a rap on his head by the instructor’s pointer reminds him of his duty. Using his tongue to mimic the sounds of a plane’s engine with his own wet raspberry, the dog again performs a correct identification. Finally, a picture of Adolf Hitler is displayed. The dog gets the message of this image in a hurry, as he fiercely growls, then chews the poster into bits, spitting out the remains, which unfold like a string of paper dolls, isolating the colors red, white, and blue from the original image, into the letters “BUY BONDS”.
As with Andy Panda’s film, the dog is placed into a unit of paratrooping commandos. Initial training is in a plane simulator which works very much like the amusement park plane Donald Duck rode in in “A Good Time For a Dime”, its gyrations and dives leaving the dog to emerge from the cockpit with the word “Tilt” lighting in red neon within his eyeballs. Next, he is up in a plane, as other dogs “hit the silk” in practice maneuvers. Much like Donald Duck in Sky Trooper, the dog emerges from the plane with a cautious first foot, searching for some ground to step on, but finding none, as he looks down in shock at how high he is. He zips back into the plane, his four legs tying themselves in secure knots around a pole in the center aisle of the aircraft. Only one thing will get him to let loose – the lure of a bone, about to be tossed by a superior officer. The officer cleverly tosses the bone out the door of the plane, and the gullible mutt races outside after it – forgetting entirely to refasten his parachute, which remains on board. He happily catches up with the soup bone – but is jarred into reality by sighting a passing bird, who gives him the once over in the sky. The bird braces for the shock waves from the inevitable impact, as the dog falls helplessly without his billowing silk for a loud crash. The aftermath shows the dog in a hospital bed, in nearly full-body traction – and beside him in bed lies the soup bone, also held together by a splint in hopes that it will mend.
The Stork’s Holiday (MGM, 10/24/43 – George Gordon, dir.) – News flashes announce dramatic drop off in birth rate, and the apparent disappearance of Doc Stork. He is actually at home, refusing to go out, on account of almost having been killed on his last delivery attempt. Referring to himself as the “flying fool, suspecting nothing”, a flashback shows him suddenly meet the reality that there is a war going on. He enters an entirely surreal world, with no human combatants, but a land where the weapons of war take on a life of their own. Everything is alive, and in control of its own destiny. Searchlights take the form of illuminated cyclops, scanning the skies with beams from each giant eye. A listening post forms its own human-style ears. Anti-aircraft guns follow the light beams with their own eyes, ready to fire shells from their long noses. Other inhabitants of the skies include gas-filled barrage balloons, ready to inflate passers-by at a moment’s notice, and fighter planes with eyes and grill-teeth, resembling Messerschmitts, always on the prowl. And topping everything off is a humongous, mile-long barreled cannon, labeled “Big Bertha” (reference to an actual cannon of WWI with a 75-mile range, taking its name from Bertha Krupp, then-owner of Germany’s largest steel and munitions works, and still powerful during the second world conflict). The visuals are highly imaginative, yet left such an ominous impression upon me as a younger viewer that for many years the film gave me a certain sense of the willies. The action is rapid fire, and, given the somewhat extended running length of the film, at first seems like a nightmare that will never end. The Doc takes quite a beating, first tied up in knots between the beams of the searchlights, running atop the lengths of football-field sized shells to keep from being swept away with them, playing man-in-the-middle to keep two shells from colliding headfirst into one another with his feet, while attempting to rescue the bundle of kittens he is delivering from the inevitable explosion, and then being inflated from the gas of a barrage balloon, only to deflate and have himself blown backwards to his original point of departure. Concluding his flashback, the Doc insists he’s closed for the duration. Why should he stick his neck out? Suddenly, he is shocked to find his image in a mirror has stopped matching his steps, and has paused stock still to glare at him with a frown of impatience. The reflection speaks up, stating he should be ashamed, and reminds him what his grandfathers, great-grandfathers, etc. would have thought of him, after themselves facing shot and shell during WWI, the Civil War, and even the Revolutionary War. Doc realizes he can’t be a quitter, and must uphold the family tradition. “Carry on”, commands his shadow, as Doc stands at attention.
Doc sets out again, but this time with military preparedness. He dons a makeshift suit of armor, consisting of a pot-bellied stove around his midriff (also providing an armored compartment for the carrying of his precious bundle), and a tin pot worn like a Johnny Appleseed hat for a helmet. He soars with his wings extended from the sides of the stove in rigid form, and his feet extended side by side, giving his body the illusion of the twin fuselages of a P-38 Lightning. Suddenly, three of the enemy planes spot him, and dive to close in. Puffing furiously on a cigar, Doc circles to create a ring of smoke in the air, then dives theough its center. The planes follow, bit the smoke encloses upon them as they enter its ring, forming into the shape of a clenching fist, to stop the planes’ dive cold. As the smoke clears, the planes pause in mid-air, hacking and coughing from the effects of the secondhand tobacco. Doc decides to play hide and seek with the planes among the rows of barrage balloons, hiding behind the “butt” of one of them. The three planes fly in, screeching to a halt (leaving exhaust contrails that resemble the marks of tires treads burning rubber), and peer around for signs of the intruder. The balloon behind which Doc hides becomes intimidated at the sight of the fierce fighters, and spins around to cower in fear, exposing Doc on its rear end. A shot from the planes, and the balloon is exploded, leaving Doc open and vulnerable. Doc dives for the safety of a small cloud, but just before passing through it, looks down, to find with horror that he is floating directly over the barrel of Big Bertha. But rather than abandon his position, he gets an idea. Popping up out of the cloud, he reveals his position and whistles to the planes above, pointing to himself with a playful invitation to follow. The planes take the bait, shifting into a power-dive. Doc dives back into the cloud, but instead of going through, sidesteps to one side. The planes pass through the cloud at full speed – never seeing that they have entered Bertha’s muzzle below. At ground level, the face of Bertha is seen, reacting with trepidation at the commotion taking place inside her, while the planes descend to ground zero within. Were Chick Jones director here, the screen would have lit up with a blast labeled “Gigantic Explosion”, as Chuck once used in “Now Hear This”. As the dust clears, Bertha’s face is seen no more. Instead, a headstone with her name marks her resting place, at the head of a mile-long grave. With the kittens visibly safe in the Doc’s armored underbelly, the Doc puffs on his cigar again, and skywrites a large V and the Beethoven’s Fifth dot-dot-dot-dash pattern for the fade out.
Falling Hare (10/23/43 – Robert Clampett) – A Roald Dahl book, “Gremlins”, had become a piece of popular children’s fare, published in conjunction with a prospective feature project between the writer and Walt Disney, telling the tale of a clan of little creatures who sabotage aircraft in revenge for destruction of their homes, and for no apparent reason exist on a diet of postage stamps. Considerable artwork and history on the ultimately-scrapped project can be found in the book, “The Disney That Never Was”, by Charles Solomon. These little creatures would of course ultimately be trained in the story to exert their energies upon the enemy, making them good guys – so Disney believed their promotion in a feature was another potential shot in the arm for boosting patriotic morale. Fully aware of the book’s advance publication, Disney sent letters to the other competing animation studios, attempting to dissuade them from utilizing gremlins in their cartoons, so as not to interfere with the ultimate impact for the war effort of the feature production. As the Disney project continued to be delayed, and ultimately died, the first and only rival to break ranks and do exactly as Disney said not to was wild man Bob Clampett. He would in fact produce two shorts on Gremlins within a little over a half-year (the second to be reviewed in a subsequent article), again determined to be a pesky thorn in Disney’s side. Oddly, no known lawsuits ensued, Disney seemingly realizing his own lack of realization of a competing product would not make for a strong case for realistic damages. Clampett thus pulled a “scoop” on the whole affair, providing the screen’s only animated model of the character concept, to be remembered by generations to come. As for Disney’s own models, they would have to wait until the video game “Epic Mickey” to show up in computer-animated form among the inhabitants of Oswald Rabbit’s realm of forgotten animated creations, Wasteland.
Our story opens at a restricted air base – so top secret, the identifying sign fir the airfield has all names and location information blocked with small signs reading “Censored”, plus an even larger such sign covering information as to what the men think of their top sergeant! Right in the middle of the airfield, we find Bugs, nonchalantly lounging below one of the planes on a large bomb not yet loaded aboard, reading a copy of “Victory Thru Hare Power” (another jab at Disney). Bugs flips open one of its pages, illustrating that menace to aviation, the Gremlin, who destroys planes with “die-a-bo-likkal sab-o-tage-eee”, as Bugs reads it. “Oh, murder! Little men!”, laughs Bugs uproariously, until a metallic clang and a wave of vibrations jolts him out of his humor. He looks down to discover a strange little multicolored character, whose head resembles an aviator’s cap, tail looks like a plane’s rudder and elevators, and ears protrude like small wings. The creature is hammering away on the nose of the bomb casing below Bugs with a large mallet. “What’s all the hubbub, bub?” asks Bugs. “These blockbuster bombs don’t go off unless you hit them just right”, responds the creature. The hammering resumes without result, until Bugs graciously volunteers, “Let me take a whack at it.” Handing the little one his carrot, Bugs winds up to deliver a forceful blow on the bomb’s nose – – then slams on the brakes just short of impact, realizing, “WHAT AM I DOING???” Angered, he turns to chastise the intruder, only to find nothing but his carrot floating in mid air without anyone supporting it, then falling with a plop to the ground. The critter has vanished into an unknown dimension. Uttering the word as printed rather than its sound, Bugs responds, “Gasp!” Bugs cross-examines his own sanity, and finally concludes, “Could that have been a – gremlin?” Making topical reference to a then-recent Presidential candidate, the little man appears again out of nowhere, screaming into Bugs’ ear, “IT AIN’T WENDELL WILLKIE!” (It should be noted at this point that Clampett is already putting us into a sort of “role reversal” mood, as this yelling-in-the-ear gag is part of Bugs’ own basic repetoire of tricks, dating back to his first encounter under Tex Avery’s direction with Elmer Fudd in “A Wild Hare” as response to Elmer’s observation that he looks just like a “wabbit”. We thus sense this cartoon is going to be markedly different than the average Bugs, as it is obvious the rabbit has just met his match in skullduggery.)
As the film progresses, the gremlin does his best to run the rabbit ragged. Bugs receives the humiliations of having his tongue stretched out of his mouth, then released to roll itself up like a windowshade. After being conked on the head with a monkey wrench, Bugs lapses into a daze where he talks like Lennie from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, asking “Which way did he go, George?”, while the gremlin responds by pointing Bugs in two directions at once. The gremlin finally gets down to serious business, luring Bugs to chase him into one of the bombers, then slamming the door upon him, and flying to the engine to spin the prop and start the motors. A push on the giant aircraft’s tires, and the plane is off, with the gremlin flying up to join it. Inside the cabin, Bugs searches for the gremlin to sock him with the monkey wrench, but catches sight of the gremlin outside through a window in the cabin door, making faces at him. Bugs trues to open the door, but the gremlin has locked it from the outside. To the tune of “Dark Eyes”, Bugs begins charging the door like a football blocker, using all his shoulder might to break through, but with no effect. He continues to back up farther and farther to make a longer run at the door, until he is literally climbing and stretching the interior framework of the opposite wall of the cabin. Of course, the gremlin chooses this precise moment to open the door, and Bugs charges out into space. He pauses in mid-air, and visually transforms into a jack-ass, then dashes through the air back into the cabin. By now, the gremlin has had time to eat a half-dozen bananas, leaving the peels strewn in Bugs’ path. Bugs slip-slides right out a second door on the other side of the plane. The gremlin shuts this door behind him, but then hears a knocking from outside. The gremlin opens the second door again, to find an agonized Bugs clinging to its outside as he would to life itself, with his heart rapidly beating to protrude from his fur, carrying upon it lettering reading “4-F”.
The gremlin is far from through with Bugs, and pries the rabbit loose from the plane door with a board. Bugs smashes into a rear wall of the cabin, flattened into the shape of a coin and rolling to a stop as if just pitched against the wall, landing directly over the bomb bay doors. “Going down”, shouts the gremlin, who pulls a release lever to open the doors. Bugs is only saved by his toes accidentally catching a stray wire, suspending him upside down from the belly of the plane. The gremlin leaps into the pilot’s seat, and, borrowing a laugh set to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” which was a trademark of comedian Benny Rubin, sets the plane on a collision course with two tall adjoining skyscrapers. Below, Bugs sees where they are headed, darts back into the plane, and extracts the gremlin from the pilot’s chair, taking over the controls himself. With a pull on the control stick, Bugs repeats the gag from Woody Woodpecker’s Ace in the Hole, setting the plane to fly sideways through the narrow gap between the buildings. The rabbit is so sapped of energy by this narrow escape, that he lies in exhaustion in the pilot’s seat while the gremlin fans him out of pity. This leaves the plane without active piloting, and the plane climbs, spins, and suddenly plunges into the power dive of all power dives. Bugs can only muster enough strength to look out the window, freak out, and melt in his chair so that he literally slips out of the seat like dripping butter. The gremlin, meanwhile, takes everything in stride as just another day’s work, killing time by playing with a yo-yo. The plane’s descent accelerates to such a speed that both wings snap off, while the speedometer wheels spin out of control like those of a slot machine, only pausing long enough to display a readout stating “Incredible, ain’t it?” (A nod to Tex Avery, who had originated such sign gags. In gact, this entire sequence may be a nod to Avery, who had placed the character in a similar endless fall in The Heckling Hare.) All seems lost, and the ground looms ever and ever closer, until suddenly, the engine develops a sputter, the speed of the descent hesitates, slows, and comes to a standstill, 2 feet above the ground. A close up on the cockpit window reveals Bugs and the gremlin, fully recovered from the emotions of their adventure, eating, respectively, a carrot and a banana, as the gremlin breaks the fourth wall, apologizing to the audience. “Sorry, folks. We ran outta gas.” Bugs chimes in, pointing to a sticker on the outside of the plane: “Yeah. You know how it is with these ‘A’ cards.” (Reference to the lowest civilian gasoline priority available from the rationing board of the day – a level that no Army plane would in real life ever have to endure.)
Daffy the Commando (Warner, Daffy Duck, 10/30/43 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – Getting a literal “jump” on rival fowl Donald Duck, who would not assume the role of a commando until the following year, Daffy parachutes deep within enemy lines, over the trench headquarters of Uberkomt Von Vultur, a vulture commander of a Nazi encampment. Von Vultur is muttering over the recent infiltration of commandos, and reading a telegram from the “Gestinko Gestapo, advising him that if one more commando gets through, it’s his Ka-Rear! (Signed, The Apes of Wrath – title pun on John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”.) The roar of the plane delivering Daffy overhead spells trouble, and Von Vultur calls upon a little goose- stepping stooge, an eagle named Shultz, to man the searchlight. Throughout the cartoon, a running gag ensues of Von Vultur calling for Shultz’s help, then hammering Shultz on the steel helmet with a mallet between every command given, yet the little guy obediently takes his lumps like a good German. The searchlight picks up Daffy, who responds with the call of an air raid warden, telling those below to “Put out those lights!” Schultz follows orders, from the wrong person, and gets another clunk on the head. When the lights go back on, no one is in sight – but a pair of hands begin presenting a display of shadow-puppetry in the beam from the searchlight, as Daffy is already on the ground in front of the device. As Daffy presents a line of dancing shadow chorus girls, Shultz applauds, only to receive another blow from his commander.
Many random gags develop as Daffy attempts to raise general mischief behind the lines. A few notable throwaways include an interruption of the chase with a mistaken identity, as Von Vultur pauses and stops cold, to give a salute of “Heil Hitler”, only to discover his path is only being crossed by a passing skunk. A phone booth gag (in which Daffy offers comical written English and German translations of dialogue), results in a call by Von Vultur being put through by Myrt – the same operator from Fibber McGee and Molly that Tex Avery tributed in “Blitz Wolf”. Then, Daffy and Von Vultur battle over the nickel returned in the change slot of the pay phone. Daffy eventually finds a German plane, and commandeers it for a quick takeoff. It Is suddenly surrounded by a circle of enemy planes, all of them performing that unique cartoon maneuver of hovering motionless in mid-air. “Messerschmitts!”, shouts Daffy. “A whole mess of Messerschmitts!” Daffy “ducks” his plane out from the center of the circle of fire, as the enemy planes begin shooting – all now aiming at each other. All their planes are reduced to skeletal frames, and fall from the sky, as Daffy concludes, “A mess of Messerschmitts!” Finally accelerating his plane from its mid-air stall, Daffy tries for a getaway, but has his craft shot away bit by bit by machine gun fire from Von Vultur. As Daffy and the plane’s engine land with a thud in the mud, Daffy runs for the nearest cover – a dark tunnel. The camera changes angle, revealing the other end of the tunnel – which is really the barrel of a super-cannon. “Try to duck dis vun, you duck”, says Von Vultur at the controls, as he pulls the firing switch. A blast sends Daffy skyward – but a good commando always comes prepared. Daffy now wears a white hat and uniform, on the back of which read the words, “Human Cannon Ball”, and carries a small American flags in each hand for flashy decoration. His trajectory sends him right into the heart of Berlin, where the Fuehrer himself (in rotoscoped form) is making one of his usual speeches. Daffy lands on the podium behind him, and produces Von Vultur’s mallet, conking Hitler on the head. Having no one else to turn to for help, Hitler calls out for “Shultz!”, as the film irises out.
Home Defense (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 11/26/43 – Jack King, dir.) – For once, Donald Duck gets to serve his country in a branch other than the Army. Now an admiral in the Coast Guard (he has crossed out the rank of “rear” admiral on a sign, replacing the word with “front”), Donald mans a lonely listening post on a rocky crag by the seashore, equipped with high-tech audio apparatus to detect the slightest drones of any approaching enemy plane. However, the coast is quite clear this morning, and Donald can barely keep himself awake, drooping from the wires of his headset, and overcome with a hopeless case of yawning. In a nearby puptent, wearing military cadet hats and uniforms, sleep Huey, Dewey, and Louie, with a sign on their tent identifying them as “Guncrew”. The sagging Donald teeters at his station, falling flat on his belly upon the ground, with a bugle used for signaling his troops lying only a few inches in front of his beak. Donald’s down for the count, and his strong snoring sucks into his beak the mouthpiece of the bugle. Each exhale delivers a weary version of a bugle call, arousing his nephews, who report in rigid readiness for duty – only to discover their commanding officer so soundly asleep, even his own bugle calls won’t wake him. As Donald’s latest exhale produces an off-key version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, the nephews hatch some mischief to bring their uncle back to military readiness. Producing a toy plane, the nephews stuff its cockpit with a batch of gingerbread men strung to tiny parachutes. They then toss the plane in the direction of Donald’s listening device.
The sensitive instrument picks up the sound of the toy motor, and magnifies it, arousing Donald from his sleep. Having cartoon characters’ usual poor sense of depth perception (it comes from living in a two-dimensional world), Donald mistakes the toy plane for a distant large one, ans calls for his gunnery. The nephews wheel in a wooden makeshift gunner’s shield, armed with four rifles with strings tied to their triggers. Donald lines up a crosshair sight on the swooping aircraft, and pulls the strings. He scores a direct hit, shooting the toy full of bullet holes. But as the plane begins to fall, its cargo of paratroopers spills out. Donald goes into a panic, and hides among the bushes. A gingerbread man lands on Donald’s tail. Donald raises his hands high in the air without looking back. “Don’t shoot! I surrender. Please spare me. I’ve always been a good boy.” After this humiliating display of cowardice, realization hits Donald in the face – literally – as another gingerbread man lands directly on his beak. Looking around, Donald spots the nephews banging on pots and pans and firing off cap guns to make mock sounds of battle. With a yell so loud, its shock waves bowl the nephews over, Donald calls the troops to attention. Marching up to them with an intimidating glare, Donald orders, “Display your sovereigns”. The nephews extend the sleeves of their uniforms, each bearing an insignia badge of their unit. Donald rips the badges from their sleeves, in the manner of a court martial. “Surrender your weapons, gentlemen”, orders Donald again. The nephews tremulously hold out their armament of toy wooden swords. Donald grabs the three weapons, and breaks them in half over his knee. “You’re a disgrace to the service. Go!”, he commands. In tears, the nephews trudge away from their hard-hearted uncle, settling together several yards away to mope at how their plan went awry.
Donald returns to his station, and his boredom, until life becomes more interesting again – from another unexpected source. A honeybee happens by, looking for a place to rest in its daily labors. The overly-sensitive listening device picks up its buzzing, and zeroes in on the sound as if coming from a Zero. The bee lands inside the bell of the machine’s listening horn, and the sound of its every movement is massively magnified to Donald’s ears. The duck awakens again, but at first assumes the noises are more of the kids’ doings. He angrily advances upon the kids, but finds them still clustered together in tears, offering each other moral support. Borrowing a line from Goofy’s repertoire, Donald remarks, “Something wrong here.” He returns quickly to his station, while the bee preens itself inside the listening horn. Donald visually interprets the sounds he hears in a though cloud, imagining the deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier, with plane after plane taking off from its deck. “Invasion!”, he screams, and grabs his bugle, sounding a racetrack “Call to the post” for the boys to come a-running. Despite being drummed out of the corps, the boys obediently respond to the call. With needle, thread, and glue, Donald quickly restores to the boys their sovereigns and swords, and calls on them to man a serious anti-aircraft cannon, to adjust for elevation and direction while Donald calculates range and target from the sounds in his headset. From the vantage point of the bee, the insect suddenly faces the unexpected view of the cannon barrel, pointing directly into the bell of the listening horn. The bee backs deeper into the horn, but the barrel follows, as Donald continues to call out numeric coordinates to the boys. At the last minute, the bee finds an open screw hole in the metal sheeting of the listening horn, to wriggle through for an escape, but the damage has already been done to Donald’s mathematical calculations. Donald is about to give the command to fire, as one of the nephews spots where the cannon is aiming. Despite trying to alert their uncle, Donald insistently orders the nephews to fire. Shrugging their shoulders, the boys re-remove their own sovereigns, knowing the worst is to come. Adding to the effect, Donald turns his listening device to full volume, not wanting to miss the explosion. BLAMMO! The last scene is a bit disappointing, as we would expect the duck to be at least temporarily deaf and dazed. Instead, he merely hangs from the wires of his headset and the disabled listening device, quacking in his usual rage, while the boys’ laughter is heard from offscreen, for the iris out.
Though its precise release date is unknown, we’ll wrap up today’s coverage with our first title of 1944, Camouflage, produced for the U.S. Army/Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit by director Frank Thomas, providing some extra patriotic work with the likely assistance of others from the ranks of Walt Disney. It is a well-conceived and expertly animated film, yet presented in a more meticulous and “real time” manner, and with considerably softer humor, than one would expect from the likes of a Warner Brothers training film, giving an interesting insight into what the Snafu series might have looked like had Disney won the bid. Overall, it reinforces the impression that a Disney series, though entertaining and impressive, would probably have proved less effective or memorable to the servicemen.
Our central character is a chameleon – nature’s own camouflage expert. He is fashioned with a top hat and cane, providing a close resemblance in both appearance and demeanor to Disney’s previous creation of Jiminy Cricket. He is affectionately referred to by the local servicemen as “Yahoodi” (radio’s running gag playing on the name of musician Yehudi Menuhin, with the catchphrase “Who’s Yahoodi?”, which somehow became synonymous with a little man who wasn’t there, or was difficult to find). The film originates a gag which would be reused by Robert McKimson in a later Warner cartoon, Unnatural History, as a narrator attempts to get the chameleon to reveal itself to the camera by slipping cards of different colors behind it. The creature changes colors effectively to blend in with the colors and patterns slipped behind it (pausing at one striped card to comment, “I should have a suit made out of this”), but ultimately admits defeat when the narrator slips in a card of Scotch plaid. The narrator commends the creature on his talent, emphasizing how important camouflage is. “That’s what I keep telling them down at the airfield”, comments Yahoodi. A group of servicemen has built a landing field right in the chameleon’s back yard, and he has befriended one of them for periodic visits and chit chat, but constantly tries to warn them that they are leaving their planes, buildings and equipment too unprotected and out in the open, making them potential easy targets for air raid. The pilot claims there’s nothing to fear from attack – not with the way they “knock ‘em down”, as he paints his fifth insigia of a Japanese flag on the side of his plane. Observing the painted insignia, the chameleon looks upward, to see an approaching squadron of enemy planes. “Same as on those up there, ain’t it”, observes Yahoodi. The pilot gets the message quickly, and he and the rest of the pilots and ground crew duck for cover. Yahoodi blends into invisibility as he runs for the bushes, stating, “How do I get myself mixed up in these situations?” A series of bombs drop from the planes above, and when the dust clears, five planes are out of commission. “Sort of evens the score for the ones you got”, notes Yahoodi. Conceding that Yahoodi told him so, the pilot asks what to do. Yahoodi holds a meeting with slides and movie illustrations, including some live-action footage, demonstrating methods of using surrounding foliage, spare parts, and nearly anything available to partially conceal objects and structures or to break up the lines of shadows, as well as the need to conceal well-worn footpaths and vehicle tracks. He also emphasizes the value of providing false imagery to use up the enemy’s ammunition, by substituting dummy planes and equipment to take the fire, while the real objects remain concealed.
In an extended sequence, the soldiers put into effect Yahoodi’s plans, while Yahoodi provides overhead scouting from an observation platform tethered to a red toy balloon. A “running” gag has one soldier with a weak bladder making frequent side-trips to a latrine shed, with Yahoodi conceding. “When you gotta go, you gotta go – but does it always have to be in a straight line?” When the Japanese return, they take the bait, all scoring direct hits – upon the dummy planes and equipment, while the real ones lie in wait. One shot actually impacts a real building – the latrine that the weak-bladdered soldier left a straight path to, leaving him with his pants down and running to horizon for cover. As the Japanese exchange bows to each other from their cockpits and yell “Banzai!”, they find themselves being pursued by the real fighters emerging from their hidden hangars. The old gag of shooting away the enemy plane shot by shot with machine gun fire on its tail is repeated, and many enemy planes bite the dust, as Yahoodi keeps score in chalk on the side of his balloon, connecting rows of Zero circles like a tic tac toe board into a replica of the “rising sun” insignia. One plane comes precariously close to Yahoodi’s balloon, and Yahoodi pulls with his cane upon a nearby small cloud, to follow his own lessons by keeping himself concealed inside. He pops his head out briefly, and performs the same act as George Pal’s Rusty from “The Truck That Flew”, taking imaginary pot shots at the plane as if his cane were a machine gun. Without explanation, the Japanese plane explodes. Yahoodi looks down at his cane in disbelief, then shrugs his shoulders to the camera, unable to explain how he did it. When the battle ends, Yahoodi descends from his observation post with a small parachute, finding all the other pilots painting on Japanese flags on their planes for their confirmed hits. Yahoodi’s pilot friend observes that Yahoodi has one coming too, and asks where he’s going to put it. Yahoodi gives this some thought, considering he hasn’t got a plane – just as his parachute swings him slightly in the breeze, causing his rear end to briefly impact a freshly-painted flag on the side of one of the planes. The paint transfers onto Yahoodi’s bottom below the tail, causing Yahoodi to observe, “Not a bad idea. Right where it belongs!”
Next Time: More missions deep behind enemy lines, and the Gremlins wreak vengeance again.