austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Listen to the rhythm of the range

Now, if you really want concentrated surreality there are few better options than those 1930s cartoons where they'd try anthropomorphizing absolutely anything and putting it to a cartoon, which they didn't have time to make make sense. A recent public-domain cartoon DVD purchase of mine included a fine example of it, the Van Beuren cartoon studios' 1935 ``Picnic Panic.'' Van Beuren was kind of the desperately poor man's Terry Toons, which as you can imagine is getting into some pretty shaky territory. Add in the ever-perilous tale of objects with faces and skinny arms and legs, and a studio boss who's still angry he has to pay for sound, and now color too, and he's sure not going to pay for rewrites, well ... here goes.

``Picnic Panic'' opens in a kitchen, with a Tea Kettle, Coffee Pot, and Tea Pot whisling a merry tune and then asking some (live-action) kids who arrive if they're going on a picnic. They're not, but Tea Kettle asks Coffee Pot -- one of those old-style ones ready to percolate, but with a mustache around his spout/face -- to talk about this great picnic he was on with his family.

Coffee Pot and Teapot rode out to the country in a motorized picnic basket with potato wheels, and their family -- cups, sugar bowls, milk bottles, ketchup bottles, and such jump out. A Sugar Bowl and Cream Jug ride a see-saw. Tea Pot scoops coffee grounds into Coffee Pot, who goes to the river with one of the cup children and uses him to scoop some water into his own head. Coffee Pot also fills the cup with another cup of water and runs to Tea Pot, who drinks it. With her mouth, not her lid.

Coffee Pot, having the water and grounds in his head, then squats over the campfire, looking for all the world like he's on an imaginary toilet. He only moves to get another leaf to put on the fire under his bottom. Two of the cups take turns bouncing balls into their heads. Finally the coffee is boiling hot, and they sit down to dinner, with Tea Pot banging on a pan that doesn't appear to be one of the family. Coffee Pot disperses a tilt of coffee through his nose to each of the cup children, who also get a little dip of cream from the Cream Bowl, and several sugar cubes from the Sugar Bowl, by the expedient of Cream Bowl kicking Sugar Bowl's behind. The cup children stir the coffee in their heads, then take spoonfulls and swallow it with their faces.

Coffee Pot dips doughnuts in his head -- one of the cup children does in his head too -- and eats them; I never understood dunking doughnuts, but then I never understood coffee. So far there's not much going on here, but that's all right. There's really only one logical place to go with all this. Like all great cartoons this one turns to the plot point of Our Hero tormenting a cow. It's a pretty inoffensive cow, who just wandered by and who doesn't mind Coffee Pot waving a fork at her, taking time only to moo repeatedy at them. Outraged by this, Coffee Pot has his whole family throw things at the cow, who just eats bananas in a really disturbing slurping through her mouth.

Sugar Bowl throws his own cubes at her; one of the ketchup bottles gets in the tree and has a cup stomp on his behind. Eventually the mustard jar throws enough of his mustard out to drive the cow wild, and the salt shaker jumps on the pepper shaker enough to spray so much black pepper that the cow sneezes, blowing the whole family back into the picnic basket, and they flee. Coffee Pot starts the picnic basket up (it's a hand-cranked motorized basket) as the car leaves.

Back to the framing story kitchen; Coffee Pot thinks this was hilarious, and the live-action kids giggle on cue, until it just feels awkward. The various coffee and tea stuff goes back to singing the tune they had started with, that I really can't make out. The moral: don't take anthropomorphized coffee pots on picnics where cows are likely to be around.

Trivia: Of 479 Work Authorization Documents examined in the wake of the Challenger accident, 70 percent had anomalies -- 36 percent with inaccurate or inadequate detail; 24 percent with missing stamps; 29 percent lacking correct signatures; 20 percent with inaccurately detailed summaries for closure or deferral. Source: Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. Appendix C. William P Rogers, Chairman.

Currently Reading: Does Anything Eat Wasps? And 101 Other Questions, Mick O'Hare, Editor.


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