Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pixie and Dixie — Jinks the Butler

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Ed Benedict, Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Pixie – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks, Butler – Daws Butler.
Released: October 23, 1958.
Plot: Pixie and Dixie try to get by Jinks to get to a table full of food for a party by 'The Maw-stah.'

Two mice try to steal food on a long table guarded by a cat. Must be The Two Mousekeeters, that 1952 Tom and Jerry cartoon by Joe and Bill, right? Uh, no. It’s a 1958 Pixie and Dixie cartoon by Joe and Bill, who were never above borrowing anything from their days at MGM to get their TV cartoons made.

I never liked The Two Mouseketeers (Walt Disney must have, as he seems to have borrowed from it himself). The whole story concept struck me as a contrived attempt to do something, anything, different with the characters. After all, why else would Tom and Jerry be in the French Revolution anyway? And Nibbles—especially the version with the French girl voice—is a character who would have done everyone a favour by meeting up with Screwy Squirrel. So, from the start, this cartoon has something going for it because of what it isn’t.

A lot of early Hanna-Barbera cartoons start with a money-saving establishing pan over one of the pleasant and imaginative backgrounds by Monty or Art Lozzi or whoever. In this case, Joe and Bill save even more money as the camera slowly pans right over the banquet table—then pans back! There isn’t a lot of animation for the first 31 seconds, other than moving an arm on Jinks and the heads of the cat and the Charles Laughton-inspired butler as they run through a check-list of rich-folk food for a feast. The “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” bit comes from the 1956 Yul Brynner movie The King and I (whether that bit of dialogue by the king was in the previous stage version or the book upon which they were based, I don’t know). Amos and Andy were famous for a “check and double-check” routine on their radio show; Fred and Barney did their own version on The Flintstones once.


Jinks is charged by the butler to guard the food. I can’t help but wonder if Mike Lah did this opening sequence, judging by the close, small eyes and thick ink-line around Jinks, not to mention the odd-shaped eye given to the butler. It looks a bit different from the rest of the cartoon.

Meanwhile, Jerry and Nibbles .. I mean Pixie and Dixie .. don white tie and tails and stroll to the table to first partake of an “ample sample” of “some of that gooey goop.” Then we get a little vaudeville-like routine.

Jinks: Who invited you?
Pixie (pointing to Dixie): He did.
Jinks: And who invited him?
Dixie (pointing to Pixie): He did.
Pixie: And who invited you?


That’s when Pixie smacks Jinks with the spoon. Here are the four drawings Muse uses to do it.



Chuck Jones once griped—I think it was in Chuck Amuck Redux—about how the Hanna-Barbera cartoons had little swirls in the air after characters ran away, so he parodied it with Witch Hazel having bobby pins in the air instead. Of course, that’s more of Chuck’s revisionist history because Witch Hazel preceded the H-B TV cartoons by a couple of years. But, Muse at least, liked to animate the swirls on twos and there were four drawings from start to finish. Here’s how he did it in this scene.




My favourite bit of the whole cartoon is next; Bugs Bunny did the same sort of thing. Pixie and Dixie rush into a broiled turkey and Jinks sticks a fork inside to stab them. “Ooch! Ouch!” yell the meeces. But when Jinks pulls out the fork, they’re still screaming in pain. Look at the take from Jinksie in 12 drawings. Sure, it’s not an outrageous Avery take (we are talking Ken Muse, after all), but it’s damned good for limited animation. You can tell what Jinks is thinking.







Jinks catches on, and KA-POW! Now the meece say “Ooch! Ouch!” for real as they leap around, crushed under their top hats. It’s such a goofy little sight gag, though I still don’t know how the fork suddenly became a shovel.



The shovel (né fork) somehow grows a lid to become a dust-pan. The hat-headed mice run past the same covered dish five times, into the dust-pan and are deposited into a garbage can out side a window. Muse gives Jinks a great ‘This is too easy catching you guys’ expression here.

The next gag has the party-crashers under the table drilling a hole. Pixie pokes his head through it (after testing with his hat on a stick to see that everything’s okay). But Jinks is ready and Pixie gets thunked on the head with a spoon. We get a little sight gag here. And a tame one. Instead of the lump growing into a funny shape, we get:
Pixie: Does it hurt, Dixie?
Dixie: Only when I put my hat on, Pixie.


Next is a little personality bit that you’d never get even a couple of years later in a Yakky Doodle cartoon, where the violence gag would simply be a drawing showing the aftermath of the pounding, explosion, etc. followed by a wisecrack. Here, the butler checks up on Jinks and the cat shows his contempt by sticking out his tongue.



Muse has the tongue wagging on ones in a short cycle of four drawings. The butler catches Jinks in the act and BAPP! (Below are consecutive frames)


Jinksie stretches up and down like an accordion and then the tongue zips back into his mouth. Below are the last four drawings.



The only problem is the tongue gag gets thrown away at the end because it happens too fast. Those last three drawings happen in four frames so there’s no emphasis of the tongue going back in the mouth, like there was when it flapped in the air for about a second. In a theatrical, there’d be lots of room for fun here. Tex Avery might have the tongue journey around the room first, halting to lick some soup from the bowl and then stopping to read an Esquire magazine (growing bulging eyes in the process) before going back in the mouth with a thunk. Bob Clampett might toss in a tongue sandwich pun. One can only guess what a pre-Code Dave Fleischer might have done. But in a TV cartoon like this, just slowing down the gag by maybe adding an extra drawing of an elongated tongue would have enhanced the end. Points for trying, though.

Jinks’ toadying up to the butler is ended by Pixie and Dixie flying through the window on a paper airplane, fork in hand, ready to spear some food. But a convenient candelabrum (which somehow got lit) snuffs out that idea, as the meece fly over the same tureen five times (then twice more after a reaction shot of Jinks), out the window and into a garbage can.

The mice don’t give up. They use a bow and arrow to hunt down an orange in a fruit bowl, as Pixie exclaims “Fire when ready, Gridley!” something said countless times in cartoons but only once by Admiral George Dewey during the Battle of Manila. Jinks observes and decides to use some “stragedy,” something else said countless times in cartoons but not once by Admiral Dewey.

Jinks rushes to the kitchen (with a stove obviously designed by Ed Benedict) and, in an overhead shot, ingeniously removes an apple core, replaces it with a firecracker, and puts the apple back on the table. Unfortunately, before Pixie and Dixie’s next arrow can be fired at it, the butler grabs the apple and stuffs it into his back pocket. The butler strolls toward Jinks, who explains he’s awaiting the apple to explode. The butler suddenly realises the situation and the camera tracks back for a better view of the explosion, part of which consists of some animation-saving alternating shots of a black and white screen for four seconds.


The butler and his trusty and accurate broom chase Jinks in silhouette, right to left, as the iris closes. The timing is different on one of the swats just to vary the scene a bit.

Most of the oft-heard Bill Loose-John Seely and Geordie Hormel cues are in this cartoon, but Jack Shaindlin’s Toboggan Run is surprisingly absent from any chase scenes. There are a couple of spots where the cutter has edited the same bed together to lengthen it.


0:00 - Pixie and Dixie main title instrumental theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:26 - ZR 51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – Butler and Jinks check menu list.
1:21 - TC 204A WISTFUL COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Pixie and Dixie get ready for party.
1:42 - ZR 52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – Meece walk onto table; who-invited-you bit.
2:11 - ZR 48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Jinks pokes inside turkey; smashes mice with shovel.
2:58 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks drops mice into the garbage, Dixie drills hole in table.
3:51 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks bops Dixie with spoon.
4:29 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks bites off tongue when Butler bops him.
4:41 - ZR 47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Mice fly into room, Jinks sets plane on fire.
5:26 - TC 301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Pixie spears orange, Jinks puts firecracker in apple.
6:15 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Spencer Moore) – Butler grabs apple, explosion.
6:57 - Z 48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Butler chases Jinks.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie end title theme (Curtin).

6 comments:

  1. Butler as a butler! Ha!

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  2. What I can't figure out is why he and the butler are wearing striped shirts that look more appropriate for yachting.

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  3. Jinx was always one of my favorites. Daws had said once that Joe Barbera would constantly try to get him to sound more like " Ed Norton " when they were recording his dialog for Yogi Bear. Daws hated that. While Yogi dressed like Art Carney's character and sounded a little like him, he wanted Yogi to have his own identity. Daws said he loved Jinx because Joe had never really heard a character like that, thus would not attempt to have the sound modified. Daws felt he could really play on words and have fun with the Mr.Jinx character. It was his own. Besides, we would hear Daws doing Ed Norton and Ralph Cramden as hobos in Warner Brother's " Half-Fare Hair " opposite Bugs Bunny. Plus " The Honey Mousers " as Ralph Crumden and Ned Morton-Ha!!Daws could really mimic.Love Daws!!

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  4. Hanna Barbera also used the tounge gag in a Tom & Jerry cartoon (which to me, because of the full animation, actually came off as more painful than it does here).

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  5. Yeah, JL, I suspect Joe Barbera pulled this one out of his memory bank.

    It's less painful because Jinks is unanimated on a cell and thus has one expression while the tongue is on a cycle. If I remember the MGM cartoon, Tom is animated and the tongue is a little more on a level with the mouth. Of course, you've also got Scott Bradley with those blaring, two- or four-note ascending horns he used on impact animation which adds so much than the Loose-Seely (neither actually wrote it, by the way) unaccented stock music.

    What I like here is the goofy length of the tongue. The exaggeration is exactly what's needed. That's part of what bugs me about the later HB comedy shorts; there isn't a lot of exaggeration in the character movement. It's stiff, tame and uninteresting.

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  6. The fork-turkey gag was never used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but in a Tom and Jerry cartoon - "The Mouse Who Came To Dinner".

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