Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pixie and Dixie — Nice Mice

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows, Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie, Kitten – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks – Daws Butler.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin, Geordie Hormel.
First Aired: week of February 23, 1959 (rerun, week of August 24, 1959).
Plot: Pixie and Dixie care for an orphan kitten.

You don’t have to look over too many feet of old film to find something from an old Tom and Jerry short at work in each of the Pixie and Dixie cartoons released in the first season, and Nice Mice is no exception. Jerry Mouse took in all kinds of animals—including a milk-hungry little mouse in The Milky Waif" (1946). And Mammy Two-Shoes agreed to (temporarily) take in three kittens in Triplet Trouble (1952). Combine the two ideas and we now have the basis of the plot of this cartoon.

In another way, this is the exact opposite of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, at least the ones made near last half of the ‘40s and into the start of the ‘50s. They were full of frantic chases and bashings that paused; the change of pace would allow the characters to show emotions by reacting (Jerry would look puzzled or trepiditious, Tom would be frightened or maniacal, and so on). Pixie and Dixie cartoons have a few chases because they’re easy to do in cycle animation but they don’t have the budget for the realisation takes and expressions of a Tom or Jerry, so the slow parts of the cartoon are instead filled with dialogue. And Charlie Shows’ dialogue can be a mixed bag. Some of it is clever, some merely advances the plot, some is redundant or pads for time. All three kinds are found in this cartoon, along with some familiar gags and a fairly leisurely pace. And we get one of those cute Dick Bickenbach little animal designs which even grouchy Jinks likes after seven minutes of limited animation.

Well, the opening dialogue seems in search of a punch line. It’s bed time in the mouse hole. Dixie complains that “somebody’s gotta wind the clock and somebody’s gotta lock the door...and you know who that somebody is.” You’d expect some kind of comeback from Pixie, especially since he’s impatiently drumming his fingers on the bed. But there isn’t one. Instead, Dixie instantly stops complaining and jumps into the next line about “putting the cat out.” It’s a good line but it doesn’t quite fit in with the griping.

The conversation is interrupted by the sound of car stopping. I can’t help but think in the MGM days, Bick would have laid out a lovely countryside, a car twisting over rolling hills along a road in perspective into the foreground, with urgent, building music by Scott Bradley. Instead we have a static shot of background drawing of a fence and the roof of a car behind it with Bill Loose’s for-all-occasions xylophone toodling along.

A canvas bag is tossed into the yard. “Maybe it’s a million dollars,” speculates Dixie. “We’ll be rich millionaires!” “That’s the best kind,” helpfully adds Pixie. No, it’s not a million dollars. “It’s a cat! Scat!” rhymes Dixie. The kitty dashes after them into their hole and after the kitten starts crying when Dixie insists “Back in the sack, Jack”, the mice agree to let him stay. There’s a cute little bit when Dixie wonders what kitten eats, Pixie responds with “Same as other cats. Mice.” and Dixie jumps on Pixie in fear. At least they’re trying to get some personality out of the mice who, realistically, lag far behind Jinks in that category.



Dixie makes off with Jinks’ dish of cream after the musty old gag of lifting up the cat’s eyelid to see “asleep” written on it. Charlie Shows gets in a nice pun as the meece walks past him. “That dish of cream looked kind of familiar. Actually, uh, it looked more like vanishing cream.” Then come a bunch of mismatched shots; I’d be interested in hearing if Muse animated his footage in any particular order, or did close-ups at once, medium shots at once, and so on. Jinks has his right hand on Dixie’s tail. Cut to a close-up. The right hand is against the cat’s cheek. Cut back to the medium shot. The right hand is on the ground. How does it get from one place to the other without moving?




Anyway, Jinks doesn’t believe Dixie’s story about feeding another cat. Dixie runs safely with the dish into the hole after bopping Jinks. I like how Muse changes the colour of the outline of Dixie’s feet to grey from black during the little run-in-the-air cycle. I suppose it helps accentuate the speed by using a less solid colour. Once in the hole, another Charlie Shows rhyme: “Real cream. A kitten’s dream.” Jinks reaches in, grabs the dish, and then curls up with it against a wall and goes back to sleep.

The meeces cleverly hide a hose under a carpet and run it into Jinks’ dish. The kitten’s at the other end sucking on the nippled hose like a baby bottle. The gag here is the kitten’s head inflates like a balloon when Jinks wakes up and gets revenge by blowing into the hose. Dixie gets a good line: “That cream sure is fattening.” Then Pixie adds, unfunnily and unnecessarily, “Gee. What a fat cat.” The kitten exhales, blowing the meece upside down against the wall. Pixie: “Man, what hit us?” Dixie: “Hurricane Kitty, that’s what.” Where’s Warren Foster when you need him?

The dependable old “saw holes in the floor from below” bit gets trotted out next. A hole is sawed under Jinks, who is holding onto the cream dish for safekeeping. Dixie is hiding behind a ventilation grate in the wall and pops out to grab the dish just before Jinks plummets. (“I see a saw, sawin’” is Shows’ play-on-words he puts in Jinks’ mouth this time).

Since Ken Muse is working on this cartoon, we can expect a long period of cycle footage and Ken doesn’t disappoint. There’s over 13 seconds of nothing but the kitten licking the cream except for three drawings (on twos) of the grate being lifted up. Jinks grabs the kitty and is about to throw it into the night but is overcome when the little animal licks his face. “Uncle” Jinks then offers to fix him up “with a snappy snack.” Dixie observes “A cat that likes cats cain’t be all bad.” The iris closes and we never see the kitten ever again. Perhaps he went out to play with Jinks Junior, who also appeared in only one cartoon.

Don Messick has a little dialogue gag in this cartoon he used every once in a while. The kitten only says “meow”—except when Jinks asks him if he’s hungry. Then he gives out with a string of “meows” and ends with a quick “yeah.” Yowp did the same thing in Duck in Luck when Yogi asks him a question.

The music’s all familiar, with ‘Toboggan Run’ making an appearance during the chase scene. There are a few spots where the music beds run out and the next cue doesn’t start until a change in the shot.


0:00 - Pixie and Dixie Main Title Theme (instr.) (Curtin).
0:27 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Pixie and Dixie in mouse hole, kitten pops head out of bag.
1:12 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Pixie and Dixie run, kitten licks Dixie.
1:45 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - “That’s no ferocious feline...”, Jinks opens eyes.
3:05 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - “Actually, it looked more like vanishing cream,” Dixie bops Jinks.
3:50 - ZR 47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Dixie runs in mid-air, kitten slurps cream.
4:09 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Jinks reaches in hole, hose in dish, Pixie and Dixie run from inflated-head kitten.
5:30 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Pixie and Dixie against wall, Jinks falls through floor, grabs kitten, goes to front porch.
6:42 - LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) - Kitten licks Jinks, Pixie and Dixie stand near mouse hole entrance.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie End Title Theme (Curtin).

2 comments:

  1. Somehow this cartoon sticks out in my memory for, when the kitten is inflated, one mouse warns the other "Look out- he's gonna bust!"

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  2. H-B seemed to enjoy the old " eye gag ". In " Heavens To Jinksy ", Mr. Jinx is knocked out by a low table. Dixie, sounding like MGM's Wolf says " Do you think O'l Jinksy has kicked the Buc-Buc-Bucket?", then opens his left eye which reads " out ".

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