Saturday, 3 September 2011

Pixie and Dixie — The Ace of Space

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse (Mike Lah uncredited); Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Mr Jinks, Dixie – Daws Butler; Pixie, Captain Micestro – Don Messick.
Music: Geordie Hormel; Bill Loose/John Seely; Spencer Moore.
First aired: week of December 1, 1958.
Plot: Pixie and Dixie rescue an alien mouse and use him to teach Jinks a lesson.

Nothing says the 1950s like space explorers and aliens. Next to cars with huge tail fins, that is. Sure, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon date to about the mid-‘30s, and the flying saucer craze erupted in June 1948. But add to that a huge heaping of paranoia (né “Stop the Commies From Taking Away Your Freedom!!!”), and the decade that brought you the pleasant suburban misadventures of Beaver and Wally Cleaver also generated wild fear via seemingly endless numbers of outer space invasion movies.

Animated cartoon writers were, no doubt, pleased with all this, as it gave them something to gently lampoon. And what cartoon character in the ‘50s didn’t meet up with some kind of alien? Bugs and Daffy did, Popeye battled some, Woody Woodpecker vanquished termites from Mars. Perhaps significantly, Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry did not. But Bill and Joe made up for lost time when they got their own studio. Ruff and Reddy, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Augie Doggie, Snooper and Blabber, and the Flintstones all had encounters with beings from another planet. And so did Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks in Ace of Space.

But Barbera and dialogue writer Charlie Shows also gave a nod to space explorer TV shows (and their comic book spin-offs) like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and Captain Video as the cartoon opens. Pixie and Dixie are reading a Captain Blastoff comic book. Whether Shows is covertly commenting on the triteness of the writing on those early series, or he simply thought being repetitious was funny, I don’t know.


Dixie: “Captain Blastoff, callin’ Earth.” “Come in, Captain Blastoff.” “This is Captain Blastoff preparin’ to blast off.” (to Pixie) Love that Captain Blastoff.
Pixie: Stop blastin’ off and keep readin’, Dixie.
Dixie: “With a mighty roar, the rocket ship Blast Off blasted off from the planet—what else?—Blast Off.”

Jinks is watching this less-than-action-packed scene and it gives him the idea to “blast” the meece as “Captain Jinks” (though he’s not trying to convince them he’s actually from outer space; maybe he’s just breaking the monotony). He uses a fish bowl as a space helmet and a suction-cup dart gun to “capture” Dixie by pinning him by the tail with a dart above his mouse hole.



Ken Muse gives us a silly Jinks run cycle, six drawings on twos. Dixie rescues Pixie before the cat can grab him. There are thumping sound effects as Jinks’ feet hit the floor. By the way, ever noticed how entrances to mouse holes in cartoons are always neat and tidy? They all look like someone has used a circular saw and sander to create a perfect arch. And have you noticed how mouse holes only have doors when it’s convenient to the plot (the same as how characters have bare arms except when the scene calls for a watch)?

Sorry, I drifted off there because I haven’t decided whether to cut Charlie Shows some slack. I haven’t been too kind to him at times about his work on Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Some of his dialogue is either banal or just not funny. And in the next scene of Shows has crafted a whole scene of dialogue that’s redundant. Pixie and Dixie describe what we can see on the screen for ourselves. I suspect it’s not altogether Charlie’s fault. Joe Barbera was so used to writing continuity without words for Tom and Jerry that he’s done the same thing here; this could be easily handled simply with visuals (and accompanying sound effects). So Charlie’s got to write words for a scene that doesn’t need them. On the other hand, you’d think a cartoon writer could come up with clever phrases or puns or something other than superfluous blabber.

Pixie and Dixie hear something outside. It’s not “another Captain Jinks gag” as Dixie disgustedly speculates. It’s a small spaceship that crashes against the base of a garbage can. Inside is a little green mouse wearing either a see-through helmet topped by a TV antenna, or a mutant version of the Nabisco logo.

For you kids reading, there was a time that it was thought little green men lived on Mars, hence we have a little green mouse. The idea of aliens who were little and green seems to have come into being simultaneously with the flying saucer craze; I’ve found references to them in the late ‘40s. Prior to that, little green men were gnomes or fairies or other earth-bound mythical creatures.

Pixie and Dixie react to the alien in a typically ‘50s way—they run away in fear. Or try to. The alien freezes them in mid-air. Then the green mouse walks toward them in a mechanical four-drawing cycle on twos, with a little pat-pat sound effect accenting the steps. “Howdy, stranger. You from out of town?” is the best the apprehensive Dixie can ask. The mouse doesn’t disintegrate him for asking such a stupid question. He nods his head and goes “Binka, binka, binka” (bringing to mind Augie Doggie’s alien friend Boinka Boinka). The alien and the meece become friends; the alien even has a business card in English. “Golly, he’s a space mouse!” says Pixie. Gee, no kidding. I’ll have to rethink my comment about cutting Shows some slack about his dialogue.



Captain Micestro, as the business card names the green space rodent, demonstrates why there are no cats on the planet Mousestro (“How come, chum?” is the Charlie Shows rhyme in this scene). He zaps a letter box in the middle of the yard and it disappears. How will Pixie and Dixie get their mail now? We’ll have to worry about that later. On to the next scene.



Dixie (as in many cartoons, Pixie doesn’t really do a lot in this one than comment) enlists the alien’s help in “teachin’ a smarty-aleck cat a lesson.” He borrows Captain Micestro’s helmet and ray gun then stomps out after Jinks when the cat nails him with another suction-cup dart. Ken Muse has given Dixie a stride of eight drawings on twos. “Well, now, don’t tell ol’ Jinksie you’re going to disseminate me,” says the cat. No, he does it to Jinks’ milk dish instead. The cat bares its claws and charges at the mouse, who temporarily freezes him in mid-air. Jinks decides its best to hide. First, the closet. The ray gun makes the door disappear. Then behind a chair. The ray gun makes it disappear.

Jinks grabs a sword over a fireplace. “Step up and get sliced, moon mouse,” says the cat. The ray gun melts the blade of the sword. Wait a minute. Something’s different here. Jinks doesn’t have his little half-row of upper teeth. And his head is still but his mouth moves around his face during dialogue. Why, that’s not Ken Muse animating now. It’s Mike Lah making a guest appearance.

Want to see the difference? Muse’s Dixie is on the left and Lah’s is on the right. Notice the mouth placements are different, too.



Lah graces Dixie with a basic, unexaggerated walk cycle, but it’s the closest thing to full animation in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. It’s in 16 drawings on ones. Nice and smooth. I’ve slowed it down so you can see it better. That distracting splotch on the wall is on the cartoon; Dixie passed it twice.



“You can not escape, you cowardly Earth-cat. I will find you, wherever you are,” says Dixie in somewhat deliberate syllables. “Ho, ho, ho. There you are! Hiding under the pinanno.” The ray gun zaps away the legs of the piano, which falls on top of Jinks. Time for a Charlie Shows rhyme.


Jinks: This space ace is going to race for the great open spaces.

The ray gun makes the piano disappear. Apparently Dixie’s vocabulary is catching as Jinks looks around and asks “Hey! Where went the pinanno?” I suspect you can credit Daws Butler for the mangled word.



Jinks runs away, leaving orange circles behind. Muse takes over to animate Jinks skidding, trapped, in a corner, then back to Dixie’s eight-drawing stride cycle, as the mouse threatens to blast the cat. But Joe Barbera now twists the story. The cycle fades overtop of Dixie walking on his bed. Out of nowhere, it turns out there was no alien mouse. It was all a dream. Huh? Dixie was dreaming about reading a comic book? What the? Oh, well. “That settles it, Dixie,” says Pixie, dragging the Captain Blastoff comic along the floor. “No more space comics for you.” He drops it out the window into the garbage can below. But then Jinks pops up out of the garbage can, reading the comic. “Love that Captain Blastoff,” he tells us as the iris closes.



So ends another cartoon where a fourth character arrives to help the meece take on Jinks (Judo Jack, Cousin Tex, Boxing Buddy among them).

The version of this cartoon on DVD has my favourite arrangement of the Pixie and Dixie theme. I don’t know if Hoyt Curtin hired a marching band, but he’s got a tuba, triangle and (I think) a celeste in here. Noticeable by its absence on the soundtrack is any music by Jack Shaindlin; the music’s all from the Capitol Hi-Q library. It’s a shame the sound-cutter didn’t use any science-fiction type music like in the Ruff and Reddy Muni-Mula adventure; perhaps it was only in the contract with Capitol for that series alone.


0:00 - Pixie and Dixie Main Title instrumental (Curtin).
0:26 - ZR 51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – Meece read comic book, Jinks nails Dixie with dart.
1:31 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks laughs at capturing Dixie, space ship crashes, alien mouse emerges.
2:44 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “I’m getting’ out of here!”, meece make friends with alien; Dixie asks about “teaching a smarty-alec cat.”
4:04 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Captain Micestro nods, Jinks zapped, door, chair vanish; sword melted.
5:21 - no music – Jinks grabs rifle, makes threat.
5:32 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Rifle zapped, “Where went the pinanno?”
6:24 - no music – Jinks runs into corner, starts pleading.
6:31 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – “Dixie, boy. I’m you’re buddy,” Dixie wakes up, comic book in garbage can, Jinks reads comic.
7:09 - Pixie and Dixie End Title theme (Curtin).

6 comments:

  1. I remember hearing that rendition of P&D's theme tune - it was used again in "Jinks. Jr", if I recall. A shame those early, varied themes were never part of the Pic-A-Nic Basket CD collection.


    Very keen eye on spotting Lah's animation here, too. 'tis fun and interesting to compare those two Dixie screenies from Mike and Ken =)

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  2. One small goof: When Pixie explains to Dixie after the latter wakes up [see above], Pixie says "You're havin' a nightmare, Dixie." Correction: if JINKS had this dream it WOULD be a nightmare. Not that they didn't have SOME fear in the dream, but this would be more fun if it WERE a nightmare of Jinks-then he turns around and sees one of both of the mice playing with a harmless gun, with the obvious intended scare effect, causing Jinks to take off., Still superb cartoon all around. Spencer Moore "score does fit in the last part...and odd that the "Ghost" tunes by David Rose contractually sold and credited to John Seely and Bill Loose of that one George Hormel one, "Light Movement-Eerie" weren't used..and the presumed Raoul Kruashaar one wasn't in use yet till 1959!

    Anyway, I look forward to those, and I think you've now narrowed it down to just two 1st season Meeces shorts-"Pistol Packin' Pirates" and "Cat Nap Cat", or whatever that ultimate cat-nap one was..

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  3. Thanks for slowing that wunnerful cycle.

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  4. Oh, and there's at least one other 1st season Meeces cartoon now yet reviewed-"Dinky Jinks".

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  5. COrrection: I meant "not", not "now".

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  6. That "all a dream" twist, of course, would be used by Hanna-Barbera seven years later in the notorious "Sunshine Babies" "Flintstones" episode with the 1965 green-shirt wearing Pebbles and Bamm Bamm, "No Biz like Showbiz", the episode a lot love to hate (with that relentlessly sunny song often mentioned here from the final season, though it's a guilty pleasure of mine.)

    This can be seen even more "What the F" than that infamous Flintstone episode with "Let the Sunshine in" (or, Yowp's least favorite Flintstones, and he's mentioned that surprise "only a dream" surprise ending as well), since, unlike Fred Flintstone, who's ABOUT to go to sleep before the babies show their ability to make music, and assuming Pixie and Dixie are NOT asleep or dreaming at first, this 1958 Pixie and Dixie starts the "meat", that is, the alien mouse, with the meeces still awake. I'm pretty sure that THAT was the case, and if so, it's only more WTF even more so that the 1965 Flintstones final season opener. (Of course the Flinstones had alien adventures--1963-64's "Ten Little Flintstones" and everybody's faovirte shark jumping instance from the final 1965-66, the Gazoo, banished from the fiction planet Xetox (ZAY-tox)and from NBC Television..) HB didn't do any "dream stuff" apparently till the early Flintstones episodes.. this "surprise dream" is just as old and time honored as the "character's shown dreaming" opening---Disney's take, but ironically not HB's, on "Alice in Wonderland"(whose Lewis Carroll original was not a dream, as I recall), and EVERY version of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol", including the Flintstones's 1990s version, again assuming it's all a dream, is not shown as such till the end. I've made up some Yogi stories with him having nightmares scaring him away from pic-a-nick baskets (incl.an alternative ending to the 1961-62 Curtin-scored "Touch and go go go"..:))Steve


    BTW, again, much congratulations on the Tony Benedict interview, and it was a pleasure to hear what you sounded like..you must have done a lot of those oldtime showbiz interviews for radio like that.:)

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