Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Pixie and Dixie - Little Bird-Mouse

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation - Lew Marshall (Mike Lah uncredited); Layout - Ed Benedict; Backgrounds - Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches - Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles - Art Goble; Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Cast: Pixie, Professor - Don Messick; Dixie, Mr. Jinks - Daws Butler.
Production E-6 (third Pixie and Dixie carton); Huckleberry Hound Show K-004.
First aired: week of Monday, November 10, 1958.
Plot: Despite the professor’s claim in class that mice can’t fly, Dixie does so, and has to stave off Jinks, who tries to catch him to become a zillionaire. The professor and Pixie put a stop to that, and Dixie teaches the other mice to fly.

When you think of Pixie and Dixie, you think of the two mice outwitting Jinks as he chases them past the same light socket about eight times to the immortal strains of Jack Shaindlin’s Toboggan Run. You think of Mr. Jinks shouting “I hate meeces to pieces” and showing off his vast vocabulary, but not quite demonstrating his proficiency as he adds a syllable or an incorrect vowel sound. But that doesn’t describe this cartoon. The characters say very little, reminiscent of Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons at M.G.M. where the title cat and mouse rarely used dialogue. And there very well could be a reason for that.

Hanna-Barbera was founded as a direct result of M.G.M. getting out of the cartoon business (temporarily) in 1957. As they explain it, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna were told by Metro to finish the shorts they had in the pipeline then turn out the lights and leave for good. Some time ago, animation history Jerry Beck came upon a full list of production numbers assigned to projects during the 20-year life of the studio. Several cartoons were begun but abandoned due to the impending closure. One of these, the last one assigned a production number, was called ‘Bird Mouse.’ It seems quite probable that Hanna and Barbera simply took the story for this cartoon with them to their own studio and reworked it for Pixie and Dixie as ‘Little Bird-Mouse,’ though there’s no indication from Jerry’s site what the plot of the abandoned movie was. Regardless, this early effort has a different feel than any other Pixie and Dixie cartoon.

Our story opens with a pan to the right over a 1950s cartoon background that’s flatter than what you’d find in an average H-B cartoon. The pan makes it seem flatter than in the composite frames above. It’s much in the style of Ed Benedict’s work at M.G.M.

A professor (who never again graces the small screen after this cartoon) is trying to teach arithmetic, but Dixie (whose voice isn’t as Southern as in later cartoons) would rather emulate Chuck Jones’ Ralph Phillips and look out the window, daydreaming about flying. The professor punishes him by doing what bad kids were forced to do at one time—wear a dunce cap and write a phrase over and over again on the blackboard. Today, this would result in a lawsuit and endless news stories on all the networks.

Then Dixie sees a blue hummingbird outside. Not just any blue hummingbird. A blue hummingbird with those elongated eyes that scream Ed Benedict. Dixie tries emulating the feathered creature by flapping his ears and—ta da!—he’s off the ground. Still chalking “Mice don’t fly” on the blackboard, Dixie gracefully defies his statement on his way out the window and messes around with a flower, a butterfly and a certain orange cat.

Just about all of the dialogue is superfluous. An example is here where Jinks is reading the book aloud even though we can read it for ourselves. The problem is you can’t get the expressions in limited animation that tell and drive the story as you would in a Tom and Jerry theatrical. So, to move things along better, you add dialogue.

Charlie Shows loved to throw in, first in the Ruff and Reddy series and then in the first season Huck Show cartoons, rhyming pairs of words to end a sentence. In this cartoon, Jinks says “Don’t be silly, Willy.” The rhyming is something that Yogi Bear would continue to spout long after Shows left H-B Enterprises.

Another indication this is an early cartoon is Jinks is horrendously off-model (see right). And, besides the usual H-B repeated running cycles, we see more animation short-cuts. Instead of turning a character before he runs away, Hanna (or Barbera) simply cuts from the character in one standing position and in the next frame has him running away from Jinks (see below).

Jinks captures Dixie in a mailbox, but then the professor and Pixie come to the rescue (with a well-timed thwack with the Professor’s pointer). Jinks chases down the professor, who is saved by a paper-bag waterbomb, and then the old rope trick saves Pixie.

The waterbomb drop is a good example of the difference between theatrical and TV animation. Tex Avery would, as he told Joe Adamson in Tex Avery, King of Cartoons, have something drop from the sky in five frames: “It makes the gag that much funnier. If you saw this thing coming down, and you panned down with it, and it hits—uh uh.” But Hanna (or whoever) does exactly what Tex wouldn’t have done—he pans down with the paper bag. Hanna likely wouldn’t have done it that way in an M.G.M. cartoon, but it doesn’t take a lot of animation to have a drawing of paper bag with a background doing a vertical roll behind it, and that saves time and money.

Finally, we reach the climax where Jinks chases Dixie into a railroad tunnel but the cat quickly emerges running away from a diesel. Being a TV cartoon, there’s no expensive perspective shot; just a rolling background over a run cycle that fades into the final scene, where Dixie is now teaching Pixie and the Prof how to fly as our story ends.

Today’s number is six. That’s how many times Jinks runs past the same flower before a cut to something else.

The music selection is interesting; the sound cutter looped Geordie Hormel’s Fast Movement over and over to take up a good portion of that cartoon and when everything’s done, the bed is just faded out (few H-B cartoons did this; there was always a definite end to the music). The skippy string music by Spencer Moore at the beginning was apparently used in only this cartoon. And Hormel’s Comedy Mysterioso makes a rare appearance, though it was used fairly often in the Pinky-Harry Safari storyline of the earlier Ruff and Reddy series.

0:00 - Pixie and Dixie main title (Bill Hanna-Joe Barbera-Hoyt Curtin).
0:26 - L-85 LIGHT MECHANICAL (Spencer Moore) - Dixie wishes he could fly.
1:56 - TC 203 WISTFUL COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) - Dixie flies out window; Jinks tries to capture him with net; Jinks reads “specimen index.”
2:57 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Spencer Moore) - Jinks contemplates flying mouse = money.
3:04 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Jinks chases Dixie with net.
3:51 - ZR-53 COMEDY MYSTERIOSO (Hormel) - Professor hits Jinks with pointer.
4:13 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Jinks chases professor, then Dixie, then Pixie.
5:09 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Pixie waterbombs Jinks.
6:02 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Dixie stops Jinks with rope.
6:22 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Jinks runs from train.
6:55 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Dixie teaches Pixie and professor how to fly.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie end title (Curtin).

1 comment:

  1. What happens to Jinks in the end is similar to what happens to Tom at the end of The Flying Cat, except Tom gets hit by the train.