Saturday, 10 October 2009

Pixie and Dixie — Scaredycat Dog

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Pixie, Lion Hound – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks, Lion Hound’s Twin Brother – Daws Butler.
Production E-12, Huckleberry Hound Show K-006.
First aired: week of Monday, November 3, 1958.
Plot: Pixie and Dixie buy an African Lion Hound to protect them from Jinks, but the dog is afraid of cats.

Pixie and Dixie should have been no-brainer series for Hanna-Barbera to put together. After all, who was more familiar with the ‘cat-chases-mouse, mouse-defeats-cat’ format than Joe and Bill? But what works on the big screen doesn’t necessarily work on the little one at home.

Part of the problem Hanna-Barbera faced with Pixie and Dixie is violence gags don’t always work too well in limited animation, at least in the kind of limited animation where extremes aren’t very extreme. So that leaves it up to the writer to come up with a compelling plot laden with funny dialogue.

It was easier doing that with Huckleberry Hound than with Jinksie and the Meece. In Huck’s case, his comments after getting the snork kicked out of him are incongruous and that’s why they’re funny (as usual, Daws Butler’s expert delivery helps a lot). But Pixie, Dixie and Jinks didn’t have that luxury. The dialogue had to be strong. And, this is one of those unfortunate cartoons where the plot is good, but the rest of Charlie Shows’ story needed a lot of punching up.

The cartoon opens with Pixie and Dixie breaking open a piggy bank (the glint in Dixie’s eyes is a nice extra touch) to reveal $5 in coins. That’s just enough for a trip to the Pet Shoppe (with Dixie reading the “pe” on the store sign). And Shows pads for time by having the Meece check to see if the cat is asleep before going to the store, and again by having Pixie read a sign in the window that anyone can see.

The mice purchase a vicious-looking African Lion Hound to protect them from the menacing cat. And in the process, we get a variation (and not nearly as funny) on the opening scene in Tex Avery’s Wags to Riches (1949) where Spike acts out each character trait he supposedly has as it’s being listed. As Dixie reads off the dog’s attributes—“fierce,” “brave,” “a real fighter” “and in excellent condition”—the dog demonstrates. Shows did the same thing with Yogi and his fish nemesis in The Stout Trout. Perhaps one of the attributes should have been “ready” because the dog shares some design traits with a homophonic Hanna-Barbera dog.

I really like Monte’s stone wall in this cartoon. The colours are light enough so the background doesn’t distract from the action but it’s still a decorative backdrop.

Dixie then strolls to the sleeping Jinks to give him five minutes to get out of town. This bit, and several others in the cartoon, features snap poses, where a character goes from one pose to the next with no in-betweens. Several of the earliest cartoons have that jerky quality. What you see below are two consecutive frames of “action.”

“Tag! You’re it!” says Dixie and runs off, with Jinks in pursuit. Below two sets of consecutive frames. You can see how Lew Marshall (without his characteristic head bobs, I might add) zips them off screen, leaving eyes aplenty.

Ah, but when the cat and dog meet, they’re both afraid and zip off camera. The mice find the dog hiding in an old barrel. There’s a bit of a glitch here as the mice are standing in front of a wooden fence in the medium shot, but in front of a stone fence in the close-up.

Messick uses one of his mush-mouth wimpy voices for the dog, who explains he’s afraid , and then tells the mice to look at the small print on their contract. Sure enough, it reveals the dog is afraid of cats. Since in an H-B cartoon, it’s a rule that characters read newspapers, signs and so on in clear view of the audience, Jinks hears what’s in the contract and decides to take advantage of it. Note below in the front view how Jinks’ eyes are drawn, thinner and farther apart than usual and slanted. There are several scenes where he appears this way.

Here’s where you wish someone like Foster or Maltese was guiding the dialogue because Shows’ lines come off as trite and obvious. “Sic ‘em, boy!” says Dixie. “I’m too sick to sic ‘em,” moans the dog. “You’re a lion hound,” exhorts Pixie. “I’m not really a lion hound,” wails the pooch, “I’m more a chicken-type hound.” Sorry, Charlie, that stuff isn’t exactly crackling with punny wit.

The next scene follows with Charlie padding the cartoon with more irrelevant dialogue. The dog and mice are up a tree. We can hear the sound of wood being chopped. We can see the tree shake. Pixie exclaims, to no one’s utter surprise, “He’s chopping down the tree. Shee!” The line seems to exist only so Shows can get in yet another of his rhyming two-somes he loved to insert in cartoons, as if that concept itself was enough to be a joke.

Jinks now punches the dog in the face in some cycle animation. Again, there are no real outrageous extremes here, so the gag is simply a dog getting punched. We get a nice Chuck Jones’ grinch-like pose next, though, as Jinks gives the mice five minutes to get out of town.

Pixie and Dixie pack their bags and are on their way to homelessness when they’re interrupted by the dog’s twin brother, using Daws’ ‘Jackie Gleason’ voice. You just know if Maltese or Foster were writing here, they’d come up with some oddball response to “Is he scared of cats?” But all Shows can think of is “He can lick his weight in wildcats.”

Dixie goes in the house, bops Jinks on the nose (which vibrates) and lures him outside by running away. The cat passes a dog, not realising it’s the twin brother. Another rhyming two-some comes from Shows: “Didn’t I tell you to get out of town, clown?” Jinks challenges him to a fight but the Gleason-dog’s fist goes pow-right-in-the-kisser before Jinks can throw the old one-two.

We get a different kind of camera effect for some reason here. Footage of vibrating Jinks gives way to a take of a stunned Jinks which is superimposed for a second or so. And, to be sure to save animation, it happens twice.

Dixie explains who is who to the confused cat, who decides to “scat out of town.” He’s chased by the twin brother as the iris comes in to focus on Jinks’ head. His less-than-hilarious topper last line is “You know sumpin’ else? I forgot to pack.” And with that Shows has churned out another story and it’s on to the next cartoon.

Hanna and Barbera are somewhat borrowing from themselves here. The concept of an afraid twin-mistaken identity comes from the Tom and Jerry cartoon Timid Tabby (1956), where Jerry picks on Tom’s frightened visiting cousin. Tex Avery used the mistaken-identity-duplicate-dog idea earlier in Droopy’s Double Trouble and lifting from it might have helped. While it wasn’t one of Tex’s best, that cartoon moves along and some of his explosion gags could have worked in limited animation. But in this cartoon, the even tempo and less-than-hard-hitting humour leave you wanting a lot more.

The music in this one is a familiar mix, with Geordie Hormel’s final piece being faded out instead of bringing the cartoon to a definite end. The fade-out wasn’t unusual in the earliest H-B cartoons.

0:00 - Pixie and Dixie Main Title Theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows).
0:26 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Meece break piggy bank; buy dog.
1:47 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Jack Shaindlin) – Dog does poses; dog & Jinks meet, dog hides in barrel.
3:36 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Spencer Moore) – Jinks “Worm’s turn to turn”; trees dog and mice.
4:33 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Tree chopped down; Jinks punches dog; Twin brother arrives.
6:03 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Jinks chases Dixie outside; Twin punches Jinks.
6:22 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Twin punches Jinks again, Dixie points out both dogs.
6:53 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Twin chases Jinks.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie End Title Theme (Curtin).


  1. Boy, it's *clearly* obvious why and how Charlie Shows was given the ol' heave-ho since I started following your blog...

    Though I rather hope you'll plan to review a Foster-driven cartoon of P&D soon - particularly "A Good Good Fairy", which IMO had a somewhat stronger ending than what "Gnarly Charlie" was churning out here :P

  2. Chris, part of the problem in reviewing the second season cartoons is their stupid unavailability on DVD. Superfriends is coming out but we can't get a second-season Huck show? Blecchhh. I have the first-season DVD so that's what I've concentrated on. Plus, to be honest, I don't know a whole pile of the second-season music cues.

    I don't want to dump on Charlie too much. I want to do a post on him to go into this, but I don't envy his position. He was in a new, uncharted business with new, uncharted characters. It seems to me the even tempo and limited gags were a direct result of saving money. But he tried different things and it makes the characters, to me, a little more interesting. Nothing is more boring than a formula.

    He - and anyone else, really - will pale in comparison with Maltese and Foster. They're the best. And they had the luxury of coming in after a year's shakedown and could look at what could be improved. What they seem to have done was loaded up on dialogue. It not only quickened the cartoons by substituting for action, but the two of them found the right kinds of dialogue that suited the characters (and the times, as even theatricals had mellowed a lot compared to the late '40s). The downside is after their arrival, the cartoons started descending into a formula.

    Charlie seems to have been respected, at least in later years, by Joe and Bill. But it was obvious Hanna and Barbera were overjoyed in hiring Foster and Maltese and showcased them in interviews. That's more than Charlie Shows, who spent time at Disney, got then. And trading off on a Disney connection wouldn't have been bad publicity.

    "A Good Good Fairy" probably has the most bizarre ending of an HB cartoon. I get the feeling the overworked Foster couldn't figure out what to do so he said "What the hell? Let's try this!"

  3. This is similar to a couple of Chuck Jones T&J's; Purr Chance to Dream & The Cat's Me-Ouch.