Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pixie and Dixie — King Size Poodle

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Warren Foster; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice cast: Pixie, Newscaster, Zookeeper 2 – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks, Zookeeper 1 – Daws Butler; Lion – Hal Smith.
First Aired: week of October 24, 1959.
Plot: Pixie and Dixie hide an escaped lion from Jinks, who is out to collect the reward for its capture.

Every time I see the mice-turn-lion-into-dog scene in this cartoon, I can’t help but think of the marvellous 1946 Warner’s short Roughly Squeaking, where Hubie and Bertie convince a cat that he’s a lion and turn him into one. There’s no way this cartoon can measure up to that one, of course, but we do get a silly running gag, a nicely-designed lion and Hal Smith using his low, gangster voice with a tinge of New York in it. It’s pretty much the same voice Smith used in the Flintstones episode ‘Once Upon a Coward’ (1963) where the robber growls to Fred: “Nice and slow, see. That’s the way to do it. Nice and slow.” By a happy coincidence, Carlo Vinci animated on both of them.

The plot begins pretty quickly. The meece are resting against a tree and don’t believe they really saw a lion swoop past them to hide behind the tree. When the lion tells them to “shhh” they try to do Carlo’s usual back-up-then-stretch-dive exit out of the scene. But the lion stops them with his paw. He wants them to hide him. Then comes a joke I don’t quite get. The scene cuts to a radio.

Newscaster: Attention for a special news bulletin. A ferocious killer lion has escaped from the zoo, savagely attacking 24 keepers and clawing his way through a solid wall of visitors.
Lion: Ohhh! That’s a big fib.

Did Warren Foster think the lion’s line was funny? If the lion sounded like someone such as Joe Besser, the contrast between the voice and the viciousness would be evident and the gag would work better. Or did Foster think the set-up was funny? Today, it would be—it could be seen as a satire on the hyperbole of some broadcast media. But this cartoon was written in the era of Huntley and Brinkley and Edward R. Murrow’s team when what came out of their mouths was unquestioned fact. No hyberbole there.

Anyway, Jinks comes on the scene with a rifle and another line that doesn’t make sense.

Jinks (to Pixie and Dixie): A lion happens to be on the loose and, uh, there’s a huuuge reward for him. And if I see him, kaboom! New rug in the parlour.

Jinks, like, uh, how are you going to collect a reward for the capture of a lion if it’s, you know, dead and on your floor? Oh, well. Jinks isn’t supposed to make sense, I suppose.

A pair of scissors and a ribbon turn the lion into a bad French poodle. Jinks skids into the scene. Now we get our running gag.

Jinks (sceptically): French poodle? Ain’t he, uh, on the big side?
Dixie: A little. Say something in French for the nice cat.
Pixie: Yeah. Anything.
Lion (thinking): Uh....rumm.... Coop de grass.

I love the lion’s expressions. You can see him thinking, then pretending he’s confidently speaking Français, even though he murders “coup de grâce.”

But the linguistically-ignorant Jinks is convinced by the performance. And he makes an offer to the “poodle” to be his hunting dog to track down the lion and “spuh-lit up some easy loot.” Carlo featured an angular head tilt during a lot of his dialogue scenes in these early H-B cartoons. He’d use three different angles of the head in a five-drawing cycle; the second and fourth, and the first and fifth positions were the same. He would stop one or more of the positions, animate the mouth on a separate cell for a bit, then move the head back up in a cycle.

Here are three of his drawings slowed down so you can see what I mean. I’ve added the second drawing again so you can see the cycle. And you’ll notice the wide mouth that Carlo liked to use.

Lion: Loot?
Dixie (to lion): Mon-soor Pussycat means “money.” Comprendzee?
Lion: de grass!

And later:

Jinks: Is it a deal?
Lion: Ohhh, coop de grass. Coop de grass!

That’s the joke. All the lion knows in French is “coop de grass” so that’s about all he responds to anything, though he get a couple of “Oui”s out of him.

The “poodle” acts like an English Pointer as he pretends to spot the lion. He lures Jinks behind a shrub. Bam!

Jinks: Uh, partner. Fill me in. What struckt me?
Lion: Tch tch tch. Coop de grass.
Jinks: Yeah, uh. I get the picture.

He lures Jinks to peer into an open basement window. Bam!

Jinks: What clobbered me from the rear? And don’t give me any of that “cut the grass” double-talk.

Instead, we get a stretch-dive exit out of the scene. Jinks gets lured to some garbage cans. Bam! Here’s one of Carlo’s two-frame shake takes.

The lion’s fun is interrupted by the arrival of two zookeepers. The lion begs Pixie and Dixie to save him. It’s too late.

There’s a voice track mistake here. Daws Butler’s voice comes out of both the zookeepers at first. Perhaps that’s understandable since they look alike.

Keeper 1: Good work, mices.
Keeper 2: You’ll get the re-ward for capturin’ this lion.
Keeper 1 (now with Messick’s voice): Yeah. 15 grand.

Now the running gag runs out as our cartoon ends. Jinks shows up to tell the zookeeper “I hate to disilluding you” but they have a French poodle, not a lion. “Yeah, and I’m a Russian wolfhound,” says Zookeeper 1, as the meece and lion load themselves in the back of the zookeepers’ van. Jinks is frustrated and desperate that Pixie and Dixie are getting the reward.

Jinks: Tell ‘em you’re a French poodle. Say some-minn!
Lion: Coop de grace.

And with an “au revoir-ee, Jinks” from Dixie, the van rumbles away. Jinks turns to the camera and tells us “I hate them meeces.” You can see the bar of teeth that’s another sign Carlo is on the job.

Most of the score consists of Jack Shaindlin’s familiar stock music. There’s a change for what seems like no particular reason in the middle of when Jinks is making the offer to the “poodle” to capture the lion.

0:00 - Pixie and Dixie main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:13 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Pixie and Dixie chat, lion zips around tree, Pixie and Dixie shake heads.
0:24 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Pixie and Dixie look at each other, lion begs, “Attention for a special news bulletin!”
1:00 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Spencer Moore) – Newscaster tells of savage escape, Jinks with rifle.
1:42 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No. 2 (Shaindlin) – “And if I see him...”, mice decide to disguise lion.
2:08 - LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) – Lion turned into poodle, “you be the hound to track ‘em down.”
3:41 - ZR-52 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Geordie Hormel) – “I shall blast them”, Pixie and Dixie think watching will be fun.
4:09 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Bush scene.
5:03 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Basement scene, garbage can scene.
5:52 - LAF-27-6 UNTITLED TUNE (Shaindlin) – Van drives up, lion in van, “coup de grass.”
6:48 - LAF-72-2 RODEO DAY (Shaindlin) – “Au revoire”, Jinks hates meeces. Iris closes.
6:59 - Pixie and Dixie end title theme (Curtin).


  1. I like the way Hanna and Barbera had a bunch of stock situations in which they plugged their TV characters (such as runaway elephant, runaway gorilla, or in this case runaway lion). A lot of these plots have Tom & Jerry equivalents as you've noted many times in your blog. In this cartoon, Jinks reminds me of Tom in "Jerry and the Lion", running around with the gun while the meeses are in cahoots with the lion. I like the fact that this doesn't have a shmaltzy ending, it's great seeing the lion with 2 guns pointed at his noggin (especially if he's that vicious!)

  2. Never thought of that in this case, Dan. But, yeah, there seem to have been a lot of "runaway" or "save me!" plot lines in last few years of Tom and Jerry that got adapted. More with Charlie Shows than Foster, I'd think.
    What might have been an interesting cartoon is if Barbera and Shows had done some major surgery in 'Downbeat Bear' and put Yogi in the part.

  3. This particular cartoon has always has left a lasting impression with me. After fourty six years or so, I have never forgotten " Goop de Grass ". And the way Hal Smith read it-Ha!. I have never been able to read a book, watch a movie or television show, hear an old radio show that when " Coup De Grace " is printed or spoken, my thoughts don't go back to this cartoon.

  4. I appreciate the library music tribute to Peter Dennis/Dennis Berry/Frank Sterling or whatever you want to call him. One of my favorite composers!

  5. "Coop de grass." (in French/en Français)
    This is one of the things which I remember on this Pixie & Dixie episode.

  6. This cartoon is better than the WB cartoon mentioned above, which has Hubie & Bertie in it. HB cartoons are better than WB ones. They're cuter.