Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Watching Cartoons as an Over-Educated Adult

On some Saturdays at the library we have an afternoon movie for the public. Normally one of my co-workers sets up the DVD projector and starts the film, but she had the flu last weekend. So that task fell to me. The movie is preceded by a cartoon, so I sat with the audience while the cartoon was showing. Once it was done I switched DVDs, started the movie, and went back to the reference desk.

The cartoon in question was MGM's "Northwest Hounded Police" (1946). It's one of the many cartoons featuring Droopy, an anthropomorphized dog who looks and sounds like he's heavily sedated.

In "NHP," Droopy plays Sgt. McPoodle, a Canadian Mountie assigned to bring in a wolf who's escaped from a penitentiary. True to the Mountie spirit, McPoodle pursues the wolf relentlessly. True to the cartoon spirit, that relentless quickly becomes unreal. It reminded me of the very thin line that separates the humorous from the horrifying (an undergrad professor of mine once said you could easily re-write Oedipus Rex as a comedy called The Born Loser). Seriously I began to feel for this wolf. He's running with McPoodle behind him, finds a cabin, locks five doors behind him, and McPoodle is waiting for him in the innermost room. He runs back out through those five doors and McPoodle's waiting for him. He gets into a plane, flies away and McPoodle's in the plane. This is bordering on the stuff of existential nightmares. Typically an existential hero doesn't know why horrible, frightening things are happening to him. The wolf doesn't know how McPoodle is able to turn up everywhere. It's the stuff of Kafka and Camus.

Come too think of it, there's something "Myth of Sisyphus" about Wile E. Coyote's pursuit of the Road Runner, except Wile E. Coyote never reaches the existentialist hero's moment of revolt.

Anyway, at the end of the cartoon you get an answer of sorts to the question of McPoodle's ubiquity, but it's weirdly sci-fi. And the moment where the wolf escapes into a movie theater and starts watching an MGM cartoon is unsettlingly meta for 1946.

I showed "Northwest Hounded Police" to a friend of mine who's a professor of religion and philosophy. His reaction: "The guy who wrote this was definitely having a crisis."

1 comment:

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