Friday, January 2, 2015

200. Three For Breakfast

DIRECTOR: Jack Hannah
STORY: Nick George

Donald has made himself a tall stack of pancakes for breakfast when Chip and Dale sneak into his kitchen and begin stealing them one by one. A brief war ensues as Donald tries to rid his home of the pests. In the process, some rubber cement spills on the gridle, making a very stretchy “pancake.” Donald uses it to prank the chipmunks, but things turn on him in the end.

Chip n’ Dale had appeared in a few shorts prior to this one. This is their second pairing with Donald Duck, and it’s a nice evolution of their characters as well as their relationship with Donald as antagonists, which would last throughout the rest of the 1940s and into the 1950s. The personalities of each chipmunk is becoming more clear here, with Chip the more talkative leader and Dale obviously the dimwitted one. Perhaps the company saw Dale as a way to recreate the fun of Dopey in the shorts, as Dale is often the lovable quiet one. Dale also gains his distinguishing red nose here (it had appeared in the title card for “Chip an’ Dale”, but not in the actual cartoon).

Many, many Donald Duck cartoons open with him humming or singing a song of some sort. Here, he first appears singing “Mammy’s Little Baby Loves Shortening Bread”, which had been sung by Willie the Whale a couple years earlier in the feature Make Mine Music. I love what Oliver Wallace does with it in the music score of the cartoon, as he continues the melody and bends it to the mood of the chipmunk peeking in the window. The music in this short stood out to me. It was not intrusive, but clever and serving the gags well, right down to the “Asian” sound of the gag at the end. 

There are a few fun moments with the chipmunks interacting with the items on Donald’s kitchen table. These recall prior Silly Symphonies, particularly “The Country Cousin” and “Three Little Kittens”. Perhaps there’s even a dash of “Mickey and the Beanstalk”. Seeing small characters manipulating giant silver is always funny, I guess. But there is also a wonderful little moment when Dale spills the salt, and he stops to throw some over his shoulder. Little touches like that really add charm to the proceedings. There’s an added comic absurdity to human superstitions being mimicked by chipmunks, particularly as he should have no knowledge of such things. 

I love the animation of the pancakes on the end of the fork, being pulled to the chipmunks. They are drawn in such a way as to appear to be walking. This is something that can only work in cartoons, and Disney (particularly in this period), does a lot with making inanimate objects suddenly have “life” in moments like this. 

Apparently Donald hasn’t learned his lesson from “Chef Donald” to keep the lid on his rubber cement and keep it out of the kitchen. But where that cartoon played at Donald’s expense, Donald is here using the accident to his advantage. In a way, it recalls the prior cartoon and now Donald has knowledge from it that he can use. But of course, the tables turn on him again in the end. I like the brief “floor plan” shots of Donald stretching the “pancake” all throughout his house. There are several other nice layout choices throughout, like when Dale is backing into the fork. Remember that every time there’s a different “shot” in a cartoon, each is carefully planned out ahead of time and sometimes an entirely new background needs to be painted just for that one gag. The amount of work that goes into something like this, particularly in the age when everything was done by hand, astounds me sometimes.

There is a bit of a strange moment when Donald finally falls off the roof. He screams with the well-known Goofy scream “Aaaa -hoo-hoo-hooey!” In Disney cartoons this was becoming as ubiquitous as the Wilhelm Scream in movies is today. But it still feels strangely incongruous coming out of Donald’s mouth, and I think it was a mistake. 

The final visual gag is not perhaps “politically correct” today, but it’s worth noting and remembering that in this instance the joke is not on Asian people, but on Donald. The humor comes from how silly Donald looks, not how silly Asian people look. Dale is mocking Donald and the fact he looks like a stereotype; he is just having a joke on people. Chip and Dale don’t work that way; they mock what’s right in front of them. It may rub some modern viewers the wrong way, but I suggest you just laugh and let it go.  There are other shorts with far more obvious racism than this one.

This isn’t the best Chip and Dale short, but it serves as a solid interaction with Donald Duck. Usually these shorts are about Donald invading their property and them fighting back, but this one plays the reverse of that. It’s also easier to forgive this one as it was released before the Donald vs. Chipmunks thing had been overdone. I think it works well enough and the sight of the walking pancake always amuses me.

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