Saturday, April 11, 2015

196. Two Chips and a Miss

SERIES: Chip 'n' Dale
DIRECTOR: Jack Hannah
STORY: Nick George, Bill Berg

Chip and Dale each sneak out for a night on the town with Clarice, unaware that she has invited both of them. They arrive at the Acorn Club where she is performing, only to find they are rivals for her affections. Eventually, this leads to each of them warring for her attention on a different instrument accompanying her performance, until the three of them settle into performing a song together.

"Two Chips and a Miss" is the most unique short in the Chip and Dale canon and, along with "The Lone Chipmunks", most responsible for inspiring Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers in the 1980s. This is the second cartoon of their starring solo series after sharing numerous shorts with Donald Duck and Pluto. The first solo effort, "Chicken in the Rough", is typical Chip and Dale fare, and nothing much to write home about. It's not bad, but in my estimation not worthy of this list. However, their sophomore effort is a very interesting experiment as it features nuances of setting and character that don't feature in any of their other appearances of this period.

This is the first and, I believe, only cartoon that puts them in an urban setting. They are no longer animals living in Donald's backyard tree. They are Jiminy Cricket-type sophisticates who sleep in matchbox beds and wear clothing. Was this an attempt at spreading Jiminy's features to other characters? (He would appear again regularly on The Mickey Mouse Club in a few years.) Or perhaps it's a continuation of the success of the mice in Cinderella which had premiered a couple years before. Whatever the reason, this is one of the only cartoons until the Rescue Rangers series to put the chipmunks in clothes. They would dress up a couple of times with Donald, notably in "Out of Scale," but they always begins these shorts as naked animals and the clothes are humorous "add-ons". In this short, clothing is part of their everyday life. I like the decor of their treetop apartment, with the leaf-blinds and such. The invention with which the artists populate the chipmunks' world with familar things made from smaller objects is really well done. The night club tables are fungi, the bass guitar is a pencil and box, etc.

The plot seems to riff on popular screwball comedy tropes of the '40s, with the boys rivals for the affections of the same girl, and a focus on swinging night life. I admit I always giggle a little at Chip's internal monologue commenting on his reflection: "You gay dog, you!" Doubtful today this statement would signal him a ladies' man.

"Two Chips and a Miss" is the first short in which we are meant to fully understand the chipmunks' speech. Usually, it's a lot of sped-up, seemingly unintelligible chattering. Sometimes you can understand pieces of it, but apart from catchphrases like "Well, whaddya know!" the words they say are secondary to the physical comedy. The Disney studio tries a different approach in this short, for while it has physical comedy moments, it also requires the boys and Clarice have speaking roles. We are meant to see them as fully anthropomorphic characters here, and not rodent pests as in other shorts. They would revert to something a bit between their old voices and this short for many of their later appearances, though they would have intelligible dialogue in some appearances on Disney's TV program in the late 1950s.

A primary reason for having more understandable voice pitch here is the focus on Clarice's song, "My Destiny." This is the first and only appearance of Clarice as a love interest for Chip and Dale. When you hear her sing her song in her little chipmunk voice, it is well worth remembering that this is a full six years before Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. created Alvin and the Chipmunks. Watching this short, I realized that Disney had invented singing chipmunks first! A part of me wonders if Bagdasarian made his high-pitched singing trio "Chipmunks" because of Chip n' Dale.

The cartoon feels familiar in utilizing gags that are recognizable from other works of the period. The brief mirroring gag owes a debt to the Marx Brothers, while the Acorn Club section carries heavy Tex Avery connotations. The boys fawning over the shapely singer Clarice feels like an answer to "Red Hot Riding Hood", particularly in the moment where they briefly take on wolf form. In Disney terms, the short also ends on a note very reminiscent of early Mickey Mouse, where a problem goes away through the power of music. This becomes a very musical cartoon, which in this period of Disney animation was kind of a throwback to the way they used to do it. Chip and Dale playing away reminds me of Mickey and Minnie in similar situations. I like the culmination in warring instruments and differing musical styles. The moment when Clarice picks up tempo to match Chip's playing is nice. This scene almost seems to prefigure the Donald/Daffy piano war in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The little bits of slapstick rivalry between Chip and Dale are fun as far as they go, though they don't go very far. The characters are a bit more subdued from how we've seen them in other shorts; we've gone from The Three Stooges to Martin and Lewis. We've never seen the two fight against each other for a girl before. Indeed, they generally have the same goal in their cartoons. This time, by making them rivals for Clarice's affections, the Disney artists are expanding the kinds of stories these characters can tell. While we don't see this sort of thing again in the 1950s, it definitely seems to have planted seeds for the rivalry over Gadget Hackwrench on the TV series. Clarice is a real two-timer! She invites both of them secretly on the same night! What is she expecting? Did she just want butts in the seats (the club seems empty)? I get the feeling she likes Chip more; his note had more "kisses", and she seemed to respond more to his playing. She just likes being wanted. She's kind of a hussy, with her wink to the audience at the end, showing she's just playing them. Remember when two boys could accidentally kiss like that at the end of a cartoon and it was funny for what it was with no other connotations? Or when popular songs could refer to one's lover as "Little Girl" and it wasn't creepy? I miss the innocence of those days.

Chip 'n' Dale would follow this short with "The Lone Chipmunks", in which the two unwittingly help to catch a bank robber in the Old West. For this, they are made honorary deputies. I consider this the inspiration for their crime-fighting Rescue Rangers. Taken together, both of these shorts lay the groundwork for that popular television series and represent an attempt at stretching the characters beyond being simple antagonists. While "Two Chips and a Miss" never fully exploits or resolves the love triangle story, and remains a rather slight and moderately amusing cartoon on its own, its novelty in the Chip 'n' Dale oeuvre makes it a bit more than the sum of its parts. Its weaknesses keep it low on this list, but the defining unique characteristics make it something of a favorite of mine, if only because it's charmingly different.

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