Magical Mirth featuring Gumby & Felix

A quick review here before I go off to my half-day (due to standardized testing in lower grades, juniors and seniors would be literally thrown out of the building if they show up before noon).

A couple days ago, my mother was shopping for school supplies in the dollar store…

WARNING! POLITICAL ASIDE!
Thank God our education system is so underfunded that teachers have to shop in the dollar store!
END POLITICAL ASIDE.

…when she stumbled across this DVD which proclaims on the case, “the silly, heart-warming antics of these extraordinary characters will have you believing in the impossible.” Well, I seriously doubted that, and so I’d been putting off watching it for a couple days. Finally, last night, I popped it in my computer and I was rather shocked.

The first thing to come on was a groundbreaking piece of cinematic history which I wasn’t expecting: a 1955 theatrical short by Art Clokey (the creator of Gumby, the walking, talking piece of gum) titled Gumbasia (a riff on Fantasia). This is perhaps the first significant example of clay animation EVER. This was before the days of Gumby, and this animation is simply swirling clay figures set to somewhat cacophonous modern music. Easily one of the most mesmerizing things I’ve ever seen on film. Granted, the transfer is one of the worst I’ve ever seen (especially considering that the case proudly proclaims that the animations are “digitally remastered”): the colors are faded, the picture skips and is improperly framed, dust and scratches abound… but it still immediately earned a place of honor on my iPod.

The three actual Gumby episodes are unremarkable, except for some mild anachronistic racism when Gumby and his pal Pokey the horse go out digging for gold and end up prisoners of the Pesky Indians.

On to Felix the Cat. Felix was one of the first animated characters ever, and this DVD includes one short from 1929, and two others from its 1950’s revival. The 1950’s television cartoons are absolutely horrible. The cat has been reduced from the surprisingly catlike antics of the original cartoons to speaking in a cheerful, child’s voice and looking around underwater for a friend for his goldfish Annabelle.

However, the 1929 short, Forty Winks, is fascinating. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “I hear opium was very popular in the 1920’s.” You’ll understand why after this quick summary:

The cartoon starts out with Felix directing an awful-sounding choir of alley cats. A man sleeping next door is angered by their noise, throwing a bowling ball at them and then, when that doesn’t shut them up, spraying them with ether. ETHER! They all fall asleep and Felix starts looking for a place to sleep. He tries sleeping in a house, but a baby shoots him with a toy cannon. Then he tries to sleep in a pair of pants hanging from a clothes line (complete with the sawing log thought bubble), but the saw cuts through the log and continues on to sever the clothes line, dropping the cat (by my estimation) a good 150 feet. Felix spots a dog house where he might sleep, so he lures the dog out of it and runs inside, then making the door disappear. The dog, naturally, is heartbroken, and cries copious tears. So copious, in fact, that the kennel floats away and the dog (now adopting a fericious expression) dives in and pursues it. Felix climbs out on the roof and sees the dog. Two exclamation points appear over his head, which he uses as propeller and flies away. He loses the propeller and falls into the mouth of a hippopotamus, which spits him out and chases him. Felix lures it off a cliff, where it lands on a lever that launches up an enormous mouse which Felix gets in a fight with, eventually knocking it unconscious. He then beats it on the ground (presumably breaking every bone in its body) and then (honest to God) FASHIONS IT INTO A BED, WHICH HE GOES TO SLEEP IN. The end.

Is this going on my iPod? Hells yeah! One of the best parts of this is the sound, which was new technology at the time and could not be synchronized to the picture particularly well. Therefore, there is no dialogue, but a lot can be communicated by the ‘meow’s Felix produces (literally, just made by a guy sitting in front of a microphone saying ‘meow’ over and over again).

So out of 10 animated shorts on this DVD, only two are any good, and even those have terrible picture quality. But well worth a dollar. Unfortunately, I have no idea where you can find it, other than looking in your local dollar store.

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