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The Lunch Hound

The Lunch Hound

1927, Bray Productions, Inc. Directed by Walt Lantz and Clyde Geronimi. With Walt Lantz and Pete the Pup


Here's another of those silent cartoons where the animator and the animated character (the animatee?) interact. As we watch, the border between the filmed world and the drawn world wobbles and finally disappears. Walter Lantz and Pete the Pup establish their odd, co-dependent relationship at the beginning; Lantz finally reasserts his power over Pete at the end; in between they have parallel adventures—Lantz's live-action, Pete's animated, both equally stylized.

Fade in, as usual, reveals the animator at his drawing board. Lantz draws a forest scene and calls for Pete to come out, but Pete is hiding among the trees. Lantz lures him into the open by drawing a roasted chicken on a platter in the clearing. Once Pete appears and gets ready to eat, Lantz reaches in and draws a head and feet on the chicken; it comes to life and flutters away. Shot of Lantz (live-action) pointing and laughing, followed by a shot (animated) of Pete standing there fuming. "Lay off the comedy!" he says to his creator. "When do we eat?"

(Do Lantz and Pete eat the same kind of food? Is it drawn or real or what?)

Lantz goes into the kitchen to ask the cook, but she has quit, so Lantz and Pete independently go in search of lunch. In cartoon-land, Pete chases the chicken, gets an egg laid on his head, tries to steal sausages from a butcher shop, sneaks up behind a fisherman, etc. This is intercut with Walt Lantz, who seems unaware of the activities of his creation. Lantz decides to fry some bacon, but the bacon keeps crawling out of the frying pan (thanks to stop-motion photography). He ends up clothes-pinning it to the sides of the pan. Later, he wants to cook some eggs but doesn t have the heart to crack them. So with his pen he draws faces and limbs onto the (real) eggs, which then turn into animated eggs, start boxing with one another and eventually end up knocked out and broken in the frying pan.

Finally, Pete obtains a fish and shows up in Lantz's kitchen offering to share it. Picture this: A drawn Pete holding a drawn fish against a photographed background. Cut to Lantz, live-action, who reaches out of the frame to take the fish, now a three-dimensional toy fish of some kind. Walt tries to cook the fish, it explodes, and Lantz chases Pete around the studio and back onto the drawing pad. Pete seems to be safe in his own world now, but Lantz's hand reaches in and draws prison walls and bars around Pete.

Although other early animators such as Winsor McCay and the Fleischer brothers appeared in their own cartoons, none took so active a role as Lantz does here. He mugs, he does double-takes, he performs comic business, he leaps around in blackface after the fish explodes. He is not simply the deus-ex-machina animator who occasionally interferes in the cartoon world he has created, but a daffy character in his own right. In fact, animation fever seems to leap off Lantz's drawing board and infect the objects around his home, including his own lunch (believe me, seeing raw bacon crawling around a stovetop like an inchworm could inspire anyone to start keeping Kosher).

The same-frame combination of live action and animation is very well done, and it suggests an equivalency between the two realms that's unusual even for the 1920s. Only at the very end does Lantz seem to remember that his pen and ink give him a certain amount of control over the pen-and-ink Pete. But interestingly, while he can change Pete's surroundings, he does not seem able to manipulate Pete himself, either as a character (Pete does what he wants) or as a plastic object (Lantz is never shown actually drawing Pete nor altering his body in any way).

The live action/cartoon combo was common in the 1920s but has turned up only as a novelty since then (as in Anchors Aweigh). Perhaps changes in the business and technology of animation made it less practical to do the laborious frame-by-frame work involved. Along with it went the pleasure audiences got from seeing a lone inventor/impressario cavorting with his animated alter-ego, a pleasure that came from simultaneously understanding that the man controlled the character's every move and believing that the character had a life of its own.

(5/18/1995)

 

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copyright ©2005 Barbara Bernstein