I’d never heard of Toby Pup until a minute ago.

(This is extemporaneous.)

So, he’s RKO’s early thirties version of the Mickey/Bosco/Bimbo/Flip archetype. A b&w animal character with big eyes, wide mouth, minstrelsy characteristics, white gloves. Toby, in his title illustration, has some grey trimmings but in the cartoon he’s all solid blacks and whites. He doesn’t have little shoes like those other characters, his feet are dog feet, although they join to his ankles as if they were shoes. A Rene Magritte touch. His proportions are lankier, making him less cute, an evolutionary dead end save for the survival of Goofy, a sort of freak platypus of toontown.

In the cartoon, having perhaps undergone some Flip the Frog type remodelling, Toby is more rotund.

Repeating actions are cheap, so we watch Toby milking a cow directly into a series of bottles and diluting the milk with a handy water pump. For a tedious amount of time, with musical accompaniment. So far, so sub-Fleischer. But these things always get weird/distressing in unpredictable ways, I can wait.

Okay, milk bottles with legs, I’m sold. With legs but no arms or faces or eyes even. Blind, insensate, lolloping headlong, clinking. Horrible.

OK, they can momentarily grow arms and mouths. That’s reassuring. In no way disturbing. “Woo-oo!” The 30s cartoon gets closer to nightmare than anything outside of Charley Bowers, without really resembling an actual nightmare anyone’s ever had. Which is in itself uncanny.

Toby’s horse wears I think galoshes, and has Mickey Mouse ears. Ri-ight. Tell me more. It turns lazy cartwheels, a motion perhaps suggested to the director by the presence of actual cartwheels right behind him.

Milk is delivered by slinging it at the target doorstep, where the bottle smashes and the occupant syringes it from the stonework, broken glass and all. Some business with a bouncy bottle, not too interesting, then a bottle appears which grows a tongue from its neck so it can lap up its own spilt contents. Presumably anyone who tries drinking from the bottle gets a french kiss. Freddy Kreuger invented nothing.

Cartoon animals tend to be able to roll up their hide as sleeve or cuff, as if their animal skin were merely clothing… little three-year-old kids know that animals can’t talk, so they often do assume cartoons must be people in costumes. Mickey the cartoon and Mickey the huge wobbly thing at Disneyland are the same, they must be, though they appear unaccountably different. Anyway, this is RKO, so when the horse exposes its “bare” arm/leg, it’s sprouting hairs and dotted with unhealthy-looking moles. I’d get those looked at, and not by a YouTube audience.

Toby pulling spats on over his head isn’t too disturbing, and extruding a top hat from his navel, well, who amongst us, in a moment of weakness… the point is, he’s finished his milk round and is now a big city swell, lopping the end off his cigar with a meat cleaver he tosses back into his pants/dogskin, somehow escaping evisceration or at least a Napoleonesque circumcision.

The only image that really makes me laugh is the Leone ECU of the sleepy horse’s eyes, which display, METROPolis vidphone-style, two beds, a drowsing pupil in each. That’s pupil as in the big black centre of the eye, oblong with a chip taken out of it to suggest a reflective highlight. Those things. In beds. Pulling up the covers with specially-sprouting arms. THAT’S funny.

Unable to rouse his steed, Toby (keep forgetting his name, want to call him plain old Pup) departs his cart in a white flubbermobile, rather charming in its featurelessness, creepy in its ability to slide under rocks. I can too easily picture the demented dawg riding into my room at night, under the door sill like a threatening note, mowing me down in bed FUCK OFF

Toby rides into an angry/pained anthropomorphic storm with weird low-budgets sound effects on repeat, the toon is halfway over and all pretense of milkmanning has been abandoned like a bad shirt.

Now Toby does actually slide his car under a door — SEE I WAS RIGHT — to get out of the storm. The door flexes and warps to let him in — the door is a LOOSE SKIN on the house — a small tree knocks at the door and compassionate Toby lets it in.

Sudden, dismaying shock cut to daylight. The storm is forgotten. Some kind of cow barn dance in progress. Naturally, Toby, a dog, is guest of honour. How did we get here? What’s going on? I can accept milk bottles with anchors chained to them, but this kind of Godardian transition is some fresh hell.

Actually, Pup Toby isn’t even here. What right do we have to be seeing this? I don’t feel dancing cows should be thrust at us without warning or explanation.

(A goat, meanwhile, playing the fiddle, has mice in his shoes using his toes as xylophones or maybe glockenspiels, not sure. The shoes open up like car hoods. Goats don’t even have toes. Who do I write to? Ah, YOU, of course, and I am already doing it.

Ah, here’s Toby, dancing with a corsetted pig. The abruption of this scene change makes me think someone has accidentally spliced two incomplete toons together into a cinematic Fiji mermaid, or else two screenplays/storyboards got shuffled, the way Warners would do to recycle material so the common public might not notice (THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT is a glaring example). But most likely the “writer” just ran out of storm gags and so shifted scene like Capt. Kirk.

Spaniel on banjo wipes his nose with his whole arm, like Mifune or Amber Heard. Not sure why we needed to see that, but then, isn’t that the entire aesthetic here?

Like some dance marathon contestant — THEY SHOOT PUPS DON’T THEY? — Toby collapses on the floor and, mysteriously, some cigarettes and cigars — I *think* — the kinda look like fishes — rush from his hat and pose on his prone form. He looks up, confused, and for the first time in the cartoon I can relate to him.

Seven minute cartoon took me 14 mins to watch because I was typing this.

3 Responses to “Puptoon”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    That’s a spittoon Toby trips over; hence the butts and stogies. Spittoons were plentiful in cartoons and early comedies, often for their own vulgar sake. They were de rigueur in saloon scenes and turned up in other lower-class settings.

    Sometimes characters would spit, usually from an implausible distance, and a hit was registered with a metallic clang.

    Disney’s “On Ice” has Goofy cutting a hole on a frozen pond, setting a spittoon next to it, and shaving bits of chewing tobacco (another once-common prop) into the water. Fish take the tobacco, chew, then look for a place to spit. When they jump out of the water to use the spittoon, Goofy tries to swat them with a club.

    Nickelodeon lantern slides often included appeals to not spit on the floor, ranging from tasteless (“Don’t spit on the floor! Remember the Johnstown Flood!”) to slightly less so (“We want you to feel at home. If you spit on the floor in your own house, feel free to do so here.”).

    There was a “Carmen” parody, age unknown:
    Toreador, don’t spit on the floor.
    Use the cuspidor. That is what it’s for.

    Chamber pots were similarly popular, except the joke was in indicating their existence without showing them. A character dives under a bed and we hear an impact; the gag could end there, or the character would bring out an alternate object for a gotcha. In “Duck Soup” Groucho gets his head stuck in a pitcher and announces “The last time this happened to me I was crawling under a bed.”

  2. Spitoon toon.

    Early cartoons have an elastic sense of “the gag” — there’s nothing comical, per se, about the butts sprouting limbs and coming alive, and no appropriate or incongruous-but-logical comic attitude seems to be portrayed. It’s just sheer madness.

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