It’s Sundy night and you’re wondering what’s left to watch that won’t make this evening even more forgetable than Saturday’s drunken void or the previous five days of relentless ambient labor. Why not search for peace from the numbing lash of capitalism and the shrinking carrot of your bimonthly paycheck with a retreat into the fanciful heaven of a life free of meaningless labor. Become an animal—vicariously! Who cares if the majority of non-human beasts live a short disease-ridden life of fear, hunger, irritating intestinal parasites, maladjusted twelve year olds with pellet guns, and drinking out of the toilet—they don’t have to work, and on Sunday evening you’d trade positions in a microsecond. Animal movies exist for a variety of reasons, but most of them boil down to one simple escapist fantasy, that the rest of the animal kingdom is composed of people just like you and me, but with day to day problems that can be understood and overcome.
Most of the fun comes from imagining Mr. McDowell, a mixed-drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, impersonating with the last flicker of his faltering consciousness the voices of our animal leads.
Uh-uh. What appears to be a nasty little foreign comedy idolized by Vincent Canby is in fact little more than a blue valium swaddled in videotape. An inscrutable gravel-voiced French dog narrates this mean-spirited adventure with what is intended to be a gruff near-psychotic joie de vie. Unfortunately, the filmmaker knows little of canine psychology and in place of a true and humorous understanding has opted to regard the dog’s worldview as the next best thing to fascist skinhead ideology. The star of the film is simply the worst dog-actor in existence (perhaps sleeping his way into the role). Baxter looks like a particularly unemotive Captain Piccard from Star Trek the Next Generation, and delineates for us long before this interminable film is over exactly how wrong the French can go when they try to be meaningful and funny at the same time. There are brief moments of sick fun however, most of which will appeal to the more cruel and patient members of the audience. If you’ve got stomach flu and can’t leave the house for a few days, this may be just the sort of miserable bitter tale that could make you feel better about yourself in comparison, but chances are if you’re that far gone you’ll be on too much medication to follow the storyline.
MILO & OTIS
And then, when you least expect it, Disney produces some true entertainment. Don’t worry that this insane animal travelogue sits in the children’s section, MILO and OTIS is a wonderful two hours of twisted nonsense for anyone with a thriving sense of sarcasm. A drunk and perhaps senile Roddy McDowell maniacally narrates the picaresque (meaning created in the editing room) story of a “platonic” trans-species friendship between a quirky kitten and his pug dog friend, who bears a more than passing resemblance to J. Edgar Hoover. The movie was cobbled together by a Japanese crew from over four years of footage and, in all likelihood, a huge number of nearly identical Milos and Otises. Most of the fun, however, comes from imagining Mr. McDowell (working on a comeback from his Planet of the Apes days), a mixed-drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, as he hangs from the microphone terrifying the recording engineers, impersonating with the last flicker of his faltering consciousness the voices of our animal leads.
“Make my doggy day!” he bellows, drifting into animal gibberish, finally breaking into song: “Here comes the dog! Strong and brave! Woof! Here Comes the Dog!” He manages to maintain this delirious level of psychotic intensity throughout.
And unlike other movies where disclaimers promise no animals were hurt in the production, the stunts here seem fascinatingly real, such as when the little pup is swatted in the face by a bear and when the cat (or one of the many cats which were likely run through to film this epic) is dropped into a packing crate and shoved through the rapids over a waterfall.
Ah, but you say you’re too full of post-punk angst to enjoy the mindless pleasures of a children’s film? Then grab COCKFIGHTER from the Roger Corman exploitation stacks. Warren Oates plays a trailor park Romeo so obsessed with winning the year-end cockfighting championship that he has refused to utter a word until he makes it. Harry Dean Stanton is his nemesis, a slick pock-marked bastard in a polyester suit. The pair battle their way to the finals showing us more dead chickens and more peculiar chicken fighting lore (a finger in the anus gets your cock a-hankerin’ for blood) than anyone in the audience will likely have a stomach for. There are cameos by a variety of talented character actors and dozens of doomed and fiesty roosters. Cockfighter is uncompromising, and in its seeming realism and humor it manages to rise far above the level of entertainment you might expect from the lurid cover. Production values aren’t much higher than a real Cockfighter’s home movie, but this is more than made up for by the excellent white trash character incarnations and the sight of Treat Williams sticking his index finger into the anus of a bird. And as in all truly worthy films there’s a heartwarming yet disfunctional romance that forces our hero to choose between his one true love, and a girl. By the time Warren Oates yanks the head off his prize (and surprised) cock to show the woman he loves exactly her place in his heart, you’ll be more than ready to return to the reassuring comforts of another Disney fantasy.
THAT DARN CAT
Best reserved for a recovery from psychedelic drugs, this film, designed for the sort of adolescent girls who love to adopt a fake English accent, is sturdy if unexeptional entertainment that serves best to reassure the viewer that a suburban existence is our chosen path, and that in the end life isn’t merely a disconnected series of meaningless cruelties in a universe where God is just a catchword uttered to assert moral control or extort cash from the gullible. Frank Gorshin is almost as entertaining here as in his Batman days, and the young girl lead (inexplicably speaking in an idiosynchratic Oxford mish-mash) comes across as a budding young Shelley Winters. The cat, like most cats, doesn’t really do much.
If you’ve never seen a bear take psychedelic mushrooms then this might be the movie for you. It’s a fine story, well produced, with a minimal number of words. It tells the tale of an orphaned cub and his search for a foster home. As with so many movies from the French, there is an utterly misguided sense of poignancy applied in unexpected ways onto scenes which seem to have no purpose. But what is often an annoying defect, serves here to bring the audience into an imagined ursine worldview with creativity and visual panache.
THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET
First off, I have to admit I couldn’t find this film, but the sheer magnitude of its impact on the current state of post-baby boomer thinking demands a quick mention. Don Knotts, a miserable ichthyologist, falls into the water and transmogrifies into a fish, escaping drab reality in a self-actualizing cartoon tour de force ideally suited for anyone displeased with the current state of reality. This movie is entertaining enough to convince your children to drown themselves in a search for that magical 2-D world; it kicks The Little Mermaid’s ass right out the water. Rent it in a double feature with THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (or watch it when it comes around on Saturday afternoon) and forget if only for a few hours the agonizing numbness of the approaching work week and the brief span of mortality that you’re trading away hour by hour for the food and lodging that you need to survive in this world of onconquerable debt.