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Cartoon Hell #20 – “Wiffle Piffle the Hot Air Salesman”

March 30, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

It's a growing field you know.

It's a growing field you know.

I discussed the matronly version of Betty Boop I refer to as “Frau Boop” during the saddening review of Henry the Funniest Living American, and it seems as the years went by they emphasized the Frau’s presence less and less. The strategy was to wean people unto other popular cartoon franchises before they could realize that the name Boop no longer involved overt sexual imagery. As weird as it is to find myself saying this, I wish Wiffle Piffle had taken off.

A great man at work.

A great man at work.

I’m immediately thrown off by Wiffle Piffle as he does not resemble any sort of main character I’m used to. He’s dressed like a hobo martian in a Monopoly outfit and his limbs are always in motion and always rubbery.

He goes to the first door and after offering, “something new in household items,” he’s smacked on the head. His response? “What a robust woman!” Awesome.

Watching Wiffle meander around town is oddly hypnotic, his body swaying as he goes down winding walkways, dodges guard dogs, and boards and disembarks from a trolley without it ever moving. I wish I could get a screen saver of him moving. It entrances and delights.

In the thirties a door-to-door salesman apparently received all the warmth and regard of a rabid bulldog dressed like a gypsy, as Wiffle gets treated like a plague rat wherever he goes. This could also have something to do with his resemblance to an extra-terrestrial crossed with a Stretch Armstrong.

The hat is critical, it holds the ensemble together.

The hat is critical, it holds the ensemble together.

I automatically sympathize with characters who seem incapable of responding to abuse. Wiffle gets punched in the face by a beefy, Popeye-esque arm, and he crawls back to the door to get his hat. Mr. Piffle will never give up on his dream of selling whatever it is he sells.

This can only end in shenanigans.

This can only end in shenanigans.

Fortunately the first person to open the door is the soft-hearted Frau Boop, who since she can’t be slutty or even particularly coquettish is now merely accommodating. It makes Wiffle’s sales pitch almost scandalous. The phrase, “Feast your eyes upon my stock of merchandise, you’ll say yes if you are wise,” could have been porno material if spoken ironically.

Things offered by Wiffle Piffle include woolen hammers, rubber nails, an embroidered dinner pail, knitted bathroom scales, a sieve that never leaks, a rug made by the hands of sheiks, and some nice brand new antiques. I would have invited him in just to get a look.

Her only response is, “Nothing today kind sir.” Closing the door doesn’t deter Wiffle, he just meanders to the back door. The song continues, with Frau Boop offering the same answer.

When he goes to the next door, I begin to wonder what sort of structure this house has, since he’s going to a door at an angle to the previous door each time it’s starting to look like she bought an octagonal home.

He lures her to the door by shouting “ice”, and when she answers he sings a song along the lines of, “Ice a truckin! Hachachacha, ice a truckin!” It must have been a popular song at the time, because the joke wins over Frau Boop, and he’s allowed to enter. This is how perplexing all the crappy referential humor of today is going to look in 50 years, just as a fair warning to current humor quoters. You’ll think back to this when you chastise your grandson for not getting the jokes in Clerks when you force him to watch it. He’ll stare at you the way you’d stare at an old person now for making a joke about the Charleston.

Fleischer animation is always prone to mumbling, probably so they could squeeze in lines without animating too much. “I suppose you fellas just have to have your way,” Boop mutters as she lets him in. Betty Boop, proto-feminist.

Even his products enjoy their work.

Even his products enjoy their work.

The first of Wiffle Piffle’s inventions is a mouse trap in the shape of piece of cheese. When a mouse bites into the slice, a mechanical cat rises from the top and blackjacks the little bastard. I would pay unreasonable amounts of money for a device that could cold-cock a rodent automatically.

This machine will kill us all.

This machine will kill us all.

For his next trick, he shows of a machine that can effortlessly remove stains. He soils one of Boop’s towels with ink, inserts it into the machine, and it cuts out the stain with a perfect circular hole. That’s Monkey’s Paw style wish-fulfillment right there.

Boop’s passive-aggressive response to his stain removal method is, “So I noticed.” Betty Boop is officially too much of a doormat to be an effective straight-man to wacky hijinks.

Did he know there was a tree out there?

Did he know there was a tree out there?

His next zany act doesn’t have any real commercial value I could determine. He drops a batch of dirty laundry, a bail of clothes pins, and a “jigger” of clothesline to a sink of water. I think the “jigger” predates the metric system. Adding some sort of rocket, he explains that the rocket will wash and dry the clothes at the same time, as the rock propels the clothesline with clothes in tow and attaches itself to a nearby tree.

At this point I’m pretty certain Wiffle does not, in fact, have anything to sell and is just a strange, lonely alien amusing himself at Boop’s expense.

What if this box did nothing and they were staring at it like that? I'd approve.

What if this box did nothing and they were staring at it like that? I'd approve.

He sets down a box that expands into a vacuum cleaner, reenforcing my extraterrestrial hypothesis. His comment of, “I expect to clean up on this,” suggests an alien capacity for corny sales tactics.

All work and no play makes Wiffle a dull boy.

All work and no play makes Wiffle a dull boy.

Experiencing difficulties related to his own foot remaining on the chord, Wiffle determines that there’s a short in the system, and pulling an axe out of who the hell knows where, he starts hacking open the wall. He jumps straight from not enough cabling to reasoning that tearing  apart a wall and yanking a power outlet an extra foot is the best solution.

Why don't portraits ever use real beard hair?

Why don't portraits ever use real facial hair?

Showing off the power of his vacuum, Wiffle sucks the beard hair off a portrait and tears off her curtains. Because this is a cartoon, the machine has a reverse switch. I remember watching films like this as a kid and wishing more devices had a reverse function, something children would abuse almost instantly.

Surprisingly, the cleaner puts the curtains and beard hair back exactly as they were, but then goes rogue, bucking like a bronco trying to break free of Wiffle’s grasp. Most of Boop’s living room furnishing gets blown through a hole in the wall with the sort of gusto normally associated with an amped-up Popeye appearance.

When Frau Boop throws his briefcase and hat out the hole in her wall, she delivers the most cutting response imaginable: “Nothing today, kind sir!” God, what a firecracker she was in her later years.

Your insurance will not cover Wiffle Piffle, just as a warning.

Your insurance will not cover Wiffle Piffle, just as a warning.

Wiffle Piffle picks up his hat from the pile of chaos he created and merrily walks away. Yes, that’s it, he isn’t even phased by entering a woman’s home, breaking all her shit, and not even making a sale. What an amazing man.

UNPC Moment:

Nothing striking, but Betty Boop does come off as exceedingly weak and pathetic in this cartoon, a wimp that can’t even stop a door to door salesman. I think she may be the reason directors thought cartoon characters couldn’t be both funny and female for years.

Is it sad that I’m having trouble thinking of a funny one now?

Rating: Genuinely Good

There’s something charming about a person who really loves their job. Wiffle Piffle is unstoppable even though he doesn’t appear to have any interest in selling a product. It’s saddening he didn’t get more appearances in Fleischer cartoons.

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