A Tale of Two Mice (1945)

Director: Frank Tashlin
Writer: Warren Foster
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc and Tedd Pierce
Musical Director: Carl W Stalling
Cast: Babbit and Catstello, Unnamed cat.
Date of release: June 30, 1945
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Abbot and Costello’s Warner Bros. cartoon doppelgangers get another outing in this interesting short from 1945, this time the pun from the original short “Tale of Two Kitties” is meaningless because Babbit and Catstello are mice.

The short opens with a mouse being pursued by a very scary looking cat, with very sharp teeth. There is an interesting effect when the background is panned as the two race up a baronial staircase. Essentially the view of the hall is from the second floor, down the stairs. This allows us to move easily up the staircase by just panning the background.

Finally the unnamed cat chases Catstello smack straight into a wall, leaving behind an elaborate crack in the plaster while the tubby mouse disappears into the mouse hole, which continually changes from the classic semi-circular hole in the skirting board to a suburban doorway complete with a porch throughout the movie.

Behind the skirting board there is a nice sequence where Catstello explains to Babbit about the cat, he hisses and spits, jumps into Babbit’s arms. Babbit staggers convincingly under the weight and there are a couple of 360º turns that look flawless.

Babbit convinces Catstello to go outside again after the cheese, as soon as the door closes behind him Catstello gets cold feet. His efforts to get back inside the door are thwarted by the sinister Babbit who stretches a rubber band across the doorway and opens it just as the sprinting Catstello makes another attempt at breaking down the door. The rubber band sends Catstello flying into the soft face of the sleeping cat.

“My Mother told me there’d be days like this.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to fly a clockwork airplane up to the cheese, the pair appear to have succeeded in capturing the cheese with a rope and pulley. Catstello, the plate and the cheese are being held aloft by Babbit. I love that as Catstello dreamily eats the cheese, Babbit’s load increases in weight. He struggles with the rope being stretched with even more elasticity than the rubber band seen earlier. Finally Babbit looses his grip on the edge of the mouse hole and is pulled on his heels by the plummeting Catstello and cheese. In a Mission Impossible moment of impeccable timing Babbit regains a purchase on the cat’s face and Catstello and the cheese, stop their descent inches from the top of the sleeping cat’s head.

When Babbit notices where he is, he drops the cheese and Catstello and races back to his hole, as a flaming comet and shuts the door behind him. The cat has a delicious moment untangling himself from the rope neatly animated. Catstello coolly tries to use the cover of the cheese to make his escape. The cat watches the cheese walking itself back to the mouse hole. He lifts the cheese and Catstello carries on walking blissfully unaware that he has been relieved of his burden. It is only when Babbit through the open spy hole of the door alerts him that Catstello realises that something is wrong, he stops lets go of the nonexistent cheese and and shushes Babbit before continuing. Finally the penny drops and he stops and feels the thin air with his fingers.  Instead of running, he looks round ignores the Cat who is leaning his chin on his hand with amusement, and tip-toes back for the cheese. Stopping on the way to play with the claws of the cat. Noticing with amusement how they protract and retract when he jumps on and off them. Finally the chase begins and the cat is on the receiving end of an encounter with an ironing board a good example of the classic cartoon gag.

The climax of the cartoon is Catstello’s return to the safety of the mouse hole. He’s running so fast the cheese and it’s holes actually have to catch up when he stops. When Babbit callously dismissed the cheese on the grounds that it’s “Swiss”, the furious Catstello proceeds to force feed Babbit with handfuls of the stuff. The cheese is wonderfully animated, it stretches and moves with a life of it’s own throughout.

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