A Year in Shorts Day 174: "Mouse Wreckers"
The term “gaslighting” derives from the title of Patrick Hamilton’s play, as well as its two film adaptations. By far the best known of the three is the 1944 film Gaslight, which stars Ingrid Bergman and features the film debut of one Angela Lansbury. Nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Gaslight is a film that The Great Oscar Baiter will cover one day. (And believe me, I have a lot to say about it!) I only bring it up to say that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that today’s short, the 1949 film Mouse Wreckers, was in some part inspired by Gaslight. If that’s the case, I’m afraid that director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese fumbled their homage in one critical area- unlike Mouse Wreckers, Gaslight was entertaining!
Sometimes I fear that I give Chuck Jones a bit of a bad rap here at The Great Oscar Baiter. Most of the time I bring him up it's to complain about his work on Tom and Jerry. Other times it's to rip apart some film he made. And the best short of his we've covered here technically wasn't even directed by him! So just to clear the air, I think I need to say that I consider Chuck Jones to be a true genius of animation, directing some of the best shorts ever committed to film. Which is why it remains eternally baffling that the Academy snubbed those shorts entirely and instead opted to nominate crap like Mouse Wreckers.
At first glance, Mouse Wreckers seems like fairly standard stuff for a cartoon. It follows two mice, Hubie and Bertie, as they attempt to move into a new house. Except there's one big problem- a cat lives there. And rather than just find a different home like any reasonable mice would, the pair decide to involve themselves in some shenanigans. And this is where Mouse Wreckers sets itself apart from other cartoons- those shenanigans involve a plot to make the cat think it's going insane!
That is, quite frankly, an incredibly dark premise for a cartoon. But I suppose cartoons in those days were incredibly dark, Looney Tunes in particular. So while I do admittedly find the premise of this particular short a little disturbing, that's hardly a deal breaker for me. No, the problem with Mouse Wreckers is far more simple (and far less suitable for a long-winded think piece) than all that- it's just not funny.
A great deal of the blame for that rests on its leads, Hubie and Bertie. Jones only made seven shorts with these characters, and it's not really hard to see why they never quite took off. Between their fairly annoying voices and generic dynamic, they lack the charisma to carry a short by themselves. Say what you will about Tweety or Pepe Le Pew, at least those guys had a personality. An annoying and terrible personality, but still.
The short's antagonist, Claude the cat (another forgotten Looney Tune), isn't much of a foil either. Mouse Wreckers makes a crucial mistake in the cat and mouse formula by making Claude a little too sympathetic. Sure, I contend that the Tom and Jerry shorts work because we're all secretly rooting for Tom; but whenever Tom gets his comeuppance, at least we're all aware that he does deserve it. Mostly. It's the delicate balance between empathy and schadenfreude that makes characters like Tom or Wile E. Coyote so fun to watch.
But Claude has done nothing to warrant the mistreatment he receives at the hands (paws?) of these two sadistic mice. Yes, the short establishes he's an award-winning mouser, but it's not like Hubie and Bertie are mouse vigilantes seeking justice. That might have been interesting. They're just lazy assholes who decide to torture a cat who never really stands a chance at beating them. It's like watching the titular fight in Batman V. Superman; it's supposed to be fun but it just comes across as cruel.
Of course, all of this could be forgiven if the short had one good gag. But quite frankly, none of the cartoon violence is particularly inspired. They're fine, I guess, but just about everything you see has been done better elsewhere and with much better characters. If there's anything I can say in this short's favor it's that the animation is pretty good, but that's about what I expect from Looney Tunes. Still, that quality of animation is just about the only thing keeping this short from looking like the cheap Tom and Jerry knockoff it otherwise is. Still, while it may have been enough to get a nomination, it wasn't enough to dethrone the king. Mouse Wreckers lost to The Little Orphan, which feels right. Chuck Jones would go on to say that he regretted his time making Tom and Jerry, feeling that he never really understood what made the series work. I would argue that Mouse Wreckers was proof enough of that already.
It will always be baffling and annoying to me that Chuck Jones' best work went completely ignored by the Academy, although I guess it really shouldn't matter. The legacy he left behind on the world of animation is far greater than any trophy he could win. Shorts like What's Opera, Doc? and Duck Amuck are masterpieces with or without an Oscar. Really, the only difference it makes is for me. I would love to write a blog entry on one of those movies! But no, I get stuck with Mouse Wreckers!!!
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"Mouse Wreckers" is not available on HBO Max. I've given up on trying to figure out why.
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