A look at the somewhat obscure Looney Tunes short Punch Trunk
Admit it, you have a favorite Looney Tunes short…everyone does. Even if you can’t always name it, you can at least describe the plot. Perhaps one of the most enduring series of cartoons of all time, the characters are a pop-culture staple, and even the oldest of the shorts still hold up by today’s standards, even if the elements are not the standard of today’s animation.
My favorite Looney Tunes shorts is actually one that doesn’t feature any of the regulars; in fact, its probably among the more obscure shorts, as it was a one-shot cartoon. And while you may not know the name of it, you’ll probably remember the plot of it.
Punch Trunk is featured on Volume Six of the DVD set Looney Tunes Golden Collection (Disc 4 – Most Requested Assorted Nuts and One-Shots – Bonus Features Section). It was directed by Chuck Jones, and was released on December 19, 1953. It features no regular characters of the Looney Tunes universe, and some interesting aspects that wouldn’t be allowed in cartoons today (drunken stupors, cigarettes, and smoking). That’s right, it’s a whole other world, and all the parents who watched these cartoons grew up and started group hell-bent on keeping their kids away from the decidedly risqué stuff they watched.
Did I ever mention that I thank my parents for giving me limited restrictions on what I watched?
Punch Trunk begins (after the usual Looney Tunes introduction) with a shot panning across the skyline and bridge of an animated city that looks like it could be New York. And then there’s the title…not the title itself, mind you, but the little problem surrounding it…quotation marks. Honestly, I’ve discussed this before – punctuation does not bode well for anything (remember Switch?). Question marks are a known Hollywood jinx, and other assorted punctuation on a movie title is just not necessary. The fact that its used here should send me running in the other direction, but since I have been in love with this short for so long, and only just noticed the quotation marks, I’m going to let it slide.
So, the title ends, and we come into a narrative, “the whole thing started on a fine spring morning on the foot of Canal Street, when the S.S. Michael Maltese [the name of an individual who worked on this short] was unloading fruit at Pier 38, when out of a stack of bananas…it came.” And as the narrator says this, a very tiny elephant emerges from behind a bunch of bananas. The narrator refers to him as “as big as life,” and that could certainly describe how he made himself known…by letting out a healthy-sounding trumpet. This is enough to scare a worker on Pier 38…enough for him to drop his cigarette and roll his eyes into the back of his head.
Before anyone could recover from what they’d seen and the shock they endured as a result, the little guy scampered off, all five inches of him disappearing into the city. And that’s where the story really begins.
The first sighting of the elephant since his arrival on Pier 38 is in the birdbath at a man’s home, where he sprays the birds with his water-filled trunk. The bathrobe-clad homeowner anxiously smokes a cigarette (something you’ll never see in a cartoon these days), and watches the tiny pachyderm at work. He calls the police department to report an elephant in his birdbath at 112 North Highland (which sounds very stable Mable, doesn’t it?).
He anxiously puffs on the cigarette and tells the cops to hurry. Meanwhile, the elephant non-chalantly goes about his business in the birdbath, as a blue bird unleashes a barrage of nonsensical babble (to which the elephant sprays him with water). The man nervously fumbles with his lighter, and gets excited when there is a knock on his door. To our amusement, the people at the door wrap the nervous Nellie of a man in a straitjacket, and tell him to stay calm. When he becomes insistent of the elephant in his birdbath, one of the men from the insane asylum calms him by saying that he “keeps a giraffe in his.” I particularly like the short man in white, he reminds me of the mafia portrayals I’ve seen in other Looney Tunes cartoons.
In his next appearance, a woman is hanging laundry on a clothes line, when the little guy wanders in and hands her a clothespin. She accepts it, then realizes what she may have seen, and lets out a scream…prompting her to jump into the washing machine.
Next, we come upon an optometrist’s office, and a man leaving after getting new glasses. Upon seeing the tiny bane of everyone’s sanity, he goes back inside the shop and punches the doctor, giving him a black eye. He then pokes his head out, bewildered by what just happened.
We’re now at a high-rise apartment complex at night. A woman is reading a book while enjoying her evening smoke, as a little Cindy-Lou Who look alike named Genevieve comes into the living room (the irony here is that Chuck Jones, the director of this short, would go on to animate the perennial TV favorite How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and tells her mom that there is a tiny elephant in her dollhouse. The first time she insists, her mom breaks the fourth wall and says “too much television.” She promptly puts her back to bed.
On Genevieve’s second attempt to convince mom that the elephant exists, she is carrying a piece of cake. She insists its for “Teeny.” So, mom decides enough is enough and will prove the elephant doesn’t exist outside of her imagination. Score one for Genevieve (and “Teeny”), as the elephant lets out a trumpet, causing mom to faint, and her husband to catch her, exclaiming “Marsha!” I think this portion of the cartoon made me laugh the hardest, as it only sounds like a story a child could come up with.
In another scene at night, a man drunkly stumbles out of a bar, swaying in a drunken haze. As he proceeds drunkenly down the street, the elephant lets out his trumpet…and the man stops to stare at him in a sobering way. He then pulls his wristwatch up to his eyes, then looks at the little guy, and says to him, “You’re late.” As he keeps on walking (past a sign that says “No No” – that visual image is humorous in its own right), the drunken man says “They always used to be pink!”
The circus is in town, and as the elephants parade through the fairgrounds, one notices Tiny Elephant in front of it, to which its jaw drops and it attempts to walk on a tightrope. And then, a cat chases a mouse into a tent. He finds his prey and proceeds to walk away with it, only for his prey to trumpet. It scares the cat, who scampers away like a monkey.
At the psychiatrist’s office, a woman talks about how her nursery school teacher used to spank her, and how terrible early childhood was. As the shrink listens, the tiny elephant walks onto the desk and drinks from the water glass. This is enough for the shrink to put her in his chair and talk about how “it all began when father refused to take me to the circus. I was a fragile child…”
A crowd observing a man painting a pole high up on a skyscraper is startled by the trumpet of the tiny elephant, and everyone scrambles to grab hold of the pole. Look closely for the person smoking the cigarette…I guess this was appropriate in the 1950s.
Headlines flash on the screen, detailing the mass hysteria that has gripped the city in the presence of such a small creature. The final one says that a noted scientist will take to the airwaves to dispel the craze.
Dr. Robert Bruce Cameron, “one of the greatest scientists of our time,” appears on television to explain why the existence of a five-inch tall elephant is impossible. He explains that the existence of a creature is actually a product of “our troubled times,” the result of “too much anxiety, too much worry.”
Meanwhile…the elephant wanders onto the table and carries the microphone away from Dr. Cameron, as the television host becomes startled, and then calmly tells the population that the opinions of the speaker do not reflect those of the station. He then looks at the elephant uncomfortably, and faints. The elephant then lets out a final, sounding trumpet, which ends the short.
I love this short – it just absolutely makes me laugh that one tiny elephant could cause so much…
…of course, my opinion doesn’t really matter, does it? Excuse me while I get some fresh air…
Well, that about does it for my mini-recap of the cartoon short Punch Trunk. And now that you’ve read about it, its probably all coming back to you, isn’t it?
To see the cartoon, click on the link below (it is not mine).
Thanks for visiting and reading about a tiny elephant that causes a big problem. Comments are welcome, as always, and if you are registered on Pro Boards, I have begun a new blog there to show updates, as well as a way to give feedback.
And don’t forget, not everything is a product of your imagination…
Seriously, you don’t have to believe everything I say…