It’s Never Too Early to Learn That Everything is a Remix
Welcome to Cinephile Summer Camp, a new column dedicated to introducing children to classic movies as well as learning about film history and other subjects through cinema. This entry spotlights a common trope found in the film Bringing Up Baby as a way to make kids better appreciate film stories.
When I set out to teach my kids about classic movies, one that popped out as something seemingly accessible is Bringing Up Baby. After all, the main character (played by Cary Grant) is a paleontologist. And his romantic foil (Katherine Hepburn) has a pet cheetah. But the film’s length and its focus on a love story, even one with screwball antics and some slapstick, wouldn’t easily pass muster for a five- and a seven-year-old.
Just as I have in past film history and appreciation lessons, I figured one way to warm them up for Bringing Up Baby would be to show them other more kid-friendly and easily digestible films with a similar premise. At the time, I had forgotten just how much plot there is in Bringing Up Baby and was only recalling a splinter of its story, the one where a wild animal —another cheetah — escapes from being shipped to a circus and causes problems.
That late development in the plot of Bringing Up Baby probably resonated so much because it’s such a common idea, especially for the time and particularly with cartoons. I wound up finding so many examples that I may have overwhelmed my son and daughter. But this also turned out to be a good lesson in tropes and the familiarity or recycling of material in storytelling. The truth of nothing being original, everything being a remake or remix.
Here is the order of our deep dive into the ol’ wild animal on the loose trope:
The Gorilla Mystery (1930)
The earliest example of the trope I could find is in this crude black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon. Disney’s twenty-second animated short starring the iconic character is actually a send-up of a popular 1925 play called The Gorilla, which itself was a parody of contemporary stage mysteries. So we’re already dealing with a remix of a remix, but the first two film adaptations of The Gorilla, a silent feature in 1927 and a sound feature in 1930, are lost, so we couldn’t look at those.
The short begins with a report in a newspaper (this will be important) that a “mankiller” gorilla has escaped from the zoo. Mickey is worried about Minnie Mouse, and rightly so since the gorilla does wind up at her home, where he ties her up in rope. Mickey rushes to her rescue and we see one of those common cartoon gags set in a long hallway where characters keep missing each other, entering doors and exiting others. Together, the couple snares the gorilla, and they do a little dance.
Note: if you want to take an immediate detour with the kids, the same gorilla, later named Beppo, also shows up in the 1933 Mickey Mouse shorts Mickey’s Mechanical Man and The Pet Store.
Donald Duck and the Gorilla (1944)
Sticking with Disney, this color animated short arrived fourteen years after The Gorilla Mystery with a similar premise: a gorilla escapes from the zoo. The difference is that this film involves Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and the announcement of the news comes over the radio. Also, this is one of the variations involving cases of mistaken identity, as it better adheres to the plot of The Gorilla by involving a gorilla costume.
Donald, the jerk that he is, uses the report as an opportunity to scare the already-concerned boys by putting on a gorilla suit. But then they play the same