Saturday, February 26, 2011

Applecore (Baltimore): Are Chip n' Dale Mexican?

When I was a kid the classic Disney cartoons--Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip n' Dale--were regular guests at hour house. We had a collection of VHS Walt Disney Home Video Cartoon Classics: Goofy Sports, Scary Tales, Halloween Haunt, Mickey & The Gang, and on any given evening one of my brothers or me would pick which to watch. As a family we guffawed at Goofy's transformation into Mr. Motor bulldozing down a cartooned 110 freeway in a yellow sports car, watched in merriment as Mickey, Goofy, and Donald traveled the open road in a silver airstream, and let our eyes widen like Donald's hungry gaping beak as Mickey shaved the last slice of bread into paper thin translucent sheets for dinner before selling the farm cow for magic beans and climbing the stalk. We practiced our best "Wahahahooee!", competed around the dinner table to see who could eat their corn on the cob like a typewriter like Donald, and memorized lines to make the others laugh, "I smell chocolate pot roast with pisnacho-- with smicshmashmi-- with mishmashmo-- green gravey!" But my all time favorites were the ones starring Donald Duck as he engaged in epic, catastrophic battles of will with Chip n' Dale.

There was something about the escalation of violence between a tightly wound, anal retentive duck and mischevious chipmunks who happily ruin all his well-made plans that tickled me pink. Donald was always so earnest and meticulous about his model trains, toy planes, about cooking a hardy breakfast, clearing his front path of snow. And at the moment he has it just right, Chip n' Dale come in to take a joyride, sneak a tower of perfectly stacked flapjacks, eat all the apples, take all the popcorn. They unapologeticaly take and take from the fruits of Donald's hard work, and even though Donald retaliates, the battle always ends with a red-faced crazy-eyed duck sitting at the center of an atomic sized pile of rubble, and the chipmunks still sitting in their tree.

Recently, I decided to introduce my 5 year old nephew to some of my favorites via Youtube: Out of Scale, Apple Core, and Three for Breakfast. We watched together, and I was reminded of all those years back sitting in the living room with my brothers and our VHS collection sprawled on the floor. He laughed just like I thought he would at all the right spots. And while he laughed, I began to see these old favorites with new eyes.

Donald in his sailor uniform, with his well-manicured home, multitude of toys, all the necessary conveniences, and the chipmunks living off the land, working on a farm, camping in an orchard, always being chased out, always being blamed for stealing all the resources (Can you say taxpayer money?). These characters suddenly started to look familiar. Is Donald an all-American, veteran conservative? Are Chip n' Dale Mexican?

In the episode, Applecore, Donald owns an apple orchard. At the beginning of the cartoon he is taking stock of his land and picking apples. He is happy out in the fresh air, on the land he owns, ripe, red apples all around him. Then he turns one over in his hand and finds it infested with small bites. He then sees that all the apples have bites taken out of them. Of course, soon he finds Chip n' Dale and battle begins. Donald wants the stealing, loafing vermin off his land, and he will do anything, even resort to chemical warfare to get them out. But who was on the land first? Who do the apples really belong to? Hmmm.

In an episode titled Out of Scale, we first see Donald driving on a miniature locomotive, conductor's hat on his head, through a miniature town and countryside, but it's not quite finished, not quite perfected. He starts planting model trees until he runs into a real tree out of scale with the rest of his plan. He decides to uproot it, move it, and put a to scale miniature in its place. Chip n' Dale, just back from a nut gathering excursion climb up their tree to find it much changed. The tree is barely much taller then them, and before they can even comprehend what has happened, Donald comes and shakes them out of the tree and tries to chase them out. I think of Chavez Ravine, Arizona, and other stories from the southwest. Chip n' Dale illustrate a classic story of displacement.

As I have explored these stories, done all the important research aka watching cartoons (I love being a poet), I was surprised to find Donald a sympathetic character. I actually feel for Donald, all his hard work, his time put in, his youth spent defending our nation as a sailor in the Navy (as his uniform suggests). He reminds me of the older generation, people from my parent's generation who take pride in their gardens, in bricking the front porch, making the perfect batch of lemonade and sitting out on the new porch to drink it. Doesn't he deserve respect? Doesn't he deserve to enjoy the house owns, the life he worked hard to create without chipmunks coming in and stealing his pancakes, using his kitchen, eating his apples? It only seems fair. It took a cartoon duck with an anger management problem to help me begin to understand the motivations of the conservatives when it comes to the immigration issue. It doesn't mean I agree with them. It doesn't mean that I think the militia or SB1070 are right, but I can see where they are coming from. Maybe someone should show those militia a couple of episodes because they would see that creating a war zone never works out well. Just ask Donald.

Here is excerpt from a poem I'm working on inspired by the cartoon:

Out of Scale: The Assimilation of Chip n’ Dale

Chip n’ Dale carve dwelling into trunk,
gather chestnuts, horde berries,
need nothing. They are chipper chipmunks
until a duck steams forward on locomotive
with plans for a model town. A duck
in engineer cap plans a model life.
More tracks must be laid, more houses
tracked, more contracts written up.
Donald pauses, ponders the possibility
of a stadium for goofy sports, serious
money, but development is halted

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