Don’t Give Up on the Sheep

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

It’s Ralph Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. It’s also Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese. You’ll notice that Ralph is designed exactly like Wile E. Coyote, except for the red nose. Here we see ancient instinct imposed upon or constrained by a 9 to 5 world. Also a terrific demonstration of gagsmanship, from brilliant conception to virtuosic execution.

Ralph has a lot of really good ideas! I wonder if they got the dog-disguised-as-a-tree thing from Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms? The Acme wildcat joke—this company really does sell pretty well anything you can possibly imagine—is extremely funny. So is the limb/tree/outcrop/chopping gag. Yet another great illustration of James Agee’s famous discussion about compounded comedy in the silent era. (Again, that’s in Life, September 1949.) The part where Sam drops a stick of dynamite down into the reed that Ralph, underwater, is breathing out of, is pretty amazing. I realize that this sounds kind of funny, but this good-natured sadism really does seem very healthy. Also, the poor guy! At the end another sheepdog shows up, and you should see the fur start to fly!

Merely a copy, an attempted cash-in, of a more successful franchise? I don’t think so. With the clock-punching bookends they’re making explicit all the things that the roadrunner cartoons only anxiously hint at. At the risk of sounding pretentious or presumptuous, it’s this solemn and ponderous thing: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”