Movie Review with Jeff McCullough: In Defense of Slapstick

By Jeff McCullough on March 15, 2015 from Movie Review via

Pain has been a part of comedy ever since the first man dropped a piano on his foot and someone else pointed a camera at him. Watching poor schmucks be hit in the head with an anvil, trip on a banana or smash face first into a cliff side has been bringing chuckles for the masses as long as films existed. From the antics of Larry, Curly, and Moe, to the biting satire of Mel Brooks, slapstick has long been a part of cinema. The copious amount of YouTube videos featuring dumb teenagers lighting themselves on fire or face planting on the diving board make it obvious there’s still a market for pain and pratfalls. But nowadays, where dry British humor and dark comedies are all the rage, comedies oldest genre is often looked down upon. But why?
Some of the most fondly remembered comedies in history, classics like David Zucker’s Airplane, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and of course, the famed Three Stooges all relied heavily on the pain and general misery of their protagonists.  All of these have a whopping 90% (or above) on movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes. Successful slapstick descends beyond live action classics however.
Starring the titular Cat and Mouse, Tom and Jerry is often considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time.  The show featured limited dialogue, but still had some of the cleverest writing ever put on television.  Even though every episode essentially boils down to Tom’s quest to rid himself of the pesky rodent Jerry, everyone is a unique battle of wits, almost always ending with poor Tom blown up, beaten down, or otherwise grievously injured while Jerry looks on and chuckles. And it was comedy gold.
 Looney Tunes likewise, while featuring far more dialogue than that classic cat and mouse team, also relied heavily on physical comedy. The iconic episode Rabbit Fire, where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck square off against dimwitted hunter Elmer Fudd, is pretty much just three characters talking, followed by a befuddled Elmer blasting Daffy in the face with his rifle.  Despite the seeming simplicity of the premise, Rabbit Fire delivered us the most iconic episode of arguably the most iconic cartoon series ever made.
The one defining characteristic is that all of these classics are old.  Tom and Jerry, The Looney Tunes, and The Three Stooges, the three most well-known slapstick franchises, were all at their peak more than 50 years ago. And while these timeless classics are still enjoyable today, it’s sad to think that what was once the leading genre in comedy has been seemingly laid aside, resolved only to be shown Saturday mornings on Cartoon Network, a sad shell of the success they once maintained. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
The Looney Tunes are still some of the most well-known characters out there, and Tom and Jerry don’t stand far behind. Heck, Larry, Curly, and Moe even received the remake treatment back in 2012. These are all well-known properties, and while they’ve been somewhat mishandled over the years, there’s nothing that can’t be patched up and used anew. There’s nothing wrong with dry and raunchy humor, but their success shouldn’t be at the expense of slapstick. Watching a cartoon rabbit running around with a comically huge mallet is just as funny now as it was in the 40s. And now is just time a new audience can discover it.  

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