Monday, July 29, 2013

What's Black and Blue and Yellow All Over?

No one would expect the tired, bloated cast of Grown Ups 2 to risk bruises, sprains and broken bones to produce spectacular physical comedy.

But we are fortunate to have the computer-animated characters of Despicable Me 2 keep alive the lively and bumpy tradition of silent film comedy.

When I saw Despicable Me 2 in a theater, I heard the audience laugh loudly after our comic hero pointed a garden hose at an annoying woman and blasted her in the face with a forceful stream of water. The hose gag has a long tradition in film history. It was, in fact, the very first film gag. Its auspicious screen debut can be found in The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895).

For decades, the comic greats found this simple gag to be highly useful.

Stan Laurel in Hustling For Health (1919)

Laurel and Hardy in Towed in a Hole (1932)

Despicable Me 2 is filled with vastly imaginative content. Take, for instance, this muscle-bound masked villain riding a shark into a volcano.

But, believe it or not, the audience did not react as enthusiastically to this business as they reacted to the old hose gag.

Later, a little yellow minion switches on a high-pressure fire hose and is sent with the hose flying through the air.

This is an old routine that was performed by a number of comedians, including Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, Laurel & Hardy and Lupino Lane.

Lupino Lane in His Private Life (1928)

Laurel & Hardy in Duck Soup (1927)

The unconscious woman routine also turns up in the film.

The most memorable versions of this routine were performed by Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon (See The Funny Parts), but Chaplin struggled to lift and carry an unconscious woman years before either Keaton or Langdon in A Night in the Show (1915).

The multiple clones routine and the evil ice cream truck routine are also featured in the film.


Additional note

To be fair, Grown Ups 2 did include one slapstick scene.  Here it is:

This clip actually uses more CGI than anything in Despicable Me 2.

Lupino Lane similarly went speeding through traffic inside a runaway tire in Howdy, Duke (1926).  I apologize for the poor quality of this clip.

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