The Clutching Foot Courage The Cowardly Dog

This episode of Courage seems to be a parody of an episode of a TV serial from the 1930s based on a novel by Arthur Reeve. It is called “The Clutching Handand is about a detective named Craig Kennedy. This serialised original includes the following elements:

  • A get rich quick scheme
  • Assuming a false identity
  • Criminals

The original is slow and pretty boring for a modern audience, but the creators of Courage The Cowardly Dog have created a masterful mishmash of the above elements and made a brand new story for children using the basic formula they have already established for themselves combined with broad strokes from Arthur Reeve.

Children’s stories often feature oversized (or undersized) characters/elements. We have that here, too, with Eustace’s massive festering foot which literally swallows him up.

This is the most difficult to watch episode so far in terms of gross out humour. Despite the cartoon depiction, the foot — and especially Muriel’s home remedies for the foot — really make my skin crawl.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE CLUTCHING FOOT”

Much use is made of The Rule of Three in Storytelling. “The Clutching Foot” is basically a spoof of a heist movie, so includes the classic scenes from those. There is a pyrrhic victory for Courage as he sacrifices his health and wellbeing to save the day.

SHORTCOMING

It’s very clear by now that Courage’s needs and shortcomings never change. He is a dog who is charged with the task of saving his home and family.

A lot of the Courage stories happen at night, under the ominous cover of purple darkness.
A lot of the Courage stories happen at night, under the ominous cover of purple darkness.

This would get old after a while, except the humans Courage lives with have different shortcomings and needs depending on the episode. Here, Eustace is foiled by his refusal to see a doctor when his foot festers.

festering-foot

DESIRE

Eustace does not want to see a doctor — he wants to have a nap and wake up and find his foot all better. He lets Muriel try out her home remedies (three of them):

  1. Cactus
  2. Pinching crabs
  3. Green slime
cactus
pinching-crabs
green-slime

OPPONENT

Unfortunately for him, his foot completely takes over while he’s sleeping, and swallows him right up. This is basically an intruder in the house — the massive foot might as well be a monster who has come in through the window or a ghoul. The function is the same, but is a bit more like a psychological suspense story in that the monster is Eustace himself — it’s a part of him. The nasty part of himself is the very thing that will consume him in the end.

And it does. Quite literally.

eustace-wakes-up
close-up-of-eustaces-horrified-face
eustace-gets-swallowed-up

The gangster persona is a masterful touch for a foot opponent because the big toe can be the Don and the little toes can back up everything he says. The size of the toes equal the hierarchy in a typical gang.

back-up-guys

PLAN

With Eustace stuck inside it unable to speak, the foot itself comes up with a plan. This is a gangster foot, and speaks in a parody of gangsters from American film in the early part of the 20th century. The foot is going to use Muriel as bait, “Do what I say or the fat lady gets it,” and will force Courage to carry out heists for it.

foot-looks-at-map

Courage, of course, will do what he needs to in order to save Muriel (and Eustace by default.)

BIG STRUGGLE

The big struggle sequence involves Courage

  1. Driving the getaway car
  2. Breaking into a bank and robbing the place. (He fails because although money showers down it’s all torn and singed from an explosion.)
  3. Holding up a train.

Courage is trying to appease the bad foot while also saving his family and not breaking the law. He manages to save the train from being robbed by eating a banana and throwing the skin onto the ground. At first I wondered if this was going to derail the train, but in fact it made the foot slip, sending the train far into the distance.

Once again we have a modification of the woman tied to railway tracks (we’ve seen it in an earlier episode with a toy train inside the house). Muriel screams as the foot holds her down. Courage risks his own life by standing in front of an oncoming train.

Stories in which likeable characters are forced to hold up a bank are popular in fiction. We have Thelma in Thelma and Louise, for instance. More recently we have an episode of Season Three of Black Mirror, “Shut Up And Dance”, in which a teenage boy and another reluctant man are forced to rob a bank or risk having their online activities emailed to everyone they know.

scene from Shut Up And Dance, Black Mirror
scene from Shut Up And Dance, Black Mirror

I wonder if these stories are popular because we’ve all wondered if we could pull off a bank heist. It’s a task that looks easy if only you can manage your emotions.

driving-the-getaway-car
The big toe delivers orders from the back seat. Courage mutters that he wishes he’d learnt to drive a stick. This is funny because we assume he never learnt to drive an auto, either, being a dog.
bank
As usual for this show, the target building is plonked in isolation in the middle of Nowhere. (Though you can find absolutely anything in this town.)
courage-breaks-into-bank
Breaking Bad has elements of a heist spoof, too. Inspired by movies themselves, Walt and Jessie get themselves into strife (and out again) after dropping their highly distinctive beanies. (All robbers need beanies.)
inside-tunnel
Crawling through tunnels with torches. Isn’t that what all good bank robbers do?
safe
All good heist scenes require a big safe.
basement
We wonder why Courage has pulled out a cold drink. He’s going to throw the ice cubes into the magma to try and cool it down. “I don’t know why I thought that would work!” he exclaims to the audience. Meanwhile, we wonder why he didn’t just pull ice cubes from his pocket if he has access to anything at all!

ANAGNORISIS

When the computer tells him that dog slobber can save the day, Courage is basically learning that the only one capable of saving everyone is himself. He must make the ultimate sacrifice. This is a pyrrhic victory. He must lick the foot.

licking-the-foot
Another excellent thing about feet is that they are ticklish. Courage partly defeats the opponent with mouth microbes but also by making them laugh hysterically until they retreat. Eustace reappears.

NEW SITUATION

We see Courage in the bathroom brushing, gargling and flossing to get the disgusting taste of festering foot out of his mouth.

We end with a circular story when Courage discovers the fungus has transferred to his own tongue. The first we know of this is that the gangster voice echoes out from deep inside him. Next we see his mouth open:

gangster-tongue
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King Ramses’ Curse Courage The Cowardly Dog

In the “King Ramses’ Curse” episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog we have three plagues — since storytelling loves The Rule Of Three — and the plagues comprise a mixture of ancient and comically modern curses.

This horror comedy for children takes inspiration from ancient holy texts such as found in the Bible and in the Quran.

In the Bible we have The Ten Biblical Plagues, also known as The Plagues of Egypt.

In the Quran there is also mention of a plague and it’s pretty similar except it happens all at once.

Ramses II ruled as pharaoh, or king, of ancient Egypt from 1279 to 1213 BC, the second longest reign in Egyptian history. He was the third king of the 19th dynasty, during the New Kingdom. Ramses, also spelled Ramesses or Rameses, was a highly popular ruler, and under him Egypt enjoyed great prosperity.

STORY STRUCTURE OF KING RAMSES’ CURSE

SHORTCOMING

Muriel and Eustace are obliviously going on with their lives inside their house in the middle of Nowhere.

For the first time I notice the Bagges have a moose head on the wall. This will be used later as a sort of indoor fountain, when water gushes out of its mouth.
For the first time I notice the Bagges have a moose head on the wall. This will be used later as a sort of indoor fountain, when water gushes out of its mouth.

Courage sees a crime happening right outside his window but is unable to stop Eustace from getting himself involved.

To go back a bit, this episode opens with the story of the baddies. Two creatures (cats? mice?) have stolen an ancient engraved stone tablet. In a scene out of a heist movie a helicopter (or something similar) is on their trail. There’s an ominous black trail following them. We later realise this is a swarm of locusts.

thieves-in-the-car

In a scene out of (and possibly inspired by) Fargo (1996) the creatures bury the stone near the side of the road. They’re being terrorised by this thing following them and will come back for it later.

thieves-bury-the-treasure
pan shot of the Bagges' house
pan shot of the Bagges’ house

The camera pans to reveal that all this has happened, quite literally, outside Eustace and Muriel’s house.

We never hear from these criminals again. They are a classic case of a McGuffin in storytelling. They exist only to get the story going and then they disappear.

DESIRE

Courage wants to know what’s going on outside his front window. In typical pet dog fashion, he takes great interest in whatever’s going on outside while his owners go about their own day obliviously.

courage-looking-outside
digs-up-the-tablet

Eustace wants to be rich. Not because his needs are particularly great, but because he likes the power that goes along with it.

OPPONENT

We have already seen the supernatural opponent — it appeared first as a curlicued shadow across the bonnet of the thieves’ car.

We see it more fully after Eustace decides to keep the tablet for himself.

supernatural-opponent

The much weaker and more more comical opponent here is Eustace.

eustace-dismisses-the-dog
Eustace refuses to believe the tablet is anything other than rubbish.
courage-transmogrifies
Even when Courage transmogrifies into a mummy, Eustace is not even looking.

PLAN

Courage has seen the thieves bury something so he brings it inside to show Muriel and Eustace. He also knows that there’s something fishy and scary about the tablet because etchings keep disappearing from it. A screenshot serves to foreshadow what’s going to happen in the episode, though the viewer doesn’t really have time to examine them.

courage-with-the-tablet

It just so happens that on the TV there is a million dollar reward for the return of this ancient stone. Eustace plans to hand it in, collect his reward and buy garden chairs.

Another character turns up. In the Courage stories we often end up meeting the characters who have first appeared on TV. This man is here to collect donations for some archeological society. Donations of a million dollars mean a free tote bag. It wasn’t necessary for the plot for this guy to turn up but it fleshes out the story by adding another opportunity for interaction and also a good gag about charity culture. The other thing that happens when a character off the Bagges’ TV turns up in real life: The line between TV and reality is blurred, or perhaps it is demolished, in a metafictive sense. The audience is very aware that this is a story.

tv-guy
archeologist
tote-bag

BIG STRUGGLE

If Eustace won’t give the tablet back (and we know he won’t), the supernatural being will initiate three plagues.

  1. The house fills up with water. (A flood.) Courage saves the day by swimming from the attic to the basement and pulling out the plug. (The house has comically been turned into a bathtub.)
  2. The house fills with muzak. Again Courage saves everyone by finding the gramophone and smashing it with his baseball bat.
  3. A plague of locusts heads straight for the house. There’s no way Courage can stop this one.
flood
pulling-out-the-plug
muzak
courage-smashes-gramophone

After a battle scene in which Eustace is swinging Courage around,  Courage returns the tablet to the supernatural being outside. Eustace does this, but when he thinks everything is over, and the being has run ‘out of ammo’ having used up his three plagues, he retrieves it. This time the locusts return and eat up half the house leaving it — as baddies often do throughout the series — in a completely unliveable state.

courage-trying-to-get-the-tablet

Meanwhile, another big struggle scene is going on in the kitchen. I assume Muriel is going on a baking frenzy as a way of coping with stress. Both Muriel and the kitchen and also the house get more and more frazzled/destroyed as the montage goes on. Muriel’s signature weapon is her rolling pin, so the oversized rolling pin is a symbol of big struggle.

Notice, too, that she is frying fish. I’m guessing this is a Christian symbol.

The view is through the removal of the so-called ‘fourth wall’. We don’t normally see Muriel’s kitchen from this point of view.

baking-frenzy
muriel-in-the-kitchen
muriel-pot-boiling-over

ANAGNORISIS

There is no helping Eustace, whose plans for new garden chairs have moved on to include spark plugs and other material goods.

eustace-clutches-tablet

NEW SITUATION

We have a wonderful high angle shot of the house, which is now a bomb site.

house-destroyed

Eustace — being his usual avaricious self — has refused to hand over the tablet and is now entombed somewhere in Egypt. Muriel wonders where he’s got to.

eustace-inside-the-tomb
close-up
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Shirley The Medium Courage The Cowardly Dog

“Shirley The Medium” is an original recomposition of elements from diverse sources:

  1. Pandora’s Box, the Ancient Greek Myth
  2. A Christmas Carol, Dickens
  3. Modern TV psychics
establishing shot
establishing shot

STORY STRUCTURE OF SHIRLEY THE MEDIUM

SHORTCOMING

Courage is unable to tell Eustace not to open the box. He is a dog and can’t speak English. Besides that, the adults don’t listen to him anyway.

Also, in this episode, one shortcoming is that Courage needs to please his owners, even though one of them is outright horrible. When he digs up a locked box he hands it over to Eustace after overhearing Eustace complaining about his dead brother’s box of money. This leads to no end of trouble.

DESIRE

Courage wants to prevent Eustace from opening a box.

trying-to-open-the-box

There is a different desire, however, to set off the action. Courage wants to find his yo-yo. He runs out into the yard and searches through his hole, which is the child-dog equivalent of a child’s toy box. 

hunting for his yoyo
hunting for his yo-yo

The yo-yo could easily be treated as a McGuffin — something used to start the story off and then forgotten. But the yo-yo subplot is revived later for comic effect when Shirley the Medium exclaims, “I see… I see… A yo-yo! Under the couch!”

OPPONENT

The first we see of Shirley is her eerie hand knocking on the door.
The first we see of Shirley is her eerie hand knocking on the door.
Shirley is revealed to be a small, rather cute cat.
Despite the creepy hand, Shirley is revealed to be a small, rather cute cat.

There is plenty of opportunity for conflict in this episode.

  1. The dead brother, comically named ‘Horse’. Muriel tells us that there was always a long-running feud between Eustace and Horse. Eustace’s reaction to Horse on his birthday is comically over-the-top: “We have settled our differences. He’s dead and I’m not!” In the Pandora mythology, Prometheus (“Foresight”) and his brother Epimetheus (“Hindsight”) likewise have a problematic relationship.
  2. Shirley the Medium, who Eustace dislikes — because Eustace automatically dislikes everyone. In this case he doesn’t like handing over money for a service he feels hasn’t been provided. Courage, too, knows that nothing good will come of Shirley’s helping to open the box.
  3. Between Eustace and Muriel — Muriel is conciliatory whereas Eustace alienates.
  4. Between Courage and Eustace/Muriel, who won’t listen to him.
  5. The Minotaur opponent: The ghouls inside the box. (This is also the least interesting opponent.)

Cleverly, the audience is not shown the ghouls. Instead we see Courage watching the ghouls.

looking-inside
Courage looks through the keyhole. This feels like the end of Rosemary’s Baby, where the audience never gets to see ‘the baby’, only the characters’ reactions to the heinous thing. This trope is out of cosmic horror, in which storytellers acknowledge that creatures left to the imagination will always be far more scary than creatures described in full.

We’re offered a taste of ghoulishness when we see Courage transmogrify.

courage-as-a-ghost

PLAN

Courage always has the same plan.

One of the many comic coincidences
One of the many comic coincidences

This story is similar to the mattress episode in that the plan comes from Muriel and Eustace initially. Muriel wants Eustace to wish Horse a happy birthday while Eustace wants to connect with his brother in order to find out what he did with the key to his box of money, which Courage has found while looking for his yo-yo, and naively handed over. The interesting comic technique here is piling coincidence upon coincidence. All of these things are happening at once:

  1. It’s Horse’s birthday
  2. Courage just happens to find a box of money while looking for his yo-yo
  3. Eustace just happens to mention the box of money
  4. An advertisement for a psychic medium comes on the telly just as they’re discussing Horse and his unwillingness to spill the beans on the money.

We can make the most of these coincidences when writing comedy. That many coincidences piled up are themselves comic.

Courage has already looked into the box and knows there’s nothing good inside. He tries to alert the people who can help. Eustace throws him aside (literally). Muriel is of a much kinder nature and unwittingly shuts him up by shoving a taste-test of jam into his mouth.

help-muriel

He tries to stop the medium coming into the house, to no avail.

a high angle shot, as if from the heavens
a high angle shot, as if from the heavens, or the realm of the Immortal
Shirley in a trance
Shirley in a comical trance

With Muriel and Eustace’s plan winning out, we are treated to a highly comedic sequence in which Muriel talks to Gertrude, Horse’s dead wife, and the first thing they talk about is how much vinegar to use when making jam. This starts off the jam-making subplot which will keep Muriel occupied in the kitchen while Eustace is hell bent on opening the box. There is also a dial tone ringing. The seance is treated like a realworld telephone call. Eustace, exclaims, “He never answers my calls!”

The phone theme is continued when, unable to speak to Eustace using human language, it turns out he is able to (perhaps) be understood if he is calling on a phone. This implies that the only reason Eustace cannot understand Courage is because he knows from his form that he is a dog, and if only he were to listen closely enough he’d understand perfectly. The great thing about the setting is that it is completely desolate, so when the writers plonk a phone booth out there the juxtaposition provides humour.

phone-booth

Eustace does find out however that his brother has sewn the key to the box inside the lining of Eustace’s hat.

After the big struggle scene, Courage must change his plan. He goes to find Shirley the Medium so she can put the situation right. He carries her back to the house for a second time where she, and only, she has the power to (simply) shut the box.

Although it is Shirley who puts the finishing touches on saving the day, the main saviour is Courage, who not only retrieves Shirley, but has the idea of tying the house up with rope so that at least the ghouls are contained. He gets the rope from the washing line.

washing-line

Hilariously, on the cusp of imminent death, Muriel asks if he’s folded up the washing first. (He has. “What a good dog!”)

tying-up-the-house

The ‘thread thread’ is continued across scenes — when Courage reaches Shirley at her TV studio she happens to be flossing her teeth. This is a clever transition.

thread-thread

BIG STRUGGLE

This episode has a moral: Greed will lead you to trouble. There’s nothing subtle about it. We’ve already seen in a previous episode another deadly sin utilised — both Eustace and his mother are vain (about their lack of hair). Greed is associated with the colour green — possibly more so in America, where money is literally green — so it’s fitting that the whole room light up green when Eustace opens the box.

room-turns-green
hand-grabs-muriel
hands-grab-eustace
clinging-on

ANAGNORISIS

Eustace finds himself shut inside the box and is delighted to see piles and piles of money.

Eustace inside the box
Eustace inside the box — outside view

“But… what can I spend it on?” he asks didactically. The message is obvious. This is a message that’s been done seriously many times before, perhaps most famously in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This cartoon doesn’t really exist to teach a message. Instead, the anagnorisis part of the story is a requirement of a complete narrative, and it must exist here no matter how ‘on-the-nose’ it is. In fact, its on-the-nose quality add to the humour. It’s funny that Eustace hasn’t already learned this simple life lesson.

eustace-and-his-piles-of-money
The box is a tardis machine — much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

NEW SITUATION

house-tied-in-the-middle
The house itself has had its ‘belt tightened’ — a commonly understood English idiom to indicate austerity.

The jam subplot is concluded with Muriel sitting on the rocking chair eating it out of the pot. Eustace calls out from the box, “Hey, can I buy some jam?” Muriel says he can eat jam just as soon as they find the key for the box.

new-equilibrium

The best of the Courage episodes have excellent closing scenes in which Courage turns to the audience and delivers a joke just for them. Here he reveals to us that he is hiding the key in his mouth. Young viewers love to feel included in this way, and feel fully on side with Courage.

shared-joke-at-the-end
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The Duck Brothers Courage The Cowardly Dog

“The Duck Brothers” episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog features opponents who are revealed to be not really bad, which makes for a comical big struggle scene. The big struggle scene is noteworthy for including a wide variety of small big struggles.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE DUCK BROTHERS”

SHORTCOMING

Courage is unable to convince Eustace when Muriel is in danger because of his lowly status as an anxious dog.

DESIRE

He wants to save Muriel.

OPPONENT

alien-space-ship

The opponents in this story come in the form of an alien spaceship, later revealed to be alien duck brothers who — though this part is never explained in the story — have abducted Muriel (and then Eustace) by mistake. They seem to speak in some approximation of an Irish accent. There would be several reasons for this:

  • Irish accents have comedic value
  • There’s a history of gangster/crime films featuring Irish brothers. E.g. The Boondock Saints (1999), which would have been in theatres when this episode of Courage first aired.
  • During the mid 20th century Irish families tended to have very large families.

The duck brothers are constantly arguing like children. The gag is that one or both of them keeps laying eggs, which is unmanly and emasculating. (Side note: If sexism weren’t a real thing this wouldn’t be a joke that people even understand — the brothers are lowering their status as manly ducks by doing something usually only performed by their mothers and sisters.)

The chef looks like he would be an opponent. He is hairy and wears a singlet and wields a giant knife. But he is revealed later to be just a regular guy with a reasonable temperament.

fake-enemy

PLAN

As ever, Courage’s first move is to tell an adult, whichever of the adults happens to be unafflicted by the bad thing. This is a necessary step in children’s stories. When a child is in great danger and still does not tell any adults in their life, there has to be a reason for this already established. Perhaps the adults are terrible people, for instance. (And even then… We know Eustace is not going to believe Courage’s story that Muriel’s been abducted by aliens.) At the very least the author needs some lampshading — usually in the form of a conversation: “Mom and Dad will never believe this!”

One point about horror stories for adults in which a child character tells the responsible adult something and the adult doesn’t believe them: Don’t try to write it straight. The following is from someone who reads a lot of story submissions in the horror genre:

MOMMY, THERE’S A MONSTER IN MY CLOSET

Children are a bunch of goddamn idiots. This is a fact. So it makes sense that, in fiction, whenever a kid complains to their parents about a monster in the closet, the parent laughs at how dumb they are and sends them back to bed. (Sidenote: if any of my hypothetical kids ever came to me with a monster problem, I would be so excited, like, you have no idea, it’d be a dream come true.) But in these stories, of course there’s really a monster in the closet, and of course it wants to eat the kid. Or, sometimes, it actually wants to eat the kid’s parents, and it convinces the kid to lure them into the closet. An alternative to this story would be instead of a monster in the closet, one of the kid’s toys is eeeevil. There are enough stories about children scared in their bedroom. Please write literally anything else, you unoriginal scumbag.

LitReactor
Eustace at least checks out the surroundings but — bad luck — the aliens aren't there right at that moment.
Eustace at least checks out the surroundings but — bad luck — the aliens aren’t there right at that moment.

Eustace rolls over and falls back to sleep, of course, so in true Courage fashion, who keeps a close eye on the action and jumps in whenever he sees an opportunity. First up, jumping onto the back of the ute.

BIG STRUGGLE

Muriel, controlled by a device on her head, drives to a compound reminiscent of something out of a SF movie. We see a gated compound in Interstellar, for instance, or in the Netflix series Stranger Things. In SF, these factory-like establishments behind guarded gates are most often found near smallish communities where the residents live on the poverty line.

establishing-shot
Establishing Shot: Duck Brothers
interstellar-house
The house in Interstellar is similar to the house in Courage The Cowardly Dog. As is the fact they live near a mysterious, gated compound. Of course, Interstellar was made many years after this episode of Courage.

True to form, the writers choose a typical childhood game for the big struggle sequence. This time it’s piggy in the middle, after Courage locates the duck brothers inside a compound and tries to wrestle their controller off them.

piggy-in-the-middle

This is the device that is controlling Muriel’s movements.

There is also a food fight, this time with the duck brothers using their eggs to throw at Courage. “Aren’t you glad for these now?” one brother asks accusingly.

duck-brothers-food-fight

Another big struggle comes about between Courage and himself. Once wrestling the remote controller off the duck brothers he is unable to work it.

muriel-walking-on-the-ceiling

Another concurrent part of the big struggle scene centres on Muriel and Eustace (who has been captured and controlled off-screen) dancing awkwardly as the ducks seem to be playing with them like kids play with remote controlled toys.

remote-controlled-dance

SELF-REVELATION

The duck brothers are not evil. They are just like Courage — only trying to get a loved one back.

Courage comes to the rescue, walking into the chef’s kitchen and taking back the duck.

“What am I supposed to cook now?” asks the burly chef.

“Strudel,” replies Courage in an uncharacteristically deep voice. (The whole episode is a parody of extreme masculinity.)

The chef thinks this is a great idea.

thug-chef

NEW SITUATION

next-morning
Next morning in Nowhere

The three duck brothers have been reunited. The audience is used to a complete set of three from a tradition of fairytales and The Rule Of Threes. When we find there are three brothers instead of two that makes perfect sense to us and feels complete.

three-duck-brothers
three-eggs
The brothers continue to bicker about eggs and masculinity, and we can assume they always will.

Back at home, Courage and Muriel are putting the alien duck brothers’ device to excellent use. They are using it on Eustace — who turned up earlier at the compound wearing it — to get them breakfast in bed.

eustace-breakfast-in-bed

In a Refrigerator Moment, we realise there is a gated compound in Nowhere, housing a chef who — for some strange reason — has alien specimens lining the walls and who likes to cook duck but who will settle for strudel. (Hitchcock coined both ‘McGuffin’ and ‘Refrigerator Logic’. He was a man who really understood story.)

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Mother’s Day Courage The Cowardly Dog

“Mother’s Day” is an episode from season one of Courage The Cowardly Dog. This is where we get some of Eustace’s back story. Until this point in the series, Eustace Bagge has been a singularly unpleasant character. We haven’t see what made him the way he is. In this episode, for the first time, we learn his ‘psychological wound’, or the backstory that explains why he treats others so badly. In stories, as in real life, this is simplistically attributed to deficiencies in the mother.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “MOTHER’S DAY”

SHORTCOMING

As usual we have an opening shot in which Courage looks momentarily at peace.

courage-at-peace

Of course this does not last long because of the two people he lives with. Because he is a child (in the body of a dog) he will have to just go along with them, trying to appease them.

DESIRE

Eustace doesn’t want to go see his own mother for mother’s day but he wants to get Muriel off his back.

go-and-see-your-mother

OPPONENT

The opponent is introduced before we see her. Muriel, accommodating as she is, refuses to go visit her mother-in-law, volunteering Courage as a companion instead.

mothers-house
mother-appears

The character archetype is very similar to Bill Henrickson’s mother Lois in the series Big Love.

big-love-zabriskie26

Like Mrs Bagge, Lois is poor, has tendencies towards vanity, is psychologically abusive (while herself being a victim) and her own son will never live up to her standards.

Lois is a slightly caricatured but nevertheless fairly real representation of this personality type, in a live action TV show made for adults. Over the course of Big Love we also see the ways in which Bill Henrickson is basically his own parents, despite his wish to escape the Juniper Creek compound. While Lois Henrickson is also a Mama Bear who would do anything for her children, I’m of the impression that in a different episode of Courage, with an outside opponent, the abusive mother of Eustace would also turn on a dime to protect her own flesh and blood.

This episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog is a very condensed, highly stylised storyline done differently in Big Love.

PLAN

In the car on the way, Eustace tells Courage his plan. If Eustace scratches his face, this is a secret signal for Courage to attack the mother. Then they’ll be able to leave early. Eustace makes sure Courage knows how to snarl and growl. He demonstrates it himself.

establishing-the-plan

The plan doesn’t work. We know it’s not going to work the moment the mother greets Courage warmly while ignoring her human son.

BIG STRUGGLE

The big struggle begins on the doorstep, with Eustace laying into Courage for failing to be sufficiently vicious.

The visit is one long miserable family feud. Obviously a long-running enmity exists between Eustace and his mother. With Courage there, who the mother dotes on, the meanness she displays towards her own son is only emphasised.

Courage is stuck in the middle.  Only children are particularly likely to find themselves in an awkward dinner table scene in fiction.

dinner-table-scene

The scene of the two feuding adults sitting at each end of the dining table with the innocent and conflicted child character in the middle is a familiar one from the screen.

from American Beauty
from American Beauty
from Gilmore girls
from Gilmore girls
from Breaking Bad, in which Jessie is depicted temporarily as a child character
from Breaking Bad, in which Jesse is depicted temporarily as a child character

Mother gives Courage a big, heaping bowl of food with a literal cherry on top. After admonishing Eustace for being too thin, the mother then accuses him of wanting her to provide him food. When she provides the food, begrudgingly, it is two measly rashers of bacon. This is a parody of psychological abuse.

The distance between Eustace and his mother is visually depicted with the empty table between them filling most of the screen.
The distance between Eustace and his mother is visually depicted with the empty table between them filling most of the screen.
two-thin-rashers-of-bacon

Mother gives Eustace’s teddy bear to Courage, which really upsets Eustace and comically turns him into a toddler.

teddy-bear-tantrum

During the big struggle sequence the audience is left in no doubt as to the similarities between Eustace and his mother. The scene with the mask introduces every single episode, after all. When turned upon Eustace he is terrified. He can give it, but he can’t take it. Eustace has been temporarily turned into Courage.

mothers-scary-mask

The mother is ungrateful for the gifts, which Eustace gives her to try and make peace. She is allergic to flowers and doesn’t even like chocolate, which only proves that this woman is totally lacking in any kind of sweetness/humanity. She does, however, like the mirror gift. This is because she is vain. (One of the deadly sins, which makes it nice and simple and good for comedy villains.)

Courage eats the chocolates himself, which offers the audience a nice visual representation for how sick he is feeling about the visit.

courage-chocolate-sick

Mother decides she’d like a photo taken. She goes all out to prepare herself for this, even going under a tanning bed, plucking hairs from her chin and so on in a rapid sequence.

preparing-for-photo

When Mrs Bagge tells Eustace that he’ll never be a real man and never fill his father’s shoes (which are literally huge), Eustace challenges her to an arm wrestle.

youll-never-fill-your-fathers-shoes

In a previous episode we’ve already seen a big struggle carried out via a thumb wrestle, and the writers make much use of common childhood games throughout the series.

It’s significant that neither of them is winning. They are evenly matched, psychologically as well as physically.

arm-wrestle
another version of the classic only-child dinner table scene

Eustace signals to Courage to do something, so Courage retrieves the bouquet of flowers hoping this will cause Mother to sneeze, and lose the game.

retrieving-the-bouquet

The writers foil expectations by having her hair come right off.

ANAGNORISIS

mother-and-son-hug

The audience has already realised that mother and son are basically the same person. This similarity is underscored visually with the sneeze, and the flying away of the mother’s hair. She breaks down at first, proclaiming that she’s ugly and how could a son possibly love a mother with no hair. We have seen from earlier episodes that Eustace is sensitive about his own bald head, so he is able to identify with his mother’s pain and there is a brief reuniting moment before he leaves with Courage for home.

This is a rare, genuine anagnorisis in the Courage series. Usually there is a revelation, but it is not a anagnorisis.

However, the anagnorisis will do nothing to change Eustace for the better. He will continue into the next episode as mean as he was before.

NEW SITUATION

Time of day is indicated by the orange and yellow sky.
Time of day is indicated by the orange and yellow sky.

At home, Muriel has been watching her favourite show. She asks them how it was. Courage produces a photograph, which gives Muriel the impression the visit was far more successful than it actually was. Eustace says grimly that he’ll have to go again sometime soon.

By putting someone else’s hair on a dog the artists also appeal to the sense of humour of its young child audience.

closing-image
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Night Of The Weremole Courage The Cowardly Dog

The folklore of the werewolf is great fodder for a horror comedy and it was bound to be used sooner or later. Others have made new creatures out of the werewolf story — Wallace and Grommit have The Curse Of The Wererabbit, for instance, in which they take a cute, fluffy animal that can’t (directly) harm humans. Here we have a mole, equally harmless to humans, and also a little underrepresented in children’s literature, though we do more recently have Mo Willems and his naked mole rats. For comic appeal, that subcategory is even more appealing.

See also: The Rule of Oversized Moons In Picture Books

As usual in the Courage stories, the moon has a cycle of its own.

crescent-moon
a crescent moon at the beginning of the story
full-moon
The crescent moon is full after the weremole turns up

STORY STRUCTURE OF “NIGHT OF THE WEREMOLE”

The fact that “Night of the Weremole” is a nod to B-grade horror flicks is underscored by the scenes in which Muriel (and initially Courage) are watching one on their television inside the setting.

b-grade-horror

In a horror comedy the fun is in making use of tropes which are so worn out that editors will rant about how they never want to see certain storylines ever again.

Max Booth at LitReactor writes about one such storyline here:

OH MY! WHAT IS THIS STRANGE AND MYSTERIOUS BITE?

Maybe someone is exploring a forest, then a strange bug happens to take a small bite out of them. Or maybe they receive a mysterious package in the mail, and its contents leave a mark on their flesh. It doesn’t matter how it happened, but now your character has a mark that won’t go away, and every day it spreads. The character goes to the doctor, but the doctor just shrugs, because doctors are stupid and know nothing. The mark continues to mutate until the character has completed its transformation into a monster. The reader has known how this story was going to end from the very beginning. Why? Because everybody writes this story. And it’s never surprising. It’s never interesting. Writers like this idea because it gives them a chance to exercise their gross-out techniques. They can get their hands dirty and have fun detailing graphic mutations. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I love gore just as much as the next guy. But what’s important to remember is this: you need more besides disgusting mutations. You need a real, genuine story. What you have right now is an idea. A very boring, overused idea.

10 Horror Stories Nobody Wants To Read

SHORTCOMING

Courage is cowardly. Rather, he is very brave but anxious all the while. A truly cowardly hero would be no good for a series hero.

courage-watches-horror-show
Courage is happy just as long as he’s left alone to snooze in the living room.
eustace-drooling

DESIRE

Courage wants to protect his family from the weremole.

OPPONENT

The weremole who turns up as Muriel is outside doing a spot of night gardening. Because a rabbit turns up first, she is fooled into thinking the creatures are cute and even offers a carrot.

muriel-gardening
rabbit-foil
something-burrowing
muriel-gardening-at-night

Eustace is also an opponent here. Because of his blindness and stupidity he doesn’t realise that he’s trying to kill his own wife with his mallet. The fact that Eustace can’t find his mallet at first lends suspense. We know, eventually, that he will find it.

All B-grade horror films need a bathroom scene. Here we have the gender inverted with a skinny, sexually unappealing old man instead of a terrified, alluring young woman.
All B-grade horror films need a bathroom scene. Here we have the gender inverted with a skinny, sexually unappealing old man instead of a terrified, alluring young woman.

PLAN

As usual, Courage’s initial plans to remedy the situation don’t work and he has to keep thinking of ways to outsmart the situation and his opponents.

When Muriel’s hand swells to an enormous size Courage and Eustace (begrudgingly) take her to the doctor.

Take note which way the ambulance is driving: from right to left. In the West we know from picturebooks that this directionality indicates a stall in the linear flow of the story (based on the desire of the hero).
Take note which way the ambulance is driving: from right to left. In the West we know from picturebooks that this directionality indicates a stall in the linear flow of the story (based on the desire of the hero).
The colour palette is significantly different here to show that the characters are away from the house.
The colour palette is significantly different here to show that the characters are away from the house.

But the doctor, with his bushy eyebrows and no eyes, is just as oblivious as Muriel and Eustace themselves. He repeats that everything will be fine, “just keep soaking it”.

When Courage faints from fright he finds hmself in the doctor’s office. This works really well because the viewer at first expects to see Muriel in the doctor’s office.

courage-at-the-doctors-office

Courage deals with this by picking the doctor up and running with him back home to fix the real problem, which is Muriel.

Unfortunately the doctor gets eaten. (This is temporary.)

doctor-danger

Courage once more turns to his Internet friend, who tells him that in order to save Muriel he will need hair of the mole. The computer has another purpose though: young viewers aren’t necessarily au fait with the ins and outs of werewolf mythology, so we are told via an animated diagram that once bitten by a were-creature you yourself turn into a were-creature. This is probably already obvious from the story so far, but here it is underscored.

At home, Muriel is soaking her hands in the kitchen sink when she is overcome by the power of the moon, which shines in through the kitchen window.

weremuriel
computer-in-the-attic

Courage dresses himself up as bait, trembling. He wants to get a hair out of that weremole.

courage-dressed-as-rabbit

The weremole’s undoing is his own craziness. He is so busy thrashing Courage around that he doesn’t realise he’s only thrashing around the suit.

The thing about opponents in horror stories is, they act like machines. You can't stop them; nor can they stop themselves.
The thing about opponents in horror stories is, they act like machines. You can’t stop them; nor can they stop themselves.

The audience doesn’t realise this either, until Courage appears back on the scene holding a huge pair of tweezers.

BIG STRUGGLE

There are parallel big struggle scenes going on:

  1. Eustace locates his mallet and plays whack-a-mole with the Were-Muriel in the bedroom as she pokes her head through holes in the floor. He thinks it’s a rodent of some kind because, handily, he is oblivious to the world around him.
  2. In the yard, Courage gets attacked by the weremole, who thinks he is a tasty rabbit.
whack-a-mole-muriel
thrashing-the-rabbit

SELF-REVELATION

Courage realises at some point that he can win this big struggle. We see the look on his face after he manages to pluck a hair out of the rabid mole.

NEW SITUATION

At first it seems everything is back to normal

courage-relaxed-with-muriel

Note that we see Courage seeing something before we see it ourselves.

courage-sees-something
courage-terrified

This is a repeating story. The doctor turns into a weredoctor. (Though etymologically, this word doesn’t quite work…The etymology of werewolf is ‘man’ + ‘wolf’. Technically we have a ‘manmole’ in this story.)

weredoctor
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The Demon In The Mattress Courage The Cowardly Dog

the-demon-in-the-mattress

In “The Demon In The Mattress” episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog we have the full moon, the midnight ‘witching’ hour and a comic horror story about possession.

midnight-witching-hour

The idea of an evil mattress is of course horror fantasy, but comes from the real world mistrust we have about sleeping on other people’s beds. Here in Australia it’s not even legal to sell a secondhand mattress. (The word secondhand itself is out of fashion.)

When sleeping in cheap joints (and even sometimes in expensive ones) we worry about bed bugs. Horror stories are always making the most of our deepest anxieties. Comic horror stories tend to pick the more trivial ones… like fear of creepy crawlies inside mattresses.

full-moon-opening

Colour

Colour is used in this episode as the story changes in tone.

green-bedroom
courage-digging-hole

Demonic Possession

Demonic possession is the belief that individuals can be possessed by malevolent preternatural beings, commonly referred to as demons or devils. Obsessions and possessions of the devil are placed in the rank of apparitions of the evil spirit among men. It is obsession when the demon acts externally against the person whom it besets, and possession when he acts internally, agitates them, excites their ill humor, makes them utter blasphemy, speak tongues they have never learned, discovers to them unknown secrets, and inspires them with the knowledge of the obscurest things in philosophy or theology.

Wikipedia

The oldest mention of possession is Sumerian, but modern horror stories tend to draw most heavily from Christian traditions. Traditionally it was believed that people possessed are possessed by the Devil. The Devil is a fallen angel.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE DEMON IN THE MATTRESS”

The episodes in which opponents come to the house, this farmhouse in the middle of Nowhere, are similar to a Robinsonnade, in which there is an island. The drama in a Robinsonnade comes from the characterisation and interpersonal conflict. There’s not much characterisation here, of course. Mainly gags and horror tropes. In any case, the Bagge family don’t even need to leave their house — like a police station in a crime show, trouble just walks in the door.

SHORTCOMING

As usual, and this never changes, Courage is just a dog and no one believes him when things go wrong.

As for the inciting incident/need of Muriel, this is established right away when she points out that a whole lot of springs are poking out of their mattress.

springs

DESIRE

When Courage listens to the other end of the phone, he realises the mattress vendors are no good. They’ve ‘been waiting for your call’. He wants to save Muriel from the baddies.

Muriel wants a new mattress.

OPPONENT

We first see a shot of the opponents’ lair. A couple of small creatures scuttle past.

opponents-lair

The mattress delivery guys turn up in a medieval chariot.

mattress-delivery

They appear to be some kind of rodent pair. They have special contempt for Courage, hissing at him as they walk into the house. They know Courage is the only one who suspects them of mal-intent.

PLAN

As ever, Courage first tries to warn Muriel, then when the possession happens he tries to tell Eustace.

And, as ever, he checks things out thoroughly before diving in. Here he is peering inside the window.

courage-looking-in-window

It’s clear by now that the family computer is the domestic equivalent of a sage. Courage asks the ‘sage’ how to get rid of a demon and then Eustace is able to read the print out. The plan is for Eustace to dress up in a floaty gown and memorise a chant.

consulting-the-computer

As is common in children’s comedy, it is funny that Eustace (a man) is demeaned by dressing him in female clothing.

BIG STRUGGLE

The battle sequence turns the house into an ominous shade of chartreuse. A green mist comes out of the bed and takes hold of Muriel. She loses her head. She is talking in a deep male voice. But the possessed Muriel is not truly horrific. She conceals something beneath the covers and we find out it’s a tray of tea (rather than a dismembered body part, say.)

horrific-tray-of-tea
possessed-muriel

The writers of Courage The Cowardly Dog like to make use of childhood games in the big struggle sequence. We’ve already seen a game of handball/squash and a food fight. Here the possessed Muriel has a thumb wrestle with Courage to settle the score.

thumb-wrestling
eustace-chanting
white-flag

ANAGNORISIS

In the end only Courage can save Muriel. Eustace isn’t saying the magic spell correctly. Courage digs a hole in the yard until he comes across the floating gown, then puts it on himself and turns Muriel back into Muriel.

Unfortunately, in this ‘never-ending’ or ‘repeating’ story, Eustace ends up possessed though his own ineptitude. Muriel hits on on the head with a rolling pin which she seems to carry everywhere. (It breaks in two.) Courage rolls him firmly inside a mattress in a second short big struggle. Eustace, in this episode, is rather a tragic figure and we feel sorry for him.

eustace-inside-a-mattress

NEW SITUATION

“We don’t want your special mattress,” Muriel says angrily into the receiver. She tells the creatures to come and pick it up for a refund.

Eustace is taken away by the pissed off rats.

Muriel and Courage sleep together on the couch downstairs, which Muriel declares is very comfortable.

watching-tv-on-the-sofa

But we know Eustace will make it back in time for the next episode…

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Hot Head Courage The Cowardly Dog

The “Hot Head” episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog owes much to the Jekyll & Hyde trope. We can probably go back further than that, to Cain and Abel.

For more on twins in literature see here.

See also: A History Of Other Selves.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “HOT HEAD”

This is a story in two distinct parts.

  1. Courage sees what happens to the old man in the toilet when he applies the hair growth lotion.
  2. We all see what happens later to Eustace when he applies the same lotion. This time the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen. The interest comes from how Courage is going to deal with it.

The horror element of this story comes from real life drug abuse, but is handled here in a completely comedic way.

Here's Courage hiding in a toilet. Courage is often hiding inside things in this series.
Here’s Courage hiding in a toilet. Courage is often hiding inside things in this series. Finding unusual hiding places is one of his idiosyncrasies.

SHORTCOMING

Courage is only the dog so is unable to really help his family when he sees things going terribly wrong.

Eustace’s shortcoming (among many others) is that he is vain. It is the shortcoming of Eustace that drives the story.

newspaper-advertisement

DESIRE

Courage wants to stay home with Muriel and definitely not have a haircut.

Eustace wants hair.

OPPONENT

The main opponent in this episode is Eustace.

As for Eustace, his main opponent is the doctor who prescribes him this lotion. In this story with fantasy elements, there are two tracks. There’s the literal fantasy story and then there’s the real life analogue. Certain illicit drugs are well-known to cause angry outbursts. The cultural phenoemnon adult viewers will think of is, of course, use of anabolic steroids among the athletically inclined.

warning

The Asian guy is introduced in this episode. He will appear later as a main opponent. In this episode he cuts Eustace off, which is the first time Eustace blows his top.

cut-off
the-asian-nemesis

PLAN

Courage knows exactly how angry Eustace is going to get. Once home, his main aim is to keep Eustace calm so he doesn’t hurt Muriel. The first thing he always does, even though it NEVER works, is try to alert Muriel.

watch-out-muriel

He massages Eustace’s feet

foot-massage

He plays the harp

courage-tries-to-keep-eustace-calm

Here he is coaxing Muriel out of the kitchen, where she has asked him to open a container of dog food (which is impossible to open).

i-have-the-mail-for-you

BIG STRUGGLE

For this sequence of the story the writers have taken a variety of irritating everyday tasks: fixing a squeak in a chair, getting a lid off a jar, threading a needle, which the (adult) audience will identify with.

This sequence is an up-and-down roller coaster ride in which Eustace is about to blow but then something calms him down. For instance, he is happy that he has sprouted a curly hair, then let down to find it falls flat in front of his face.

well-then-can-you-thread-my-needle

This roller coaster story structure is reflected in an earlier part of the plot, in which the dodgy, unseen doctor subjects Eustace to a variety of harrowing rides reminiscent of a roller coaster at a theme park before determining whether Eustace would benefit from the lotion.

eustace-roller-coaster-ride
roller-coaster-ride-2

These things make Eustace so angry that his anger ends up blowing up the house.

cracking-the-house

This was foreshadowed in the men’s toilet inside the doctor’s tower. Unlike Eustace, this little old man was very polite to begin with. We see him rather comically thanking the doctor, over and over again, unable to end the conversation. If this nice little old man can react like the Incredible Hulk with a few drops of this lotion, we know the permanently cantankerous Eustace is going to react even worse.

polite-man-applies-lotion
polite-man-turns-evil
house-to-rubble-foreshadowing

SELF-REVELATION

This story structure is unusual because, due to the double story structure, we know what’s going to happen early on.

For more on types of plots most frequently found in children’s stories see this post.

repeating-story-structure

NEW SITUATION

In a wonderful example of Muriel’s signature litotes/obliviousness, the entire house is blown up around them and still Muriel worries about the squeak in her chair.

new-equilibrium-house-blown-up

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

The Windmill

In the previous story I wondered if the windmill was a symbol for mysterious ‘change’ about to happen.

windmill-transition

The windmill in this episode is used first as a scene transition and at first I thought that’s all it was until I saw it again, this time blown up along with the house. I realised at that point that the windmill blown up looks very much like the hairs that sprouted from the bald men.

wrecked-windmill

The Tardis Effect

The doctor’s office is in a long, thin castle. We never see a fullscreen view of this castle. Instead, the camera pans up until the tower tapers out into what looks, symbolically, like a single strand of hair.

In children’s stories, the outside view of a house belies a much bigger interior — much like the tardis of Dr Who. A picturebook where this is done is Oliver by Birgitta Sif.

Inside this tall skinny castle we have a mansion right out of Bluebeard.

bottom-of-a-well
big-white-room
doctors-corridor
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Big Foot Courage The Cowardly Dog

courage-and-big-foot

In the “Big Foot” episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog we have a story which makes use of the legend of Big Foot.

The great thing about the horror comedy genre is that writers not only have access to a treasure trove of metaphors and symbols — they also have access to urban legends and conspiracy theories.

Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is a mythological simian, ape, or hominid-like creature that is said to inhabit forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. In American folklore, Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid. The term sasquatch is an Anglicized derivative of the Halkomelem word sásq’ets.

Wikipedia

(Here in Australia we have ‘Yowie’.)

This legend is combined with the classic movie Godzilla when Courage transmogrifies into a monster, stepping on cars and buildings. Presumably Courage has seen this film in the world of the story. It doesn’t matter if the child audience hasn’t. It still works.

allusion to Godzilla
allusion to Godzilla
Windmill Symbolism
windmill

At the risk of reading too much into the opening image, it’s worth asking why the animators chose to open with a medium shot of the windmill before showing us the entire scene.

The most famous windmill in literature is the one in Animal Farm, but I doubt this one has anything to do with that. If anything, I’d say that ‘change is on the wind’.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “BIG FOOT”

Like the other Courage stories, Courage discovers a threat, fights against the threat and wins out in the end. The Bagge household will end happily ever after… until next time.

SHORTCOMING

As in all of the stories in this series, Courage is the ‘everyman’ hero. Blake Snyder calls this kind of a hero ‘dude with a problem’. An ordinary guy finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. He is thrust into a circumstance he is ill-equipped to deal with. Other examples of the everyman hero are Bilbo Baggins (Lord of the Rings), Arthur Dent (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) and Edmund Pevensie (Chronicles of Narnia).

Hence, Courage is innocently fixing himself an archetypically American after dinner snack of milk and pie when he is scared by something outside.

pie-and-milk
Note the significance of the colour purple. The pie is purple, and so is the monster lured in by it. The very nightscape is purple.

He is not taken seriously by his owners. This is underscored in every episode, not least because it provides another opportunity for comedy.

"Oh Courage, it's just the raccoons!"
“Oh Courage, it’s just the raccoons!”
The Significance Of Windows

The window is the ‘portal‘ between the inside and outside of the safe, family house. We see it a lot in Courage stories set in and around the house. We see Courage looking out, we see him as an outsider ourselves. This dichotomy is tied to the fact that Courage has opponents both inside and outside the house.

courage-sees-something-out-window
binoculars-out-window
courage-and-the-shadow
courage-on-other-side-of-window
pie-cooling-windowsill

Muriel has left a pie to cool on the window sill. Courage sees it moving suspiciously — Muriel has unwittingly left it out as bait. In a calamitous action sequence involving mainly himself, he ends up covered in pie (a ‘pie in the face’ sequence) and also all over the wall. The pie in the face thing has been done so many times it’s a wonder it’s still funny. Actually, the main comedy here is that Muriel appears and says, in the midst of great mess, “Courage. Next time use a plate.” This is funny because it’s both unexpected but completely expected of Muriel.

This scene also foreshadows the food fight which will happen later.

I mention it here because finding himself covered in pie is emblematic of Courage’s shortcoming: He gets too anxious to think straight. He ends up looking silly and so even Muriel doesn’t take him seriously.

muriel-appears
pie-mess-foreshadowing

DESIRE

Courage wants to protect Muriel from this dark shadow.

OPPONENT

  • The monster is first revealed as a dark shadow.
  • Next we see reports of a Big Foot sighting on the nightly news.
  • Courage finds a massive footprint in the dust and imagines the worst.
  • Next, Big Foot is in the house.

The other opponent is, of course, Eustace. Having an opponent both inside and outside the house makes for a fuller, more satisfying narrative. A story doesn’t absolutely need both. In Roald Dahl’s The Twits, for instance, a husband and wife are the only opponents. That story feels slower in pace compared to this one. Because of the pace of a cartoon, more story is needed to fill a shorter amount of time.

Eustace’s plan suits him because he is a one-sidedly evil character. He is only interested in fame and fortune — the common denominator when it comes to cartoon baddies. Every now and then you also get a sadistic one (Eustace himself is often sadistic, especially when Courage is already scared and he pulls out his mask), or one with an insatiable appetite (e.g. Katz of the Katz motel, the fox who kidnapped Muriel for his Cajun stew).

PLAN

Courage pulls out a pair of gigantic binoculars. The comedy here is that in order to find a Big Foot you need big binoculars. In other words, Courage doesn’t understand commonsense science.

courage-big-binoculars

He goes in search of the footprint he and Eustace saw on the television. He uses an oversize magnifying glass.

big-microscope
big-foot
It doesn’t matter that we’ll later find out this footprint is far too big to match the creature who turns up. We accept exaggeration and discontinuities in this form. It’s all symbolism and gags.

Meanwhile, Eustace has a plan of his own. He wants to catch the Big Foot for financial gain. Comedy is derived from the fact that the reward for catching such a formiddable creature is a paltry $25 plus a lifetime subscription (to I’m not sure what). A similar gag is used in an episode of Seinfeld, in which Kramer jumps the gun in his coffee scalding lawsuit and ruins his chance of winning $50k compensation due the company first offering him a lifetime supply of free coffee.

In this episode, it is Eustace who stars in the bulk of the ‘plan’ segment. We see him lay out all sorts of hunting equipment across the table. What on earth he’s going to do with a fishing rod and a tennis racket we can only guess. Comedy comes from the juxtaposition between the size of a hypothetical Big Foot and the ridiculousness of the weaponry.

eustace-comes-up-with-a-plan
Eustace formulates his plan
eustace-and-his-weapons
Eustace lays out his weaponry

BIG STRUGGLE

Courage throws some food at the Big Foot when he sees it in the kitchen. This starts a food fight. All the while, Muriel enjoys a ‘wee cup of tea’ in her kitchen rocking chair, oblivious to all of this in Mr Magoo tradition.

big-foot-in-kitchen
food-fight
muriel-wee-cup-of-tea

The big struggle inside the house is followed by an assault from outsiders — the faceless crowd (masterfully depicted as a single black mass) who try to knock the door down, hoping to run the monster out of town.

the-faceless-crowd
crowd-tries-to-enter-the-house

SELF-REVELATION

It’s clear by now that in this comedy series there is no ‘self’ revelation. Comedic characters never grow. They start in the exact same place they were last time at the beginning of the next episode.

The revelation happens with the Big Foot starts dancing like a Hawaiian. He is not a scary monster after all. He is cute and fluffy. This is the story structure of many picturebooks featuring monsters. Publishers like them because of our tradition of reading stories to children before bed. These stories have squeezed out the more truly horrifying stories, which are less likely to be published.

fruit-dance
The fact that pineapples feature so heavily in this trope is down to the Dole company, who planted many pineapple trees in Hawaii.

The key challenge for the storytellers here was in the switch between the end of the food fight and the beginning of the dance.

The audience has been helped along somewhat with the foreshadowing (kept from Muriel) that a little old woman has come to the door looking for her lost son. The audience knows to wonder if this woman is legitimate. In stories such as Snow White we’ve seen little old ladies who are actually witches underneath.

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NEW SITUATION

Big Foot’s mother comes out of the crowd. Mother and son (daughter?) are reunited.

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Evil Eustace tries to steal the child Big Foot back for his own selfish gains but Muriel orders him to “take the cuff off the child”. Since Eustace is a psychological child himself, he does.

The story ends with a long shot of the house, and a crescent moon behind it.

closing-scene

Contrast this with the establishing shot:

opening-shot

And a transition shot:

huge-moon

It’s clear that the moon in Courage The Cowardly Dog is a magical entity which can wax and wane over the course of a single day.

FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Ape expert Jane Goodall tells why she believes in Big Foot from Daily Grail

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Courage The Cowardly Dog: Doctor Le Quack

All of the Courage The Cowardly Dog episodes including Doctor Le Quack are set in a place called Nowhere. “Be quiet, Eustace,” says Muriel one morning, “you’ll wake the neighbours!”

eustace on the roof doctor le quack

This setting is perfect for western spoofs. Many of the Courage stories are horror spoofs but in Dr Le Quack we have the cartoon, child-friendly version of a wild western caper film.

GENRE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

A caper story is a story in which the main characters pull off some kind of heist. (Also called a heist story.) A caper is a comic crime story. So, caper = crime + comedy.

Breaking Bad makes use of caper elements e.g. At the beginning of season five when Walt and Jesse rig up an explosion to wipe out an incriminating laptop in police storage, and earlier in the seasons when they steal the chemicals from the factory wearing woollen hats with pompoms.

Western Symbolism In Doctor Le Quack

Western symbolism can be seen in many of the Courage stories. Here we have the story opening with the rising sun at dawn. While this is not specific to the western genre, the sun has symbolic meaning in a western. Though it has been used countless times in western movies and novels, readers never seem to tire of the age-old symbol of the sun setting on the cowboy riding or walking off into the sunset. Quite a few picturebooks end with characters walking off into the sunset, too. Here we have dawn breaking over the desolate plain. 

The sun can be a symbol of giving or taking life, depending on how it’s portrayed. The sun can break through and show brighter days, or it can be boiling hot and deadly if lost in the desert. Here, I don’t think it has any specific symbolic meaning. Along with the soundtrack and the big skies it is simply meant to convey the atmosphere of an old western film.

However, a rising sun in a story does indicate that this is going to be one eventful day, and that the events will conclude by the end of it.

dawn-nowhere

STORY STRUCTURE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

SHORTCOMING IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

Courage is cowardly. Nonetheless, he needs to save the day.

DESIRE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

After Eustace accidentally hits Muriel on the head with a plank of wood Muriel loses her memory. Eustace takes this opportunity to get rid of the dog.

Amnesia comes easy in fiction. It is also conveniently specific. A taste of Applied Phlebotinum, a particularly shocking traumatic event, or even a simple Tap on the Head will be sufficient to make your character forget all about who or what they are.

TV Tropes

He wants to get back into the house and do something for Muriel.

OPPONENT OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

Eustace is the first opponent but soon another comes along in the form of an evil French duck. As with the cajun fox last episode, this duck isn’t really French — he slaps on a French moustache which falls off later right before the main big struggle. I think the producers might do this because the same voice actor mimics a variety of different accents in parodic rather than realistic fashion.

First we see Le Duck’s lair. This is a Scrooge McDuck character, which of course comes from Dickens. His riches do not make him happy. He is collecting riches simply for the game of it, leaving bags of money just sitting around. He hasn’t even replaced his office chair, which looks as if it’s got a big bite out of it. This is a purely evil character motivated by power.

le-quacks-office

Then we see who is sitting on the other end of the computer.

le-quack-in-office

PLAN IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

Courage has already gotten back into the house by first trying to swing in Tarzan style from a tree, then with a pole vault.

courage-tries-to-pole-vault-inside

Eventually he gets in and via the Internet enlists the help of a doctor. Even the computer is anthropomorphised and has an evil personality of its own. These were the days when viewers were using the Internet for the first time and there was more mistrust than there is today.

internet-help

Plans change when it becomes apparent that the visiting doctor meant to help Muriel is actually a quack who wants to raid the silverware drawer.

The duck’s plan is to

  1. Knock Eustace on the head so he’s out for a while
  2. Torture Muriel until she reveals where her piggybank is. He can’t find any treasure in the house.

This is where the heist spoof comes in. The duck sets up a toy train track and binds Muriel up in rope reminiscent of a scene in which a beautiful young woman is tied to the train tracks. Instead of using this quite sexualised trope, the writers of this children’s story modify it quite a bit — Muriel sits on a chair nearby and the toy train throws pies in her face.

muriel-bound
le-quack-train-track

This familiar scenario [chained to a railway] first appeared in the 1867 short story “Captain Tom’s Fright, although a more rudimentary form of it was seen on stage in 1863 in the play The Engineer. However, it really entered the meme pool as a result of its inclusion in the 1867 play Under the Gaslight, by Augustin Daly. […] As bizarre (and horrible) as it may seem, this trope is Truth in Television. At least six people in the United States were killed between 1874 and 1910 as a result of being tied to railroad tracks.

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The same trope is also used in games such as Red Dead Redemption.

red-dead-screenshot

Courage blows him up. When opponents are destroyed by Courage in this series it’s common for the opponent to say something understated like, “How annoying.” That’s what happens here. This feels a little meta. Why would the duck panic about being blown up? He’s a cartoon character who will bounce back to life before the next scene.

courage-blows-up-duck

When this doesn’t work the duck disgusts her by holding a plate of smelly cheese right under her nose.

stinky-cheese

Next we see a huge, muscled rat with tats appear in the doorway. It first seems that he has been attracted by the cheese, but when Courage pays him off we see that this has been Courage’s plan all along. The common sequencing in this story is that something happens, we worry about Courage, then we see he planned it.

rat-cheese

BIG STRUGGLE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

The final battle involves a vacuum cleaner. The duck tries to suck Courage up. But instead he sucks up all the planks nailed across the doorway and the whole thing blows up in a huge explosion, reminiscent of the explosions often used in train heist stories to wreck parts of a railway line.

exploding-vacuum-cleaner

The policemen Courage has tried to summon turn up at this point and stomp all over Courage to get to the duck.

ANAGNORISIS IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

We learn that this duck is a wanted criminal.

NEW SITUATION IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

We think the duck is going to prison. “We’ve been looking for you!” say the policemen.

le-quack-in-back-of-prison-van

But the duck breaks free — we get a flash scene reminiscent of something out of No Country For Old Men — and says to the camera that we haven’t seen the last of him yet.

le-quack-breaks-free
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