Astute readers of the Seussian catalog are not surprised to learn that the “doctor” was a political cartoonist. The political messages of works such as The Butter Battle Book or The Lorax are apparent even to those readers who don’t wish to dig too far below the surface to probe for meaning. These works have a timeless quality to them because they address evergreen social issues, like warfare or discrimination.
But this isn’t a post about The Butter Battle Book or The Lorax.
This is a post about one of Seuss’s lesser known B-side creations. It’s one that’s significantly less popular, but perhaps no less noteworthy…
You know how a lot of pop stars invariably perform that one weird single that winds up in the discount bin of your local CD Exchange? Madonna had her cover of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Jessica Simpson desecrated Nancy Sinatra’s legacy with her country-fried interpretation of “These Boots are Made for Walking.” In that same vein of lackluster releases that are generally forgotten by the American public, Dr. Seuss had his made-for-TV special: Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?
Pontoffel Pock is a strange story about a lonely moron who is given a magical, flying piano in order to escape his problems. It features offensive racial sterotypes and a confusing conclusion that may or may not institutionalize the grinding force of modern day corporate industry. I still can’t tell for sure.
Minimally, it DOES encourage kids to work in pickle factories and shut the f*ck up already with all their stupid bitching.
Yes. I’m not joking.
So, right now you’re probably asking yourself:
"If this thing is so weird and forgettable why the hell are you reviewing it?"
Here’s my answer:
I’m a big fan of underdogs of all shapes and sizes, and that includes forgotten, animated abortions like Pontoffel Pock. More to the point, I have a special spot in my heart for Pontoffel because I was given the movie as a gift when I was but a wee lad of five. Having a somewhat limited home video library meant that I watched Pontoffel ad nauseum. The video would finish, I would press rewind, and then, quite literally watch it over and over again. Along with The Chipmunk Adventure and Snoopy Come Home, Pontoffel Pock played a prominent role in my early media development. When I saw it listed as a bonus feature on The Lorax DVD, I knew I just HAD to buy it.
However, the main reason I wish to revisit this “film” at this time is because, at its heart, it is a story is about work, purpose, and the crossroads of life. I find myself approaching such a personal crossroads in the coming days, when I finally graduate from college with my masters degree (yay!). The combination of nostalgia and fated real-world relevance was TOO much for me to ignore. I had to sit down and dissect this bitch.
Come along with me! Bear witness to this crazy-ass fable by watching along!
Link to Youtube Video HERE.
Okay, so the story starts optimistically enough. Pock is given the opportunity to labor at The Dill Pickle Factory, where he is being instructed by the Master Pickler himself, Mr. Gill Gickler.
Cue the first music number!
"Just pull on the Pullum
and push on the Pushum-
and the pickles go into the jars. Tra-la-la!!!!”
Ok. Sounds simple enough…
"What a wonderful way
to spend everyday.
You should thank your lucky staaaars!”
Oh! Hold up! That sounds like some anti-labor propaganda if you ask me, Mr. Gickler. What? We should be thankful to work for below minimum wage at your stupid pickle factory THAT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A GODDAMN BREAK ROOM!? I don’t see YOU pushing on any pushums or pulling on any pullums, you bourgeois bastard!
Well, anyhoot, as you can imagine, Pock royally focks up by pulling on the pushum and pushing on the pullum. *Sigh*
Seriously, Pock? Seriously?How could you mess this up?
How many tasks indicate the nature of their operation strictly through their name? Pullum- PULL IT! Pushum- PUSH IT! Shit.
Personally, I think Pock focked up on purpose. Who wants to labor at the Dill Pickle factory for the rest of his life? Who wants to join in with the plight of the disenfranchised, proletariat pickle picklers?
After Gickler dickishly fires him in front of EVERYONE (rude). Pock shambles off toward the sad, winding road that leads home. He laments his fortune, but lo! Here we heap salt onto his already open wounds when we learn that Pock has no home to which he can go.
He has no home. He only has a house…
The house that his family has left him.
Ladies and gentleman, I now present to you:
The Saddest/Shortest Song in the History of Children’s Animated Programming.
"The House That My Family Had Left Me"
"The house that my family had left me
was badly in need of repair.
The gicky, green shudders were groaning.
The weathervane flapped in despair.
The termites were munching the staircase
as I climbed to the very top shelf
of the house that my family had left me…
If that song didn’t make you feel as though your heart was ripped out and set on fire, then I pity you…because you have no soul.
C’mon! Think about it! Isn’t abandonment pretty much every kid’s worst nightmare? This song perfectly encapsulates what life would be like living in a creaky, old house that your parents bequeathed to you after they bit the big one (or else decided to pack up and just leave without you). Pock’s house reflects this complete absence, not just of relations, but of love. The gicky green shudders are groaning. The weathervane flaps in despair…
Who was Seuss channeling when he wrote this? Sylvia Plath?
Seriously though, the one bright spot of this special is the music which, I will admit, is pretty catchy. This song, in particular, is probably my favorite, in spite of the fact that it makes me cry like a cake-deprived Delta Burke every time that I hear it.
After shooting a basketball that goes straight through the termite-infested floorboards of his house-not-a-home, Pock gives up. He pleads to the heavens for some way to escape his woeful existence. He cries out to the heavens above: "Oh how I wish wish WISH I could get away from it all!"
Cue magical, Irish-accented faeries and their benevolent intervention.
The faeries offer Pock a piano that he can use to travel anywhere in the world. Each colored button on the device denotes a specific region to which he can visit. As you can see in the image above, none of the buttons on this magical contraption are labeled. That will actually end up being a plot point later on, but it’s a terribly unrealistic design oversight if you ask me. These faeries have apparently mastered the art of piano-based flight, but they never bothered to think about the importance of a friendly user-interface. Steve Jobs would be spinning around in his grave if he saw this shit…
Pock uses his piano to fly to Grugan, a place that couldn’t BE anymore stereotypically Scandinavian. The citizens yodel, plays tubas, and say things like: “Tuberfloogan!”
From a narrative perspective, I’m not even sure what the point of this interlude is. Pock flies around like a moron, divebombing innocent yodelers for shits and giggles, until he finally gets blasted out of the sky by the Grugan national army’s trendiest non-lethal: The Glooey Gun.
I’m sure you can guess what it shoots.
Pock manages to fly home, but the faeries are PO-ed because he f*cked up their magical piano (which was, apparently, a rental).
The faeries almost rescind their gift, but they decide to give Pock one last chance. They fix the piano and send him off to Kasbahmopolis which ends up being JUST AS RACIST as it sounds. Once Pock lands there, he marvels at the proliferation of camels, veils, facial hair AND it is there that Pock meets his indigenous love interest: Neefa Feefa the…-Are you ready for this?- "Famous. Eyeball. Dancer."
I’m not sure why they couldn’t just say “Belly Dancer.” Maybe it sounded too sexually provocative to be designated as such in a kid’s cartoon. But let me assure you that when Neefa Feefa dances, it is NOT just with her eyeballs. If it’s just a matter of propriety, I wish I could go back in time and talk to Dr. Seuss about this. I would tell him:
"Hey, Theodore? Eyeball dancer just sounds awkward, not less whore-ish. I’m not calling her a ho, but if that’s your concern…well…what’s that saying about a rose by any other name?
Why mince words, Teddy? Homegirl’s a stripper.
The one recurring theme in this f*cked up movie seems to be job dissatisfaction. Neefa gets to sing two numbers for the overweight king (re: Sultan) of Kasbahmopolis. Both songs openly express her disgust for her current profession as well as a desire for something better, someone better who could help her escape from her life of eyeball dancing and (I’m just guessing here) sex slavery.
Pock tries to help her escape with his piano, but Neefa Feefa falls off at the last minute and falls into the waiting arms of the royal guard The piano doesn’t have any breaks, so Pock ends up wandering from realm to realm, ever searching for Neefa Feefa because he is unable to remember the color of the button that corresponds to Kasbahmopolis. (See? I told you it would be a plot point!)
Finally, Pock recalls the correct color and manages to locate Neefa. He crash lands on top of the tower in which she is being imprisoned.
Side Rant: Okay Sultan of Kasbahmopolis, if you knew some dude with a flying magical piano was after yo’ girl, WHY OH WHY would you imprison her at the top of a tower? That’s what DUNGEONS are for, dude. Damn.
So anyways, Pock crash lands on the tower and runs over to Neefa. Neefa embraces her love and then cries out how she wish wish wishes they could “get away from it all.” The very same faeries who aided Pock in the begining come to the rescue, taking the lovers back home along with the mangled magical piano.
In the final number, Gill-Rockefeller-Gickler gives Pock one last chance at working the assembly line of his Pickle Empire, and wouldn’t you know it? Pock correctly pulls on the pullums and pushes on the pushums! What’s more than that, he gets to work alongside his lovely, liberated ladyfriend….Neefa Feefa.
If I had to squint and try to make out some sort of message here, it’s that soul-crushing drudgery is significantly more bearable when you do it with people you care about.
Also, maybe it’s not where we are or what we’re doing…but who we do things with that really matters.
That’s the only thing that really changes for Pock during the course of the movie. Escape mean nothing if you don’t have someone to come home to. Happiness isn’t about status or location, but the relationships that we form along the way.
Like I said…it’s a weird movie.