There are certain scenarios that are often used in animated shorts. For example, it seems like most major cartoon characters have been involved in a bullfight at some time. Bugs Bunny has done it, so has Goofy, Popeye and others. Another favorite is putting these characters into the wide world of sports…and that includes baseball. Today, Woody Woodpeckers steps up to the plate in the 1943 animated short The Screwball.
It’s the day of the big game between the Drips and the Droops. The stadium is packed and those without tickets spy on the game through knot holes in the fence. That is, until a cop starts jabbing the poor fans in the eye with his club. Not content with watching through a hole in the wall, Woody Woodpecker sneaks in.
Woody spends the first part of the game in the stands. He has some issues with his seat, including dealing with a fan with a huge mane of hair blocking his view. He also has to deal with the cop who continues to try and kick Woody out. He ends up getting a soda in the eye for his efforts.
Before long, Woody makes his way down to the field and ends up a part of the game. He has a wicked screwball which ends up literally twisting up the batters’ bat like a corkscrew. When the batter tells him to, “toss me that apple,” Woody obliges by throwing an actual apple. Eventually, Woody’s antics end up with him being pursued by both the opposing team and the cop.
I grew up watching Woody Woodpecker shorts on UHF stations when I was a kid, so they will always have a special place in my heart. I admit, though, they can be somewhat hit or miss both in terms of humor and animation quality. This is a very strong outing for Woody, however. Woody can be a difficult character for some people to take. Let’s face it, sometimes he’s a real jerk. In this short, though, he feels a lot more playful. He starts the short watching the game with the excitement of a child spending a day at the ballpark for the first time. He ends up becoming more crafty when his enjoyment of the game is spoiled by others. I can certainly understand his motivation this time around.
The gags in this short are solidly funny. As brutal as it is, I love the first big gag of the film, where the cop pokes fans in the eye as they stare through the knot holes. Seeing each of them holler in pain, one by one going down the line, just strikes me as hilarious. It’s also nice that the film takes comedic jabs at both the fan experience as well as the game itself. As much as I love the game of baseball, it is also ripe for being poked fun at. This short does a more than effective job of that.
Woody Woodpecker is not usually one of my favorite animated characters, but The Screwball is one of his better outings. When it comes to animated characters playing baseball, he deserves a spot in the starting lineup.