The Early Worm gets the Bird

“Who’s-a scared?”

Supervision by Fred Avery; Story by Jack Miller; Animation by Robert Cannon; Musical Direction by Carl W. Stalling. A Merrie Melody released on January 13, 1940.

A short that starts with a cotton field? That can only mean one thing… Yep. Blackbirds. So of course they look like stereotypical black people. At least they don’t do much insulting. (If you can take the opinion of an uneducated white guy.) Birds can automatically escape the “big lips” treatment, and there’s no Stepin Fetchit homages.

A mother bird puts her chicks to bed. Two sleep, but the third one, Willie, decides to so some reading. His book is entitled, “The Early Bird Gets The Worm.” (It’s probably about ibexes.) He likes what he reads, but his nestmates really couldn’t care less. His mom isn’t too thrilled either. That book is way out of his age range, but that’s not the only reason she doesn’t want him learning.

Seems like the food chain doesn’t end at them. In fact, while birds hunt worms, they in turn are hunted by foxes. Large creatures with teeth. I think they look something like this:

(Note the lack of empathy.)

The threat of death by vulpine is enough to keep the other two chicks in bed, but Willie will not be deterred. He sets his alarm clock early, so he can be an early bird, and catch an early worm. (Then he’ll have plenty of time left over to write that novel he’s been yammering about. Talking won’t make it happen!)

Come morn, Willie slips on his clothes and sneaks out. He’s not the only living thing up at such an ungodly hour. Something is stirring. The cartoon seems to think it’s a worm, but it has legs, antennae and pants. But I guess a worm it must be. I’ll call him Mickey. He finds the book Willie’s mother tossed away the night before, and figures he might as well see what this “early bird” looks like. (I do hope you’re careful Mickey. You’re kinda freakin’ adorable.)

Predator and prey meet, and prey tries to hide. He is briefly able to lose his pursuer by pretending to be a bee in a flower. This scares Willie off, even leaving a bit of a ghostly image behind. (I can’t tell if that was intentional.) Mickey reveals that it was him hiding, which means Willie is willing to ignore anymore buzzing and leap into another flower that holds a REAL bee.

Enter the fox. Willie just assumes that this new creature is also hunting the “worm.” The fox goes along with it, but as Willie talks, he realizes that his new friend has all the features his mom told him foxes have. (Except green eyes. Those are not green eyes, and I know green eyes. I’ve been attracted to them.) The fox prepares a bird sandwich, which leaves Mickey with a choice: let his hunter fall prey to nature’s gran plan, or save the squirt, possibly ending his own life in the process.

Mickey chooses option Bee. He gives the insect’s flower a good shake, then gives his rear end the same thing. Angry bee on the loose! Mickey leads him right to the fox, and the fox gets stung. He’s not allergic to bee stings, so he doesn’t die, but his bottle of catsup does break on his head, and he is led to believe that he is bleeding. (Which probably would be more believable if it wasn’t HIS catsup.) Still, he falls for it and runs off to seek medical assistance.

Willie goes back home, his mother none the wiser to what he’s been up to. She comes to wake her children up and asks what they would like for breakfast. The first two nestlings request worms, of course. But the other two would prefer something a little less familiar. Luckily, we end before Mickey is no doubt torn to pieces by hungry avians.

Favorite Part: When the fox first appears, he introduces himself with two signs. One says, “The Villain.” The other, “As if you didn’t know.”

Personal Rating: 2

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