Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"There's nothing wrong with having to... comb your face!"

Here's another odd little nugget of female lycanthropy. Season 1, Episode 9 of Johnny Bravo includes 'A Wolf in Chick's Clothing':

As you will no doubt have noticed, the storyline here shares features with Wizards of Waverly Place's 'Beware Wolf' episode. A hapless male decides to look for a date in the personal ads (though in the newspaper, rather than the internet). He contacts a woman who seems perfect; he meets her and is besotted; she turns into a werewolf. Again, the scenario is played for laughs, and the male character ends up escaping the werewolf and swearing off dating for good. In addition to this, both children's programmes feature strikingly harmless-looking lycanthropes - creatures that are more likely enthusiastic puppies than maneating beasts.

However, 'A Wolf in Chick's Clothing' raises some interesting issues for me, particularly when I consider the character of 'Fluffy' (in human form). Though all the characters in Johnny Bravo are stylized to some degree, Fluffy seems to be rather inhuman in appearance. Her body and dress is reminiscent of Daphne from Scooby Doo, but her face is oddly featureless and sharp. She is a vampish seductress with a sultry voice, and when she appears in Johnny's imagination, there is a hint of menace to her approach. Finally, shortly before her final transformation into 'Melvin', Fluffy is able to swing the musclebound Johnny around with ease and eventually lifts him off his feet.

In contrast to her human form, Fluffy as a wolf seems sweet and innocent. Her face is expressive, breaking out into a big grin and showing genuine joy at the prospective of frozen tofu and free ice-cream. She cries at the thought of being considered hideous by others. Despite the sharp teeth (which are only shown at one point in the cartoon), it is very hard to see what is so terrifying about this werewolf. She certainly doesn't show any predilection for attacking humans - although she reacts angrily to the waiter's suggestion that she might like a 'doggie bag'. The change in Fluffy appears to make her 'fluffier'.

Johnny himself is not frightened by the werewolf. He is happy to endure their date on the promise of her returning to human form at dawn. He appears somewhat repulsed by the wolf form, offering her breath mints and asking her to cover her face before they go to a restaurant. I would suggest that this werewolf is more grotesque than frightening. This is underlined by the final gag: after enduring Fluffy's nighttime wolf form, Johnny is frustrated in his attempts at getting a kiss when she transforms into something even worse - a small bald man named Melvin, who wears ill-fitting underwear and collects stamps. At this transformation, Johnny finally runs away.

In his analysis of same-sex relationships in cartoons, Jeffrey P. Dennis suggests that this episode of Johnny Bravo shows that 'in his [Johnny's] universe, men's bodies are by definition disgusting'.* While it is true that the most 'disgusting' thing Johnny has to deal with here is the figure of Melvin and his stamp collection, I would suggest that this cartoon also sends a clear message about female sexuality. A vampish seductress, we are led to believe, is never what she seems. There is a grotesque side to feminine charm - note the subtle, but clear, references to a female body hair and bodily functions, for example.

This episode of Johnny Bravo is not a hugely significant text in the female werewolf canon. Nevertheless, I think it is an interesting little piece, as it demonstrates an aspect of the she-wolf that is present in many other representations. It is not the slobbering wolf, here, but the attractive woman who is dangerous. It is the sexy human form that is deceptive, and thus poses the greatest risk to the male hero. Johnny, like Alex in Wizards of Waverly Place, learns his lesson at the end of the episode, and swears to stay away from women from now on. He decides to 'take up something safer... like shark wrestling!'

This episode of Johnny Bravo carries a message that can be found in countless other films, TV shows and novels:

Female werewolves are not dangerous because they're werewolves - they're dangerous because they're female.

* Jeffrey P. Dennis, 'Queertoons: The Dynamics of Same-Sex Desire in the Animated Cartoon', Soundscapes, vol. 6 (June 2003).

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