28 December 2015


Grisu: Watchdog

This year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the little patron saints of Shredded Cheddar, with the debut of a whole new blog series! I've picked a cartoon because little innocents can't see a cartoon without knowing it is for them--and since children should have good cartoons, I have selected what is arguably one of the greatest cartoons of all time.

When I first wrote about Grisu, I mentioned that the main motivation of his character is to be a pompiere or Feuerwehrmann. It's a simple enough dream, and if the supporting characters didn't keep trying to get him to do other things, the story could have been told in a streamlined two-hour animated feature instead of over twenty-eight ten-minute episodes. As it stands, we can think of Grisu as Dirty Jobs with a little dragon standing in for Mike Rowe (or Peter Schmeichel =P).

As I've already mentioned, this is an Italian cartoon with a fantastic German dub, so I'll be watching it in both languages. I like to think that Grisu is pretty much universal, though the changes from Italian to German can also be quite revealing of the differences between the two cultures.

"Come complicato vivere con un padre insensibile a problemi ecologi!"
(How hard it is to live with a father who is insensitive to ecological problems!)

"Es ist sehr schwer, mit einem Vater zusammen zu leben, der keine Ahnung von oekologien Probleme hat."
(It's so difficult to live with a father who has no idea about ecological problems!)

[Remember that I'm new to Italian and still a little clumsy in German. If you see any mistakes when I use either language, I would appreciate it very much if you'd let me know!]

No big difference here--and nothing too unfamiliar for English speakers. Grisu's relationship with his more traditional father Fume is definitely that sorry trope of the child protagonist being smarter and more moral than his supporting character parent or guardian. Nor would the pressing environmental issues of the 1970s be strange to present-day viewers: we have our own hot topic in "global warming" and if Grisu were ever rebooted, the above lines could probably make the transition unscathed. (I hope Grisu is never rebooted.)

But something that I'm sure would change is something that was already changed when the Italian was Germanised . . .

"Noi draghetti progresisti contestiamo il rollo tenebroso imposto ci delle tradizione!"
(We progressive dragons challenge the dark role forced on us by history!)

"Er weisst nichts von Oekologie und nichts von Fortschritt! Alles was er kennt ist gute alte Zeit und Tradition."
(He knows nothing about ecology and nothing about the future! All he knows is good old time and tradition.)

This is Grisu breaking the fourth wall to tell the viewers what he is all about. In the Italian, he makes a concise verbal manifesto. In the German, he insults his father a little bit more. (LOL!)

But the Italian has the sharper edge for me, because of a book I read a few months ago: The Jesuits by Father Malachi Martin. One Jesuit-supported heresy that Father Martin tackles head on is Modernism--the idea that religious truth can evolve into something substantially different from what it was before. It may be an abstract theological concept, but it has become so popular in recent times that it shows up even in our cartoons. "Progressive dragons," indeed! In case it's not clear: yes, I'm saying that Grisu's rebellion against both his nature and his father is Modernist propaganda for the children of what was then one of the most Catholic countries in the world.

(You might also be interested in my Thirteen Things about The Purge
--a film which is all about rebellion against fathers.)

In the German version, the modernism is mixed with a greater emphasis on ecological matters. You may remember that acid rain (der sauer Regen) caused quite a scare in (West) Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. It was such a huge issue that one of my (Filipino) German teachers, who was in uni at the time, nearly turned down a full scholarship to a German university because she didn't want to live in a country that seemed to be turning into an ecological wasteland. So it makes sense that German producers would want Grisu to say a few words in support of the environment . . . even if they are also words in condemnation of his own father.

"Allora, draghetto, qual buon vento ti porta?"
(So, little dragon, what good wind brought you here?)
("What is your reason for coming?")

"Lieber Grisu, was konnen wir denn diesmal fuer dich tun?"
(Dear Grisu, what can we do for you this time?)

The other father figure in Grisu is Sir Cedric, whom our little protagonist recognises as his benefattore or Woltaeter. When we have two examples of what we normally have only one of--such as fathers--I sit up and take notice. Sometimes it's just a splitting of the character into his "good" side and his "bad" side; and sometimes (as we see in The Purge) it's someone trying to replace the character who has the right to be there with an interloper. In children's stories, from Jack and the Beanstalk to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, we usually get the first situation. Which is my long-winded way of saying that Fume and Sir Cedric are the same person.

Every episode I've seen so far follows the same format . . . Grisu leaves Fume (Father Figure #1) in his charred valley, symbolising a break with the (dead?) past, and seeks out Sir Cedric (Father Figure #2) in his modernised medieval castle, to ask for the latter's help in becoming a fireman. But while Sir Cedric seems more supportive of Grisu's dream than Fume, his idea of being a good patron is getting Grisu to consider all sorts of other occupations instead. In the very first episode, that other occupation is the part-time job of guarding the McDragon/McDragoon castle while the usual watchdog, Stufy/Staffy, is at the vet.

"Devi sappere che un cane di guardia deve sappere distinguere dell'amici dei suoi padroni dal loro dei nemici. "
(You should know that watchdogs should know how to distinguish their masters' friends from their masters' foes.)

"Der Wachhund musst zuerste . . . wissen wer zu den Freunde und wer zu den Feinde deines Herren gehoert. "
(The watchdog must first . . . know who are your master's friends and who are your master's foes.)

So how do you think Grisu fares on his first day at his first job? To find out how he works through this scrape, you can watch the episode on YouTube in either Italiano or Deutsch. (I believe French and Spanish dubs are also available . . . somewhere.) Or just ask me in the combox. =)

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