A middle-aged married couple (voiced by Jay Brazeau and Ida Osler) are playing Scrabble at home one day, and while her choice of letters have been pretty fortunate, all he has to use are every E tile, which is causing him no end of frustration that he cannot afford to show, and is holding up the game. The wife grows tired of waiting and tells her husband to call her when he has made his move, then goes off to attend to a spot of housework, vacuuming the carpet. And the bath. And the attic. Meanwhile, he takes advantage of her absence to switch on the television and secretly watch his favourite show, Sawing for Teens. What could possibly go wrong?
What went wrong for the characters is what went right for the viewers, as The Big Snit went on to be one of the most beloved Canadian cartoons of all time. It was one of a plethora of animations produced by that venerable body The National Film Board of Canada, which made an international name for itself by producing high quality short films and documentaries (there were a few features too), along with those cartoons which practically guaranteed entertainment for those who stumbled across them on television down the years, and now the internet is a fine way to discover their excellence. The most celebrated animator among their ranks was Scots-born Norman McLaren, but he was just one of many talents gracing the organisation.
Take Winnipeg resident Richard Condie, whose highly eccentric style, possibly inspired by his location (idiosyncratic Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin was also from that city, one of the most isolated in the world), brought some of the most distinctive Canadian cartoons to something approximating a cult success, and delighting anyone who happened to find them by accident or pure luck. In this case it was easy to be caught up in the sheer eccentricity of the project, with such details as the wife being irritated by her spouse's habit of sawing the furniture, or vice versa her habit of shaking her eyes to get them back in alignment, yet there was a curious philosophy to The Big Snit as well.
That was introduced thanks to one of the big obsessions on the planet at the time this was made, the possibility of everyone getting wiped out in a nuclear war. When the husband drops off while watching his TV show, it is interrupted by a news flash informing the audience that it's finally happened, World War III is underway and none of us stand a chance, whereupon the cat bites through the TV cable and stops the broadcast, just in time for the husband to wake up none the wiser. That said, he does wonder why everyone outside is running around in a panic, but muses it might be a parade of sorts, and besides, he has more pressing things to consider as his marriage is not in a healthy state thanks to he and his wife constantly being on the verge of bickering.
By contrasting this personal tale with the global disaster outside, Condie, who was nominated for an Oscar as well as winning a clutch of other awards for this, achieves a tone that subtly points out among the surreal gags that it is the stuff that relates to us on a one to one scale that affects us most, as when it comes to the terrible events that happen in the world there's not much we can do about them other than lament them, unless we are involved and even then we feel buffeted along by fickle fate. The couple we see remain unaware of what is about to happen, so it is that Scrabble game that brings them to their squabbling - we can see they both have their faults - and what makes this surprisingly sweet is that before Armageddon occurs they remember just what it was that they loved about each other in the first place. Sure, there were plenty of laughs thanks to how weird and awkward the characters were, but it's the poignancy that made it all the more memorable, a combination rarely as accomplished as it was here. What do you do when the world ends, anyway? Music by Patrick Godfrey.