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Movies, ads do just fine on wild side

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The Chihuahua brings Taco Bell more attention than anything it's slapping on tortillas and what does the mutt get?

It gets Eugene Tackleberry'd, as in the gun-nut cop of "Police Academy" fame who responds to miscreants by rat-a-tat-tatting them with a smiley-face pattern and a message: "Have a nice day."

Ay caramba, what's an elephant-eared rat-dog have to do to please the honchos around here?

The restaurant chain says its sales are off 6 percent, so the pooch must vamoose.

Is it just me, or could there be some other reason for the quiet cash registers?

I mean, the most interesting thing I can remember happening inside a Taco Bell for quite a while is that time a few months back when the University of Kansas football player tried to climb through the drive-thru window because they were taking too long dropping the chalupas on him.

Personally, I haven't been around anyone running that frantically for the border.

And I don't know what's up with the downturn in burritos, but I do have a feeling 86ing the K-9 could be a big mistake.

Not only did the agency that dreamed up the Chihuahua get its trademark"Yo quiero Taco Bell" into mainstream jargon. Madison Avenue and Hollywood have always done OK when turning to the wild kingdom for marketing and programing.

Chatty dogs, gabby tabbies, mouthy mice, yakky yaks — whatever — have always pulled in the audiences.

Some of it, at least, goes back to Francis the Talking Mule, who not only made a batch of movies, but pulled off two fairly extraordinary feats besides simple vocals.

First, he created an acting career for Donald O'Connor, who, if not for Francis flicks, would have had to do a lot more hoofing for a living than the mule.

Second, the voice of Francis, as colleague Larry Weist reminds, was none other than Allan "Rocky" Lane, star of such outstanding shoot-'em-ups as "El Paso Stampede" and "Desperadoes Outpost."

The Rockster was a silent oater star. Francis gave him a talkie gig.

From such humble origins of the yapping species, we arrived at the point where an entire entertainment empire and town billing itself as the "most visited place on earth" came into being because of . . . what?

A mouse.

But then Mickey and Francis are but two animania success stories. Critters have been so pervasive in popular culture, we can name a Hall of Fuzzy Fame, can't we?

Mine would have to include:

Best doggie: Easy. Lassie. Built a career out of going "woof" while humans went, "You say Ranger Rick's fallen down a ravine with a broken leg and we should hop in the pickup and go rescue him, girl?" at which point Lassie goes "woof" again.

Best kitty-cat: Pink Panther for introducing us to Clouseau.

Best horsie: El Kabong of "Huckleberry Hound" toons, who apprehended criminals by kabonging them on the noggin with his guitar. I never saw Trigger come close to that.

Best mousie: Mickey never did anything for me except produce Annette Funicello. My man's Stuart Little. I wanted to adopt that little dude and take him fishing.

Best scaly thing (sometimes-land division): No contest. The Frank ("Who's your daddy?") and Louie lizards of Bud fame.

Best scaly thing (seagoing division): Got to be a place here for the Chicago Cub of the animal planet, Charlie, the un-Starkist tuna. Never won the big one, but still played out the string in long major-league career.

Best birdie: When you've said Fog, I say, Foghorn, Leghorn, you've said it all.

But the Washington and Lincoln of the Great Royal Organization of Woodland Linguists (GROWL) have to be Arnold, the pig who had only to snuffle to be the best actor on "Green Acres"; and Sandy, the dog who became a comic icon simply by going "arf" at Orphan Annie.

But then Arnold had to work with a Gabor, and Sandy hung with someone with no eyes.

And the Chihuahua thought he suffered for his art.

Gib Twyman's column runs Saturdays. Please send e-mail to gtwyman@desnews.com , faxes to 801-237-2121.