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Archive for the ‘Cartoons and Shit’ Category

Pinocchio

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

In 1992, Walt Disney Animation was on an undeniable upswing. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT had been a smash in ’88, THE LITTLE MERMAID reignited their musical fairy tale formula in ’89, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was so respected in ’91 that it got a best picture nomination, and they had ALADDIN coming out in November. It would be funny if they felt the need to re-release classics in the summer to sabotage potential competitors, since ROCK-A-DOODLE and FERNGULLY were long gone by June 26th, 1992 anyway. But I think this was just a reliable money-making technique they had developed, to release an old one in the summer and a new one at the end of the year. Remember that in last year’s summer of ’91 retrospective I got to review the re-release of 101 DALMATIANS, which was really not needed to stave off ROVER DANGERFIELD, in my opinion.

The “WALT DISNEY’S CLASSIC” for 1992 was the studio’s second-ever animated feature, PINOCCHIO, returning in celebration of its 52nd anniversary, I guess. 1940 was the same year Daisy Duck made her debut in Mr. Duck Steps Out, Bugs Bunny made his in A Wild Hare, Woody Woodpecker made his in Knock Knock, Abbott and Costello made theirs in One Night in the Tropics, and Captain America and Bucky made theirs in comic books. It was the year of Charlie Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR, the year DUNKIRK happened, the year Winston Churchill became prime minister, the year the first McDonald’s opened, the year nylon stockings came out. Pretty long ago. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mad God

Friday, July 15th, 2022

MAD GOD is a bizarre stop motion journey through the large intestine of a nightmare. It’s hard to describe (or know) what it’s about, but its version of the STAR WARS opening scroll is an actual scroll inked with a menacing threat from Leviticus. It ends, “I WILL MAKE THE LAND DESOLATE SO THAT YOUR ENEMIES WHO SETTLE IT SHALL BE APPALLED BY IT. AND YOU WILL SCATTER AMONG THE NATIONS AND I WILL UNSHEATH THE SWORD AGAINST YOU. YOUR LAND SHALL BECOME A DESOLATION AND YOUR CITIES A RUIN.”

Gee, thanks God!

The God of this movie may or may not be a weird priest played by REPO MAN director Alex Cox, one of a few live action characters seen briefly. He’s the one who sends a character I know from reading is called “The Assassin” – a man in a gas mask who is lowered in a diving bell past towers and rocks and layers of dinosaur bones and stone idols to a war-torn wasteland. He seems to be on a mission to set off a suitcase of dynamite deep in the earth, and most of the movie is a long journey downward, following an ever-crumbling map.

People who demand a strong narrative will melt into a puddle and be lapped up by weird crab monsters with human teeth. There’s a story here, but it’s all dream logic, told with mood, atmosphere and symbolism, not words. There’s virtually no human language that can be heard clearly – just some grunts like in those original Aeon Flux shorts. The score by Dan Wool of Pray For Rain (Cox’s guy since SID & NANCY) is crucial, but so is the sound design by Richard Beggs (TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, CHILDREN OF MEN), which helps bring life to these inanimate objects. It’s all ticking clocks, whirring servos, tinkling music boxes, puttering engines, rattling cages, crackling flames, clicking gears, flittering wings, collapsing earth, air raid sirens, explosions, gunfire, gnomes chirping like Jawas, babies crying in the distance, and most of all the sounds of the Assassin’s thick coat shifting around, and his boots crunching into dirt. (read the rest of this shit…)

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 1)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

“This ‘weird creature’ is a human!”


FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST is a well-meaning but not so great movie that was more successful than most of the non-Disney animated features in this very strange early ‘90s period. It didn’t make a ton of money, but it seemed to capture the imagination of some kids, and even got a DTV sequel in 1998. I would venture to guess it will be the most normal animated feature of summer ’92, but like most of the movies that were trying to compete with Disney without doing something drastically different from them, it feels kinda off and out of touch.

It reunites PUMP UP THE VOLUME couple Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, this time with Mathis as the lead and Slater as the jealous secondary boy in her life. Mathis (before SUPER MARIO BROS.) plays a hummingbird-sized fairy named Crysta, and Slater is her shirtless male friend Pips. They fly around and can turn into blue and green (respectively) light and they live in a rainforest that’s supposed to be in Australia and has kangaroos and platypuses living in it. Also there are little goblin guys voiced by Cheech and Chong who fly around on large beetles, but I was a little distracted that they sit on top of their wings, so the beetles seem to just magically float. (read the rest of this shit…)

Toxic Crusaders

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

Murakami Wolf Productions was an American animation studio founded in 1967 by Jimmy T. Murakami and Fred Wolf. Murakami was an animator at the UPA studio and then co-directed the live action Roger Corman films HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS in addition to animated features like WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and segments of HEAVY METAL; Wolf had been an animator on The Alvin Show and The Flintstones before directing such hippie era TV artifacts as The Point, Free to Be… You & Me and Puff the Magic Dragon. In the late ‘80s the toy company Playmates hired Murakami Wolf’s new satellite studio in Dublin to produce a mini-series based on a culty black-and-white comic book to test the waters for a possible line of action figures. It was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and you may remember the hubbub – cowabunga, fight for rights and your freedom to speak, Michelangelo is a party dude, etc.

Several years later, after the entire world had been shaken to its core by the effects of Turtle Power, I guess it seemed to some of those guys like any weird underground shit could be magically turned into a massively lucrative, completely inexplicable pop culture phenomenon. According to Lloyd Kaufman’s book, an agent named John Russo asked if he’d ever considered making his unrated gore and boobs franchise THE TOXIC AVENGER into a G-rated kiddie cartoon, and introduced him to Buzz Potamkin, Emmy-nominated producer of the Berenstain Bears cartoons, the Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue anti-drug PSA and Hawaiian Punch commercials. Potamkin and Murakami Wolf proposed turning THE TOXIC AVENGER into a kid friendly cartoon – an idea that became one 13-episode season of The Toxic Crusaders, which aired in syndication between March 1st and May 20th, 1990. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Animatrix

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

A widely circulated anecdote about THE MATRIX (I believe coming from an interview on the DVD extras) says that when the Wachowskis pitched the movie to producer Joel Silver they showed him Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime film GHOST IN THE SHELL on video and said, “We wanna do that for real.”

The internet being the internet, that story evolved into the usual exaggerations – THE MATRIX is nearly a scene-for-scene remake, so close they had to ask permission, bullshit like that. There’s a cool video on Youtube showing images from THE MATRIX that seem inspired by or lifted from GHOST – lines of green code, plugs in the back of necks, a cool way that Neo lands – but it runs 1:16. There are quite a few other parts in THE MATRIX, in my opinion.

Still, the influence is undeniable, and the Wachowskis have been open about it. You can see what they were interested in there: the intersections between man and machine, super-powered battles in the midst of or above a large city, badasses in sunglasses taking on a bunch of armored cops, or being clawed at by inhuman machines. They did all that for real. (read the rest of this shit…)

101 Dalmatians / Rover Dangerfield

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Earlier this year I did a week of rock ’n roll related animated features, including Don Bluth’s ROCK-A-DOODLE, which was released on August 2, 1991 in the U.K. (though not until the following April in the U.S.). In that review I talked about Disney struggling in the ‘80s, and Bluth disagreeing with their direction and splintering off to try to recapture the old Walt magic, doing a pretty good job for a while but then completely losing the plot by that time, when he made that completely befuddling movie about a farm rooster exiled to animal Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Disney was finally getting their shit together, in a way that reinvigorated the entire American animation industry. It kicked off in the summer of ’88, when Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams’ love letter to animation history WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was a giant hit with adults as much as kids. Then in ’89 THE LITTLE MERMAID perfected the musical fairy tale formula that Disney and its rivals would attempt to recapture for the rest of the decade. (A similar thing was happening on TV, with every network trying to make prime time cartoons in the wake of The Simpsons. Even the cartoons made for younger audiences were beginning to be more creative and less disposable: Nickelodeon debuted Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show on August 11th.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Raya and the Last Dragon

Friday, March 26th, 2021

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is the new Disney animated feature – the computer animated type they’ve been doing since TANGLED. This one is certainly in the Disney mold, and technically about a princess, I guess, but it’s not a musical. It’s a fantasy action adventure set in a mythical ancient kingdom called Kumandra.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, THE LAST JEDI) narrates a prologue explaining the whole deal. People and dragons used to live together in Kumandra (cool!) until these fucking pricks called the Druun, who are basically whirlwinds of smoke and chaos, rolled in and turned all the people to stone. The dragons used their magic to create an orb that saved the humans and expelled the Druun, but that turned all the dragons to stone. The humans were saved but fought over the orb and divided into trabies called Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail, named after their respective regions along a dragon-shaped river.

500 years later young Raya’s dad Benja (Daniel Dae Kim, HELLBOY), the chief of the Heart tribe, trains her in martial arts and acrobatics to protect the orb. She also has an adorable animal pal called Tuk Tuk (voice of Alan Tudyk I, ROBOT, but don’t worry, he doesn’t talk) who’s like a cross between some furry marsupial and a potato bug – he folds into a ball and rolls around to help her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock-a-doodle

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Let me give you a behind the scenes on the making of this review series: I had been meaning to revisit HEAVY METAL for a million years, and one day when I had kind of an itch for that weird vibe of early ‘80s animated fantasy I finally did it. Then I thought hey, I should also watch AMERICAN POP again, that would make a good review pairing. And then I thought hey, I’ve always wondered what was up with that ROCK & RULE movie, it could be a series. And then late in the game I thought “Oh shit, that would be funny to end on ROCK-A-DOODLE! I finally have a reason to watch ROCK-A-DOODLE!”

Obviously this one is really different than the others. It turns out it’s not much about rock ’n roll, and I already knew it wasn’t trying to be adult or edgy like the other ones. That’s not why I skipped it in 1991 – I wasn’t opposed to watching G-rated animation. It was the year of ROVER DANGERFIELD, after all! Just kidding, I didn’t watch ROVER DANGERFIELD. Until later. But BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that year and it was nominated for best picture, so this was pretty much the exact moment in the U.S. when the “adults don’t watch animation” attitude was starting to get pushed back.

It’s directed by Don Bluth, mentioned previously in this series as one of the Disney-influenced alternatives to Disney in the ‘80s. In fact, he was an offshoot: starting as an assistant animator and moving up to directing animator, he worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE RESCUERS, PETE’S DRAGON and THE FOX AND THE HOUND. But later in that run he felt so strongly that the Disney movies weren’t living up to the classical animation legacy of Walt and the generation of artists he’d learned from that he and some of the other animators gathered at his house in their off hours to make an independent short, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, from an idea that the studio had rejected. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock & Rule

Friday, March 5th, 2021

Somehow HEAVY METAL was not Canada’s only rock-soundtrack-animated-fantasy-feature of the early ‘80s. ROCK & RULE (1983) combines the sci-fi/fantasy genre with a story about rock music, as the main characters are a band and the villain is (at least according to the opening text on the American version) a “legendary superocker.” The opening credits list all the bands on the soundtrack before the cast.

This was the first feature film from Toronto-based animation studio Nelvana Limited, who actually turned down an offer to animate HEAVY METAL because they’d been developing this since the late ‘70s. Previously they’d done TV specials like A Cosmic Christmas and The Devil and Daniel Mouse, but I know them for their weird, rubber animation on the Star Wars Holiday Special, which led to them doing the Ewoks and Droids cartoons.

ROCK & RULE takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where (again, according to the text in the American version, unexplained in the original) “The War was over” leaving only dogs, cats and rats alive, and “a long time ago” those evolved into “a new race of mutants.” In other words, it’s a “funny animal” cartoon, where humanoid animals rule the earth and either humans don’t exist or maybe they’re being milked on a dairy farm or something off camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

Heavy Metal

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Six months after AMERICAN POP we got another animated-feature-for-adults-with-a-rock-soundtrack. This entry in the ink, paint and rock ‘n roll mini-genre is not directly about the music, but heavily emphasizes its soundtrack, basing sequences around it not quite like FANTASIA, but not completely unlike it. And some of the visual subject matter definitely shares its DNA with the kind of stuff they put on the album covers for this kind of music.

HEAVY METAL was based on the comics anthology magazine Heavy Metal, which is an English translation of the French magazine Métal hurlant. If they had translated the title literally it would’ve been HOWLING METAL, so it would’ve sounded about fifteen to twenty times cooler, but I bet it wouldn’t have been turned into an animated feature with a soundtrack featuring Sammy Hagar, Nazareth and Black Sabbath. And Devo and Blue Öyster Cult and Cheap Trick and Journey and Grand Funk Railroad and Stevie Nicks. And Riggs? Not the same one we’re thinking of, I don’t think. I don’t know who Riggs is. But he has a song on this.

The movie originates from Canada, specifically producer Ivan Reitman, whose directorial work STRIPES came out the same summer. He’d also produced serious genre movies SHIVERS, THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE and RABID, so this movie being much more of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror type deal than a comedy is not completely out of the blue for him. He’d also produced NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, making him a pioneer of cinematic adaptations of magazine brand names. I wonder if he ever tried to do HIGHLIGHTS’ GOOFUS AND GALLANT? If not they must not have Highlights in Canada, because that’s just a no-brainer. (read the rest of this shit…)