Saturday, 31 May 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Blanc Cheques

He was "The Man Of A Thousand Voices". Mel Blanc, who would've turned 106 years old yesterday, manipulated the pipes behind the most popular cartoon characters ever made - Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely. That was only 6 of them. Can you name the other 994?

Let's face it. You can't have 1,000 voices and expect all of them to be A-list. I'm assuming there are a few of these voices you may not have known about. Last year, I reminded you of his contributions to Woody Woodpecker. That probably falls into the 300-400 range. But what about the 900's and above? What are the jobs that Mel Blanc took, that even he himself would've considered "dethpicable"? 

Today, I am not-so-proud to present 996-1,000. The rather obvious cheque cash-ins. The Top 5 Least Important Mel Blanc Voices Ever Heard.


Mel provided the voice for the title character from George Gately's comic strip, in this series which ran between 1984 and 1988. (later titled Heathcliff and The Catillac Cats)  It's not a particularly bad purr-formance, but it's certainly not his most original. Much of the time he sounds like Bugs Bunny, except when he's literally saying the word 'meow'.


This character was 1 of 4 featured in a terrible cartoon called Galaxy Goof-Ups, which was hastily created in 1978-79 to cash in on the space craze set forth by Star Wars. Classic Hanna Barbera mainstays Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound were jettisoned into space against their will to join nobody newbies Scare Bear and Quack Up, voiced by Mel Blanc. Quack Up sounds like a sped-up Daffy Duck, with more of a "lishp" than a "lithp", if that make sense. It's truly embarashing (sic) to say the leasht (sic). I would cry out in protest, but in space, no one can hear you scream. 


This isn't the first time Blanc made car noises. He would do the occasional sputtering sounds in Warner Bros. cartoons. But in 1973's Speed Buggy, he received title billing for it! Only 16 episodes of the show were produced, and all of them aired on all 3 of the major networks - first on CBS, then ABC and later NBC. I would think the lack of laugh track would've definitely upped the appeal, which was rare for a Hanna Barbera series at the time.

Blanc also performed the sputtering of Chugga-Boom, the old gangster car driven by The Ant Hill Mob in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. (1969-71)  You can also hear him as a giggly Mob member named Yak Yak, below at the 5:55 mark. 


This sports-themed Flintstones-like Hanna Barbera cartoon called Where's Huddles? aired in prime time during the summer of 1970. Not only was it similar to The Flintstones in time-slot, but it also featured similar plot-lines, characters and voices. Jean Vander Pyl, who portrayed Wilma Flintstone, starred here as Ed Huddles' wife, Marge. Mel Blanc once again voiced the neighbour, Bubba McCoy, who sounded virtually identical to Barney Rubble.


Not sure if this is true or not, but apparently Mel Blanc performed Charlie Brown's grunting(!) in this Olympic-themed TV special from 1979. You can judge for yourself when you hear it below at the 3:00 mark as Chuck takes to the weight bench. Do you even grunt, bro?

I'm not sure about you, but this list has left me feeling very depressed. Mel Blanc was much better than this. So let's leave on a rare, but high note. 

Here's a funny Pink Panther cartoon from 1965 called 'Pickled Pink', where Mel not only performs the voice of Drunk, but also Drunk's Wife. It's a crude performance, but definitely funny - and not something you'd be prone to hearing in the usually silent Pink Panther series.

There! That wash (sic) a niesh (hic) change of paesh, washn't (sic) it? 

That'sh (sic) All Folksh (sic)! 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - R To G

The following movie clips were all viewed by a group of TV executives who collectively decided, "Hey, this seems like quality family entertainment we could expose our nation's youth to!"

As I was writing last week about the unreleased Aliens cartoon, I was reminded of a bunch of other R-rated material turned G-rated. Here are some of the weirdest examples...


Shockingly, this show makes no bones about the fact (right in the theme song!) that Alex Murphy is murdered and turned into a cyborg. In fact, Clarence Boddicker from Paul Verhoeven's original film is seen here as the same murderer. Clarence makes an actual appearance in the series, in the 12th and final episode called 'Menace Of The Mind'.

Other movie characters also appear in the show, including Officer Anne Lewis, OCP chairman "The Old Man" and Dr. Tyler. 

Not long after the cancellation of The Animated Series, another more jokey series was released called RoboCop: Alpha Commando (1998-1999), which featured some of RoboCop's previously unheard-of enhancements, like fast-action roller skates(?). And...uh...a very literal cloaking device.


In the cartoon version of Rambo, there is decidedly less decapitation. Rambo, depicted as more of a loner in the movies, is part of an elite group of freedom fighters who take on a terrorist organization called S.A.V.A.G.E. (Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion)  His teammates all have descriptive (and mildly racist) code-names like in the G.I. Joe TV series, including Turbo, White Dragon, T.D. "Touchdown" Jones and uh...Chief. Yes, just Chief.


Many of your favourites from the film series are here and even less funny - Mahoney, Larvel Jones, Sweetchuck, Hightower, Tackleberry, Callahan, Proctor, Lassard, etc. Thankfully there's also a group of talking dogs to add to the high-larity! None of the original voice actors appear in the cartoon, although The Fat Boys make guest appearances! They also do the show's stoopid dope theme song.


Similar to the film series, this confusing Canadian cartoon takes itself WAY too seriously, telling the story of Quentin, the last of the MacLeods - descendant of Connor MacLeod from the original Highlander. While certainly ambitious (and even highlighting a few beheadings!), Highlander only lasted 2 seasons. Some episodes have been cut together to form a feature film called, Highlander: The Adventure Begins.

TOXIC CRUSADERS  (1990-1991)

Toxie was a far more respectable freak in this knock-off of Troma's low-budget Toxic Avenger series. In it, Toxie takes on a much less violent fight on Earth's behalf against the evil forces of planet Smogula, who need to create pollution to survive. Toxie receives help from his fellow crusaders - No-Zone, Major Disaster, Headbanger, Junkyard and Toxie's magic mop, which now has toxic-enhanced thinking capabilities. There were only 13 episodes of the series made, which "Uncle Lloydie" from Troma helps to explain at the beginning of this episode called 'This Spud's For You!'. 

I won't include Conan The Adventurer (1992-1993) and/or Conan and The Young Warriors (1994) on this list as it's based more on the novel series by Robert E. Howard than the feature films starring Arnold Schwarzennegger.

Not that there isn't lots for kids to like about those films...

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - AnimALIENation

I wouldn't say this post is dedicated to the late H.R. Giger. That would be an insult, as I'm pretty sure he wouldn't appreciate being connected to this unfortunate and little-known footnote in the Alien franchise.

The year was 1992. Alien 3 was slated for release in May of that summer. Misguided executives at FOX felt the need for an animated series which would coincide with the film, to make oodles of money a la Ghostbusters, which had recently been re-branded as a successful kiddie franchise. The cartoon was to be called Operation: Aliens.

Never heard of it? That's because it was never released, presumably because of Alien 3's poor box office returns. FOX pulled Operation: Aliens before it could be released in Fall of 1992, and left behind only a smattering of stills and a random assortment of merchandise that quickly moved to department store discount bins. 

You'll note in the above commercial that there's a Bull Alien. Here's a commercial that showcases a flying Queen, along with Gorilla Aliens.

The action figure line is said to hint at the concept behind the unreleased Operation: Aliens, which was to feature movie characters from the far more colourful and action-figure friendly Aliens (1986) battling hybrid versions of the creature, which could take on characteristics from animal hosts like bulls, gorillas or...uh...crabs?

It's not known whether or not the animated stills are from an actual produced pilot or just a theme song, but it gives an interesting look as to what could've been. Weirdly, characters who were killed in Aliens are still showcased here. It isn't exactly known who this would've appealed to. Kids? Nerdy sci-fi fans? I would assume it wasn't really known at the time, and chalk it up to a period where networks just threw shit to a wall to see what stuck. 

Due to the late cancellation of the cartoon, Operation: Aliens still existed as a toy line briefly, in merchandise that couldn't be discontinued in time. The toy brand was later shortened to Aliens.

Later to try and rekindle interest in the toys, they also released Aliens Vs. Predator toys, without a TV series or movie (at the time) to help promote it. Or is that Aliens Vs. Preda-TORE?

LOL! Love that Willow Smith Predator - whippin' her hair back-and-forth!

Anyway, I hope they can release that Operation: Aliens footage on YouTube, or as an upcoming Blu Ray extra. It couldn't have been any worse than some of the other R-rated adult series-turned cartoons that saw the light of day - some of which I figure we should take a look at next week, for whatever reason. Be there? I guess.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Take It Outside

Last week, when I assembled a sleep-steeped playlist, I realized that I failed to include one of my all-time favourite cartoons. And I'm glad I did because it helped me to remember a bunch of other all-time favourites (as is usually the case when I write this blog), and I realized we had the capacity to investigate another sub-genre of cartoon, which I've tentatively labelled for lack of a better term...the "in-and-outie".

You know the routine. It's a classic set-up. Protagonists are given explicit instructions to keep quiet or stay out of sight. Then the antagonist decides he/she can't have that, and will do everything in his/her power to break that silence. After that, it's a 5 minute test of resilience as we learn the lengths that the poor sap protagonist will go to in order to stay out of trouble - even if it means popping off one's own head to go outside and belch.

The set-up was basically the birth-child of gag guru, Tex Avery. He first established it in 1952's 'Rock-A-Bye Bear', where Joe Bear, voiced by Daws Butler (like Huckleberry Hound on steroids), is simply trying to hibernate in his unusually posh winter den. Spike, who is usually Droopy's foil, is put to the difficult task of keeping things QUIET! But his puny pound-mate aims to get him fired. Or just pounded in a different sense of the term.

Speaking of job shake-ups, one of the last things Tex Avery did before quitting MGM was remake 'Rock-A-Bye Bear' as a Droopy cartoon. It's called 'Deputy Droopy' (1955) and it's one of my top 3 favourite cartoons of all time - superior to 'Rock-A-Bye Bear' in my opinion. If you can move past Droopy's suddenly weird low register, you'll find one of the funniest, most intense gag cartoons ever produced. Some of it's a direct re-hash of 'Rock-A-Bye Bear'. But all of the gag greats like Chuck Jones and Hanna-Barbera repeated themselves. It's all in the presentation. Like any good joke, sometimes it's worth repeating - but you can re-tell it in ways that make it sound fresh and funnier.

Like the Road Runner and Tom & Jerry, 'Deputy Droopy' takes some well-worn gags and builds around them frenetically. It's relentless. And I love some of the daft animation and character designs. Note the sheriff's bow-legged swagger, or the way the 2 outlaw mutts meld into the walls as they sneakily slide out of the scene. I love the exaggerated lines of action that pop from gunfire and slaps to the dog's face. And how about that freakish, snake-like cat?

Reportedly around the time he left MGM, Tex Avery, then in his late 50's, was prone to saying he was burnt out. Perhaps not surprisingly, within the one year he worked for Walter Lantz's studio, he made yet ANOTHER one of these "in-and-outies" - this time, as a Chilly Willy vehicle. (even though he barely appears in the film)  It was called 'The Legend of Rockabye Point'. (1955)  Perhaps not reflecting very well on the series itself, this rehash is easily the best Chilly Willy cartoon ever made. And perhaps not reflecting well on that particular year either, 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Warner Bros.'s 'Speedy Gonzales'.

Avery only made 2 Chilly Willy's - 'Rockabye Point' and 1954's 'I'm Cold'. Both aren't particularly inspired. But even warmed-over Tex Avery is still better than 80% of the other cartoons out there - always with a moment or 2 of something amazing that you've never seen before.

That unhinged dog jaw is a favourite example of mine. In an excerpt from Joe Adamson's "The Walter Lantz Story", animator LaVerne Harding recalled Avery teaching her that there was no reason why a jaw spreading 180 degrees, couldn't move to 270 degrees in a cartoon. "From then on, I remembered - just go as far as you can, and then go further," she said.

Ironically, Avery's career didn't go much further after his brief stint at Walter Lantz. But his legacy lives on. And to me, these 3 films are highlights - even though they're still virtually the same short.

Often imitated (like Tom & Jerry briefly did in 1958's 'Royal Cat Nap') but never duplicated - Avery's work, even the lesser, is always simple and stupendously funny, 50+ years later. 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Slumber Party

I started writing and compiling this at 11:49 pm last night.

I'm tired.

So tired.

Every one of my blog posts over the past 4-6 weeks has been started around this time. Started as in, "okay, I guess this is what I'll write about for tomorrow". Work has eaten away at my personal freedom of late, and I find myself straining to conduct any form of creative writing. I certainly haven't had time to do any advance research to post anything informative, which I feel I should apologize about to my 2 frequent readers. But sheer stubbornness has forced me to stay awake and typing, even if the actual content is rather scant, which it is this week. It's nothing more than a sleep-skewed playlist. A series of snorers putting the BED in embed codes. A cartoon slumber party.

Ironically though, even when I do supply actual content, it's boring enough to make (yawn) everyone else...drowsssssszzzzzzzzzzzdddfffgggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg

Sorry about that. I just nodded off and my head hit the keyboard.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - More Couch Guests (Of The Simpsons)

I just love these couch gags by guest stars at the beginning of recent episodes of The Simpsons. You may recall my gushing over these from last year. Guillermo Del Toro, Bill Plympton, John Kricfalusi, Banksy - all of them provided their own unique openings to the theme song, many of which deviated from the show's previously rigid character designs.

The last batch of gags we watched came out over the course of a few years. Now they're arriving with greater frequency. This new set was seen over the past couple of months.

Sylvain Chomet broke the Internet 7 weeks ago with his beautiful and detailed look at FOX's first family, illustrated in a similar old-timey vain to what you'd see in his feature films like The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist. This was at the beginning of the March 9th episode of The Simpsons called 'Diggs'. It's a brilliant minute's worth! And right away, you recognize Sylvain's own stylistic "je ne sais quoi" before he's even credited.

In an article I was reading in the UK's Beak Street Bugle, I learned that Sylvain and Simpsons' creator Matt Groening knew each other many years ago from the film festival circuit. Sylvain also met Simpsons' voice actor, Harry Shearer, by chance, who admitted to being a big fan of Sylvain's work. But it wasn't until a parody from a Season 22 episode called 'Angry Dad: The Movie', that The Simpsons became top-of-mind for Sylvain again. Someone brought the clip to his attention, which he loved. 

You can check it out at the 11:40 mark by clicking the pic below. In fact, the whole episode is worth a view for its skewering of the animation industry in general. 

Sylvain was later asked by The Simpsons crew if he'd like to contribute a couch gag, which he agreed to. When asked for guidelines and input, the show runners gave no specifics, to his surprise. Creative carte blanche! So Sylvain decided to create a French version of The Simpsons, filled with stereotypes like snails and accordions. A picture of French president Francois Hollande hangs on the wall, as does the SS France which replaces the usual framed boat painting that hangs over The Simpsons' couch. 

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that all of The Simpsons are wearing glasses. This was done because Sylvain's characters never have large eyes. By giving them glasses, it better fit into his character design. 

Check underneath the pic of l'Homer if you'd like to watch a short behind-the-scenes video re: Sylvain's process.

The next guest contributor I noticed recently was an unknown by the name of Katie Hemming, who received credit as "Canadian Couch Gag" writer after an episode that aired April 13th called 'Days Of Future Future'. This seemed weird to me because the timing wasn't long after the last Simpsons couch gag contest, which I told you about in my last couch gag post. That winner (Ray Savaya) was flown into Hollywood to meet The Simpsons crew and get autographs. But as it turned out, The Simpsons crew enjoyed Katie's submission much better (ouch! - Ray's win was decided upon by fan voting), so decided to use her gag as well.

The Burlington resident, who attends film school in Toronto, didn't get to go to Hollywood as a result of this, which is kinda bunk. But she did receive a Simpson-ized photo of herself from the show's animators. Sure, she could've made one herself on-line by uploading a photo,, let's face it. She was totally screwed! But she did earn additional bragging rights, as her couch gag was aired globally, not just on Global (in Canada) like Ray's clip was.

Here's her runner-up submission seen 'round the world involving bubble wrap...

And then there's THIS amazing piece, which airs in front of this Sunday's episode called 'What To Expect When Bart's Expecting'...

The animator behind this trip through Homer's brain isn't as well-known as a lot of the other previous talents, like Banksy or Bill Plympton. Poland's Michal Socha based his Simpsons couch gag on one of his similar-looking 2008 shorts called 'Chick', which he said was modelled to emulate the graphic title design of Saul Bass. 

Both clips are a mixture of 2D and CG animation. In an interview with Animation World Network, Socha talked about how he benefited between the 2 methods.

"At the beginning, we thought we could animate the Simpsons family with classic frame-by-frame technique. After a couple of tests, we have found that we are not as good 2D animators as we thought! Our tests tended to lose characters and proportions. That was not acceptable. In this case, it was very important that each black silhouette reminds you of Homer, Bart or Lisa. Classic frame-by-frame technique could take much longer to finish the couch gag. We wanted to keep this animation in 2D style, [which] is why we mixed those 2 techniques to achieve a better result."

Their original couch gag idea didn't pan out, but planted the seed to look into Homer's inner workings. 

"The origin of the idea for "inside" couch gag was just 2 simple drawings," he said. "Family laying on the couch. Tomato slice falls down from the top of the screen, then cheese, ketchup and the top of sandwich. Big hand grabs sandwich with family, and we see that it is Homer that eats family sandwich. It was too short for a couch gag. We have to ask questions [about] what could happen after? We have found [a] whole bunch of ideas [about] what could happen inside the body of Homer."

I can't wait to see what's cooked up for the couch in weeks and years to come, which so far includes up to 26 seasons. 

On a related note (not couch-related, but certainly Simpsons-related), you may be interested to know that a Simpsons "LEGO Spectacular" will air next Sunday, May 4th. 

Called 'Brick Like Me', the 550th episode of the series will revolve around Homer trying to make a choice between a utopian LEGO universe and the "real" world. Not unlike the set-up of The LEGO Movie, I guess.

The episode was made in official partnership with the LEGO Group, who will be releasing Simpsons LEGO sets and official collectible mini-figures. They've been working together on the episode for a couple of years now, but apparently the relationship between the 2 parties started long before, when LEGO approached The Simpsons about guessed it...a couch gag. 

For being such a big brand, you have to respect the LEGO Group for seeing potential in comedic trust. 

"We're pretty picky about how our brand is represented," said Jill Wilfert, the LEGO Group's VP of licensing and entertainment, in an interview with TV Guide. "No one at the show is used to dealing with creative output from the outside, so there was certainly some back-and-forth to get it all right. But, at its core, the LEGO brand is all about creativity and imagination. We respect that in others.

"This was a chance for us to be a little edgier than we might normally be," she said. "And because we'll likely bring younger viewers to The Simpsons, it was an opportunity for them to be more family-friendly."

As someone currently working in marketing and promotions, this gives me new-found hope in building (pun intended) a better tomorrow between clients and the brand. If The Simpsons and LEGO can work it out, so can we, right? That's how I'm going to end every meeting from now on.

Hey, wait a minute! Is LEGO in any way related to BLOCKO? And will it have the longevity to prevail during the holiday shopping season?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Reused and Recycled

We probably shouldn't be associating this Tuesday's Earth Day with traditional animation. Think about it. How many trees died to provide doodling paper? How many painted celluloid sheets were discarded and burned after use? How many factories churned out millions of pencils at the expense of forests and ozone?

What a depressing start to this post!

Okay, we're not going to celebrate Earth Day in a traditional sense. There will be no 'Best Of' Captain Planet and The Planeteers in the foreseeable future.

Instead, let's take a look at reused and recycled animation from the past few years.

Animation studios didn't reuse animation because it was good for the environment. They did it because it saved money, and could potentially be accessed during a time crunch.

The depression era was an obvious time where penny-pinching was a necessity. Hundreds of 1930's and 1940's Warner Bros. cartoons made frequent reuse of key scenes.

Take a look at 1931's 'Lady, Play Your Mandolin' - then check out some portions of the cartoons to follow.

1931's 'You Don't Know What You're Doin' turns the scared drunken horse from Mandolin, into a scared drunken dog at the 6:11 mark.

You may recognize a familiar horse ride at the :58 mark in 1931's 'Bosko's Fox Hunt'.

'Goopy Geer' from 1932 reuses that same scared drunken horse (6:37), along with lots of other similar scenes and a few recycled (but redrawn) gags.

Sometimes the cartoons were "remakes", but still reused a lot of the same footage. Check out this side-by-side comparison between 1938's 'Porky In Wackyland' (directed by Robert Clampett) as it compares to 1949's colourized 'Dough For The Do-Do' (directed by Friz Freleng).

***NOTE: You may want to mute this clip as the music gets really annoying.***

Sometimes the cartoons were just "clip shows", comprised of previously released cartoon segments surrounded by new connecting filler. Warner Bros. did a lot of these in the 1960's when the studio (like all studios) started shutting down their theatrical animation units, which they couldn't afford to run anymore.

In 1963's 'Devil's Feud Cake', you can see the change in animation quality from the 1940's footage to the 1950's and 60's stuff. Three cartoons were plundered to make this "new" short - 1952's 'Hare Lift', 1955's 'Roman Legion Hare' and 1955's 'Sahara Hare'.

Here's another weird example of Warner Bros. frugality of the time - 1965's 'The Wild Chase', which pairs up the Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales in an awkwardly conceived cross-country race, pulling in old footage and reanimating select scenes in a desperate attempt to fill 6 minutes.

Warner Bros. would revisit and effectively profit from this technique with their TV specials and feature films throughout the 1970's and 80's, which also rehashed vintage era Looney Tunes.

If you're interested in learning more about this on a VERY detailed level, this will probably cover it.

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were revolutionaries (for good and bad) when it came to cost-cutting, as they streamlined a bare-minimum style of animation for their Saturday morning TV programs. Backgrounds would sometimes repeat dozens of times over as characters chased each other.

Disney animators, though more respected in their craft, were just as guilty for reusing work as anyone else. But I think because of their pedigree, it wasn't noticed as much. Many of their feature films between the 1930's and 1980's re-work key sequences. Watch the below and see if you can keep track as to how many references there are! A couple of scenes meant to be homages are mistakenly included, but these clips seem to contain the most genuine footage in the shortest period of time.

And then there's the most recycled cartoon product ever conceived - 1967's Spider-Man by Grantray-Lawrence, and then later Ralph Bakshi's Spider-Man by Krantz Films. The TV show started with many recycled stock shots of Spidey swinging through the city. But by the time Bakshi took over with a dramatically reduced budget (slashed from an already dramatically reduced budget), suddenly entire episodes were being reused, which you may remember me blathering about last year.

And if that wasn't cost-effective enough, Krantz also took entire episodes of another one of their series, Rocket Robin Hood, and turned them into episodes of Spider-Man, with barely any differences whatsoever! Rocket Robin Hood's 'From Menace To Menace' was turned into Spider-Man's 'Phantom From The Depths Of Time', and Rocket Robin Hood's 'Dementia Five' is now more widely known as a cult classic episode of Spider-Man called 'Revolt In The Fifth Dimension'.

I mean, didn't it seem weird when you were a kid that this masked teenager was suddenly able to travel through time and space on a rocket ship? Whollopin' websnappers, were we ever gullible!

And if that wasn't enough of an insult, also consider they had the audacity to include a CLIP SHOW! THE WHOLE SERIES WAS BASICALLY A CLIP SHOW!!! But at the end of Spidey's third season (the last episode of the original series), they actually did an episode with flashbacks to previous episodes.

This year, I nominate Ralph Bakshi for Earth Day Ambassador! (note to self: try and search out photos of Bakshi where he isn't smoking)