Saturday, 23 February 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Wrestlemania!

Wrestling was BIG when we were kids. Gigantic! My brothers and I had the official wrestling bendy figures and would slingshot them at each other using the official wrestling ring. We listened to the official wrestling album, featuring the official musical stylings of Hillbilly Jim. And we watched the official wrestling cartoon when we visited Grandma and Grandpa's house and could pick up official wrestling TV signals from Fargo.

I felt those were much different times, but apparently wrestling is just as big now, as evidenced by this shocking development...

John Cena has replaced Fred Flintstone as the official box-front shill for Fruity Pebbles! At least for the next few months. Cartoon purists (all 8 of them) were up in arms over this decision, hurt by the sad and brutal honesty of the cereal spokespeople, who admitted that Fred Flintstone was no longer the relevant endorser of breakfast products he once was. Truthfully though, if we (all 8 of us) could set aside our nostalgic whimsy for a moment, we'd realize this decision is an act of marketing genius, as I later learned this was a tongue-in-cheek nod to a repeated reference by wrestling cohort, The Rock, who had been comparing Cena's colourful wardrobe to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Sorry Fred, but that considered - it's a pretty smart branding move.

It's also a surprising move considering Hulk Hogan threaten to sue Post, makers of Fruity Pebbles AND Cocoa Pebbles, back in 2010 over this commercial...

Hulk claimed the 'Cocoa Smashdown' spot was “unauthorized and degrading” to his character, and that the name of Hulk Boulder was originally his, before his boss, Vince McMahon, told him to substitute it for something "more Irish". A settlement was confidentially reached and the commercials were dropped. Good thing too! Because up to that point, Hulk Hogan was renowned for quality control...

That was sarcsam, by the way.

I wonder how Hulk feels about a character called Beef Burrito, as seen on Cartoon Network's Regular Show?

Beef Burrito is a throwback to WWE (WWF, back then) Wrestling Buddies, which kids of the late 80s/early 90s will remember.

The tie-in was seemingly SO successful, that Regular Show actually released their own Wrestling Buddy line, based on costumes the characters wore in another wrestling-themed episode called 'Really Real Wrestling'. Note the mock logo on the lower packaging.

I don't think there are any release plans for a Beef Burrito doll yet. Hulkamania would definitely run wild on those legal proceedings.

Hey, speaking of Hulkamania, did you know that in Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling, The Hulkster was voiced by Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond? Actually, none of the wrestlers in the series were portrayed by the actual wrestlers themselves. They were all performed by voice actors, probably so that WWE bosses could pocket more money for themselves. But the wrestlers appeared in live action vignettes throughout.
One wrestler who didn't appear was the late Randy "Macho Man" Savage. And I'm willing to bet the reason why is because there's no one on Earth who could replicate a voice like that. Randy Savage WAS a cartoon character! And cartoon creators knew it, casting him in several projects over the years, including King Of The Hill, Family Guy, and Disney movie, 'Bolt', to name a few.

Here's a hilarious episode of Space Ghost: Coast To Coast where Macho Man portrayed Space Ghost's grandfather...

I also tried to find a clean upload of a cartoon he did called 'Rasslor', which was an episode of 'Dial M For Monkey', which was a middle segment aired during Season 1 episodes of Dexter's Laboratory. Couldn't find one, so you'll have to seek out a download. In it, Savage portrays an intergalatic wrestler named Rasslor. Kind of a stretch, I know, but it ended up being his finest and funniest performance.

Here's an episode of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, which was a funny claymation series pitting celebrities against each other in no-holds-barred battle royals. Former wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin (the real one) was a frequent guest-commentator. Vince McMahon (the real one) also appeared in an episode.

Wrestling continues to be a mainstay for new and upcoming animation. There was 2004's ¡Mucha Lucha! about a group of young Mexican wrestlers-to-be; Adult Swim put out a new series in 2011 called Mongo Wrestling Alliance; and based on this new cereal deal, you won't be surprised to learn that the WWE has also partnered with Warner Bros. to release a Wrestlemania-themed Scooby-Doo movie, to be released direct-to-DVD sometime next year. Unlike Rock N' Wrestling, wrestlers in the film will be portrayed by the wrestlers themselves, including John Cena and a bunch of other people I don't know.

There are tons of other funny wrestling cartoons out there. Check out 'Rasslor' from Dexter's Lab, Spongebob Squarepants in 'Krusty Krushers', and the debut of Gender Bender in a Futurama episode called 'Raging Bender'. All of these are great cartoons, but to me the main event is between Bugs Bunny and Ren & Stimpy. Which one do you think takes the title belt, if you had to ref?

As you can tell by my shirt, I've already picked a winner. Also, it's the only wrestling clothing I have that still fits me, brother! Too many vitamins, I suppose.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Pardon My French!

As I was posting about Pepé Le Pew last week, I started remembering all of these American cartoons that had French influence, and figured with Festival du Voyageur underway, it'd be a good time to watch them. Some, like the above commercial and a few of the films below, involved nothing more than the verbal addition of a 'zee' instead of 'the'. Others, even though they still played 'zee' language for laughs, could still inject a little culture into the mix.

Before we get into the mangling of a once-beautiful language, let's highlight why American cartoons owe a lot to the French. For one thing, cartoons wouldn't even exist if it weren't for Émile Cohl.

Émile Cohl (Courtet) is credited as being the "father of the animated cartoon". Born in Paris, the son of a linen seamstress and a rubber salesman, Émile had more artistic leanings than his parents did, as a puppeteer, caricaturist, playwright, toy-maker and comic illustrator. But he is most renowned for a 1908 film called Fantasmagorie, which is widely considered to be the first fully-animated film ever made. It showcases a glowing stick-figure clown, styled similar to images you'd see in a fantasmograph, which was a 19th century lantern that projected floating images onto a wall. Cohl had a significant history in animation, including other short subjects and a series called 'The Newlyweds'. But after a stint in the war he was forced to live in poverty, as live action films became more popular and more affordable to make.

So the French helped to make Saturday mornings better for all of us. And this is the way we paid our respects, yes non?

Prior to reminding you of Hanna-Barbera's Powerful Pierre, it is with much guilt I admit this space once showcased Alexander Alexeiff and Claire Parker's haunting pinscreen film, Une nuit sur le mont chauve. (Night On Bald Mountain) That is, until I deleted it. It took 2 years for them to make that 8-minute film back in 1933, opening to rave reviews in Paris. But it only took me 15 minutes to deem this 'Uckleberry Hound cartoon to be more important. It isn't that it's more culturally relevant, to be clear. It just fits the theme of this blog better. These ramblings are for the Cap'n Crunch crowd - not the Müslix masses. I want to give you some history and perspective, but not at the expense of fun. So by all means, YouTube Alexeiff and Parker's work. But do it tomorrow. Still, I promise we'll try and class this post up a bit shortly, so bear with me.

While we're discussing Hanna-Barbera, ever heard of a character called Toot Sweet? Snooper and Blabber took several of his cases - 3 to be exact. (Poodle Toodle-oo!, Fleas Be Careful and Flea For All)

Toot Sweet was hardly an original. Tex Avery had fleas (pun intended) six years prior while he was working at MGM. The Flea Circus showcased a mostly-French cast, centered around stars Fifi and François. You may recognize François as the voice of Droopy. (Bill Thompson)

Also at MGM during this period, Hanna-Barbera had much classier output in Tom & Jerry cartoons that contained actual (!) French and some proper cultural acknowledgement, specifically Alexandre Dumas' 'The Three Musketeers'. This series featured Jerry and his sidekick, Tuffy (who shares the same voice as Fifi from The Flea Circus) and their adventures as the King's Mousekateers. There were 4 cartoons in this series - The Two Mousekateers, Touché, Pussy Cat!, Tom and Chérie and Royal Cat Nap. The second one, Touché, Pussy Cat!, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1954.

I mentioned Pepé Le Pew above. One of my favourite cartoons of his (and his last), Louvre Come Back To Me!, is less about stalking cats and more about wreaking (reeking?) havoc in Paris' Musée du Louvre. Great gags involving many famous pieces of art, and funny character designs for the locals.

In 1965, brought upon by the success of 'The Pink Panther' (both the movie and cartoon character), the film's lead, Inspector Clouseau, was given his own animated likeness, starting with the opening of feature film, 'A Shot In The Dark', and continuing in his own cartoon series called 'The Inspector'. The first film (in a series of 34) was directed by Warner Bros legend Friz Freling, who also directed the first Oscar-winning Pink Panther short. The Great De Gaulle Stone Operation was shown in theatres before screenings of the James Bond film, 'Thunderball'. The theme music for this and every Inspector cartoon was the same written for 'A Shot In The Dark', by Henry Mancini. Stereotypes abound in this one! And not just for the French!

In watching these, have you picked up any French yet? If not, this episode of 'Dexter's Laboratory' could teach you a thing or two. Actually, it'll only teach you one thing. A single solitary thing.

After all of that, we'd be remiss if we didn't take time to highlight a few legitimately French films that fit within the contexts of our Saturday morning. I have 3 great cartoons in mind.

The first is a feature film, which I can't post here. Also I don't have enough cereal to cover that kind of time commitment. So when you get a chance, download/rent/buy 'The Triplets of Belleville' by Sylvain Chomet. It's a fun film with fantastic cartoony characters and animation. His most recent movie, 'The Illusionist', is also great. He does wonderful things using traditional animation, which you don't see much in this Shrek-saturated world. Both movies are definitely worth a look (and a freeze-frame or two). While you're waiting for it to download, or if you've already seen the movie, check out this bizarre short he made with a comedy troupe called The Franz Kafka Big Band.

Here's another short with great character design by Nicolas Marlet, who also worked at Dreamworks on 'Kung Fu Panda'. The Oscar-nominated French Roast, directed by Fabrice O. Joubert, is proof that in the right hands, a computer-animated film doesn't have to lose its cartoony appeal. I'm talking to you, Shrek.

And of course, there's the Canadian-classic, The Sweater, by Sheldon Cohen. Regardless of your team of preference, The Sweater is a sweet story about the pressures of childhood, and a proud celebration of our country and the unique culture therein.

Oh hey, speaking of "The Rocket" - did you know Rocket J. Squirrel's buddy, Bullwinkle, was originally French Canadian? Creator Jay Ward intended him that way, in a story pitch for 'The Frostbite Falls Review', which featured a cast of animals who ran a TV network. The series would later evolve into 'Rocky And His Friends', then 'The Bullwinkle Show', where the moose seemed more...Minnesotan?

It's too bad I had to introduce that Bullwinkle fun-fact. Now we're stuck in Minnesota. Maybe I should do a post about Minnesotan cartoons? We could discuss Minneapolis-born Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, and the 1980 movie he wrote where he sent Charlie Brown...TO FRANCE!!! We're back, baby!

Okay, how do you say "quit while you're ahead" en français? Ah, this is close enough...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Love Stinks

Pepé Le Pew.

In English, that translates to Pepé The Skunk. At least according to the fractured French that creator Chuck Jones and his gag man Michael Maltese invented. Panicked residents upon sight of Pepé cry, "LE PEW!" or "LE KITTEE QUEL TERRIBLE ODEUR!" or "LE YIPE!" Ah, the language of love! This probably had some bearing on my low test scoring back in high school French class. 

Truthfully when I was younger, I wasn't really into Pepé Le Pew. It's like somehow I felt I wasn't sophisticated enough to be enjoying it. But as you mature (and I use that term loosely), you realize these cartoons are about language, lust and the id impulses you always kept in check. Pepé Le Pew is id personified. A horny little skunk with narcissistic tendencies. The perfect subject for a Valentine's Day-themed blog post!

Chuck Jones gave conflicting stories as to Pepé's origins. At one point he said he was based on Termite Terrace co-worker Tedd Pierce, a writer who thought of himself as a bit of a ladies' man. More recently he said Pepé was based on himself - a representation of his dormant id, like Buddy Love in 'The Nutty Professor'. The voice (by Mel Blanc, natch) was based on a character played by Charles Boyer in 1938's 'Algiers', a remake of a French film called 'Pépé le Moko'.

He was first featured in 1945's 'Odor-Able Kitty' (with a different, less sophisticated name), and it didn't follow the well-known formula of most Pepé cartoons we know today. Perhaps most jarringly different was his relationship status.

On the rebound in 1947, Pepé was seen dating again, experimenting with different species.

Five years later, in the Oscar-winning 'For Scent-imental Reasons' (1949), the regular set-up was established with the introduction of "la belle femme skunk fatale", who is really just a cat with a white stripe down her back. She became officially known as Penelope, despite the fact she has different names throughout the series. Here we see Pepé as full-on lothario, at times resorting to rather awful mind-games in order to win over his "little peanut of brittle".

In 1953, Pepé's relationship was "open", as he revealed a fondness for the rough stuff.

By 1954, Pepé only had eyes for Penelope again, but developed a few psychological issues, as evidenced by the conclusion of 'The Cat's Bah'. Note how he also became 'The Continental', long before Christopher Walken.

I've always admired how Chuck Jones created the coolest and most collected of cartoon characters, who could still be vulnerable, but not at the expense of their cool. His version of Bugs Bunny was confident enough to play the fool at times. And he applied that trait to Pepé Le Pew as well in later outings. My favourite cartoon is called 'Two Scents Worth', because it best displays these attributes and turned Pepé into a more physical comedian. Also it has my favourite line - something about the "ack-ack" of love.

As is the case with many older cartoons, you have to watch Pepé Le Pew as a product of his time. People have referred to the cartoons as being sexist. Do a Google search (or don't) and you'll find some interesting memes.

Admitedly there are some horrifying connotations in some of those above entries. But I like to include a seldom seen 1959 cartoon as a point of reference, where Pepé isn't portrayed as sexual instigator. In this cartoon (the only one that isn't directed by Chuck Jones), it's Penelope (or Fabrette, in this case) who initiates the chase. But it ends up a mutual love that these two have for each other, and it's sweet to see the extent they're willing to go to make their relationship work.

Based on the last official Pepé Le Pew cartoons, concluding with 1962's 'Louvre Come Back To Me!' (which I'll highlight in a separate post), it was unclear as to whether or not Pepé and Penelope were still an item.

But then 47 years later, this conveniently-timed AT&T commercial confirmed everything we had secretly hoped.

Vive l'amour!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Super Bowl Edition

With about 24 hours left until Baltimore vs. San Fran, figured we should pre-game by pouring ourselves a (Super) Bowl of vitamin-charged Quisp (or Quake) and watching a few football cartoons.

Let's kick-off with Popeye in 'You Gotta Be A Football Hero' from 1935. Not the greatest Popeye episode, but you always find at least one gut-buster in all of Max Fleischer's cartoons. And in this episode, for me, it's Popeye's horse-like gallop down the field, holding that football like it were a baby in need of a change table. There's other funny stuff too, but that run cycle kills me every time.

Stats and Standings: The original voice of Popeye, William Costello, who apparently had an ego the size of Popeye's forearms, was fired after the making of this cartoon, because he asked for a vacation in the middle of production. He was then replaced by MVP Jack Mercer, who voiced the character into the late 1970's.

Next, we forward-pass a decade (1944) to watch Goofy(s) teach us 'How To Play Football'. These 'How To' shorts (many of which involved Goofy playing sports) are hands-down my favourite Disney releases, because even though there's still beautiful Disney animation, it's strictly played for big, dumb laughs. 'Fantasia', this ain't. There are some hilarious smoking sequences in here, which you'll never see on TV again.

This cartoon was nominated for an Academy Award, with good reason. The names of the players are also names of Disney employees, which frequently occurred in other Goofy sports cartoons.

Then we rush another decade to 1959, with Yogi Bear in 'Rah Rah Bear'. Yogi has no real interest in sports. He's a victim of circumstance, walking that noisy walk of his to Chicago to help his fellow "Bears", only to be immediately chased home again to Jellystone Park by helicopter. It's by no means a classic, but it's still fun. A dog with a blog I know has an excessive and wondeful amount of information about this cartoon (including music cues!) along with all other manner of Hanna-Barbera stuff from this era. His name is Yowp, which is also a sound effect you might recognize if you're a Yogi Bear fan.

Now, in the home stretch, the most Super Bowl-specific cartoon you could imagine - a TV special from 1994 called 'You're In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown', directed by Peanuts regular Bill Melendez. Truthfully, I had no idea it existed. I found it while I was looking for a clip of Lucy pulling the football away. It happens in this program too, but it's surrounded by 20 additional minutes of animals playing sports, and a punt/pass/kick competition for a new bicycle/trip to the Super Bowl.

This relatively uninteresting cartoon has a very interesting history...

1) It was the first Peanuts special in nearly 30 years to air on NBC instead of CBS. NBC had Super Bowl broadcast rights that year.

2) It was the last special to be televised before the creator of Peanuts, Charles Schulz, died in 2000. He has a writing credit here, similar to the other specials. Everything after that would be direct-to-video release, except for 'A Charlie Brown Valentine' in 2002. (which aired on ABC)

3) This is the only Peanuts special unavailable for home video or DVD. The reason? Someone would have to pay royalty fees for use of the official NFL and team logos on the signage and uniforms.

Speaking of which, if Charlie Brown's helmet is any indication, we know who he's cheering for tomorrow.

Anyone need more cereal? It's packed with "go-go-go"!