Saturday, 25 May 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - C Is For Cartoon

C is for cereal. And C is for cartoons!

For me, watching Sesame Street was never just about Muppets. There were also those great inserts between puppetry that totally caught my eye and ears, with catchy songs and artful animation. And the great thing for parents was (and still is), they were meant to entertain both children AND adults, which seems to be a difficult balance nowadays.

Thought we'd take a look back at a few Sesame Street classics, and some of the famous cartoonists and animators behind them. You'll probably be surprised at how many of them you know, but didn't know at the time.


Craig was first known for creating the Penny cartoons on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. He later created the series Hey Arnold! for Nickelodeon. Before that show and a 2002 feature film, Arnold appeared on Sesame Street in a very similar design, only in Claymation form.

Craig's connections to The Muppets continues today, as he's the creator of Jim Henson's Dinosaur Train, which runs on PBS.


Not famous in name, but famous in content - Fred Calvert produced many of the first and most memorable segments on Sesame Street.

Calvert had his start working for Disney, but would later form his own production company. In the 1990's, he became more infamous in the animation industry for overseeing a takeover of a film called The Thief And The Cobbler, which I hope to blog about soon. But for now, we'll showcase a bit more on Mr. Calvert as he related to Sesame Street below.


Renowned for making He-Man "the most powerful man in the universe" and...well, making generally crappy cartoons, Filmation did a few segments for Sesame Street using licensed characters they were already making half-hour TV shows out of. Superman and Batman starred in a couple of shorts, as did Jughead.


Perhaps more renowned for his Warner Bros. work, Friz was also the co-creator of the animated Pink Panther, who appeared on Sesame Street in a brief 8-second sequence.


Of course Jim Henson is famous on Sesame Street for obvious reasons, but he also enjoyed using the show for other creative pursuits, as an animator and experimental filmmaker. He was quick to embrace new technologies, including a state-of-the-art (at the time) computer system called Scanimate, which he used to make a couple of films, including the piece for number 4 below.

A bit more on Henson also coming up. 


Probably the least well-known person by name, Jeff Hale has the most popular (and maybe the most in terms of quantity too) animated sequences on Sesame Street. In fact, Hale's most-popular contributions weren't even one-offs. The Pinball, Ringmaster and Typewriter Guy cartoons were all part of an ongoing series that ran for years. Probably not any more though since pinball machines were replaced by Xbox's, ringmasters came to represent animal abuse, and typewriters were...well, not really that convenient for blogging.


Hubley is an animation legend, who made his mark at the groundbreaking UPA Studios, creating Mr. Magoo and directing the original 'Gerald McBoing McBoing'. He also worked on classic Disney movies like Fantasia and Dumbo. He made 10 Sesame Street shorts between 1969 and 1972, including the classic 'E - Imagination', which is in very stark contrast to the UPA style he helped to popularize.


The newspaper circulation company lent some of their comic strip characters to select shows, including Krazy Kat, Tiger and Beetle Bailey.

Around this time, King Features was also selling a Sesame Street comic strip, which ran from 1971 to 1975.


Harvey Kurtzman was a famous illustrator, who cut his teeth as co-creator of the original "Mad Magazine". Inspired by the birth of his daughter in 1969, Kurtzman created several Sesame Street shorts, including 'Boat', which won him an international animation award. Kurtzman drew it, while Phil Kimmelman animated.


John is the man behind Pixar, and current chief creative officer for Walt Disney's animation studios. He made several shorts for Sesame Street before hitting the big time, all of which featured Pixar's first star, Luxo Jr., the lamp, teaching lessons about direction, weight, position and scaring other lamps. 


Abe Levitow worked for many years as an animator for Chuck Jones, and solo directed a lot of his later productions. Chuck Jones was a big supporter of Sesame Street and also directed shorts for The Electric Company. Through that association, it's not surprising to see Abe's involvement here. His Willie Wimple cartoons provided 3 early calls for environmentalism.


William "Bud" Luckey is currently a part-time employee of Pixar. He previously did character design, but has since retired to doing mostly voice-work as needed. You can hear him as a voice (and banjo player) in the Pixar short, 'Boundin', and as Chuckles the clown in Toy Story 3. His design work can be seen in Toy Story and most Pixar feature films up until 2008.

His work on Sesame Street included many famous musical shorts, including 'Ladybugs' Picnic #12'.


Marv received notoriety for his cult underground film, 'Bambi Meets Godzilla', which was a popular staple of animation shows. He went on to form International Rocketship Limited, an animation studio in Vancouver. Marv also worked with Will Vinton (more on him below) on the Eddie Murphy stop-motion series, The PJ's.

Here's one of his contributions to Sesame Street called 'Uncle Al's Dog'.


Sendak was an unexpectedly popular children's author, responsible for the classic "Where The Wild Things Are". Sendak participated in seminars during the initial development of Sesame Street in the 1960's. In Michael Davis' Sesame Street book, "Street Gang", Sendak is described as being bored with the extensive research process and apparently took these frustrations to paper during these meetings, in the way of questionable doodles, including one of a young child peeing on a destroyed television set. What a perfect representative for the most influential children's TV program of all time!

Maurice's work on Sesame Street included 'Bumble Ardy', which he created with Jim Henson and Fred Calvert.


Will Vinton was responsible for coining the term Claymation, which took the form of The California Raisins and the Domino's Pizza "Noid" to name a few stand-outs. He also worked on Eddie Murphy's The PJ's.

His Sesame Street work included the 6-episode Cecille The Ball series, and an unfortunate and now very dated piece involving hip hop and hardware.


Willems' earlier career was comprised mostly of cartoon work, in Nickelodeon shows like Sheep In The Big City, which he created, and Codename: Kids Next Door, which he wrote for. He is now an award-winning children's author of books like "Don't Let The Piegon Drive The Bus!" and the Elephant and Piggie series.

His work on Sesame Street was expansive, including 33 episodes of Suzie Kabloozie.


Like Harvey Kurtzman, Gahan is another cult-favourite cartoonist who made the transition to animation via Sesame Street. His dark, black humour translated well to the almost-epic Bridgekeeper series.

These are only a few of the talented individuals who freelanced for Sesame Street over the past 40+ years. There are so many genius, memorable moments by other lesser-known contributors, and tons of work that just doesn't seem to exist on-line right now, by famous artists like Cordell Barker, Richard Condie and Andy Warhol. Maybe I'll try to blog about that on another sunny day.

Until then, this particular post has been brought to you by the letter C and the number 2. (which is the amount of page views I'm hoping for)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - An Oral History Of Animation

I'm trying to avoid eating the usual sugary cereals with my cartoons this morning, because I have to go to the dentist.

I've had about 3 cavities in my lifetime. And truthfully (toothfully?), I'm surprised I didn't have more considering the cereals I choked down as a kid. Saturday morning advertising was a bad influence in that respect. But I recall the cartoons themselves had a lot of positive influence when it came to dental hygiene. Hell, it was presented as a realistic career option every Christmas.

Public service announcements indicated that all the cool kids brushed their teeth.

Drop-outs were doing it!

Even the dead kids were doing it!

In fact, brushing your teeth wasn't just fun - it was your civic duty!

The Simpsons tried adding a more urban appeal to their educational material, along with some big name guest stars.

But I prefer a less pandering approach with a more modest celebrity, as seen in 'Tooth Brushing'. Ironically, the kid who never smiled is concerned about dental hygiene.

When you're really young, losing your teeth is perfectly natural and a great way to earn extra money. Baby Huey (who maybe isn't THAT young) demonstrated in 1994's 'The Tooth Fairy'.

The much younger Fozzie Bear made a million bucks on his loose tooth, until the Muppet Babies counter-offered with a zillion billion trillion dollars in 1984's 'Dental Hyjinks'.

Yes, as South Park taught us in Season 4's 'The Tooth Fairy's Tats 2000', cashing in via the tooth fairy is "the tits"! 

But maybe you don't believe in all of that "kids stuff, crazy stuff". Did Stimpy ever tell you the story about the tooth beaver from 'Ren's Toothache'?

When experiencing mouth pain, you need to be mindful of it. If left untreated, a 'Toothache' can get really ugly. Like, Mr. Bean ugly.

Sometimes when it gets REALLY ugly, it can't hurt to call a friend for moral (and/or oral) assistance. Katnip consulted with Buzzy The Crow below in 1952 to learn 'The Awful Tooth'

The always neighbourly Fred Flintstone helped his buddy Barney see 'Nuthin' But The Tooth' back in 1962.

Friends are great and all. But when it comes to your teeth, you should always seek the aid of a professional, like Oswald The Lucky Rabbit did in 'The Merry Old Soul' from 1933. If anything, a dentist will have access to WAY better drugs than your friends do.

I can recommend a few good practitioners. There's the stop-motion Glenn Martin, DDS, voiced by Kevin Nealon over at Nickelodeon.

I know The Warners Wakko, Yakko and Dot from Animaniacs, had a short-lived family practice a few years ago. And by a few years ago, I mean Russia circa early 1900's.

Maybe your insurance is lacking or you can't afford a good dentist. Perhaps you'd consider visiting a free dental college as a non-willing test subject, like Johnny Bravo's mom insisted upon in 'Dental Hijinks' from 2000.

Or you can always find a friendly jackass to kick you in the mouth if need be, as 'The Good Little Bunny With The Big Bad Teeth' did in 2010.

Getting your teeth fixed can bring your confidence back, and lend some much-needed lustre to your love life.

The tooth is...I mean, the truth is, the lessons we learned as a kid should still apply today. We must simply take better care of our teeth. 

Otherwise, we'll never eat another bowl of cereal (or tacos) again.

PS: This "tooth fairy" below looks stupid and I would rather have a root canal than watch this film. Actually, just talking about it makes me feel better about seeing a dentist already! 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Mommy Deerest

Arguably, the mother of all animated mothers is Bambi's mom. But for all the wrong reasons.

Okay, let's all take a deep breath, grab a Kleenex and get this out of the way right off the top.

Sorry, uh...SPOILER ALERT?

The death of Bambi's mom is probably one of the most well-known scenes in film history. But most of us don't want to remember it.

Walt Disney's Bambi was released in 1942 to little success. It didn't become a hit until its re-release in 1947, and then in subsequent re-releases in 1957, 1966, 1975, 1982, and 1988. It was released on VHS in 1989, followed by numerous editions of DVD and Blu-Ray that came in and out of Walt's vault over the past 25 years.

The movie was based on an equally bleak 1933 novel by Felix Salten called "Bambi, A Life In The Woods". Disney filmmakers were concerned the tone of the book would be too dark for children. Good thing they toned it down, eh? (blows nose an eighth time)

Though the term didn't exist back then, it would be the first example of what would become known as the "Bambi effect". Children were famously escorted out of theatres in droves/tears. Moms couldn't believe that the family-friendly "house of Mouse" would put their kids through such an ordeal! Hunters, who were now the most hated people in America, dismissed the film for being "an insult to American sportsmen". Paul McCartney became a vegetarian. (seriously)

And soon it becomes apparent why the film wasn't an immediate hit.

In fact, SO beleaguered by the "Bambi effect" were the McCartney's, that Linda's daughter, Stella, did a photo shoot with some of the film characters back in 2009 for Vogue magazine, as a salute to her late "mum".

The Bambi poster boasts about "a great love story". Kind of misleading, but absolutely true. It's the love between Bambi and his mother that made this movie the revered classic it is today - a love that resulted in an ultimate sacrifice. (blows nose a ninth time)

The decision to show that sacrifice haunted Disney for much of his career. He was constantly paranoid about tackling the topic of mortality after that. For example in 1955's Lady and The Tramp, upon viewing the scene where a dog named Trusty is pinned and seemingly dead under a dog catcher's wagon, he later asked animators to insert him back at the end of the movie, to reassure audiences he was merely...unconscious?

This trend would continue long after Disney's death, until 1981's The Fox And The Hound, where Tod's mother is killed in a scene similar to Bambi.

Two other things made Bambi's mom stand out - her voice and the way she was animated.

Her trusting tones came from voice actor Paula Winslowe. She can also be heard in Bambi as the pheasant.

Paula's voice was everything you'd imagine a perfect mother to be - warm and passionate during quieter scenes, playful in some, brave and authoritative when the hunters threaten her son.

Paula was also heard in other Disney productions like Dumbo, and appeared as Greta Gravel in an episode of The Flintstones.

Thanks to Michael J. Ruocco's blog, 'For The Birds', I discovered that the famous scene where Bambi's mom lifts her head from eating grass was animated by Art Elliott. Michael's blog also helped me learn that Bambi's mom lives on, eating grass in various other Disney films, including...

The Jungle Book (1967)

The Rescuers (1977)

And Beauty And The Beast (1991).

In fact, Bambi's mom had a life outside of those movies as well!

She cameoed in Donald Duck's 'No Hunting' from 1955.

She made a brief appearance in the direct-to-video Disney sequel, Bambi II from 2006.

She teamed up with Smokey The Bear in 2004 to prevent wildfires.

She also appeared alive and not-so-well in an episode of MAD on Cartoon Network.


She also briefly showed up in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but was originally meant to figure into the story more prominently. In the original Roger Rabbit script, it was revealed that villain Judge Doom was the man/toon who killed Bambi's mom. Disney wouldn't have it, and killed the idea.

But enough about this talk of senseless murder! This is supposed to be a post dedicated to our mothers! May they live on forever in a modest 2-bedroom bungalow in New Mexico!

(blows nose a tenth time)

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - May The 4th Be With You!

Happy Star Wars Day! What an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan! There's a new movie on the way! It's the 30th anniversary of Return of The Jedi! And I have a bunch of Star Wars cartoons for us to sample! So help yourself to a bowl of Double O (or double roe?) and join me. Together we will rule the Internet. It is your destiny.

Our first cartoon comes from the largely disowned The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired only once on CTV and CBS back in 1978. Most of the segments and songs(!) are themed to Christmas, which is apparently called Life Day in the future. But it was no gift to anyone. People hated this weird and awful piece of space junk. George Lucas buried it in the basement of his ranch, and has refused to release it to home video or any other format. Internet or bootleg are your only viewing options. But George recently lightened up a bit when it came to the 10-minute cartoon about Boba Fett contained within, which was added as an Easter egg to the 'The Complete Saga' Blu-Ray that came out in 2011.

The cartoon, which was produced by Canadian animation house, Nelvana, is pretty underappreciated. Considering it was the first foray into a format outside the just-introduced film universe (at that time), it was surprisingly true to the franchise-to-be. It was the first appearance of Boba Fett, who hadn't even been in the movies yet. His design was based on preliminary character sketches done by Joe Johnston for The Empire Strikes Back.

I enjoy the rubbery movements of the droids and the very liberal use of creative license when it came to character design for the humans. Especially Han Solo, who looked more like a present-day Mick Jagger.


Even if you don't like the look of the cartoon, if you're a Star Wars fan it's still super-cool to hear the voices of the original voice cast, including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and James Earl Jones. It also introduced a continuity to the series, by setting up Boba Fett's appearances in later films. This would become more and more prevalent as the Star Wars universe expanded.

Nelvana was also the studio behind the Saturday morning Star Wars cartoons of the mid 1980s - Ewoks and Droids, which aired on ABC. They aired back-to-back from 1985 to 1986, but only Ewoks was picked up for a new second season. Both shows ran as repeats for a lot longer here in Canada, where it was considered CanCon.

Star Wars: Ewoks revolved around the adventures of Wicket W. Warrick and his tribe, before the Battle of Endor and other events from Return Of The Jedi. The series was originally intended to be as mature as Saturday morning standards and practices would allow, which wasn't very much. It still somehow became even more kid-friendly in its second season.

Paul Dini, who would later become famous for reviving superhero cartoons, was a writer at the time. In an interview with "Star Wars Insider" magazine, Dini spoke of an episode he wrote called 'The Starman', where an Imperial pilot has a moral crisis as to who to help in battle, after crash-landing on Endor and being nursed back to health by Ewoks. He said the network censors rejected his script for being "too Star Warsy".

Considering the other poodoo being released at the time, I think Ewoks still cut through the clutter. At least the theme song by Taj Mahal did.

Speaking of cool theme songs, the intro to Star Wars: Droids ('Trouble Again') was written by Stewart Copeland of The Police.

Did you see the return of a special guest star in that above episode? Droids was more successful (albeit only once to my recollection) in tying the cartoon to the movie mythology. Having the voices of Anthony Daniels and R2D2 (the for-real R2D2!) didn't hurt. Also, employing Ben Burtt, a famous Star Wars sound designer, as a writer on the series was a smart way to keep the cartoon connected to the official Lucasfilm camp.

Although both Droids and Ewoks didn't last long, they were still popular enough to inspire short-lived toy and comic book off-shoots. Legendary Marvel artist John Romita, Sr. was a cover artist and penciller for the Droids comic.

The legacy of Nelvana and its relationship to Lucasfilm is well-known to both cartoon and Star Wars fans. The makers of Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) paid homage to the studio when Anakin and Obi-Wan were sent to find General Grievous on Planet Nelvaan among the enslaved Nelvaanians. In commentaries for Clone Wars, series creator Genndy Tartakovsky said he also paid homage to Nelvana by giving his version of C3P0 expressive eyes, similar to how Nelvana animated them.

Genndy Tartakovsky was an interesting choice to helm what would be the next (and best in my opinion) Star Wars animated series. Genndy came from comedic roots, working on funny shows like Dexter's Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls. But his work on Samurai Jack proved he could handle action as well, without losing his trademark cartoony flair.

Clone Wars had appealing and colourful character design, great stories and numerous nods to the Star Wars universe. It's an example of why I'm so excited for the new movies. Because people like Genndy and J.J. Abrams are fans of the films, but they're also gifted filmmakers. I have nothing but respect for the world that George Lucas created. But while George is a visionary, Genndy is a storyteller, who expanded upon that universe with respect and care, but not at the expense of good ol' fashioned entertainment. And he routinely did it in just 3 minutes. Impressive. Most impressive.

Star Wars: Clone Wars ran for 3 seasons and 25 episodes on Cartoon Network. The first 2 seasons consisted of 3-minute "micro" episodes, while Season 3's were expanded into a 15-minute length. The series bridged events between feature films Episode 2: Attack of The Clones and Episode 3: Revenge of The Sith. While introducing some new characters, most of the series was comprised of heroes and villains from the prequel trilogy, although none except C3P0 were voiced by original movie actors. Some of the storylines paralleled plot points from the film series.

Continuing this trend on Cartoon Network was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which was basically a CGI extension of Tartakovsky's show. This too introduced new characters, settings and storylines within what was already established in the Star Wars prequels. But it even furthered its film connections by featuring voices of some of the movie actors.

The TV series was set-up with a poorly-received theatrical feature film in 2008, which featured Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) and Anthony Daniels (C3P0) reprising their screen roles.

Jackson and Lee didn't appear in the TV series, but work-horse Anthony Daniels did. The show also featured guest spots by movie returnees like Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) and Ahmed Best (Jar-Jar Binks), alongside new celebs like Simon Pegg, Seth Green, Ron Perlman, George Takei and Jon Favreau.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars completed its fifth and final season last March. Apparently there are episodes that have yet to air, but a sixth season cannot be confirmed - especially now that the Star Wars franchise is owned by a new rebel alliance.

The Clone Wars was hit-and-miss with me. The look of the show wasn't as fun as Tartakovsky's 2D version that preceded it. A CGI-sore, if you will. But I appreciated the scope within the material that connected it to the films. There are frequently well-written episodes to be found, especially later in the series. I do hope the unreleased material still sees light of day.

In addition to the straight-ahead and serious-minded Star Wars, there's also a wealth of animated Star Wars parodies out there, some of which were officially blessed by George Lucas himself, who became a pretty good sport in his later years. I guess he had no choice after the public mind-choking he received for those movie prequels.

Muppet Babies did it before they were officially owned by Disney. In fact, every week the theme song featured live action footage of a Tie Fighter. There are occasional Star Wars references throughout the series, but a full-fledged parody was featured as part of 'Gonzo's Video Show' in 1984.

The creators of Family Guy received Lucas' blessing, and full use of his sound effects library for their Star Wars parodies, starting with Season 6's 'Blue Harvest' (a nod to Return Of The Jedi's original mock working title), 'Something, Something, Something, Dark Side' in Season 8, and Season 9's 'It's A Trap!'. These shows have their moments, but are marred by the fact that they're still episodes of Family Guy. There are about 8 jokes per 44 minutes of rambling, unfunny filler. Comparatively, there are usually 0 jokes per rambling, unfunny 22 minute regular episode of Family Guy.

Cuter and far more clever were Cartoon Network and LEGO's Star Wars specials, which original fans love as much as their kids. It started with a short released in 2005 called 'Revenge of The Brick', and since then has averaged one special per year since 2009. The last one, 'The Empire Strikes Out', aired in September 2012, and was dedicated to original Star Wars designer Ralph McQuarrie, who passed away last year.

Robot Chicken released 3 Star Wars-themed specials. There were funny bits throughout, but perhaps most impressive is that George Lucas himself (the for-real George Lucas!) left his ranch to do a guest voice in the first installment. Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Ahmed Best and Mark Hamill also turned up over the course of the "trilogy".

Speaking of Mark Hamill, he should not only get our respect as a Jedi Master, but should also be given another Medal of Yavin for his voicework contributions to the cartoon industry. Check out this guy's IMDb page! Garfield and Friends, The Ren & Stimpy ShowPinky and The Brain, Fantastic Four, Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Samurai Jack, Dexter's Laboratory (for more on that appearance, check out my blog from St. Patrick's Day), Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, Spongebob Squarepants, The New Woody Woodpecker Show, The Boondocks, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Phineas and Ferb! And that's only a few of the shows you've probably seen!

Hamill is of course most celebrated for his portrayal of The Joker in Batman/DC projects from the past 20 years, both in cartoons and video games. He can certainly be both frightening and funny - but he also has a lovely singing voice, as heard in Season 10's 'Mayored To The Mob' from The Simpsons.

So show some respect, you scruffy-lookin' nerf-herders!

I could probably do another entire post about Star Wars references in The Simpsons.

But it's a beautiful day and I think it's time for us to Force ourselves off the couch and go outside. You can go about your business. Move along.