Saturday, 31 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - iToons (The Pop N' Other Stuff Playlist)

We covered rock and/or roll videos not so long ago. Today I thought we'd examine what I consider to be my Top 12 Favourite Pop N' Other Stuff Videos Of All Time N' Things. I'm sure there are a lot of other worthy additions I'm missing here or have yet to see, but for now, this list is up-to-date. If you have any other cool recommendations that aren't included, make sure you tell me about it in the comments below.


Figured we should start with a classic. This may seem a little dated by today's CG standards, but it's still quite an amazing achievement.

Stephen J. Johnson directed this stop-motion clip with the help of Aardman Animations, who are now more famous for creating Wallace and Gromit. In fact, Nick Park himself, who directed everything Wallace and Gromit, personally animated the chicken dance seen at the 3:12 mark.

For the opening portions of the video, I'm told Peter Gabriel laid under a sheet of glass for 16 hours, as they shot footage frame-by-frame. Later sequences were filmed with extras that included some of the animators, the director's girlfriend and Peter Gabriel's daughters.

At 1987's MTV Video Music Awards, 'Sledgehammer' took home 9 Moonmen - the most a video has ever received. 'Sledgehammer' is also the most played video in MTV history, which seems less impressive now that MTV doesn't play videos anymore - or even music, for that matter.

Last year, when the album this song came from, So, celebrated its 25th anniversary, a contest was created where fans were asked to recreate the 'Sledgehammer' video, using an app from Peter's Facebook page called "Grab Your Sledgehammer". People would pick a scene from the video, and recreate it on their webcams for a chance to win signed prizes and merchandise. I'm assuming it really helped to cut down on people's giant glass expenses.

Many of Peter Gabriel's videos employed the use of stop-motion animation. From the same album, check out 'Big Time' (also directed by Stephen J. Johnson) so you know I'm not lying. 

Interestingly, Stephen J. Johnson (who also directed first season episodes of Pee Wee's Playhouse) also directed the video for Talking Heads' 'Road To Nowhere' a year earlier, which employed many of the same techniques seen in 'Sledgehammer', but received little to no acclaim for it. 


Okay, this video hasn't aged well. Although I do believe overalls are coming back in style, aren't they? Anyway, I'm counting it as significant for being part of an animation resurgence in the early 1990's. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a huge hit a year earlier, and set forth a far-reaching wave of animated popularity, which just had to spread into music videos. This one is said to be inspired by the scene featuring Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse in the movie, Anchors Aweigh, which featured similar choreography between both actor and the animated. This particular animation was done by a Disney staffer named Chris Bailey, who also directed a popular Mickey Mouse short in 1995 called 'Runaway Brain'.

While 'Opposites Attract' may employ less of the skill (and more rap) in comparison to Roger Rabbit, it's certainly better than the movie, Cool World. And any flaws that may exist certainly didn't stop it from becoming popular. Yes, they were dark times indeed.

In fact, I bet you didn't know that MC Skat Kat proved SO popular, he was even given his own album, which Paula Abdul received a producer credit on. Awwww yeah, she did!

And of course it was SO popular that eventually Family Guy had to ruin it, for lack of any original material.


Here's another video that hasn't aged well (yes, more 90's rap), but as a fan of The Simpsons, I feel compelled to include it. Also I want to clear the air after that crappy Family Guy clip. It's great to revisit The Simpsons at a time when they were still being animated by hand, and would release these quick, wonderful bursts of off-model personality.

The video was directed by Brad Bird, who worked on the original Simpsons before moving on to Pixar. He's now a noted live action film director, who most recently made the fourth installment of Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series.

The song itself was co-written by Michael Jackson, although at the time of its release, he was never given official credit for it because of record label conflicts. Simpsons creator Matt Groening later confirmed the truth at a Pasadena animation expo in 1998.

Michael Jackson was a huge fan of The Simpsons. He also did an uncredited guest voice (he was actually credited as John Jay Smith) in a Season 3 episode called 'Stark Raving Dad', where he played an asylum resident named...well, "Michael Jackson".

When Jackson passed away in 2009, the 'Do The Bartman' video was re-aired before a June 28th episode of The Simpsons in memorium.

Bart did The Bartman only once more on The Simpsons, in a Season 19 episode called 'Simpson Tide', where he was trying to be cool in front of his classmates. "That is so 1991", exclaimed a suddenly wise Ralph Wiggum.

'Do The Bartman' came from an album called The Simpsons Sing The Blues, released at the height of Simpsons-mania. It spawned another single called 'Deep Deep Trouble'. The video was directed by Gregg Vazno, who went on to create animation house Rough Draft Studios. The song itself was co-written and produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff!


"Weird Al" never made a bad music video, but I think this one's a particularly old-fashioned and gory delight - a Claymation celebration from 1993, featuring a parody of Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park'. Man, that reference seemed old even when this was first released - which was probably why it wasn't seen a lot. The video was made by Scott Nordlund and Mark Osborne, who went on to co-direct Kung Fu Panda

"Weird Al" has employed many an animator to help make his music videos. In 2006, famous directors like Bill Plympton and John Kricfalusi oversaw clips promoting his album, Straight Outta Linwood. This is another under-appreciated gem from that release...


Speaking of Bill Plympton, he directed this charming video for Kanye West back in 2005. There were actually 2 versions of this video - the first was live action featuring a cameo by Adam Levine. The second was this clip, which also features a live action cameo by Adam Levine. Either way, this one's for the ladies. I mean, lady.

Kanye West was a fan of Plympton, and asked him to direct the video. Kanye and Bill also released a book called "Through The Wire: Lyrics and Illuminations", which featured Plympton's illustrated interpretations of Kayne's song lyrics. 


And speaking of John Kricfalusi, here's the profoundly odd video he made for Bjork. This one features some of John's characters he created for Spumco, including George Liquor and Jimmy The Idiot Boy, who seems to be portrayed here as Bjork's love interest.

PS: I'm aware that Bjork's name requires an umlaut, but they don't seem to show up properly on this blog template. For this, I apologize to Bjork. I tried to 411 her to personally apologize, but apparently it's harder to locate people when you don't know their last name.

A CG version of Jimmy also received exposure on certain editions of the 'I Miss You' CD single cover. 


Maybe by including this, I can increase the number of females reading my blog to 2.

Steve Barron directed this memorable video for a-ha, which featured live action footage traced over frame-by-frame in a pencil sketch style, meant to invoke a comic book come to life. The video won 6 MTV Video Music Awards back in 1986.

Steve Barron would go on to direct 1990's original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

I may now lose that other female reader by suddenly throwing in a not-so-happy ending to this story. The couple seen in 'Take On Me' was also featured at the start of a-ha's next video for 'The Sun Always Shines On T.V.', also directed by Steve Barron. And it seems the girl loses her lover to the comic book again. This almost happened to me as well on several occasions, but I'm way stronger than that dude.


This next clip looks and sounds like it could've come from the same decade as a-ha, but it was in fact released last year. Directed by Lilfuchs for Adult Swim, it can't quite let you commit to calling it sexy.

Lilfuchs also made this mind-blowingly trippy video for Flying Lotus' 'Zodiac Shit'.


Similar to "Weird Al" (and in this respect only), Daft Punk have also never made a bad video. All of them are interesting, but I'm particularly fond of clips they released in support of their 2001 album, Discovery. All of these videos, directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi, were part of a larger, hour-long anime film called Interstella 5555: The 5tory of The 5tar 5ystem, which featured all of its action set to Daft Punk songs.

The initial concept for the movie, about an alien dance group kidnapped by a scuzzy music exec, was introduced by the members of Daft Punk, who wanted to work with their childhood hero, anime artist Leiji Matsumoto, creator of Space Battle Yamoto. Matsumoto agreed to work on the film as a visual supervisor. The movie was released to Blu-Ray in 2003, and was also aired in installments on MTV and Cartoon Network.

Here's the opening of episode 1, which was also the video for Discovery's catchy first single, 'One More Time'.

And here's a look at all of the videos mashed together, if you have an hour to spare and are interested in seeing how it holds together as a cohesive unit.


Before you watch this, listen to the music first and visualize how you THINK the clip should look. Then enjoy the not-so literal interpretation provided by Monkmus in this minute-long retro-futuristic clip, which seems to be have been built around the sound effects.

On his blog, Kid Koala said the video received a lot of unexpected airplay due to its shortness. "The different video networks would program it at the end of the shows as a bumper before a commercial or an emergency time filler", he wrote. "So it would get programmed at the end of cooking shows as well as at end of hair-metal hour. Now all of these chefs and headbangers turn up at my gigs. Cool."

I think it is very cool as well!

From that very same blog, I was interested to learn that Kid Koala and Monkmus also teamed up to do clips for Sesame Street. Here's one entitled 'Fall'...


This super-fun song was only enhanced by this super-fun video created by Shynola. As stated in relation to Pitchfork's placement of this 8-bit clip at #33 on its list of the Best Videos of The 2000's, "too often animated clips go for "disturbing" or "dark", when what we really want from cartoons is daredevil squirrels and dancing robots." Truer words couldn't be said. 


GORILLAZ - '19-2000'

Although there's also something to be said for giant moose. 

This is my favourite animated music video of the bunch. And it only stands to reason that a fictional, cartoon band should have the best cartoon videos. 

Created by Tank Girl artist, Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz have always had a slick visual style, backed by some also-great music overseen by former Blur frontman, Damon Albarn. Hewlett also has a hand in all of the music videos. All of them are great, so you should seek out each and every one. But this one has a sense of playful, messed-up fun that pushed it to the top of my playlist.

And we're done.

Coming soon to "Saturday Morning Cartoons"...our BIGGEST rap battle yet! Kat vs. Dogg!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - What I Did On My Animation Vacation (Summer 2013)

Hi everyone! It's great to be back in Canada!

If you were one of the 1 persons that guy who read my blog last week, you'll recall that I was on vacation in California not so long ago. And yes, I experienced beauty, music, culture and other boring stuff like that. But more importantly, I was provided with an unexpectedly varied cavalcade of cartoon-y goodness! Turns out Cali can be considered a go-to destination for your next "animation vacation". 


Truthfully, the tiny Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is more of a showcase of comic strip and comic book art, more than animation. I love both, so still found many cool things inside. Of particular interest was original artwork featuring a number of legendary newspaper "funnies" like Pogo, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, For Better Or For Worse, etc. - not to mention reproductions of earlier offerings from artists like Winsor McKay.

Temporary exhibits roll in and out as well. I was bummed to have just missed a retrospective on artist Sam Keith. When I was there, two centrepieces included a look at graphic novelist Will Eisner and a "75th Anniversary Celebration" of Superman. Being a cartoon fan, more than a comic fan, I was disappointed there wasn't much in the way of reference to my favourite Max and Dave Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940's. The exhibit focused more on the comic book art, and rightfully so. 

But halfway through the exhibit, I was super-happy to discover the largest group of people crowded around a small TV screen - all of them affixed to one of those Fleischer cartoons. You could also hear Sammy Timberg's heroic theme song blasting as you entered the exhibit, which was a nice touch. 

Looking online at some of the temporary exhibits from years' past, it seems certain shows better showcase animation, like actual cels. But if you're a cartoon fan like me, chances are you're also a comic fan and will find something of interest regardless of when you're visiting. Definitely worth the trip, and something that won't eat up a lot of your time. 


I've never been a huge Disney fan, so originally, this stop was least important in my mind. But I'm glad I went because I was expecting it to be more...well, Disney. Y'know, Disney in the corporate sense. The second happiest place on Earth. But as it turned out, it was very adult and unafraid to touch on a few less-than-happy subjects, including artist strikes and financial troubles, for example. 

The Walt Disney Family Museum was founded by Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and his grandson, Walter E.D. Miller. It's owned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that doesn't seem directly affiliated with the more profit-focused Walt Disney Company. I say that because I noticed that a lot of items were credited as being donated separately by The Walt Disney Company. Anyway, that's not to say the gift shop that concludes your visit is sparse and unassuming. But compared to Disneyland's Main Street, it's quite modest. I liked how a large majority of the Mickey merch paid homage to the original (and decidedly off-model by today's standards) character design. 

This is an incredibly thorough museum. I'm a casual Disney fan at best, but still found myself rushed with only an hour to spare, so if you're planning a visit, be prepared to leave yourself enough time. If you're a Disney fan, you could easily spend at least half-a-day inside. 

Nothing is left uncovered including a detailed family tree, a look at Walt's pre-Mickey career trajectory, post-Mickey business and entertainment, and all other things leading up to (and including!) his death. Of particular interest was an entire floor dedicated to the creation of Disneyland, including poster artwork and an intricate model of the original park. Also cool were reproductions of some of Disney's work as a cartoonist, which made me rethink my perception of Disney as being more of an artist, instead of the world's biggest businessman.

Still, you have to admit that much of Disney's success was based on his ability to surround himself with some of the industry's best (better?) artists. And I was surprised to see how much credit was given to those artists who worked on some of Disney's biggest projects. For example, in the Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs section, animators in a video interview speak of the time they wasted laying out a dinner-table sequence that Disney deleted in the interest of streamlining the story. Fellow animator Ub Iwerks is highlighted throughout, although his contributions to the creation of Mickey Mouse and Oswald The Lucky Rabbit are never really confirmed. And I even learned a little myself, as I had no idea that Little Golden Books artist Mary Blair was a concept illustrator for movies like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Anyway, the museum is pretty good to acknowledge those who didn't have Disney as a surname. 

And then I found even more...uh, adult fare. 

Another "adult" section nearby highlighted Disney's contributions to wartime efforts. 

I spent way too much of the little time I had watching propaganda pieces on a tiny TV monitor - many of which I hadn't seen before. Obviously you don't have to go to San Fran to watch them, but there's lots of other worthwhile material to check out while you're at the museum.


On our way to a boring old scenic vineyard in the Napa Valley, we stopped in Santa Rosa to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum, a gallery devoted to good ol' Charlie Brown and his creator. I'm a huge fan of both comic strip and the cartoon specials, so this was fun for me. Co-curated and overseen by Sparky's widow, Jean Schulz, the museum houses specific gallery pieces and themed artwork as it applies to rotating exhibitions.

While I visited there were two pieces - one which paid tribute to (then) modern furniture design in the comic strips, and the other focused on Snoopy's family. The latter included a run of original artwork and stories featuring Snoopy's brothers and sister, including several arcs revolving around one of my favourite characters, Spike - Snoopy's weird and emaciated brother from Needles. 

Snoopy's extended family never really prominently played into the strip until the 1990's, and Schulz admitted to it being a mistake - a fact they reference in the actual exhibit. It was also the subject matter of one of the later and lesser-known Peanuts TV specials called 'Snoopy's Reunion' from 1991. This is one of the more inconsistent Peanuts TV specials (you actually see the adults!), during a time when Schulz had less time to oversee the small screen's creative process. This wasn't covered as part of the exhibit. In fact, there's not a lot about Peanuts animation in general, but there are small sections that pay tribute to director Bill Melendez and musician Vince Guaraldi, who helped to solidify the Peanuts transition from print to small and big screens.

As I looked at this art and considered some of Schulz's later work, I was blown away by the quote you see below. As a kid, long before I knew about Schulz's earlier, more streamlined cartooning, I always considered Peanuts to have that squiggly style on purpose - and apparently I wasn't alone. It's amazing how that slight of hand was permanently ingrained into the public consciousness like that. 

Also included in the tour is an awesome transplant of Schulz's original work studio, along with Snoopy's Home Ice (also known as The Redwood Empire Ice Arena), which Schulz had a hand in building back in 1969, which he basically treated as part of his own backyard. Schulz skated here all the time. In fact, he played hockey here. His retired jersey is still on display. The facility now plays host to a multitude of tournaments and practices, safe indoors from the 35+ degree heat. 

Schulz also hosted several figure skating pageants here for years. Autographs of past performers are inscribed in the cement as you walk into the gift shop. Schulz was REALLY into figure skating. In fact, Schulz was SO into figure skating, he insisted that animators watch footage of 3 professional skaters for creating the rink sequences in 1980's, 'She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown'. One of those skaters included Schulz's daughter, Amy.

After hitting the change room, you can also stop in for a "Snoop-wich" (served in a dog dish!) at the Warm Puppy Cafe. But you can't sit at Schulz's table, which has been permanently reserved. 

As an alternative, this is a great place to sit. And it's far less busy.


Don't let the fun picture fool you. If you're a fan of classic Warner Bros. animation, you should definitely avoid going on the Warner Bros. V.I.P. tour. Because while it's interesting at times, it will give you NO connection to the cartoons you know and love outside of the gift shop. (which is just behind me in the picture above, and accessible without spending $52 on a tour)  No, this tour is more for those assholes who want to sit on the Friends couch. If you'd like to see a tour of an actual animation studio, stay "tooned" for my special "Korea Edition" of 'What I Did On My Animation Vacation', coming soon.

BUT - I must include the Warner Bros. tour here because I actually stumbled onto something cool. I'm assuming it was by accident, and I'm not sure if there's always a section devoted to animation or not. But as we were brought into the Warner Bros. museum (which you're forced to stop at for about 30 minutes), along one of the side walls (at least when I was there), there was a special Chuck Jones exhibit, which featured Bugs Bunny and Road Runner artwork, along with a little bit about Private Snafu. Also included in the exhibit (which was basically just 2 glass cases, so don't take the word 'exhibit' too seriously) was artwork by Chuck's background designer, Maurice Noble. Best highlight was a letter that Chuck had sent to Maurice, which helped to patch up a disagreement they once had. I would've taken a picture of it, but photos were not allowed in the museum, which lent itself to the not-fun atmosphere. To spite them for that affront, I refused to get my photo taken on the Friends couch. Ha! Take THAT, Warner Bros.!

I then ruined that proud moment in the gift shop by handing over 40 dollars for this pair of stuffed animals. What can I say? I'm weak! And I'd never seen merch for The Looney Tunes Show before! And I'm weak!

Wait! I forgot to mention our tour guide DID bring up a cartoon connection to Warner Bros. He reminded everyone that the world-famous water tower was once home to the Warner brothers Wakko and Yakko, and the Warner sister, Dot. This fact was lost on everyone except me, but I was too embarrassed to admit I understood what he was talking about.


I also proved myself weak at The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, in the heart of Orange County. I dropped $300 for this re-creation of one of Chuck's watercolour paintings, called 'Season To Taste'. Let me give you a better look at it.

I also picked up this inspiring print, which I intend to hang in my office.

As you know, single reader (that guy), I'm obsessed with the Road Runner. But there was plenty of other artwork to stare at or purchase. The Center offers a store where you can buy cels or paintings, anywhere from $30 (like the one you see above) to special edition prints worth $3,000. (like the one I left at the store) An art consultant told me how Chuck Jones' daughter, Linda, has a hand in curating the artwork, and revitalizing it for new sales. The Center is also a non-profit arts organization, offering courses, lectures, screenings and presentations to help "inspire the innate creative genius within each person that leads to a more joyous, passionate and harmonious life and world". Also it's a great place to drop $3,000. Unfortunately, I didn't have that much to spend, but I certainly tried to hit that mark as best I could. I also bought books, clothing and other sundries.

One of those sundries was an official Chuck Jones anvil, as pictured below. Obviously scaled down from the more life-size variety, but still surprisingly weighty considering, the piece proved of particular interest to United States airport security. I packed the anvil (still sealed in its box) into my suitcase, which was checked in. Upon arriving back in Canada, I found a note indicating my bag had been "randomly" searched, and the box containing the anvil had been opened! I'm assuming the security folks were huge Chuck Jones fans like myself. But who knows - maybe it's suspicious, and people just aren't buying anvils like they used to?


Anyway, I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this endless series of photographs from my "animation vacation". If you're a cartoon buff, California is definitely worth the trip. Or if you prefer bridges, they have a couple of those too. I think they're referred to as "architectural marvels" or something. But whatever, you can also buy anvils.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Sea Cels (Beach Blanket Playlist Volume 2)

Unlike last week, I'm not intoxicated this morning. But I am currently snorting bath salts off a surfboard. Just kidding, I'm actually still intoxicated. But because I'm still beach side, I have zero motivation to expand on anything in great detail. Which is why I'm thrilled to dump upon you my Beach Blanket Playlist Volume 2. Take it with you to the beach on your laptop instead of that copy of "Revenge Wears Prada". Or if you can't get to the beach, you can watch it in the shower. Either way, you're welcome.


Donald Duck heads quack back to the beach with Pluto and his noble steed Seabiscuit, in this 1939 short called 'Beach Picnic'.

Pluto apparently enjoyed the surf and sand so much, he paid another visit in 1941, and found a beach buddy in the process in the super-cute 'Pluto's Playmate'.

Daffy Duck is mistaken if he thinks he'll be able to win the heart of Melissa with Nature Boy big pimpin' like that, in 1952's 'Muscle Tussle'.

Little Audrey and her perverted dog seem anything but 'Surf Board' in this 1953 Harveytoon.

Tom shows off shredded guns and shattered teeth, while contending with Jerry and Butch in 1955's 'Muscle Beach Tom'.

Instead of trying to catch mice, Tom later decides to catch waves in 1967's 'Surf-Board Cat'.

While vacationing in Hawaii, that wacky fun-ster George Harrison is challenged to a surf duel in this episode from The Beatles' animated TV series called 'With Love From Me To You'.

Baby Huey spanks the shark (yikes, that sounded better in my head!) and helps us to learn valuable lessons about personal hygiene in this 1994 episode of The Baby Huey Show called 'Beach Blanket Baby'.

A trip to the beach gives Stimpy's friend a few body issues in this 1994 episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show entitled 'Ren's Pecs'.

Ren later returned to the beach in far more confident form in 2003's 'Naked Beach Frenzy'. This was an episode of the Ren & Stimpy reboot that briefly aired on Spike TV called Ren & Stimpy Adult Cartoon Party. The word 'adult' must be paid particularly close attention to here. In fact, the only decent versions of this cartoon that I could find online were all on porn sites. So that's gonna be fun to explain to my girlfriend. Anyway, you're on your own if you want to find the whole thing. But I've included a clip below to give you an idea of what it's like. Honestly, I must warn you though - this couldn't be any more NSFW. This isn't the Ren & Stimpy you partied with in college. In fact, this was the episode that helped to bring about the show's second cancellation, and was never aired on US television. I'll do a more detailed post about the demise of the show when I'm not so hammered. For now though, enjoy this clip in the privacy of your own home. Or on a public beach, you pervert!

I gotta go. I have to delete my browser history before my girlfriend wakes up.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Sea Cels (Beach Blanket Playlist Volume 1)

I'm holidaying by the beach right now. In California. And seeing as I'm too hungover to educate and/or type, I've decided to keep things simple and just share with you my Saturday morning Beach Blanket Playlist Volume 1. Enjop! I mean, enjoy!


It's lifeguard Mickey Mouse to the rescue in 1929's 'Wild Waves'! Speaking of wild, was that Minnie Mouse's bra?

Mickey then goes off-duty for a change in 1931's 'The Beach Party'.

You can't spell 'beach' with out a "B"! And Donald encounters a real 'Bee At The Beach' in this 1950 Disney classic. Fun fact: Apparently the bee is named Spike!

Woody Woodpecker takes a walloping at the docks courtesy of Wally Walrus in 1944's 'The Beach Nut'. But to be fair, the disrespectful little "turkey" deserved it.

Now we join Mighty Mouse already in a mini-musical from 1950 called 'Beauty And The Beach'.

Popeye and Bluto find the beach just as nice a place as any to beat on each other, in 1955's 'Beaus Will Be Beaus'.

Popeye had problems with other louts hitting on his woma-ink as well, as seen in 1950's 'Beach Peach'.

Mr. Magoo, his servant, Charlie, and his dog cat spend 'A Day At The Beach' in this segment from the 1960's TV series. This version is unedited. Later versions of Mr. Magoo would feature a less...well, racist voice for Charlie.

The Pink Panther knocks the wind out of a muscle-head at Bicep Beach, in 1968's 'Come On In! The Water's Pink!'

And The Aardvark's holiday suddenly becomes the "dog" days of summer, as he sniffs through the sand for that pesky Ant again in 1969's 'Dune Bug'

We'll have more beach (Volume 2) next week, as I plan on staying drunk. Happy Shaturday! (hic)

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Great Ant Charlie And Ol' Blue

My neighbour was out in his yard the other day, trying to get rid of ants. His grass is peppered with hills, as is mine. We spoke of various methods used to try and get rid of them. Sprays, traps, powders, boiling water, cayenne pepper, hypnotherapy - nothing seemed to work. So I told him I would do some additional research on the matter (y'know, for both of us) and report back. So I went inside, made myself some iced tea and revisited 10 classic cartoons starring The Ant and The Aardvark. My pain-staking research is as follows.

There were actually 17 classic cartoons featuring The Ant and The Aardvark, released to theatres between 1969 and 1971. They were created by DePatie-Freleng, who were allowed to expand upon their character roster after their Pink Panther cartoons proved popular money-makers for United Artists.

Gag-writer John Dunn, who wrote a large majority of the cartoons, came up with a few sketches of the characters, but they looked nothing like what they would end up becoming.

Animator Corny Cole is credited as being the one who established the final look of the characters. This appealing design is part of what I love about this series.

The Ant, sometimes referred to as Charlie, is a sleepy-looking beatnik type. I like the use of unnecessary lines on his hairy back and under his baggy eyes, which gives him a scraggly, unpolished look.

Speaking of unpolished, the Aardvark's slobby design includes a t-shirt and shorts - all of which are the same colour as his body. This solid blue was created so he'd stand out in front of lighter backgrounds. He too is fine-tuned with stray hair lines, jutting out of his vacuum cleaner-like snout.

They both made their debut in a cartoon directed by Friz Freleng, called...well, 'The Ant And The Aardvark'. Friz also personally directed the premiere instalments of The Pink Panther and The Inspector cartoons as well.

Now that you've watched a cartoon, let's examine some of the other stars of this series who remained behind-the-scenes.

Without their voices, The Ant and the Aardvark would lose a lot of its humour. The Ant is basically a Dean Martin impersonation, and the Aardvark sounds like Jewish comedian Jackie Mason. These voices were provided by John Byner, who fellow Canadians may recall as the host of a 1980's sketch comedy show on CTV called Bizarre.

If you're like me, The Ant and the Aardvark's theme song is probably being a total earworm right now. That music and all incidental score played during the cartoons was provided by a jazz group lead by musical director Doug Goodwin. For the first time ever in cartoons, all 6 musicians (in addition to Goodwin) were credited for their work at the beginning of each short.

And how about the beginning of those shorts? Their unique look came courtesy of animator Art Leonardi, who assembled eye-catching title cards for each cartoon by tearing paper into the shape of its subject matter. 

The Ant and the Aardvark also makes use of gorgeous and colourful backgrounds. Many of the DePatie-Freleng cartoons stood out in this way, with their paint streaked skies and scratched, watercolour-esque scenery.

The Ant and The Aardvark series contained lots of minor supporting characters throughout, but the blue Aardvark's enemy, the green Aardvark received the most screen time. Similar in appearance to his blue brethren, but sounding much tougher (also courtesy of John Byner) - the green Aardvark appeared in 2 cartoons - 'I've Got Ants In My Plans' (1969) and 'Odd Ant Out'. (1970)

I would post all of The Ant and The Aardvark cartoons for us to watch if I could, but the trouble is trying to find a copy of them where the soundtrack isn't butchered. Watch below to see what I mean.

That was an example of The Ant And The Aardvark after it was syndicated for television. As was a common problem with many a cartoon series in the late 1960's and early 1970's, TV networks felt we needed help in figuring out whether or not something was funny, and would sometimes add a laugh track to assist us. The result, like most things with a laugh track, became unfunny. And unfortunately, many of the best quality copies of The Ant and The Aardvark are syndicated TV versions of these cartoons from NBC, with laugh tracks intact. Maybe it was the laugh tracks that helped to make them so popular?

Speaking of altered soundtracks, now watch a version of that same cartoon in German.

Because of the Aardvark's sex change, this series in Germany is known as Die blaue Elise, which translates to Blue Elisa. The Ant isn't even referred to.

The final theatrical outing featuring The Ant and The Aardvark was 1971's 'From Bed To Worse', directed by Art Davis. Despite the popularity and prominent billing the characters had in the Pink Panther TV series, no additional shorts were made. All of the original 17 kept being reused and recycled.

Until 1993. John Byner returned to voice The Ant and the Aardvark for a new TV series called The Pink Panther. While it was cool to hear Byner again, it wasn't cool to hear him interacting with a suddenly verbose Panther.

A newly redesigned Ant and The Aardvark showed up on Cartoon Network in 2010's Pink Panther and Pals, this time without John Byner behind the mic. While the Aardvark still sounds vaguely Yiddish, the Ant now sounds more like Chris Tucker. Actually, he's voiced by Kel Mitchell of Nickelodon's Kenan and Kel fame.

And thus concludes my "research". If you're my neighbour and reading this, I can definitely say that based on what I've learned today, it looks like there isn't any point in buying an aardvark. But I'd better refill my iced tea and watch a few more cartoons to be sure.