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.

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