Saturday, 29 March 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - March Madness

Let's take a time out this morning to watch some basketball cartoons! On nothin' but 'Net!

First, as is customary with any sports-themed feature, a quick primer on the game is provided by animation's premier athlete, Goofy - with more sports-on-steroids hyperactivity from regular Disney coach Jack Hannah, in 1946's 'Double Dribble'. Lots of fouls in this game.

Lots of fowl in this game.

Lots of foul...language, in this episode of The Boondocks called 'Ballin'.

Here's a slightly-racist (and sexist) 1974 short called 'Basketball Jones', which was a cartoon released in select theatres in front of the Jack Nicholson film, The Last Stand. The song is by Cheech and Chong. You can see them in animated form at the 3:16 mark. You can also see The Beatles at the 3:39 mark. This is kind of an in-joke, as George Harrison actually plays guitar on the song.

Despite what you may think, Ralph Bakshi is not responsible for this clip. A guy named Paul Gruwell is. 

Not sure who plays guitar in Basketball Cats, but he is awe-soooome!

Speaking of Animation Domination, I told you a couple of weeks ago to watch Lucas Bros. Moving Co. Why didn't you listen to me? Well, now's your chance to be a team player again, by clicking the below pic to watch 'Big Head Mike'.

Pretty sure I shouldn't be including anything relating to Harlem Globetrotters in a post about basketball. But figured I've already made a mockery out of the game, so...

Similar to their actual "games", Harlem Globetrotters were always winners on Saturday mornings. Their original Hanna-Barbera series ran from 1970-1972 on CBS, and then re-aired on NBC in a new program called The Go-Go Globetrotters. They also appeared in 3 episodes of The New Scooby Doo Movies.

By 1979 they started to wear out their welcome, once a magical set of lockers turned them into...

How do these shows even get green-lit? If that doesn't put the madness into March (or any month, for that matter) then I don't know what does. 


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - You're Computer Animated, Charlie Brown!

I remember it plain as day. I'm assuming it was 1980, when Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!) was first released. My mom was trying to convince me to watch a fun kids movie, but I had a crying fit outside of Clear Lake's Park Theatre, because I was concerned there was a fire on the movie poster. I think I was generally scared of fire around that time, and I guess I didn't want to see Charlie Brown in peril like that. Didn't seem like a good time to me. So I had a crying fit, and my mom was suitably embarrassed. 

Fast forward 30 decades, and now I'm scared to watch the new Peanuts film, which just received a teaser trailer last Tuesday. Assuming you've already seen it? 

Peanuts is sacred to Charles M. Schulz fans, so I doubt I'm alone in fearing this. And what if there's a fire in it? (starts crying)

I'm frightened because Peanuts has always only had one voice, and it was the inner anguish and insecurities channelled through Schulz that made it register. His foibles, his longing, his world-view - these were uniquely his own. And it's hard to imagine a group of people trying to copy that. Why would you even want to put yourself through that dysfunction?

Two of the new project writers share Schulz's bloodline - Craig Schulz (Sparky's son) and Bryan Schulz (Sparky's grandson). It's a connection that instills some faith in the project, but if you're like me, you won't believe it until you see it. 

I told my friend, Troy, the other day that Craig's connection to one of the more recent Peanuts TV specials had given me hope. If you haven't watched 2011's Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, you're really missing out. Craig was a co-writer on that project, and it is as close as you could possibly come to a classic Peanuts TV special. It was also probably aided by the fact that much of the storyline was based on material that Sparky had originally written for his comic strip. But what was also jarringly refreshing was the voicework, which hadn't sounded right for many years. And the animation was reminiscent of Bill Melendez's early offerings. 

Bill Melendez is the main reason why I want a moustache, and why I'm so skeptical to see this new Peanuts movie. He set the tone for Charlie Brown, mostly because he had to.

"One thing that helped us in a negative fashion was the terrible budgets", he says in a quote from the excellent book "The Art And Making Of Peanuts Animation". "We were forced to do the best we could within those dumb budgets. Had we started from the very beginning using computers and trying to animate these characters as close to real-life animation as possible, it would have been a disaster."

It's interesting he says that, because computer animation is all about perfection. Craig Schulz in a recent interview with USA Today was commenting on how 3D was finally going to allow us to see Snoopy's fur. Well...I guess it's nice to know there's a reason why we're charged an additional $3 to see the movie, but I still don't think it's necessary. The reason Melendez's work is so perfect is because it's minimalist, like Schulz's comic art. Mind you, kids who'll be watching this won't be comparing it to the comic strip or any other previous incarnation of Peanuts. They'll be comparing it to the CG movies they watched this year. 

I will be very surprised if they can make the animation stand out using CG. All of the Peanuts specials had moments of experimentation - with timing, backgrounds, character design, etc. I doubt we'll see anything quite that abstract in the new movie. 

Some of my favourite parts in the previous Peanuts films are those quick scenes of experimentation. 

Check out this moment from the first Peanuts feature film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), where Snoopy gets very patriotic.

Or how about this unexpectedly artful and educational Beethoven break with Schroeder?

The title sequence from the second Peanuts feature film called Snoopy Come Home (1972) is also inventive.

I've included a link to watch the whole movie below. It's the best of all the feature films in my mind. If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, at least fast forward to the 14:30 mark and watch the next 4 1/2 minutes from there. It is the best and funniest Peanuts animation ever made, in which Snoopy is a total jerk and picks fights with Linus and Lucy. Animator Bill Littlejohn, an unsung hero in the pre-2000 Peanuts world, cranks out some incredibly funny drawings - fascinating in the way he can squash and stretch Schulz's style, without losing the basic roots.

Like most cartoons of the time, the animation became more standardized by the time Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!) came out. Or at least I think it did. There's far too much peril in those movies for me, thanks! (stars crying) But I did manage to muster up the courage to watch this funny tennis sequence in Bon Voyage, which features some interesting background changes.

Snoopy's more manic tendencies were not only enhanced by Bill Melendez's direction, but also by his voice, which was used for both Snoopy and Woodstock in sped up bursts of gibberish or laughter. I was encouraged to read that archived clips of Melendez will be used for both characters in the new Peanuts film. It's a weird series of sounds that you'd think would be easy to replicate, but I guess not. For all of the negative things I say about CG, it's nice that computers will still allow Melendez's character to live on - albeit in a different, hairier, unnecessarily 3-dimensional form. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Cool Stories, Bros

Sorry, Rick And Morty. My new favourite grown-up funny picture story is called Lucas Bros. Moving Co.

Kenny and Keith Lucas write for and voice Kenny and Keef (sic) Lucas in this new segment seen on FOX's Animation Domination, airing on Saturday nights. They have a moving company (obvs) and together they get into all sorts of wacky shenanigans. It's a real hoot. And I'm not just saying that because the show seems to run on reefer. It's a genuinely funny, messed-up program!

You may recall me writing about FOX's Animation Domination last year, when it had showcased an equally messed-up segment entitled Axe Cop. This new season features Lucas Bros. Moving Co. in the opening half of the show, and another new cartoon in the latter half called Golan The Insatiable. Golan is okay - kinda okay, but not really. But I guess it's hard to follow up a show as sublime as Lucas Bros.

A lot of Lucas Bros.'s humour comes from the laid-back leads. Their voices comprise at least 50% of why this show is funny. But it also has a weirdly fantastic vision to it, with occasionally trippy and interesting animation (similar in style to another fave of mine, Superjail!), which provides hilarious contrast to the dozy dialogue.

Before we get into the cartoon, you should meet the live-action Lucas Bros. from their Comedy Central show called The Super Late Morning Show With The Lucas Bros.

To temporarily sound like my parents, I'm not a big fan of drug humour. Sorry, did you just yell out "Narc"? Okay, let me explain. I'm not talking about comedy written by drug-addled deadbeats - that's cool. In fact, it's encouraged! No, I'm referring to entertainment that features the glorification of drug use. Rarely is it funny to me, with the exception of 2 out of 3 Harold and Kumars. But there's something sweet and nerdy to Lucas Bros. that stands out. They make sparking up a spliff seem absolutely charming!

Why not toke take in in an episode for yourself and let me know what you think? Click on the pictures to watch. Do not pass. But don't puff either, kids. Stay in school. You could be Governor General one day.



This observation may prove to be an excellent viewing incentive for many of my friends - The Lucas Bros. LOVE wrestling. Look at some of the posters they have up in their room. Look closely at the end credit logo of their production company. Also, this episode just happens to guest star Jake "The Snake" Roberts.


This observation may also prove to be an excellent viewing incentive for many of my friends - Jake "The Snake" Roberts appears in this episode too.


Jake "The Snake" Roberts ALMOST appears in this episode, but proves unavailable.


Finally, a TV program in the new millennium that recognizes Vampire In Brooklyn! I'm embarrassed at how quick I am to laugh at a lousy Eddie Murphy impersonation. 


This last episode (for now) also co-stars Big Snake Jake. 

Oh, snap! That's it? Well, hopefully we'll see more of this series soon. I'm assuming we will. These Bros seem pretty ambitious to me.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Comic Ballin'

I had mentioned last week, that the 1990's were a dark time for Looney Tunes. Thanks to the success of Space Jam, all of our favourite Warner Bros. characters had become sport franchise shills. But to be fair, there had been evidence of what would be to come 6 years before Space Jam.

In the early 90's, like any boy, I collected sports cards. Except mine had Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote on them. They were called Comic Ball cards, and they were a legitimate creation of a respectable company called Upper Deck. It was a bit left-of-centre for them. In fact, to this day, I'm not sure who their target audience was.

They were baseball cards, written and drawn by Chuck Jones, featuring classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters representing official MLB teams. Every character would wear a cap and jersey with an MLB team logo on it. And they all got together and played baseball, as only the classic Looney Tunes cartoon characters could.

It sounds like an awful idea based on how I've described it. But thanks to Chuck's "looney" sensibilities and creative license, they were actually a pretty fun series that played like a storyboard for a never-before released Chuck Jones cartoon.

The cards were double-sided, so that when placed in sheets, they would read like a comic strip - left to right, front and back. There were also special holographic cards (like every other card series of the 90's) that were the most sought after.

I didn't quite collect the whole series. I'm missing 1 or 2 cards from most of the storylines. But upon looking at them again last week, I realized I had 4 complete stories, and I thought it would be fun to share them with you today. I have to think it must be some of Chuck Jones' least-known artwork. And even lesser known considering the cards were not that popular. Or so I've read.

Still, they were recognized enough to warrant 2 subsequent Comic Ball series after that, along with 1 NFL-themed Comic Bowl. But these later cards featured less skilled, more generic artwork. They were kinda fun as they attempted to go the Space Jam route, by marrying the artwork with photos of sports legends. But it was an awkward idea, and could've been better handled by more legitimate cartoonists.

The later cards were also kind of a rip-off as the cartoon strips were only on one side. The flip side to each card featured Looney Tunes fun-facts on a puzzle piece.

But enough of that crap. Here, for your potential enjoyment, is the World Series of Comic Ball - 4 original stories by Chuck Jones, as depicted in cards 260 thru 357.

The dialogue bubbles are strange and hard to read at times. Chuck was an artist, not a letterer. But they reveal how important language was to Chuck, and how it helped to properly flesh out his creations. You can admit that you were reading the dialogue out loud in a terrible Mel Blanc impersonation, if you want.

Also interesting is Chuck's handling of characters that weren't really his own during the classic days of animation. Sylvester and his son were usually handled by Friz Freleng. But here you can see Chuck filling in his shoes nicely, with the most dialogue-heavy story of the 4 presented. It's also interesting to see his takes on Tweety, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn and Tasmanian Devil, who had usually been left to Freleng and Robert McKimson.

That's Ball Folks!