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Archive for the ‘Cartoons and Shit’ Category

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 1)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

“This ‘weird creature’ is a human!”


FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST is a well-meaning but not so great movie that was more successful than most of the non-Disney animated features in this very strange early ‘90s period. It didn’t make a ton of money, but it seemed to capture the imagination of some kids, and even got a DTV sequel in 1998. I would venture to guess it will be the most normal animated feature of summer ’92, but like most of the movies that were trying to compete with Disney without doing something drastically different from them, it feels kinda off and out of touch.

It reunites PUMP UP THE VOLUME couple Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, this time with Mathis as the lead and Slater as the jealous secondary boy in her life. Mathis (before SUPER MARIO BROS.) plays a hummingbird-sized fairy named Crysta, and Slater is her shirtless male friend Pips. They fly around and can turn into blue and green (respectively) light and they live in a rainforest that’s supposed to be in Australia and has kangaroos and platypuses living in it. Also there are little goblin guys voiced by Cheech and Chong who fly around on large beetles, but I was a little distracted that they sit on top of their wings, so the beetles seem to just magically float. (read the rest of this shit…)

Toxic Crusaders

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

Murakami Wolf Productions was an American animation studio founded in 1967 by Jimmy T. Murakami and Fred Wolf. Murakami was an animator at the UPA studio and then co-directed the live action Roger Corman films HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS in addition to animated features like WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and segments of HEAVY METAL; Wolf had been an animator on The Alvin Show and The Flintstones before directing such hippie era TV artifacts as The Point, Free to Be… You & Me and Puff the Magic Dragon. In the late ‘80s the toy company Playmates hired Murakami Wolf’s new satellite studio in Dublin to produce a mini-series based on a culty black-and-white comic book to test the waters for a possible line of action figures. It was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and you may remember the hubbub – cowabunga, fight for rights and your freedom to speak, Michelangelo is a party dude, etc.

Several years later, after the entire world had been shaken to its core by the effects of Turtle Power, I guess it seemed to some of those guys like any weird underground shit could be magically turned into a massively lucrative, completely inexplicable pop culture phenomenon. According to Lloyd Kaufman’s book, an agent named John Russo asked if he’d ever considered making his unrated gore and boobs franchise THE TOXIC AVENGER into a G-rated kiddie cartoon, and introduced him to Buzz Potamkin, Emmy-nominated producer of the Berenstain Bears cartoons, the Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue anti-drug PSA and Hawaiian Punch commercials. Potamkin and Murakami Wolf proposed turning THE TOXIC AVENGER into a kid friendly cartoon – an idea that became one 13-episode season of The Toxic Crusaders, which aired in syndication between March 1st and May 20th, 1990. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Animatrix

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

A widely circulated anecdote about THE MATRIX (I believe coming from an interview on the DVD extras) says that when the Wachowskis pitched the movie to producer Joel Silver they showed him Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime film GHOST IN THE SHELL on video and said, “We wanna do that for real.”

The internet being the internet, that story evolved into the usual exaggerations – THE MATRIX is nearly a scene-for-scene remake, so close they had to ask permission, bullshit like that. There’s a cool video on Youtube showing images from THE MATRIX that seem inspired by or lifted from GHOST – lines of green code, plugs in the back of necks, a cool way that Neo lands – but it runs 1:16. There are quite a few other parts in THE MATRIX, in my opinion.

Still, the influence is undeniable, and the Wachowskis have been open about it. You can see what they were interested in there: the intersections between man and machine, super-powered battles in the midst of or above a large city, badasses in sunglasses taking on a bunch of armored cops, or being clawed at by inhuman machines. They did all that for real. (read the rest of this shit…)

101 Dalmatians / Rover Dangerfield

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Earlier this year I did a week of rock ’n roll related animated features, including Don Bluth’s ROCK-A-DOODLE, which was released on August 2, 1991 in the U.K. (though not until the following April in the U.S.). In that review I talked about Disney struggling in the ‘80s, and Bluth disagreeing with their direction and splintering off to try to recapture the old Walt magic, doing a pretty good job for a while but then completely losing the plot by that time, when he made that completely befuddling movie about a farm rooster exiled to animal Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Disney was finally getting their shit together, in a way that reinvigorated the entire American animation industry. It kicked off in the summer of ’88, when Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams’ love letter to animation history WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was a giant hit with adults as much as kids. Then in ’89 THE LITTLE MERMAID perfected the musical fairy tale formula that Disney and its rivals would attempt to recapture for the rest of the decade. (A similar thing was happening on TV, with every network trying to make prime time cartoons in the wake of The Simpsons. Even the cartoons made for younger audiences were beginning to be more creative and less disposable: Nickelodeon debuted Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show on August 11th.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Raya and the Last Dragon

Friday, March 26th, 2021

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is the new Disney animated feature – the computer animated type they’ve been doing since TANGLED. This one is certainly in the Disney mold, and technically about a princess, I guess, but it’s not a musical. It’s a fantasy action adventure set in a mythical ancient kingdom called Kumandra.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, THE LAST JEDI) narrates a prologue explaining the whole deal. People and dragons used to live together in Kumandra (cool!) until these fucking pricks called the Druun, who are basically whirlwinds of smoke and chaos, rolled in and turned all the people to stone. The dragons used their magic to create an orb that saved the humans and expelled the Druun, but that turned all the dragons to stone. The humans were saved but fought over the orb and divided into trabies called Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail, named after their respective regions along a dragon-shaped river.

500 years later young Raya’s dad Benja (Daniel Dae Kim, HELLBOY), the chief of the Heart tribe, trains her in martial arts and acrobatics to protect the orb. She also has an adorable animal pal called Tuk Tuk (voice of Alan Tudyk I, ROBOT, but don’t worry, he doesn’t talk) who’s like a cross between some furry marsupial and a potato bug – he folds into a ball and rolls around to help her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock-a-doodle

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Let me give you a behind the scenes on the making of this review series: I had been meaning to revisit HEAVY METAL for a million years, and one day when I had kind of an itch for that weird vibe of early ‘80s animated fantasy I finally did it. Then I thought hey, I should also watch AMERICAN POP again, that would make a good review pairing. And then I thought hey, I’ve always wondered what was up with that ROCK & RULE movie, it could be a series. And then late in the game I thought “Oh shit, that would be funny to end on ROCK-A-DOODLE! I finally have a reason to watch ROCK-A-DOODLE!”

Obviously this one is really different than the others. It turns out it’s not much about rock ’n roll, and I already knew it wasn’t trying to be adult or edgy like the other ones. That’s not why I skipped it in 1991 – I wasn’t opposed to watching G-rated animation. It was the year of ROVER DANGERFIELD, after all! Just kidding, I didn’t watch ROVER DANGERFIELD. Until later. But BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that year and it was nominated for best picture, so this was pretty much the exact moment in the U.S. when the “adults don’t watch animation” attitude was starting to get pushed back.

It’s directed by Don Bluth, mentioned previously in this series as one of the Disney-influenced alternatives to Disney in the ‘80s. In fact, he was an offshoot: starting as an assistant animator and moving up to directing animator, he worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE RESCUERS, PETE’S DRAGON and THE FOX AND THE HOUND. But later in that run he felt so strongly that the Disney movies weren’t living up to the classical animation legacy of Walt and the generation of artists he’d learned from that he and some of the other animators gathered at his house in their off hours to make an independent short, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, from an idea that the studio had rejected. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock & Rule

Friday, March 5th, 2021

Somehow HEAVY METAL was not Canada’s only rock-soundtrack-animated-fantasy-feature of the early ‘80s. ROCK & RULE (1983) combines the sci-fi/fantasy genre with a story about rock music, as the main characters are a band and the villain is (at least according to the opening text on the American version) a “legendary superocker.” The opening credits list all the bands on the soundtrack before the cast.

This was the first feature film from Toronto-based animation studio Nelvana Limited, who actually turned down an offer to animate HEAVY METAL because they’d been developing this since the late ‘70s. Previously they’d done TV specials like A Cosmic Christmas and The Devil and Daniel Mouse, but I know them for their weird, rubber animation on the Star Wars Holiday Special, which led to them doing the Ewoks and Droids cartoons.

ROCK & RULE takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where (again, according to the text in the American version, unexplained in the original) “The War was over” leaving only dogs, cats and rats alive, and “a long time ago” those evolved into “a new race of mutants.” In other words, it’s a “funny animal” cartoon, where humanoid animals rule the earth and either humans don’t exist or maybe they’re being milked on a dairy farm or something off camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

Heavy Metal

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Six months after AMERICAN POP we got another animated-feature-for-adults-with-a-rock-soundtrack. This entry in the ink, paint and rock ‘n roll mini-genre is not directly about the music, but heavily emphasizes its soundtrack, basing sequences around it not quite like FANTASIA, but not completely unlike it. And some of the visual subject matter definitely shares its DNA with the kind of stuff they put on the album covers for this kind of music.

HEAVY METAL was based on the comics anthology magazine Heavy Metal, which is an English translation of the French magazine Métal hurlant. If they had translated the title literally it would’ve been HOWLING METAL, so it would’ve sounded about fifteen to twenty times cooler, but I bet it wouldn’t have been turned into an animated feature with a soundtrack featuring Sammy Hagar, Nazareth and Black Sabbath. And Devo and Blue Öyster Cult and Cheap Trick and Journey and Grand Funk Railroad and Stevie Nicks. And Riggs? Not the same one we’re thinking of, I don’t think. I don’t know who Riggs is. But he has a song on this.

The movie originates from Canada, specifically producer Ivan Reitman, whose directorial work STRIPES came out the same summer. He’d also produced serious genre movies SHIVERS, THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE and RABID, so this movie being much more of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror type deal than a comedy is not completely out of the blue for him. He’d also produced NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, making him a pioneer of cinematic adaptations of magazine brand names. I wonder if he ever tried to do HIGHLIGHTS’ GOOFUS AND GALLANT? If not they must not have Highlights in Canada, because that’s just a no-brainer. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Pop

Monday, March 1st, 2021

“Music is about the full range of the human condition – good, great, bad, sad. That’s the thing about a classic song – it can keep you going, even if you’re bleeding from the heart.” —Ralph Bakshi

You know who Ralph Bakshi is, right? An animator who worked for Terrytoons as a teenager in the ’50s, did the Spider-man cartoon in the ‘60s, then became sort of the godfather of adult animation in the U.S. by directing the X-rated FRITZ THE CAT. After a few years of that he switched up to be the animated fantasy guy with WIZARDS (1977), THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978) and FIRE AND ICE (1983). The only movie I’ve reviewed by him is his last animated feature (he’s retired from animation now), 1992’s COOL WORLD, which I did as part of my ‘Summer Flings’ series (“a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on”).

Now that I think about it I really should write about more of his movies some day, especially those urban ones from the ‘70s. But for now I had this whim that I want to look at the brief, strange trend of rock ’n roll inspired animated features in the ’80s. And that started in February, 1981 with the release of Bakshi’s unique, odd epic AMERICAN POP.

How’s this for a highfalutin premise: it’s about four generations of an immigrant family and how the history of American popular music weaves through their lives. It starts in Imperial Russia in the 1890s, with intertitles like a silent film, and ends with a stadium rock concert in the ‘80s, animated in a flashy style more inspired by music videos of the time. After young Zalmie Belinski’s rabbi father is killed by the Cossacks, he moves to New York City, where he hangs out backstage at a burlesque show, becomes the back half of a horse costume, then a clown, but wants to sing. The movie follows Zalmie and his descendants through World War I and II and Vietnam, through Vaudevillians, mobsters, beatniks, hippies, punks and, uh… Bob Seger. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?

Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!

No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)