A moment of silence for one of the greats … Alex “Rocky & Bullwinkle” Anderson

It is difficult to imagine now but there was a time when there was practically no intelligent, funny animation on TV. When I was a kid all that me and the mastodons could watch on TV was Hannah-Barbara mass-produced dreck, leavened with re-runs of the great Warner Bros. cartoons. Wonder why Scooby Doo has such a devoted following? It’s because it was one of the better kids shows on at the time – and it really is just a shade away from pure crap.

BullwinkleRocky & Bullwinkle were the exception. They were to TV what Mad Magazine was to publishing – subversive, under-the-radar, smart and funny commentary on the grown-up world. Boris & Natasha made fun of the Cold War (I have a framed picture of Boris on the wall in the living room at Collateral Damage HQ). Sherman & Peabody made fun of history, Fractured Fairy Tales made fun of, well, fairy tales, Dudley Do-Right made fun of Canada. Of course they were actually making fun of everything in the world under the guise of laughing at these topics but that was part of the fun. (Dudley’s girlfriend, Nell, has a crush on Dudley’s horse!) Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Wossamotta U. stories are a send up of college athletics on a par with The Marx Brother’s Horse Feathers. In this golden age of The Simpsons, South Park, Harvey Birdman, King of The Hill and Futurama it is easy to forget how plain old horrible TV cartoons once were. Even the cartoons explicitly aimed at youngsters are better. I will happily sit down and watch Phineas & Ferb,Kim Possible, Arthur, Rugrats and more without feeling I am being insulted and condescended to as I was watching Hannah-Barbara shows.

While most people associate Rocky & Bullwinkle with Jay Ward

Mr. Anderson, who grew up in a cartooning family in California, was also the creator of Crusader Rabbit, which became television’s first animated cartoon series in 1949. He spent much of his career in advertising, and his role in creating Rocky and Bullwinkle was overlooked with time. He fought a long legal battle late in life to reclaim recognition as the cartoon characters’ artistic father. … Mr. Anderson and Ward grew up together in Berkeley, Calif., and formed a business in the late 1940s to pitch cartoon ideas to television. Crusader Rabbit, Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right were among the characters they showed to studio executives before Crusader Rabbit was picked up. After Mr. Anderson’s other cartoon ideas failed to catch on, he joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Ward moved to Los Angeles, trying to sell TV studios on a Bullwinkle series.

rocky_bullwinkle_4__04070Anderson took legal action after seeing a documentary about Bullwinkle that didn’t even mention his name. He won and in 1993 – four years after Jay Ward’s death — received a lump-sum settlement, along with a court-mandated acknowledgment as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley."

Bless you and thank you, Mr. Anderson.

 

AND ON A SADLY RELATED NOTE: RIP and thank you to Leo Collum, a cartoonist whose blustering businessmen, clueless doctors, venal lawyers and all-too-human dogs and cats amused readers of The New Yorker for the past 33 years, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 68 and lived in Malibu, Calif. For a selection of his cartoons, click here.

A moment of silence for one of the greats … Satoshi Kon

MillAct The brilliant anime director Satoshi Kon has died at the age of 46 from pancreatic cancer. I’m not even going to pretend that most people have heard of him, let alone seen his work, which is a shame. Kon, along with Hayao Miyazaki, are two truly great artists whose chosen media is anime. Kon directed four amazing movies Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika, as well as the incredibly strange and good TV series Paranoia Agent.

Unlike many anime creators, Kon’s work was rooted in the present – not a science fiction future or fantasy past. My favorite of his movies is Millennium Actress (I’m looking at my copy of the poster for it as I write this). It gives the history of 20th century Japan in the form of an actress telling her life’s story. Tokyo Godfathers is about homeless men trying to raise a baby they find. With all of Kon’s work you are never quite sure if what you are seeing is real or not. He brought magical realism to the screen far better than any other director I’ve seen. In Paprika, my least favorite of his movies, he goes over the top in trying to confuse the waking world with the dream world. Paranoia Agent is a totally unique work and well-worth watching. It’s ostensibly about a serial murderer in Tokyo, unless it’s about a woman who create a Hello Kitty-ish character for her company, or maybe it’s about police corruption? Agent is so claustrophobic, weird and, well, paranoid that it makes The Prisoner look like a Disney special.

On the good news side of things, Katoshi’s final film, The Dream Machine, was already in production at the time of his death and will hopefully be finished and released.

Hen thinks it is a penguin or, when life imitates Wallace & Gromit

It’s almost August and that means the papers are filled with stories of animals as media silly season descends upon us. Nowhere is this more true than Metro UK which this week has already run stories on the bear who broke into a house and “stole” a teddy bear and another of a bear who put a safety cone on its head. This last story ran only because someone came up with the headline Cone and the barbearian. In today’s edition we have the breaking news of a Chinese hen who walks like a penguin.

henpenguin

While some may think of this as cute, in reality it is just another case of outrageous copyright infringement by the Chinese. Clearly they have trained this fowl to play the Feathers McGraw role in a horrible live-action rip-off of the classic Wallace & Gromit short “The Wrong Trousers.”

I shall recap the salient plot points for those of you poor pathetic souls who have not yet seen it (but I’m not speaking to you until you correct this error): Wallace rents a room out to a penguin. After displacing Gromit, the penguin is then revealed to be the nefarious bank robber Feathers McGraw. McGraw is a brilliant master of disguise who uses a red rubber glove to transform himself into a chicken (nudge, nudge) when he pulls off his heists. I won’t tell you anymore but I will say that the closing chase scene – involving a toy train set – is (really) one of the best and funniest things I’ve ever seen.

images wgfeath-1 feathers

Extra kudos to the W&G site for having the best competition I’ve seen in a while. “TOP BUN The best Wallace & Gromit-themed baked good uploaded to the site each month will win a set of Wallace & Gromit baking kits.” I believe they mean best picture, either that or they’ve figured out some super cool new technology.

News article about the master, Hayao Miyazaki

He discusses his new movie Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And the overuse of computers in animation:

“I think animation is something that needs the pencil, needs man’s drawing hand, and that is why I decided to do this work in this way,” the silver haired, notoriously shy director told reporters after a press screening. “Currently computer graphics are of course used a great deal and, as I’ve said before, this use can at times be excessive,” he added, speaking through an interpreter. “I will continue to use my pencil as long as I can.”

I was pleased to be reminded that the great one is only 67 & so there are many more years of his creations yet to come.

Hey Pixar-heads — when is it being released in the US?

SAVE THE TOTORO FOREST!!!

As regular readers know I am slavishly devoted to master animator Hayao Miyazaki and consider his movie My Neighbor Totoro which was released 20 years ago to be one of the greatest films ever made.  Now Sayama Forest, also known as Totor Forest, which inspired Miyazaki to create the movie is the focus of an effort to save it from further destruction by developers.

In artistic terms this wood is the equivalent of Monet’s gardens at Giverny or Arles for van Gogh and Gaugin.

The Totoro Forest Project is the brainchild of Enrico Casarosa and Dice Tsutsumi and has not surprisingly received the enthusiastic support of Pixar.

I quote from Animation Magazine:

Artists from around the world were asked to come up with artwork inspired by the gentle creature depicted in the landmark movie. Over 200 original pieces from internationally acclaimed artists and animators—William Joyce, Andreas Deja, Timothy Lamb, Ronnie del Carmen, Ralph Eggleston, Pete Docter and Peter de Seve, to name a few—are featured in this one-of-a-kind event which tries to answer the question “What is your Totoro?” The auction will be held at Pixar Animation Studio on September 6th. A companion art book, edited by Karen Paik (The Story of Pixar), will also be available at the event. Selected artwork from the Totoro auction will be featured as two special exhibitions at The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (Exhibit A: Sept. 26-Dec. 7; Exhibit B: Nov. 6-Feb. 20).

The website is truly awesome: Totoro Forest Project.

Now to figure out how to get to San Francisco.

WALL*E is amazingly good

In no particular order the greatest animated movies I’ve ever seen are:

All of these are among the greatest movies ever made PERIOD.

Add to that list, WALL*E. Even by Pixar’s admittedly high standards, WALL*E is exceptional. If it doesn’t have the characters as complex as some other movies it is because it is a fable. In that respect it has a lot in common with Edward Scissorhands.

WALL*E is tells a fine, simple (not obvious) story superbly. (I’m going to stay away from plot synopsis. Go see it. We’ll talk.) It is essentially a silent movie, a great and bold decision (and something it shares with Triplets). In addition to being a fine filet of consumer culture, W also includes an extended comment on the sterility of life in a controlled environment designed for nothing but amusement. That would be the bread and butter of Pixar’s life-partner Disney. Is this:

  1. a cynical comment by a company that makes its money from these parks; or
  2. a truly subversive effort to sway the people who make The Land of Mouse so profitable?

Not sure. But I do know it’s great.

I could go on but I’m tired and heading off for vacation. See you all in a week.

Japanese appoint cartoon character to be ambassador

DoraemonFurther proof of the growing influence of anime in Japanese politics: The foreign ministry announced Friday it was appointing the cartoon cat Doraemon as the nation’s first “anime ambassador,” in Japan’s latest effort to promote its soft power through its animation industry. Doraemon — or at least a person dressed as the earless, blue-and-white cat — will receive his official assignment letter from Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura in a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday.

  1. He’s got just as much foreign policy experience as either of our last two presidents did before taking office.
  2. They should have gone with Totoro.
  3. If they ever figure out a way to weaponize cute cartoon characters Japan will rule the world.

Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?

As in brilliant timing for marketing?

Two weeks ago Warner FINALLY released the first season of the seminal “Pinky & The Brain” on DVD. Saturday, the Bild newspaper reports “a German scientist has been testing an ‘anti-stupidity’ pill with encouraging results on mice.” Way to keep the one hit story of the release alive!!! They’re not sleeping in Dusseldorf … er Burbank.*

BTW, answers to the question above include:

  • Um… I think so, Brain, but what if the chicken won’t wear the nylons?
  • I think so Brain, but why would anyone want a depressed tongue?
  • I think so Brain, but pants with horizontal stripes make me look chubby.
  • Well, I think so Brain, but if we didn’t have ears, we’d look like weasels.
  • Well, I think so Brain, but isn’t Regis Philbin already married?
  • Well, I think so Brain, but balancing a family, and a career? Ooh, it’s all too much for me.
  • I think so Brain, but… Kevin Costner with an English accent? I dunno.
  • I think so, Brain, but how will we get the Spice Girls into the paella?
  • I think so Brain, but Zero Mostel times anything will still give you Zero Mostel.
  • I think so, but where will we find an open tattoo parlor at this time of night?
  • I think so Brain, but burlap chafes me so.
  • I think so, Brain, but how are we going to make pencils that taste like bacon? Or maybe we should make bacon that tastes like pencils.
  • I think so, Brain, but then it’d be Snow White and the Seven Samurai…
  • I think so, Brain, but if they called them “sad meals” no one would buy them.
  • I think so Brain, but if you replace the P with an O, my name would be Oinky, wouldn’t it?
  • Uh… yeah, Brain, but where will we get rubber pants our size?

NARF!!!!

*“You think we’re sleeping in Dusseldorf? You think we’re taking a nap in Cologne? No, we’re working at night — each night a new dial, a new knob, a diode, a transistor …” — Professor Krassman (Mel Brooks), The Muppet Movie