Listen up. I’m going to tell you a horrible, horrible secret. And it’s about me!
I really don’t care for most Disney animation. The earliest black and white stuff is fun, and there are a few shorts here and there that I enjoy. The features? Not as many. Alice in Wonderland… that’s about it. As Craig Ferguson might ask, “how long have you been in ISIS?”
Disney comics is a totally different thing. Every time I’m forced to list my all-time favorite comics creators, Floyd Gotfriedson and Carl Barks are always on that list. Gotfriedson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip brought depth and characterization to the popular rodent. His adventures were truly adventures, full of wit and charm, brilliant craftsmanship, on-the-button pacing, and heart. Lucky for us, our pals at Fantagraphics have been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.
Carl Barks was the master behind Disney’s Donald Duck family of comics, published by Dell and later Gold Key. You’ve probably heard of him: he’s one of the very, very few Disney comics creators who’s adapted work was screen-credited, in Duck Tales. Unca Carl created Uncle Scrooge, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, and a great many other pillars of the Disneyverse. His comics are that good; even better. You will often hear geriatric baby boomers mentioning Barks in the same breath as Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. Here, too, Fantagraphics been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.
But three years ago, my animation preferences expanded to include some work produced by the current Disney studio. I haven’t opened my heart to more of the “original” material; I’m enjoying the new series of Mouse cartoons (featuring the entire Disney-toon cast), available on the appropriate Disney cable channels – excluding ESPN – and on sundry Disney apps for smartphones, tablets, AppleTV… they made it really easy for me to find this stuff.
And who do we have to thank for it?
I’d say Ren and Stimpy.
These shorts, which average a paltry 210 seconds, have damn near everything the classics do not: they are anarchistic, irreverent, self-parodying, and wacky as shit. In other words, they’re entertaining – even to a guy un-American enough to not worship about a half century of Disney animated output. The style, also reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy (and even more reminiscent of small budgets and short deadlines), works perfectly for the pacing.
Of course this material won’t replace those I consider to be the masters of animation such as Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and the Fleischer family. Cartoons aren’t profitable enough to warrant such budgets. But after more than two decades of soulless mainframe computer hyper-modeled “3-D” crap, these new Disney shorts are a breath of fresh air. Damn near all of them. And there’s a lot out there, too.
Give a few a test-drive. Like I said, each takes about three-and-one-half minutes out of your life.
And, because I now like some Disney animation, there’s one less reason to send me to Gitmo.
T’is the season for Christmas related columns, fa-la-la-la-etc. I could write about Star Wars: The Force Awakens but that came out Friday so now it’s old hat and, besides, I haven’t seen it yet and, given the crowds, may not be able to see it until after the first of the year so let’s talk about something else, shaaaaall we?
Christmas is a time of peace, love, and goodwill to all unless you’re doing last minute shopping, running from store to store, and in a life and death struggle with some other harried shopper for the last iteration of a particular item that you both must have. So why is it that, aside from Baby Jesus of course, the most identifiable characters connected with the day are anti-heroes – the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Mr. Potter (from It’s a Wonderful Life)?
Anti-heroes are what we used to call outright villains until it was found that we may identify with them more than perhaps we should. They’re bad guys who have a hint of good guy in them and these days we may sympathize with them more than the erstwhile heroes of the stories that they are in. They’re usually the most interesting and usually have the best lines.
Take the Grinch, for example, especially the Grinch found in the Chuck Jones directed and Boris Karloff voiced cartoon. He even has a song about how bad he is. Some of my favorite lyrics in it go: “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch! You’re a nasty, wasty skunk! Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch!” Admit it. You now have the whole song running through your head. Merry Christmas.
The Grinch lives up the mountain with his dog Max, but is assaulted by the noise coming from Who-ville every Christmas and it is driving him just bat-shit crazy. So he hatches his evil plan: he’ll dress up like Sanity Claus and steal every present from the Whos and every scrap of food including the last can of Who-Hash. (That particular delicacy always troubled me; it implies that the hash is made up of ground up Whos which suggests that the village is a town of cannibals which might make them more interesting than they otherwise appear.)
Instead of tears, the Grinch hears a song of joy from the Whos on Christmas Day. Xmas came all the same. So he has a change of heart (it grew three sizes that day) and returns everything and even joins them for dinner, slicing the roast beast.
The change suggests a desire to change, deep down. Let’s be honest though – the Grinch is funnier and more interesting before his change.
And then there’s Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the Grinch’s literary grandfather. Dickens describes him as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” His very name is a synonym for miser (look it up). When Carl Barks was looking for a name for Donald Duck’s rich and miserly uncle, what else would suit but the name Scrooge?
Ebenezer is a gold mine for bad Christmas attitude. Dickens says of him “To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.” Scrooge is famous for his “Bah! Humbug!” attitude on the season. Early on, he declares: “Out upon merry Christmas. What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
When Scrooge is asked for money to help the poor, he says they should go to the poorhouse since that is what he pays his taxes for. Told that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge snaps, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Oh, that’s cold.
Scrooge, however, saw himself as simply a good man of business and I suspect many on the Right today would see him as the put-upon hero of the story, just another entrepreneur trying to make his way past all those grasping freeloaders with their hands out.
Scrooge gets visited by four ghosts (including his dead partner, Jacob Marley) and, of course, gets reformed. By the end he vows, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Still, there’s enough of the old devil in him to play a rather mean trick on his clerk, Bob Cratchit, on the following day. Thank goodness.
That leaves us, then, with Mr. Potter of It’s A Wonderful Life. Let’s be honest; there’s nothing redeeming about him. He is a miserable old miser like Scrooge; of him it can be sung that he’s a mean one. He has the best – or worst – of the Grinch and Scrooge in him.
Here’s a sample of some his best line and worst attitudes: “I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either so that makes it all even.
“Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me ‘a warped, frustrated, old man!’ What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.
“He [Peter Bailey] was a man of high ideals, so called. Ideals without common sense can ruin this town.
“Ernie Bishop, you know the fella who sits around all day on his brains in his taxi?”
When Peter Bailey asks him why he is so miserly when he has so much money: “Oh, I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you and that idiot brother of yours to spend for me!”
“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas!”
I’m surprised that Mr. Potter isn’t running for the Republican presidential nomination. Or maybe he is and just has gotten lost in the pack. Maybe he’s changed his name to Trump.
Potter gets ahold by mistake of a deposit that belongs to George Bailey and the Savings and Loan he heads up. Knowing this will mean financial ruin and disgrace for Bailey (whom he describes as a boil on his neck), he conceals the fact that he has it.
And he gets away with it!
George is saved by the generosity of family and friends but, by the end of the movie, Potter is not exposed and he never gives the money back. He’s unrepentant and unreformed. You can sort of root for the Grinch and Scrooge but you really just want Potter to die with a stake of holly through his heart. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s an asshole. He’s an outright villain. Die, Potter, die!
Anyway, may your Christmas be merry and bright, one and all. Enjoy the day and enjoy some of these classics. They do embody the feelings of the season.
Let’s just get this out of the way now: Amongst we ComicMixers, the esteemed (and far prettier) Emily S. Whitten is a bigger and better fan of voice actors than I shall ever be. With that being said… aren’t voice actors amazing?
You see, in between bouts of crippling sinusitis and binge-watching Breaking Bad like I was addicted to meth, I opted to catch John DiMaggio’s documentaryI Know That Voice. A fantastic little flick dedicated in celebration of a continually (mostly) unsung hero of the animated world: the voice performer. With interviews from some – if not most – of the current tribe of working actors and actresses who lend their larynx to the cartoons of the day, I simply must recommend watching it yourself soon if you haven’t already.
But that recommendation is not my singular premise of the week, kiddos. For you see, it was that fine feature that finds me floundering on someone who I particularly find perhaps even more incredible than the aforementioned performers – Andrea Romano, voice director.
A quick scan of her Wikipedia bio proved to me why she’s such a favorite of mine – Batman aside, which we’ll get to soon enough. After three years serving in LaLa land, Andrea landed the voice director role for a little show by the name of Duck Tales. For those not in the know, the best I could say is this: Duck Tales still holds up today, and puts plenty of what passes as entertainment now to shame. If you think Adventure Time doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Duck Tales, then you probably think dub step is real music. But I digress.
Duck Tales aside from wondrous writing – some episodes were adapted from classic Carl Barks stories – became a staple to my generation due, in part, to the strong direction in the vocal booth. For someone to be able to help her cadre of pros (and yes, we know Disney don’t fudge ’round when it comes to a good voice… save for Mickey, ha Ha!) produce pathos, angst, fear, pride, and greed in between daring adventures and slapstick? Well, it helped a show about anthropomorphic ducks and dogs going on worldly (and time-travely) jaunts feel like a show that could care less it was about ducks and dogs.
To wax poetic about every line-item in her IMDb profile would be a waste. Suffice to say, Ms. Romano’s resume is the tops. But the devil is in the details, there. Because no matter what else she was help produce in her tenure, Andrea Romano’s magnum opus lay across her impermeable casting and direction of the animated Bruce Timm DCU.
Close your eyes. Imagine Batman and the Joker trading a bit of banter before a major battle. If you’re not hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, I feel mildly sorry for you. Personal preferences aside, when Bruce Timm’s critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series debuted… it was not only the unmistakable visual identity of the show that captivated the world.
The casting was an unheard of coup. Legends of the stage and screen joined well-vetted voice-acting professionals to layer a soundscape that perfected the art of matching an animated presence to realistic voice. I take nothing away from other casts, and cartoons mind you. But I beg for someone to compare the sheer volume of wins Ms. Romano chalks in her column, if by the DCU alone.
Even when facing a recasting, like Superman (heard of him?), Andrea cemented her mettle with me. Tim Daly’s Superman, as originally cast, brought so much to the role. As cast and written, Daly was innocent, untested, strong, but jovial. But by the time we reached George Newbern’s brogue come Justice League: Unlimited, the character had changed. Andrea’s selection delivered one of the most potent speeches ever uttered over celluloid. When through gritted teeth we heard “I live in a world made of cardboard…” in the finale of the series (and the animated DCU-ala-Timm) we heard a Superman that shunted away from his once prentice prose… that was still wholly made of his former self.
Beyond the most recognizable faces she brilliantly cast, Andrea Romano even nailed the minor roles. Take the casting of B-movie mainstay Jeffery Combs as the kooky Question. As a Vic Sage fan since forever, I can’t get Combs’ odd gravelly whisper out of my mind’s ear when I read him. Or take perhaps the hilarious casting of Fred Savage and Jason Hervey as Hawk and Dove, respectively. A wink and a nod to those of us who once grew up with the Arnold brothers of Wonder Years fame, but correctly recast; with the more nasal Hervey cast as the lesser Dove to the now meatier range of Savage. Even when taken out of our times, Romano matched the bravado necessary for Sargent Rock himself with the Hunter, Fred Dryer. I could go on (like the perfectly cocky Tom Everett Scott as Booster Gold, ahem), but my point has been made. And damn it all, I haven’t even gotten to the villains!
As my son begins to gain interest in the animated adventures of his favorite heroes, I’ll be perplexed to find him a definitive Captain America, or Iron Man. Luckily for me, he knows Superman and Batman. So, for the while, I’m well covered.