Tagged: Saturday Morning Cartoons

REVIEW: Twice Upon a Time

People of a certain age (i.e. “Old”) will remember when in the early days of HBO, a weird ,wild animated film called Twice Upon a Time made the rounds.  Many paid it heed because it was executive produced by George Lucas, currently in the process of imprinting our childhoods with a new mythology.  But except for a laserdisc and VHS release, the film rather fell off the table, save for dedicated maniacs who remembered it fondly.

Warner Archives, print-on-demand masters of unearthing lost bits of cinema and making them available to the masses, have achieved the impossible and presented the world with a brand new release of the film, unearthing both audio tracks, and getting many of the animators together for a commentary track, including Henry Selick, who has gone on to great things like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and in that order.

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Botch (Marshall Efron) presents a perfectly reasonable plan; Mum entreats his cohorts this is not the case

The film tells the tale of two magical lands; Frivoli and The Murkworks, who create the happy dreams and horrid nightmares, respectively, for The Rushers of Din, a land that looks suspiciously like San Francisco.  The head of The Murkworks, Synonymess Botch (voiced by former Sunday School teacher Marshall Efron) hatches a plan to plunge Din into eternal nightmares, and cons our heroes Ralph the All-Purpose Animal (Lorenzo Music) and his cohort Mum (who…remains so) into stealing the main spring from The Cosmic Clock, which will freeze time and allow Botch to set his plan into motion.  They attempt to undo their blunder with the help of their (and everyone’s) Fairy Godmother (Judith Kahan Kampmann) and Rod Rescueman (James Cranna) a superhero in training.

The animation style of the film is a unique delight, a process called Lumage, that uses colored paper and fabric cutouts to create the characters, a process that inspired the creators of South Park decades later.  Animator John Korty used the process for a number of shorts for Sesame Street, most notably “The Adventures of Thelma Thumb” (starring Kahan and Cranna), which amazingly is not available on the web anywhere or I’d have linked to it just there.

0001The tale of the two audio tracks is somewhat of a confusing tale.  There’s a more raunchy version of the dialogue that features a number of curse words – it’s been long assumed that was the original version of the film, but that’s not the case.  As Korty explains in the commentary, they were contractually obligated to deliver a family-friendly film, and so they did.  But when sneak previews proved unsuccessful, Korty’s producer Bill Couturié (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt) took it on himself to re-record many of the lines with more salty language, to attempt to make the film more accessible to an older audience.  It had the opposite reaction – the film’s limited release resulted in numerous walkouts and demands for refunds, and the wide release was cancelled.  The second version is the one that was (accidentally, it’s believed) to HBO, and when it was replaced with the “clean” version for later showings and the video release, the belief arose that the film had been censored – indeed, it had been returned to its original form. Interestingly, even Warner Archives mixes this up – They describe the dirty version as the “Director’s Original Version”, when in fact it’s the PG version that was Korty wanted and delivered.

The print is in widescreen for the first time on video, and bright and pristine, the sound (both versions) is clear and clean.  The songs by Bruce Hornsby and Maureen McDonald are pleasant, and don’t litter the cinematic landscape like so many kids’ movies. It’s truly a forgotten classic, one that deserves a new generation of eyes on it.

REVIEW: Thunderbirds are Go

tbirds1I’m giddy as a schoolgirl, and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

I should explain.

Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds is as major a lynchpin of my childhood as M&Ms, my Big Jim collection, and faking sick to stay home from school…usually to watch Thunderbirds. The Tracy brothers, launching rescue missions from their secret island, was filled with edge of the seat action, staggering special effects and miniatures, and engaging character work.  This is made more impressive that the characters were played by marionettes.  Electronically keyed to the dialogue and incredibly detailed, but marionettes nevertheless.  The show is as well-loved and respected worldwide, but most so in England, where it’s as beloved as other Sci-Fi touchstone Doctor Who.  So it was rather a given that they’d go for a remake of the series eventually, and the 50th anniversary is just too tempting for anyone to pass up. (more…)

Legendary Pictures announces Electra Woman and Dyna Girl remake

Legendary Digital Media and Fullscreen have partnered with YouTube phenoms Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart in an updated version of Sid & Marty Krofft‘s classic 70’s TV series Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, bringing the property to a new generation of viewers. Fullscreen will debut and exhibit Electra Woman and Dyna Girl in the U.S. with Legendary Television Distribution overseeing global distribution. Sid & Marty Krofft will executive produce the project.

The reboot will start internet superstars Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart as the seventies icons (shut up, this is my article).  The series, comes on the heels of Helbig’s crossover from YouTube fame to television as the host of a late night talk show for E! which premieres in April. Both Helbig and Hart have large social media followings with a combined total of over 10 million subscribers and followers over all of their YouTube and social media platforms. This series also follows Helbig’s and Hart’s recent digital feature film success, Camp Takota, which was executive produced by Helbig and Hart and produced by Fullscreen’s Chief Content Officer Michael Goldfine, and picked up by Netflix last year.

Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was one of the tentpole shows of The Krofft Supershow, which also featured Wonderbug, Magic Mongo and Dr. Shrinker. (and if you’ve got the theme for the last one in your head now, you’re welcome.) Deidre Hall (Days of our Lives) and Judy Strangis (Room 222) played the title characters as well as their secret identities as reporters for NewsMakers magazine.  With the assistance of technical genius Professor Frank Heflin (Norman Alden) they fought “Electra-Villains” like Glitter Rock, The Pharaoh and the Spider-Lady.

Am I gonna insert the theme? Oh you KNOW I’m gonna insert the theme…

Of course, the synopsis of the new series certainly suggests that we may not see the same level of action and special effects as the original…

Electra Woman and Dyna Girl follows two superheroes as they move from Akron to Los Angeles in hopes of making it big in the crime fighting world, only to find competition with other vigilantes and infighting amongst themselves.

So there’s that.

Sid and Marty Krofft are responsible for some of the most memorable children’s entertainment of the seventies, and some of the most over the top variety programming in the years to follow. Starting off with classics like H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville and The Bugaloos, the Kroffts ruled the roost of Saturday mornings.  Breaking into prime time programming, they produced the Donny and Marie variety show, as well as ones for the Brady Bunch, the Mandrell Sisters, and God help us, Pink Lady (and Jeff).

We’ve seen a number of remakes of their shows over the years – ABC presented a new version of the Land of the Lost, which Marty Krofft, in an interview with yours truly, suggested was indeed connected in some way to the land as seen in the original series.  There was a pilot for a new version of Electra Woman in 2001 with Markie Post and Anne Stedman.  Several years ago they announced that Dreamworks had obtained the right to Lidsville to produce an animated feature, a project still in development, if it hasn’t already fallen into the Shampoo River.

For more information on the new series, sign up for updates at www.ElectraWomanDynaGirl.com,  follow their twitter, @ElectraDyna, or just follow me around, cause I’m not gonna stop talking about this, ever.

Mike Gold: Saturday Cartoons No More? Sleep In!

A friend of mine was complaining about how there aren’t any more Saturday morning cartoons on teevee. I wasn’t the only one who thought, “damn, bro, through the miracle of cable teevee we’ve got cartoons everywhere, all the time.”

Then I started to think about it from a historical perspective. Saturday morning cartoons started when local teevee programmers started turning their lights on early sometime around 1950, recognizing that small children were attracted to the boob tube like babes to teat. Somebody in the advertising community realized that kids have enormous influence over their parents’ breakfast cereal purchasing decisions. Not coincidentally, Kellogg’s came out with Frosted Flakes and Sugar Pops in 1951 and Sugar Smacks in 1953. Also not coincidentally, the incubation period for diabetes is about 30 years, which is why this particular plague has been devastating the Baby Boomers for over 15 years now.

In the world of commercial broadcasting, invention is the mother of necessity. Local programmers had no budget for Saturday mornings so they put on cartoons that were in the public domain, including silent cartoons and the works of the Fleischer brothers – no wonder my generation warmed up to LSD in the late 60s.

It didn’t take long for the network programmers to notice, and it didn’t take long for the packaged food industry learned just how seductive the phrase “pre-sweetened” was to baby Baby Boomers. Chocolate milk enhancers, flavored straws, powdered sugar candy, and something called “Maypo” which, in fact, was actually maple-flavored oatmeal. It was created in 1953, but its 1956 television commercial with the catchphrase, “I Want My Maypo” (animated by the legendary John Hubley) quickly became the most obnoxious thing uttered by children en masse since Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. It is no surprise that most, if not virtually all, such products featured cartoon characters or cartoon-like characters that could be used in animated commercials.

Nostalgia for one’s childhood delights is a powerful force, and not always a force for good. Nonetheless, it is a strong part of our popular culture business and of the comics racket in particular. Look at all the comic book revivals of GenXers’ cartoon shows such as G.I. Joe and Transformers.

Sure, now we’re worried about this “health” thing. Now that we’re craven sugar addicts. And, yeah, I blame Saturday morning cartoons for being the delivery system. But I am not pissed about it. I enjoyed all that shit.

Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks which became, simply, “Smacks.” Personally, I would have changed the Smack word and kept sugar. But they didn’t sell opiates on Saturday morning teevee.

Until Rush Limbaugh came along.

 

REVIEW: “The 7D” – They prefer the term “heroes”

Disney television animation has slowly but surely been expanding its stable of decidedly “Non-Disneyish” series.  From Phineas and Ferb to Gravity Falls, there’s a rising tide of irreverent and wacky series that bring a breath of fresh air to the various Disney cable channels.  Their latest show seems much more like a 90s Warner Brothers show, and it comes by that honestly, being executive produced by Tom Ruegger, one of the gifted madmen behind Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.

The 7D is a new take on the Seven Dwarfs, with no Snow White in sight.  The band of bitsy brothers reside in Jollywood, a starter-level enchanted kingdom ruled by the daffy Queen Delightful (Leigh-Allyn Baker) with the assistance of her aide de camp, Lord Starchbottom (Freakazoid!‘s Paul Rugg, who’s also writing for the show).  When crisis looms, she calls on the 7D, who hie hither hastily from the gem mine to provide assistance in their own madcap fashion.

The voice cast for the show is an all-star list.  Folks like Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Kevin Michael Richadson and Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy) voice the dwarfs, with guest stars like Whoopi Goldberg as the Magic Mirror and Jay Leno as the crystal ball.  In her first but very successful foray into voice work, Kelly Osbourne plays Hildy Gloom, a beginner baddie whose plan is to take over Jollywood to help pad her fledgling resume.

The names are all that remain from their original appearance – this team of tiny titans are all action, with the adventures and craziness running hot and heavy as they combat Hildy and her new husband Grim (played by Jess “Wakko Warner” Harnell).  The show is aimed at the young tween audience, but as was true of Ruegger’s past creations, there’s plenty of comedy to keep the adults happy as well.

The 7D premieres Monday, July 7th at 10AM on Disney XD.

Review: Scooby Doo! WrestleMania Mystery

SCoobymaniaVince McMahon is a certified marketing genius. Always keen to find a new way to reach a new audience, he tied pro wrestling to rock and roll, and in doing so, made it a part of popular culture to a level it hadn’t been since the early days of television.  His knack for cross-promotion has struck gold again, with a crossover between the WWE Superstars and the animated adventures of the Great Dane Detective and the Mystery Inc gang in their newest direct to video movie, Scooby Doo WrestleMania Mystery, out just in time to help promote WrestleMania XXX, coming to your screens this Sunday, April 6.

The voices and likenesses of the current crop of WWE Superstars like John Cena, Triple H, Divas Champion AJ Lee and Santino Marella team up with Scooby and the gang in a fun throwback to the old days of The New Scooby Doo Movies, which featured guest star crossovers galore. The voice cast of Mystery Inc are the team that have been handling the job for the TV shows as well as the Direct to Video features for some time now.  Frank Welker still provides the voice of Stalwart Freddy Jones, and has also capably taken over the voice of the eponymous hound.  Mindy Cohn, late of The Facts of Life is Velma Dinkley, and voice talent extraordinaire Grey Delisle Griffin is Daphne BlakeNorville “Shaggy” Rogers is now voiced by Matthew Lillard, who proved to us in the live-action films that it is actually possible to genetically breed actors to play specific parts.

The story is set in “WWE City” a combination resort complex, production center and training camp for the superstars.  Scooby and the gang win a trip to the resort after getting a perfect score in the new WWE video game, just in time for Wrestlemania, the unveiling of the priceless new WWE championship belt, and the recent attacks by a mysterious monster, the Ghost Bear.  Seems almost like they could be, y’know, connected, huh?  The Bear is allegedly the spectral remains of a wrestling bear in a touring show, undefeated until he fell at the hands of the great-grandfather of luchador and current WWE Superstar Sin Cara. With the help of long time wrestling trainer Cookie (Chares S. Dutton) and his nephew Ruben, the gang investigates the origins of the bear attacks, which takes on an extra level of required hurry-up when Scooby is accused of stealing the championship belt. They must find the culprit (and the bear) before, according to WWE City law, Scooby and Shaggy will be forced to prove their innocence on the field of battle, facing Kane in the opening match at WrestleMania.

The film is loads of fun, with a suitably wacky storyline, mixed with well done action and chase scenes. There’s enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing until the mask is whipped off the baddie. The superstars’ charisma carry over to the animated form, and it’s clear everyone had a good time making the movie.  Also included on the disc is a behind the scenes documentary featuring the wrestlers’ voice recording sessions and an episode of underappreciated classic of the Doo continuity A Pup Named Scooby Doo, a show The Wife and I loved so much, we named our child after one of its characters, namely Shaggy’s baby sister.  (Thank goodness we had a girl, or we’d have had to name her “Red” Hoerring.)

Scooby Doo WrestleMania Mystery is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Box Office Democracy: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

I was a big fan of The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show as a child and while I enjoyed almost all of the segments “Peabody’s Improbable History” was a particular favorite.  I don’t know what it is but time travel and know-it-alls have always appealed to me.  It was because of this fandom and the horrific earlier attempts to make films out of the Jay Ward cartoons that made me approach Mr. Peabody & Sherman with particular trepidation.  I’m happy to report that these fears were unfounded and that Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a generally delightful movie.

After perhaps a bit too much exposition (the original cartoon never seemed to need much more than talking dog, pet boy, time machine) Mr. Peabody & Sherman gets right into a trip to Revolutionary France that plays like a more action-packed version of an old-school Peabody short.  It even closes with a pun.  From there the movie packs on a rather stunning amount of plot when all I really wanted was more of the classic formula.

This is the peril of the modern reboot movie; they often lose the fun in favor of a more modern approach to storytelling.  I don’t care about Sherman being bullied for having a father that’s a dog, I don’t care about irrationally angry school counselors that want to involve Child Protective Services, I only care about Mr. Peabody hosting a dinner party because the characters attending are voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann, and I don’t really need Mr. Peabody to learn a lesson about being a good father.  I just want time travel and jokes and for a good percentage of those jokes to be terrible puns.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask and the movie delivers on this frequently but I left the theater wanting more.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is better than it is bad and I enthusiastically await a sequel (it seems on pace for those kind of numbers assuming the rights aren’t a mess) but there are so many tiny flaws holding this one back from the excellence that was in its grasp.  I’ve seen enough terrible kids movies the last two years that very good is more than enough for me but if I were Rob Minkoff and I had directed this and The Lion King I would feel like this one could have been a bigger deal.