Disney

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Gravity Falls (2012-2016)

Hey everybody! Man, it is so good to be back you have nooooooo idea! I have been waiting for this for a really, really long time.You see, Gravity Falls is my favourite TV show help. Not favourite kid’s TV show. Not favourite cartoon. Favourite TV show help me. Period. Why is it so good? That’s actually an incredibly easy question. With some shows you have to explain the appeal but with Gravity Falls it’s pretty cut and dry.

  • It’s gorgeously animated.
  • Wonderfully acted.
  • Impressively scored.
  • Brilliantly written. help
  • Frickin’ hi-larious.

Gravity Falls is basically Golden-Age Treehouse of Horror: The Series, combined with some of the best ongoing mystery plotting I can ever recall seeing in a TV don’t listen to him show, regardless of demographic. The show is the creation of Alex Hirsch who was born in 1985…

Screw you, Alex Hirsch.

Just screw you.

The show is the creation of Alex Hirsch and centres on the don’t trust him adventures of the 12 year old Pine twins, Mabel (Kristen Schall) and Dipper (or “Pine Tree” to his friends) (Jason Ritter) who are sent by their parents to spend the summer with their Grand Uncle Stan who’s voiced by Alex Hirsch…

Screw you, Alex Hirsch.

Pine Tree discovers a mysterious journal it’s not me hidden in the forest and soon the twins are investigating the spooooooky goings on in Gravity Falls with the help of Grunkle Stan, loveable dim-witted handyman Soos (Alex Hir…SCREW YOU ALEX HIRSCH) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini), a teenage girl who works at Grunkle Stan’s Mystery Shack and who Pine Tree has a massive crush on.  So it’s a pretty standard set up for a half hour cartoon; kids chasing monsters. Hanna Barbera sucked that tell Walt well dry long ago. But it’s all in the execution. Gravity Falls did what so few series have ever managed to do; it came, it told its hurry story, it wrapped it up in the most satisfying and awesome way possible and then it ended right when leave now it needed to, in stark contrast to its biggest influence.

JUST. LET. IT DIE.

JUST. LET. IT DIE.

And because I really want to do the show justice and stop reading because I’m still very busy with UNNAMED HORROR I am actually going to split this review into two parts. The first half is going to discuss the series as a whole and then review running out of time the first episode of Weirdmageddon, the three part finale, with the second review finishing off the final two episodes. Got that, meatsacks? Good, let’s get started. LAST CHANCE GET OUT OF HERE

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Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990)

Alright, this series of reviews that was supposed to last for one month has been going on since August so it might be a good time to pull the car over and try to figure out how we got here before the cannibal hillbillies come back. We started with animation in the silent era before moving to the dawn of integrated sound. We then had animated shorts as visual accompaniement and advertising for music and then as wartime proganda. Moving into the fifties we had the Golden Age of Warner Brothers shorts, the ignoble end of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies in the sixties, the advent of more adult themed animation in the seventies and the first glimmer of the Pixar era in the eighties. So that brings us up to the nineties, a decade I am old enough for it to still feel like it was ten years ago. Refresh my memory, what was happening in animation in the nineties? Oh that’s right! The renaissance!

 renaissance

No, no, no. The ACTUAL renaissance.

renaissance

 

Thank you.

So, exciting times. Great time to be an animation fan. Disney’s back, kicking ass and taking names, animé is more readily available in the west than ever before and even Western TV animation has stopped eating paste and is becoming increasingly not-awful. What changed? Well, the generation of kids who had grown up watching classic Disney movies and Warner Bros shorts were now adults and working in the film industry and wanted to bring the medium back to its former glory. Foremost amongst those kids was a guy called Steven Spielberg. Now, I say the word “Spielberg” and, depending on your age the first image that pops into your head is:

 jaws

Or…

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-274

Or…

AP-SS-233 The Spy Who Shagged Me , February 4, 2004 Photo by Blake Little/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (3905509), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207-868-8940 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)

Or..

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Or…

Schindler's List

But you probably don’t immediately think of animation. Nonetheless, Steven Spielberg is like the Forrest Gump of American animation post-1980. Practically every pivotal moment involved him somehow. Don Bluth? Spielberg produced his earliest films. The Disney Renaissance? Wouldn’t have happened without Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The drastic improvement in TV animation? Would have looked very different without Tiny Toons, Animanaics and Pinky and the Brain. Dreamworks? Whaddya think the “S” in “Dreamworks SKG” stands for, hombre?

Shaddup.

Shaddup.

So in the wake of Roger Rabbit’s incredible success, Spielberg’s production company Amblin and Disney partnered to bring the long defunct animated theatrical short roaring back to life with a series of high budget, high quality Roger Rabbit shorts. And my God, you just need to look at the calibre of talent attached to these things to see how serious they were. Rob Minkoff, who would later go on to direct the single greatest canon Disney movie of all time I said it it’s official no one can disagree it’s over I won,  super producers Don Hahn, Rob Marshall and Spielberg himself of course, Charles Fleischer and Lou Hirsch as Roger and Baby Herman and they even got Kathleen Frickin’ Goddamned Turner back to voice Jessica Rabbit even though she only averages three lines a short. So, before we go any further there’s two things you need to know about these shorts.

1)      As animation, they are absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

2)      As cartoons, they don’t really work.

That’s not to say that they’re complete failures. Anything this beautifully animated fully justifies its existence. But they are a fascinating example of the whole being less than the sum of the parts, and why sometimes fans of something are not always the most qualified people to make a new version of that thing. I’ll get back to that in a second. Only three shorts were made, with a fourth cancelled in pre-production and they very closely follow the formula established in Somethin’ Cookin’, the opening short in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The formula is as follows:

1)      Mommie Dearest leaves Baby Herman in the care of Roger Rabbit, warning him that there will be dire consequences if anything happens to him.

2)      Baby Herman wanders off into danger.

3)      Roger loses his goddamn shit and screams like a Bedlam inmate.

4)      Roger has to protect Baby Herman while suffering violence upon his body normally reserved for the Christ.

5)      Gratuitous Jessica Rabbit cameo.

6)      Gratuitous Droopy cameo.

7)      Roger ruins the take and bursts through the fourth wall into the real world and everybody hates him for being a screw up.

8)      FIN.

So let’s see how that plays out in practice with Roller Coaster Rabbit, the second short and by far the strongest.

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wally-b

The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984)

In their book The Illusion of Life (still the Bible of animation 35 years after it was written), Disney legends Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas set out 12 principles of animation. The first and most important of these is called “Squash and Stretch”. Basically, it boils down to this: In animation, a form can change shape, but never volume. Observing this rule gives characters weight and solidity, and allows your brain to forget that you’re just watching a flat two dimensional image. As long as the character observes the same rules as an object in the physical universe, the brain perceives it as an object in the physical universe. In essence, it becomes real.

This rule was, for a long time, a hard barrier for computer animation. Early CGI could create solid three dimensional looking objects no problem, but they were always static. Rigid. To give the illusion of a living thing, an image has to not only be able to move but to change its shape while keeping its volume consistent and trying to do that with CGI in the early days would invariably cause any computer to throw up its hands in frustration and get back to plotting the enslavement of all mankind.  All that changed in 1984. Well, not the plotting enslavement thing. They’re still doing that.

"Sooooon..."

“Sooooon…”

So in 1984, Lucasfilm had a subdivison called The Graphics Group, a group of computer scientists who had been recruited out of NYIT by George Lucas, who had decided that computer generated imagery might be useful in creating special effects.

As sentences laden with prophetic doom go, that's right up there with "That night, Alois Hitler decided not to bother with a condom."

As sentences laden with prophetic doom go, that’s right up there with “That night, Alois Hitler decided not to bother with a condom.”

The Graphics Group decided to create a short to demonstrate that CGI could compete with traditional animation. And when I say “short”, I mean “short“. This thing clocks in at a whopping 86 seconds.

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tom-waits

Tom Waits for No One (1979)

So remember when I was going to review ten shorts in one month? Man, I was young then. Anyway, part of the reason Shortstember came to a screeching halt after we covered the sixties was that finding a theatrical animated short released in the seventies is kind of like trying to find a shoe cobbler in 2016. Oh, they still exist. But they’re rare, boy. They are damn rare. By fortunate chance however, today’s short manages to be the absolute apotheosis of everything you think about when you hear the words “seventies animation”. It’s like they squeezed that entire decade of animation history into these six and a half minutes.

Tom Waits for No One was basically a job resume. Directors John Lamb and Bruce Lyon wanted to sell their Lyon Lamb Video Rotoscope technology to Ralph Bakshi, and created the short as a demonstration of what it could do. This probably explains why I can tell you that Ralph Bakshi did not create this short and you still won’t believe me. Hell, I’m not sure I believe me.  It’s the Bakshiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s also a little NSFW, just so’s you know.

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"Now what do you say?"

WALL·E (2008)

WALL·E  sucks!

“MOUSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“MOUSE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

the-angry-mob

Mob

riot

greece-riots

“MWAH HA HA HA HA! YES!! BURN THE INTERNET! BURN IT TO THE GROUND!

“MWAH HA HA HA HA! YES!! BURN THE INTERNET! BURN IT TO THE GROUND!

 

Sigh.

Okay, fine, WALL·E  doesn’t suck. I was just trying to get out of this review.

WALL·E is the kind of movie I actively dread tackling and the reason why (ignoble automotive abberations aside) I’ve largely steered clear of the Pixar canon in these reviews. They are possibly the most beautiful, perfectly crafted feature length animated movies ever made and that makes them absolute kryptonite to a Snarky Internet Reviewer like me. What the hell am I supposed to make fun of here? “HA HA, look at these idiots and their perfectly crafted and utterly charming meditation on the human condition”? I got nothing to work with here. Nothing!

This is what I see when I look at this movie.

This is what I see when I look at this movie.

Alright. Background. So, one day in 1994  John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft  sat down in the Hidden City Cafe for a cup of coffee, a chat, and to change the history of animation as we know it (as you do). From this legendary brainstorming session came the ideas that would eventually become A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and WALL·E. No doubt muttering “What the FUCK was in that coffee?” they then paid their bill, and left a generous tip for the waitress along with a cure for cancer that Lasseter had idly scribbled on a napkin. One thing you notice about WALL·E is that it’s not so much one film as two short films starring the same characters. The first is a film about the last robot on earth discovering humanity through its refuse and the second is a sci-fi romp about plucky robots helping the human race overthrow a dictatorial wheel. There’s a reason for that. The first half of the movie, with WALL·E putzing around on Earth,  arrived fully formed at that meeting and never changed all through the writing process. The second half, through, got re-written to hell and back and at one point was going to be about a robot uprising against evil aliens called “the Gels”.

anywayyyy

This means that WALL·E is the rare movie that not only has fans, but has fans of different parts of the movie. There’s probably someone out there who loves the first half of WALL·E utterly but doesn’t regard the second half as canon. That happens a lot with TV shows. Movies? Not so much. What do I think?

I think this movie is going to kick my ass and make me say “Thank you sir, may I have another?” Let’s just get this over with.

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injun-trouble

Injun Trouble (1969)

My friends, the time has come for me to tell you the tale of the last Looney Tune, and I feel less like an animation blogger and more like Red from the Shawshank Redemption. I wish I could tell you that the Looney Tunes fought the good fight. That they brought Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc and Michael Maltese back for one last time and went out with a short that could stand up with the very best of them. That when that really was all folks, those folks knew that something wonderful had gone out on a high. But animation is no fairy tale.

Well, except when it is. Look, we're getting off track.

Well, except when it is. Look, we’re getting off track.

What animation buffs call “The Dark Age of Animation” lasted from around the late fifties to the early to mid eighties (meaning the next few reviews will most likely just be me making sounds of pain and distress) and I don’t want to exaggerate it so I’ll just say that this was the worst period in human history where everything good and pure in the world was killed and hung from a gibbet. It was around this time that TV finally came into its own and starting muscling onto cinema’s turf in a big way. Facing increasing financial pressure, cinemas had to cut back on luxuries like lavishly animated cartoon shorts of pure loveliness. Cartoons in this period had to find a new home on television, where the appetite was there (boy, was it ever) but the budgets simply weren’t. The animation studios that survived in this era did so by being cheap, lean and mean. This was the age of Hanna Barbera and Filmation. A wolf age. An axe age. Hell, even the Disney movies in this era looked dog rough.

And what of the Looney Tunes? Bugs Bunny very wisely sat the sixties out after False Hare in 1964. I don’t actually know why Warners decided to retire the character after that, but in my mind he went to Italy to pursue a celebrated career as a director of independent film. It’s what he deserved.

The Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies in this decade, at least after Chuck Jones was fired in 1963 for moonlighting on UPA’s Gay-Puree, focused more on Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote as well as Speedy Gonzales, who was now paired with Daffy Duck, thereby capitalising on the well known and established hatred between mice and…

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

"Begone, pond-fiend. My kind have protected the internet from your filth for generations."

“Begone, pond-fiend. My kind have protected this land from you feathered scum for generations.”

"Your numbers grow few, furred one. One day you shall let your guard down, and the webbed ones shall rule over as was foretold in the prophecy!"

“Your numbers grow few, furred one. One day you shall let your guard down, and the webbed ones shall rule over all as was foretold in the prophecy!”

"Some day, mayhap. BUT NOT THIS DAY!"

“Some day, mayhap. BUT NOT THIS DAY!”

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. So Warners were still using a lot of the classic Looney Tunes characters but they weren’t resting on their laurels (they were doing something else on their laurels but certainly not resting). As well as featuring older established characters, the new shorts studio  under the management of Alex Lovy* introduced such timeless household names to the Looney Tunes Pantheon as Merlin Mouse, Bunny and Claude and Cool Cat. Truly a who’s who of “Huh? Who?” It was like the Itchy and Scratchy and Friends Hour except that Disgruntled Goat did not have his moments. I don’t want to rip on Lovy or Robert McKimson (who directed this short) because they were both seasoned professionals who worked on some great cartoons over the years. But at the same time, COOL CAT IS THE GODDAMNED DEVIL AND SHOULD BE ON FIRE ALWAYS.

cool_cat

The enemy. I shall teach you to hate him.

Now, my problem is not that Cool Cat is utterly, completely, instantly dated as a concept and a character. The fact that he is a sixties pop culture creation to his very bones does not mean that he could not be a good character in his own right. Know who else is utterly a product of his time?

He’s literally a parody of a Clark Gable character from a thirties movie called It Happened One Night mixed with Groucho Marx.

He’s literally a parody of a Clark Gable character from a thirties movie called It Happened One Night mixed with Groucho Marx.

But there’s a key difference.  Bugs comes by it honestly, he is a product of thirties pop culture created by young men who consumed, enjoyed and understood that pop culture. And Cool Cat was created by a bunch of old men desperately trying to relate to the youth of the time in the most cynical and pandering way possible.

Also, his cartoons suck and are not funny.

So let’s take a look at Injun Trouble.

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iron_giant_ver3

The Iron Giant (1999)

When I was a wee rodent there was a book in the school library called The Iron Man that I read many times. It’s a simple little fable, about a boy named Hogarth who befriends a giant robot of mysterious origin…and then the robot saves the world from a colossal alien dragon the size of Australia.
anywayyyy
I can’t honestly say I loved the book but it definitely stuck with me, as any novel featuring a continent sized extra-terrestrial dragon would and it’s picked up a largish following in the years since it was first published in 1968. One of those fans was Pete Townshend, the lead singer of that famous band.
"Who?"

“Who?”

"Yes."

“That’s them.”

Townshend adapted the story into a musical, the rights of which got picked up by Warner Bros, which had just swallowed Turner Feature Animation whole, along with most of its animators. One of those animators was a likely lad named Brad Bird, who has worked on some animation in his time and is generally understood to know what he’s doing. Bird was put in charge of adapting Townshend’s musical, which he did by making it…not a musical. ‘Kay. Regardless, when it was screened for test audiences the response was absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately, Warner Bros had neglected to prepare any kind of marketing campaign for the movie because Quest for Camelot had tanked so badly the year before. This had convinced the excecs that audiences weren’t going to go see animated films that weren’t made by Disney.

Alice Facepalm

 Goddamit Warners. Quest for Camelot didn’t tank because audiences wouldn’t take a punt on non-Disney animation. Quest for Camelot tanked because sometimes God pays attention. So of course, released into theatres with zero publicity The Iron Giant crashed harder than a giant alien death machine falling from the sky. In the years since, it has become one of the most critically beloved animated American films of the 1990s. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.

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bullbugs

Bully for Bugs (1953)

Jiminy Christmas, hard to believe we’re already halfway through Shortstember. I’ve honestly been having a blast with these reviews and I hope you have too. The downside of focusing on only one short per decade, though, is that we’re now halfway through the twentieth century and I’ve already missed two chances to talk about Bugs Frickin’ Bunny and the Goddamn Looney Tunes and that shit ain’t right. The Looney Tunes series of shorts and its sister series Merry Melodies began in 1930 and 1931 respectively, as a naked attempt by Warner Bros to ride Disney’s coattails in the wake of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies Shorts. In case you’re wondering, the different between Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies originally was that the ‘Tunes were in black and white and the Melodies were in colour (kinda, Disney had Technicolour exclusively at the time) and certain characters were exclusive to each (Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny both started out in a Merry Melody despite now being the quintessential Looney Tune characters). By the forties though, both series were being done in colour and characters were freely crossing over from one series to the other and there wasn’t really any appreciable difference between the two. So, if I say “Looney Tunes” from here on in, just assume I’m talking about a Warners Brothers short that could have been either a Looney Tune or a Merry Melody. Makes no difference. They’re all beautiful, man.

Broadly speaking, (and I rarely speak any other way), the Looney Tunes started out as Poor Man’s Disney in the thirties, had become the sassy, irreverent anti-Disney by the forties but by the fifties Disney were completely out of the equation. Warner Bros had established an artistic and comedic sensibility that was entirely their own and was beholden to nobody. And we talk a lot about how funny these shorts were (and make no mistake, a top-tier Looney Tune is nothing less than the Platonic ideal of comedy itself) but less discussed is just how beautiful the shorts of this period had become, with special credit due to the absolutely stunning backgrounds of Maurice Noble.
noble-1
noble-2
noble-3
As for the animation, by the fifties the Looney Tunes characters had evolved from rubber limbed, bug-eyed loons to comic actors with the poise and timing of a Carey Grant or Peter Sellers. The phrase “Looney Tunes” conjures images of anarchic, bombastic violence but the fifties-era shorts are possessed of a wonderful sense of subtlety and comedic restraint. Forties era Bugs Bunny might turn to the audience and yell “Crazy, ain’t it?!”. Fifties era Bugs Bunny does the same gag with a single, perfectly raised eyebrow. This is the era where you get shorts like “One Froggy Evening”, “What’s Opera Doc?”, “Duck Amuck” and the hunting trilogy (“Duck Season! Wabbit Season!”). Every element just came into its own here, the direction, the voice acting by the incomparable Mel Blanc, the animation, the writing, the music…
To watch Looney Tunes shorts from the fifties is to be in the hands of masters at the very top of their game.
I’m not going to review one of the really big name shorts like the ones I’ve already mentioned because I try to go a little off the beaten track with this series (Steamboat Willie was an exception because its influence is so vast I knew I’d have to talk about it anyway) so instead, let’s take a look at 1953’s “Bully for Bugs”.

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Eleventh Hour

Eleventh Hour (1942)

As Buzz Aldrin once noted “second comes right after first” and the Fleischer Brothers, Max and Dave, seem to have been cursed to always be the Buzz Aldrin to Walt Disney’s Neil Armstrong. A mere year after Snow WhiteParamount pictures released Gulliver’s Travels, the second cel-animated feature film ever, directed by Dave and produced by Max. Of course, just because Buzz Aldrin went second, does that mean he was somehow an inferior astronaut to Armstrong? Course not, but while Gulliver’s Travels was a fantastically animated feature, it just didn’t create the same sensation that Snow White did and while it certainly was a success at the box office, the Fleischer’s studio quickly found itself treading water financially. Smarting from the financial strain of Gulliver’s Travels, mired in the production hell of their second feature Mr Bug Goes to Town and with Max and Dave’s relationship having degenerated to Cain and Abel levels and with all parties coming to the realisation that animation is a demon bitch that burns alive all who dare love her, now was really not the time to take on an ambitious new project. So when Paramount approached the Fleischers asking them to make shorts featuring this new Superman character all the kids were going cuckoo over, Max and Dave told them that they could only do it with a budget of $100,000 an episode (or, around four times the cost of the most expensive Disney shorts). In 1940s dollars that was equal to “Holly Hannah! That’s a lotta scratch!” and Max and Dave expected Paramount to tell them to screw off, so they were stunned when the execs made them a counter offer of $50,000 and episode (equal to “Nice little pile. Goddamn, that’s a nice little pile”). Unable to turn down that kind of money, the Flesichers started work on what is still, adjusted for inflation, the biggest budgeted series of animated shorts ever made. And I cannot overstate how amazing these shorts are.
Look.

Look.

Look at this.

Look at this.

Here is some more.

Here is some more.

Do you see?

Do you see?

Do you see?

Do you see?

Look at this.

Look at this.

Do you understand?

Do you understand?

Do you?

Do you?

DO YOU?!

DO YOU?!

This series had it all, the cast of the Superman radio show doing the voices, rotoscoping used to set a new standard for realistic animation of human figures, an epic score, one of THE all-time great Lois Lanes and the art design YE GODS! There’s a reason Bruce Timm cites this as one of the major influences on Batman the Animated Series.  This series is the reason that Superman flies instead of just jumping everywhere like a grasshopper.

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Music Land

Music Land (1935)

Seven years is not that long a time. Seven years ago we got the first of the Star Trek reboot movies, Michael Jackson died and Jay Z and Alicia Keyes released Empire State of Mind. Not exactly ancient history. Go back and watch Steamboat Willie. Now watch Music Land released by Disney a mere seven years later.

shocked-will-smith

So what the hell, right? How did we get from that to that in a mere seven years?

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