(1970s)

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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Fritz

Fritz the Cat (1972)

“Heeey everyone.”

“Heeey everyone.”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

250px-Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule. You hurt the ones I love?”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule: You hurt the ones I love?”

"I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP."

“I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP. IF YOU EVER PULL ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN I WILL TRACK YOU DOWN THERE IS NOWHERE YOU CAN HIDE. PAIN? I WILL MAKE YOU LONG FOR SOMETHING AS SWEET AS PAIN.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

***

 Do you know what it’s like to review Fritz the Cat? To sit in the dark watching that cat fuck everything that moves, to feel your brain slowly coming apart from the constant assault of surreal, messed up, toked out, crazy shit? No. You don’t. Because you’ve never been out there, man. Out in the real deep shit. This movie man. You don’t know, man. It’s like, you think you have a handle on things, man, like life and art and truth and beauty man like they’re all just packaged and sold in these neat little Styrofoam boxes, man, and then this movie comes along and it’s like, you know man? Like, what does it all mean, man? I…I…I shouldn’t be doing this man, I should be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas, man…
“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

"YOU WERENT THERE MAN!"

“YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN!”

 Sorry. Sorry. I’m alright. Okay. Let’s do this.
For as long as there have been comics there have been “underground” comics, the kind of comics that aren’t read in a newspaper at the breakfast table on a lazy Sunday morning but are more usually read at night. Under the covers. With a flashlight.
Jerkin’ it.
Pornographic comic books or “Tijuana Bibles” were especially popular in the Great Depression and usually featured well known comic book characters or public figures engaging in what scripture calls “the hard fuckin’”. No one was safe. Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman you name it, someone drew them doin’ it.
Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

By the 1960s the underground comics (or “comix”) scene had merged with the broader counter culture movement. In contrast to mainstream comics which had to abide by the Comics Code Authority, comix were uncensored and didn’t abide by jack shit. These books were absolutely steeped in sixties drug and music culture, often politically radical and transgressive and extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. They also, it must be said, frequently had a streak of misogyny a mile wide. But at its best, the comix scene produced some of the finest American sequential art of the twentieth century (Art Spiegelman, for example, honed his craft in indie magazines in the seventies).
The one creator who is probably more associated with the comix scene than any other is Robert Crumb and his most famous creation is almost certainly Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphised cat who’s kinda like Felix crossed with Roosh V. The Fritz strips first appeared in the magazine Help! where the editors famously responded to his submission with a letter saying; “Dear R. Crumb, we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” The comic became a genuine breakout hit and was read by many a long-haired hippie degenerate, one of whom was our old friend Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi had set up his own animation studio and was looking to create animation for adults. He came across one of Crumb’s books and bought the rights to the strip. Warner Bros originally were going to fund it but then they saw Bakshi’s early shoots.
Vapors
Instead, the movie ended up being funded by Cinemation Industries, purveyor of such highbrow classics as The Black Godfather, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and The Eighteen Year Old Cheerleaders.
It’s important to remember that there was a weird period from the late sixties to around the mid-eighties where porn was pretty much mainstream, and you could just go to the cinema and watch a big budget porno made and financed by a large studio as opposed to some dude with a camera and a couch. Fritz the Cat is very much a part of that. It’s not solely a porno but it’s got relatives who are pornos if you catch me. So before we get into this review please take note that this is a movie with sex and nudity, pretty grotesque ethnic caricatures, frequent homophobic and racial slurs and some generally fucked up shit.
What I’m trying to say is…
“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

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Movie_poster_watership_down

Watership Down (1978)

In the 1970s Richard Adams, a British civil servant and WW2 veteran wrote down a story about rabbits he had told to his daughters. He sent it to a few publishers who rejected it before it was finally printed by a small London based publisher, became an instant international bestseller, won the Carnegie medal and allowed Adams to quit his job and work full time as a writer.
This, and I cannot stress this enough, does not usually happen.
The book’s success was so stunning that it immediately gave birth to a sub-genre of animal fantasy stories. Colin Dann’s  The Animals of Farthing Wood was published a few years later and it feels like half the books I read growing up were about a group of some species of animal trying to get from point A to point B without getting run over by Toyotas. Seriously, there were Watership Down-esque books about hares, owls, squirrels, foxes, otters, even fish.
Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Some were good. Some were terrible. Some were about fish. But none were ever able to match the popularity of the original. Because there is only one Watership Down. Well, until Adams published the sequel in the nineties. Then there were two. Anyway, my point is; other books have fans. Watership Down has cultists. And I’m one of them. I fell in love with this book in primary school and checked it out of the school library so many times that the librarian finally said “You know what? Just keep it.”
Yeah, pretty much.

Yeah, pretty much.

So what makes it so good? Well at the most fundamental level Adams is just a phenomenally good writer with a lovely, clear, elegant prose style that can switch between bucolic descriptions of the English countryside to a muscular blow by blow account of two rabbits kicking the hraka out of each other. Coupled with that, the personalities of the various rabbits are simple but distinct and vivid. Adams based the personalities of the main rabbits on his squad from the war back when he was a smouldering, sensitive young officer with dark unfathomable eyes and a soft voice that could win the heart of any army nurse who crossed his path.
"Jerry's an alright sort. He's just being lead by a bad egg."

“Jerry’s an alright sort. He’s just being lead by a bad egg.”

But the most important trick of any fantasy novel is to bring you into its world. It’s why Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are so beloved, because the amount of detail and thought that has gone into crafting Westeros and Middle Earth makes reading the books almost like taking a holiday in a foreign country, albeit one filled with rampaging orcs (so, like Lanzarote).
This is the real genius of Watership Down. Adams gives his rabbits a language and a mythology and threads details of it throughout the larger narrative. And while they have been anthropomorphized to an extent, they’re still very much rabbits. They behave and react like wild animals, and they have difficulty understanding sophisticated concepts like art or, say, numbers higher than four.
Today’s movie was released in 1978, a mere six years after the book was published. And given the length of time it takes to get an independently financed feature length animation off the ground we can probably take it that the movie was in the works almost as soon as the ink was dry on the first print run. The film is now regarded as a classic of British animation and Total Film named it as one of their greatest British films of all time. But it’s also been at the centre of controversy ever since the British censorship board rated it “U” or suitable for all ages, a decision that they are still getting complaints about almost forty years later. And loathe as I am to side with the Helen Lovejoys of the world, yeah. No way in Inlé should this have gotten a U rating.
Yes. "Mild" violence. If youre a fucking DROOG!

Yes. “Mild” violence. If you’re a fucking DROOG.

 

  But is the movie really as good as all that? Let’s take a look. Spoiler warnings for both the movie and book ahead.
AD

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Rescuersposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #23: The Rescuers

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

 

***

So. The Rescuers. Most successful animated film ever made at the time. Did you know that? I sure as hell didn’t. The Disney studio’s first big animated hit since The Jungle Book ten years previously, and the last until The Little Mermaid twelve years later. Oscar-nominated for Best Song and nominated for the American Film Institute’s list of the Top Ten Animated films of all time (NOTE: This post originally stated that it made that list. Apologies for the error.). People were saying it was the best Disney film since Mary freaking Poppins. And to that all I can say is…

Really?

No, I don’t hate it but…

Really?

Of all time?  Because I can think of ten animated movies from Disney alone that I would put ahead of this. And as for being better than Mary Poppins?! I mean, Jesus!

"Say that again. I dare you. I double dare you motherfucker."

“Say that again. I dare you. I double dare you, motherfucker.”

And yet a lot of people have been telling me how much they’re looking forward to me reviewing this movie. How to account for the love this movie seems to engender in people?

I have a theory. Y’all just love mice.

Not that I blame you. I mean, look at me.

Not that I blame you. I mean, look at me.

Do you know what finally broke the Rescuers’ box office record? Hint; it wasn’t Ariel and it wasn’t Disney.

Durrrr...

Durrrr…

Yeah. From the late seventies to the late eighties everyone was just, really, really into cartoon mice.

Well, anyway let’s take a look at the film.

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The_Many_Adventures_of_Winnie_the_Pooh

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #22: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

 

Under normal circumstances, I don’t get self-conscious about the fact that the movies I review are intended for children. These are not normal circumstances. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of shame you get opening your DVD case of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and seeing your complimentary stickers of Pooh and Eeyore hugging. Shit, if I was feeling any less macho right now I’d spontaneously sprout pigtails.

Notwithstanding, my lunchbox is now fucking pimped.

Notwithstanding, my lunchbox is now fucking pimped.

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Robinhood_1973_poster (1)

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #21: Robin Hood

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

***

Introduction to movie. Bitter comment from Walt Disney. Batman joke. He’s been to Bahia. Have you ever danced with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight? Columbo appearance. Batman joke. Batman joke.

Oh, sorry. Does it seem like I’m recycling a lot of material from other reviews? Well, when in Rome.

Robin Hood came out in 1973, in a decade when the Disney company was moving further and further away from its roots as an animation studio and becoming the massive, many tentacled, HYDRA-esque cartel bent on world domination that we know and love today.

Obey or die.

Obey or die.

The vast majority of the company’s earnings in this period came from the theme parks and merchandise. The studio’s live action movie division was also branching out into new genres like science fiction (The Black Hole) horror (The Watcher in the Woods) and hardcore pornography (Herbie Rides Again. I assume from the title). Meanwhile, the animation division was increasingly being treated like the weak sister of the company and Robin Hood is one of the best examples of this. This movie is infamous for its borrowing of animation from earlier Disney movies, in fact it’s probably got the most blatant examples of any film in the canon. Why is this? Well, because they were fucking broke. They had to make this thing on $15 Million, which sounds like a lot, but for a feature length animated movie is like trying to re-enact the moon landing with some aluminium cans and a few bottle rockets. And yet, I come here to praise Robin Hood, not to bury it. This movie, probably more than any other, perfectly encapsulates the Scratchy Era aesthetic: We got no money, we’re ugly as sin, but we got the charm and we got the tunes. Robin Hood has buckets of charm and some really great songs. It also has the kind of manic energy you would expect from a movie animated by starving hobos who were being paid in hot dogs.

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Bedknobs_and_Broomsticks_poster

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #20a: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

 

***

“It’s grand to be an Englishman, in 1910/ King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!”

George Banks, Mary Poppins 1964

“When you set aside your childhood heroes
And your dreams are lost up on a shelf
You’re at the age of not believing
And worst of all, you doubt yourself”

Eglantine Price, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971

***

Well, you couldn’t really blame them.

Mary Poppins had been such a phenomenal hit for Disney that it was only a matter of time before they tried to recreate that success. The two films have a great deal in common, Robert Stevenson directed both, David Tomlinson plays the father role, there are scenes mixing animation and live action, the Shermans are back on song duty (the last time they’d work on a Disney film until The Tigger Movie thirty years later). Hell, Julie Andrews was even offered the part of Eglantine Price but turned it down. Considering how badly she was typecast after Mary Poppins and Sound of Music, that was probably the right choice. Instead, the part went to Angela Lansbury, who ironically was one of the actresses considered to play Mary Poppins which leads me to believe that Walt Disney only knew two actresses.

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Aristoposter

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #20: The Aristocats

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

***

Want to hear a joke?

A talent agent is sitting in his office. He looks up when a family of cartoon cats comes through the door.

“What’s your act?” he says, and the father cat (who sounds weirdly like renowned jazz singer Phil Harris) says “Well, it’s an utterly subpar Disney movie with animation that barely rises to the level of competent, characters that are largely nondescript when they’re not either unlikable or totally superfluous to the plot (which by the way makes little to no logical sense), possibly the worst villain in the entire Disney canon and some wasted songs by the Sherman Brothers.”

The talent agent turns white as a sheet, pukes into his wastebasket and stammers “What do you call this act?!”

And the cat smiles and says “The Aristocats!”

***

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