(1990s)

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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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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Gargoyles: Eye of the Beholder

Okay, let’s get the important business out of the way.
IT HOLDS UP. LIKE, DAMN.
Rewatching Gargoyles for this review I was expecting a sugar rush of nostalgia and maybe a melancholy recognition that it was good for its time but not the masterpiece I remembered from childhood. I did NOT expect to get hooked and embark on an epic binge watch that had me wondering whether I could squeeze in just one more episode at four in the morning.  For those of you who never saw it, and you zygotes who are too young to remember, let me explain what Gargoyles was.
Take the shadowy urban action and moody aesthetic of Batman the Animated Series, add the “team of superhero creatures fighting evil in secret in modern day New York” setup of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stir in some exceptionally high calibre voice talent, stellar writing and the finest animation Disney had done for TV up to that point, ladle in generous portions of Shakespeare and world mythology and add salt to taste. Boom. You got salty Gargoyles.
By the mid-nineties, there was something of a renaissance in television animation underway as studios moved away from the cheap, thinly disguised toy commercials of the eighties and started to create shows of a higher calibre. I described this in the Ducktales review, and while this renaissance was kickstarted by Disney, by the mid-nineties their TV output had in many ways been surpassed by rivals Warner Brothers, who had brought the thunder with such classic shows as Tiny Toons, Animanaics and of course Batman the Animated Series. This last one is the most relevant because Gargoyles is very much an attempt to beat Warner Bros at their own game and create their own BTAS. This led to some bad blood between the two shows, with Batman creator Bruce Timm dismissing gargoyles as “namby pamby…with all that Celtic fantasy crap.”
"Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat."

“Hi. Mr Timm? Unshaved Mouse. Huge fan. Go fuck a stoat.”

Which of the two series is better was a subject of fierce debate when I was growing up but having re-watched both I have come to the profoundly unsatisfying conclusion that they were both superior in different ways. Batman pushed the envelope of what was possible in kid’s animation artistically. In its Art Deco style, its mood, and its use of shadows and camera angles it’s hands down the more visually arresting show. But, while Gargoyles might look a little generic compared to Batman, I think the former beats the latter in terms of narrative ambition. Remember, Batman had a cast of characters that had been part of pop culture’s consciousness for almost sixty years at that point, but Gargoyles creates a new cast of characters, mythology and history out of whole cloth and uses them to tell a story with a depth and scope that hadn’t been seen in children’s animation in the West up to that point. The characterisation is also phenomenal. While at first glance the gargoyles are stock character types, peel them and you’ll find the layers have layers. And that’s not even getting into the villains. Most cartoons are extremely lucky if they can boast one of the all-time great cartoon villains. Gargoyles has at least four.
So what’s our premise? Well, in 10th century Scotland Castle Wyvern is guarded by a clan of gargoyles. Stone by day, big scary demonic lookin’ bastards by night. The gargoyles are led by Goliath (Keith Motherfucking David at his Keith Motherfucking Davidist). The gargoyles have lived in peace with Castle Wyvern’s human inhabitants for years, but they’re still distrusted by them because this is the dark ages and they look like the devil. The gargoyles get caught up in a load of court intrigue and betrayal and counter betrayal complicated enough for an entire series of Game of Thrones and the upshot is that Goliath comes back from patrol to discover that almost his entire clan was smashed to pieces by humans while they slept during the day. Only seven of the Castle Wyvern clan survived and they were placed under a spell by a vengeful wizard who thought they had killed someone who they actually hadn’t killed long story. The spell caused the gargoyles to turn to stone and stay that way, day and night, forever. The only way the spell could be broken would be if Castle Wyvern were “raised above the clouds” and if you’re getting a real “til Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane” vibe off this then that’s entirely intentional. This series could not be more indebted to MacBeth if they made MacBeth a character on the show which by the way they totally did.
"My friends call me Scottish Play."

“My friends call me Scottish Play.”

Anyway, flashforward a thousand years and David Xanatos (Jonathan Frakes), billionaire playboy philanthropist has Castle Wyvern disassembled, and rebuilt, brick by brick, at the top of his Manhattan skyscraper just to see what would happen. The spell is broken and Goliath and his surviving clan of gargoyles become the defenders of New York from all threats both human and supernatural.

I went back and forth over just how to approach this review. At first, I was going to do a general review of the whole series before remembering that there were 65 GODDAMN episodes.

Kitty

And that’s not even counting the third season that never happened and which we shall never speak of again.

I then thought about reviewing one of the story arcs like “The World Tour” or  “City of Stone”. But “City of Stone” focuses more on two side characters than the main Gargoyles and also there’s a lot of flashback stuff that would get really confusing and probably be boring to read. And as for “Word Tour”,  I had (again) forgotten that Goliath and Eliza were putzing around on that damn boat for nineteen episodes so once again…

Kitty

So finally, with the deadline approaching like an oncoming walrus on a bobsled I decide to just review one single episode which I think encapsulates the things that I most loved about this show.

lAZY MAN
That episode is Season 2’s “Eye of the Beholder.”
Let’s take a look.

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“Could you please pull over? I think I’m going to be sick.”

Captain America is old school. Real old school. One of the very earliest generation of superheroes who has managed to remain not only relevant but arguably more popular than ever…
Hello?
Hello?
Where is everyone?
“C’mon guys, we got a review to do!”

“C’mon guys, we got a review to do!”

“Fuck you, mazerunner!”

“Fuck you, mazerunner!”

“WHOAH! DUDE!”

“WHOAH! DUDE!”

“We don’t review movies on 1st April. We told you this.”

“We don’t review movies on April 1st. We told you this.”

“Yeah dawg, this mo-fawkin day is like your personal “Friday 13th done knocked up Halloween and this here’s there ugly-ass day baby.” day”

“Yeah dawg, this mo-fawkin day is like your personal “Friday 13th done knocked up Halloween and this here’s there ugly-ass day baby.” day”

“We all know what’s going to happen. Horned King or BluCatt or one of the bajillion evil dudes you’ve managed to piss off will make you review something terrible and who suffers?”

“We all know what’s going to happen. Horned King or BluCatt or one of the bajillion evil dudes you’ve managed to piss off will make you review something terrible and who suffers?”

“Me?”

“Me?”

“US! So I refer you my previous “Fuck you mazerunner!” Good day!”

“US! So I refer you my previous “Fuck you mazerunner!” Good day!”

“Guys…”

“Guys…”

“I said “good day” sir!”

“I said “good day” sir!”

Guys c’mon. That was the old Mouse. This blog has become a lot more serious since I started reviewing Marvel movies. As the movies have become more mature, I say, so too has Mouse. Look, today’s movie is Captain America: The Original Avenger. It’s a great film, nothing bad’s going to…

Guys c’mon. That was the old Mouse. This blog has become a lot more serious since I started reviewing Marvel movies. As the movies have become more mature, I say, so too has Mouse. Look, today’s movie is Captain America: The Original Avenger. It’s a great film, nothing bad’s going to…

“Don’t you mean “first” Avenger?”

“Don’t you mean “first” Avenger?”

“No, look, it says here right on the cover…”

“No, look, it says here right on the cover…”

Wait. That’s not Chris Evans and his boyish blue eyes that would melt your heart.

Wait. That’s not Chris Evans and his boyish blue eyes that would melt your heart.

Oh no.
“Mouse. Sit down. Our game is about to begin.”

“Mouse. Sit down. Our game is about to begin.”

“Katzenberg?”

“Katzenberg?”

“Please. Please. Red Skull is fine. I have come to collect on that favour you owe me.”

“Please. Please. Red Skull is fine. I have come to collect on that favour you owe me.”

“I owe you a favour?”

“I owe you a favour?”

“Of course. I allowed you to review How to Train Your Dragon and now you must do something for me. You must review 1990’s Captain America, one of the worst Marvel movies ever made!”

“Of course. I allowed you to review How to Train Your Dragon and now you must do something for me. You must review 1990’s Captain America, one of the worst Marvel movies ever made!”

“Shock! Gasp! That thing you said would never happen happened!”

“Shock! Gasp! That thing you said would never happen happened!”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your ninties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your nineties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your ninties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”

“Then come. And let us see if this snark of yours is stronger than my hate.”

So I hope no one will object if I skip the historical overview and earnest analysis of Captain America as a character until the next review? When I review a Captain America movie that wasn’t assembled by meth-addicted gibbons? Brilliant, let’s crack on.
AD

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An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)

Hey everybody. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and for all you other religions…um…good luck with whatever you got goin’ on right now. Keep on truckin’. Yes it’s the night before Christmas, and despite belonging to a species that traditionally is known for not stirring at this time of year,  I’ve decided to review…
"Mouse...Moooooouuuuuse..."

“Mouse…Moooooouuuuuse…”

“Jacob Marley?”

“Jacob Marley?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life! Link by link! Yard by yard…”

“I wear the chain I forged in life! Link by link! Yard by yard…”

“Stop. Stop. No. Look, this is not going to be a Christmas themed review. We’re not doing the Christmas carol thing. Sorry.”

“Stop. Stop. No. Look, this is not going to be a Christmas themed review. We’re not doing the Christmas Carol thing. Sorry.”

“But it’s a tradition…”

“But it’s a tradition…”

“Yes. One that’s been done to death. Sorry, not happening. Get lost.”

“Yes. One that’s been done to death. Sorry, not happening. Get lost.”

“Dude, I’m a ghost, you’re going to have to do better than “Get lost!”

“Dude, I’m a ghost, you’re going to have to do better than “Get lost!”

“Sigh. AVAUNT THEE FOUL SPIRIT! RETURN TO THE NETHERWORLD FROM WHENCE THOU CAME!”

“Sigh. AVAUNT THEE FOUL SPIRIT! RETURN TO THE NETHERWORLD FROM WHENCE THOU CAME!”

“Oooh, nice. “Avaunt”. That takes me back.”

“Oooh, nice. “Avaunt”. That takes me back.”

Right. So. Today’s movie is An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West, a sequel to a Don Bluth movie made without the imput of Don Bluth. Now, “Sequel to a Don Bluth movie made without the imput of Don Bluth” is a sub-category of film with a slightly lower degree of prestige and respect than “Uwe Boll video game adaptation” or “hobo snuff film” and this film’s reputation is not exactly sterling.
40! There are Police Academy movies with higher scores than that!

40%?! There are Police Academy movies with higher scores than that!

So, following the stunning success of An American Tail (which, I remind you, was a big freaking deal) Stephen Spielberg wanted a sequel to be the first production of his new animation studio, Amblimation. Bluth by this time was based in Ireland and was working on The Land Before Time with Sullivan Bluth so Spielberg had to bring in a new team of animators under the direction of Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells. Amblimation is a weird little footnote in the annals of American animation history, tapping out after only three films (this one, We’re Back and Balto). I haven’t seen Balto and I do NOT care for We’re Back...
IT DID.

IT DID.

…but I think Amblimation could have been a real contender under different circumstances. Why? Because, if nothing else, the animation in these movies was SMURGES. Let’s take a look.

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Anastasia (1997)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

I love reading history. I have a copy of Tacitus’ Annals on my bedside table (because I’m just that kind of pretentious prick) and as a modern reader there’s something really bizarre about reading history written in ancient times.
See, you’ll be into a very serious passage about corruption in the Senate or the war against the Parthians (those Parthians, buncha troublemakers I tell ya what) and suddenly ol’ Tacitus will veer off into describing all the dire portents about Nero’s future rule and it’s all dreams of blood, and visions of locusts and more virgins giving birth to two-headed snakes than you know what to do with.
And then he’ll talk about taxes.
As if the previous stuff was just perfectly mundane. But here’s the thing; for Tacitus it was perfectly mundane. Magic and visions and miracles and supernatural powers were just an accepted fact of life back then. And as a modern reader, sure, we might be a bit sceptical but…we kinda just have to accept all that stuff as part of the historical record. Because Tacitus said it happened and he’s our guy on this stuff, you know? You going to call Tacitus a liar? Did you write one of the greatest works of Latin literature, serve in the Senate and later become governor of Asia?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Rome

It’s less impressive when you realise that “Asia” was just a chunk of Turkey back then.

Of course, when you start getting into more recent history, magic and mysticism aren’t part of the picture anymore. Or, at least, they’re not supposed to be.
I think that’s the reason I was always fascinated as a kid by Grigory Rasputin. Here was a twentieth century figure who seemed to come from a time when magic was still real. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Russian royal family had their own wizard.
Wizard
That is awesome.
In secondary school I actually did my final year project on Rasputin and the Romanovs and I’m something of a buff on this whole period of Russian history. And that low sound you just heard is all the Anastasia fans (of which there are a great many) in the audience groaning “Oh God. He’s going to pan it.”
And sure. I can get why you might think that. I mean, if I tore Saving Mr Banks a new one because PL Travers was crying for the wrong reason, I’m probably not going to look too kindly on the February Revolution being started by zombie Rasputin. Or am I? Maybe not. Or maybe yes? Ha ha ha ha! Which door do you choose, Anastasia fans?! Which door?!
“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“Ugh. Is this some kind of joke? I thought you were going to review one of my good films?”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“But…everyone loves Anastasia! It’s one of your most critically beloved movies! It made the most money of all of your films!”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

“UGH. Yeah. And google it and see what comes up.”

Ooooh...thats gotta hoirt.

Ooooh…that’s gotta hoirt.

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

“Fox asked me to make a Disney princess movie. I was desperate for the cash so I sold out. How was I supposed to make a good movie under those circumstances?”

I dunno Don. But I’ve seen where you can go with unfettered creative control and it often involves trolls and penguins with teeth. If it wasn’t for artists just doing it for a paycheck we wouldn’t have I, Claudius, Sherlock Holmes or half of Shakespeare’s stuff. Maybe, just maybe, you managed to make an accidental classic.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at Disney’s Anastasia.
"UGH."

“UGH.”

Sorry. That just slipped out.

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DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Eighties kids have a tendency to loudly proclaim that the cartoons they grew up with, your Masters of the Universe, your Transformers, your My Little Ponies were so much better than the cartoons made for kids today.

Why do they say that? Lead. Lead was in everything back then. Paint, exhaust fumes, you name it. And lead is well known to have a harmful effect on intelligence. Couple this with the radiation from the hole in the ozone layer frying their brains and the still lingering effects of Chernobyl and quite frankly it’s a wonder that your typical eighties kid can tied their own shoes, much less attempt an objective assessment of the state of made for TV animation then and now. God love them, they’ve suffered through so much. Now, I am an eighties kid by birth but I converted to the church of 21st century animation a looooong time ago so let me put this one to bed. No. Cartoons were not better in the eighties than they are now. Know how I know? Because cartoons have never been as good as they are now. Pretty much every cartoon made for television from the nineteen fifties to late eighties was garbage. Sure, there were talented people working on them, but they were people, not gods, and there simply was no way to contend with the forces of microscopic budgets, corporate mandated toy-schilling and stiflingly conservative broadcast standards and create something consistently excellent or even good. Yes, occasionally an episode of Transformers might get through that still holds up today but these were very, very rare exceptions (I’m talking exclusively about American TV animation I should hasten to add). Contrast that with today: American animation studios are consistently making shows for kids that are better than most of the stuff they make for adults. Pearl from Steven Universe is one of the most fascinating, layered, tragically flawed characters on television right now, period. Gravity Falls is unfolding an ongoing mystery plot with a skill and intelligence that The X-Files and Lost could only dream about. Adventure Time takes Twin Peaks to school with its pure surrealism. Eighties, I hate to break it to you, even our remakes of your shows are a tenfold improvement. You have Transformers? We have Transformers: Prime. You have Thundercats? We have Thundercats 2011. You have My Little Pony? We have Friendship is Magic.  

GIJoeHeader

You have an army?

We have a HULK.

We have a HULK.

So what happened? Whence came this huge leap forward in quality?

Where else?

Where else?

 

So some time in the late eighties Disney rolled up their sleeves and decided it was time to show these chumps who the big dog was. Disney began producing high quality TV animation intended for syndication. Critics scoffed, saying that this was an expensive folly that would bring the Disney company into bankruptcy.
"Ha. Motherfuckers never learn."

“Ha. Motherfuckers never learn.”

Instead, these shows completely revolutionised the American animation TV landscape. Soon after, Warner Bros also got in on the act with Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series to name a few. In essence, all modern TV animation owes its existence to Disney’s gamble in the late eighties, and in particular to their most popular show; DuckTales.
The massive popularity of DuckTales is something that’s always confused me a little. I mean sure, I watched the show and I liked it fine, but what is it about this story about three duck kids and their miserly grunkle that made it to 100 episodes? Couple of things. Firstly, simply by dint of the fact that it wasn’t terrible it was already head and shoulders above pretty much any other cartoon on the air. But I think another key to its longevity was the fact that it’s quite similar to Doctor Who. One of the reasons that show is older than Jesus is because, aside from the fact that they can recast the main actor, the Doctor has a machine that lets him go anywhere in space or time. There is literally no end to the stories you can tell with that basic premise. And in a way, Scrooge McDuck also has a TARDIS. He’s so wealthy that there’s literally nowhere on Earth he can’t afford to go. Want to do a story on the bottom of the ocean? Scrooge buys a submarine. Want to take him to space? Scrooge buys a spaceship. Want to do a story with dinosaurs? Scrooge gets his personal mad scientist to build him a time machine. Want Scrooge to meet Satan? He has a heart attack and goes to hell because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to see heaven. Again, you will never run out of stories.
Another thing to consider is that DuckTales was based on a hugely popular comic book, by the legendary Carl Barks. Although Donald Duck was of course created by Walt Disney, it was Barks who did more than anyone else to flesh out everyone’s favourite psychotic waterfowl, creating Duckburg and a whole host of supporting characters; Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica deSpell (it truly was a duck blur). The Duck comics have never really been huge in the States where the comics scene is of course SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES SUPERHEROES NOW UNTIL THE END OF TIME but they’re very popular in what I like to call “Asterix country”, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In fact, I even tried to get my hands on a copy of The Many Lives of Scrooge McDuck for this review from my local comic shop. This lead to the following exchange. I swear to almighty God I am not making this up.
Comic_Book_Guy_WEE

“Sorry, it’s sold out. We sold the last copy to Killian Murphy.”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“…Killian Murphy? The actor?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining for Scrooge McDuck. Who were we to refuse him?”

“The Scarecrow himself, yes. He came in here and asked specifically for anything pertaining to Scrooge McDuck. And who were we to refuse him?”

I SWEAR TO GOD.
But yes, Donald Duck comics are a big effing deal in many parts of the world. Personally though, I always found the entire concept of DuckTales the TV show to be really depressing. Think about it. Hewey, Dewey and Louie get sent to live with their uncle, Donald. I don’t think we ever found out why in the show, but there is no good reason that happens. And then, after losing their parents, Donald passes them off on his uncle, a miserly one-percenter who clearly cares more about his money than his nephews while Donald is off in the navy. Those three little ducks must be carting around a metric ton of abandonment issues. The reason why Donald isn’t present in the series apart from a few cameos is that Roy Disney didn’t want any of Uncle Walt’s classic characters getting TV stink on ’em. Instead, the character of Launchpad was created to fill the role Donald usually did in the comics. Today’s movie, Treasure of the Lost Lamp, came out in 1990 and served as a season finale of shorts to the beloved series. Did DuckTales go out with a bang or a whimper? Let’s take a look.

Captain Planet and the Planeteers: If it’s Doomsday, this must be Belfast

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Reality, as Stephen Colbert once patiently explained to George W. Bush, has a well-known liberal bias. The flipside of that is that fiction tends to be conservative. In a typical narrative there are good guys, there are bad guys, and there are few problems caused by the latter that can’t be solved by the former punching them repeatedly in the goolies. In the real world the big problems that bedevil mankind tend to be big, messy and complex and fixing them is an absolute slog with no clear-cut right or wrong and often very little visible sign of victory or even progress.
Take, for example, the question of how to best leverage the advances of industrialisation to improve the standard of life for the maximum number of human beings without causing irreparable damage to the bio-sphere and rendering the entire planet and uninhabitable hellscape? That’s a bit of a poser. And how would you dramatise that question, particularly for a young audience? Say, for example, in a thirty minute animated series running for over a hundred episodes?
 To create a cartoon show that deals with this problem maturely and intelligently while still working as a compelling and dramatic piece of entertainment would take something close to genius.
Ted-Turner-9512255-1-402

Yes. That is what it would take.

So around 1990 millionaire Ted Turner decided to create a cartoon show about heroes who took on the issues of environmental devastation and social injustice instead of doing stuff that was fun. It was called Captain Planet and the Planeteers and the premise was this: Gaia (Whoopi Goldberg), the spirit of the Earth, wakes up from a long nap and sees that human beings have been trashing the place for the last thousand years or so (well, maybe if you had actually been around to tell us to knock it off we would have known better, lady). Despite the fact that she was asleep at the switch and this is kinda her mess to clean up as much as anyone’s, she enlists five teenagers with attitude respect for nature and all its living things. They are Kwame (Levar Burton) from Africa, Wheeler (Joey DeDedio) from North America, Linka (Kath Soucie) from the Sovie…I’m sorry, EASTERN EUROPE, Gi (Janice Kawaye) from Asia and Ma-Ti (Scott Menville) from Latin America. She gives them five elemental rings with Kwame, Wheeler, Linka and Gi getting the powers of Earth, Fire, Wind and Water and Ma-Ti getting stuck with the power of Heart because poor Latin America is always the pathetic butt monkey.
“It’s true.”

“It’s true.”

Whenever they’re faced with a threat they can’t defeat alone they summon the Zords combine their power to summon Captain Planet. Who has a green mullet.
Now, as a premise it’s not…terrible. And on paper the show had a lot going for it. The animation was better than a lot of Saturday morning fare of the time and the cast was RIDICULOUSLY high-powered thanks to Turner roping in his Hollywood friends to voice the various villains including Martin Sheen and Meg Ryan back when she was probably the most successful Hollywood actress on the planet. But it also had problems, not least of which was the fact that Captain Planet is, no question, the worst superhero ever to achieve mainstream success.
Why was he so terrible? Was it the puns? The awful puns? The terrible, excruciating, abominable puns? The puns that made you want to curse God for giving you ears? The puns that made you smell colours, taste sounds and gibber in unknown tongues? The puns that made you want to tear off your skin and fold it into a little swan? The puns that made you head to the nearest clock tower with a high-powered rifle and start picking off the fleeing figures below while muttering “There’s Captain Planet. There’s Captain Planet…”?
No, it wasn’t the puns.
I first realised the utter crapitude of Captain Planet  as a child, when I watched the episode “A Good Bomb is Hard to Find” where the Planeteers travel back in time to prevent Doctor Blight from selling a nuclear bomb to Hitler.
Adolf_Hitler_(Captain_Planet)

“Hey boss, how can we make sure people know it’s supposed to be Hitler?” “Hitler had a moustache, didn’t he?” “Yeah.” “Give him a moustache. That way they’ll know.”

Captain Planet comes face to face with Hitler and immediately curls up in a little ball because the hatred coming off him is so strong that it’s a form of pollution. It was at this point that I stood up, pointed an accusing paw at the TV and loudly declared:
“NO! NO! A superhero who comes face to face with Adolf Hitler and does not punch him right in his stupid face is not a superhero! Good day sir!”

“NO! NO! A superhero who comes face to face with Adolf Hitler and does not punch him right in his stupid face is not a superhero! Good day sir!”

“But what we’re trying to show is that prejudice can…”

“But what we’re trying to show is that prejudice can…”

“I SAID “GOOD DAY” SIR!”

“I SAID “GOOD DAY” SIR!”

Think about that for a minute. They created a superhero whose kryptonite is evil. Captain America is one of the greatest superheroes ever because in his very first appearance he punched Hitler right in the face. He didn’t collapse weeping in a puddle because HITLER DIDN’T COME WITH A GODDAMN TRIGGER WARNING!
Warning for: Hatred. Genocide. Inaccurate moustache.

Warning for: Hatred. Genocide. Inaccurate moustache.

As notorious as that episode is, there’s one that (in my  neck of the woods at least) is even more infamous; “If it’s Doomsday, this must be Belfast”, better known here as “The one where the IRA got a nuclear bomb.”
I have never actually seen this one but this thing is legendary in Ireland. I have, no lie, been waiting to do this review all year. I have a feeling this is going to be the greatest experience of my life.
Let’s take a look.

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The Fantastic Four (1994)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Sometimes, a movie comes along that is so notorious, so terrible, so gosh-fucked appalling that no one reviewer may safely tackle it alone. To that end, Unshaved Mouse has teamed up with the illustrious NewtCave and Erik Copper to review the never-released Roger Corman-produced superhero movie; The Fantastic Four. 

UM: Hi guys and welcome to Unshaved Mouse. Make yourselves comfortable, don’t touch the continents. They bite.

“Hssssssssssss!”

 

UM: So. Erik. Newt. What the fuck did we just watch?

EC: I was under the impression that we were just witness to the birth of the anti-christ of comic book movies.

NC: Pretty much. This thing gets my vote for “Worst Marvel Film.” Including Howard the Duck.

UM: Was it though? I mean, can’t we grade of a curve? There were extenuating circumstances here.

NC: Fair point, furry one. But let me put it this way. Elektra? Released in theatres. Hulk? Released in theatres. Howard the Duck? For some reason, still released in theatres. Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four? Kept secret. Kept safe.

EC: Gandalf’s wise words were still not strong enough to keep this mess off of the internet, though. Because as we all know, technology is the MOST powerful of the dark arts.

UM: Speaking of dark arts, Erik, aren’t you supposed to be dead? 

EC: Huh?

UM: Yeah. I totally fed you to a shark at the end of our last review.

EC: Oh yeah. Dick! That was the single most tortorous experience of my life! I had to chew my way out of the shark’s stomach! I still have nightmares! I

UM: Heh.

EC: It’s not funny!

UM: It was funny to everyone who wasn’t you. Which, y’know, was the entire human race. Needs of the many, Erik.

NC: Should I step outside while you two work through your prior history?

UM: Nah baby, we cool. Let’s get started. Newt, as our resident Marvel buff, what can you tell us about the good ol’ Fantastic Four?

NC: Probably more than is either necessary or interesting. But, limiting myself to relevant information, the Fantastic Four have often been referred to as “Marvel’s First Family.” and that’s only because that’s exactly what they are. Back in the ancient past of 1961, Stan Lee took it upon himself to create a team of superheroes like none that had come before. Instead of a bunch of square-jawed Super Friends, he elected to make a team that was more like a family trying to make the best of a bad situation.

UM: With Square Jaws.

EC: Rather rubbery and slightly malleable jaws, too.

NC: When The Fantastic Four #1 hit newsstands, they didn’t even have costumes or secret identities. They were all about breaking the norms of what people had come to expect from the superhero genre.

UM: I think the FF was really the big bang of the modern Marvel universe. So many of the characters and concepts that make up that world got their start in the pages of Fantastic Four. Doctor Doom, Black Panther, the Inhumans, the Skrulls, the Kree, the list just goes on and on.

NC: Exactly. The company wasn’t even called “Marvel” before the FF came along. Anything before that was published under the not-so-timeless brand of “Timely.”

EC: It was incredible how fast the superhero boom took off. Most of the heroes we know today didn’t even start off as anything other than one-off stories that were just too popular to remain that way. Spider-Man? He first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. Thor? He was first introduced in Journey into Mystery. Iron Man? Tales of Suspense. These heroes didn’t start off timeless, but they slowly captured our hearts. The Fantastic Four is no different.

UM: Which is kind of why it’s so sickening how Marvel are treating this title now, basically sweeping it under the rug because they can’t get the movie rights back from Fox.

NC: Well, to be fair, they’re doing that with ALL the properties they haven’t regained the movie rights to, which seems a bit like dirty pool to me.

UM: I dunno dude. The day I see Wolverine and Spidey at the dole office maybe. It seems like the Fantastic Four have gotten it worse than anyone.

EC: I don’t even know who’s side to be on. Fox is being a child not willing to share its toy, and Marvel is being a child throwing a tantrum because they want that toy SO VERY BAD.

NC: It’s a crappy situation, and I think everybody involved lost. I mean, I know we’re supposed to reserve judgement on Fant-four-stic… but yeah. ‘Nuff said, am I right?

UM: I will lay good money on it being the best Fantastic Four film ever.

EC: I will lay good money on it being an attempt. And that’s about all I can give it.

NC: I will lay good money on the team being rebooted with the SAME DAMN STORY enough times that the filmmakers all throw their hands in the air and finally adapt Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602.

UM: Ah, the Fantastick Four!

EC: Yes, and Peter Parquagh! (GOD WHY?!)

UM: Okay, but what about today’s movie? If I may?

NC: Go right ahead.

UM: I thank ye. So, back before Marvel decided to stop letting other companies fuck up their characters and just do it right themselves, they sold the movie rights to the Fantastic Four for a song and a wink to a German producer named Bernd Eichinger. Eichinger had a limited amount of time to make the movie or else the rights would revert to Marvel so, when he couldn’t get the money in time, he teamed up with legendary cheapo movie-maker Roger Corman to make a superhero movie in three weeks with $1 million. The resulting…thing…was never meant to be seen by human eyes. It was solely created to allow the company to hold on to the movie rights. Thankfully, such shady business practices would never occur in Hollywood today.

Ha! It's a joke! Because it happens all the damn time!

Now how did that get there?

UM: So, just how bad can it be?

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The Prince of Egypt (1998)

(DISCLAIMER: All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Writing reviews is only partly why I do this blog. The other part is getting to know you guys; finding out your likes and dislikes, your passions and the things that drive you crazy. Learning the things that make you all wonderful unique human beings and then selling that information on to advertisers. And you’re a pretty diverse bunch. In the regular cohort of commenters I’ve met evangelical Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Catholics and a larger-than-I-would-have-thought-possible contingent of furries.
 
"Not my fault. I didn’t ask to be this gorgeous."

“Not my fault. I didn’t ask to be this gorgeous.”

 
And by and large we all tend to get along and I’d really like to keep it that way. Sooo…just to remind everyone, today’s movie is Prince of Egypt, a 1998 animated movie based on the story of Moses. It is not a sacred text, even though it’s narrative is based on one depicted in a sacred text. But it’s a movie. Got that? It’s just a movie. And if I make jokes about Moses, please remember that I’m mocking Moses the character played by Val Kilmer and not the actual prophet and oh God, please, please don’t kill me I have a wife and child who’d kinda miss me oh dear God I don’t want to die.
 
Ahem.
 
So, let’s get a little background. The story of Moses and the Israelites’ escape from Egypt is probably one of the most widely known stories in human history, and only partly because it’s a foundation text of the three big Abrahamic religions. It’s just a phenomenal story, epic, sweeping, full of spectacular miracles and human tragedy. So it’s no wonder that there have been cinematic adaptations of Exodus for almost as long as there’s been cinema. Some stories work best on the page, and then there are some that are just crying out to be translated into a visual medium. When you read about Moses parting the red sea, or the plagues, or the pillar of fire, your first thought is “Damn. I want to see that.”
 
Be careful what you wish for.

Preferably without having to look at any Middle Eastern people.

Prince of Egypt was the first traditional animated movie Dreamworks made back when they were still trying to do CGI and cel animation simultaneously. I’m actually not entirely sure whose idea the movie was. More than a few sources that I’ve read have said that this was a movie Katzenberg had been trying to get made for years at Disney and failing, but in the “making of” Katzenberg actually says that it was Stephen Spielberg who suggested doing an animated remake of The Ten Commandments. Possible that both men just had the same idea of course, but the way Katzenberg tells it he makes it sound like he was wandering in the desert looking for an idea and Spielberg spake unto him. Of course, after years of having his dream project shot down, Katzenberg might have just come up with the Spielberg story as a cover: “Oh, you think this is a bad idea for a movie? Well guess who came up with that idea. Stephen Goddamn Spielberg, that’s who.”

Realising that their new company’s reputation was riding on this movie, Katzenberg and Spielberg pulled out all the stops; A-list cast, a host of former Disney animators at the top of their game and songs and music by Academy/Tony/Grammy winner Stephen Schwartz and the FUCKING ZIM!!

"ZIIIIIIIIIM!"

“ZIIIIIIIIIM!”

This movie was Dreamwork’s coming out party, a clear warning to Disney that their reign as the undisputed kings of American animation was about to come to an end. But with all the time, money and A-list talent poured into this epic, did the final movie measure up to expectations? Let’s take a look.

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