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The Little Mermaid, the series: Wish Upon a Starfish

“Hey Mouse. I did you a solid with that Ursula episode, right? So how’s about you don’t rag on me quite so mercilessly from now on?”
“My my. Am I already at the part where I hallucinate that the series I’m reviewing is talking to me? How time flies.”
“C’mon Mouse. Isn’t there enough negativity in the world? Just give me a good review and I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Lie to my readers? Why that’s…I couldn’t possibly…NO! GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE! LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“Suit yourself. It was only a suggestion.”

Wha’ Happen’?

Of all the nerve! I’m going to be absolutely brutal on this one. Wish Upon a Starfish begins with Sebastien looking for Ariel and telling her she’d better be studying for her “Crab Philosophy” test…okay, I already have a million and one questions here.

Ariel is receiving some kind of education? Sebastien is her tutor now (why am I not surprised)? But most importantly, which crab philosophers are on the curriculum? Crabistotle? Socrabstes? Crab Camus?

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk beside me because I walk sideways. Because I’m a crab.”

Anyway, Sebastien tells Ariel that there’s a storm going on overhead so she swims to the surface to see if she can get some of that sweet, sweet human swag. She finds a music box with a ballerina figurine (I would really have liked if this was the same music box we see in Part of Your World but alas) but Sebastien and Flounder yell at her to come back because the storm is dangerous. Somehow.

Oh no! They might…drown?

Well yes, actually. They get hit by a wave and we next see Ariel unconscious, washed up on a beach with Flounder beside her. And Flounder’s first words are “Ariel, are you okay?!”

Yeah dude. She is. Because she has LUNGS.

Like, sweet and all that he cares about her so much but sometimes it’s okay to prioritise your own needs, y’know?

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The Little Mermaid, the series: Against the Tide

Wha’ Happen’?

The episode begins with Ariel riding a sea horse throughout the entire ocean to wish every single sea creature a good morning and to continue her descent into self-parody. One creature who is not having a good morning however, is whatever the hell this thing is:

What? What!? WHAT?!!

So this…flipped bird from evolution itself is a Bad Luck Creature and none of the other sea creatures will have anything to do with it because it’s supposedly unlucky which, clearly from the fact that it’s living, it is. The creature, which we shall call Lucky, is very sad because all of the other ocean denizens shun it and call it names.

“FREAK!”

Ariel comes across this abomination and starts make cooing noises and oh God, you know what this means don’t you?

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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Save the Whale

Wha’ Happen’?

If my kids ever ask me about the nineties I’ll tell them of a wondrous time when the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War was over and we were all free to focus on what was really important: dinosaurs and whales. Seriously, if it wasn’t big, extinct or going extinct it could get fucked. The mania of interest in dinosaurs obviously followed in the wake of Jurassic Park, whereas the world’s global bout of cetaphilia was a result of the movie Free Willy, a film about boys and whales and whales jumping over boys.

Not a great movie. Sorry.
“Between this and talking shit about Darkwing Duck, you are just asking to be killed by nineties kids at this point.”

This episode deals with Spot, a baby killer whale that Ariel adopted in the pilot for this series which I haven’t reviewed because Disney, in their infinite wisdom, decided to not put it on Disney plus. And this episode is a sequel to that one where Spot returns because Disney was decided in 1993 that having an episode about a killer whale trying to escape from a water park might be an easy sell.

Ahem.

Actually I can’t be sure of that. This episode aired in October 1993, a mere three months after Free Willy premiered which seems like an awfully quick turnaround. I mean, that would mean that this episode was just slapped together in ninety days and ohhhhhhhh I see…

And all the pieces fell into place.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Thinga-Ma-Jigger

Wha’ Happen’?

Ariel and Flounder are out minding their own damn business when a naval battle between some pirates and the Royal Navy breaks out overhead. During the battle, one of the pirates drops a boot and Ariel, little hoarder that she is, is fascinated by it and takes it back to Atlantica to show to her friends. Now, The Little Mermaid the film had a lean, tight little screenplay with very little fat which was to its credit. But it does mean that Ariel’s world is really under-populated. She has literally two friends in that movie (Sebastien is more of an authority figure), Flounder and Scuttle and she hasn’t actually met Scuttle yet. So the episode has to create some new fish friends for Ariel. Who are these fresh new additions to the rich Mermaid canon? Well, we get an unnamed posh lady fish who loves fashion dahling and an uninspired Woody Allen impression. God, uninspired Woody Allen impersonations used to be everywhere in cartoons and they were never a good sign. Foodfight! had one. That should teach you plenty. By a rather morbid coincidence this episode would have aired right around the time Dylan Farrow went public.

Probably why this guy isn’t on a lot of merch.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: The Evil Manta

Wha’ Happen’?

Things get off to a bad start right away when The Little Mermaid the series violates the unwritten rule that all Disney series from the nineties have to have an absolute banger as a theme song. Instead, TLM has a wordless medley of the themes for Under the Sea and Part of Your World. Fantastic pieces of music no doubt, but it still feels more than a little lazy.

Anyway, remember the Under the Sea sequence from the original movie? Sure ya do. Well, it turns out that’s just how life is in Atlantica all the time, a never-ending calypso-infused bacchanal under the kindly patrician gaze of beloved despot King Triton. So Triton and Sebastien are taking a trip see the “turtle races” and Ariel and Flounder take the opportunity to go exploring. Near a sinister looking volcano they hear a weak, pathetic voice begging them for help and discover an unseen creature trapped in the volcano’s crater. Ariel wants to help but Flounder reminds her of the legend of a terrible monster that was trapped in a volcano (much like this one actually) by the ancient Atlanticans and that would certainly doom their entire civilization if it was ever freed. Ariel, naturally, tells Flounder not to be such a little bitch and frees the creature which turns out to be…the thing, the thing I just said.

I’m not even going to insult you by telling you who they got to voice him. You should be able to tell just by looking at him.
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The Little Mermaid The Series: Introduction

Look, in my time I’ve clapped back at people who disputed bad reviews I gave with the shop-worn riposte “well it wasn’t made for you!” but there does come a point where you have to admit that something just…wasn’t…made for you. Case in point, over the next few posts I’ll be reviewing a cartoon series made for nine year old girls in the early nineties. And it’s one thing to dunk on DarkWing Duck but beating up on a show made for little girls is cheap even for me. Fortunately, Unshaved Mouse inc. has a nine year old girl on staff and she kindly agreed to watch the series with me. And Mini Mouse peaced out after three episodes so I know it’s not just me. Actual transcript:

“Is this a new show?”
“Oh no, it’s almost as old as I am.”
“Oh, that’s why it’s so…”
“So what?”
“Nothin’.”

And look, I wanted to like this series. Hell, I have always wanted to like this series. I’ve mentioned before that The Little Mermaid was the first Disney movie I ever owned on VHS. I loved that film as much as it was safe for a seven year old boy in a rough North Dublin school to love that movie. And I remember being deeply bored by this series. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. Not because the series is good (oh no) but it is ABSOLUTELY BUCK WILD.

See this? This is from the episode where Ariel defeats a racism powered Ocean Satan with footwear. I made LITERALLY NONE OF THAT UP.

Buckle up, Mother-Guppies. We’re gettin’ weird.

Darkwing Duck: Introduction

Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTales is? How would you even explain that show to someone who’d never heard of it?

“Richie Rich if he was an old duck?” That’s not even a premise, that’s a meaningless Mad Lib. And yet, DuckTales was a massive, massive deal. It ran for one hundred episodes, kickstarted the modern era of high quality TV animation and spawned a veritable multimedia empire. What gives? How did a show with such a weird, clunky premise achieve that kind of success? I think it comes down to a few different factors:

  1. Carl Barks was given a job drawing funny little Donald Duck cartoons and decided to use that opportunity to write the Great American Novel. His duck universe cartoons were used as the basis of DuckTales and that’s some damn strong source material.
  2. Mark Mueller’s theme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
  3. Scrooge McDuck is basically the Doctor.

Here’s what I mean. The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is that it’s an inexhaustible premise. There is an alien with a box that can go anywhere in time and space. You will never run out of stories to tell with that setup. In the same way, Scrooge McDuck has something almost as powerful as a Tardis: A metric shit-ton of money.

And this is why the show was able to run for 100 episodes. Scrooge is so rich he can basically buy his way in to any genre you can think of. Over the run they did space-opera, western, time travel, romance, pulp adventure, giant mech battles, horror. That’s the beauty of Scrooge McDuck; he’s a strongly defined character who nonetheless can slot into almost any kind of story. Case in point: the time they made him a superhero.

Right, so in Season 3 Scrooge gets so sick of the lying or “fake” news media making people think that the gold-loving billionaire is a bad guy so he decides to become a vigilante and wooooooow this hits different in 2021. Anyway, in order to improve his public image he becomes a superhero called the Masked Mallard.

Stop sniggering in the back, please.

Okay, fast forward a year after DuckTales ended and Disney are prepping a new reboot of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show only to discover that they don’t actually own the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“That story makes no sense.”
“Back in the nineties there were still things Disney didn’t own. It was nuts.”

So a hasty, last minute replacement had to be found and they decided on expanding the Masked Mallard concept into its own TV show. The Mallard was re-worked into “Darkwing Duck”, a fedora wearing, cloaked, nocturnal crime-fighter clearly modelled on…

“Don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman…”
“The Shadow.”
“Never doubted you.”

And so, as the first stop on our look at Disney cartoon animation for Shortstember, I’ll be doing mini reviews of four episodes of this childhood classic. Let’s get dangerous.

Felix the Cat (1988)

Here we go again. Every so often I’ll have a moment where I’ll go “Have I really been blogging about animation for X number of years without covering Y?” and this one’s a doozy.

So, ahem.

Have I really been blogging about animation for nine years without covering Felix the Cat? Because Felix the Cat is a pretty damn big deal in the history of animation.

Not the first cartoon character, but the first cartoon star, the first cartoon character able to draw a crowd on name recognition alone. The character was created in 1919 by Australian animator Pat Sullivan.

Or, as is now accepted by a majority of animation historians, by one of Sullivan’s animators Otto Messmer.

Honestly, researching this post taught me that Pat Sullivan was what people think Walt Disney was; a talentless credit-stealer and a nasty racist to boot. Anyway. Sullivan’s studio produced a rake of silent Felix shorts in the late teens and throughout the twenties and Felix was, for a time, a full on pop culture phenomenon. And you know what? With good cause. While simple, these shorts have a real charm and wit and I honestly think they hold up a lot better than a lot of later cartoons by Disney and Warner Bros from the early talkie era.

These shorts were also hugely influential on the field of animation in general, with the basic precepts of Felix’s design going on to influence American and Japanese animation right up to the present day, setting the template for characters as diverse as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. And some people didn’t even bother with being “influenced” and just straight up fucking stole it.

Pictured: Julius the Cat, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks’ TOTALLY ORIGINAL CHARACTER.

But, by the end of the twenties a sinister new threat had emerged to challenge Felix’s place as the world’s preminent cartoon character: SYNCHRONISED SOUND.

Hear my dark melody, Cat. I whistle your doom.

Sullivan resisted the switch to sound for as long as he could, but eventually caved and started producing sound Felix cartoons. Unfortunately, these cartoons did not use synchronised sound and instead were pre-animated with music, dialogue and sound effects being added in post-production, which results in what animation aficionados call “really crap cartoons”. The new series of sound Felix cartoons were cancelled, the studio shuttered and Pat Sullivan spiralled into an alcoholic depression brought on by the death of his wife and died in his forties Jesus Christ that got so bad so fast.

A brief, utterly Disnified run of cartoons by Van Beuren studios in the thirties notwithstanding, Felix was seemingly a defunct property. Having failed to transition to the sound era, Felix disappeared from public view, presumably to a rambling mansion on Sunset Boulevard where he could brood and slip into obsession and madness.

“I know you! You’re Felix the Cat! You used to be big!”
“I am big. It’s the cartoons that got small.”

Fast forward to the 1950s and Joe Oriolo, an animator and artist who’d worked with Otto Messmer on the Felix the Cat comic strip, created the Felix the Cat TV Show. This show was arguably the most influential and famous iteration of the character, introducing a host of concepts and characters that are now inextricably linked to Felix like the magic bag, the Professor and Poindexter. And if you love this cartoon…you do you. Personally I can’t stand it but then I’m pretty non-plussed by mid-century American TV animation as a general rule. But yeah, this series gave Felix his second bite of the super-stardom pie and also launched him to Spinal Tap levels of popularity in Japan.

So why did it take so long for Felix to make the leap to feature length animation? Well Pat Sullivan’s death had left Felix in legal limbo but Joe Oriolo was finally able to get full ownership of the character in 1970, probably because Joe Oriolo was an absolute snack.

“Hey doll, how about you give me the rights to YOUR pussycat?”

Oriolo pére passed away in 1985 but his son Don carried on the Felix legacy, finally bringing a full length Felix the Cat animated feature to movie screen in 1988.

Sorry, sorry, my mistake. The movie was completed in 1988 (using Hungarian animation) but only released in the United States in 1991. Very briefly. Before going straight to video.

Oh, and, fun bit of trivia. Researching for this post I first came across the phrase “abandoned movie”. Felix the Cat has been “abandoned” in the United States. What this means is that Felix the Cat DVDs are no longer sold in America. If you’re in America and you want a DVD of this movie you either have to buy it from overseas or get one of the original run of discs from the nineties which will cost you an arm and a leg.

And I know what you’re thinking!: “Mouse, this film that was animated in a second world totalitarian Communist state whose release was delayed by two years before getting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run and then being consigned to home video hell before being full on abandoned at the side of the road in the new millenium sounds like a really good movie!”

Which is what I love about you, reader. Your unflagging optimism. But I’m afraid I have to crush your hopes with the greatest violence possible. How bad is this movie?

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F*ck it, I’m doing all the animé.

Ah animé, my manic-depressive, intermittently abusive spouse of an art form. When you are good, you are very, very good. When you are bad, you are horrid. And when you are weird…well, you’re never not weird so that’s an exercise in redundancy.

Here in the Mouse House animé has actually been having a bit of a moment. Ms Mouse has been binging the Ace Attorney animé as an accompaniment to re-visiting the games on Switch, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Cells at Work. That said, and despite having reviewed well over a dozen animé movies and TV shows by this point, I wouldn’t call myself an animé fan (much, much less an authority). Partly that’s because there’s just so damn much of it, and I find it impossible to have a single unified opinion on all of it. It’s like saying “I like food”. Some food is awesome. Some food is made by force-feeding geese. I don’t feel comfortable offering a blanket endorsement.

Oh but hey, do you know who does love animé? You beautiful people. In fact, I got so many requests for specific episodes of various animé shows that I’ve decided to just blitz them all in one post and actually make some progress on that damned list that haunts my every waking moment like Banquo’s ghost.

“Mouse, Moooouse, you said you’d review the Xena and Hercules cartoon all the way back in 2017!”
“Do not shake thy gorey locks at me! It’s not streaming anywhere and it’s $100 on Ebay! FOR A VHS!!”

So these are going to be light, snacky little reviews. I’m not doing any in depth research, I am going in cold, watching these episodes, and telling you if liked them or if I did not, in fact, like them. I’m not going to be doing in depth analysis. I’m not going to be giving you background on their creation. None of that, no sir. In and out and over with in a few minutes which is the most satisfying way to do anything, I have been assured.

Internet reviewing like Momma used to blog. Let’s do this. Garcon? Could you please bring out the appetiser?

“At once monsieur.”

Flip Flappers: Episode 6- Pure Play

Ahem? Garcon?

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Shin Godzilla (2016)

I suppose I should just make this confession upfront; I’m not a Kaijiu fan. Never have been.

Not writing off an entire genre, obviously but it appears to me to be a genre chiefly relying on empty spectacle as a consequence of focusing on a main character incapable of speech, higher level reasoning or emotional growth.

That said, I have been watching the Kong versus Godzilla trailer on repeat and the sight of the two titular monsters duking it out on top of an aircraft carrier is the fucking coolest thing I have ever seen.

Godzilla King Kong GIF - Godzilla KingKong Kong - Discover & Share GIFs

I am not made of stone.

So…Godzilla. My experience with this character is as follows:

Godzilla 1954

What can I say? Classic of world cinema.

Godzilla 1998

I have a lot of fond memories of this one for purely personal reasons. Yeah, it’s dumb as all hell but it’s not as terrible as people say.

Godzilla 2014

Honestly, I’d fallen asleep before Watanabe said “Let them fight” though I’m told that makes it all worth it. Must have been a hell of a delivery, I wouldn’t know.

Aaaaand that’s it. So yeah, three Godzilla movies and only one of them was Japanese.

“Okay, so you have no cred whatsoever.”

“None!”

Oh wait, I tell a lie, I religiously watched the Saturday morning Godzilla cartoon  in the nineties.

Godzilla: The Series - Wikipedia

SUPER under-rated show.

Man, Adelaide Productions, whatever happened to them? They also did the Men in Black cartoon which was another movie tie-in animation that was so much better than it had to be...

“Hey, hey, back on topic you!”

“Sorry, sorry. You can take the mouse out of the animation…”

“Sigh. Okay fine, this Godzilla movie was directed by Hideaki Anno.”

“Oooh, I can work with that.”

Hideaki Anno is a celebrated Japanese animator and filmmaker who has worked on dozens of films over a long celebrated career and none of that means jack shit because he created Neon Genesis Evangelion and he will never not be the “the guy who created Neon Genesis Evangelion“. Dude could cure cancer and it would still be the second line of his obituary after “the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion died today”. That show, which ran from 1995 to 1996 started out as a pretty typical (if far more stylish than usual) “teens in mechs battling monsters” show before transitioning into an emotionally fraught exploration of adolescent psychology, mental health and abuse served with a heavy dose of surrealist imagery and Christian symbolism.

Diemay Angel | Evangelion | Fandom

Plus, the robot battles were sick, brah.

Godzilla’s home studio, Toho, had put the franchise on hiatus with 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, but after the positive reception of Ken Watanabe saying “Let Them Fight”, Toho decided to bring back Godzilla to kickstart a new continuity for the character.

Now understand, if you’re a fan of the Godzilla series what I’m about to say isn’t meant as a criticism, more an observation. There are two basic types of Godzilla movie: Godzilla versus Humans and Godzilla versus Other Monsters. It’s a pretty limited schema, but credit where credit’s due, the creators of this series have managed to ring a fair bit of variety out of these two scenarios, particularly in terms of Godzilla’s character, which is doubly impressive when you remember we’re talking about a large non-verbal animal. Godzilla is something of a renaissance lizard, a Kaijiu for all seasons. In the original he was a very deliberate representation of Japan’s lingering trauma over the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as a response to the more recent deaths of the crew of Daigo Fukuryū Maru as a result of US nuclear testing in the Pacific. He’s also served as a metaphor for Japanese war guilt, a gentle Friend to All Children, a reluctant guardian of humanity, a vindictive destroyer and even just a big dumb lizard. After 30 films, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t really much else to do with the big lug. That’s probably why Anno got the nod to direct Shin Godzilla, given his success in putting a new spin on the seemingly tired giant mech genre.

How did it go? Shin Godzilla was a massive, and I do mean MASSIVE success in its home country, opening at number one and out-grossing the 2014 American Godzilla by almost a quarter and tripling the box office take of Godzilla: Final Wars, the previous Japanese installment. It also won Picture of the Year at the Japan Academy Awards, which is kinda like a new James Bond movie winning Best Picture.

This thing was huge in Japan, appropriately enough. In the West, though, the reaction has been a bit more mixed. Not bad, by any means, but there’s definitely a sense that this movie is not remotely interested in catering to Western sensibilities as to what this kind of movie should be. And that’s fair, this is most assuredly not your typical Godzilla movie, which is probably why the Western DVD release thought it necessary to put one of the most underwhelming review pulls I have ever seen on the cover:

“Of all the movies to feature Godzilla, this is certainly one of them.”

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