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When life gives you hurricanes, make a game.

“Don’t come to work today, there’s a tropical storm.” is not something you typically hear in Ireland but, heck, a day off is a day off. Yesterday the Mouse family hunkered down in the living room while Storm Ophelia tore up the country like a drunken bridesmaid at a wedding looking for her purse.  We’re all fine, in fact it was fairly anticlimactic if I’m honest. When the news is promising the worst storm since the sixties, I at least expect to see a couple of cows flying past my window.

Anyway, over the weekend I attended a course on writing interactive fiction hosted by Charlene Putney of Larion Games in the Irish Writer’s Centre (Five stars, definitely recommend). That’s where I discovered Twine, an online resource that lets you create your own games even if, like me, you think “coding” is a type of pain medication.

I’ve created a horror text adventure called “The Ebon Death” which you can play here. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated (no spoilers, please) and if you feel like it’s something you want to try your hand at, you can create your own twine games here and leave a link in the comments.

Mouse out.

What I do on the weekends…

A while back, I mentioned that my brothers John and Dónal are contributors on Facts.ie. Since then, John has started his own channel, Sharuf!, featuring his hilarious adventures with his furry best friend, Rufus Bluestuff (yours truly, from this episode onwards). It’s been a hell of a learning curve, getting back into puppeteering (I did a course donkey’s years ago). I’m still finding my feet, from a technical point of view, but i’m having a blast doing this show with John and I hope you love it too. A like is better than a watch, and a subscribe is better than a like.

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Animation history is full of odd twists and turns and weird connections but one of the weirdest is that you can trace a direct line between this:

And this:

Rankin Bass is most famous for its stop motion Christmas specials but from the late sixties onwards they dabbled in feature length traditional animation. The Rankin Bass filmography is like an unfinished rollercoaster, a madcap frenzy of highs and lows before it all ends in the bloody, limb mangling, fiery catastrophe of 1999’s The King and I.

Ugh. Yeah. Probably. Some day.

But they did produce what is, by fairly solid consensus, a true classic with 1982’s The Last Unicorn, based on Peter S. Beagle’s book of the same name. While Rankin/Bass produced the film, the grunt work was actually farmed out to a Japanese company called Topcraft who’d later be hired by Hayao Miyazaki to animate Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the rest is history.

I get the feeling this movie was a much bigger deal in the States than it was in Ireland. I never saw it growing up, and I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But that pedigree alone was enough to make me curious.

Let’s take a look.

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Thoughts on Discovery

I’ve been meaning to do a post about Star Trek: Discovery for about a year now. Originally it was going to be a “here’s what I hope” post, which then morphed into a “Oh man, this is gonna suck” post and now here I am writing a “Q be praised, it’s actually good!” post. It’s been a journey of twists and turns, is what I’m saying.

But yeah, having watched the first three episodes I can happily report that despite a year of negative hype, swirling rumours of backstage drama and basically the entire Star Trek fandom having written off the project as DOA, it’s not only surprisingly good, it’s probably the strongest opening of any Star Trek series since the original show. (Granted, that’s a low bar, Star Trek series are notorious for rocky starts).

I’m not going to do an episode by episode review, so here are just a few random thoughts about the show in no particular order. Mild Spoilers ahead but nothing too major.

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Mouse goes to War!: Fascist Jackboots Shall not Trample Our Motherland (1941)

Studio: Soyuzmultfilm

Country of Origin: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

First Screened: 1941 (Exact date unclear)

All of the shorts we’ve looked at in this series thus far have been propaganda to a greater or lesser extent. But they weren’t just propaganda. American audiences liked their propaganda leavened with comedy or drama or catchy tunes about farting in Hitler’s face. The Russians though? They took their propaganda straight while growling at the bartender to leave the bottle.

The blunt, hammer-blow-to-the-noggin nature of Soviet propaganda is right there in the name of today’s short Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.

“Good title.”

So a little background. Jackboots is one the earliest productions of Soyuzmultfilm, the pre-eminent home of Russian animation and screen puppeteering. The studio is still going to this day but its heyday was during the Soviet era where they produced beautiful and beloved animated classics like the Winnie-the Pooh trilogy and Hedgehog in the Fog.

What’s the Russian for “smurges”?

Now keep in mind, I don’t read Russian, so all my information is coming second hand from places like Wikipedia which claims, for instance, that after the fall of the Soviet Union Soyuzmultfilm’s facilities were sold to the Russian Orthodox Church and then promptly burned to the ground by Cossacks who believed that their puppets were animated with the blood of Christian children. And, while anything on the internet originating from Russia should normally be treated as purest truth from the beardy lips of God Himself, I find that a bit hard to swallow.

I mean c’mon, the blood of Christian children hasn’t been used to animate puppets since the late forties.

Anyway, that was all in the future. Although originally based in Moscow, Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to Samarkand when the Germans invaded and were put to work creating propaganda for the war effort. And one of those films was Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.

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Mouse Goes To War!: The Ducktators (1942)

Hey guys, sorry for the missed update. Still up to my furry little armpits in other writing at the moment so I’m afraid the Snow White review is gonna have to be pushed back until next Thursday. By recompense, here is the next of the WW2 propaganda short reviews. Enjoy!

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Studio: Warner Bros

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: August 1, 1942

As I mentioned in my last series of short reviews, you can break down the history of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts into four eras roughly corresponding to the nineteen thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. Call them the Poor Man’s Disney, Wiseass Disney, Apex and Nadir eras, respectively. WW2 broke out in the middle of the Wiseass Disney era, where the studio had successfully reinvented itself as the sarcastic, irreverent joker to those squares in Burbank with their high falutin’ ideals of animation being art. While Disney were getting Deems Taylor to introduce abstract animation to the strains of Bach, Warner Bros were slouched in the corner smokin’ ceegars and yellin’ “Ah, yer muddah wears lederhosen!”. The Warner Bros shorts of this era are acclaimed by many fans as the greatest of the series but, with respect, those fans are liars and fools and once grown, their children shall change their names out of shame.

“Mouse, what did we agree?”

“Sigh. No telling people that their children will change their names out of shame just because they disagree with me on the respective merits of different eras of animated shorts in the Warner Bros filmography.”

“You lasted ONE DAY.”

Okay, that’s harsh. There are many fantastic cartoons from this era but, honestly, the shorts from the fifties (including but not limited to What’s Opera Doc, One Froggy Evening and the Hunter Trilogy) leave them in the dirt.

The shorts of the forties had a lot going for them, namely some of the finest animators, directors and voice talent to ever work in the medium, but compared to the later fifties shorts they’re sorely lacking in one thing.

Class.

To be blunt, there’s a nastiness to a lot of the Warner Bros shorts of this era, and not just because of the racism (although, jeez louise, it’s like they thought there was an Olympics for racism and they had their heart set on winning gold for their country). Propaganda is dirty business, but some cartoon studios came out a lot cleaner than others, if you catch my drift.

Of all the major American cartoon studios, Warners seemed to succumb to their worst instincts the easiest. Disney, Fleischer et al certainly produced cartoons in this era that make for uncomfortable viewing but Warner’s took it to another level.  For a good example, let’s take a look at the Ducktators.

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Thank you all.

We did it.

We have succeeded in raising €1000 to get Mauricio out of Venezuela. Mauricio can now begin getting the necessary paperwork, and, all going well, he should be safely in Colombia in a month or two. I will of course keep you posted.

I know I promised another World War 2 short review when we were fully funded but I have to come clean; I didn’t expect us to be funded so quickly so I haven’t got anything written yet.

Plus, what with what’s currently going on in the States the cartoon I was going to review…

Yeah. It just…doesn’t feel like the right time. Or maybe it’s too right a time.

I dunno. I will continue with this series but when I’m in the kind of head space that I can actually be funny.

In the meantime, enjoy the Hunchback 2 review.

Y’all did good.

Mouse Goes to War!: Jungle Drums (1943)

Hi guys! We are now halfway there to getting Mauricio safely out of Venzuela and, as promised, here is the second of the war era animated short reviews. Because you’re all superheroes, and because I thought it might be particularly cathartic right now to watch some Nazis get punched in the face, today we’re looking at one of the Superman shorts from the 1940s.  Enjoy, and please consider donating if you haven’t already.

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Studio: Famous Studios

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: March 26, 1943

Recently, the internet came down with a case of the vapours when it was announced by the BBC that the next Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker, who has lady bits.

Jolly good, quite right, good idea, quite right, jolly good and not before time. Now, when it comes to Who I haven’t really had skin in the game since Ecclestone left but I’m sure she’ll kill in the part. There have been bad Who writers, bad Who directors and even bad Who seasons but they have never cast a bad actor in the lead role (no, not even him) and I doubt very much they’ve started here. But Whittaker’s casting does raise some interesting questions. How will people in the past react to a character whose main defining trait is showing up out of nowhere and bossing everyone around when it’s a woman doing the bossing? How will, say, the Puritans react to this trouser wearing lady with a mysterious blue box and what can only be described as a magic wand? Will every episode of Doctor Who consist of angry peasants trying to ascertain if Jodie Whitaker weighs as much as a duck? It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it.

Of course, the status of women in society has swung wildly upwards and downwards over the millennia depending on the era and society in question. Progress is not a hill, but a rollercoaster. Consider Lois Lane, who, as the perennial love interest of one of the most famous pop-culture icons of the last century has had an unbroken presence in various media for almost eight decades now, and so represents a useful yardstick for the portrayal and status of women in American culture. In the Silver Age, this was Lois Lane.

The fifties saw Lois’ role as a daring and accomplished journalist minimised to almost nothing so that she could engage in an unending spiteful love rivalry with Lana Lang over who could dupe Superman into marrying her first. It was a terrible time to be a woman in America, and it was a terrible time to be Lois Lane.

Contrast this with a decade earlier, where we find Lois Lane wasting bitches with an uzi.

“Take that ya rat bastards! When you get to hell, tell em Lois sent ya!”

World War 2 brought huge advances both for women and minorities because America had to either make the most use of every available person regardless of race or gender or risk total defeat to the forces of fascism and America was all “Ugh, fine.” You see this in the Fleischer (later Famous) studios Superman shorts with their depiction of Lois Lane, still one of the finest interpretations of the character three quarters of a century later. And possibly the character’s finest hour is today’s short, Jungle Drums.

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This is a rescue operation.

Since President Nicholas Maduro assumed control of Venezuela in 2013, the nation has been in political, economic and social freefall. While the government pushes a constitutional amendment that will give Maduro dictatorial powers, 75% of the population have lost an average of 19 pounds due to food shortages. The healthcare system has broken down and violence is rising as people fight for ever scarcer food and medication. Venezuela’s 30 million citizens are facing nothing less than an existential threat.

And one of them is our friend Mauricio.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you probably know Mauricio. He did the video review a few years . He’s been a regular commenter here almost from the very beginning. He’s a pal, and he’s in real danger.

That’s why we need to get him out now.

I’ve set up a GoFundme page for  Mauricio. The goal is to raise a thousand dollars, which should be enough to get him safely to Colombia, rent an apartment and pay for food until he finds work. Please donate whatever you can, big or small. If we all work together we can get him out of there safely.

Thanks guys

Mouse.

June Foray: (1917-2017)

June Foray has died, a few months shy of her hundredth birthday and the animation pantheon has lost one of its true gods.

Pick a female cartoon character of the last century and the odds are good that June voiced her. She was the Looney Tunes’ Granny from 1955 to 2014. She was Magica De Spell. She was Cindy Lou Who. She was Rocky J. Squirrel, Natasha Fatale and Granny Fa.  In her time she was married to Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Goofy, Sylvester and Yosemite Sam. Her filmography reads like the history of American animation itself. Disney. Warner Bros. Hanna-Barbera, Simpsons, Family Guy, Powerpuff Girls.

She voiced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in his final short.

She wrote and hosted radio shows in the nineteen thirties, and voiced video game characters in the 2010s.

She did it all, folks. She did it all.

She was often stuck with samey roles and nothing parts but listen to enough of her voicework and you will hear a performer of staggering range and versatility. Some called her “the female Mel Blanc”. No less an authority than Chuck Jones is said to have retorted “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

Sometimes a death leaves me sad and despondent. Not this one.

I look at June Foray’s life and all I feel is amazement, and wonder, and joy.

What a life. What a life.

Brava.

Thanks for everything, June. I mean, thanks for almost literally everything.