Warner Bros

“It doesn’t have to be good to be a classic.”

Let me tell you about the only comic book to ever make me cry in public.

From the first page of Amazing Spider-Man #121 something is off. There’s no title. Simply a sombre note from editorial telling the reader that they won’t actually learn what the name of the story is until the end. But it’s still very much a seventies Spider-Man story; bright primary colour palette, soap opera melodrama to burn and an exclamation point/period ratio of around 90 to 1. Norman Osbourne, who used to be the Green Goblin but has forgotten the whole thing because of amnesia, is undergoing a psychological breakdown because his son Harry went on a bad acid trip (did I mention that this came out in the seventies?). Suddenly, he relapses and remembers not only that he’s the Green Goblin, but that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Racing to Peter’s apartment to enact his revenge, he instead finds Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey who he abducts. Peter desperately pursues the Goblin to a bridge (George Washington per the text, Brooklyn according to the art) and Spider-Man and Osbourne have a desperate, thrilling mid-air battle that comes to a horrific halt when Gwen Stacey is thrown of the bridge by the Goblin.

Frantically, Peter shoots his webs to catch her before she hits the ground…and he does! He’s saved her! He’s won! Good triumphs over…

No. This time it’s different. And, on the final page, we at last learn the name of the story we’ve been reading which is, of course The Night Gwen Stacey Died. This is the panel that always makes me well up. :

At this point in the comics, Peter Parker was no longer a teenager. He had graduated college, he was an adult. But he was still very much a children’s character. And I find something indescribably tragic about this child’s superhero cradling the body of the woman he loves, unable to comprehend that his world has changed and that the old rules don’t hold true anymore. Good does not always triumph over evil. The innocent are not always spared. The guilty are not always punished. The people you cannot live without will be taken nonetheless. It’s a story about the loss of innocence we all go through and it’s one of very few single issue comics that I would hold up as an absolute work of art. It’s a piece that’s moved me deeply and that I feel a real personal connection to. And I think one of the reasons why it is such a gut punch is because the brutal tragedy at the heart of story is contained in all this colourful, innocent Silver Age goofiness, like a hand grenade with a pink smiley face on it. It wouldn’t work a tenth as well if done in a moody, gritty “realistic” style.

The Night Gwen Stacey Died became an instant classic and to this day is usually considered the demarcation point between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, a period marked by a more mature and literary style of comics that produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the genre. Unfortunately it also taught a generation of hacks that they could kill the hero’s girlfriend for some cheap drama and pathos. Nowadays, the phenomenon of female supporting characters being killed to provide motivation for the male lead is usually called “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by writer Gail Simone after a particularly notorious Green Lantern storyline, but before that it was called “Gwen Stacey Syndrome” because it was really this story that opened those floodgates. To be clear, this does not make The Night Gwen Stacey Died a bad story (or at least, I certainly don’t think it does). The problem is the raft of imitators who failed to realise that what made Gwen’s death so shocking and effective was that it was so rare. Hard as it might be to believe, prior to 1973 women almost never died in mainstream comics, and if they did (Batman’s mother for example) it was almost always off panel. So what does this have to do with The Killing Joke?

Well, The Killing Joke is a 1988 Batman story by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, and since its release its been frequently lauded as one of the best Batman stories, the definitive Joker story and one of the greatest comics of all time. (thanks to Clifford who pointed out that I actually put it on my list of greatest comics which I had completely forgotten). However, it has also increasingly been viewed as being somewhat…problematic…

Frau_Blucher

Why? Well, because in the course of this story the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her, (possibly) sexually assaults her and then shows her father pictures of it in an attempt to break him psychologically. Like Gwen Stacey, Barbara Gordon is brutally assaulted in order to advance the story of a male character, in this case her father and Batman. So there’s quite a bit of backlash against this book, with even Alan Moore himself effectively disowning it. Although honestly, take that with a grain of salt. Despite being the most influential writer in the history of the medium not named Lee, Siegel or Finger, Alan Moore basically now regards the entire comic book industry the way Captain McAllister views the sea.

My feelings? Well…I basically feel about The Killing Joke the way I feel about 99 Problems.

Is it misogynistic? Yes.

Noticeably so for its time and compared to the rest of its genre? Not really.

To the point where it obscures its artistic merits? No.

Of course, reading it now you have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. That Barbara Gordon was able to overcome this tragedy, and became Oracle, a wheel-chair bound superhero who became an inspiration to many disabled comic book fans and one of the most valued heroes not simply in the Bat family but in the DC universe as a whole.

Barbara Gordon | Batman Wiki | Fandom

And then Bruce just had her fixed so she could become Batgirl again, which was inspiring to comic book fans with billionaire friends who magically solve all their problems for them.

Ultimately, despite the problematic…

Frau_Blucher

…elements of the story I still think it deserves to be considered one of the all time great Batman yarns. And I was really pumped for this animated adaptation. Look at this line up! Bruce Timm, creator of the legendary Batman the Animated Series was producing, well-regarded Batman scribe Brian Azzaerello was writing the script and the voice cast was shit shot: Conroy! Tara Strong! MARK HAMILL COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO DO ALAN MOORE’S JOKER YE GODS!

But then early word had it that the animated adaptation would be greatly expanding Barbara’s role in the story and I was leery. I mean, on the one hand, it’s certainly a laudable impulse to want to address criticisms of the original by giving Barbara Gordon more agency and putting her experience front and centre. On the other hand, that is a radical change to the story. Put bluntly, The Killing Joke is not a Barbara Gordon story. Hell, it’s not even really a Batman story. It’s a story about the conflict between Moral Nihilism as represented by the Joker versus Ethical Objectivism personified by Jim Gordon. So my feeling was that if the creators doubted their source material to the point that they would make such a radical change, they probably shouldn’t be adapting it in the first place.

My worry was that we would get a more progressive, more enlightened, less problematic version of The Killing Joke but probably not a better one.

Oh, oh, oh…

I wish that was what we got.

JESUS.

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Ladyhawke (1985)

Hey everyone, before I introduce you to the wonderful Rutger Haur-blessed world of Ladyhawke, I need to explain why this review is a little on the short side. I don’t discuss my job on this blog because my employer has a fairly, shall we say, broad remit in policing what its staff say about them online and I try to err on the side of caution. That said, I may have hinted over the years that I am…

“A criminal mastermind?”

“Oh for goodness sake, I occupy a MINOR position in the Irish government.”

Currently, work is absolutely crazy owing to the ongoing spectacle of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland going boom boom in its big boy pants. A French minister recently joked that she’d named her cat “Brexit” because it keeps howling to be let out into the garden and then refuses to leave when the door is opened.

I would say that the metaphor is accurate, except that the cat also has a bomb strapped to it and I’m not sure the garden is far enough to be outside the blast radius.

Anyway… 

That’s why this review is a little short. As to why I’m only getting around to reviewing it years after the original request…that’s totally Brexit’s fault too. I swear.

***

Ladyhawke is an eighties fantasy movie with a cult following, he said, redundantly, because every eighties fantasy movie has a cult following. Find me a Wikipedia page for one of the breed that doesn’t include the words “cult following”. Can’t be done.

On dark nights, the adherents of Hawk the Slayer can be heard chanting in the woods, every solistice, the Cult of Krull sacrifices a virgin in a moonlit grove and don’t even get me started on what the Willow fans get up to. But Ladyhawke actually earns its cult status for two reasons:

1)      It was a massive flop on release.

2)      It’s actually quite good.

Now, let me qualify that. It’s good. But it’s eighties as fuck. In fact, take a look at the opening credits for me and imagine that it’s actually the start of a cop show about a hawk police officer busting cocaine cartels in Miami beach.

Image result for tubbs miami vice

“Dammit Ladyhawke! I may be your partner, but you crossed the line back there in that warehouse!”

“Until we take down Espinoza and the Marinos cartel, there IS no line!”

You’ll also notice some pretty high calibre talent in those credits. There’s Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Haur of course, Richard Donner who famously directed Superman and Stuart Baird, one of the most respected film editors in Hollywood. But then, he also directed Star Trek Nemesis, so fuck that guy.

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Injun Trouble (1969)

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

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

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

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

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

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

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

"..."

“…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Some day, mayhap. BUT NOT THIS DAY!”

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

cool_cat

The enemy. I shall teach you to hate him.

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

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

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

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

Also, his cartoons suck and are not funny.

So let’s take a look at Injun Trouble.

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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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Bully for Bugs (1953)

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

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

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Justice League: New Frontier (2008)

Comic Book historians divide the history of superhero comics into “ages”. The Golden Age lasted from the late thirties to the end of the second world war. It began with the creation of Superman and saw the births of Batman, Wonder Woman, Captains America and Marvel, the original incarnations of the Green Lantern and the Flash as well as a host of others. Owing to the ongoing unpleasantness at the time, many of these characters were patriotic, Japanazi fighting do-gooders like the greatest superhero for all time, the Original Human Torch.
“Mouse, stop showing that panel of the Original Human torch calling Hitler a liar while burning him a…” “NEVER!”

“Mouse, stop showing that panel of the Original Human torch calling Hitler a liar while burning him a…”
“NEVER!”

Also, owing to the fact that this was a brand new genre and folks were still figuring out the rules these comics tended to be absolutely batshit insane.
In the forties we had a superhero who was a giant flying eyeball. How’s that for diversity?

In the forties we had a superhero who was a giant flying eyeball. How’s that for diversity?

And then, with the war over, the superhero fad died about as quickly as it had ignited and superheroes pretty much vanished from the shelves with the exception of a few stubborn holdouts like Superman.
Now, I want you to imagine that you wake up tomorrow and everyone is playing POGs. Like, POGS are suddenly huge again. Kids are playing POGs, college students are playing POGs,  journalists are writing long earnest think pieces about the cultural ramifications of the POGsurgance instead of doing actual work. This weird fad from fifteen or twenty years back suddenly comes roaring to prominence again and never leaves and before you know it movie studios are making massive-budget spectacle movies with inter-connected continuity and people are lining down the street to watch Pog versus Pog: Dawn of Pog.  That’s kind of what happened with the dawn of the Silver Age of comics in the late fifties/early sixties. So what happened?
“Two words. Sput! Nik!”

“Two words. Sput! Nik!”

With the dawn of the space race, America became obsessed with science and its wild, stoner little sister science fiction. Whereas Golden Age heroes tended to have magical or mythical based powers, the new crop of superheroes belonged firmly in the realm of science fiction. Instead of getting his powers from an old magic lantern, the new Green Lantern was a space cop gifted with fabulous technology by a race of all powerful aliens. The new Flash was police scientist Barry Allen who eschewed the Roman mythology inspired look of his predecessor, Jay Garrick. Even the few surviving Golden Age heroes adapted to the times; I mean look at what poor Batman had to deal with for chrissakes:
“I AM THE NIGHT!”

“I AM THE NIGHT!”

Over at Marvel, the hottest new properties were Spider-man, a science student turned superhero, and the Fantastic Four, a quartet of astronauts who literally got their powers as a result of the space race.
Much like “the sixties” doesn’t simply mean the years between 1960 and 1969 but refers to an entire cultural…thing, “silver age” has come to represent a specific attitude and aesthetic in comics. The comics of this period tended to be bright, optimistic, occasionally goofy as hell and suffused with a spirit of Moon Shot era can-do. New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke’s classic  2004 love letter to that whole era, simultaneously interrogates the period in which those stories were written while simultaneously celebrating what made them great. In 2008, Cooke teamed up with his old partner Bruce Timm (Batman the Animated Series) to adapt this story as part of Warner’s line of direct to to DVD animations. Did Cooke’s work make the transition unscathed? Let’s take a look.
Blucatt ad

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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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A Troll in Central Park (1994)

(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.)
Previously on Unshaved Mouse: After months of ominous threats and warnings, Mouse finally came face to face with his most determined enemy yet; the mysterious, lethal, Blucatt. Blucatt brutally murdered Gangsta Asia and then revealed himself to be none other than legendary animator Don Bluth, who accused Mouse of destroying him as an animator, a charge which Mouse shockingly did not deny…
“…and another reason why Emperor’s New Groove is the third most under-rated Disney movie…”

“…and another reason why Emperor’s New Groove is the third most under-rated Disney movie…”

  “…and another reason why Emperor’s New Groove is the third most under-rated Disney movie…”

“SHUT. UP. Shut up. You’ve been stalling for two weeks. Now tell everyone why it’s your fault that my movies suck.”

Alright. Alright. I knew this day would come. I’ve talked about Don Bluth on this blog before, mostly in the American Tail review and in passing when I covered The Fox and the Hound. But now it’s time to talk about Bluth’s legacy as an animator and how that legacy was destroyed by many factors.
“By you.”

“By you.”

“By many factors of which I was one.”

“By many factors of which I was one.”

“Funny, I don’t really remember there being that many factors.”

“Funny, I don’t really remember there being that many factors.”

Okay, animation history time. Don Bluth split from Disney halfway through production of The Fox and the Hound, taking a good chunk of the Disney animation team with him.
He told them they were going to pick apples. They never got to pick apples.

He told them they were going to pick apples. They never got to pick apples.

Now this group was known as Don Bluth Productions (and then later on as the Bluth Group) and in 1982 they released Bluth’s first directorial feature, the now legendary Secret of NIMH. NIMH had critics slavering all over it but died at the box-office as it only had a limited release and was released during one of the best years in history for genre movies.
There is no shame in losing to ET.

There is no shame in losing to ET.

In fact, between ET walloping NIMH at the box-office and an industry wide animators-strike, Bluth had to declare bankruptcy.  NIMH was therefore a once-off. Don Bluth Productions did not release any other feature length animations; the rest of their output during this period was stuff for TV like Banjo The Woodpile Cat (no, I’m not reviewing it. I’m done with cartoon cats for a good long while), the computer games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace and animated sequences for the movie Xanadu. Most of what people consider “Don Bluth movies” were actually made by a company called Sullivan Bluth. Well, you all know who Bluth is, who the fruck was Sullivan? Sit down and I’ll learn ya.
By 1983 Bluth had managed to turn things around thanks largely to the phenomenal success of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace.Sure, they played like mules on Quaaludes but those games looked a good two decades ahead of anything else on the market. But then, the video game market imploded in late ’83/early ’84 thanks in no small part to the white-hot grease fire of pure failure that was the Atari tie-licence game of…ET.
Man, Don Bluth must have hated that alien so much.

Man, Don Bluth must have hated that alien so much.

“Hes next on my list”

“He’s next on my list”

This left Bluth bankrupt again and it’s at about this point in the story that Sullivan enters the picture. Morris Sullivan was an Irish-American businessman who was also an avid cartoon nut who decided to invest in Bluth. To bring down costs and also to avoid the kind of industrial disputes that had plagued NIMH (and were also causing trouble for the early production of An American Tail) Sullivan convinced Bluth to move the newly formed Sullivan Bluth Studios to Dublin, Ireland*. This was pretty much the big bang for Irish animation, and the impact is still being felt to this day. Bluth set up an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College that trained a whole generation of Irish animators. Nor was Bluth by any means the only animation company that set up shop here to take advantage of generous government support and an underemployed, English speaking workforce desperate for wages to pay the landlords and their thrice cursed gombeens.
The Bluth Animators circa  1989.

The Bluth Animators circa 1989.

They were daycent, hardworking animators. Quick with their fists, and quicker with their brushes. Why, you might even have heard of some of the movies and TV shows they created…
Remember this little thing? Rather popular at the time if you can believe it.

Remember this little thing? Rather popular at the time if you can believe it.

So, what’s all this got to do with little ol’ Mouse? Well, Sullivan Bluth employed hundreds of Irish people and one of those was my aunt**. So I guess you could say I had a very personal relationship with these movies growing up. I was able to hold the original cels from An American Tail and Land Before Time that my aunt kept around the house. I was at the European premiere of An American Tailin Dublin with my massive plushy Fievel Mousekewitz and wearing a Sullivan Bluth An American Tail kid’s T-shirt.
Mouse. Pre...mouse.

Mouse. Pre…mouse.

I saw all of Don Bluth’s movies. And the weird thing about that is I saw them even though they all TERRIFIED THE SHIT OUT OF ME LIKE RIGHT OUT SHIT EVERYWHERE.
I mean, I’ve already told you what a nervous child I was.
“I believe the term is “snivelling coward”.”

“I believe the term is “snivelling coward”.”

So how do you think I handled this?
sharptooth.jpg

Ah, there's that good old-timey Bluth terror.

HELLO!

Ah. There's that old timey Bluth terror.

The_Hellhound

These movies were not fun for me! They were endurance tests! Which is why…
Oh boy…
Okay, so…you’ve all heard of Rock A Doodle? You know the bits at the beginning in live action with the little blonde kid who makes Jake Lloyd look like Laurence Olivier? What you probably don’t know is that originally that movie was going to be all-animation. So, like when they brought deer and lions into the studio at Disney when they were making Bambi and Lion King, Don Bluth had a load of kids brought into the studio to run around and tumble and generally act like little idiots so that the animators could get an idea of how kids walk and run and act like little idiots.
And…I was one of those little idiots...
 dramatic chipmunk
And it was during this child-zoo that I found myself face to face with Don Bluth. And I told him his movies were too scary.
Now, you gotta understand, by then the Disney renaissance had started and Bluth had just been pummelled by Oliver and Company and The Little Mermaid. Things were looking grim and I can only imagine that Bluth was trying desperately to figure out a way to get back in the lead. Something, anything. And here’s a member of his target audience telling him to his face that his movies are just too damn scary.
Shortly after that, pre-production started on Thumbelina.
Guys, I’m sorry.
I am so, so sorry.
“After that everything fell apart. My movies became saccharine dreck. It was like I was cursed. That’s when the Horned King approached me. He offered to give me a world where I could rule for all time and all I had to do was slowly torture you for all eternity. It was win win. Win fucking win. But you couldn’t even let me have that, could you? You had to escape and ruin everything.””

“After that everything fell apart. My movies became saccharine dreck. It was like I was cursed. That’s when the Horned King approached me. He offered to give me a world where I could rule for all time and all I had to do was slowly torture you for all eternity. It was win win. Win fucking win. But you couldn’t even let me have that, could you? You had to escape and ruin everything.””

“Look Don, I dont know what to say. I was a stupid kid. I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“Look Don, I don’t know what to say. I was a stupid kid. I didn’’t know what I was talking about.”

“Alright. Well, the important thing is that you learned your lesson. Bye.”

“Alright. Well, the important thing is that you learned your lesson. Bye.”

"Really, thats it?"

“Really, that’s it?”

““HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…no. No, revenge will be mine. You’re going to review A Troll in Central Park.”

““HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…no. No, revenge will be mine. You’re going to review A Troll in Central Park.”

“Never heard of it.”"

“Never heard of it.””

“Stanley’s Magic Garden.”

Stanley’s Magic Garden.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…”

"Cats dont dance poster". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cats_dont_dance_poster.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cats_dont_dance_poster.jpg

Cats Don’t Dance (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.)

So I have this recurring nightmare…
Well, actually I have several recurring nightmares. You don’t live a life like mine without picking up a few ghosts in the attic. Horned King nightmares. Coachman nightmares. Foodfight nightmares. And this new one where a blue cat seems awfully mad at me for something that I can’t remember doing but I’m getting off topic.
So, in this nightmare it’s like that scene from The Untouchables where all the gangsters are having a banquet except instead of gangsters it’s movie critics. All the big critics are there and I’m sitting where Jon Lovitz did in the movie. And Al Capone (Roger Ebert) is giving the big “Teamwork” speech and then he stops in mid-sentence and he looks at me.
“You.” He says.
“Yeah boss?” I say.
“You’re a critic, huh?”
“Well…yeah.”
“What did you think of Citizen Kane?”
“Uh, never actually saw it.”
The Godfather?”
“Sorry.”
Before Sunset?
“Not really into chick flicks.”
Battleship Potemkin?”
“It’s on my list, I swear to God. I’ve seen Crash though, and that won an Oscar so that’s something right?”
And then Roger Ebert beats me to death with his Pulitzer. And then I wake up in a cold sweat screaming “I’m a fraud! A FRAUD! AND THE UNTOUCHABLES SUCKED!”
More like the "The Unwatchables" amirite?

More like the “The Unwatchables” amirite?

Yeah, so I’m actually quite conscious of the fact that for someone who reviews movies I’ve seen relatively few of the Greatest Movies Ever Made. I’ve been slowly working on expanding my cinematic palette beyond animated films and computer game cut scenes however, and one of the all-time classics that I recently discovered and happily found earns its hype and then some is the 1952 musical Singin’ In the Rain. You probably don’t need me to tell you this but if by some chance you let this one slip you by then I whole-heartedly recommend you change your life and get right with God because that movie is awesome. Great songs, fantastic choreography, iconic performances and fruckin’ hilarious (I use “fruckin'” when “frickin” is too mild and “fuckin'” is too coarse). Today’s movie, Cat’s Don’t Dance has a lot in common with Singin’ in the Rain. They’re both love letters to the golden age of Hollywood and they both benefited from the talents of the great Gene Kelly, who acted as choreographer for CDD. It might sound weird for a cartoon to need a choreographer, but lemme tell ya: These cats can fruckin’ dance. And they do. In fact, this movie probably has one of the most misleading titles in cinema history, right up there with The Never Ending Story and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
In fairness, "Friday the 13th: There's Gonna be 8 more of these fuckin' things so get comfortable, folks" was never going to fit on the marquee.

In fairness, “Friday the 13th: There’s Gonna be 8 more of these fuckin’ things so get comfortable, folks” was never going to fit on the marquee.

This movie was part of the wave of animated features that followed in the wake of the Disney renaissance, with studios desperate to have a Lion King to call their own. CDD was produced by Turner Animation, the great American animation studio that never was. This was actually the only full length animated feature the studio ever made before Turner was merged into Time Warner but on the strength of this movie I think they could have been a serious contender. They definitely had the talent, not least of which was director Mark Dindal who later made the fantastic Emperor’s New Groove  and the actually-not-so-bad-if-you-go-in-with-an-open-mind Chicken Little. Let’s take a look. 

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Space Jam (1996)

(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.)

So I have a confession to make.
For the longest time, I thought it was “Looney Toons” and not “Looney Tunes”.
New spittake
Alright fine, but in my defence it makes sense, right? I mean, they’re cartoons. Why would they be called “Tunes”?
Well, why indeed.
The reason the early series of cartoon shorts have names like “Looney Tunes”, “Merrie Melodies” and “Silly Symphonies” is because that’s what they were selling. Film studios like Warner Brothers did a tidy side business off their movie soundtracks by selling phonograph records and sheet music for playin’ on the ol’ pianey.
The idea was, you go to a movie and see, say, I Love to Singa’, and say to yourself “smartass owl thinks he’s so big, I could do that.” and before you know it you’ve gone down to the local music shop and blown the money you were saving in case you got tuberculosis (spoiler, you got tuberculosis). The unpleasant truth that I’m tip-toeing around here is that the Looney Tunes were, at least in their early days, basically advertisements.
Ergo, if you hate Space Jam because you don’t like to see your favourite characters schilling, I got bad news for you friends; They were schilling when your grandparents were throwing toys out of the pram.

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