Cartoon Hell #34 – “Felix the Cat and the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg”

January 19, 2010

Cartoon Hell is Nicholas Merlin Karpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome. 

Pinching out gold might be rough on the insides.

Felix the Cat is about as close as animation gets to a hipster icon. He’s obscure, but vaguely recognizable, and iconic enough that people keep trying to revive the franchise. It gives you that extra bit of cred to have his merchandise, but ask anyone what their favorite Felix the Cat moment is, and you’ll be treated to blank stares. There’s a reason for that: No one watches silent cartoons, and all the talkies with Felix are awful. They resuscitate the corpse of Felix every couple of decades to try and recapture the magic, but I’ve never seen the appeal. Apparently there’s brewing right now.

 Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse both started as silent film characters. They both functioned as mimes going through a series of stream of consciousness animation experiments. Adding voice to a silent character sank a lot of careers, and if you listen to Mickey Mouse, he’s boring as hell, which is why he became the straight man to the antics of characters who actually possessed specific personalities. He was the Zeppo Marx of animation.

 You can’t take an existing character and betray peoples’ expectations, which is probably why the studio that made Felix resisted doing talkies for so long. This particular cartoon was an attempt by Van Beuren to revive the popular character, and they missed the point entirely, which is why only three were ever made.

 The reason so many characters of yesteryear fail is because they either had no personality, which later technology revealed, or the owners of the rights no longer have the courage to let them behave that way. Popeye isn’t hyper-destructive, Bugs Bunny isn’t obnoxious, Donald Duck no longer has a rage problem, they all become paper stand-ins with nothing more than a recognizable profile and an annoying voice.

 The voice is indeed the biggest problem here. From the first line, Felix’s talking cuts like a knife, a shrill, kiddy tone only replicable by having a child yell half an inch from your ear.

Good to see we've moved to a goose-based economic model.

Felix is running a relief stand powered by the Goose and its golden eggs. Maybe I’m just being a nerd, but wouldn’t you rapidly devalue the local currency doing that? Damn it, Felix, do you not understand scarcity, quit squeezin the goose! 

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Cartoon Hell #33 – “The Little Stranger”

January 15, 2010

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

What? You're telling me no one's ever given you a little stranger?

“Don’t look around, don’t make a sound, there’s a stranger here in town. Where he’s from, nobody knows. Lonely little stranger he looks so alone. He thought he was in danger, the day he was born.”

That’s a bleak opening song for a cartoon. In tandem with a title that sounds like an obscure sex euphemism, it makes for a bad first impression. Even the title card is messed up, giving me low expectations for the fidelity of this transfer. The first shot is damn confusing because it seems darker than originally intended. I’m fairly sure it’s a chicken worrying over a nest of eggs, but it’s doing it in the forest. Do chickens every really come in a wild variety?

The chicken cries over an egg before depositing it in the nest, making the whole scenario clear. This chicken is pulling a cuckoo-bird on some unsuspecting egg-laying species. This whole thing raises a lot of questions this cartoon isn’t prepared to answer. What sin justifies a chicken going to that effort? Is some farmer going to lose his temper from illicit chicken sex? They spoot out eggs and chicks as a lifestyle. Did she breed with another species? Is that a basilisk in there? Oh man, I’m starting to imagine cartoons far more interesting than whatever is about to happen.

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Cartoon Hell #32 – “Little Hawk”

January 11, 2010

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome. 

Brother to Fat Dove and Trifling Pigeon.

The titles for this cartoon don’t make things very clear. After the title, the words “Young Peoples Records” appears. I wish it had a possessive, which would make it sound like an old person describing a music collection they’d just stolen. 

This map gives the impression of Lord of the Rings set in Detroit.

As far as opening images go, this one is damn confusing. Am I looking at a leaf, or a poorly drawn depiction of the Great Lakes? Fortunately, the narrations clarifies that our story takes place by Lake Michigan. I should learn to trust my keen eyes.

 The story is about an Ottawa boy that everyone calls Lazy Bones. He’s a watches people do common activities, suggesting that thoughtfulness is correlated with laziness, which let’s be honest, isn’t entirely unfair.

 As far as shoddy limited animation techniques go, Little Hawk’s is one of the worst. They took real pictures of natural scenery and cut them to fit their forest areas, drawing a few crude trees on top to give the appearance of depth. The Ottawa boy isn’t the only lazy one here. 

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Cartoon Hell #31 – “The Snow Man”

January 7, 2010

 Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome. 

Warning, there is no snowman resembling this one in the short.

Snowmen sucked where I grew up. Seattle weather didn’t lend itself to thick, rollable snow. If it fell at all, it carried too much moisture to make a snow man that didn’t look like a slouched, misshapen derelict. The snowmen of my childhood looked like they’d sooner stab you than give a proper smile. As bad as this cartoon is, it reflects those awful snowmen surprisingly well.

 The Snow Man starts off with an Inuit sending his seal off to it’s own little seal-house igloo. Considering what Inuit usually do to seals, this seems a bit dishonest. The seal complains until the man hands it a hot water bottle, which would only satisfy someone who’s never tried that. 

How hard would you have to turn a gear with that kind of timing?

Back inside his igloo, which looks suspiciously like a normal lodge created by someone with no interest in finding reference material, the man says prayers to his heathen gods, and then sets his clock to wake him up in six months. Apparently them Eskimos hibernate like bears.

 We watch the hands pass through the months with an urgent voice whispering “tick tock” in a way that felt too intimate for the setting. The scene doesn’t change to skeleton in a parka as I would have expected. At this point I wish I could travel back in time and tell the animators, “You realize Eskimos aren’t bears, right? Even the fattest one couldn’t sleep through the winter.” 

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Cartoon Hell #30 – “Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo”

January 2, 2010

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

I guess the old titles were supposed to imitate sitting in a classy theater. Mission accomplished?

Once again we’re following the antics of America’s favorite elephant woman, Betty Boop. As I suggested in a previous entry, there are really two Boops. The original, with her suggestive attire and flapper dancing, and Frau Boop, wearer of long dresses and participant in wholesome activities like running pet shops.

Since Boop’s appeal was mostly sexual, removing that makes about as much sense as taking Bugs Bunny, removing his sense of mischief, and making him play some mundane activity like, oh, I don’t know, basketball perhaps.

What’s more, this is another episode where Betty Boop has been saddled with helpers, namely Bimbo and Koko. It keeps up the tradition of Boop cartoons featuring Fleischer failures, as a Disney knock-off dog and a clown never really caught fire.

I think it might just be a race, people!

This one starts off with a race! How do we know this? Because it starts with people running towards a big sign that says “Race”, whose words also have little racing feet just to hammer the point home. The horn is blown, the car pant at their gates like animals, and lo and behold, a halfway decent joke appears.

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Ren & Stimpy & Charactered Pieces

December 29, 2009

This is a guest post from Caleb J Ross, author of the chapbook Charactered Pieces: stories, as part of his ridiculously named Blog Orgy Tour. Though his book is in no way related to cartoons, I demanded he discuss the topic to make his pimping at least somewhat site relevant. Being a nice man with a pleasantly shaped head, he agreed.

Visit his website for a full list of blog stops. Charactered Pieces: stories is currently available from OW Press (or Amazon.com). Visit him at http://www.calebjross.com.

My childhood was essentially wallpapered in cartoons and video games. Rarely, I believe, does this come through in my writing. But, search outside the words, and the remnants of Saturday mornings spent worshiping the television do mysteriously appear like Gazoo to usher a Flintstones plot twist. The up-close, intricately detailed “gross shorts” from Ren & Stimpy, for example, definitely fueled my appreciation for the use of magnification to enhance interest. Also fueled by Ren & Stimpy: my yearning for, what I later learned are nonexistent, powdered breakfast foods.

Ren & Stimpy, generally a cartoon with traditional 2-D art and color palettes, would emphasize certain scenes with intricately rendered close-ups, often for gross-out purposes. A simply drawn fish head (a scene from an episode in which Stimpy’s fart marries a fish skeleton…seriously) would magnify to show the texture of the scales, the visual fumes wafting from the carcass, and would stress shadow contrast making for an even more disgusting image. These stills became one of the main draws to Ren & Stimpy, despite its brilliantly irreverent storylines and culturally aware character styles (Family Guy simply would not exist were it not for Ren & Stimpy).

The cover of my chapbook, Charactered Pieces, adopts this gross-out magnification, though perhaps not to a level noticeably similar by casual observers of both the book and the cartoon. Quite consciously, though, I referenced my memories of the demented cartoon in order to create an image that does three things, in a specific order: 1) intrigues, 2) confuses, 3) disturbs. The last item doesn’t happen until one reads the title story.

I’ve posted a few more words about the cover over at ArtJerk.net.