Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Nothing but the lies

I know that Captain Pugwash didn't really have crew members called "Master Bates" or "Roger the Cabin Boy". I know that the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street was not renamed the Veggie Monster as some sort of evil plan to indoctrinate kids into eating more healthily.

(Of course, I'm using "evil" sarcastically here. Although a plan to introduce healthy eating to kids could have a morally suspect element to it, if the plan is to make kids healthy enough to form an army of muscle-bound troops to help you take over the world. But I don't think that's on anyone's mind when they whine about the government having the audacity to try to stop their kids from getting heart diseases.)

The Sesame Street one I learned on snopes, the Pugwash one I knew from being familiar with the Pugwash *books* from my kidhood, confirmed by snopes. I have heard both of these claims stated as fact. I could have replied "That's not true..." but they were unlikely to believe me, and if I did convince them I'd just have been a kill-joy. So I kept my mouth shut and let them enjoy their slanderous anti-nutritious fun. Maybe I was right to do so, or maybe that just leads down the path to ignoring other, more important truths and tacitly accepting other, more damaging lies.

Oh, and if you want PG-13 names in Captain Pugwash... well, one of them is called Willy. How snickersome. But his last (or first) name is not Gilligan.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


When I was a small kid, I remember having a typically small-kid-like top with a picture of a dog as an aviator on it. Also, the writing "Dog Gone Flying". The dog had a cheerful, friendly face, he didn't look evil or anything. However, there was something a bit disturbing about him. His face was quite small, compacted down in the lower part of his head. That's not disturbing, it an be quite appealing. What was distrurbing was the fact that, up on his high forehead were a pair of goggles... over another pair of eyes!

In the absence of any photos of this garment, here's a rough impression of it on MSPaint based on memory.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Hello, all you happy people.

One of the presents I got this year was the DVD set of the theatrical Droopy shorts. It wasn't one of the first I decided to check out... in fact, unlike some of the other DVDs I got, I didn't stick it in my DVD player until a few days later! I guess this is because I had the feeling that these cartoons didn't represent the best of what Avery did at MGM, and that while I was watching them, something would remind me of a better Avery MGM cartoon, and I would wish I was watching that instead.

I think my negative feelings about the Droopy cartoons came from a specific group of them, from around 1950, which pitted Droopy against Spike the bulldog. They were built on a blackout gags formula, in which Droopy and Spike are competing for something, and so Spike tries various schemes against Droopy (either trying to kill him, or just make him fail at something) which all backfire in exactly the same way. The humour levels really seem to go down after the first four where he is pitted against the wolf.

As it turns out though, there were some other good ones made around the same time... "Out-Foxed", for example, and even "Droopy's Double Trouble", although it does feature Spike, is much more enjoyable to me than the five Spike and Droopy entries which came before it. This was the last Droopy cartoon Avery made before his sabbatical and brief replacement by Dick Lundy, and if the quality of the Droopy shorts are anything to go by, it was a much-needed break.

The following cartoons (on Disc 2 of the DVD set) are much more inventive, funny, and inventively funny. Even though "Three Little Pups" is a blackout-gag cartoon, it is still one of my favourites, and contains one of my favourite Avery gags (ironically featuring a bulldog)...

"Break it up, son. Joke's over."

Most of the post-sabbatical Droopy cartoons have a Western theme to them, and this may have been Avery's element.

Now, the last few shorts were directed by Michael Lah, and I was expecting the quality to plunge. But, interestingly enough, it doesn't! I'm not saying it was a similar situation to the Popeye cartoons, where the first Famous entries were better than the last few Fleischers - as I said above, the weak phase for Tex's Droopys came much earlier. I did enjoy them a lot more than those earlier "weak phase" Droopys though. "Grin and Share It" is based on the same formula, but, well, I prefer it. "One Droopy Knight" is largely a remake of the earlier "Senor Droopy" but I find the mythical knights-and-dragons setting more suited to the basic story than the bullfighting arena.

(the only thing that "Senor Droopy" has in its favour over "One Droopy Knight" is the live-action end gag)

Hmmm... it's only when getting that screengrab that I was reminded that Senor Droopy's opponent is the wolf, not Spike. Well, I'd still classfy it as one of the weaker formula shorts, not in the same league as "Dumb-Hounded" through "Northwest Hounded Police".

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Kaa, the incredible shape-changing snake

From a Sterling Holloway stork to a Sterling Holloway snake...

I didn't notice this myself, I had read a very offhand remark about there being two different looks for Kaa in the Disney Jungle Book. So I decided to check it out:

Indeed, in the clip below (his second sequence in the film) he looks much cartoonier than in the clip above (his first sequence). His eyes are closer together and rise further above his head, his nose tapers out the way instead of in the way... and the general shape of his face allows for more variation in movement... actually, in the later sequence he almost looks like a serpentine Daffy Duck, say... mid-1950s, Chuck Jones unit.

The later design is certainly the better of the two, and probably the "definitive" look for the character, but I wonder why the earlier sequence has the different design? A common explanation would be that it had a different animator, but you'd think on a feature film like this they'd have a standard model sheet and diligent assistants to keep the drawings close to that model sheet. Another possibility is that they changed the design after they had already animated the earlier sequence, but surely they'd get someone to reanimate it, like they did with Dopey's soap antics in the washing sequence of Snow White. After Disney's death did consistency really fall apart?

As some people might not know, Woolie Reitherman, the director of The Jungle Book, was very fond of reusing animation. In this case, the scenes of Kaa unravelling (1:56 - 2:07 in the first clip, 4:55 - 5:00 in the second) are the same. This creates a continuity error: when he unravels in the second sequence, the way he's wrapped around the tree branches changes completely. It also makes the difference in the design stand out a bit more.

Oddly enough, some of the following footage in the second sequence is reused from the first sequence, while some is new. But, of course, even in the new footage he still has the (older?) first sequence design.

Oh, and if any of you are turned on by the thought of a ridiculously long snake hypnotising you and coiling himself around you... well, keep it to yourself, OK? ;)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A closer look at... a single line from Walt Disney's Dumbo

"Look Out For Mr Stork", the opening song of the Walt Disney classic Dumbo, with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Frank Churchill and/or Oliver Wallace.

You know, I wonder how much we can understand about the Disney "style" by looking at one of the lines: "Remember those quintuplets, or the woman in the shoe?" (1:37 - 1:41 on the video and oddly not subtitled).

"Those quintuplets" presumably refers to the Dionne quintuplets - the Wikipedia entry certainly thinks so at least. I probably have the commentaries on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections to thank for figuring that out. The cartoon "Baby Bottleneck" (Bob Clampett, 1946), in which Porky and Daffy have to help out the "overworked stork", features a scene where Daffy is answering phone requests, and at one point replies, in a shocked tone, "Mr Dionne, please!" Clampett obviously realised that at least some of the audience would understand that Dionne = unusual amount of childbirth.

Dumbo doesn't get so specific, but refers to "those quintuplets", almost like "Oh, yeah, I remember reading something about a set of quintuplets in the news once" and this reference is immediately followed by a reference to a nursery rhyme, which is also about an unusual amount of children.

There's a couple of ways to interpret this, neither of which is necessarily right:
Disney (as a company) wanted to prove it was "with the times" by including a fairly topical reference, albeit a very non-specific one, then, having exhausted that attempt, fell back on the more comfortably familiar world of nursery rhymes.
The lyricist wanted to include a fairly topical reference, but some higher authority at the studio prefered that the film remain "timeless" (kind of like how Disney didn't want the vultures in The Jungle Book to be a rock'n'roll group because he thought that style of music wouldn't last very long) and so insisted he downplay the specificity of the reference and immediately follow it up with the kind of reference that the studio had become more familiar for.

There's probably plenty of evidence against either theory, but I do find that line an interesting example of opposing directions at the Disney studio.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Look out, Itchy! He's Irish!

When I was a kid I read this joke:

"Is this yours? The name's all smudged."
"No, my name is Allsop."

I didn't quite understand it. I assumed the joke must be that the name "Allsop" apparently looked like a smudge of ink, and that Mr Allsop was saying "No, it's not smudged, my name really does look like that."

I also read a similar joke.

"Is this yours? The name's obliterated."
"No, my name's O'Brien."

I am ashamed to say that not only did I not notice the similarity between the two jokes, but I didn't know what "obliterated" meant either. (I'm not sure how old I was at this point) I thought it might mean "has an O' at the beginning" and the joke was that the foolish Mr O'Brien didn't realise his name was indeed "obliterated".

It was may years later, and, actually, many years after learning what "obliterated" really meant, that I noticed the similarity of the two jokes (some things just come to memory like that) - they were really just versions of the same joke: Person 1 is expressing that he can't read the name, Person 2 thinks that Person 1 *is* reading out a name similar to Person 2's real name.

Of the two, I think that the "O'Brien" version works better, as it's more plausible that someone might think "O'bliterated" is a real name than that they might think "Allsmudged" is. The only problem is that it's potentially insulting to Irish people, as it seems to belong on the same genre as the "Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman" or the "Pat and Mike" jokes, where a character's Irishness is used as a signpost that he is meant to be stupid.

The thing is, I don't think the joke is offensive unless you're already aware of the "Irish = stupid" tradition in so many other jokes. The guy isn't called "O'Brien" because it's a name befitting a stupid character, he's called "O'Brien" because it sounds vaguely like "obliterated". But unfortunately, because of all those *other* jokes, we have to put up with the "Allsmudged" version or risk offending someone. If it weren't for those jokes we could tell the "O'Brien" one to anyone we wanted and have a good old laugh together.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Let the old Doctor die with a fond goodbye...

The four years of Russell T Davies' tenure as Doctor Who showrunner corresponded to my four years at University. I don't mean they were similar (although if I really analysed it, maybe I might find a few similarities), but the year after I graduated, no Doctor Who series. But now I've started a post-grad at a different university and... guess what! This year there will be a new series of Doctor who with a different showrunner. Not only that, but my postgrad course is at Glasgow Uni, and the new showrunner is Steven Moffat, who comes from very near Glasgow. Incredible!

Even without that personal coinceidental reason, I'm one of the many people who thinks Steven Moffat would be a great choice to take over. His episodes have really made the most of the time-travel element of the series... in "Blink" the Doctor records half a conversation for someone several years in the future who will provide the other side of the conversation. In "The Girl in the Fireplace" he and his companions are on a spaceship where different portals lead to different points in the life of a historical figure. In "Silence in the Library" he meets someone who has already met a later incarnation of him. To be fair, other writers, including Russell T Davies, have also done this to an extent.

But one of Davies' flaws, in my opinion, has been an over-fondness of including scenes where something big is shooting down at people in a city (usually London) as they flee for their lives. "The Next Doctor" was a great episode... but it was let down somewhat by the fact that RTD just had to include that giant Cyberman. (Well... he didn't *have* to. That's the point I'm making.) Steven Moffat, on the other hand, has almost always gone for the simple-but-effective... or maybe that should be the simple-thus-effective: people in gas masks, clockwork androids, living statues which are never seen to move onscreen. Oh, and his episodes are terrifying in a way which only ideas and not in-your-face visuals can be.

In Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook's "A Writer's Tale", Davies mentions that he wrote the final draft of all episodes except Moffat's, Chris Chibnall's, Stephen Greenhorn's and Matthew Graham's. We therefore can be sure that the Steven Moffat who writes six episodes of the 2010 series will be the same Steven Moffat who brought us those earlier episodes, and that what we have seen before was not a version of his style that was filtered through Davies' own.

We know a bit about some of the other writers who will return, courtesy of wikipedia - Chris Chibnall will write two episodes (one two-part story, perhaps?), as will Gareth Roberts. Chris Chibnall wrote the highly entertaining "42" in the 2007 series, as well as some of Life on Mars, so that should be good. Gareth Roberts' episodes have also been great so far, although "The Unicorn and the Wasp" can feel a little flippant compared to some of the others. Also, as Roberts had been rewritten by Davies for both of his episodes we've seen before, we may be encountering an entirely new Gareth Roberts this year. We don't really know how much of either "The Shakespeare Code" or "The Unicorn and the Wasp" were Roberts' own and how much were Davies'.

And now we come to the big one: Richard Curtis will be writing an episode, apparently including "Vincent Van Gogh stabbing a yellow monster". I'm slightly wary about this. In a BBC interview he mentions that it's "a treat for his children" and that he's glad that families can sit together to watch "something like Doctor Who and the X Factor"... I'm hoping that he isn't only writing for children and fans of the X Factor. It's also a little troublesome for me that he is writing an episode with a historical setting, given that he has previously written a very well known TV series with a historical setting, one where accuracy ranked probably lowest on the list of priorities. But I hope that with Steven Moffat in charge he's not likely to make the same types of Blackadder-esque blunders which have medieval English kings being rulers of "Britain", which includes Scotland...