Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Lion King makes no sense, etc.

Last night I had to put up with about ten students of varying degrees of drunkenness tonelessly "singing" a bunch of songs from the Silver Age Broadway-influenced era of Disney films. Probably the part of that which really epitomises the whole "fun to think back on, but not so great to actually endure" side of it is when all ten of them bellow the *spoken* parts of the songs.

Incidentally, I'm not so straight-laced that I can't enjoy a bit of mirth and music. But while I love Singin' In The Rain, The Bandwagon, and the style of songs from the 1940s which often appear in musicals from around that time, I'd never say I'm a "fan of musicals" because for most people that means being a fan of Les Miserables, Evita... um... you get the idea.

One of the things I brought up to the other people who were less than enthralled by this little music-fest (or rather, to anyone who I thought was likely to listen) was that many of the words from the Lion King songs make no sense in the context of the film. Simba sings about "the spotlight" and Scar makes a metaphorical remark about "the lights are not all on upstairs" (referring to the Hyenas' stupidity). It extends beyond the songs, too: Zazu says that Scar would make a "charming throw-rug". But the characters in the film should have no knowledge of electric lights, or furniture, or anything like that. There's no technology in their world. I know, they should have no knowledge of the English language either, but we can accept that as part of the internal logic of the film. Just like, if they actually *had* electric lights and so on, we could accept that as part of the film's internal logic, but not if they *don't* have any but still talk and sing about them.

(Incidentally, when I mentioned to one person about there being "internal inconsistencies", he pointed out that some of the animals, e.g. the antelopes, don't speak. That's an entirely different issue, and one I expect to write about in the near future.)

I guess anachronistic references in Disney films can be traced back to The Sword in the Stone, where there was a clearly established mediaeval setting, but where Merlin was able to reference things from the future -- always to the confusion of other characters -- because of his magic powers. This was taken to it natural conclusion (?) with the Genie in Aladdin. But then with The Lion King it just seemed to become "comic characters can know everything."

There should be a page for this on "TV Tropes", which deals with other media besides TV -- in fact there probably already is one, I just don't know what to look for. Basically, I'm meaning where a film establishes a world with its own internal rules, and then one character breaks these rules by making a joke about something no-one in that world should know about. This sort of thing doesn't always matter, of course. No-one cares about anachronistic jokes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail because the film doesn't try to pretend its world has any sort of rules about what its characters are or aren't familiar with. Shrek's kind of a grey area. I don't think Donkey should know what an in-flight movie is, because there are no planes in their world, but it doesn't feel like quite such a big deal somehow.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Vindication, like

As part of my Museum studies course, I am expected to read a fair amount of "theory". This doesn't just mean reading about doing something without actually doing it, but more along the lines of "literary theory", or, if you will, "philosophy." And one of the books which I borrowed from the library to provide some of that theory was called "The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern" by Fredric Jameson. I've only read bits of it, but it's got some interesting things to say about our culture in general, including the popular kind.

It was interesting to read (on page 8, if you're interested in looking for yourself) the author's argument that Star Wars is a "nostalgia film" despite the fact that it doesn't actually take place in the past (well, not in a real past anyway), because it conveys the past by invoking an art form (old-time adventure serials) from the past. It then goes on to say that Raiders of the Lost Ark does both - it suggests the 1930s not just through its setting but through it's storytelling techniques.

Now, that's pretty much what I was saying about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in my earlier post, although at the time the book was written, Raiders was the only Indiana Jones film on offer. They don't just take place in the 1930s, they take place, in effect, in a film made in the 1930s.

So, it's nice to know that the experts are agreeing with me. Maybe that means I'm kind of an expert as well.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Everybody do the Kennedy Buster dance!

"Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow" was the first episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" to be made, although seventeen other episodes were broadcast before it. It was written by Tom Ruegger, Wayne Kaatz, Gordon Bressack and Charles M Howell IV; directed by Ken Boyer and Eddie Fitzgerald, and animated by Kennedy Cartoons. You can watch it on the Tiny Toon Adventures Season 1 Volume 1 DVD.

In the first act of the episode Elmyra captures Buster, involving a lot of wacky high-jinks in Elmyra's house and a long phoney death scene for Buster.

The second act has Buster discovering Elmyra's other mistreated pets and setting them all free, but then getting re-captured himself.

The third act has the other characters, led by Babs, rescuing Buster and them all giving Elmyra a taste of her own medicine in an elaborate "Planet of the Bunnies" setpiece.

More thoughts on this episode from the animation fan community can be found on this discussion thread, where Speedy Boris describes it as a "very uneven mix of "80's adventure story" and [...] Looney Tunes-esque humor". In this interview Tom Ruegger seems to say that Fitzgerald directed the first and third acts, with Boyer directing the middle act. It makes sense that the middle act had a different director, as it is very different in tone. Although it contains a few gags, it doesn't have the Bob Clampett manic energy of the first or third act. (I'm not criticizing Ken Boyer, who directed several great episodes of the series) If Fitzgerald did direct 2/3 of the episode, though, it seems strange that most of the credited artists (storyboards, character layouts) are from Ken Boyer's unit.

Ruegger also describes the episode as "very bizarre half-hour story that feels more like three shorts", which suggests to me that each act had a different writer. I suspect that Bressack and/or Howell had something to do with the middle act where Buster releases the other pets from their cages, as similar scenes occur in "Sawdust and Toonsil" and "Hare-Raising Night", which they also wrote.

Apparently the third act was heavily re-written by Eddie Fitzgerald. I don't know whether the entire "Planet of the Bunnies" sequence was his idea, or whether he just expanded it and took it in his own direction, but it is a brilliant virtual non-sequitur. You might expect something like this to be the main part of an episode, but here it's just a bit on the end, which comes pretty much out nowhere.

It contains a lot of references to Bob Clampett's cartoons from the Golden Age of Warner Bros.

The giant pair of lips is from "Tin Pan Alley Cats" where jazz music sends a Fats Waller cat "outta this world" and into a WW2-era version of Wackyland. I don't believe they are announcing a science-fiction double-feature.

The scene where Buster and three other characters, disguised as Buster clones, all hide in Elmyra's bed and scare her seems to come from "Kitty Kornered" where Porky's cats disguise as Martians. Also, the little dance all the Busters do at the end of the scene was apparently inspired by the end of "Porky in Wackyland" where Porky discovers there are actually several Dodo birds and the one he has caught is not the last after all. And it contains a Clampett catchphrase "Now, we wouldn't say that!" That's three Clampett references in one short scene! It also inspired Glen Kennedy to create the Kennedy Buster Dance, something that would appear a lot in the episodes his studio animated.

Glen Kennedy, the animation supervisor of his studio, animated about two-thirds of this episode, (far more than usual) including the entire third act. His style is pretty easy to spot once you know what it is, but it really looks much more expressive in motion than these frame-grabs can show. One technique which I think is unique to his animation is when characters point up into the sky for no apparent reason.

Additionally, there are a few scenes which he doesn't appear to have animated, but which nonetheless contain some of his poses, such as a character running off-screen by stretching out of the frame and leaving his or her head behind.

The gag credit no doubt refers to the omnipresence of Glen's animation.

One short sequence, in which Buster dresses as a doctor, was by Jon McClenahan, when he was the only animator at his studio, StarToons, and was taking work from other studios. By his own admission he had not quite got a handle on the characters. He would go on to do great things in the rest of the series.

There are a few more scenes here and there which might be examples of his work before it grew into what it became. The shot above is from one such scene: it comes right after the "doctor" bit and seems to have been inspired by some of Chuck Jones' 1960s work.

You can understand why this episode was delayed instead of being the series premiere. Some of the character roles are pretty strange: Elmyra is treated as some sort of arch-nemesis, Babs is a presenter with nothing to do until the third act and who spends most of the time in her "Tinkerbunny" outfit. Plucky and Hamton make cameos outside the action (they show up out of nowhere during the "death scene", and only Buster seems to be aware of their existence). And Buster and Babs' accomplices for their plot against Elmyra are a strange mix of Furrball, Fifi and Tyrone Turtle!

Also, Charlie Adler hasn't quite got the hang of his Buster voice, especially during his death act. Acme Acres is vaguely defined as a "land of magic and enchantment".

The actual first episode to air, "The Looney Beginning" (an "origin story" which was the 48th episode to be produced), has more to recommend it as an introduction to the series, with Babs and Buster as the main characters, Montana Max as the villain, and the creation of Acme Looniversity. But I do kind of like the strange quirkiness of "Hare Today" - a look at how the series *might* have turned out.