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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Size Matters


Before YouTube, before MySpace, when the internet was young and Bill Gates had barely made his first billion, there was Cartoon Over-Analyzations.

"Analy-whoozit?" I hear you ask. Then I call the police, because if I can actually hear any of you, it means you've broken into my apartment and are at this moment making off with my "Roger Ramjet" tapes. But I digress.

Have you ever read a ponderous, polysyllabic tome purporting to be an in-depth history of animation, only to discover it's little more than 200 pages of "word salad" on the phallic symbolism of Bugs Bunny's ears? We here at the Home For Orphan Toons have. Well, maybe not about that particular subject (though I did once hear one young lady in a coffee shop espouse that theory--with a perfectly straight face, too) but you get the idea.

And they drive us nuts.

They did one other fellow, too--and Cartoon Over-Analyzations was born. For those would-be "scholars" back in '96 with their own crackpot...I mean, insightful theories about the hidden meanings in our favorite cartoons, it was the place to go. It was all purely tongue-in-cheek, of course--unless you seriously believed "The Smurfs" was a plot to ram Communism down innocent children's throats. (I always figured they were evil, just not for that reason....)

Dear old "CO-A" died abruptly one day in 2002, the victim of a server crash--but toon geeks take heart. It's risen from the ashes in the form of a blog, which can be seen here . Thank you, Cartoon Brew, for once again brightening our day.

But then, we asked ourselves, why should that site have all the fun? Kevin and I are as badly in need of psychological counseling as anyone you're liable to find there. With that in mind, I present to you an essay by our own "Professor" Kevin Wollenweber:

Perhaps the one unnerving thing about some cartoons, primarily those of the accepted characters from Disney Studios during the reign of Uncle Walt, is that the main characters are merely humanoids dressed in animal costumes. If Mickey were really a mouse, he would have been the actual size of a mouse and Pluto would be so much bigger and Mickey, as master, a lot less menacing.

But it was no wonder that, when the theme parks were devised, it was easy enough for humans of various sizes to don costumes to look like the character walking around, perhaps the most surreal aspect of any cartoon theme park. While our favorite classic cartoons are amazing partially because we believe in these carefully fleshed-out characters, we *KNOW* that they are cartoons merely because of all the amazing (and sometimes painful) stretch-and-squash used. We knew they were cartoons, also, by the fact that, when characters were blown up or decapitated or even crushed flat, they easily bounced back with angry snarls on their faces, ready to meet the challenge of the next bit of neatly-designed violence about to occur.

Disney’s theme parks and others like it had solidified in some kids the feeling that these characters really exist in some alternate universe and, of course, That also means that you could walk up to them and tweak tails or do some sort of manic violence, because, hey, they’re cartoon characters and they can obviously snap back, right?

So allowing cartoon characters to actually walk around the place in whatever kind of form was truly the most dangerous thing Disney could have perpetrated upon the planet where television reality constantly clashes with or, more accurately, fuses with the blandest reality we all have to face every day!!

It seemed okay at, say, Warner Brothers or MGM or Fleischer/Famous or Walter Lantz or any of the other minor studios *NOT* connected with their own happy alternate theme park universe because, in many ways, the cartoons that came out of these studios had an adult bent to them. You had the feeling that, to a certain extent, the animators were doing this just for the fun of mocking all that Disney was taking seriously and, so, their cartoons were screaming “hey, we’re not real; don’t try this at home!!” So here’s Disney with his TV show talking about this amazing new world that kids can visit where Mickey and all the cartoon gang walk around and greet you happily, as if we kids were able to actually inhabit that cartoon world! What a strangely warped message!! How many times in my life have I truly wanted to be able to stretch and squash and morph into something other than myself, like a bizarre Fleischer-esque nightmare that could keep any little kid up at night.

We sure never saw an alternate theme park that gave us the opportunity to do that! Of course, some who dabbled in mind-altering drugs might have felt, within the six hours or so trapped within their own entangled subconscious, that they actually *COULD* stretch and squash and morph and all that fun stuff, but the truth is, well, like Boris Badanov had once exclaimed (and I’m paraphrasing, here), when a cartoon safe falls on a cartoon character…it hurts!!

Yet, remember, they lived through it and came out without even a small blemish! ‘Tain’t so in that drab old real world!! Maybe it would take a Tex Avery theme park to prove my point, a merry little place where, around every corner, huge objects from anvils to even the tallest building in the world could drop from the sky and people have to run this way or that to dodge the falling objects. Almost sounds like that terrific NATIONAL LAMPOON recording called “Catch it and you Keep It” where, at the close of the show, there were objects as big as buildings being tossed at the greedy audience!

It’s a small world, after all!! Ouch! Watch out for that tree!!

Kevin Wollenweber



Anonymous said...

Rachel/Kevin: Great stuff! Great Insight! Please get to finishing up Podcast #4!!!!! I'm stilllllll

Being a mere 44 years old (I keep adding the "mere" part to make me feel better so just go along OK?) I was an HB baby and Loved all that was Flinstones, Yogi, TopCat, Jetsons, Yakky Doodle, etc., but I really have an interest for the folks who labored at Terrytoon and UPA back in the day! I would love to know more about what it must have been like working as an artist in those studios back then!!

What about the fascinating story of Messmer with Felix the Cat and how Sullivan stole the show back then!!!?!! Can't wait to hear more of your shows too!!!!


Rachel Newstead said...

Hi Todd,

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Kevin and I have been typing our fingers down to the nub trying to get new content on the blog, which we allowed to lie dormant temporarily so we could concentrate on the podcast.

Interesting idea talking about Messmer and Sullivan. Messmer in a way was a bit like Friz Freleng later--a reliable, "workhorse" sort of animator who never sought much credit for himself. What I've always found most interesting about his career is how varied it was. He not only animated the silent Felixes and drew the Felix comic strip long after the animated cartoons had ceased, for decades he even created electric-light animation for advertising billboards. I'd personally give anything to see some of the signs he'd done.

I remember reading somewhere about a group in Australia trying to "reclaim" Sullivan as the creator of Felix (Sullivan was, of course, Australian) but facts are facts. Without Messmer there would be no Felix.

In all honesty, Kevin and I had recorded an Orphan Toons Podcast 5, in which we talk about the rest of the LTCG5 set. But because of technical problems with either my computer or Skype or the recording program, the podcast was unusable--pops, whines, crackles and cut-off voices.

I'm looking to get my computer upgraded, in the hope that it might be better able to handle all that my audio software demands of it. I assure you there'll be other podcasts--Kevin and I want to talk about the Woody Woodpecker set that came out not too long ago, and the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 will be upon us before we know it. So the Orphan Toons Podcast hasn't faded into the cyber-ether yet.

And just between you and me, I'm a "mere" 46, so you're just a kid. =)