Thursday, September 3, 2015

Animated World of DC Comics: The Laughing Fish (Batman: The Animated Series, 1992)

Batman (Kevin Conroy) battles The Joker (Mark Hamill) in "The Laughing Fish", which is a loose adaptation of some classic Bat-mysteries involving the Clown Prince of Crime from the 70's. Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) wasn't in the original story that introduced the Jokerfish, but Paul Dini's adaptation found room for her. Dini borrowed from not only Steve Englehart, who introduced the Jokerfish some 15 years earlier, but also "The Joker's 5-Way Revenge".

Joker doesn't really kill anyone in the TV version, as, rather, an anti-toxin is administered by Batman to each victim. The first such victim is a meek clerk named Francis......

Having read the original stories, I can honestly say Dini actually did justice.

Rating: A.

Looney TV: The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show (1986)

ABC reacquired Bugs Bunny in 1985, as his 2nd run at CBS had come to an end. However, that season, his show was billed as The Bugs Bunny-Looney Tunes Hour. Tweety and Speedy Gonzales were MIA, and in Speedy's case, 4 years removed from his NBC run, it might be where the PC Police decided to banish him to cable. No one's really sure why Tweety was left out, as Sylvester appeared in shorts with Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Hippety Hopper, and Sylvester, Jr., which had kept him busy.

The next year, with network tentpoles from Hanna-Barbera (Super Friends & Scooby-Doo) having been dropped, Tweety was finally brought aboard, hence the title change to The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, which would remain in effect, in either half-hour or hour-long increments, for the next 14 years. As was the case at CBS during two runs (1968-71, 1975-85), the anthology package had a fluid format in terms of time. Time Warner's acquisition of WB in the late 90's, around the same time Disney bought ABC, would lead to the end of the series, and the end of Bugs' broadcast TV run after an astonishing 40 seasons, 2 in primetime, once the contract ran out in 2000.

In 1988, the familiar theme, "This Is It", was reinstated, having not been used since the end of the CBS run. This open comes from 1992.

Cartoon Network would try an expanded block under the Bugs & Daffy and Looney Tunes labels early in the aughts, but now, scheduling depends on programmers' preferences.

Rating: A.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Birth of a legend: The Talking Magpies (1946)

Heckle & Jeckle are otherwise known as the "Talking Magpies". That happens to be the title of our next subject.

"The Talking Magpies" was released in January 1946, and technically is also a Farmer Al Falfa cartoon, as he appears with a prototype for Heckle & Jeckle's occasional foil, Dimwit Dog. The big difference, as you'll see, is that the birds in this story are a married couple looking for a place to call home. By the time Terrytoons came back with another short, the marriage was, well, dissolved, and the team we came to know as Heckle & Jeckle took over.

This has, to my knowledge, not been a regular part of the Heckle & Jeckle syndicated package.

Sid Raymond, the voice of Baby Huey, also did the voices for this cartoon.

Rating: B.

You Know The Voice: Louise Williams (1973)

I had this one up before, but it was taken down by YouTube. Now, two new versions of the video are up, and both have been tweaked to avoid the copyright enforcement folks.

Louise "Liberty" Williams, in one of her first TV gigs, guest starred on The Mary Tyler Moore Show during season 4, as Debbie Morganstern, sister of Rhoda (Valerie Harper), and soon to be a bride, though she seems to be a little unsure.....!

The first few minutes, and the closing credits, have been edited out. Let's hope "Rhoda's Sister Gets Married" sticks this time.

Of course, as previously documented, Louise would get to work with Ed Asner (Lou Grant) 3 years later in the Disney movie, "Gus", but doesn't share a scene with him this time. Instead, we get Lou trying to teach Ted Baxter (Ted Knight, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, Super Friends, etc.) how to be a real newsman........

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Toon Sports: Beetle Bailey takes up football (A Pass is a Pass is a Pass, 1963)

Time to go back to the Beetle Bailey shorts from the 60's, and this one is appropriate, since football season, at least for high schools & colleges, begins this weekend.

Sgt. Snorkel (Allan Melvin) leads Camp Swampy into action against a rival Army base, but don't be looking for miracles here. Melvin also voices the play-by-play announcer, whose vocal patterns would later be recycled & modified at Hanna-Barbera with Punkin Puss the next year, and Drooper of the Banana Splits 4 years after that.

We know Beetle (Howard Morris) wants a weekend pass, but the lengths he goes to get it........

Only in a cartoon would officers and enlisted men join forces like this. And "The Longest Yard" was a few years away.

Rating: B.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rein-Toon-Ation: Beetle Bailey (1989)

More than 25 years after his television debut, Beetle Bailey was given a chance at a possible comeback in 1989. Unfortunately, this animated special, produced for King Features, never made it to air. The voice talent includes Henry Corden (misspelled Cordon), Frank Welker, Linda Gary, and Larry Storch (as General Halftrack, recycling his Phineas J. Whoopee voice from Tennessee Tuxedo).

The plot? Halftrack receives a letter from the Pentagon requiring a physical makeover for one of his men. Beetle is chosen after Halftrack overhears Sgt. Snorkel (Corden) make a half-hearted compliment to Beetle about his penchant for goofing off.

So where did this go wrong? Howard Morris, the original voice of both Halftrack and Beetle, was available, but not asked to participate. Not only that, but while series creator Mort Walker was more involved from a creative standpoint than in the 60's shorts, trying to stretch the Camp Swampy crew to a half-hour with a paper thin plot was a bit of a reach.

Rating: C.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On DVD: Charlotte's Web (1973)

It's said that E. B. White wasn't fond of Hanna-Barbera & Paramount's adaptation of his 1952 book, Charlotte's Web. He'd wanted Gene Deitch to do the adaptation, but Paramount opted for H-B. The problem? The movie was a musical, with songs composed by Richard & Robert Sherman of "Mary Poppins" fame.

I remember reading the book, and until now, I hadn't seen the movie. Now I know why White was so upset. The songs disrupt the flow of the story. You see, back then, studios believed that an animated movie needed to be a musical. I'd seen "Snoopy Come Home" and Disney's "Peter Pan" & "Cinderella", and in each case, the songs were placed in a proper context. Not so here. While the songs are fun and fine, they surface abruptly.

I think we've all read the story at one time. To summarize the plot as quickly as possible, farmer John Arable (John Stephenson) decides that a newborn pig, the runt of his, well, litter, needs to be put down. Daughter Fern (Pamelyn Ferdin, The Paul Lynde Show, The Roman Holidays, ex-Curiosity Shop) objects, and pleads with her father to let her raise the runt as a pet, whom she christened Wilbur. After six weeks, Wilbur, now grown, is sold to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman. With the encouragement of a chatty goose (Agnes Moorehead, ex-Bewitched), Wilbur (Henry Gibson, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) discovers that he, too, can talk. He's soon befriended by Charlotte, a spider (Debbie Reynolds), who promises to save Wilbur from being turned into bacon & pork chops. Her plan? Convince Zuckerman through messages woven in her web that Wilbur is a special pig. Adding to the fun is Templeton, a rat, who reluctantly helps Charlotte with her messages. Unsurprisingly, Paul Lynde lends his voice to Templeton in his final performance for H-B. The cast also includes The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce (as Avery, Fern's brother) and Dave Madden.

Scope out the trailer:

To be honest, I have to agree with White. The songs do disrupt the flow of the movie, as if jolted by a bolt of lightning. Then again, I wasn't too fond of certain songs in "Snoopy Come Home", either.

Rating: B--.