Tag Archives: cartoons

fly toward the sun

Some people are meant to be with people. And others, like me, are just different.

vincent1

Though it begins with an urban legend about a menacing, bird-obsessed weirdo from Gerald, told in his lyrical, multi-theory style, the bittersweet ending of Hey Arnold!‘s “Pigeon Man” hits with an unexpected and enduring emotional weight. It settled heavy around my heart when I was a child and still squeezes tight occasionally in adulthood. I remember my younger self, watching, aching with pain for Vincent.

Poor Vincent. This gentle, tired man, unable to fit himself into what the world expects of him. The quiet joy he finds among his birds was something so foreign to my churning child-anxiety brain; how soothing to think that he could find a little peace even living in his strange way. And how tragic that his brief and ultimately doomed return to society is so delicious. Now, he just knows what he’s missing. What he’s been missing.

Hey Arnold!‘s grounded, cool jazz atmosphere and poignant moments helped it stand out among its more irreverent contemporaries. That sophisticated touch extends to the voice casting. In addition to the stellar cast of literal (!) children who voiced the kids of Hilldale, the show often utilized guest stars with great fucking voices. The real emotional meat of this episode, the very marrow of it, is the intimacy cultivated between Lane Toran’s empathetic but naive Arnold and Vincent Schiavelli’s tender, weary Pigeon Man.

I was too young to understand the flurry of emotions that unfolded in my chest when Arnold turned to Pigeon Man and said, “Vincent?” No longer the legend. Just a man standing among broken cages and a lifetime of pain. Sometimes the only thing to do is to pack that pain up and carry it with you, to a new place. My heart understood in a way my brain couldn’t yet what it sounds like to ask a question you already know the answer to.

 

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Spooky Specials: An Introduction

When I was very young and the leaves would fade from vibrant green to burnt orange, excitement would stir in my little gut. The air, heavy with the smells of cider and pumpkin, would become chillier, crisper. It was October. You learn pretty early on that everything suddenly becomes spooky in October: themed cereals pop up everywhere; ghost-shaped chocolates are being sold in bulk; aisle after aisle of costumes and decorations pop up overnight in local stores. And it all culminates in that one blissful night of decadence, running door to door in disguise to get tons of candy. It’s enough to send any little kid into paroxysms of joy.

One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season was how almost every single cartoon I loved suddenly had a scary special to serve up. Otherwise normal cartoons had stories about ghosts, monsters, vampires and often the very holiday itself. And I don’t just mean The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror.” I vividly recall Halloween specials for shows on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and other kids’ channels. I’m especially fascinated by how these cartoons, and really the whole holiday, teach young children to be okay with scary ideas and images.

Often tame by adult standards, these specials were still sometimes a little too disturbing for kids. They often made references that I didn’t understand until adulthood. I think these special episodes deserve a little loving recognition, so throughout this most sacred of months, I’m going to write about some of my favorite spooky specials!

First up: Rugrats’ “Candy Bar Creepshow/Monster in the Garage”!

Stay tuned!

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Short Animation Blogathon: Day 1

The Short Animation Blogathon is here!

Two weeks ago, we announced it; now it’s time to follow through. All this week, we’ll be accepting submissions at p.g.grrr@gmail.com and posting links to your lists of favorite animated shorts. And what better way to start out the blogathon than with a live demonstration?

Andreas’s Hour of Short Animation

Let’s watch some cartoons! This is my attempt to mix a variety of styles, moods, and time periods into an hour-long mini-festival of beloved animation. Let’s see how well I fare…

  • The Wrong Trousers (Nick Park, 1993, 30 minutes). All three of Park’s Wallace and Gromit shorts are absolute delights; they’re charming, ultra-British, and visually witty. But The Wrong Trousers is in a category of its own. It’s a master class in short-form screenwriting, it features the most heartbreaking dog/human relationship this side of Umberto D., and its meticulous chains of cause and effect capitalize so well on the unique powers of animation. I could seriously watch it day in, day out, on a loop.
  • Frank Film (Frank and Caroline Mouris, 1973, 9 minutes). This Oscar winner compensates for its brevity with sheer density as it pours out a deluge of audovisual information about Frank Mouris’s life. It races from facet to facet, from childhood to maturity, through cars, food, sex, and socializing. Its breakneck visuals are complemented by Mouris’s deadpan narration, resulting in a painfully honest mini-macro-memoir.
  • Feline Fantasies (Bruno Bozzetto, 1976, ~6 minutes). This one’s a chapter from Bozzetto’s Fantasia spoof Allegro Non Troppo. Set to Sibelius’s “Valse Triste,” it’s a dagger to the heart of every cat lover in the audience. It can be colorful and frisky, sure, but it’s also brutally tearjerking. In fact, I don’t know if I can keep writing about it without splashing tears all over my keyboard…
  • Betty Boop’s May Party (Dave Fleischer, 1933, 7 minutes). After that emotional ordeal, you’ll want to watch something peppy. Thankfully, May Party is a dose of raw pep. It’s nearly plotless and has little to do with Betty Boop; instead, it’s a catalog of abuses, mutilations, and natural disasters turned into one big, frenetic, ritualized dance. And it’s hilarious.
  • Quasi at the Quackadero (Sally Cruikshank, 1975, 10 minutes). Sporting a heavy Fleischer Bros. influence, Cruikshank’s cult cartoon is as compulsively rewatchable as it is incomprehensible. It’s a tour through a series of impossible fair attractions—a thought illustrator, dream reader, past life viewer, time machine, etc.—courtesy of man-child/duck Quasi, his wife, and her robot paramour. Between this fundamental weirdness, the idiosyncratic line readings, and the hyperactive animation, Quasi is a sort of wacky, acid-drenched Double Indemnity that doubles as a tribute to animated shorts past and future.

I’ll wrap up with the first of our submissions. It’s “5 Best Lego Stop Motion Horror Films” by Bodhi of Old Horror Movies. I was only vaguely aware of the “brickfilm” genre before this, and Bodhi’s list is a great introduction. These block-by-block, shot-by-shot recreations are a testament to the low-budget imagination of some dedicated horror fans. So check out those videos, and stay tuned for updates throughout the week!

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The Pataki Files: An Intro to Family Dysfunction in Hey Arnold

Hey Arnold was one of—if not the—coolest animated kids’ show on TV during the mid-’90s. With a diverse cast of street smart kids and quirky adults in a thriving city that was just as much a character as its citizens, it was like the smooth jazz of animated children’s shows. It was a calmer show; no bright, flashy colors, frenetic soundtracks, or hyperactive main characters. It isn’t necessarily realistic, but it does feel more grounded in reality and down to earth than a lot of other children’s shows.

The show overall really started to grow when it left behind Arnold’s Cloud Cuckoo Lander personality and concentrated on seriously fleshing out the various characters in the city of Hillwood. Even adult characters like Grandpa, Oskar Kokoshka, and Mr. Hyunh got their time in the limelight and, especially in the case of the Mr. Hyunh-centered Christmas special, it led to some of the most poignant moments in the entire series (or really in animated kids’ television period). One of the characters who often had entire episodes and story arcs devoted to her was the resident bully and passionate secret admirer of Arnold, Helga Pataki.

Most people with even a cursory familiarity with the show can see that the behavior of Helga’s parents are G-rated codes for abuse and alcoholism. I had a vague awareness of this when I was younger; it was easy for me (with two alcoholic parents) to recognize that her mother Miriam’s slurred speech, proclivity for sleeping in random places, and Tabasco “smoothies” indicated more than just her being a wacky eccentric. And since I had a deep and abiding passion for consuming books about domestic violence from the time I was 10, I recognized the abuse in her dad, successful beeper salesman Big Bob, and his habit of yelling; he and Miriam’s constant favoritism towards perfect, repressed older sister Olga; and their neglect of Helga.

But watching as an adult, I’m able to really see just how profound some of these moments in the show were. It’s really important that this children’s show handled the subject of abusive parents—not horribly, call-child-protective-services abusive because that would be too much for a kids’ network—so well, especially because it was placed right along side more normal, non-abusive families like Arnold’s and Gerald’s.

Helga is one of the most interesting characters on the show: bright, insecure, passionately artistic, clever, cunning, equal-parts self-serving and selfless, fearful, apathetic at times, and violent, her character arc is one of the most impressive and nuanced developments in any animated children’s show. As we get to know Helga more, and become more familiar with not just her specific tics and personality traits but also her family life, we see that she is more than just a schoolyard bully with a crush. We see, bit by bit, how Helga struggles with simultaneously craving the love and acceptance of her peers and family while putting up the defensive walls that push everyone away.

In an effort to really understand and share the ins and outs of Helga’s progression to a fully fleshed out and richly idiosyncratic character, I’ve decided to start up a series, à la TTAACMATHPS, focusing on Pataki-centric episodes of Hey Arnold! So stay tuned for the first entry this Wednesday where I’ll start things off with “Olga Comes Home”!

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Screwball Sci-fi in The Fifth Element

Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic The Fifth Element (1997) is a mixed bag of a movie: it has a lot to offer, but it’s very strangely packaged, and there’s a lot of extraneous fluff. It bounces back and forth between the self-serious heroism and romance that constitute its weaker parts, and the free-floating punk/screwball sensibility that makes it unique. Reportedly, Besson began writing the screenplay while he was in high school, and it shows in the convoluted mythology and the derivative, somewhat generic structure and conflicts of the film’s futuristic universe.

However, the film also has some moments of odd beauty and very satisfying comedy, plus one-of-a-kind visual design by two French artists – Moebius and Jean-Claude Mézières – who had been featured in Métal Hurlant, the predecessor to America’s Heavy Metal. At its best, The Fifth Element possesses some of the same traits that made Heavy Metal so great: a rich, bawdy sense of humor; a national and cultural eclecticism; and a willingness to tweak age-old sci-fi tropes in new ways. Overall, it’s not really successful, but it hits some great peaks along the way.

The plot of The Fifth Element is anything but simple, concerned as it is with at least 4-5 different self-interested factions each seeking the same set of four elemental stones. According to a sketched-out secret history wherein aliens occasionally visit Egypt, a “Great Evil” threatens earth every 5,000 years, and only an ultimate weapon made up of all five elements can save it. (The title is dropped with a resounding thud at least six times during the prologue.) Long story short: taxi driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) has to shepherd the fifth-element-in-physical form, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), to a resort planet to fetch the stones.

They’re aided by a bungling high priest (Ian Holm) and a hyperactive radio super-personality (Chris Tucker). They’re opposed by a band of extraterrestrial mercenaries as well as their erstwhile employer, a nutty plutocrat named Zorg, played with a strangely southern accent and the world’s weirdest haircut by the great Gary Oldman. Yeah, it really is “that kind of movie.” Brion James (Blade Runner‘s Leon) is there as the earth general who recruits Dallas; even La Haine director and Amélie star Mathieu Kassovitz shows up as a jittery would-be mugger.

This is not a subtle movie. When Willis and Jovovich are giving the most restrained performances, you know you’re in dangerous territory. The Fifth Element is basically a live-action cartoon in the Looney Tunes mold, with all the visual hyperbole and frenetic action that entails. When Holm’s priest is startled, he literally topples over backwards – as sure as if he’d been Elmer Fudd whacked with a mallet. Oldman and Tucker (the latter especially) are both completely unhinged, madly overacting in a curiously compelling way. If nothing else, Tucker’s mile-a-minute spiel and proto-Gaga costumes are unlikely to be matched by any other movie – and his performance is almost plausible as a 23rd century media personality.

Clearly, your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your tolerance for cartoon physics and outrageously quirky acting. Oldman and Tucker also tread the very thin line between “eccentric” and “grating,” and Tucker occasionally, if fearlessly, crosses over it. Similarly, the movie’s frames are very cluttered; in Besson’s quasi-dystopian future, there’s always something going on, be it in the costuming, set design, or special effects. Some of this busyness can be delightful, while other components are less endearing. All of it, to varying degrees, is ridiculous.

With all of these oddball characters floating around, The Fifth Element does have some truly funny scenes (e.g., “Multipass?”) that end up playing out like a Star Wars spoof crossed with Bringing Up Baby. (Holm, who played another [less benevolent] advisor in Alien, could pass for a neurotic Obi-Wan Kenobi.) By the time we’re watching a blue-skinned, tentacle-headed diva sing an aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, the movie has almost found profundity in its genre-splicing, special-effects-filled surface.

So the real shame is the ending: it goes on far too long, it loses the raw, funny edge, and it devolves into a meaningless last-minute lecture on the evils of war and the power of love; it even begins to take its nonsensical back story seriously. It’s really disappointing when a movie’s epic climax turns out to be surprisingly rote and anticlimactic. But you know what? The Fifth Element is still better than Total Recall and a lot of other planet-hopping movies of that ilk. It’s still got all of Besson’s loony characters running into each other, wearing impractically garish outfits while North Africa-influenced techno plays in the background.

In short: at least it’s still interesting. It may not be an especially smart or consistent movie, but I’ll take Besson’s brand of colorful, multinational, imaginative sci-fi over the tedious sameness of Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay anyday. And the weird, loaded cast doesn’t hurt, either. So, is The Fifth Element really a “good” movie? Not as such. But it’s still highly enjoyable and even a little bit stylistically subversive. What do you think? Have you seen the movie, or do you want to?

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Link Dump: #6

Halloween’s getting closer every day! Aren’t you excited?? Can’t you feel the tangible excitement in the air?! I know I can. But alas, we’ve still got a month and a half, so in the meantime, here’s some reading material with the PGG stamp of approval. Also, tune in next week as we bring you The Fifth Element, The White Ribbon, Julianne Moore, and more.

  • The one and only Paracinema Magazine is releasing their 10th issue, and it’s available to pre-order for the low, low price of $7. Added incentive: you can read my short piece on the exploitation film Sex Madness. What are you waiting for? Go, pre-order, and support high-quality film writing! Also, congratulations to the Paracinema crew on 10 great issues.
  • Elli Agg, a Greek fan of Amanda Palmer, posted this amazing song called “Dear AFP” on YouTube. She’s so cute, talented, and inspiring; you owe it to yourself to listen.
  • Via the Found Footage Festival, here’s a hilariously nightmarish PSA made by an insurance company. I have a strange affinity for bizarre PSAs, as I’ve demonstrated in the past, and this is a pretty great one, with its laughably over-the-top accidents.
  • Having followed it since December ’09, this week I won The Film Experience’s movie identification game “First and Last” twice in a row! My satisfaction in winning is only matched by the pettiness of my achievement.
  • This ad for “Great Old Spice” body wash is both professional-looking and full of lolz. Of course, I’m a sucker for all things Cthulhu, but seriously: they worked in so many Lovecraft references.
  • John Carpenter made another movie! The Ward, his first since 2001’s widely panned Ghosts of Mars, debuted at TIFF earlier this week, and MUBI has the scoop on its critical reception. Consensus so far is that it’s not Halloween great, but it’s solidly good.
  • Want more classic Carpenter? Radiator Heaven is hosting John Carpenter Week from October 3-9 in honor of the maestro’s revived career. I’ll probably be writing something for it too. (Like so much else, it will involve Lovecraft.)
  • Whether you love her or hate her, you can’t argue with the power and passion of Lady Gaga’s “Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” crusade. Go her! Talk about having a positive impact on the nation.

And now that you’ve read our online recommendations, here are our weirdest, ickiest, WTFest search terms from the previous week, most of which contain the word “pussy”:

  • We’ve got some pussy abuse, like “why do women like doing dog food in puss” and “fire extinguisher in pussy.” Please, no. Dog food and fire extinguishers have their purposes, and they do not involve pussies.
  • Oddly enough, we had two searches for Yakov Smirnov jokes, those being “in soviet russia leg breaks you” and “in russia bread eats you.” Maybe they were looking for this?
  • FYI: “please rape me style clothing” is not a productive search. There is no such style of clothing.
  • I suspect that the person looking for “excited cock and wild pussy have cartoon” may have been after this very old, very NSFW cartoon
  • And finally, nothing could beat the raw strangeness of “agatha christie books + bottle in vagina.” Don’t explain it to me. I just don’t want to know.

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Saturday Theme Songs: DuckTales

Ah, the DuckTales theme song. In the minds of our generation, it has easily outlasted the series it accompanied with its ultra-catchy “Whoo-oo” refrain. My memories of that series (which ran from 1987-90) are limited mostly to what’s in the opening sequence: Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie would go on adventures with his uncle, the fabulously wealthy Scrooge McDuck; they’d sometimes be aided by Launchpad McQuack or Donald himself; they’d occasionally solve mysteries or rewrite history. I remember watching the feature-length final episode, Treasure of the Lost Lamp, at Club Kid (a glorified daycare) very early in my life.

So: why is this an awesome opening? Because it succinctly and appealingly conveys the nature of the series. DuckTales, loosely based on Carl Barks’ duck-centric Disney comics, was pretty much an old-fashioned adventure serial about the McDuck clan and their various quests – whether geared toward protecting Scrooge’s present lucre, or obtaining more. The opening gets this across through a fast-paced best-of montage, demonstrating the sheer scope of these tales – which, mind you, are not “pony tails or cotton tails.” They’re duck tales, a fact that’s emphasized through most characters (and the town and world in which they live) having “duck” somewhere in their names.

It’s genuinely impressive how many kinds of adventures are on display here: we’ve got dragons, mummies, lava pits, sharks, aliens, tigers, robots, and more. DuckTales was at once all-inclusive and unfocused, skipping from one realm of magic and fantasy to another. Where most such children’s shows confined themselves by setting or genre, it grabbed freely from sci-fi, Arabian Nights, Tarzan, Kipling, Arthurian legend, etc. – basically plundering western literature for all available exoticism or dangerous Others, who became the “stranger[s] juts behind you.”

All this was (from what little I know), more or less, in keeping with Barks’ original comics, which engaged in innocent Tintin-style globetrotting while blending eras and technologies (like “race cars, lasers, aeroplanes”). And DuckTales‘ 100 episodes became a condensed, TV-friendly way to absorb Barks’ many decades of stories. The comics (and DuckTales by extension) are a sort of underexplored mini-domain under the Disney umbrella, jumping into very traditional, vaguely imperialist adventure stories; through this opening sequence, we get a little taste of this. And it’s a duck blur.

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