Archive | February, 2010

And Now A Word From Our (Cough!) Sponsor…

27 Feb

by Rachel Newstead

In keeping with this blog’s current Flintstones theme, why not take a smoke break while waiting for the next review in my series to come up? Or at least watch this commercial, if you’re skittish about lung cancer:

I have to be honest. I’m a bit bewildered that so many people today find it so strange to see Fred Flintstone pitching Winstons. The over-the-top outrage and sarcasm I see in the comments every time something like this gets posted to YouTube are growing a bit tiresome.

As someone who grew up in that era (the 1960s, not the Stone Age, smart guys) a cartoon caveman selling cigarettes seemed no more unusual to me than a cartoon tuna selling Starkist (and believe me, the implications of the latter seem far darker to me).

I guess the notion prevalent today that these commercials were some sort of evil plot to hypnotize the kiddies into lighting up is the most confusing thing of all to me; the people who think that, I’m guessing, are those that consider anything animated to be strictly for children. Anyone who’s ever seen a Tex Avery cartoon would surely know otherwise.

The only truly strange thing about this commercial to me, really, is that the pack of Winstons isn’t “Flintstone-ized”; the artists could have, to use a TV term, “goofed it up” a little to make it more Stone Age-like.  It just doesn’t seem as though it belongs in the same “universe” as the Flintstones.

And now that I think about it, doesn’t the pack  appear huge in relation to Fred and his druggist?  I guess they made ’em a lot bigger back in Fred’s time….

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Freeze Frame Friday 2/26/10: A Flintstones “Missing Link,” and A Scooby Mystery

26 Feb
Picture of unnamed caveman character playing wooden "bass"

Is this unnamed fellow playing the Stone Age bass a Fred Flintstone that didn't make the cut?

by Rachel Newstead

Researching cartoons can sometimes raise as many questions as answers, and on this edition of Freeze Frame Friday, we have a mystery worthy of Scooby-Doo and the gang. Fitting, really, as part of this week’s entry concerns them–sort of.

If there’s one book that can be considered the authority on all things Flintstone, it’s the one by T.R. Adams–if only for lack of competition. I truly regret getting rid of my copy so many years ago, as a vague memory of something in that book has both intrigued and nagged at me for years.

It states, as I did in my recent review of “The Swimming Pool”, that one can see early, discarded designs of the main characters (Fred especially) in certain scenes. That much is obvious, but I’m almost certain they went further, by mentioning a specific scene: the “pool warming”/birthday party that gets Fred run in for “dunking an officer”.  I couldn’t for the life of me imagine at first which anonymous character in the scene they might have been referring to (as the known characters don’t look all that different) until–after about the third or fourth viewing on VHS–I happened across our bass player above.  And promptly did a double-take.

He looks for all the world like Fred–granted, a pointier-nosed, relatively chinless version of him, but enough to be a close “relative.” We know that isn’t actually Fred in that scene, but there’s  good reason to suspect the design of this character could have been taken from a rejected concept drawing of Fred,  fished from the wastebasket and re-purposed as an “extra.” Continue reading

Virtual Dumpster-Diving: My Review of HUSH MY MOUSE

26 Feb
"Artie" and "Filligan" from Hush My Mouse

Dumb and dumber: "Filligan" and "Artie" from "Hush My Mouse"

by Rachel Newstead

It doesn’t happen very often, but I will occasionally resurrect post ideas I’d once rejected for whatever reason, should I find myself stuck for material.   The Avery series was one of those, something I’d knocked around in the back of my mind for two years before committing it to print. What follows is another: an abandoned, unpublished 2007 entry from the old Orphan Toons blog–my review of the 1946 Chuck Jones Looney Tune,  Hush My Mouse.

I quit this abruptly after writing the introduction, but exactly why is lost to time. Perhaps I felt there was too much research involved; perhaps another subject began to occupy my time, or I just plain lost interest.  Whatever my reasons may have been, after looking at it again a few days ago, it seemed too promising a piece to keep in a dusty corner of the internet any longer.

So for today, I’m temporarily setting aside the Flintstones review series to take you back to Jan. 6, 2007 and my review of Hush My Mouse, complete and slightly revised.

Continue reading

THE FLINTSTONES Takes Off (Literally) In “The Flintstone Flyer”

24 Feb

Fred and Barney in "Flintstone Flyer"

by Rachel Newstead

The Flintstone Flyer

Episode P-2

Original Airdate: Sept. 30, 1960

Flintstone Firsts: This is the first time Fred gets clobbered with a stone newspaper, and the first time he shouts his famous line, “Yabba Dabba Doo!”

In short: If you try to put one over on your wife, you could take a POW-der (get it?)

Cliché though it may be, The Flintstones was never any better than when it used that old standby, the “battle of the sexes” plot. Clichés become clichés because they work, after all, and that plotline has not only been a staple of  sitcoms from The Honeymooners to According to Jim, but, more often than not, their only reason for being.  (Home Improvement, for example, ran for eight seasons solely on that premise).

Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that when television audiences turned on their sets that fateful night of Sept. 30, 1960, this was the episode they saw.  Nothing could scream “this is a sitcom, dammit, not a kiddie show!” louder than an episode in which the boys con their way out of a night at the opera with the wives in order to go bowling. (One could just as easily imagine Tim Taylor stripping off a tuxedo jacket to reveal a bowling shirt). Continue reading

Bumps and Carrot Grind: More Toonified Musings

23 Feb

by Kevin Wollenweber

In further anxious anticipation of the forthcoming single disk LOONEY TOONS SUPERSTARS releases in late April or early May, I wanted to open this bit of casual observation with an acknowledgment of the fact that I sat through a late night showing, on Turner Classic Movies of course, of the Oscar-winning film, “IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”.  Would you believe I’ve *NEVER* physically seen this film?  Pity, but there’s the unfortunate fact.

Bugs Bunny chomping on a carrotYup.  I’ve never, ever seen the famous hormone-stirring close-up on Claudette Colbert’s lovely leg that she , in character, dangled before an on-coming car, hoping to hitch a ride to where she and Clark Gable were going, but I’ve got to tell you, I absolutely love her comeback line when Gable’s character seems surprised at her unabashed bravado:  “Sometimes, the limb is mightier than the thumb!”  Hear, hear!! Continue reading

The Beginning Of Bedrock: “The Swimming Pool”

22 Feb

by Rachel Newstead

(Note: in my ongoing series on The Flintstones, I’ll be discussing the individual cartoons in order of production, not airdate. “The Swimming Pool” was the first episode produced, but the third aired)–R.

The Swimming Pool

Episode P-1

Original Airdate: Oct. 14, 1960

Writer: Warren Foster

In short:   Fred learns a pool, and his buddy, are soon parted (I can’t believe I wrote that…)

“Flintstones, meet the Flintstones…”

How familiar those words are to us now. It’s hard to believe we’ve been singing them for close to fifty years, and even harder to imagine what it must have been like for audiences in 1960, their Philco sets tuned to a still all-black and white ABC, to witness something brand new:  a half hour, prime-time, animated network sitcom.

It didn’t matter that the premise wasn’t original (more on that point later). What Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera did with it was; they dared to make a cartoon sitcom for adults, with all the trappings of its live-action brethren: laugh tracks, grown-up commercials (courtesy of Winston cigarettes and Miles Laboratories) and jokes more old-school vaudeville than grade-school playground.

To be fair, Hanna and Barbera weren’t venturing completely into the animated unknown.  They had been producing cartoon shows for prime time for three years already:  Ruff and Reddy, Huckleberry Hound, and Quick Draw McGraw were hugely popular; grafting the conventions of the sitcom onto such a program was the next logical step. Continue reading

Freeze Frame Friday 2/19/10: Animation At The Speed Of Tex

19 Feb
Swing Shift Cinderella hitting Wolf on head with frying pan

This single frame, from SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA, appears to have more movement, speed and vibrancy than an entire season of today's animated programs

by Rachel Newstead

Ah, yes–Tex Avery. There’s so much one can say, it’s easy for a humble blogger like me to think the posts will write themselves whenever he’s the subject. In reality, doing justice to Tex in writing is as difficult as trying to snare a cloud with a grappling hook. Do I write about the wild, exaggerated “takes” that were his trademark? Too obvious.  The impossible gags, the visual puns? The subversion of the cute, the safe, the Disneyesque? The repetition of themes in his cartoons (such as the “ubiquity theme,” in which a character appears to be everywhere at once with no explanation given–or possible?) Good start, but not quite there. Rather, the topic of this Freeze Frame Friday will be Avery’s mastery of speed–or rather, his portrayal of it.

It’s easy to forget that the ability to portray speed in animated drawings didn’t come about overnight. The Disney Silly Symphony The Tortoise and The Hare (1934) and Frank Tashlin’s 1937 Looney Tune Porky’s Romance are generally credited as the first cartoons to successfully portray speed, relatively late in animation’s history. Both cartoons did succeed on a technical level; it’s one thing, however, to accurately portray speed, and quite another to make it funny.

Fairy godmother crouching into a runAt their best, Avery and his animators could make characters look as if they The fairy godmother of Swing Shift Cinderella in a flurrying runwere moving at Mach 6 even when they were standing still. What Disney’s animators did with an amorphous blur of lines and Tashlin with a series of quick cuts, Avery did with the very plasticity and weightlessness of his characters.  In his book on Avery, Joe Adamson credits Avery’s loss of one eye in his early days at Lantz with the development of his later style: after the accident, Avery’s characters had a quicksilver-like quality, a total lack of solidity, as if they could disintegrate at any moment. And as we can see in the frames included here, they nearly do;  in these stills from Swing Shift Cinderella (1945), a very modern and Wolf-crazed fairy godmother yelps with joy at the sight of a Wolf in her midst, and speeds off in pursuit.  Her form is almost wispy–not quite a “smear”, as we’ve seen in past weeks, as a series of light, quick brush strokes in keeping with the lightness of the figure itself. (Clampett would use a similar technique in his

The fairy godmother's legs rotate like bicycle wheels as she starts to speed off

Even in freeze-frame, this old gal's a ball of fire. From SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA

Wabbit Twouble, when Elmer runs from tree to tree to evade a bear, dissolving into nothing more than a series of horizontal brush strokes in between. Bob apparently learned well from the master).

As soon as our oversexed fairy godmother begins to cohere, the trademark Avery rubberiness takes over as her legs appear to become literal wheels. As she and the Wolf tear through the room, their natural lack of weight and the laws of  centrifugal force combine to send them scampering around the very walls.  While Avery made his characters seem weightless, his Disney-trained animators knew

Rubbery, weightless and the fastest things on earth...

enough about the laws of motion to make the fantastic seem real.

I suppose that explains just why I could never quite warm to Avery’s later work in the 1950s, after the UPA model of flat, stylized drawing was adopted industry-wide. It’s odd, really–one would think that the flatter style would have helped rather than hurt Avery, but somehow it didn’t work that way.

According to Adamson, the UPA-like style was an abstraction of an abstraction–which is one too many. I, however, think the problem went deeper than that:  the Avery characters of the later years never had that quicksilver quality, that ability to disintegrate themselves and re-cohere in an instant–to change shape and snap back again.  They were static designs, and stayed static designs–they had lost their speed. Now, rather than appear to break the sound barrier standing still, they appeared to be at a full stop even in motion. And animated cartoons haven’t been truly “animated” since.