Variable Verse: Fraiser Crane-y!
In a vain attempt to win a Humanitarian Animation Award, the Warners go out of their way to be as obnoxiously kind, helpful and politically correct as possible. They rescue a beached baby whale and decide to walk where they need to go instead of taking a bus in order to be environmentally friendly. Dot needs to return a book on Ghandi to the library, while Yakko explains that he’s been helping to plant trees. When they see Plotz nearby smoking a cigar, they educate him on the facts of second hand smoke and the dangers of smoking in general. Dot sees a group of men ogling Hello Nurse and prepares to hit them with a mallet, but Yakko explains to her that violence isn’t the answer. After a discussion about eating healthy and taking care of your body, the Warners gather for a group hug, the music swells and…a special announcement informs them that they’ve lost the Humanitarian Award. With that, they go back on everything they’ve talked about, pigging out on a fattening cheesecake, deciding to take a drive in their gas-guzzling car and to watch TV all day. When Hello Nurse consoles them on losing the award, Yakko rationalizes that there’s always next year.
Some of my least favorite episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures were the “very special episodes”, the ones that preached positive morals or were environmentally friendly. For example, one episode dealt with prejudice, illiteracy and alcoholism, while another concerned Buster and Babs protecting a whale from a woman bent on using it to produce cosmetics. That episode (“Whales Tales”) ended up winning an Environmental Media Award in 1991. While Animaniacs would have the occasional serious or educational cartoon, it stayed far away from preachy, moralistic stories. Tiny Toons doing a cartoon like “A Very, Very, Very, Very Special Show” would have been downright hypocritical, but it works in this episode thanks to how out of character it is for the Warners to do something like this. There are a couple of jokes here and there, but for the most part the majority of the dialogue is played completely straight. But what makes it enjoyable is how bizarre it is to see the Warners do something this lame, and it’s made clear from the very beginning that they’re only in this for the chance to win the Humanitarian Award. Paulsen, Harnell and MacNeille’s delivery of their lines are perfect. There’s a phoniness to all of this that’s readily apparent, but it’s not so obvious that it becomes sarcastic or cynical. Dot’s line, “And if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got a thing”, or Yakko saying, “I feel a lot of love in this cartoon right now” sound like the characters are actually amused with how painfully saccharine some of this stuff is and are trying to keep it together. It’s so amazingly subtle, but it works.
This makes their total change of heart at the end even funnier. The instant the Warners discover they’ve lost, it’s like a release valve has been turned, and the kids have to work overtime to make up for being uncharacteristically good throughout the episode by being uncharacteristically bad. The voice actors seem to relish the lines they’re given here. “Anybody want a piece of really fattening cheesecake?”, asks Wakko, while Dot announces that she’s going to chop down a Christmas tree and put in her house. Regarding their car (I didn’t know the Warners could drive), Yakko explains, “That pig sucks gas like it’s water.” This is the very definition of a “love it or hate it” cartoon, but I definitely get a kick out of it, mainly because of how unique it is. It’s not like they did any other cartoons like this. As an added bonus, Akom’s animation is surprisingly solid and on-model. It’s probably the nicest the Warners have ever looked when handled by this studio. This is to the cartoon’s advantage as, since it’s so dialogue-heavy, terrible drawings probably would have killed anything remotely humorous about it. To be honest, this is the last Akom-animated Warners cartoon this season that’s actually decent, as season four includes some of the very worst Yakko, Wakko and Dot cartoons in the entire series. It’s going to be a little while before the Warners really bounce back from this, while other characters start appearing in shorts that are masterpieces in comparison.
An example of what Akom’s Warners look like throughout most of this cartoon. It’s clearly Akom (note the pudgy cheek) but it’s very on-model with great shading and eyes that are actually focused and not soulless and scary.
This Dot is even better than the last one. Usually Dot tends to suffer the most at the hands of Akom, but she turned out really well in this short. This is also a scene from what’s hands-down the funniest bit in the cartoon. Yakko asks how the spotted owl she’s been nursing back to health is doing. Dot responds, “Oh fine! In fact, it’s playing with the white Siberian tiger.” While the line itself is hilarious (that poor owl) the editing makes the joke even better by cutting to Yakko immediately after Dot finishes her sentence. In it’s own way, the editing acknowledges how dark the joke it.
"We like helping out because it makes us feel good. Not because we’re trying to, you know, win a humanitarian award or something like that…" Great line read from Paulsen, especially with the cocky way Yakko trails off at the end. Not the best drawing, but it still has more character than what we usually get from Akom.
I love this line from Wakko; “You know, I think it’s really special that we could share this moment together.” The delivery is fantastic. It’s like he’s somewhere between being so happy he could cry and laughing his ass off. This show was really lucky to have the vocal talent that it got.
"Nah, I think I’m gonna go chop down a Christmas tree and put it in my house to decorate. Then I’m gonna sit on my butt and watch TV all day." Another great line helped immensely by some strong poses and expressions. Why couldn’t Akom always look this good?
Buttons and Mindy intro
Mindy’s mom leaves to appear on an Oprah episode about overprotective mothers, leaving Mindy alone to play with a toy frog. When a real frog hops past, Mindy follows it out of the yard and into the fog-shrouded cemetery right next to the house. Buttons give chase, but finds himself at the mercy of the living dead, who burst from their graves and attack him. After a few close calls, Buttons and Mindy take shelter in an old, abandoned house. The zombies soon burst in and surround them, and in order to protect Mindy, Buttons channels Michael Jackson and begins to dance with the undead in a spoof of “Thriller”. Buttons leads the zombies into a mausoleum and traps them inside, but Mindy realizes that the frog is also in there and begs Buttons to save it. When he does, they discover that it’s none other than Michigan J. Frog, causing Buttons and Mindy to run off in fright!
I can’t for the life of me think of any Buttons and Mindy cartoon from the first season that was truly the highlight of the episode it appeared in. As I’ve said numerous times before, this series combined a formulaic, mean-spirited premise with bland visuals, with almost every entry being sent to Akom or Freelance. But much like what happened with episode 76, “Night of the Living Buttons” is easily the very best part of this half hour. The concept is great, the animation is fun and it does what no other Buttons and Mindy cartoon has done before - it gleefully stomps all over the usual formula in a way that’s as refreshing as it is absurd. It’s only a little over five minutes long, but that’s all it really needs with a silly idea like this. Nick DuBois’ Animaniacs resume isn’t the greatest (he wrote perhaps the worst Warners short ever produced) but he really knew what he was doing with Buttons and Mindy.
The set-up alone is terrific, with the cemetery sitting directly adjacent to the house, divided only by a simple wooden fence with a missing slat, making it easy for Mindy to wander away. In the cemetery, Mindy’s sweet nature and her upbeat theme music clash wonderfully with the creepy atmosphere and flesh-eating zombies. Once they get into the house however, the short decides to ditch everything we think know about this series. As the undead back the duo into a corner, Mindy for once actually recognizes she’s in danger, making Buttons’ role as her protector much more important. The whole “Thriller” bit is a little predictable, but the great animation on Buttons and the music make it work. Most importantly, the cartoon ends at the cemetery. They don’t even go back to the house so Buttons can get scolded by Mindy’s mom. Although they’re scared away by the frog (nice to see Buttons AND Mindy on the same page with a reaction like this, though) at least the poor dog gets to end the cartoon as a hero without having to be knocked down a peg.
Wang’s animation is again incredibly enjoyable and cartoony, making Buttons’ injuries and pratfalls actually funny. On top of that, his expressions are often truly hilarious, and the design of the various zombies have a hell of a lot of personality. Even the Warners run-through is genius. Giving the Buttons and Mindy cartoons to Wang is exactly what they should have been doing in the first season, as it would have gone a long way towards making those shorts work. But is there anything in this cartoon that doesn’t work? Well, while it doesn’t really hurt it too much, the Michigan J. Frog appearance at the very end is a painful reminder of how just much this character was shoved in everyone’s faces during the early years of The WB. It doesn’t seem like a tribute to “One Froggy Evening” as much as it just feel like an eye-rolling example of network synergy. Mindy’s line, “Kiss the frog, baby!” (one of the WB’s slogans at the time) is another groaner. Still, I’d rather this short end with a dated reference to a failed network than see Buttons being called a “bad dog” again. There’s only one more Buttons and Mindy short to go, and while it’s nowhere near as good as this one, it’s still pretty enjoyable.
Mindy’s mom makes an offhand remark about how unusual it is to see fog over the cemetery this time of year. It doesn’t seem to bother Buttons, who rolls his eyes and gestures as if it’s no big deal. He has so much personality in this cartoon and a lot of knockout expressions. I just love how the characters are treating living next door to a cemetery as nothing to be concerned about.
You can’t have a Buttons and Mindy cartoon without a one-sided “why” conversation. Of course, all “mister zombie guy” does is growl at her, but that’s what makes it funny.
Buttons rushes in after Mindy, turns, sees the zombie coming right for him and makes this perfect frozen expression of fear before zipping back out of the shot. Check out the ’90s Batman logo on the zombie’s shirt.
This shot is incredibly well timed. Mindy crosses an open grave on a wooden board as zombies reach up and try to grab her. Buttons runs up and dives towards her, only to land on the board, snap it in half, send Mindy flying and get attacked by the zombies. Again, Buttons’ ordeal in this short is so funny because of how ridiculously zany all of it is. Wang handles him in such a way that erases anything even remotely cruel about this premise.
After the the previous scene, the cartoon is smart enough to take a quick breather before it gets going again. Buttons and Mindy reconnect for a brief moment before the frog distracts her again. I like the animation of Buttons following the frog with his eyes as it hops past him.
A jawless zombie attempts to hit Mindy with a shovel, only for a pursuing Buttons to get nailed by it and driven into the ground. Upside down with his head stuck in a casket, Buttons comes face to face with one of the very best comedic zombie designs I’ve ever seen. Seriously, look at this guy and try to tell me that’s not great.
Here’s something you never really saw Buttons do before - run around on his hind legs like a maniac. They’re not really treating him like a real dog at all anymore. That’s never how they should have been treating him in the first place.
Character Cameo: oh…my…God, this is probably the very best Warners run-through in the entire series. Look at those designs! We even get a zombie Ralph, who gets tripped and rolls out of the shot. The zombie Warners groaning as they shamble by just makes it even more perfect.
Another incredible scene. Buttons stands by the front door, terrified to open it. He puts his ear to the door, clutches the knob, puts his fist against his chest, looks back and forth, gulps nervously, turns the knob, opens the door and "BUCKAWWW!!!!!" The way this scene drags out is unbelievable, and I can’t think of a moment in the entire series that makes a better use of the chicken screech sound effect.
Buttons is much more proactive than usual in dealing with the dangers of this cartoon. He wails on zombies with a wooden board, clobbers them with furniture and - when he accidentally dismembers a zombie - he proceeds to beat on it with it’s own arm. Crisis temporary averted, Buttons then wipes his brow with the arm.
Ok yeah, “Thriller” is a pretty easy reference, but how would you have ended this cartoon? I just love that it gives Buttons a chance to take charge of a situation in a way that actually outright saves the day. I don’t usually hear people talk about this one much, but with the popularity of zombies these days, I’m surprised it’s so underrated.
I love this pose and attitude on Buttons, all cocky after saving Mindy. The way he’s looking down at her and tapping his feet, it’s like he’s saying, “Okay, so what else can I help you with kid? I’m on a roll.”
Oh Michigan J. Frog, I remember back when you were all over the place. As I said, this is clearly supposed to be a network plug and really dates the cartoon for anyone aware of it. Still, I love this short too much to be bothered by it.
The Warners pop into an ice cream parlor for some milkshakes. Wakko gets more than he bargained for when he drinks his in one gulp and finds himself with the hiccups. Traditional remedies fail to cure him, and the scientific community isn’t much help, so Yakko and Dot resort to more unorthodox methods. Dot tries to scare Wakko with her pet, they try acupuncture, electrocute him like the Frankenstein monster, consult a witch doctor and even have Wakko take an icy swim with the Polar Bears Club. Klaatu and Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still arrive on earth and try to cure Wakko, but to no avail. Finally, Wakko appears at a packed medical conference, but when it comes time to hiccup, he’s unable to, thanks to a little performance anxiety. Suddenly, Yakko, Dot, the doctors and eventually everyone on the planet begin to hiccup. “Talk about sharing the joy!”, says Wakko.
"Soda Jerk" is a perfect example of a Warners short that’s just there. The plot has been done before (and was much funnier when the Goodfeathers did it), the animation is about average for Wang, and at almost eight minutes, it’s at least three minutes longer than it needs to be. It’s a cartoon that I never give any thought to (or even remember much of) until I’m actually watching this episode. I will give it points for being one of the very few Warners cartoons from this period that tells a legitimate story without stopping to address the audience or take pot-shots at something else. That alone gives it a very first season feel. This isn’t a bad short (Yakko as Doctor Frankenstein is terrific) but it’s really just a bunch of spot gags, and there really isn’t anything that truly stands out outside of the Day the Earth Stood Still and Clockwork Orange parodies. I honestly don’t have much to say about this cartoon outside of the screenshot captions. It’s cute, and there are certainly much worse Warners shorts out there, but it just seems weird that they’re going back to an idea that they’ve already done.
The opening scene features the best animation with one of my favorite Wang Warners styles. Dot asks for a low-fat shake, while a gluttonous Wakko asks for one with “extra fat!”
Toby the ice cream guy is performed by Paulsen using his natural voice. As he’s mixing the shakes, he whistles a little bit of the Pinky and the Brain theme.
Some really wild drawings as Wakko gets electrocuted at the Center For Advanced Research. The last shot is particularly good. Turns out this piece of equipment is powered by a quarter. “They got one of these at Chuck-E-Cheese!” says Yakko.
The last time we saw Dot’s pet was when it popped out of Don Pepperoni’s pocket in episode 48. Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Was this an old script, or did someone think it was worth bringing this gag back. Honestly, it was an early first season idea that really didn’t do much for me.
Paulsen totally sells the psychotic laughter in the Frankenstein scene. I wish we saw this side of him more often.
I doubt there was any kid watching this cartoon that knew that this was referencing the Ludovico technique sequence from A Clockwork Orange. While that film has it’s main character strapped in, drugged and forced to watch images of violence, Yakko and Dot are simply making Wakko watch Bob Hope stand-up.
And of course, how many kids knew that this was all from the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still? This isn’t even a parody. This is exactly how these characters looked.
The cute sideways smile…the twiddling thumbs…I swear this is taken directly from a Mickey Mouse cartoon. I know for sure I’ve seen this before. If someone can tell me exactly what old Mickey short this is from please let me know.
Joke Credit: Mr. Merger Mania!: Gerald Levin
Tower Outro: We’re nuts!