Hello, Nice Warners!

13 notes

Goodbye Nurse!: The Final Wrap-Up

My initial criticism that Animaniacs was nothing but cutesy, educational garbage didn’t last long. By the second week of first-run shows I was watching it religiously, and episode 15 became the first one I actually videotaped. It wasn’t long before I had become infatuated with the series, and drawings of all the characters soon littered every blank piece of paper I could find, while a cassette copy of the original album was a mainstay in my tape deck. The winter ‘94 run of new episodes got me through the death of my grandfather, and I remember being obsessed with the “65th Anniversary Special” throughout that Summer. I followed the show over to the WB, kept up with it through the random airings and hour-long “H” episode nonsense, and stuck with it to the bitter end. It’s hard to believe that I was a freshman in high school when it started, and a junior in college by the time Wakko’s Wish was released. It’s even more amazing to think that my fondness for the show has never diminished despite it being gone for almost fifteen years. If anything, I love it even more now. Marathoning the series when the volume four DVD set arrived made me realize just how much I cared about it, and finally having every episode on home video was all the motivation I needed to start this blog. I never thought for a second when I began writing about Animaniacs last April that it would take me until late January to actually finish it, and I never imagined that I’d get as in depth as I eventually did. My review of the first episode looks downright embarrassing compared to the entries I was turning out even a week later and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I felt in over my head and considered throwing in the towel.

With the exception of Family Guy, I can’t think of many other animated shows that divide people the way Animaniacs does. For every person that loves every single thing about it and apologizes for even its worst elements, there’s someone else who thinks it’s unredeemable trash that represents everything wrong with ’90s animation. In fact, the show had barely begun and John Kricfalusi was already tearing it to pieces, despite admitting that he had never even seen it. There were people who hated the series from the very beginning, and there’s even a 2000 episode of South Park that states there are two groups of people: those who like Animaniacs, and those that don’t. As I’ve made very clear over the past ten months, I don’t think the show is perfect. It’s unpredictable format and huge cast all but ensured that every segment wasn’t going to be a winner, and there were just as many clunkers as there were masterpieces. But when the series was firing on all cylinders it was nothing short of incredible, and that first production season was one of the wildest, 65-episode rides I’ve ever had with a syndicated weekday afternoon series. Animaniacs accomplished things no series had before and no series probably ever will again. It was very lucky to have come around at exactly the right time for the pieces to fall together as well as they did. Even the people who worked on the show consider it one of the high points of their careers. In August of 2010, Doug Walker (aka The Nostalgia Critic) put together an hour-long Animaniacs tribute, featuring interviews with Tom Ruegger, Sherri Stoner, Paul Rugg, John P, McCann and Nathan Ruegger and it’s clear that everyone involved loved being a part of the series. I can’t think of a better quote to end on than one by Rob Paulsen: “I tell people in interviews that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really changed my career, but Animaniacs really changed by life. I’m incredibly grateful.”

I’ve been asked many times over the past few months what cartoons I’d list as the best and worst of the series. For a show like Animaniacs that’s a very difficult task, so I think the best way to handle this is to break it down by character…

Best Warners Cartoons: “Hello Nice Warners”, “LA LA Law”, “Plane Pals”, “Hercule Yakko”, “Potty Emergency”, “Chairman of the Bored”, “Clown and Out”, “A Christmas Plotz”, “Ragamuffins”, “The Warners’ 65th Anniversary Special”, “Super Strong Warner Siblings”, “This Pun For Hire”

Worst Warners Cartoons: “Roll Over Beethoven” “Nothing But the Tooth”, “Moby or Not Moby”, “Broadcast Nuisance”, “Fake”, “Anchors A-Warners”, “Papers For Papa”, “Cute First…Ask Questions Later”

Best Pinky and the Brain Cartoons: “Win Big”, “Jockey For Position”, “Bubba Bo Bob Brain”, “Yes, Always”, “Brain Meets Brawn”

Worst Pinky and the Brain Cartoons: “Don’t Tread on Us”, “Hercules Unwound”

Best Slappy Squirrel Cartoons: “Bumbie’s Mom”, “Critical Condition”, “Frontier Slappy”, “Woodstock Slappy”

Worst Slappy Squirrel Cartoons: “My Mother the Squirrel”, “Soccer Coach Slappy”, “The Christmas Tree”

Best Goodfeather Cartoons: “West Side Pigeons”, “Hiccup”, “Raging Bird”

Worst Goodfeather Cartoons: “The Boids”, “Girlfeathers”, “Miami Mama Mia”, “We’re No Pigeons”

Best Mindy and Buttons Cartoons: “Les Boutons et le Ballon”, “Buttons in Ows”, “Night of the Living Buttons”

Worst Mindy and Buttons Cartoons: “Up the Crazy River”, “Mesozoic Mindy”, What a Dump”, “Super Buttons”, “Mermaid Mindy”

Best Rita and Runt Cartoons: “When Rita Met Runt”, “Les Miseranimals”, “Phranken-Runt”

Worst Rita and Runt Cartoons: “The Cat and the Fiddle”, “Puttin’ on the Blitz”, “Smitten With Kittens”, “Kiki’s Kitten”, “Up a Tree”

Best Chicken Boo Cartoons: “General Boo-Regard”, “The Chicken Who Loved Me”, “Boo Happens”, “Boo Wonder”

Worst Chicken Boo Cartoons: “The Good, The Boo and the Ugly”, “Jingle Boo”

Best Hippo Cartoons: “The Pitter Patter of Little Feet”

Worst Hippo Cartoons: “La Behemoth”, “A Moving Experience”, “Can’t Buy a Thrill”

Best Song Segments: “The Monkey Song”, “Yakko’s World”, “Yakko’s Universe”, “Wakko’s America”, “The Senses Song”, “Schnitzlebank”, “A Quake, A Quake”, “The Tiger Prince”, “The Ballad of Magellan”, “Dot - the Macadamia Nut”, “The Animaniacs Suite”

Worst Song Segments: “The Return of the Great Wakkorotti”, “When You’re Traveling From Nantucket”, “Here Comes Attila”, “LA DOT”

Best of the Rest: “Yakko Warner’s World of Baldness”, “Cartoons in Wakko’s Body”, “Buttermilk, it Makes a Body Bitter”, “Branimaniacs”, “Previously on Animaniacs”, “It”

Worst of the Rest: “Wings Take Heart:, “Hollywoodchuck”, “Katie Ka-Boom: The Broken Date”, “Katie Ka-Boom: The Blemish”, “No Time For Love”

Acknowledgements

First, I want to thank the people who have worked on the show whom I’ve talked to through this blog’s Facebook group. They have given me useful information,  corrected misinformation or enlightened me in general. These include Kirk Tingblad, Tom Minton and Tom Ruegger. I also want to thank Peter Paltridge of Platypus Comix, whose interview with Jon McClenahan proved to be an indispensable source of Startoons trivia. I also want to again thank Peter for coming to my rescue for title card screen shots for episodes 51 and 55. Special thanks go to the members of the Toon Zone forum for supporting me from the very beginning, and voting the talkback for the blog the best Toon Zone thread of 2013. More thanks go out to friends and family who have been patient with me through this long process.

But the biggest thank you is reserved for my very patient and loving wife Elizabeth, who has been there for me through all of this, even when I was trying to get this done alongside wedding planning last Summer and Fall. She watched every episode with me before I reviewed them, would proofread each entry before it was published and had to listen to way too much Animaniacs music during long car rides. There is no way I could have done this without her support. I love you, sweetheart.

And of course, a special thank you is required for all the people who made Animaniacs what it was in the first place - the hard working producers, writers, directors, voice artists, animators, musicians, teamsters, coffee people, therapists, assistants, assistants to the assistants, caterers and anyone else I might have missed. All your hard work is truly appreciated.

I guess that’s it. There’s only one thing left to say…

image

GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY!!!!

6 notes

Just Cheer Up and Never Ever Give Up Hope! :Wakko’s Wish part 3

After surviving a full blown assault from Baron Von Plotz and Constable Ralph, followed by a gigantic avalanche, the Warners find themselves staring directly at the Wishing Star. There’s only one problem: King Salazar has gotten there first!

King Salazar quickly has the villagers imprisoned, along with Plotz and Ralph for failing to eliminate the Warners, and the Goodfeathers for attempting to double cross him.  He orders the Warners to be executed immediately, but when Yakko explains that they know secrets about the Wishing Star that he doesn’t, Salazar brings them to his ice castle, where they give him the “special friend” treatment. When they refuse to tell him anything useful about the star, the king sends the Warners into the Cave of Your Worst Nightmare, where they’re terrorized by Mr. Director, the disgusting bathroom from “Potty Emergency” and Baloney. Next, Salazar brainstorms all the possible wishes he could make, with Yakko pointing out all the aggravating and/or painful ways they could go wrong. Finally sick of the kids, Salazar orders his men to do away with the Warners. Thanks to Dot’s irresistible cuteness, which once again works wonders on the Dennis Hopper captain of the guard, the trio is set free. When Salazar sees the Warners racing towards the star, he fires at them with a cannon, and manages to hit Dot. Fatally wounded, Dot asks Yakko to tell her the story about their parents one last time, then dies in his arms. This touching moment is just the distraction Wakko needs to make it to the Wishing Star, and the instant he touches it, Dot wakes up, having faked everything. Wakko wishes for two ha’pennies, and the joyous villagers carry him back to town triumphantly.

Wakko uses his first ha’penny to pay for Dot’s operation, which is nothing but plastic surgery to put a “cutie mark” on her cheek. Using the ha’penny earned from the operation, Scratchansniff begins to make a killing selling his elixir, hiring Rita and Runt as his taste testers, while Hello Nurse (who becomes the CEO of Scratchy Cola) is finally appreciated for her brains and not just her figure. Wakko then goes shopping with his other ha’penny, and all the businesses in Acme Falls begin to thrive. All over town, everyone’s wishes start to come true: Baron Von Plotz becomes the king of a fast food joint, Ralph gets a job directing traffic and the Goodfeathers get some well deserved respect (kind of). Slappy’s tree comes back to life in the Spring, while Skippy makes some new friends. Buttons brings Mindy home, and is rewarded for his loyalty with a huge pile of steaks, while Mindy finally calls her mother “mom”. Rita and Runt find a happy home with Scratchansniff, but the Warners get the best ending of all. They discover that their parents were the king and queen of Warnerstock, and that Salazar had sent them into exile upon their death. Now the rightful rulers of the kingdom, the kids kick Salazar out of the castle, where he’s mauled by a pack of guard dogs. The Warners make Brain Prime Minister and, in turn, Brain makes Pinky a royal stable mouse, so he can be close to Farfignewton. It’s not quite global domination, but Brain already has plans for the sequel. With everyone having received a happy ending, the only thing left to do is spin the Wheel of Morality. And the moral of the story? “Just cheer up and never, ever give up hope!”

The second act of Wakko’s Wish was rather lightweight, concentrating more on songs, character moments and the It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-esque pursuit of the Wishing Star. For the third act, the focus shifts rather drastically. There are no songs (with the exception of a handful of short reprises), the secondary cast is largely forgotten about, and the Warners finally start doing more than just singing and riding in a sleigh. For the most part, the scenes in Salazar’s castle are the closest the movie comes to feeling like the series, and play out like a standard “Warners annoy someone” short. That said, it’s more of a nostalgic, “best of” sequence than anything else, featuring a lot of callbacks to the types of jokes seen in earlier cartoons. Wakko calls Salazar “dadoo”, there’s a game show bit that’s straight out of “Fair Game” and the Warners trick the king into leaving the room, celebrating when he’s gone. The “Cave of Your Worst Nightmare” goes right out and references some of the most well-known moments of the show, and brings in characters that wouldn’t have worked anywhere else in this movie. But going as far as repeating the Dennis Hopper gag from “Hearts of Twilight” is a little much, especially considering this is the second time they’ve gone back to it. We know it’s coming from the very first moment we see the captain of the guard in act two, so at least we’re prepared for it. To be totally honest, I probably would have welcomed this sequence if they hadn’t already used it again in episode 93, but to do it here just seems lazy. However, this is nothing compared to the massive tonal shift that follows, with the juxtaposition between the sillier, upbeat scenes in the castle and a shot of Yakko crying over his sister’s body being unbelievably jarring. The “tell me the story” stuff between Yakko and Dot in act one was certainly corny, but it was still pretty cute, and relatively harmless. But here, they’re going for a major emotional response from the audience, and even though you know Dot isn’t really going to die, they do everything they can to turn her “death scene” into a tear jerker. This is so out of character for Animaniacs that it’s almost disturbing, and it resembles the sort of manipulative ending the show would have made fun of in the past. Before the viewer has any chance to recover from this, the movie pulls a ballsy, mind-blowing fake-out by having Dot suddenly sit up and say, “I’m feeling better now!” right after Wakko touches the Wishing Star. Yes, the joke here is a reference to a line early in the movie about Dot taking acting lessons, but this cop-out ending (not to mention Dot’s operation being nothing more than plastic surgery) winds up trivializing the entire movie. To build up the audience’s sympathy for the Warners for almost an hour and a half, testing them by tossing in a more unusual, dramatic scenario, and then throwing it away like it never mattered in the first place is more than a little infuriating.

The movie ends the same way it begins, with more narration courtesy of Tom Bodett. Over five and a half minutes are spent wrapping everything up and explaining how everyone’s wishes came true, when they probably could have saved time by simply showing instead of telling. But for what it’s worth, it’s still a relatively rewarding ending, especially when it comes to characters whose wishes actually resolve their series-long arcs. It’s wonderful to see Rita and Runt finally find a home or Buttons receive his reward, but what’s really great is Brain getting into a position of power - so close to his goal but not quite there yet. Pinky and the Brain aren’t characters who could logically get their happy ending without it being a complete game changer. So having them go out on their typical “What are we going to do tonight?” shtick (complete with one last chorus of their theme song) was truly the most fitting way of sending them off. The wishes that come true for the rest of the cast generally revolve around things that are movie-specific, and though it seems weird to see the Warners in charge of an entire kingdom, it’s not like the show hasn’t done something like this before (“King Yakko” or “Hooray For North Hollywood”). On the other hand, actually seeing the Warners’ parents (even on something as simple as a portrait) is extremely weird, and I remember being quite bothered by it the first time I saw it. I understand that, for this movie to work, the Warners had to be more than some zany cartoon characters born from an animator’s pencil, but I most definitely could have done without seeing their mom and dad. That the last scene in the movie brings in the Wheel of Morality, on the surface, is a terrific idea. Unfortunately, the actual moral is just a closing reprise of “Never Give Up Hope”, which goes against the fact that the Wheel of Morality was created to parody lame moralistic cartoons in the first place. Regardless, I’d be lying if I said I could think of a better way to end the movie, and recreating the big group shot from the theme song was a really nice touch as well. So all things considered this is about as good a finale as we could have gotten, and for the most part I’m generally satisfied when the movie ends. The credits add to the enjoyment, as they make sure to credit each voice artist for every single character they play, while Richard Stone gets to compose one last suite featuring different versions of the theme song. It’s bittersweet when you realize that this was some of the last work Stone would ever do before his death in 2001. Ironically, his final cartoon was a 2000 Looney Tunes short titled “Little Go Beep”, directed by Spike Brandt and animated by a team full of Startoons veterans.

image

This is the best look at Chickenboo we get in this movie. Interestingly, while only the main cast made it to the Wishing Star in the last entry, the entire town winds up imprisoned as we start act three. Where did everyone suddenly come from?

image

Dot’s condition is not really played for laughs, but they have a little fun in this scene. Dot introduces herself as the cute one, with the cough. “But ya gotta admit, even the cough is cute”, she says, right because she starts hacking in Salazar’s face. MacNeille does a great job here, as the coughing fit is truly very funny.

image

Another gookie from Wakko, the last one we’re ever going to get. Savor it.

image

This whole bit with Salazar having something in his nose is lifted right from a Freakazoid routine. Not bad, but it was funnier there. It would have been great if they could have come up with more original material.

image

image

image

The “Cave of Your Worst Nightmare” sequence is immensely entertaining. I believe all Mr. Director’s dialogue comes from older cartoons. And if not, I’m still positive the brief song he sings is directly from “Macbeth”. Baloney’s appearance features the only time someone in the movie is nailed by an anvil, but I can’t think of a better character for it to happen to.

image

image

image

The best animation on Yakko occurs during the scene in which he brainstorms various wishes with Salazar. Some of the poses and expressions on him here look right out of the first season. I wish more of the movie would have been like this.

image

Just as we think the movie has shown us all the established characters, Colin shows up riding a horse. It makes Skullhead’s absence even more baffling.

image

One thing the “Hearts of Twlight” reference has going for it that was missing in “Cute First, Ask Questions Later” is much better animation. It’s not as good as the spastic stuff we got from Wang, but this Dot face is all kinds of great.

image

image

image

image

I know these scenes between Yakko and Dot have their fans, but this particular sequence just goes too far in the wrong direction for me. The animation quality drops down to something resembling a cheap anime (look at Dot’s mouth in the second image), which hurts it even further. But once again, I have to give props to the musical score and Paulsen’s performance. This would have been a lot worse without them.

image

This burp is a lot more in line with what I expect from TMS. It’s not Wakkorotti quality, but it’s still a very strong drawing.

image

The Warners begin popping up in their traditional clothing as the movie draws to a close, but only for some very brief shots. I absolutely love this image of Yakko. It’s nice that we get to see them the way they normally look before the film ends.

image

About damn time! If there’s one thing just about everyone talks about when it comes to this movie, it’s Buttons finally getting exactly what he deserves. What a great face,

image

Moreso than Buttons, the characters that really deserved a happy ending were always Rita and Runt. Their whole shtick was trying to find a home, and I can’t think of a better owner for them than Scratchansniff. I’m glad this movie treated them extremely well.

image

The Goodfeathers can’t catch a break. They think they’re getting a little respect, but everyone is actually paying attention to the statue of the Warners. But if they don’t realize it, I guess it’s fine by me.

image

I remember literally cringing the first time I saw this. I really did. What were they thinking??

image

And of course, you’ve got to have at least one “YES!” from Brain at some point in the movie. Like I’ve been saying, Pinky and the Brain are Pinky and the Brain no matter what series, cartoon or movie they appear in. Their role in this film ends exactly as it should have. Now, let’s sing it one more time: “They’re dinky. They’re Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain!”

image

There’s still one question that bothers me…what would have happened if that wheel landed on “bankrupt”? It’s a question they never answered, at least not on the show.

image

Its fitting for the final screen shot on this blog to include the group shot that mirrors the one from the theme song. They even threw Newt in there.

Some final thoughts on the movie…

In 1992, Warners released Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, a direct to video movie that many agree was the greatest thing to come out of that show. It was made during the perfect time, while the series was still being produced, and featured some excellent writing and outstanding TMS animation. Everyone was truly at the top of their game when that movie was released and, in comparison, it’s easy to see why Wakko’s Wish comes up a bit short. Animaniacs had been over for quite some time before the video hit store shelves, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the final couple of years of the series saw it losing what made it so special in the first place. By the time Wakko’s Wish came along, just about everything had changed at Warner Brothers Animation. Many of the show’s greatest writers and directors had long since left, and TMS was lacking the spark it used to have. Apparently, there had been talk of giving the movie a theatrical release, but my gut tells me casual audiences wouldn’t have responded well to a film where familiarity of the subject matter was essential while the animation, though terrific for a direct-to-video movie, was still nowhere near theatrical quality. Wakko’s Wish is truly a love letter to the fans, and as such, succeeds pretty well. It’s not perfect, and what doesn’t work bothers me to this day, but there’s enough great stuff here to make the movie worthwhile. It’s not a film I watch from start to finish very often, but individual sequences - not to mention the fantastic score - keep bringing me back. It’s a shame that it hasn’t been released on DVD yet, but as the final bit of Animaniacs history that has yet to arrive on home video, let’s hope it happens soon.

Up next…one last post with my final thoughts on the series, as well as some worst and best lists. Keep reading!

4 notes

This Is Our Golden Opportunity: Wakko’s Wish part 2

When we last left the Warners, Dot needed an operation, Wakko had lost his hard-earned ha’penny and all hope in Acme Falls was dwindling. But everything is about to change thanks to the Wishing Star, the one thing that can possibly turn it all around…

Eager to head off and reach the Wishing Star the next morning, the Warners assemble a makeshift sail-powered sleigh and prepare to leave. However, in their excitement, they end up spilling the beans about the star to the entire town, and everyone becomes anxious to get to it first. Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse hitch up Farfignewton and depart, with Rita and Runt stowing away in their elixir cart. Baron Von Plotz and Ralph also attempt to go after the star, but are quickly pulled over and taken away to see King Salazar. Seeing the Wishing Star as his ticket to world domination, Brain uses Leonardo da Vinci as inspiration to create his own mini aerial screw, which carries him and Pinky into the sky. Slappy and Skippy take to the trees and eventually catch the attention of little Mindy, who has been asked by her mom to take a pie to her grandmother. The toddler is quick to climb up the nearest tree and follow the squirrels, and of course poor Buttons ends up doing whatever he can to keep her safe.

Plotz and Ralph are brought to Salazar’s castle, and attempt to play dumb about the Wishing Star. However, the king is already aware of it, and announces his desire to get to it first. The only flies in the ointment are the Warners, and Salazar commands that Plotz makes sure the kids never make it the star alive. After Plotz and Ralph leave, the king instructs his three pigeon soldiers - Bobby, Squit and Pesto - to fly to the star and have everything ready for his arrival. Once they leave the castle, the Goodfeathers, frustrated at how terribly they’re treated, decide to double cross Salazar by wishing for a little respect. As all the characters travel towards the star, they explain in song what they all plan to wish for. In addition to what we already know, we learn that Hello Nurse wants to be appreciated for her mind, Ralph wants to direct, Plotz wants to be the king and Skippy wants some friends his age.

It isn’t long before disaster strikes. The Goodfeathers crash into Pinky and the Brain and Farfignewton spots everyone plummeting to earth. The horse takes off in order to rescue Pinky, dragging Scratchy, Hello Nurse, Rita and Runt along for the ride, as well as Buttons and the Hippos when they get caught in his path. At the same time, Plotz and Ralph begin firing cannons and missiles at the Warners and manage to destroy their sleigh. Thinking quickly, Runt and Buttons toss some of Scratchansniff’s volatile elixir chemicals at the bad guys, totaling their carriage. Everyone eventually comes to a stop at the edge of a cliff, where Farfignewton is able to save the Goodfeathers, Pinky and Brain at the last second. As the chaos subsides, Scratchy discovers that numerous vials have overturned in his cart, and the resulting combination of liquids actually tastes quite good. Unfortunately, when Wakko burps after drinking some of the elixir, he causes an avalanche that sweeps everyone up and deposits them right in front of the Wishing Star. Just as the Warners are about to touch it, they discover that Salazar, who has traveled by train, has already beaten them there. “Ehhhh, this isn’t the wish I had in mind”, concludes Yakko.

As Yakko’s line marks a clear divide between the second and third acts, this is where I’ll stop and reflect once again…

While this section of the movie doesn’t really have much in the way of plot, it makes up for it with several fun moments involving the secondary cast members, some really good animation and a handful of very strong musical numbers. Two of the songs - “The Wishing Star” and a lyrical version of Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” - literally come one after the other, and take up a whopping seven whole minutes of screen time.  But you’re not going to hear me complaining, since they’re easily the best songs in the entire film. “The Wishing Star” is incredibly catchy and has a very hopeful, emotional punch to it. It quickly becomes the movie’s main theme, and is reprised several more times, first by Salazar, Ralph and Plotz, then by the Goodfeathers and finally by the Warners one last time. “We’re taking a stand! We’re making a vow! This is the place! The moment is now!” is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite Animaniacs lyrics, period. But as amazing as “The Wishing Star” is, The “Hungarian Rhapsody” number is truly the movie’s centerpiece. This thing builds and builds as more and more characters get involved, until it gets to the point where it’s moving so fast that it’s virtually impossible to sing along. It’s definitely the longest song in Animaniacs history, and gives a whole bunch of background characters the opportunity to get a few lines. The best bit is the quieter breather towards the end, as Pinky cries over Farfignewton having left him, snapping out of it the instant Brain reassures him that they’ll get to the Wishing Star first. “Oh, well, that’s different then isn’t it? Troz!” is Pinky’s upbeat response. After seven minutes of non-stop singing, and after just about every cast member has announced their intention to get to the star, Dot realizes, “Maybe we should have kept this our little secret”. That’s certainly the understatement of the year. The other big song in this section is “If I Could Have My Wish Than I’d Be Happy”, which is enjoyable, if a little superfluous. It’s not something that really needs to be here (we know what most of the characters want), but it’s the only musical sequence in the movie that involves the entire Animaniacs cast. We also get a pretty good running joke out of it, as Ralph keeps trying to figure out what to wish for, only to constantly come up with synonyms for “policeman”. After the third try, Ralph concludes, “Gee, I’m not gettin’ the hang of this song.”

The Warners spend most of their time sitting in their sleigh not doing much besides singing, so the bulk of this section of the film is taken up by the supporting cast. Once again, Pinky and the Brain get all the funniest moments. When Brain first mentions da Vinci, Pinky asks, “He’s going to give us a ride there in his pant cuffs?!” After being informed that da Vinci died a long time ago, Pinky becomes distraught: “And I forgot to send flowers?! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Not one to miss an opportunity, Brain clobbers Pinky with a pencil. Things get even funnier once the mice get up in the air, as a confused Pinky almost kills them twice by taking his feet off the pedals of the areal screw, causing them to fall hundreds of feet towards the ground. It’s another one of those moments where Maurice LaMarche gets to exercise his vocal cords by screaming in character, and stuff like that is always hysterical. Slappy and Skippy get their only solo scene here, which barely lasts a minute and mostly consists of them singing a version of “Loch Lomond”, the whole joke being that neither of them can sing very well at all. At this point, the squirrels become a plot device to get Buttons and Mindy into the movie, and immediately we see why it was such a shame that TMS never worked with these characters in the first season. All the standard formulas are here -  including the power struggle between Mindy and her mom and Buttons being told to keep Mindy out of trouble. But since this is the only time we ever get to see any of this play out with TMS handling the animation, there’s a freshness to it that makes the Mindy and Buttons sequences (what little we get of them, anyway) a highlight. A quick scene a little later of Buttons rushing in to save Mindy from falling off a rickety old bridge totally validates everything I’ve ever said about these characters desperately needing really good animation in order to work.

The last reoccurring cast members we meet are the Goodfeathers, who get one quick scene with Salazar, decide to go after the Wishing Star themselves and then have nothing else to do in the movie aside from crashing into Pinky and the Brain and starting the sequence of events that leads everyone to the star. It’s honestly great to see them, but they really have nothing to do, and are clearly just here because they have to be. The movie is already halfway over by the time the pigeons make their entrance, so there isn’t much time to do anything with them regardless. Shockingly, we don’t even get a scene of Pesto losing his temper and attacking Squit, something we had gotten every single time we saw the Goodfeathers in the last handful of episodes. And then of course there’s our villain, King Salazar. He’s basically a more realistic and threatening version of Dictator Umlatt from “King Yakko”, with his most distinctive trait being his memorable voice, supplied by Paxton Whitehead.  This is a guy with absolutely no likeable qualities, and really doesn’t have much of a personality. He just exists to be an irredeemable bad guy, while his bloodlust makes him a little out of place in the Animaniacs universe. That said, a more comic villain never would have worked for this movie so, as a character the entire audience can root against, Salazar does his job well.

My favorite sequence in the entire movie is an over seven minute stretch that’s almost completely dialogue free and set to the overture from Franz von Suppe’s “Pique Dame”. It starts as the Warners begin to cross a dangerous bridge and doesn’t stop until the avalanche lands them right in front of the Wishing Star. Setting this much of the movie to a piece of instrumental opera music was a pretty bold move, as it sounds nothing like the typical Animaniacs score, and the use of the full piece necessitates that the animation plays to the music and not the other way around. But what it does best is play to TMS’ strengths. Without dialogue to get in the way, they’re able to cut loose, and this sequence without a doubt features some of the best animation in the movie. I absolutely love how the music is full of so many highs and lows, and is able to establish a pleasant “traveling” atmosphere just as well as it’s able to accompany scenes of Ralph attacking the Warners with rockets and cannon fire. These later scenes of weaponry sailing every which way, downing trees and eventually destroying the Warners’ sleigh represent the very best TMS animation we’ve seen in a very long time. There’s no way any other studio could have handled something like this and, if anything, the subsequent avalanche is ever better. While this is mainly a visual set-piece, we do get a couple of decent character moments. Stuck hanging on to the ends of the severed bridge, Buttons finds himself right in the path of the Hip Hippos as they begin to cross. Buttons later shares a quick scene with Runt, a pairing never attempted before. There’s also a humorous scene between Farfignewton and Brain that ends with him inside the horse’s mouth.  The only downside to all of this is that, once it’s over, the movie suddenly remembers that it has a plot to focus on, and the last twenty-five minutes of the movie is where it begins to lose quite a bit of steam.

Up next: the Warners give King Salazar the “special friend” treatment, the “Cave Of Your Worst Nightmares” brings back some familiar faces, and someone finally gets their wish. Who will it be? Stay tuned for part three!

image

If you’re not ready for it you may miss it entirely, but just as the “Hungarian Rhapsody” number starts, Katie Ka-Boom and her mom and dad pop out of some windows. It’s the ultimate “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo, and also the only time these characters were animated by TMS. The one question is, where’s Tinker?

image

image

Most of this song uses a much looser type of animation than we’ve seen so far in the movie. The Warners look appropriately wacky in these scenes, and I think this may have been the same team who animated the second half of the “Be a Pest” song from “Cutie and the Beast”.

image

This is what I meant when I discussed the ha’penny song in the last entry. It just seems weird to me to see Slappy singing and dancing along with the rest of the cast. It’s definitely not like her. She should be off in the sidelines making sarcastic comments, not happily enjoying everyone else’s company and singing as part of a back-up chorus.

image

This scene is the primary example of something else I talked about in the last post. The rest of the characters stand around in the foreground and background just happily swaying along with the music. It just strikes me as really corny, especially in this shot, which lasts long enough to make the robotic animation of the other characters very obvious.

image

Brain: Pinky, are you pondering exactly what I’m pondering? Pinky: I think so Brain but just how will we get the weasel to hold still? Brian: No, that wish is what we need. Our plan could finally succeed! - not only were they able to include one final “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” but they were clever enough to stick it in the middle of the song. Fantastic stuff.

image

image

image

There are a tiny handful of moments in the “Rhapsody” song that really try to break away from the more straight ahead way the sequence is animated. These shots, against solid colored backgrounds, come and go incredibly fast, but they’re creative, and make me wish that the movie had just a little bit more visual imagination.

image

image

But speaking of visual imagination, there isn’t much that beats the staging and emotion packed into this shot. Pinky is initially isolated on the right side of the scene, bathed in a melancholy blue glow and sadly singing about being left alone.  Brain’s silhouette then appears in the background, with his shadow filling in the negative space left by the light entering the mouse hole. It’s a beautifully put together shot, and kudos to Paulsen for being able to hit those high notes. The animation on Pinky is just about perfect as well.

image

image

image

image

One of the best Pinky and the Brain moments comes when Pinky suddenly sees a flaw in Brain’s “air screw” plan. “Oh wait, no”, he explains, “if we were meant to fly we would have been born with little bags of nuts.” He’s then nailed from off screen by the pencil again, after which Brain responds, “You ARE a little bag of nuts.” The dialogue and delivery is great but the animation really sells Pinky’s expressions and thought process, not to mention the impact from the pencil.

image

Buttons gets a cute Scooby Doo moment when Mindy gives him the pie she was supposed to deliver. Looking heavenward, Buttons growls, “Rank Rou!” before chowing down. Again, TMS’ expressions and solid drawings add a lot to Button’s personality.

image

Since TMS rarely worked with Buttons and Mindy, I relish their all-to-brief screentime in this movie. This particular shot of Mindy is fantastic, with a lot of confidence and attitude. Who knows…if TMS had done a whole bunch of Mindy and Buttons cartoons in the first season I could be sitting here saying this looks terrible in comparison. But they didn’t.

image

It’s a really big let-down that this is all we really get with Slappy and Skippy. They’re introduced in this sequence via a “George of the Jungle” version of “Humoresque”, and it’s the only time in the movie where Slappy feels in-character. She struggles to climb the tree, almost coughs up a lung doing a Tarzan yell, and calls out Skippy on his terrible singing. She sings a little bit about wishing for “a giant acorn tree, with everybody leaving me alone” during the “If I Could Have My Wish…” song, but for the most part this movie leaves me starving for more quality Slappy material. She really got the short end of the stick after the first season, no matter how much she was actually used.

image

Paulsen and LaMarche have a great back-and-forth during the air screw scene, with Pinky misunderstanding what Brain is saying and taking him literally when he tells him to “just stop”. We also get the trademark purple TMS irises here.

image

Ralph has always been depicted as a pretty tall guy, but he’s got nothing on King Salazar!

image

There really isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Goodfeathers, although I believe this movie marks the only time they actually have a conversation with a human being. And just in case you forget that they’re Italian, Pesto asks for a bite of Salazar’s cannoli.

image

image

image

image

He’s a great bit of animation at the start of the “Pique Dame” sequence. The bridge starts to break under Mindy’s feet. The camera then quickly pulls out from a shot of Buttons as he moves lighting fast across the bridge in order to catch her. The energy here is incredible, and once again we get those TMS colored pupils. I bet we would have gotten a ton of good stuff like this if (say it with me now) TMS had animated some Buttons and Mindy cartoons in the first season.

image

Ralph is hardly ever threatening, but this shot is as close as we get. He actually succeeds at coming off as sinister in this scene, and his goofy laughter almost has an edge of deviousness to it. Impressive that they were able to pull that off.

image

We don’t get too many moments with the Warners where they look like they walked out of a TMS-animated season one cartoon, but this shot has an old school feel to it, especially with the way Yakko and Dot are drawn. It’s very clear that the best TMS team was working on this part of the chase scene. I wish they could have looked more like this throughout the whole movie.

image

image

image

image

It doesn’t read too well in still shots, but this bit of animation is incredible. Ralph fires a cannonball and the camera follows it as it arcs toward the screen and then down to the ground, where it hits the Warners. The kids then appear out of an explosion of snow and land on pieces of their sleigh, which they ride like snowboards. All this is done in one solitary shot and it’s unbelievably good.

image

I love the hell out of this shot. A cannonball flies though Scratchansniff’s cart and a bottle of liquid topples over and explodes when it hits the floor. After pulling Rita out of the way, Runt and Buttons look at each other with these amazing devilish smiles. Someone on staff must have realized they never had put these two together before, and cooked up this quick scene. I wish we could have seen more of this.

image

image

As things wind down a little bit, we get these quick character moments, some of the last we get from any of them before the focus shifts back to the Warners. Runt pops out of the snow and tells Rita she’s a good dog, while Mindy finally gives Slappy a hug. The old squirrel then turns Mindy around and gives her to Buttons, whose expressions are a riot.

image

image

When we finally get a big, LaMarche burp from Wakko, it’s defeated by some truly bad drawings and animation. This looks too Japanese, the first screenshot especially. We’re a long way from the Great Wakkorotti, folks.

image

And for good measure as we wrap up part two, here’s a gookie that flies by so fast that you might miss it!

5 notes

Even My Nuts Are Frozen!: Wakko’s Wish part 1

Instead of calling it quits after just 99 episodes, the decision was made to give Animaniacs one last big goodbye with a direct-to-video movie, packed full of songs and stuffed with almost every character that had appeared on the show. Titled Wakko’s Wish, it was released on December 21st, 1999 on VHS (but not DVD, oddly) and not only features the return of TMS, but it also includes some of the very last work composer Richard Stone would ever do before his death in 2001. It’s a polarizing film, one whose parts are far stronger than it’s whole, with fantastic sequences right alongside stuff the television series never would have attempted to do. It’s the very definition of a mixed bag, so let’s jump in and get this three-part review started.

image

image

image

The movie begins with a surprise. The Warner Brothers Family Entertainment logo appears as usual, only for Wakko to show up and take a bite out of it, catching Bugs a little off guard. Complete with a bit of the Warners theme, it’s a cute way to begin the film. I’m not sure who animated this, but it doesn’t look like it’s TMS’ work.

image

image

image

Story by Tom Ruegger, Written by Tom Ruegger, Nick DuBois, Earl Kress, Kevin Hopps, Charles M. Howell IV and Randy Rogel, Sequences directed by Russell Calabrese, Nelson Recinos, Kirk Tingblad, Greg Reyna and Charles Visser, Produced and directed by Liz Holzman, Rusty Mills and Tom Ruegger

The opening credits sequence deserves to be mentioned on its own, as it’s very nicely put together. Characters are introduced with their images on CGI snowflakes, and Richard’s Stones main title score - which features a medley of character themes and instrumentals of several of the songs heard in the movie - is really lovely.

Our movie begins in Acme Falls, a tiny village in the nation of Warnerstock. The people living in the village (which includes a mime) are happy and prosperous under the rule of King William the Good. Unfortunately, after the king’s death, Warnerstock was plagued by war, and was taken over by the nation of Tictockia, led by the ruthless King Salazar the Pushy. Salazar’s bad business decisions ended up ruining the country, so in order to fill the royal coffers, the king had Baron Von Plotz and Constable Ralph tax the villagers into poverty. Everyone in town suffers, from Doctor Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse, who are trying to sell elixirs, to Slappy and Skippy, whose tree no longer provides enough food to eat, to Rita and Runt who are still looking for a home. Brain, of course, still has world domination on his mind, though Pinky would rather just spend time with Farfignewton. No one is as downtrodden as the Warners, living on the streets after their orphanage was shut down. Wakko is the only person with any spirit left, reminding the villagers that they should never give up hope.

Sadly, hope begins to run out for poor Dot, who is ill and desperately needs an operation. In order to help his sister, Wakko heads into the city to seek his fortune. He arrives a year later with a solitary ha’penny, which is more than enough to buy him anything he wants. His joyous return is cut short by Baron Von Plotz, who taxes the ha’penny right out of Wakko’s hands. That night, in their broken down water tower shanty, Dot asks Yakko to tell her “the story” about mom and dad before being put to bed. The story involves Dot’s birth, her parents being a king and queen who had two sons, but wanted a daughter. Dot was born from the prettiest flower in their garden, and while her full name was “Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fana Bo Besca the Third”, it was okay to call her Dot. “Just Dot”, she explains, “Call me Dotty and you die!” After Dot goes to sleep and Yakko turns in for the night, Wakko points to the sky and makes a wish on the Wishing Star, hoping for a miracle. Suddenly he’s visited by the Desire Fulfillment Facilitator (Pip Pumphandle, aka the Good Fairy), who explains that Wakko has managed to pick the Wishing Star and will be granted one wish. But since wishes have to be granted in person, Wakko needs to seek out and touch the star, which falls several miles away, outside of town. Pip leaves, reminding Wakko to never give up hope, after which Yakko and Dot arrive to find out what’s going on. When Wakko tells them they’ll never believe what just happened, Yakko responds, “Try us. We’re gullible.”

It would be impossible to cover an entire hour and twenty minute movie with the way this blog is set up, so this seems like the best place to stop and reflect on the movie so far…

It’s really hard to find a middle ground when talking about Wakko’s Wish. There’s so much about the movie that I really like, but there’s just as much that bothers me about it. I think my biggest problem is that so much of it goes against what worked so well in the series. All of the characters on the show were generally only successful in seven-to-twelve minute shorts (aside from Pinky and the Brain, and even that’s debatable) so putting them in a feature length story means the silliness and comic energy that was such a big part of the show had to be toned down. So far, the Warners haven’t done anything the least bit in character aside from singing a couple of musical numbers. There have been sympathetic moments with the Warners in the past, but here we’re expected to just go with the idea that Dot is supposedly dying from some sort of sickness, and that Yakko and Wakko are powerless to do anything to really help her. The idea of someone like Wakko traveling into the city to get a job and “seek his fortune” is just lame, and it doesn’t feel right to see the kids just allow Plotz to take something from them and back down so easily. Wakko really shouldn’t be saying lines like, “If I’d only earned more”, and it’s sad to see usually upbeat characters acting so miserable. But it’s that “tell me a story” stuff that doesn’t belong, and feels ripped from a bad Disney or Don Bluth film. It’s been established from the beginning that the Warners truly care for each other, but I don’t need to see Yakko tucking his ailing sister into bed and telling her a story about their parents. The sequence is borderline painful to watch, and the fact that it’s only the set-up for a much more uncomfortable climax makes it even worse.

Apart from the Warners, how do the other characters come off? That’s another problem, since so many of them don’t even get much screen time, let alone individual sequences to themselves. Scratchansniff, Hello Nurse, Rita, Runt, Slappy and Skippy don’t get much in the way of actual dialogue outside of the song sequences. And while that’s fine for Rita and Runt (since it’s more than we’ve gotten from them since the first season) it’s criminal to see the way in which the squirrels are underused. There’s one sequence featuring Slappy and Skippy later in the movie that lasts about a half minute, otherwise they spend the entire film as glorified extras, standing around in the background or singing a line or two, but otherwise not doing much else. That’s definitely not what you’d expect to see after all the time Slappy had spent carrying the show during the Kids WB seasons. In fact, more attention is paid to the Mime than the squirrels. Minerva Mink gets a tiny handful of lyrics to sing, but no dialogue, while the Hippos are constantly seen in just about every group shot without a single thing to say. A ton of random background characters are tossed into this movie (including Frau Hassenfeffer, Prunella Flundergust, Tristesse from “Les Miseranimals”, Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeyer and the Dover Boys) but a lot of them are just there to pad out the cast, when that effort really should have gone towards giving the more established characters something to do. The only members of the cast that get a sequence of their own (and this should be no surprise) are Pinky and the Brain, whose scenes are easily the funniest parts of the entire movie. As mentioned in the previous entry, no matter what happens with the rest of the cast in ensemble productions like these, the mice are always in character and always seem to get the best material. Their appearance in this early section of the movie - featuring Pinky declaring his love for Farfignewton, much to Brain’s aggravation - is a riot, especially a shot where the horse is seen behind Pinky mimicking his movements and expressions. The movie is very light on out-and-out physical comedy (there are no bombs or mallets seen, and only one anvil) so Brain nailing Pinky on the head with a carrot is a welcome bit of violence. And although it’s not technically a character per se, the narrator of the film is voiced by Tom Bodett, who gets more dialogue than some of the headlining cast members. The movie is bookended by a ton of narration and exposition, which probably could have been shortened a little bit to give characters like Slappy and Skippy, Rita and Runt or the Goodfeathers (see next entry) more room to get involved with the plot.

One thing this movie really has going for it are some very enjoyable songs, some of them so well done that to this day I wish they had released an album version of the film’s soundtrack. Two major musical numbers are seen here, “Never Give Up Hope” and “He’s Got a Ha’Penny Today”, which both make use of the entire cast, meaning this is the first time since episode 62 that we actually get to hear Bernadette Peters sing as Rita. “Never Give Up Hope” is especially strong, and is a perfect introduction to many of the characters. The song starts slow and melancholy as the Warners complain about how decrepit the orphanage used to be, before the pace picks up and they start to sing about just how bad things are now in comparison. The underlying instrumentals are fantastic and, as an opening song, the whole thing really works towards establishing the mood and setting. We even get a dirty joke out of it, which I’ll detail in the screenshot section. The “Ha’Penny” song isn’t as good, and is probably the weakest of the longer song sequences in the movie, but it has its moments. My issue again is that I can’t picture Wakko chopping wood or pitching hay for months in order to earn some money, and there’s a saccharine quality to some of the lyrics that I’m not fond of. But it’s still entertaining enough that I enjoy it. Shorter songs like “The Train Bringing Wakko” and “Twinkle Twinkle” are pretty disposable, though I really love the sweetness to Harnell’s voice in the later tune. Richard Stone’s background music is great, incorporating instrumental versions of the songs as well as the appropriate character themes. There’s some terrific musical material coming up, so this is only the beginning.

And of course, Wakko’s Wish marks the return of TMS to the series, who gives the movie a polish it wouldn’t have had if it went to any other studio. This is the only Animaniacs production to be treated to digital ink and paint, with a tiny handful of CGI elements as well (such as Dot’s bed as the camera moves around it, and the aforementioned snowflakes). Most of the characters still look great when animated by the Japanese studio, especially Pinky and the Brain and Rita and Runt. With a lengthy, dialogue-free chase sequence and an avalanche later in the movie, TMS’ talents are definitely put to good use here. But on the other hand, there are moments when the animation falters pretty badly, with weakly drawn background characters and choppy movements. Most painful are crowd scenes during songs, with characters doing little more than swaying back and forth to the music - there’s one such shot in the next entry I’m going to make a point to discuss. And much like “Cutie and the Beast” there’s an overwhelming tameness to the Warners’ designs and the way they’re animated. I’m not sure if it was the unit TMS was sending the work to, or a conscious decision by the directors and writers, but their expressions and body language are simplified quite a bit. It appears as if they’re going through a lot of trouble of almost humanizing the Warners to make this story work, when it would have been so much more appealing to see TMS cut loose with a wilder style recalling their best work from the first season. Like episode 84, a lot of sequences in this film seem overwritten, which doesn’t allow for much visual creativity, especially this early on when so much of the movie is full of talking heads or narration. Compare Wakko’s Wish to some earlier TMS stuff (“LA LA Law”, “Little Drummer Warners”, “The Senses Song”) and you’ll see the huge difference when it comes to the Warners. One would think we’d see that kind of quality in a direct-to-video feature, but I suppose it also goes a long way in explaining why Animaniacs was so incredible during the first season.

image

Wakko’s Wish doesn’t include much in the way of pop culture or real world references, but this one in particular stands out. Tictockia overthrowing Warnerstock is a parody of the way Time Inc merged with Warner Communications in 1990. Definitely not something most people are going to get.

image

This pie-eyed old man is the same guy who ran the toy store in the cartoon “Toy Shop Terror” from episode 50. It’s funny how deep they dug into the older episodes for characters to pad out the town.

image

The Mime walks behind Weed Memlo and imitates him. Aggravated, Weed pulls out the sink that’s in his cart and smashes the Mime on the head with it. Thank goodness for the Mime, as we’d have a lot less physical comedy in this movie without him. He’s certainly animated better here than he ever was in the “Mime Time” segments. Too bad Skullhead is MIA.

image

Whose idea was it to put a hole in one of Yakko’s gloves. Although they’re usually the hardest things to animate, hands are such an important part of any character, and they should always read well. The black finger sticking out of the glove here is just distracting. I find my eyes going right to it.

image

After the Warners, the next characters to get lines in the first song are Rita and Runt. Although they don’t get much actual dialogue, they still participate in most of the songs and are in the vast majority of group shots. Truthfully, they’ll all over the place is the movie, and (lines or not) they get more screen time than a good chuck of the other characters. This makes me think that the real reason we didn’t see them in the Kids WB years was because they couldn’t afford Bernadette Peters anymore. I guess they figured since they got her for this movie, they might as well use her as much as possible.

image

This is a decent screen shot to use in order to point out some background characters. Of course there’s the Hippos (well, Flavio at least), Slappy and Skippy but here we also see Gertie Bilchmoytner, the Dover Boys, Chickenboo, Prunella, Otto and, believe it or not, Fermin Flaxseed from “The Big CANDY Store”.

image

Skippy: Even my nuts are frozen. Slappy: Be careful with that last verse!” - Wow, I know we clearly see a bunch of frozen walnuts, but man, I can’t believe a line like that made it into this movie. They must have been proud of themselves for that one, since the character/voice actor roll at the end of the movie features Skippy holding on to walnuts. The fact that this is the funniest the squirrels are in the entire movie, though, is pretty sad,

image

image

image

Pinky and the Brain were always high priority characters, and in this movie they get some of the best animation. It would have been awful if the mice had been treated in the second-class way all the other non-Warners characters were. I’d love to know who wrote and directed the Pinky and the Brain sequences, because they stand out as the high points of the entire movie. While there’s much to this film that I enjoy, the scenes with the mice are the only ones where I actually laugh.

image

image

Brain attempts to talk some sense into Pinky, telling him, “That is a horse. You are a mouse.” Offended, Pinky goes off on a tangent: “Oh Brain, don’t be so intolerant. Why can’t the horses and the mice live together in harmonyyy, along with the fairies and the wood sprouts and the bean sprouts?” After a short pause, Brain says, “I stand corrected, Pinky. That is a horse. You are an imbecile.” Pinky thanks him. The animation of Farfignewton copying everything Pinky does is great.

image

The problem with having so many characters participating in the musical numbers is that, after a while, it’s hard to figure out what to do with them. So we get scenes like this, of everyone running down the street dancing the exact same way. It doesn’t mater if you’re Hello Nurse, Flavio, Runt, Slappy or Weed Memlo, everyone acts the same, sings the same and emotes the same during these songs, even if it doesn’t make sense for them to do so. There’s a lot of stuff like this in the “Ha’penny” song and, truthfully, it’s pretty lame.

image

Monsieur Tristesse offers Wakko a gourmet meal. Considering what that guy once considered putting in his pies, Wakko probably shouldn’t consider eating that stuff.

image

The thing with TMS in this movie is that, while I don’t love the way the Warners look, they stay on model just fine, and the animation never slips the way it did in “HMS Yakko” or “Roll Over Beethoven”. But weird bits of animation still tend to sneak though, such as this. The Warners seem easy enough to draw, but one slip up and they wind up looking like an anime Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon.

image

There’s a defeated reprise of the ha’penny song before the scene in the water tower, and Rita is the one who kicks it off. It’s incredible how the series went as far as making a milk carton joke at their expense in season four, and now here they are in almost every scene. I appreciate it, because I truly am a fan of these characters, but the attention they get is pretty disproportionate to the attention paid to other characters like Slappy and Skippy.

image

image

image

Yes, I don’t like the “tell me a story” sequence in terms of writing. But man, everything else about it works, The animation is great (I love the low angle shot of Yakko), the music is absolutely beautiful and Rob Paulsen gives an amazing performance. You really feel the love between these characters. But I just wish they could have actually conveyed it some other way without being so corny.

image

image

image

image

I haven’t even mentioned the Pip Pumphandle sequence. If any one part of this movie shows how far we’ve come from the first season, it’s this one. “Chairman of the Bored” was a masterpiece of wonderful writing, voice acting and animation. Trying to repeat it in any capacity is a big mistake. Pip isn’t even trying to be boring here, he’s giving Wakko essential information and congratulating him here, so there’s no reason to copy the earlier cartoon. And I’m not kidding when I say “copy”, because a lot of this stuff is straight out of the earlier cartoon, right down to the crowbar, Wakko trying to eat his arm off and the Startoons expressions. All it does is remind us of what we’ve lost without Paul Rugg, Sherri Stoner and Startoons.

image

image

These fantastic shots - with amazing lighting effects and strong character animation - shows that TMS could still knock scenes right out of the park if they wanted to. There’s no need for this brief Rita and Runt sequence, but it’s here anyway, and TMS really sells it. I wish the entire movie looked this good.

image

We end on the most embarrassing thing in the entire movie. Why did they ask Ben Stein to sing? Especially lines like “Just cheer up and never, ever give up hope!” It’s just…ugh…why?

Anyway, things will pick up considerably in part two, where we get several more great songs, finally meet our villain and get a taste of what a full-length TMS-animated Buttons and Mindy cartoon might have been like. Stay tuned!

(NOTE: I want to thank my terrific brother-in-law, Chris, for being able to track down a fantastic copy of this movie and burning it to DVD for me. Warner Brothers may be dragging their feet in getting this an official release, but it’s nice to know I’ve got a clean copy for reference in the meantime. Thanks, Chris!)

3 notes

The Face Is Strong In This One: Star Warners

Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky and the Brain premiered on Saturday, September 10th, 1995 on the Kids WB Saturday morning block. However, for the rest of its first season, the show aired on a Sunday night time slot, with the producers hoping to capture an adult audience. Unfortunately, up against 60 Minutes, the series never had a chance. It spent the remainder of its first-run broadcast history airing on Saturday morning (in the second season) and weekday afternoons (in the third season). Despite its failure to capture the Sunday night adult audience, Pinky and the Brain was able to run until the fall of 1998, with 65 episodes ultimately being produced. Like Animaniacs, the show won several awards, including two Best Animated Series Emmys, while Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche both won Annie awards for their vocal performances as Pinky and Brain. On November 14th of 1998, the final episode aired, right smack in the middle of the 99th and final Animaniacs episode. Titled “Star Warners”, it was less of a standard Pinky and the Brain installment and more of an ensemble piece featuring the majority of the cast of Animaniacs, a fitting way to pay tribute to the show that got the mice their start.

Note: This episode does not include the opening theme song. It goes right to the beginning of the cartoon after the Warner Brothers Animation logo. Additionally, while some elements in this Star Wars parody are re-named, others (such as Stormtroopers and Jawas) aren’t named at all. In those instances where I have nothing else to go on, I’ll use the official Star Wars term.

image

Written by Liz Holzman, Charles M. Howell IV and Tom Ruegger. Directed by Nelson Recinos.

After an opening text scroll version of the Pinky and the Brain theme, we join a group of Rebel fighters as they battle several Imperial Stormtroopers, which include the Goodfeathers, Hello Nurse and Ralph. The evil Girth Plotz is searching for Princess Dot, who is hiding the plans for the villain’s ultimate weapon - the Mega Star - in her robot, Brain-2 Me-2. After Dot is kidnapped by the Imperials, Brain-2 joins his counterpart, C-Pinky-O, and tells him that he intends to use the plans for the Mega Star to help him take over the galaxy. Unfortunately, the two robots accidentally launch themselves into space in an escape pod, and when Plotz finds out, he sends a group of Imperial troops after them. When Princess Dot refuses to talk, Plotz and Grand Moff Scratchansniff bring in an Interrogation Droid (Pip Pumphandle) who tortures her with boring stories. Meanwhile, after crash landing on the desert planet Ratatouille, Brain-2 and Pinky-O are nabbed by little Jawa Mindy, who sells the pair to a sand farmer named Wakk Skylicker. Discovering Dot’s message in Brain-2 asking him to find someone called Slappy Wanna-Nappy, and recognizing the princess as his long-lost sister, Skylicker heads off to track down the old Has-Ben.

The trio find Slappy Wanna Nappy, who agrees to help them defeat Plotz and rescue the princess by taking them to Mos Eisner Spaceport in order to locate a pilot. At the local cantina, they meet Yak Soho and his sidekick Chewbooboo, who run a pizza delivery service out of their space ship, the Bicentennial Lemming. When the Imperials show up, the heroes gather into the ship and quickly make their escape. Meanwhile, Dot is still refusing to talk, so Plotz decides to show off the power of the Mega Star. He beams a laser down to Dot’s home world, the Comedy Planet, and screws up their TV reception, forcing everyone to watch a boring Ken Burns documentary on paddleball. When the good guys get wind of what’s going on, Wakk becomes eager to deal with Plotz himself. Slappy insists that before doing so, Skylicker must first be instructed by the wise guru of gags, Skippoda. Under the swamp hermit’s tutelage, Wakk learns how to yield a lightsaber mallet, and is instructed on the ways of the gookie, the funny face that can “defuse tense situations with comedy”. Once his instruction is complete, Wakk is more than ready to face Girth Plotz.

In a scene that a post commercial text crawl explains is simply there to pad out running time, we discover that Soho, Chewbooboo and Pinky-O have been captured by the gluttonous Flabby the Butt (Flavio) who is angry that Yak failed to deliver a pizza to him on time. After defeating the creature with pizza toppings, the heroes re-convene aboard the Bicentennial Lemming and eventually arrive at the Mega Star. Once there, everyone splits up: Brain-2 and Pinky-O head to the control room, Soho and Skylicker rescue Princess Dot and Slappy battles the humorless Plotz, who we learn had taken her cartoons off the air. Slappy is defeated (but not killed, since comedy is harder than drama) and Wakk angrily attacks Plotz. The battle takes the duo into the control room, where Brain-2 is attempting to make his broadcast declaring galactic domination. Skylicker overcomes Plotz by putting him in hysterics with a gookie, and then does the same to Brain-2, ruining his broadcast and causing the entire galaxy to discover laughter again. The cast is then rewarded with Oscar statues, while the robots make their exit. Brain-2 explains that it’s time to plan for the next millennium. “Gee Brain-2, what are we going to do in the next millennium?”, asks Pinky-O. “The same thing we do every millennium, Pinky-O”, says Brain-2, “try to take over the galaxy!”

If it wasn’t incredibly obvious, this episode is simply a retelling of the original Star Wars (with elements of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi thrown in) with the Animaniacs cast replacing the characters from the movie. The storyline is basically the same, with only the specifics changed to suit the parody. Thanks to this being produced before the Star Wars explosion that followed the first prequel in 1999, the end result is something that’s very entertaining, and doesn’t feel lame or lazy. These days it seems like everyone from Family Guy to Robot Chicken to Angry Birds are doing Star Wars parodies in one form or another, but “Star Warners” had the luxury of tackling the subject matter before everyone else started doing it. While this is certainly funny if you’re familiar with Star Wars, it’s not a slave to the material to the point that you need to be a fan in order to enjoy it. As long as you love Animaniacs, you’ll get a kick out of this.

Luckily, all the characters fit their roles very well. No one else but Dot could have possibly played Princess Leia, and Wakko is a natural in the Skywalker role. Yakko is of course perfect as Han Solo, since I can’t think of anyone else on the show who could have played the cocky pilot. Meanwhile Chicken Boo as Chewbacca is the sort of thing that makes you say, “I should have seen that one coming” the second he walks on screen. While Animaniacs wasn’t a show that was heavy on re-occurring villains (Walter Wolf excepted), Thaddeus Plotz works as a diminutive version of Darth Vader, and the casting choice allows him to have a connection with Slappy (as Ben Kenobi) by making him the guy who once took the old squirrel’s cartoons off the air. Mindy’s appearance as a Jawa is all kinds of great, and her “Why” conversation with Brain is even better than the one in “The Garden of Mindy”, mainly thanks to Pinky’s involvement. But two characters definitely deserve special mention. Doctor Scratchansniff as Grand Moff Tarkin is a very inspired choice, especially considering how infrequently the Imperial governor appears in parodies like these, despite his importance to the original film. Scratchy isn’t intimidating in the slightest, which makes this even funnier. Seriously, how can you possibly take someone seriously when he has silly lines like, “Okay, have ze funzies now!” But the performance that really stays with you after the episode is over is Skippy as Yoda, since Nathan Ruegger absolutely nails the impression and backwards speak that makes the Jedi master so endearing. Next to the cameo packed Cantina sequence, the training scene with Skippoda and Skylicker is probably the strongest part of the episode. Other characters such as the Goodfeathers, Minerva Mink and Flavio come and go pretty quickly, but it’s nice that an attempt was made to get as many characters into this as possible, even though a few of them (namely Buttons, Rita and Runt) slip through the cracks.

This may be a Pinky and the Brain episode (or is it? Keep reading…) but the mice don’t really get special treatment, with the Warners, Slappy and Plotz having just as big a role to play, if not bigger. Still, the pair get some good material, even if Brain is straight jacketed by the fact that the basic R2-D2 design he’s stuck with limits his expressions and physical acting. The cartoon’s main running gag involves Brain-2 being mistaken for various appliances, includes a mini-fridge, a vacuum, a mini-bar and a floor polisher. It’s another one of those jokes that works because of who it’s directed at, and it’s always funny when Brain is robbed of his dignity. Perhaps Brain’s best moment comes as he tries to continue his galactic domination broadcast while Wakko flails around him making gookies. Try as he might to keep a straight face and continue talking, Brain finally gives up, tosses his speech to the ground, says “Oh, never mind” and makes a gookie himself. As always, it’s LaMarche’s vocal performance that truly sells all of Brain’s dialogue, no matter how simple. As for Pinky, it’s been a while since he’s gotten a substantial amount of dialogue on a cartoon reviewed on this blog, so it’s a shock to see just how high his voice has gotten, especially the screeching cackle that’s replaced the goofy cockney laugh from the first Animaniacs production season. Still, it’s really entertaining to see them pretty much act as themselves, regardless of being in robot form, while everyone else is sticking a little closer to their Star Wars personas. And whether or not this is a true Pinky and the Brain episode…? Well, apparently it wasn’t since, according to Tom Ruegger, it was actually intended to be episode 100 of Animaniacs, but ended up being made under a Pinky and the Brain budget and schedule.

If that’s true, it definitely explains Wang’s animation, which is more in line with how it looked on Animaniacs by this point. Most of the characters come off okay, but once again, it’s the Warners who continue to look off. It doesn’t even seem like that long ago when Wang’s versions of Yakko, Wakko and Dot were incredibly distinctive, enough to make one almost forget about TMS and Startoons (at least during season three). But here, it seems like whatever team it is that’s animating this episode doesn’t even know how to keep the Warners on model. They’re all over the place in this episode, sometimes looking fine but most times looking like they just walked out of a bad Akom or Koko cartoon. It’s a bit of a shame, because there used to be a time when Wang’s animation had so much confidence and attitude, where in this cartoon a lot of it looks like they’re not really trying that hard. It’s rather fascinating to chart the rise and fall of this studio when it comes to WBTA. We go from their choppier, thick outlined days on the first season of Tiny Toon Adventures, to their more solid, expressive work through the early ’90s and into the beginning of the Kids WB era, to what we have now, which really lacks personality. Although they were never as good as the best TMS units or Startoons’ strongest animators, Wang was still a highly reliable studio for a very long time, and their work on the Warners and Pinky and the Brain in the first production season was always a lot of fun. They were skilled enough to even make Mindy and Buttons and Goodfeather shorts enjoyable, when those characters would have otherwise languished in the hands of Freelance or Akom. Their strongest Animaniacs cartoons, such as “Win Big”, “Bubba Bo Bob Brain”, “King Yakko”, “Yes Aways”, “O Silly Mio”, “Hercule Yakko”, “Hiccup”, “Super Strong Warner Siblings”, “Night of the Living Buttons” and “A Quake, A Quake” are easily among the show’s all-time best.

Finally, while Animaniacs was allowed to end with dignity, Pinky and the Brain wasn’t nearly as lucky. By 1997, a regime change at the WB had the show’s producers put under constant pressure to retool the show, downplay the world domination angle and add new characters. It was something the writers fought for a long time, with the season three cartoon “Pinky and the Brain…and Larry” pointing out just how unnecessary new characters were when it came to the premise of the show. It got so bad that Peter Hastings eventually left, with his final cartoon (“You’ll Never Eat Food Pellets in This Town Again”) directly mocking what was happening behind the scenes. When the series finally ended, the network got it’s way, and Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain premiered in the fall of 1998. While the basic formula was still there - world domination continued to be Brain’s goal - most of the new show was centered on the mice having to deal with being pets to Elmyra, who would brutalize them in various humiliating ways. Acme Labs was gone, as was the “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” shtick, and most fans were understandably outraged. The theme song even acknowledged how stupid the whole situation was, with lyrics like, “It’s what the network wants, why bother to complain?” Less than half of the thirteen-episode run aired in full before the series was cancelled, with the remaining episodes being chopped up and broadcast randomly in early 1999 on the compilation show The Cat & Birdy, Warneroonie, Pinky, Brainy Big Cartoonie Show. The series sat in well-deserved obscurity until January of 2014, when it was finally released on DVD. It was a pretty depressing end for a pair of characters that are considered by many people to be the very best thing to come out of Animaniacs. Thankfully, between starring in many terrific cartoons in the series’ first season, and then headlining 65 episodes of their own spin-off, Pinky and the Brain are very well remembered and loved today. They were characters who truly deserved their own show, with the producers and writers (not to mention the irreplaceable Paulsen and LaMarche) doing everything they could to make an enjoyable series out of a premise that you’d think would have gotten stale pretty quickly. Pinky and the Brain never did take over the world, but damn if they didn’t try!

NARF!

image

image

image

The Goodfeathers are the first recognizable characters to appear. Squit gets a little cocky when Bobby agrees with him that they shot first (could this be referencing that whole “Han Shot First” nonsense?), so Pesto beats the living daylight out of him. It’s pretty late for something like this, but Bobby gets a new catchphrase of sorts: “A little bit. Yeah, maybe just a little bit.” He says the exact same thing in Wakko’s Wish.

image

Brain-2 and Pinky-O pass a few characters who are clearly not supposed to be part of a Star Wars parody, including a guy in 20th century commando gear, and a pair of barbarians duking it out. It’s silly for the sake of being silly, but it’s still funny.

image

Dot rarely uses the “Princess Angelina…” intro, but they bring it back here, and change it up a bit. In this cartoon, Princess Dot’s full name is “Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana-Fana Leiana Pile-of-Origami the Third”. I guess that’s a play on “Leia Organa”, but she says it so fast the reference slips by. This sequence also includes some of the better Wang animation on one of the Warners.

image

First of all, I love this wacky drawing of Pinky-O. Secondly, this shot comes from a moment in the episode where the differences between the Pinky of the early Animaniacs episodes as the Pinky from later in the spin-off are obvious. There’s that high pitched cackle that grates on me the more I hear it (why Rob, why?) as well as an utterance of “Troz!” a new vocal tic that Pinky began saying in the episode “Snowball” when he realized the word was just “Zort” spelled backwards.

image

Brain’s back and forth with Mindy is similar to the one from “In the Garden of Mindy”, but this episode takes it to the next level by having Brain ask Pinky to make her stop. “Why?”, asks Pinky, laughing at his own cleverness. The spaced-out look on Mindy in this shot is priceless.

image

image

We’re almost at the end of this blog, but we still continue to get pairings that we’ve never seen before. Wakko explains that he’s got a nice big sand crop this year and later pays for his new droids with a handful of sand. Mindy may be a toddler, but even she doesn’t know how to react to this weirdness. I think her confused “uhhhh”, as she looks behind Wakko at his “crops” is the funnier reaction.

image

While I guess the idea that the interrogation droid is being played by Pip Pumphandle is funny enough, this scene does absolutely nothing for me. It’s impossible to come even close to replicating what made “Chairman of the Bored” so great, so I’m not sure why they even tried. But I guess they felt that just bringing him back once wasn’t enough, because he gets an even bigger role in Wakko’s Wish.

image

"You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. So be careful, we’re going in without an agent." I find myself adding that last bit to the "wretched hive…" line whenever I hear it in the movie. It’s a sickness.

image

image

image

The cantina scene is a treasure trove of character cameos, starting with a Martian bird from the Chuck Jones Marvin the Martian cartoons. Then we get an alien from “Space Probed”, Gossamer and Egghead Junior. The cantina band is played by Fanboy, Freakazoid and Mo-Ron, a nice shout out to the show, which by now had been gone from Kids WB for a while, and had been airing on Cartoon Network.

image

image

This pan is cameo central. Among the characters who appear are Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard (not shown), Zalgar (from the Pinky and the Brain episode “Plan Brain From Outer Space”), Duck Dodgers, Chuck Jones’ Abominable Snowman, Baloney, CLYDE (from the Tiny Toons short “CLYDE and Prejudice”), some Mon-Stars from Space Jam, a Street Shark (?!?), Toe from “Space Probed”, Marvin the Martian and K-9 (see below), William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nemoy as Doctor Spock. Who exactly is the red, blue and yellow superhero in the second screen shot?

image

Marvin the Martian shows off his explosive modulator and announces his intent to blow up the earth. Minerva, however, just thinks it’s a pick-up line. She shows up a little later, playing slave to Flabby the Butt. Minerva really should fire her agent.

image

He doesn’t appear in the long shot, but that’s Mr. Skullhead right behind Brain-2. The dog over there on the left looks a little bit like an alien version of Sam Sheepdog, doesn’t it?

image

This is pretty self explanatory, but the family being tortured by the paddleball documentary is obviously supposed to be a weird alien version of the Jetsons.

image

The training sequence is really well done, right down to the beautiful background paintings and the music. It really evokes the feeling of the Dagobah scenes from Empire Strikes Back. and again, Nathan Ruegger’s performance here is stellar.

image

Wang is really phoning it in with the Warners in this episode, but I really love this silly face Wakko makes after he gets squirted by the little training droid. It’s the mouth. I love it.

image

image

The idea of using gookies in place of the force is incredibly inspired, and leads to a lot of silly dialogue. “The face is strong in this one” is just perfect. I really like this drawing of Skippoda too.

image

Most of the characters in this episode show up in Wakko’s Wish, but here’s the last appearance of Sid the Squid and Beanie the Bison, playing Flabby’s palace guards. And instead of the Rancor being the monster kept in the pit, it’s Baloney the Dinosaur. Only his voice is heard, but that’s enough to scare anyone.

image

You’d think that a disgusting, drooling, slug creature would be beneath Flavio, but it’s still a natural casting choice. Although he talks in plain English, they give the voice an appropriate “Jabba” sound. Good thing The Phantom Menace wasn’t out yet, or they might have shoved poor Marita in here as his wife.

image

When Brain-2 asks, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”, Pinky-O responds, “Uh, I think so Brain-2, but a show about two talking lab mice? Hoo! It’ll never get on the air!” A perfect response for the final Pinky and the Brain episode. Fantastic.

image

This hurts to look at. Remember when Wang at least tried to make Slappy look halfway decent? What’s with the hair?

image

image

image

image

image

A variety of screenshots showing off a bunch of great gookies. The best might be Wakko tapping Plotz on the shoulder to get him to turn around and then jumping up and down like a monkey. The longer Wakko sustains this gookie, the funnier it is.

image

How often do you get to see Pinky and Yakko share a scene together? It’s something that almost never happens, so it’s nice to see my two favorite Rob Paulsen characters laughing and having a good time like this. Yakko looks incredibly off in this shot but honestly…this is pretty much how he looks through most of the episode. And to think that Yakko was the character that Wang really had the most fun with in the first and third seasons.

image

One last gookie, this time from the Mega Star. Gotta love it.

image

Even til the bitter end, one thing that was ALWAYS amazing in the Wang-animated Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain cartoons were those beautiful backgrounds. Pinky and the Brain may be in for a lot of pain in their next series, but at least they were treated pretty well in Wakko’s Wish.

And speaking of which, there’s only one more thing to talk about, and that’s Wakko’s Wish itself! Because of it’s length, discussion of the movie will take place in three parts. Check back soon!

7 notes

It Actually Doesn’t Stink!: Episode 99

On November 14th, 1998, the final episode of Animaniacs finally aired. It was first broadcast as part of an hour-long event titled “The Ultimate Animaniacs Super Special”. Placed in the middle of the episode was “Star Warners”, the Star Wars themed Pinky and the Brain series final that acted as a crossover between both shows. This entry will just discuss episode 99, with “Star Warners” following as a bonus post.

Newsreel of the Stars

You know, just in case the final episode happens to be the first one you’ve ever seen…

Extended Theme Song

For the very last time that we’re going to see the theme song, we get the extended opening with the “…while Bill Clinton plays the sax” line intact. This makes episode 99 the only way to see this longer opening the way it was originally written. If you thought the minute-long instrumental montage here was fun, just wait until “The Animaniacs Suite”.

Variable Verse: Pinky and the Brain-y

Bumper: Birds on a Wire

In a short segment that’s similar to the Goodfeathers material added to part one of “Hooray For North Hollywood”, Squit, Pesto and Bobby marvel at a beautiful sunrise. Pesto is a little confused about what direction the breeze is blowing from, and Squit makes the unfortunate mistake of correcting him. If you’ve seen the other two segments, you should know how this one ends. This is the last bit of Koko animation we’ll see on the show, and though their stuff was never perfect, the Goodfeathers look fine, about on par with how Akom handled them. I wonder if this was actually meant for episode 95 but got bumped down to this episode. That’s certainly what it seems like.

image

image

image

It’s funny to think that, before episode 95, we hadn’t gotten a real Squit/Pesto fight since episode 69. And now, here we are on our fourth one. Even after all this time, and even though the Goodfeathers haven’t appeared too much during the Kids WB era, LaMarche, Mariano and Venerra still do a great job with these guys and the interplay between the three of them is still pretty funny. Koko doesn’t do a bad job, either. The background sunrise painting is particularly strong.

image

The entire cast has gathered to record the score to a new Animaniacs episode. However, instead of Richard Stone, they’re introduced to a pompous rhinoceros named Neivel Nosenest, who explains that their usual conductor is “having a long deserved rest at the Camarillo”. Nosenest has some very specific rules regarding musician conduct, which are all broken when the Warners arrive late and unprepared to play. It takes forever to get started, as Dot questions what’s written on her sheet music, followed by everyone else. After a few more false starts, the orchestra begins to score the cartoon, which mainly features Ralph chasing the Warners around the lot. Floating music notes suddenly get out of control, causing Yakko and Wakko to bring the session to a halt when they chase them with bug spray and a fly swatter. Next, the kids decide that they’d rather conduct the orchestra themselves, with Neivel struggling to get a hold of his baton. Just as he’s about to lose his temper, the session ends, but Nosenest learns that none of the music was recorded, and he has to start again. But just as he does, Yakko calls for a lunch break, and the orchestra immediately leaves. Finally losing it, Neivel snaps completely and runs right through a wall of the building.

As the final original Animaniacs cartoon, “The Scoring Session” accomplishes several things. First, it gives the Warners one more original foil to aggravate. While I generally prefer that human characters go up against the kids as opposed to animals, Neivel is interesting enough, and Michael McKean does a good job making his voice memorable. Accompanying him is the little bluebird, who lives inside his nostril, explaining the rhino’s rather interesting last name. He’s definitely a pretentious, stuffed shirt, but you have to wonder if the Warners are intentionally trying to drive him crazy. I mean, they had no idea he was going to be there when they showed up late, so maybe there’s a really good reason why Richard Stone needed a “vacation”. Next, this is yet another short that throws a ton of characters together, and although a few of them are MIA (where’s Buttons?) among the ones we do get to see are Frau Hasenpfeffer, Walter, Sid, Beanie…and Stinkbomb Bassett…for some reason. None of the secondary characters really have anything to do and most of them don’t even talk, but it’s nice to see them all together one last time, on the series itself at least. The show also ends the same way it began, with animation supplied by Wang. Their work is about average here (strange because their last batch of Pinky and the Brain cartoons, airing around the same time, looked much better) but there are fun moments of fuller animation, and it’s nice to see the final original Animaniacs segment being animated by a studio that had been a part of the show since the very beginning. However, this wouldn’t be the last time Wang would handle these characters, as they also animated the Pinky and the Brain finale, “Star Warners”, and would continue to work with the mice on Pinky, Elmrya and the Brain, a show I’ll discuss further in the following entry.

And finally, the cartoon acts a tribute of sorts to Stone’s work on Animaniacs. By setting it in the recording studio and putting an emphasis on the importance of the show’s background score, it acknowledges how essential Stone has been to the series, as well as several other WB shows during this period. Over the years, many had called him the next Carl Stalling, and while I wouldn’t go that far, his ability to create unique musical themes and play to what was happening on-screen gave the WBTA series produced during the ’90s a feel that has yet to be matched. Unlike many cartoons made today - which use synthesized scores or smaller orchestras - Stone not only had a full orchestra at his disposal, but he also worked in the same studio, with the same acoustics, where the classic Looney Tunes theatricals were scored over half a century earlier. It’s impossible to imagine Animaniacs, Pinky and Brain or Freakzoid  (to name just three shows) without Stone’s instrumental scores, and when he died from pancreatic cancer in 2001, it was truly the end of an era at Warner Brothers Animation.

"The Scoring Session" is certainly no masterpiece, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. It’s funny enough, and between giving so many characters quick cameos and paying tribute to the music of the show, the short does what it needs to do in order to be an appropriate "final" original Animaniacs cartoon. But that said, it’s really just a warm-up to the short that follows it.

image

Once again, here’s another random appearance by Vena Whaleen. She sure keeps popping up for cameos despite starring in only one, early first season cartoon. If someone hadn’t seen “Bumbie’s Mom” they’d have no idea who she even was. And yuck, Wang really lost it when it comes to Slappy, hadn’t they?

image

It’s very rare to see Katie Ka-Boom among the rest of the cast. They’re really trying hard to stick in as many re-occurring characters as they possibly can, which makes Buttons’ absence even stranger. But if you want to talk about strange, what in the world is Stinkbomb doing there?

image

The Camarillo was a mental institution in California. If the usual scoring sessions were anything like they are with Neivel conducting, I’m not surprised at all that Richard Stone would need a break. Of course, the joke works several ways, considering just how busy Stone must have been in the mid-to-late ’90s at Warners.

image

Yakko and Dot wonder how someone could get a name like Neivel Nosenest. The real life answer is actually pretty hilarious. It was a name made up by Tom Ruegger and his kids after seeing An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Take the last three words and switch the first letters to N’s. Neivel Nose Nest.

image

"Yeah, I have a G flat. Definitely a…definitely a G flat." Yet more dialogue from Runt, whose been talking more since season five than he has in seasons three and four. Not a peep from Rita though.

image

Have you ever seen such off model Goodfeathers before? This wouldn’t even be so bad if they didn’t linger on this shot for so long. The weird girly faces on Pesto and Bobby are pretty hard to ignore.

image

Neivel tells Dot and Hello Nurse that he wants them to play the next section of the cartoon badly. “Well, you’ve come to the right place”, explains Dot. Wakko then pops in and says, “Can we play badly too?” “We won’t let you down!”, agrees Yakko. Neivel’s understated little “no” is probably the funniest part of the cartoon.

image

Walter reminisces about the old days of playing at the Philharmonic. This is the last time Walter, Sid and Beanie will be seen together. Beanie and Sid show up briefly in “Star Warners”, but Walter never appears again after this. Still not a bad run for a stereotypical Slappy Squirrel bad guy, though.

image

Speaking of the last time we’re going to see a minor character, here’s Miss Flamiel. Like Walter, this cartoon is also her final appearance.

image

image

There’s some really nice full animation in this scene as Wakko pops out of Neivel’s sleeve, grabs his baton and dives back into his clothes. Most of the better animation in this cartoon seems to go to Wakko, for whatever reason.

image

We get a quick appearance from Bubba Bo Bob Brain during the cartoon that’s being scored, a really great shout-out to one of the very best Pinky and the Brain cartoons.

image

As Yakko and Neivel struggle over the remote, the music constantly changes, while the cartoon on the screen keeps alternating between the Warners/Ralph chase and the Hip Hippos. Interesting to see Flavio and Marita treated like important Animaniacs characters in this way. They’d do little more than stand around in the background in Wakko’s Wish.

image

This segment uses the animation from the “Special Presentation” bumper that first appeared in episode 35. Most of the dialogue is redubbed, so that Dot and Yakko tell the viewers at home to “Gather around the TV set and celebrate…the first 99 episodes of Animaniacs.” “And here’s the good news folks…”, says Dot. Holding his nose and moving close to the camera, Wakko shouts, “It actually doesn’t stink!” This final bit of animation was what had appeared overseas, in place of “I’m not wearing any pants!”, although in that case Wakko’s line was, “It’s especially stinky!” Because US fans had never seen it, this represents the final bit of “new” TMS animation to appear on the show.

image

image

It’s nice that this last “new” piece of TMS animation had been handled by one of TMS’ best teams. I remember first seeing this intro and hoping Dot’s “good news” was that we were getting more episodes of the show. That obviously didn’t happen, but at least the following short is a fantastic sendoff…

image

For almost seven and a half minutes, we’re treated to an incredible piece of music by composer Richard Stone, easily his greatest achievement on the series. “The Animaniacs Suite” begins with a fantastic overture, continues with the show’s theme, runs though the signature tunes of just about every main character, and wraps up once again with the theme music. But that simplistic description isn’t near enough to describe how wonderful this suite is. There’s so much emotion put into every note: we get a haunting, romantic version of the Animaniacs theme, and a really fascinating new bit of music that leads into the standard Pinky and the Brain arrangement. Slappy’s theme (“Humoresque”) is played twice, first in a very laid back manner and then as a more manic version. The Warners’ theme gets special attention and, in a very clever bit of scoring, it’s combined with familiar motifs such as “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. The Mindy and Goodfeathers themes come and go pretty fast, but a big surprise is the appearance of Rita’s theme, which they linger on twice. All of this is so well put together and so easy to listen to on its own. In fact, it’s been constantly playing on my iPod since beginning this project, and is always a big motivator during times of frustration or moments when I wonder if I should continue. By the time we get to the final moments of the suite, with the Animaniacs theme ending in the standard five-note motif that Richard Stone often closed his cartoons with, it’s not hard to have some sort of emotional reaction. In fact, Rob Paulsen has mentioned that he had been asked by Stone to watch him record the suite, and has admitted to being in tears while listening to it.

Adding to the power of this piece is the amazing amount of episode clips accompanying it, ranging from the very first cartoon in the very first episode all the way to “The Christmas Tree”. Things begin appropriately enough with a shot of Steven Spielberg from “Three Tenors and You’re Out”, continuing with various establishing shots of the water tower, Acme Labs, Slappy’s tree, etc. Once things really begin and the music takes off, the clips start coming fast and furious. They manage to hit many of the most memorable Animaniacs moments: the Warners fighting for the phone in “Temporary Insanity”, various explosive scenes from the Slappy cartoons, Pinky kicking Brain while doing the trepak from “Pavolv’s Mice”, the Warners’ overdone freak-out from “The Warners and the Beanstalk”, Buttons quitting from “Astro Buttons” and so much more that it’s impossible to name them all. The Pinky and the Brain sequence is especially solid, although they seem to go a little overboard with the “Brain’s Apprentice” clips, ignoring many better cartoons entirely. And it’s only in retrospect when you realize that scenes from “Yakko’s World”, “Wakko’s America” or “Dot-the Macadamia Nut”, some of the best remembered musical moments in the show, aren’t shown at all. And as often happens, not much effort is paid to Rita and Runt, who appear mostly via scenes from “Home on De-Nile”, run one after the other. But this is all just nit-picking, as it must have been a daunting task for editor Al Breitenbach to comb through 98 episodes in order to pick the best clips. This all combines with the music to create something I want to watch and listen to over and over again, and I honestly never get tired of any of it. The final few seconds, which act as one last curtain call for Dot, Yakko and Wakko is absolutely perfect and is probably the moment where - when I think about it in my mind - I get the most choked up.

Very few cartoon series get to go out in style like this, and Animaniacs was very lucky to be popular and well-loved enough to actually get that final tribute that it deserved, instead of petering out and ending on some random episode because no one producing it cared any more. That the show lasted as long as it did, even after a network switch cost it ratings and viewers, was a testament to its quality and the loyalty shown to it by its fans. Animaniacs was the very definition of lightening in a bottle, and there’s never going to be another show quite like it. It’s a combination of dedicated producers, writers and directors, some incredible vocal talent, one of the best cartoon composers of the past fifty years, and some unbelievably strong animation. The show wasn’t always consistent, but when it was good, it was really damn good. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with the early Ren and Stimpy episodes and the first eight seasons of the Simpsons as one of the greatest cartoon series of the ’90s. This blog isn’t quite over, but I think the following credit - the first thing seen as the credit sequence fades in after “The Animaniacs Suite” ends - says it best…

image

Joke Credit: Just Wait Until Episode #100!: And Wait! And Wait! And Wait!

Tower Outro: Goooodbyyye Nurse!

4 notes

I’d Like To Thank The Academy, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford’s Taxidermist: Episode 98

The penultimate Animaniacs episode, this one is really all over the place. We get the worst Slappy cartoon of the entire series, a really bizarre Chicken Boo cartoon animated by Startoons and, just when we all thought we were done with her, one final Katie Ka-Boom short. And it all starts off with a lazy, hybrid opening theme that sets a weird tone for the rest of the show.

Theme Song (Christmas Version)

This opening uses the same snowy visuals from episode 50 (including the Clinton and Pinky and the Brain animation) but pairs it with the usual Kids WB lyrics. So, for example, we see Clinton, but we hear about income taxes. It’s really bizarre that they went out of their way to do something like this when only one segment is Christmas-themed, not to mention the fact that the episode itself first aired in the Spring of 1998.

Variable Verse: Candy Cane-y!

No, a new variable verse wasn’t animated. They just took the “Citizen Cane-y!” animation and played some new audio over it.

image

A large pine tree is chopped down, taken from its forest home and brought to New York City, where it’s placed in Rocky Fellow Center at Christmastime. Inside the tree lives Slappy Squirrel, who is awakened from hibernation when her snack alarm goes off. She follows her map to the nuts she’s buried, little realizing that she’s no longer in the forest, and causes several multiple car pile-ups and assorted confusion. Slappy returns to her tree and goes back to sleep, only to be awakened by Skippy, who is bothered by the caroling and bright lights outside. Half asleep, Slappy tosses some water on the carolers, and smashes the electrical box controlling all the lights to the city, thinking both are just annoying forest neighbors. Thinking that someone has demolished the forest, Slappy goes after people with a broom, forcing animal control to be called. When that doesn’t work, Slappy is evicted from her tree, and is informed that she’s in the middle of New York City. Furious, the squirrel heads into the Rocky Fellow Center offices and gives the CEO (voiced by Buddy Hackett) a piece of her mind, asking him how he’d feel if his house was moved somewhere else. For her trouble, Slappy is bodily kicked out, and retaliates by moving the CEO’s house into the middle of the city, where it becomes infested with homeless people and hot dog vendors. This is enough to make the CEO see things Slappy’s way, and her tree is moved back to the forest where it belongs. At Rocky Fellow Center, meanwhile, the tree is replaced by the WB studio water tower, much to the aggravation of the Warners.

We’ve come a long way in order to get to it, but “The Christmas Tree” is the very last Slappy Squirrel cartoon. And sadly, it’s also one of the worst as well. My chief complaint (and one that’s very hard for me to look past) is how severely it messes with Slappy in order to get her to fit this story. While a couple of first season cartoons toyed with her a little bit, putting her in the Garden of Eden or Kentucky in the 1700s, all “modern” Slappy cartoons held fast to the idea that she was a vintage cartoon star who lives inside an oak tree in the middle of a park in Burbank, California. In order for this story to work, Slappy (and Skippy as well) becomes more of an everyday squirrel living in a pine tree (in Canada apparently, judging by the accents of the loggers) who goes into hibernation in the winter. It’s not like the writers didn’t know anything about this character either, since Tom Ruegger and Randy Rogel both worked on this one. Slappy’s main appeal lies in her backstory, so dumbing her down like this doesn’t make any sense to me. She’s also pretty clueless throughout most of the first act, practically channeling Mister Magoo by being oblivious to all the chaos she’s causing as she follows her map to a storage of nuts, going as far as digging a hole in the middle of a bagel store in order to find them. Then later she attacks an electrical box, attempting to make her “chipmunk neighbors” turn off their tiki lamps. In fact, until she’s told that she’s in New York City, she’s under the impression that “some no-good developer demolished our forest and put buildings all around us!” I’m sorry, but I can’t buy the idea that Slappy could possibly be this stupid. And if that wasn’t jarring enough, her size fluctuates wildly all through the short, going from being her usual height to being almost the size of a real squirrel when she confronts the Rocky Feller CEO. Then we have things like animal control being called, lingering plot holes (no one noticed this big tree had a front door?) and Wang’s generally uninteresting animation. There’s very little here I actually like, aside from “Katie Cupcake” (which is a cheap joke, but it makes me laugh anyway), the uniqueness of the New York setting, and the great design of the CEO. And even if I could get past all that, I find that Slappy’s revenge is pretty toothless, especially for her. She moves this guy’s house and inconveniences him slightly, so he immediately gives in to her demands. That’s it - no anvils, no dynamite, nothing even remotely like that in this short. There was always a remarkable sense of tameness to a lot of Slappy shorts during the Kids WB era, and it’s a shame that the last one we ever got was such a gigantic dud. I remember watching this episode when it first aired and feeling so unbelievably let down over the fact that so much airtime in the second-to-last Animaniacs episode was being taken up by this cartoon. I don’t think there’s anything left for me to say about this one.

With 24 separate cartoons to her credit, Slappy holds the record for the most active secondary character on Animaniacs, with almost as many entries made during the Kids WB years as in the original production run. Looking back on her first season cartoons, Slappy really is one of the most fascinating characters on the show. Her character was very clearly defined in her earliest shorts thanks in large part to Sherri Stoner, who not only voiced Slappy but wrote several of her cartoons as well. Stoner had a wicked sense of humor, and it’s no surprise that the Slappy cartoons she wrote are some of the best remembered in the series. But as influential as Stoner was, so much of what made the Slappy shorts work in the first place was that the majority of them went to Startoons, who very quickly made her their own. That studio’s style was unlike any other animation house WBTA farmed their work out to in the early ’90s, and they took an immediate liking to Slappy. Thanks to Startoons, Slappy and her universe seemed visually unique compared to most of the other characters, and it always seemed like a comedown when another studio (even TMS) would work with her. Despite the basic “blow up the bad guy” nature of their plots, most Slappy cartoons didn’t follow one specific formula, unlike Pinky and the Brain, Buttons and Mindy, Chicken Boo or Katie Ka-Boom, whose shorts were all about formula. Slappy’s relationship with Skippy also added another layer to these cartoons, and young Nathan Ruegger did a lot to make Skippy just as fun a character as his aunt. As mentioned many times in the past, the decision to remove the mice from the show and overcompensate by making a proportionately large amount of Slappy cartoons in the third season really worked against her. I can’t think of any Slappy shorts from the Kids WB era that I’d say are truly great, with most being anywhere from average to terrible. Toning down the violence didn’t help either, and making her this put-upon character (or worse, an obnoxious pest) really went completely against what worked in the first season. While Pinky and the Brain thrived on their own show, and Buttons and Mindy, Chicken Boo and the Hippos showed up in their fair share of legitimately strong cartoons, Slappy’s career slipped into mediocrity as the Kids WB seasons went on. It really seemed like no one knew what to do with her anymore. That feeling was never stronger than in Wakko’s Wish, where Slappy and Skippy became such an inconsequential part of the movie that they barely had any dialogue outside of musical numbers. But we’ll cover that in due time.

image

So I’m to assume that Slappy didn’t feel it when her home was toppled sideways onto a flatbed truck like that? I know they’re hoping we don’t realize she’s even in there but…come on.

image

I’m so busy paying attention to the World Trade Center (ah, simpler times) that I always miss the Santa hat, beard and belt on the Statue of Liberty.

image

As much as I don’t like the cartoon, “Katie Cupcake” just breaks me. I’m already smiling at the ridiculous Katie Couric caricature, but then they say her name. I laughed at this stupid joke, and I’m not ashamed.

image

It just bothers me to no end that Slappy stores nuts in a forest and hibernates through the winter. I’m sorry, that’s not Slappy Squirrel. But, “I’d like to thank the academy, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford’s taxidermist”? That’s definitely a great Slappy line. Too bad it’s buried in such a weak cartoon.

image

I get that she’s got her nose buried in a map, but I doubt Slappy is so unobservant that she doesn’t notice what’s going on around her. She even takes her eyes off her map once she gets to the bagel store, digs a hole in the floor, notices there are no nuts and casually walks out without being aware of her surroundings. Brainless, hopelessly tunnel-visioned characters do that, not Slappy Squirrel.

image

They don’t bother pitching up Skippy’s voice in this cartoon, and leave it the way it sounds in “Bully For Skippy”. Too bad he’s not given anything interesting to say. Skippy is really only in this one because he NEEDS to be.

image

I guess Branimaniacs grows on ya, huh? Skippy certainly seems to be enjoying it.

image

image

image

image

It’s the incredible shrinking Slappy. She gets smaller and smaller as this scene progresses that, by the third screenshot, she’s literally only a few inches tall. What the bloody hell happened with this cartoon? Why is she so small? On the other hand, the design of the CEO is fantastic. Wang handles all the human characters just fine here, but they seem to have lost their touch with the squirrels.

image

Voiced by MacNeille, this old lady has been popping up on the show for a while. Remember the old woman from “Davy Omelette”, for example? This same character design turned up later on Histeria as The World’s Oldest Woman.

image

Character Cameo: so here’s our very last Warner cameo, which is also the only time they even appear in this episode. Dot shouts for someone to turn off the lights, and the entire city goes dark, followed by the cartoon itself.

Punchline part 1

(no credits given)

For tonight’s installment of “Punchline”, anchorman Ted Foppel intends to answer that age-old riddle, why did the chicken cross the road? With him is criminologist Doctor Henry Peckaboo, who is just Chicken Boo in a wig. Mistaking Peckaboo’s clucking for microphone troubles, Foppel turns to his first guest, the Brain, who offers some conspiracy theories, a la the JFK assassination. However, Pinky is pretty sure Dr. Peckaboo is just a giant chicken. The Goodfeathers are interviewed next, and deny there ever was a chicken in the first place. Squit explains that it could very well have been Pesto, and suffers for it when Pesto takes it the wrong way. Finally, Foppel turns things over to roving reporter Runt, who follows the chicken’s scent right into the television studio and reveals that Peckaboo was a giant chicken the whole time. Wrapping up the broadcast, Foppel announces that the chicken crossed the road “to get to this very studio!”

For our final Chicken Boo cartoon, we get something completely different than what we’re used to, in a number of ways. The formula is still there - Chicken Boo shows up in a disguise, one person sees him for what he is, he’s unmasked, theme music, the end - but this short seems to exist just throw a bunch of other characters into the mix. And in the case of the Goodfeathers and Runt, it’s rather welcome after seeing so little of them lately. This is probably the funniest the pigeons have been in a while, and it’s nice to see a little-used character like Runt actually contribute to a plot in some way. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this segment is that it was animated by Startoons. Most of it looks good, although this is probably their all-around weakest cartoon from this season. Animators’ styles aren’t very apparent, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this was something that slipped through the cracks and was mostly handled overseas. To be honest, there are much better Chicken Boo entries out there, but this one gets points for the fun character cameos, and is very easily the highlight of this episode. It’s actually kind of amazing to think that the Chicken Boo formula has sustained so many cartoons, and that it’s done so without becoming incredibly stale. It’s the same joke every single time, but it’s such an absurd, high concept idea that it’s hard not to love it. The fact that there were more cartoons starring Chicken Boo made during the Kids WB seasons than anyone else aside from the Warners and Slappy really speaks volumes about just how much the writers must have enjoyed this character. Re-visiting the show the way I have in the past year, I’m surprised that I ended up liking these shorts so much more than I ever did before. He wore a disguise to look like human guys. But he wasn’t a man. He was Chicken Boo. Nuff said.

"Punchline" isn’t just Chicken Boo’s swansong, but (barring a very short callback at the end of the episode) it’s the last time we’ll see Startoons on this show as well.  Their work this season was very hit or miss. When they were on - as they were through a lot of episode 92 - their stuff was just as good as it ever was, if not better. But inexperienced artists, coupled with the need to ship work overseas to be completed, really hurt the overall quality of their output, and even cartoons with some spectacular work (such as "Brain’s Apprentice") also include some unfortunately below par animation. After they were finished with Animaniacs, Startoons was given a handful of episodes of Histeria to work on, but by this point Warners was moving away from the comedy shows and was favoring superhero series and imports. Try as they might, McClenahan and crew attempted to find outside work, but the writing was on the wall, and Startoons folded soon after. It was a very sad ending for a studio that had added so much to Animaniacs' visual style and had given the show so many of its brightest and most enjoyable cartoons. Studios like Startoons rarely came along in the ’90s and are all but gone today, and I think we should all be thankful that Jon McClenahan (as well as Jeff Siergey, Spike Brandt, Neal Sternecky, Tony Cervone, Kirk Tingblad, David Pryor and others) worked so hard to help make the series so special. “Bumbie's Mom”, “Chairman of the Bored”, “Critical Condition”, “Plane Pals”, “Frontier Slappy”, “Ragamuffins”, “Dot-the Macadamia Nut”…all some of the best Animaniacs had to offer, and all animated by an upstart little studio in Chicago.

image

The “Punchline” title screen appears in both segments, and it appears to have been created via CGI. I can’t confirm it, but I’m still pretty sure.

image

Startoons nails Chicken Boo on the very first try, which is more than I can say for Wang. “Peckaboo” is a great name. Vaguely dirty, but not quite.

image

image

image

image

Although McClenahan doesn’t remember much about this short, he has mentioned that Neal Sternecky did some freelance work for it. Looking at this scene and recalling his style with Pinky and the Brain in the DC comic, I’m positive he handled this entire sequence. This is definitely the best scene in the cartoon from a visual standpoint, and it’s really nice to see the mice interacting with dialogue again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Brain’s face in the last screenshot is perfect.

image

image

image

Startoons had an interesting take on the Goodfeathers. Very angular, but with lots of personality. Makes me almost wish they had done a full cartoon with them in the first season. Check out the drawing in that last screenshot. Holy cow.

image

image

The animation on Runt isn’t as good as the other characters, but we see so little of him that I really don’t care. As a matter of fact, this is the first time we hear Runt’s theme music since the first season. Surprisingly, Rita and Runt are actually treated pretty well in Wakko’s Wish, which is pretty mind blowing when you think about it.

Katie Ka-Boom intro

image

Katie has been asked to the senior prom, and begins to make all sorts of unreasonable demands of her family, claiming it to be the most important night of her life. But it really hits the fan when Katie makes it clear that she intends to stay out all night, prompting her dad to insist on a curfew. Losing it, Katie turns into a big green monster wearing a prom dress and way too much pink lipstick. Refusing to back down, dad compromises with Katie, and she returns to normal after they settle on a 1:30 curfew. Crisis averted, dad asks, “This is a passing phase right?” “Yeah, like the Ice Age”, explains mom.

Back when I first saw episode 35, I never would have guessed that the strange, exploding teenager who came and went out of nowhere would have stuck around long enough to be showing up this late in the series. This is clearly a very, very old script that sat around for a good long time before someone thought to produce it, hence Hollander’s writing credit. I’ve heard someone say that this was a fully completed cartoon that took forever to air, but I’m not sure I believe it. The animation is too “fifth season Wang” to have been made any earlier. And as to be expected, this is the same thing we’ve seen in all the other Kaboom shorts, as if they just cut and pasted entire bits of action and dialogue from one script to another. However, one thing makes this entry stand out, and that’s Katie’s father actually standing up to her and forcing her to compromise with him. It breaks the “rules” of this series just a little bit, and I appreciate that they did something a little different here. This is enough to put it above most of the other shorts in this mediocre series. But let’s be honest…is there anyone out there that’s actually satisfied that the next-to-last Animaniacs episode in the series more or less ends on a Katie Ka-Boom cartoon? Katie makes a suprise cameo in the following episode, as well as Wakko’s Wish…as long as you know where to look.

image

Check out the picture in the background. It’s Wakko’s guitar from “No Pain, No Painting”. What a random reference.

image

The telephone monster spit telephones, the belly button monster spit clothes and the prom monster…materializes a disco ball over her head. These cartoons aren’t very funny, but they sure could be trippy.

image

But I can’t be too hard on this short, if only for the fact that dad actually grows a pair and stands up to his freak of a daughter, successfully getting her to say please while in monster form. See, maybe if you guys stood up to her more often this wouldn’t happen.

image

The house collapses even though Katie doesn’t damage it very much. But that’s part of the cut and paste nature of this series. The house HAS to collapse, no matter what happens. This might have come from a completely different cartoon.

Punchline part 2

Ted Foppel plans to figure out which really came first - the chicken or the egg. He gets his answer when an egg falls on his head, followed by Chicken Boo. There’s really nothing to be said here. Those two summary sentences took longer to write than the segment takes to watch. I do like how it appears as if we’re getting another full cartoon…and then it just ends.

image

image

image

Just a few frames from this last segment. Nothing special, though I like the egg-shaped iris out.

Joke Credit: You Better Not Cry, You Better Not Pout, I’m Telling You Why: Wakko Put A Little Surprise In The Eggnog

Tower Outro: "Sit, Ubu, sit."

1 note

I’M GONNA BE CARSICK!!: Episode 97

Newsreel of the Stars

Yup, they’re using this again, the easiest way to kill a minute of air time.

Variable Verse: Here’s the Show’s Name-y!

image

Ed, Phil and Jan are picking up some new members of their carpool right outside a certain water tower. Wearing business suits, the Warners pile into the car and everyone heads off to work. It doesn’t take long for the kids to get on Ed’s nerves, as they tie him up in their seat belts, steal his newspaper and aggravate the guy just by being themselves. Ed attempts to change seats with them several times, only to immediately regret it when the Warners start playing with the controls for the seat in front of him, as well as the one he’s sitting in. Everyone quickly vacates the car when Wakko announces he’s car sick, and a trip to the car wash becomes necessary when he throws up all over the seats. As they continue on, Ed forbids the kids from doing anything, but relents when they ask if they can play a game. That game of course is tag, and Phil almost runs the car off the road when Wakko covers his eyes. Losing his temper, Phil ends up yelling at a cop, and the others have to bail him out of jail. Finally, the weary threesome reach their destination, and are shocked when the Warners tell them they don’t have jobs - they’re just carpooling for the free ice cream the studio gives as incentive for doing so. “We’ll pick you guys up tonight at five. And you can relax on the way home - it’s our turn to drive!” explains Yakko, who drives off, smashing into everything on his way out of the parking lot.

"The Carpool" represents the end of an era. It’s the very last short that can truly be called a Warners cartoon (they feature heavily in episode 99’s "The Scoring Session", but they still share screen time with the rest of the cast). And although it’s not all that memorable, at least they’re going out on an entry that brings the characters back to their roots. This is a "Warners annoy someone" cartoon in its purest form, and it puts them in a simplistic situation that wouldn’t have been at all out of place in the first season. Granted, if this had been made in the first season I’m sure the jokes, not to mention the animation, would have been much stronger. But for something produced this late in the series, what we got isn’t too bad. The most successful aspect of this short is big, surly Ed, whose on the receiving end of most of the torment in this hellish car ride. Jan and Phil (voiced by MacNeille and Paulsen respectively) are designs simply pulled from the background character model pack, but Ed was created specifically for this cartoon. Helping immensely is his voice, supplied by Stuart Pankin, who most people remember as the voice of Earl Sinclair from the Disney/Henson TV show Dinosaurs. He doesn’t necessarily deserve to be annoyed by the Warners, but he’s such a short-tempered grump that we don’t mind too much. Even Jan and Phil seem to treat him like he’s over-reacting to the kids at first. Wakko getting car sick is truly the big highlight of the cartoon and I like the way everyone (even Yakko and Dot) can’t get out of the car fast enough. As Phil, Paulsen’s read on “You’re not gonna throw up in the car?” is especially good. But aside from that, most of the jokes don’t really stick, and there are far too many moments that appear to be ADR chatter as the Warners constantly talk over each other. The final scene is great though, and the shot of Yakko trying to exit the parking lot as Ed, Jan and Phil run off screaming in terror is very funny.

Koko’s animation also doesn’t leave much of an impression. They handle the human characters well (their house style definitely fits Ed’s design) but their Warners really look off. In their earlier cartoons they seemed determined to keep the kids as close to on-model as possible, to the point where they looked like they were being animated by Akom. Here, they come off very  angular, and it takes some getting used to. There are some moments that I like - such as Wakko cracking up while looking at a photo of Ted Turner in the newspaper or Ed being pummeled by his car seat - but the majority of the animation is about average. Still, it has a little more character than Wang’s animation in the previous episode and I can’t find too much fault in it. While it’s a little bland, there’s nothing in this cartoon that’s aggressively bad, and it ends long before it manages to wear out its welcome. Is it the greatest Warners short ever made? Of course not, but it’s reasonably entertaining, and much better than most of what we’ve gotten with these characters this season. For the final Warners cartoon of the series, we could have definitely gotten something much worse. I’ll wrap up discussion on the Warners when we get to the final episode, where I’ll also sum up my thoughts on the series as a whole.

image

So here are Jan, Ed and Phil. Jan’s character design is recognizable as Miss Bilchmoytner from “La La Law”, which has turned up elsewhere with different hair and skin colors. Ed’s design is really great, and really plays to Koko’s strengths. He almost looks like a human version of Pankin’s Earl Sinclair.

image

This shot is the first of two scenes that utilize a lot of ADR of the Warners yelling over each other. Dot’s voice is hard to ignore, and comes off as borderline obnoxious.

image

Here’s a good look at how Koko handles the Warners. Their angular style is very apparent on Yakko, especially in the shape of his ears. It’s a little jarring at first, but I wonder what Koko would have done with the Warners if they had been given more time to work with them. They seem to be trying to make them look extremely wacky, but aren’t always able to pull it off.

image

That said, I love this face on Yakko when he see’s the picture of Ted Turner in the newspaper. Paulsen’s performance here (“Hahaha-haha! Oh look at him! What’s he doin’? Hee-hee hee-hee!”) is hysterical.

image

Here’s another scene with obvious ADR, easy to spot since the Warners don’t actually move their mouths during most of their dialogue here. This is yet another instance where Dot gets on my nerves.

image

image

This is one of the best bits of animation in the cartoon. I especially like the way the seat repeatedly slams Ed in the back. The poses read very well in this shot.

image

We get one of the best gookies in a long time when Wakko groans, “I’m gonna be carsick!” Everyone races out of the car as fast as they can, and Phil begs Wakko to get out as well. Wakko: Nevermind, it’s okay now! Ed: Are you sure? Wakko: Yep! Phil: You’re not gonna throw up in the car? Wakko: No!! - this is a great run of dialogue, made funnier by the way Wakko lets them know he’s already thrown up after they get back in the car.

image

Everyone is pretty roughed up by the time they get to work, but the cartoon takes it’s time to show Phil slowly stagger out of the car and place his hand on his lower back. He just spent some time in jail, so I really don’t want to know what this implies.

image

One final parting look at Koko’s Warners. To be honest, they don’t look that bad in this cartoon and I think, in time, Koko might have been able to do something interesting with them. But we’ll never know.

Slappy and Skippy intro

image

Slappy comes home one day to some great news from Skippy - her agent got her a job appearing in a live TV special celebrating vintage comedy acts. When Slappy questions why Skippy is nervously hiding all of her explosives, she learns there’s one catch: the network wants her to perform “The Restaurant Sketch” with her old partner, Suzy Squirrel. Slappy doesn’t think much of Suzy (which is putting it mildly) and we learn Suzy isn’t too fond of Slappy either when she shows up to rehearse the sketch. They argue over how to perform the bit, and are still at each other’s throats the following night, seconds before cameras start to roll. Things go well at first, until Suzy goes off-script and begins ad-libbing. Slappy tries to go along with it for a while, but eventually her patience runs out. The squirrels begin arguing on camera and Slappy takes her frustrations out on Suzy by dropping a piano on her and blowing her (and most of the set) away with a ton of explosives. The audience loves it and the ratings for the special go through the roof. With Skippy as their agent, Suzy and Slappy are given their own prime time series, but they end up arguing once again when attempting to apologize to each other. As the two old squirrels go at it, Skippy concludes, “Now that’s comedy, babe!”

"The Sunshine Squirrels" is based on the Neil Simon play "The Sunshine Boys", in which a bitter vaudeville team is begrudgingly reunited in order to perform an old sketch for a television special. It’s a plot that definitely makes sense for a character like Slappy, much more than having her adopt a baby bluebird or coach a soccer team. In fact, it’s the first cartoon in a very long time that’s built around Slappy’s career as a vintage cartoon star. On top of that, they even went as far as bringing in Phyllis Diller in the role of Suzy, an interesting bit of casting, considering Diller played herself in the 1975 film adaption of "The Sunshine Boys". Getting the comedienne to play Suzy lends some authenticity to the character, and for the most part she plays off Sherri Stoner pretty well. If this cartoon had been produced during the first (or even the third) season it might have been a real winner. But stuck at the tail end of season five, it’s a two-act, overly talky bore. The first act takes places entirely in one room of Slappy’s house, with very little happening outside of the characters spouting exposition. Tighter editing wouldn’t have hurt either, as there are some very odd pauses between dialogue that gives it a very stilted feeling. Unfortunately, this is also the first cartoon that pitches up Nathan Ruegger’s voice. He had gotten older by now, but the higher voice really hurts his performance, to the point where I would have gladly taken the deeper voice from "Bully For Skippy". Some painful lines ("Now show us the MONEY!!") and those huge, owl eyes that Koko gives him don’t help either. The second act is a bit stronger, because at least we get a little of the traditional Slappytoon violence. But even this is still dialogue-heavy, while the staging and animation do nothing to disguise the fact that this entire short is nothing but characters talking to each other for a full ten minutes. Sometimes I wonder what Sherri Stoner felt while reading these later scripts, since her writing had been so instrumental in making Slappy such an engaging character in the first place. Like most late Kids WB era shorts, “The Sunshine Squirrels” is another one of those cartoons that I completely forget about until I watch it again, and then forget about again immediately afterward. I had to watch it a second time just to summarize it. Visually this one is a wash-out. Koko’s animation just sort of sits there, with no personality and nothing to compensate for the non-stop dialogue. Akom might as well have animated this short, because that’s pretty much what this looks like anyway. While there are a couple of moments that are interesting, this cartoon is definitely one of the weakest Slappy shorts of the entire series. It’s not the absolute worst though…we’re getting to that one.

image

This cartoon gets off to an rather bizarre start. Slappy suddenly pops into the very first shot, mere seconds after the short fades in and shouts, “Booo!”. Explains Slappy: “Comedy rule number twenty-six, surprise your audience. Heh, now there’s edju-tainment for ya! My job is done” What an odd way to open the short.

image

Even though they stopped using the “Taming of the Screwy” footage (finally) it’s surprising they’re still doing “rim shot” cutaways this late in the series. Definitely one of the longest lived gags in the series.

image

Skippy shows off a few title cards from old Slappy and Suzy cartoons. This one is definitely my favorite, if only for the IV bag and the demented look on Suzy. By the way, the credits for this episode spell the name as “Suzi”, but I’m going with what we actually see in the cartoon.

image

This shot, and the following two images, demonstrate one of the weirdest pieces of timing in the episode. Slappy asks when rehearsal begins…

image

…and then we get a couple of seconds of the characters just sitting there, not saying a word…

image

…and then Skippy gestures to the door and says “Right now” as Suzy enters. Was this deliberate? I somehow doubt it.

image

This particular shot goes on forever, but it’s also useful for showing off those strange owl eyes Skippy has in a few scenes. What is Skippy tripping on in this cartoon?

image

So tell me, do you think this dialogue is a little too on the nose? “I’m a network executive. I wouldn’t know funny if it kicked me in the bupkiss. All I know are ratings, shares and demographics. And if we don’t get them, I’ll be fired, and so will you!”

image

Character Cameo: after the piano falls on Suzy and crashes through the floor and into the basement, the Warners pop out and dance on the keys. Then they run off, followed by Ralph. This is the very last cameo that features Ralph chasing the kids, though it’s not the very last Warner cameo in general. We get one more in the next episode.

image

Now, here’s some timing that actually works very well. Suzy looks under the table, sees the explosives and then glances pathetically at the camera for a millisecond before everything goes off. It’s easily the funniest moment in the entire episode.

image

Here’s our last Mary Hartless appearance. Angered that Hartless keeps billing Suzy first, Slappy hands her a bomb and walks off. The brainless host just stares at the bomb and says, “Thanks so much” before she’s blown away. You know, her and Prunella Flundergust ought to get together.

Joke Credit: Today’s Moral: Scotchguard Your Upholstery!

Tower Outro: Ciao-abunga!

3 notes

Say, Do Ya Have Any Licorice?: Episode 96

Variable Verse: How Urbane-y!

The episode starts with an introduction by Skippy, who fills us in on part one - it was just “We wanna make a movie!”/”You can’t make a movie!” for a whole half hour. He then explains that part two is pretty much going to be more of the same. So they knew all along that this was a padded-out mess, and still wasted two half hours on it? Unless, of course, this was added by director Tingblad after his experience with the previous episode.

image

image

image

This is certainly interesting - filler material that points out how these episodes are full of filler. This works mainly because of how it just repeats the same animation, over and over and over and over. Well, I guess if they were going to do this they might as well have been clever about it, right? But why is Plotz wearing a tux?

image

The Warners arrive at the star-studded gala (held at the Beverly Hills Hotel), easily get past Ralph, and begin to mingle with Hollywood’s elite. Plotz is also there, attempting to schmooze with a producer named Pressberg Katzeneiserman, who turns down all of the CEO’s scripts on the grounds that none of them are able to make him laugh. A chase breaks out when Plotz spots the Warners, and their script winds up accidentally being delivered to Pressberg, literally, on a silver platter. He absolutely loves it, and immediately agrees to make the movie. “Hooray For North Hollywood” quickly becomes a huge, Oscar-winning sensation, and everyone from critics to the movie-going public fall in love with it. Plotz, meanwhile, chooses to make a movie parodying Space Jam, entitled “Jamalot”, which flops hard. As the Warners become some of the richest, most powerful celebrities in Hollywood, Plotz begins to realize that he’s made a huge mistake. Things only get worse when the chairman of the Warner Brothers studio shows up one day, chews Plotz out for letting the Warners’ script slip through his fingers, and promptly fires him. Times passes, and Yakko, Wakko and Dot begin to miss the hot-tempered little CEO, who is now homeless and penniless. The kids abduct Plotz and bring him to a fancy New Year’s Eve party, where they explain that they used all their money to buy stock, becoming the studio’s primary share holders. They give Plotz his job back and everyone happily rings in the new year together. The episode ends with the Warners finishing up a sequel script, and once again they head off to pitch it to Mr. Plotz.  

This episode is lighter on the songs and a little heavier on plot compared to part one, but it still feels like something that’s being padded with material in order to fill a half hour. The scenes at the party near the beginning recall a watered-down version of the last few minutes of “Taming of the Screwy”, right down to the chase sequence and flying food. The last act of the episode is primarily taken up by the lengthy New Years Eve musical number, which has some decent lyrics, but feels like it never ends. So most of the meat occurs during the middle of the episode, and a majority of that consists of news reports praising “Hooray For North Hollywood”, and an extended Siskel and Ebert review that includes another song that overstays its welcome pretty quickly. While there’s more going on here, the derivative first act and bland songs easily make this the weaker of the two parts.

Much like the last episode, there’s really only one joke that makes me laugh out loud, and that’s Dot slamming Joel Schumacher in the most casual way possible when she runs into him at the party. Everything else is pretty weak to be honest, though I do get a chuckle at Wakko imitating Billy Bob Thorton in one of the movie clips. But what’s with the running gag with the licorice? It’s cute the first couple of times, but it soon gets to the point where Wakko seems obsessed with it. This is really the funniest thing they can think to do with Wakko at this point? And while I guess it’s part of the joke, just what is “Hooray For North Hollywood” about anyway? We get parodies of Independence Day, Fargo, Jerry McGuire and Slingblade, a musical number about the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and further proof that someone on staff really thought Letterman’s “Uma/Oprah” bit was hysterical (it’s not). “LA DOT” especially is dead air, one of the most forgettable songs in the history of the series. What is it about this film that people are responding to? The idea of the Warners making their own movie has boatloads of potential, but here it’s just wasted on a bunch of movie references. The visuals don’t improve much from the previous episode and, if anything, I think Wang’s animation gets even worse. There’s some weird, off model characters in this one (Ralph looks really odd, and check out the snaggle-toothed, homeless Plotz) and there are times where the celebrity caricatures are astonishingly poor. The musical sequences suffer the most, as both of them amount to little more than static layouts and talking heads. The songs themselves aren’t that bad, but the staging and animation robs them of any life they could possibly have. And much like “There’s Only One of You”, “LA DOT” doesn’t feel like it belongs in this episode. Once again, it definitely seems like this was meant to be a standalone sequence that was crammed into this episode to pad it out. Why would a Siskel and Ebert review contain an entire song sequence anyway?

There’s a depressing air of finality that’s hard to shake while watching this episode. For all their party-crashing and celebrity hob-knobbing in the past, the Warners were always just three wacky kids living in a water tower who most studio employees feared. Here, they manage to become so rich and successful that they’re able to gain control of the Warner studio. This was never a show that was ever really concerned with continuity or what was canon or what wasn’t, but this is all pretty game-changing stuff, and the episode gives off a vibe that the writers knew the series was winding down. A line in the New Year’s Song  - “We managed somehow friends to make it through another year” - gives the impression that they’re surprised that this show was actually airing new episodes into 1998. This really does feel like a “final” episode in a sense with the way it handles the Warner’s relationship with Plotz, one of their very first foils. In fact, he actually kicks the kids off the lot for good before Pressberg decides to make their movie. The trio has always been a thorn on his side, but in this episode he’s so determined to finally be rid of them that he misses the chance to make a surefire hit, and loses his job over it. But in the end, the Warners realize that even with limitless money, life isn’t much fun without the short, balding CEO around to shout at them all the time. Dumping their fortune in order to get a hold of the studio and get Plotzy’s job back is the ultimate olive branch, and not something that could easily be ignored in future episodes.

On the whole, the “Hooray For North Hollywood” two-parter is a pretty big misfire. The ideas are strong, as are a few of the songs, but none of it is able to come together to create anything satisfactory. The Warners are characters that work best in seven to twelve minute cartoons, so two episodes telling a single story is already pushing it. But the fact that there isn’t two episodes worth of story in the first place makes all the rambling filler seem so much more obvious. As mentioned in part one, these episodes were a mess long before they were shipped overseas, and the sad state of Wang’s animation doesn’t help matters. The biggest shame in all of this is that we’re only a couple of episodes away from the end of the series, with only one more truly official Warners short left. With the exception of Startoons’ stuff from episodes 92 and 94 it doesn’t feel like anyone is putting effort into this show anymore, and are just doing what they can to get these final handful of shows over with.

image

Ralph: Where do you think youse is going? Wakko: Inside to talk to the movie people. Yakko: And to show them our script. Dot: So they’ll make it into a big budget blockbuster. Yakko: Like the Titanic. Dot: Except our movie will cost under two-hundred million. Yakko: As long as Wakko keeps his licorice habit under control. - One thing I’ve noticed about these two episodes is dialogue that just doesn’t know when to end, like this exchange between Yakko and Dot. Though I am surprised at the timely Titanic reference.

image

Character Cameo: Pip Pumphandle and Mister Director are on line waiting to sit on Sharon Stone’s lap. There’s a scene later on where Mister Director is heard laughing, and it’s so clearly not Paul Rugg that it’s painful.

image

image

As Dot walks past, Schumacher can be heard saying, “Let’s put Batman in a dress, okay…” Dot tells him that she’s seen all of his films. When Schumacher asks what she thinks of them, Dot tells him that he should keep making them, then adds, “Eventually one of them is bound to turn out watchable.” Great stuff, definitely the best line in the entire episode.

image

Not a bad wild take, definitely an extreme one coming from Plotz. Even the soles of his shoes pop off.

image

image

What happened to Ralph in these shots? Much like those scenes of Plotz from “The Party”, Ralph looks like he’s a refugee from a bad ’80s Hanna-Barbara Jetsons cartoon. Looks like they forgot the outline around his face in the first shot. So weird. Simplistic drawings like these aren’t unusual for this episode.

image

Oh, Space Jam. I know you made a lot of money, but you were so, so terrible. All the made-up cartoon characters in this clip look like they’d rather be somewhere else. One of them even checks his watch.

image

Dot: I suggest we evacuate immediately. Yakko: I already evacuated. Wakko: Me too. Oops. Twice. - I know bodily function humor isn’t totally beneath this show, but this is still pretty crude.

image

Character Cameo: Colin appears as the kid in the Slingblade parody. Harnell’s Billy Bob Thorton impression is all kinds of great. Mm-hm.

image

What’s with this shot during the “LA DOT” song? Why are the edges of the widescreen bars all blurry? I’d love to know what exactly happened here.

image

Aside from it’s length, two things bother me about this song. One is how Dot’s singing voice keeps sounding too much like Tress and not enough like Dot. And the other is that bizarre Jim Carrey caricature that’s in almost every shot. What’s Ed Norton doing there?

image

I’ve always found it weird how Dot’s web address isn’t even complete. “www.dot.”, without a “com” or anything like that. Did they not want to encourage kids to go online and look for a Dot-related web site? Did it not fit the rest of the lyrics or the rhyme scheme? That’s a weird profile drawing on Dot, too. She looks like Bonkers.

image

Get a load of the design of the chairman, surrounded by stock WBTA celebrity caricatures. This guy doesn’t look at all like he belongs on this show, does he? It’s those triangular eyes. You would have never seen anything like this in earlier seasons, and definitely not in a Wang cartoon.

image

Rob Paulsen usually never had trouble with longer verses during songs, or having to hit higher notes. But here, Yakko’s voice totally falls apart midway though a line. By the end it doesn’t sound anything like him. At this point all the Warners’ voices (even Dot’s to an extent) have evolved quite a bit from the early days of the first season. This is also a relatively poor piece of animation.

image

But speaking of falling apart, Wang’s animation totally crashes and burns during the New Years Song. Look at this awful shot. Who is the guy Dot is hanging on to and why does his face scream “creeper”? But even worse are those hideous background characters that look like they were drawn by six year olds. What the hell happened to Wang?

image

Ignoring the extreme poses and long tails, this is going to be the last time we ever see the Warners in a studio environment like this, happily dancing around and ready to drive Plotz crazy. We’re so close to the end now that, very quickly, we’re going to be saying goodbye to a lot of elements that made the show great.

Joke Credit: Our New Year’s Resolution: No More Sarcastic Jokes About The Brilliant WB Network…Oops!

Tower Outro: Farewell!

3 notes

What If We Just Start Singing? That’s Bad: Episode 95

Variable Verse: No Pain, No Gain-y!

image

image

Written by Randy Rogel and Tom Ruegger, Directed by Stephan Lewis, Herb Moore, David Pryor and King Tingblad

The episode starts with the Goodfeathers, who are sitting on a telephone wire looking at clouds. Pesto says that one cloud in particular looks like an elephant’s head, while Squit is sure it actually looks like a snake. This doesn’t sit well with Pesto, so of course Squit gets the daylights beaten out of him. After this short sequence, the main story begins…

Yakko, Wakko and Dot put the finishing touches on their script, “Hooray For North Hollywood”. Singing the praises of Mr. Plotz (“He’s successful, he’s a genius, he’s the man who has it all”) they bring the script to the CEO’s office, hoping to get it made into a movie. Unfortunately, they find everyone else in town is already there, trying to do the exact same thing. To pass the time, Yakko and Dot take over for Plotz’ secretary and decide to teach Wakko how to “schmooze”, i.e. how to sweet talk celebrities and make deals in Hollywood. Eventually, they meet with Plotz, since he explains that he’s contractually bound to meet with them once a year anyway. They try hard to talk up their film - and even go as far as breaking into a random musical number called “There’s Only One of You” - but Plotz wants nothing to do with the script, and kicks the Warners out of his office. Down but not out, the kids decide to find someone with a lot of money to finance their film. They flip through the trade paper, and when the Hawaiian-shirt guy (the same one we’ve been seeing in the background since season one) asks what the Variety headlines mean, the Warners perform a new version of “Variety Speak” in order to explain it to him. They manage to find an article about a party being held in Beverly Hills, one that’s sure to include some of the most important people in Hollywood. Excited at the possibilities, the Warners race off to get ready for the party.

The episode then ends with another Goodfeathers segment. This time the guys are looking up at the night sky. Pesto assumes there are millions of stars out there, only for Squit to one up him and explain there are actually billions of stars in space. Once again, Pesto becomes furious and this time Squit AND Bobby feel his wrath.

image

It would be nice to say the first and only two part Animaniacs episode was something that was worth waiting for, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. There’s around seven to ten minutes of actual story in this episode, and that’s being really generous. The Warners want to make a movie, they go to Plotz’ office, get kicked out, discover the information about the party and the episode ends.  And what we do get story-wise isn’t very interesting. Why do the Warners want to make a movie in the first place? Why are they singing the praises of a man they antagonize on a daily basis, a man so clueless that’s he’s been fooled multiple times by Chicken Boo? Why is this something that’s so important for them? The more time passes, the more the Warners lose that wacky edge that made them so entertaining and loveable in the first place. Here, they might as well be any trio of kids desperate to make a movie. There is one solitary non-musical sequence that actually works in this episode, and that’s the terrific back-and-forth Yakko and Plotz have about the nature of their movie. Yakko says something that piques the CEO’s interest, causing Plotz to exclaim “That’s good!”, then immediately follows it up with something that undermines it, making him flatly groan, “That’s bad”. This sequence goes on for a while (“Spielberg is going to direct.” “That’s good!” “But not this picture.” “That’s bad.” “But we’ve got Zemeckis!” “That’s good!” “Freddy Zemeckis, from accounting…” “That’s bad.”) but is a lot funnier than it sounds, mainly thanks to how Paulsen and Welker handle it. Everything else just falls flat, and we don’t really care if the Warner’s film gets made or not, because after 94 episodes we’ve been programmed to expect these characters to do anything and everything they want. Begging Plotz to make their movie and later holding up signs on a street corner just seem so beneath the Warners. With the exception of the song sequences (most of which aren’t that great either) this is a very boring episode, one that feels like it’s just biding its time waiting for the series to end. Maybe if this was a seven minute short it might have been interesting, but this is just the first installment of a two-episode story. With so little story material to work with, what we do get is a ton of filler. The Goodfeathers segments that open and close the episode are cute, but they’re not even animated by Wang, who handled the rest of the episode. They were actually added later by director Kirk Tingblad (and animated at Koko) in order to pad out the run time.. But nothing shouts “padding” louder than those songs…

The bulk of the episode consists of four musical numbers, long enough to have been standalone shorts with their own title cards if they had appeared in any other episode. It’s just one song after another, with one beginning right after another has barely ended. Keep in mind that show 82 - which was nothing but songs - included six musical cartoons, and you should get an idea how little story material is actually here. “We’re On Our Way To Go See Mr. Plotz” is the only song that actually seems crucial to the plot, even if it doesn’t make sense for the kids to speak so highly of the short tempered little CEO. It was clearly written for this episode, has some fun lyrics and a nice background chorus towards the end. It gets the story off to a decent start, but honestly, “The Schmooze” grinds everything to a halt. The thing goes on forever and - aside from Schwarzenegger threatening to kill Wakko, and the surprise Bart Simpson cameo - there isn’t much about it that I really enjoy. It just seems like an incredibly low-rent repeat of “Variety Speak”, with Yakko and Dot trying to teach Wakko a Hollywood term he doesn’t understand. And while we’re on the subject of “Variety Speak”, was it really necessary to reprise that song? Lyrically, it’s not even close to the original version from episode 71, and a lot of the lines (“Studio bomb gets Oscar nom” “Means all the actors’ gotta be Brits”) don’t even make a lot of sense. It’s not terrible, but for the most part it falls pretty flat, and is a great example of how certain things should only be done once. The first “Variety Speak” was no masterpiece, but it’s far better than this.

And then we have “There’s Only One of You”, which comes completely out of left field, having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the story. All the rest of the songs in the episode are about Hollywood in some way. But this one talks about all the plants, animals, insects and other organisms that exist in the universe and how the fact that “there’s only one of you” is what makes people special. The song itself was actually from the 1994 “Yakko’s World” album, meaning that it had been around for quite a while before someone thought to animate it and include it in the fifth season. It clearly was never meant for this episode, made even more obvious by the fact that it was actually a Startoon-boarded cartoon, and was directed by David Pryor and Kirk Tingblad. The song is a tad saccharine, but it’s still pretty enjoyable, and needless to say the animation makes it the definite visual highlight of the episode. Jon Mcclenahan has confessed to not remembering anything about this piece of animation, and as it turns out he probably has a very good reason not to. According to Tingblad, it was simply boarded at Startoons and shipped overseas to be animated. Tingblad was handed the episode (which was not only a complete, post-it note ridden mess but also running late) and was told to get it working because he had worked at Startoons and was considered a “perfect fit”. He did the best he could with what he was given, lamenting it was eventually sent to “one of the worst overseas studios”, and for his troubles ended up directing the sequel episode in full. Regardless, there’s some great stuff to be had in “There’s Only One of You”, the very last time the Warners were handled in a distinctly Startoons style. But at the end of the day, this sequence stands out like a sore thumb, and just doesn’t belong here. Many have speculated that this was meant to be its own standalone sequence (perhaps intended for the previous episode, hence the two minutes of filler at the beginning) but was inserted into this show instead. I really wish it had shown up on it’s own somewhere, because suddenly popping up out of nowhere in this below-average episode doesn’t do it any favors.

Wang’s animation has almost no character, which is a big letdown considering how enjoyable their stuff used to be. There’s a bland sort of sameness to their work, which adds to the overall tired feel to the episode. The series is wrapping up fast, and it’s a shame even a reliable studio like Wang is now phoning in their stuff. There’s just a depressing air to the show now, and it’s only going to get worse. There really isn’t much to say about the animation, since it’s really just there. I don’t hate this episode, because it has its moments and some of the songs are fun. Part two has more story to it (that’s good!) but if anything, it’s the weaker of the two episodes (that’s bad).

image

image

image

These Goodfeather sequences are some of King Tingblad’s main directorial contributions to this episode and are a lot of fun,There’s one more of these that has yet to air, and that one will show up in episode 99.

image

Character Cameo: Flavio and Marita walk by the water tower as Minerva Mink sits around filing her nails. Nice to see the hippos, but I still couldn’t care less about Minerva. Apparently, stuff like this was only added as filler.

image

The Warners don’t look this odd throughout the whole episode, but have you ever seen them look like this when Wang was animating them? There’s a nice shout-out to “Temporary Insanity” here too, with the typewriter music playing as Yakko finishes up the script.

image

Character Cameos: a group of characters sing along with the Warners, including the hippos, Scratchansniff, Slappy and Skippy. We won’t see Scratchy again until episode 99, a shock because of how much this show takes place at the lot.

image

Character Cameo: this opening song is stuffed full of quick cameos, and I had actually forgotten that Buttons and Mindy show up in this shot, along with Slappy and Skippy.

image

Wakko makes it clear that his math skills are terrible, so Dot asks, “You know the reason California schools scored so low in math?” When Wakko asks why, Dot screams, “You! Start going to class!” What’s that about? Wakko doesn’t go to school…soooo…California has low test scores?? Why is Dot being so harsh? What a weird scene.

image

By late ‘97/early ‘98 we all knew we were getting another Star Wars movie, so this scene stands out for being ironic, intentionally or not. “Are you crazy? It’s over George! Now give it up!”, shouts Plotz. Who knew Star Wars was going to blow up as big as it did soon after?

image

"And on The Simpsons you suggested that they call the kid Bart.” It’s just the top of his head, but I’m surprised they were able to show Bart at all.

image

Plotz has a terrible habit of falling for Chicken Boo’s disguises. First there’s the “65th Anniversary Special”, then there’s “The Boo Network” (though I’ll give him credit for eventually figuring that one out), followed by “Back in Style”. Now here’s Boo, pretending to be a lawyer once again. Some people never learn.

image

This is Wakko’s best scene. Hyping the script, Wakko says, “Low eight figures, non negotiable. Out the gate, in the bag, over the fence, through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go, babe!” Plotz’ response is priceless: “What are you talking about?! Are you speaking rap??”

image

The “That’s good/That’s bad” scene features the best Wang animation, which is really bouncy and silly. I love the dejected body language on Plotz whenever Yakko bursts his bubble.

image

image

image

image

image

A variety of shots from the Startoons sequence. Although he didn’t animate this himself, it’s clear it was all boarded by David Pryor. Pryor has a very interesting style. His Warners are almost angular, and the bottoms of their faces are very wide with broad smiles. Although his animation isn’t always perfect in this song, I still love it, and really wish we could have seen even more if it.

image

image

image

This is my favorite scene in the song. The white background recalls “Macadmaia Nut”, and that deranged face on Wakko is so well done. Even the gookie is great. Pryor was best at head-on shots, as evidenced here. The perspective and drawing on Yakko’s hand in a little weird, but that’s the fault of this particular screen shot. It looks fine in motion.

image

So that’s it. The last time Startoon even handled the Warners. At least they go out on a really good drawing. There’s a little more of their work in episode 98, and that’s it…

image

Character Cameo: Hey, look at that. The Godpigeon! I totally forgot he was also in this episode. So I was wrong. “Macadamia Nut” wasn’t his last appearance. Squit poops into the Warners’ money cup. They don’t draw it, but you hear it.

image

I feel like the Hawaiian shirt guy has become the unsung hero of this blog. I’ve loved pointing him out, and until last year I had no idea he appeared as much as he did. He’s easily the most distinctive background character they ever came up with. And in this episode he actually gets to talk. They simplified his design a little bit for this appearance, but it’s cool that they finally gave him (and his wife) a little moment in the spotlight,

image

"And everyone who reads it wonders what the headlines mean." This probably wasn’t intentional, but the way Wakko drags out this line makes it really sound like he’s about to say, "And everyone who reads it wonders what the hell it means." Now, I don’t think that’s what they were really going for, but it would have been hilarious if that was the intent.

image

image

image

I’m sorry, but this is just sad. They’re just outright copying scenes from the first “Variety Speak”. All of these shots more or less appear (with better animation) in episode 71.

image

image

image

I have to say, as much as I complained about Pesto attacking Squit early on, it’s been so long since he’s done it that it’s great to see it again. There’s some great lines here as he’s beating Squit up in the fight cloud - “Ya want a big dipper? I’ll give ya a big dipper! Want a little dipper? I’ll whack ya with a little dipper!” Funny stuff.

Joke Credit: Kids WB Is #1: Ha! Ha! Just Kidding!

Tower Outro: Bonsoir!