Variable Verse: Tarzan and Jane-y!
The Warners show up and begin antagonizing a surly hot dog vendor…but everything immediately grinds to a halt when Dot can’t even work up the enthusiasm to introduce herself. “You wanna forget this cartoon?”, asks Yakko. Dot is all for it, so the Warners make their exit. The hot dog vendor complains that this was going to be his big break, and the cartoon simply ends.
This is the point where the whole “Warners as actors” thing really starts to take on a life of its own. I can’t imagine anything like this taking place during the first season. While the idea of the Warners simply walking out of the cartoon is an interesting concept, I don’t really think anything about it is very funny. It’s just bizarre. It could be taken as commentary on the “Warners annoy someone” shtick that the writers were no doubt tired of, and the fact that they were so committed to this joke that this cartoon even includes a title card is pretty ballsy. In the end, this probably would have been funnier if they hadn’t used the same joke twice in one episode.
You know something is off from the very beginning by the way Yakko and Wakko immediately run in backed by their theme music, with a lethargic Dot bringing up the rear. No Warners cartoon begins without some sort of set up, so already we know something is up.
I wonder what this hot dog guy might have been like if this had turned out to be a full length cartoon. I guess we’ll never know. In a totally random bit, the vendor removes his mustache and places it in a jar of mustard after the Warners leave. The cartoon going to black as the set lights are turned off is a nice touch at least.
Buttons and Mindy intro
In rural, sepia-toned Kansas, little Toto escapes nasty Ms. Gulch and runs right into Mindy’s backyard. Mindy’s mom recognizes Toto as Dorothy’s dog and leaves to phone Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. As soon as she goes inside, a tornado hits the farmyard, and Toto, Mindy and Buttons are unable to make it into the storm cellar. The threesome end up in the house, which gets caught in the tornado’s path and deposits them in the bright, Technicolor land of Oz. After getting crushed by the house and then brainlessly pouncing on the Good Witch, Buttons takes off after Mindy, who is following Toto down the Ochre Brick Road. During their travels, Buttons is attacked by inanimate versions of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman, is manhandled by an angry apple tree and is sliced to pieces by a Cowardly Lion who doesn’t find him threatening in the least. Eventually, Mindy, Toto and Buttons make it to the Emerald City, where we discover that the Wizard is none other than Brain, who is trying to take over Oz with Pinky. Toto chases the mice to their “escape vehicle” - a hot air balloon, but it’s Mindy and the dogs who end up inside. The balloon sails all the way back to Kansas where the trio are deposited in Mindy’s backyard. Mindy’s mom then exits the house and scolds Buttons for being mean to Toto. But that’s okay, because Mindy reassures him that he’s her favorite dog of all.
"Buttons in Ows" is the first of a trio of Mindy and Buttons cartoons that place the characters in the middle of some famous work of pop culture. So while the formula is still the same (though the "lady/mom" power struggle is conspicuously absent ) the movie parody nature of these shorts give the played-out Buttons and Mindy series a good shot in the arm. It also gives them a more unique feel than the entries produced during the first season, especially this cartoon, which is the first since "Up the Crazy River" to be animated by Wang. They have a very different take on Buttons than Akom, handling him in a very loose, cartoony manner that makes the physical gags funnier and far less mean spirited than earlier entries. And let’s be honest, the success of the Mindy and Buttons series really depends on your tolerance for this poor dog being brutalized by everything he comes across while loyally chasing little Mindy. With Akom being unable to really push the expressions and animation in their cartoons, seeing Buttons get pulverized in the shorts they worked on was rarely funny. Nothing really happens to Buttons here that seems overly cruel. Even the most violent gag in the cartoon - the Cowardly Lion slicing Buttons apart with his claws - works because of Buttons’ cocky attitude. Mindy is also handled pretty well. Her exclamation of "Oooo, Technicolor" when she first enters Oz is adorable, and she’s able to get into the Emerald City by aggravating the doorman with one of her typical "why?" conversations. It’s a great way of taking something movie-specific and applying it to the formula of this series.
Although the running time is short, and the Wicked Witch of the West is nowhere to be seen, the cartoon does its best to pay tribute to the classic 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz. The title card is right from the movie, a bit of “The Happy Farmer” plays during the Kansas scenes and specific shots during the tornado sequence mimic ones from the movie. Things get a little looser once we get to Oz, as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion only appear briefly and don’t join the main characters. Although I guess it could have been worse. They could have shoehorned the Warners into this cartoon in these roles. At least we get an appearance from one of those living apple trees. The Oz scenes really just seem to be leading up to the Pinky and the Brain cameo, which is welcome, since I can really never get enough of those two. Brain’s first appearance as the giant Wizard’s head against a wall of flames is one of those hilarious “Why didn’t I see this coming?” moments that gives the cartoon an extra layer and makes it even more memorable than it already is. It’s funny how, this early in the Kids WB run, the mice are popping up everywhere with greater frequency than any character other than the Warners, Slappy and Skippy. Believe me, that isn’t going to last long. We’re not going to get any more Buttons and Mindy cartoons this season, which is a bit of a shame. This season could have used a little bit more variety.
There’s some really great timing in this shot. Toto runs up to a sleeping Buttons and barks at him. Startled, Buttons SLAMS his head on his doghouse. He’s knocked around quite a bit during the opening Kansas sequence, but between the silly animation, the sound effects and the solid timing, all of it manages to be funny.
The way Buttons is drawn here is pretty typical of how he looks throughout the short. There’s a really goofy, angular look to him, and it’s the way he really should have been handled in the first season. Just wait until we get to “Night of the Living Buttons”…
Character Cameos: the Warners fly by in a rowboat, which is straight out of the movie. A really brassy, MGM-style version of their theme music plays as they pass. Then Wile E. Coyote appears, dressed in his bat suit from the 1956 cartoon “Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z”.
I really like the facial design of this living apple tree. Wang is firing on all cylinders in this cartoon.
Some really funny poses on Buttons. First, there’s the classic “Check out this guy” pose when Buttons sees how scared the lion is of Toto, complete with a hysterical facial expression. Then - in a move right out of Tom and Jerry - Buttons boldly walks up to the lion and snaps his fingers in defiance, flicking his nose. He’s gonna get it now…
Check out Mindy here, with this really vacant, wide-eyed look. It’s like they know stuff like the “Why?” routine is getting a little old, so they’re poking fun at it by exaggerating Mindy’s expressions and repeating the same animation over and over. This is incredibly silly, and there’s no way it’s not intentional. The more I see this the funnier it gets.
I really love this. LaMarche hams it up so well, even though he’s not given much to say. Too funny.
I wouldn’t feel right if I included a photo of Brain without Pinky, so here he is. He gets one line, shouting “NARF!” in the microphone. It’s better than nothing..
In ancient Greece, an obnoxious version of the great demigod Hercules bitches and moans about his chores, the twelve trials given to him by his father, Zeus. Enter the Warners, confused by the script, but offering to help Hercules out. When “Aphrodottie” gets a whiff of his garlic breath, she again loses her enthusiasm for the cartoon, so the Warners bail on this one as well. With them gone, Hercules reluctantly starts to clean out the Aegean Stables, with a little prodding from his dad’s mighty lightening bolt. Shifting gears, we enter a classroom, where Pinky and the Brain are lab mice to the great philosopher Aristotle, who is teaching his class about this same lightening bolt, the secret of Zeus’ power. Brain then explains to “Pinkus” that they’ll travel to Mount Olympus, steal the lightening bolt and take over the world. In order to get there, Brain plans on hitching a ride on Pegasus, Hercules’ winged horse. At the stables, the mice wind up inside some manure, and then are chased around by a shovel-wielding Hercules. Spooked, Pegasus takes flight, with Brain and Pinky hanging on to its tail for dear life. They arrive on Mount Olympus, where Zeus spots his son flirting with a Joan Rivers version of Medusa. Just as the mice reach the lightening bolt, a furious Zeus tosses it to earth, where it hits a dam. The end result has the rushing water clean out the stables - much to Hercules surprise - but a bruised and damp Brain decides to give up his world domination plan. That’s when the Warners reappear, with Aphrodottie being presented by Zeus as Hercules’ new bride. Deciding she can live with his garlic breath, Dot kisses her new groom, but not without a gas mask.
A couple of years before Disney put their own spin on the Hercules legend, Animaniacs did their own take on it, with a title based on a the terrible 1959 Steve Reeves film Hercules Unchained and featuring a whining Hercules that’s sure to get under anyone’s skin. This is another really bizarre cartoon, and not just because it reuses the “unenthusiastic Dot” set-up. I can’t think of any other short that starts one way, takes a hard left turn and suddenly becomes something else entirely. I hesitate to classify this as a standard Pinky and the Brain short because of this. While the mice are the primary starring characters, the cartoon is still all over the place, with its aggravating, nails-on-a-chalkboard interpretation of Hercules, the Joan Rivers/Medusa caricature and the Warners taking up a chunk of screen time. In fact, the Pinky and the Brain material is rather simplistic, and they don’t really get a lot of dialogue. There’s no “Are you pondering what I’m pondering” OR “The same thing we do every night…” routine, making the whole thing seem rather halfhearted. Even Wang’s animation is on the sloppy side, with an occasional snappy moment or two. It’s regrettable that this cartoon and “Don’t Tread on Us” are such below average entries, because this is the last time we’re going to see anything resembling a standard Pinky and the Brain short on this show for a good two years. They’ll still pop up here and there, but their infrequent cameos, coupled with a sudden shortage of Slappy cartoons, makes it ridiculously clear that the writers have turned their full attention to the Warners, who are now going to dominate the remainder of the third season.
So here’s our hero, a whiny, crying, falsetto-voiced brat. I’m not sure what exactly this is parodying, but it’s really annoying, and really grates on my nerves exceptionally fast.
I’m not a big fan of the way the Warners exit the cartoon, but I do like how they enter it. They’ve missed their cue, and go up to Hercules asking him to repeat his dialogue so they can remember where they were supposed to come in. When Herc whines, “Go away, you bother me”, Yakko announced that it’s their cue. Of course it is.
This is pretty much the same Aristotle design from “You Risk Your Life” in season one. Wang pulls out some really fun, “pop from pose to pose” animation during this scene, which continues into the introduction of the mice.
This is something that really needs to be seen in motion. This is some of the nicest, most fluid animation on Pinky that we’ve seen on this show in a long time. The second image is phenomenal. I may be overselling it a bit, but I really don’t care. I love this.
So…Joan Rivers as Medusa. It’s not really Rivers herself (I’m assuming it’s Tress) but this is something that only works if you think Joan Rivers gags are funny. This whole scene of her giving Pegasus a spa treatment drags for me. It stops the cartoon dead. Is it wrong that the only time I’ve ever found Rivers funny in the slightest is when she was playing off Miss Piggy in The Muppets Take Manhattan?
Enchanted manure. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.
Here’s a cute throwaway joke. There’s a helicopter landing pad at the top of Mount Olympus for Pegasus to land on.
"I sense the pivotal moment of failure quickly approaches." I’d say that’s an understatement. The animation of the lightening bolt is really well done. It looks like parts of it were airbrushed on to the cel for that translucent effect. Very cool.
Wheel of Morality
Just when you thought you wouldn’t see another one of these, a Wheel of Morality segment ends this episode, the very last one we’re ever going to get. This time the moral is “2B or not 2B; that is the pencil.” When asked what time it is, Dot and Wakko’s guesses involve Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, two names which started popping up frequently on this show around this time. This doesn’t seem like leftovers from season one, but a brand new, re-dubbed segment, based on how high Wakko’s voice is. Whatever the case, this is the last time we’re going to see the Wheel of Morality until Wakko’s Wish in 1999.
Joke Credit: Toto Appears Courtesy Of: Ted Turner
Tower Outro: “Wanna hear me burp the theme to Friends?” “Ehhh, how about not?”