Saturday Morning Cartoon: The Beginning

01.09.2010

As I mentioned in December 2009, I’m introducing a regular feature for the blog called “Saturday Morning Cartoon.”

Pardon me whilst I wax nostalgic to set this up…

I don’t doubt that most reading this have pleasant childhood memories watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV. Even though Saturdays were a “day off” from school, we’d still get up early to sit in front of the TV in our PJs enjoying a bowl of our favorite cereal (at that time filled with less vitamin-enriched sugary goodness).

We laughed at Looney Tunes, Laff-A-Lympics and lots of other comedic characters. We got spooked by cartoon phantoms and costumed villains thwarted by “meddling kids” and their “stupid dog.” We were thrilled by toy-selling animated adventures of robot fights, space flights, rainbow brites, fairy sprites, Bat-Mites and men in tights, but mostly cartoon kids who did the sort of exciting and dangerous stuff that in real life would get us killed, incarcerated or taken away from our parents and sent to foster homes.

And for those of us born before the 90’s, it’s hard to imagine that the major TV networks would ever have shortage of cartoons to watch on Saturday mornings, and yet that’s precisely what has happened. Outside of niche cable programming like Boomerang, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network and Disney XD, it’s slim pickings on the major networks as far as Saturday morning cartoons go. And who’d have ever thought that there would be a time when Looney Tunes weren’t on TV at all, except through a paid cable subscriber service?

But the digital era combined with government-mandated educational programming has brought about an end to broadcast kids TV. Kids mostly don’t want to watch the E/I-rated shows — they get enough educational stuff at school without it being forced on them through what they watch for fun. And with things like videogame consoles and handheld gaming systems, along with the era of streaming videos and content-on-demand, kids no longer have to wait until weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings for their entertainment of choice. And the networks hate it. The advertisers hate it. But it’s the reality we live in.

For animation fans, other than the aforementioned cable channels, our only option for watching cartoons is via DVD, reruns on-demand, the web and digital downloads for portable media devices. And for the duration of this blog (and as regularly as I’m able to do so) I will feature a cartoon here for your viewing pleasure on Saturday mornings, along with behind-the-scenes trivia and details on the voice cast.

So go put on your footie pajamas, pour a yourself a bowl of your favorite cereal, and enjoy.

First up (not counting the cartoons I featured here during the holidays), is Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, which I was excited to discover in December 2009 that the complete series (all 26 episodes) is being offered on Hulu.com (in partnership with Crackle.com).

Based on the Dark Horse Comics mini-series by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow, Big Guy and Rusty aired from 1999-2001 on Fox Kids. It felt more grown-up and “mature” than most animated fare on Fox Kids, and developed a fair following from adult animation fans as a result. I consider it to be an underrated and largely undiscovered gem of a cartoon show that needs more exposure.

The episode I’m featuring here is “The Inside Scoop” which originally aired October 2nd, 1999. (Sorry, I’m unable to embed videos from Hulu via WordPress.)

Voice cast for this episode:

Pamela Adlon as Rusty, Jo
Jonathan Cook as The Big Guy
Gabrielle Carteris as Dr. Erika Slate
Jim Hanks as Dwayne Hunter
Stephen Root as Dr. Axel Donovan
Kathy Kinney as Jenny the Monkey
Kevin Michael Richardson as Garth
M. Emmett Walsh as Mack
Maurice LaMarche as Dr. Ellerby, Medical doctor, Security officer
– and Tim Curry as the voice of Dr. Neugog

Trivia and notes:

– Brain gags galore in this episode.
– This episode reveals full details on the subplot that Big Guy is actually piloted by Hunter, a secret that Hunter and the team manage to keep from Rusty for the rest of the series.
– This episode features Dr. Neugog’s second (and unfortunately last) appearance in the series.
R. Lee Ermey voiced General Thorton in this series, although the character doesn’t appear in this episode.
– Big Guy’s voice, Jonathan Cook, will likely sound familiar — not so much from his other animation and video game work, but more from the huge volume of TV promo announcing he does for CBS, Bravo, NBC, FX and others.
– The sibilant slurp-like sound Dr. Neugog makes at one point closely resembles the same eerie sound Anthony Hopkins made as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

And by the way, if the same ad plays for you that ran during my viewing — that’s Roger Rose (voice actor in The Tick, Grim & Evil, The Super Hero Squad Show and many other cartoons) appearing in the Ad Council spot cautioning against reckless driving.

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On the Third Day ’til Christmas…

12.22.2009

Continuing the series of Holiday animated treats is Life With Louie: A Christmas Surprise for Mrs. Stillman, yet another underrated gem of an animated Christmas special from the Fox Kids series of the same name.

This was also the series’ premiere (original airdate: December 18, 1994) from this animated kids show based loosely on the childhood of comedian Louie Anderson.

I have some closing thoughts on this episode (including the voice credits) following the video links below.

And without further ado, I present A Christmas Surprise for Mrs. Stillman:

This is another special and animated series I would love to own on DVD, and Louie Anderson said in a letter to a fan (re-posted on TVShowsonDVD.com) in October 2006 that he had run into “legalities with Disney,” and added that they seemed to be “working themselves out” and that the series “should be out soon.”

Over three years later and the hopes for “soon” are looking rather bleak.

Looking back on the show now, it seemed ahead of its time. I don’t think it quite qualified as a kids show because it felt “grown-up” and familiar — based in reality but with comedic elements, much like King of the Hill would be when it debuted on FOX a few years later.

There are little moments throughout the episode that remind me a lot of my childhood. Louie’s dad, Andy, is like of a composite of my own dad mixed with personality traits of my grandfathers on both sides of my family. And a couple scenes in particular are like seeing flashbacks lifted directly from my own life and animated, like Andy and sons watching the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street on TV (I kid you not — that very same scene happened in my own home some 30 years ago).

And Andy’s line at the close of the episode is very much like something my own dad would’ve said at that moment. That one line effectively sets this episode apart from being like so many other schmaltzy and sadly predictable Holiday specials. It’s realistic, and very funny. Louie even says in the opening narration, “We never had a Christmas like the families on TV did.” I couldn’t agree more — those always seemed contrived and cheesy to me too.

And that’s what I appreciate most about this particular special — it captures the essense of the holiday season without being pithy and formulaic, and it’s genuinely “special” because it feels real and familiar…and a lot like home.

I also love how the ending fades from animation into reality, and you see Anderson appearing on-camera performing the voice of his dad and wishing the audience a “Merry Christmas,” which is how many TV holiday specials and radio shows before that used to end the broadcast. The nostalgia factor is high in this special in so many ways that makes it an annual viewing for me (which makes it all the more frustrating that it hasn’t yet been released on DVD — darn you, Disney!).

The voice talents featured in this special include:

Louie Anderson as Himself, Narrator, “Little Louie,” “Dad” (Andy Anderson)
Edie McClurg as “Mom” (Ora Anderson)
Justin Shenkarow as Michael Grunewald
Debi Derryberry as Jeannie Harper
Troy Evans as Tree Salesman, Police Officer Joe
Wallace Langham as Police Officer #2
Laura Leighton as Laura Anderson
Liz Sheridan as Mrs. Stillman

Previous post: 12.21.2009 — “It’s A Very Merry Eek’s-Mas” Feature


On the Fourth Day ’til Christmas…

12.21.2009

Next in the series of Holiday animated treats is “It’s A Very Merry Eek’s-Mas” from the Fox Kids series Eek! The Cat.

This episode originally aired December 11th, 1993 and is notable in that it was the only one of the series to air during prime time, and it’s one of my favorites from the entire Eek! series as well (which is less than notable). The plot involves Eek trying to reunite Sharky the Shark Dog with his family and help Santa save Christmas after being abandoned by his elves and reindeer (and left with a broken leg too).

It’s chock full o’cartoony fun goodness, and you really have to watch it more than once to catch all the visual gags, clever puns (like “Elmo the Brown-Nose Reindeer”), cultural references and Holiday-special spoofiness. Even the musical score includes some subtle gags.

It also features great comedic performances by the cast. They are included below so as not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen this.

With that said, please enjoy all that is “It’s A Very Merry Eek’s-Mas”:

Last I heard, Disney owns the rights to this series, which means there’s a snowman’s chance in hades it will ever be released on DVD. But here’s hoping anyway.

As for the voice credits… unfortunately, there’s very little data available to identify the voices individually. IMDb and Wikipedia had practically nothing on this episode, and even on the most comprehensive Eek fan site the voice credits are limited to trivia bits.

And since the actual screen credits list only the cast names (and two of them are misspelled), I’ve made the effort to I.D. the voices by ear:

Bill Kopp as Eek, Skyhawk-1, addl. Reindeer and Elf voices
Tawny Kitaen as Annabelle
Savage Steve Holland as Elmo the Elk
Bobcat Goldthwait as Rudolph
The Barbi Twins as Themselves (aka, “The Greatest Minds in the World”)
E.G. Daily as Delores (Little Girl)
Gary Owens as Clive Buttburn (TV Reporter)
Brad Garrett as Big Brother Roy, “Hat Rack” Reindeer, “Bird Dog” Fighter Pilot
Anita Dangler as Mrs. Claus
– and William Shatner as Santa, Larry (Talk Show Host)

…with additional Reindeer and Elf voices by Charlie Adler, John Kassir, and Cam Clarke.

I’ve also found two sources crediting Tim Curry as the voice of the narrator (IMDb, TV.com), but he’s not mentioned in the actual screen credits. Furthermore, the Boris Karloff-esque “Grinch” imitation in this episode doesn’t sound much like Curry to my ear. I’ll check with Bill Kopp to verify this, and maybe I can coax him into sharing some behind-the-scenes details on this episode while I’m at it. (I’ll provide an update on his reply.)

Previous post: 12.20.2009 — ‘Prep and Landing’ Featured Cartoon

Related post: 7.07.2009 — Bill Kopp, Brad Garrett Producing New Adult Animated Series


On the Fifth Day ’til Christmas…

12.20.2009

As a precursor for a new feature I’m starting in January called “Saturday Morning Cartoon,” I’m going to link a holiday animated treat every day between Sunday, Dec. 20th and Friday, Dec. 25th.

This first one — Prep and Landing — is already being heralded as a “new Holiday classic” by animation fans and critics alike.

The Walt Disney Animation Studios special premiered December 8th on ABC Family, but is available to view on Hulu.com through January 1st, 2010.

The voice cast features Dave Foley as Wayne, Sarah Chalke as Magee, Derek Richardson as Lanny, Mason Vale Cotton as Timmy, Nathan Greno as Dasher, David DeLuise as Dancer, and William Morgan Sheppard as “The Big Guy.”

Hulu also has a behind-the-scenes video featuring voice cast members Chalke, Foley and Richardson. And you can watch a production featurette on TrailerAddict.com interviewing the cast and crew, including Foley, Richardson, Chalke and Executive Producer John Lasseter.

And yes, the “heralded” pun was intentional.