ANIMATION ANECDOTES
December 4, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #240

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Birth of Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse. From The Onion – AV Club March 4, 2001 Volume 37, Issue 12, animator and director John Kricfalusi revelaed how Ralph Bakshi sold Mighty Mouse: “Ralph (Bakshi) convinced (CBS) that we’d developed Mighty Mouse as a show and we had the rights to it and we didn’t. He was in a meeting where we were pitching all these shows that we’d developed and they told him, ‘I’m sorry. We really like all these shows but we can’t buy them because they don’t have any marquee value’.

“And he blew up. He had one of his famous explosions. He spit out his cigarette at them and screamed at the top of his lungs, ‘Marquee value? You want f*cking marquee value? You’re talking to me, Ralph Bakshi, king of the animators about marquee value?’ Scared the cr*p out of them. He’s a very large guy and he’s been know to hurl…I’ve seen him pick up desks and throw them across the room. And he has perfect aim, too, absolutely dead-perfect aim.

MIGHTY-MOUSE-250“So he is screaming at them and they were really scared, right? ‘I’ll give you f*cking marquee value! Mighty Mouse!’ He remembered the first job he ever worked on was at Terrytoons in the mid-50s and just spit out ‘Mighty Mouse’. They said, ‘Okay, we’ll take it and please don’t kill us!’ So he gets to his car, races back to the studio and tells his partner, ‘Find out who the hell owns Mighty Mouse!’

“Then he goes over to my house, and he pounds on my door on Saturday morning like at seven o’clock in the morning, yelling ‘Johnny, get out of bed! I sold Mighty Mouse! We gotta have a studio next week! We need 35 people and 13 scripts!’ So I got on the phone and called everyone I knew who hated working on Saturday morning cartoons and by Monday we had a studio and we wrote like twenty stories in a week. The following week we started production.”

Magical Door. In a June 2005 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Pixar director Pete Docter talked about the famous doors in his film Monsters Inc. (2001): “John (Lasseter) laid down the rule that ‘no magic’ in Pixar’s animated features. Actually, you’re allowed one magical thing that the audience will buy and beyond that everything ripples out logically from there. For our one magical thing it was the door that transports Boo from her closet to a fantasy factory run by monsters. We just put on this veil of technology that explains it all.”

"Howl's Moving Castle"

“Howl’s Moving Castle”

Docter read the novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when he was a child and read it to his own children so the concept of a magical portal was something he was familiar with when he wrote the film. Also, he is a fan of Miyazaki’s animated feature Howl’s Moving Castle where a girl passes through many magical doors and meets spirits and demons. In fact, Docter was in charge of voice directing the English release version of the film.

Miyazaki Says. Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki in 2005 during an interview said, “My hand moves when I think of things. Without pencil, without paper, my hand just moves, so that’s the way my brain seems to operate now. I ‘m not so interested in the drama that unfolds between humans. Ultimately, I’m very concerned and interested in the drama that unfolds between humans and nature.

“A lot of people say they don’t understand my film Howl’s Moving Castle and what that means is just that they have a set definition of how a story is supposed to be told. When the story betrays their anticipations, then they complain. Which I find ridiculous.

“My father, in his old age, only watched television programs where he could figure out the story in the first three minutes. He’d say, ‘I can understand this. I can follow it’. But I think it’s a waste of time to try to change people. I made this film so that I could show it to a young girl of 60 (laughs). What’s wonderful about the story is that the happy ending isn’t that the spell is broken and the girl is young again. It’s that she forgets her age.”

Freberg’s First. Voice artist Stan Freberg always liked to say that the first cartoon where he received an on-screen credit as a voice was Warners’ Three Little Bops (1957). However, it was Bob Clampett who gave Freberg his first on-screen cartoon credit for doing the voice of Charlie the horse in the Republic one-shot It’s a Grand Old Nag (1947). Of course, Freberg may have been referring to his first Warners’ on-screen cartoon credit but he never made that clear in interviews.

"I'm A Lifetime Asset!"

“I’m A Lifetime Asset!”

Deficit Financing. From the book Inside the TV Business (1979) by Paul Klein and Steve Morgenstern, Hanna-Barbera legend Joe Barbera talked about how H-B continually lost money but still stayed in business: “It costs Hanna-Barbera $110,000 to produce a half hour show and we’re getting $100,000 from NBC so we are deficit financing $10,000 a week. On the other hand, we’re using $100,000 of NBC’s money to create a property that will be owned after the first year, unless options are exercised by Hanna-Barbera. So for $10,000 a week or $130,000 all together, we have now created an equity for ourselves because animation has an incredible shelf life.

“That’s why we prefer to do something original rather than in partnership with someone else. Scooby-Doo, for instance, happened to be a gold mine. Don’t ask me how it happened. Nobody figured the dog would become a star but he has. He’s been on the air over nine years and he’ll be on about four more years. Like anyone who is creative, you’d much rather get your own character out there and make a success out of it.

“One of the reasons that we hang in there with red deficit figures, which no one seems to understand, is that we have built up a backlog over the years which is out working for us today, still being sold in various ways. That’s what keeps us going. It’s the income from merchandise, any income from foreign sources and the fact that sometimes a network will buy a rerun of one of our products to fill a hole when something else drops out of the schedule.

“If you do an animated feature that works, it’s a lifetime asset. It will run forever. Every time Disney brings Fantasia (1940) out they make more money than when Walt first ran it.”

15 Comments

  • What was neat about Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse is how he incorporated many of the Terrytoons of the past such as Gandy Goose and Sourpuss,Hashimoto (as a grumpy sushi chef) and his own creation The Mighty Heroes. And how he linked up the older Mighty Mouse cartoon as a video clip featuring Mighty Mouse’s theme “Here I Come To Save The Day” ala Big Band style.

    • And oddly to this day, Viacom (through Paramount) has the original theatrical Terrytoons library, but CBS has licensing of the characters and Bakshi’s TV show Ithink.

    • Obviously they had trouble meeting deadlines, so they put together some “DTV”-style segments using vintage Terrytoon footage. I remember one that used a cover of “Locomotion.”

    • I actually enjoyed the recycled classic Terrytoons footage. Aside from the music videos, there were a couple of “clip shows”, one featuring the classic line “Why does Farmer Al Falfa always look so guilty?”.

    • Obviously they had trouble meeting deadlines, so they put together some “DTV”-style segments using vintage Terrytoon footage. I remember one that used a cover of “Locomotion.”

      It did seem the ultimate cheaters the way those were made, yet at the same time, it was rather a nice touch to hear covers of classic tunes set to footage from the very cartoons that were now starting to escape the public eye in the later years.

      I actually enjoyed the recycled classic Terrytoons footage. Aside from the music videos, there were a couple of “clip shows”, one featuring the classic line “Why does Farmer Al Falfa always look so guilty?”

      Thereby indoctrinating another generation tot he madness of The Farmer!

  • ‘Find out who the hell owns Mighty Mouse!’
    Which, at that time, would be Viacom, right? I first thought “CBS”, but when I checked I remembered they had to split off their syndicaton business at one point.

    Nobody figured the dog would become a star but he has. He’s been on the air over nine years and he’ll be on about four more years.

    Four more years? More like forty.

    There are many ways you can reimagine a mystery show – that’s why there are so many versions of Scooby.


    • ‘Find out who the hell owns Mighty Mouse!’
      Which, at that time, would be Viacom, right? I first thought “CBS”, but when I checked I remembered they had to split off their syndicaton business at one point.

      They had to because of a 1969 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) edict known as the Financial Interest and Syndication Rule (“FinSyn”), forcing networks to divest themselves of their syndication operations vis-a-vis reruns.

      Viacom was essentially hived off from CBS to comply with FinSyn.


      There are many ways you can reimagine a mystery show – that’s why there are so many versions of Scooby.

      Not to mention several none-too-successful variants on the theme such as The Funky Phantom, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Clue Club and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, all from 3400 Cahuenga.

  • I never tire of hearing the origin story of Ralph Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” series. It’s right up there with the stories I’ve heard about Joe Barbera’s network pitches in which he wasn’t always sure of the concept he had sold when the meeting ended. In fact, bookending this column with a story about Bakshi’s explosively artistic approach to dealing with networks and Barbera’s coldly calculated approach is a study in contrasts. It’s easy to see why H-B was more successful from a financial perspective and why Bakshi was (arguably) more successful from a creative perspective. There are merits to both approaches, I suppose.

    I didn’t see “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures” during its network run, although its reputation among the Christian conservatives I grew up with loomed large (along with John K.’s for the perceived evils of “Ren and Stimpy”) in the endless discussions in religious media about the subversiveness found in children’s entertainment. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel its influence, since many of my favorites shows from the 90s, such as “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Animaniacs,” seem to have been influenced by MM and featured some of MM’s key creative talent.

    Having watched some of the series in retrospect, my favorite episode is “Don’t Touch That Dial,” the one that parodies Saturday Morning TV at the time. It still rings true today. Even though animation may be more creator-driven in 2015, you can still see network interference all over the place.

    • Having watched some of the series in retrospect, my favorite episode is “Don’t Touch That Dial,” the one that parodies Saturday Morning TV at the time. It still rings true today. Even though animation may be more creator-driven in 2015, you can still see network interference all over the place.”

      Pretty much, they just found another way to pull their own weight in.

    • Yup, is true. There was a now infamous episode of Mighty Mouse the New Adventures about how Mighty Mouse befriended a young female mouse named Polly Pineblossom who gave Mighty Mouse a flower where he crushed the flower into a fine powder and inhaled the flower. A extremely fundamentalist Christian family from Louisiana saw the “offending” scene and notify their pastor who complained to CBS making a outrageous claim that Mighty Mouse was snorting cocaine! CBS bowed to the pressures of the Extreme Fundamentalist Christians who wanted to boycott MM:TNA by censoring the so called offense scene. Of course that didn’t sit well with Mr Bakshi who was upset over the censorship and created a MM:TNA episode about a fundamentalist preacher who causes trouble in Mouseville.

    • According to Wikipedia’s entry on MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES, Bakshi agreed to the deletion of the offending footage from the flower-sniffing scene from CBS Saturday morning broadcasts of the episode in question, making the following statement: “Mighty Mouse was happy after smelling the flowers because it helped him remember the little girl who sold it to him fondly. But even if you’re right, their accusations become part of the air we breathe. That’s why I cut the scene. I can’t have children wondering if Mighty Mouse is using cocaine.”

    • Amused that all the fuss was over the crushed flower and not over the title, “The Littlest Tramp”, which referred to the sexy heroine (who was a tramp in the sense of being poor).

    • A extremely fundamentalist Christian family from Louisiana saw the “offending” scene and notify their pastor who complained to CBS making a outrageous claim that Mighty Mouse was snorting cocaine! CBS bowed to the pressures of the Extreme Fundamentalist Christians who wanted to boycott MM:TNA by censoring the so called offense scene.

      It was Mississippi, not Louisiana, and the offended parties were Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association. Wildmon and his organization had, by that point, a well-deserved reputation for causing trouble and it was sometimes found to be easier to placate them than to fight them. CBS knew, of course, that Mighty Mouse wasn’t sniffing cocaine, but the network and Bakshi found it easier to make the cut than to argue about it. As Bakshi is quoted in someone else’s post above, once you put an idea like that out there — that Mighty Mouse was sniffing cocaine — you can’t take it back, and people are going to “see” it, even if it isn’t there.

      Disney similarly gave into Wildmon and his gang and redubbed a couple of Donald Duck’s lines in CLOCK CLEANERS after the conservative crew insisted that the duck says “Son of a bitch” and “fuck you” during his battle with the mainspring in that cartoon.

  • Boy, after reading about Bakshi’s confrontation of network types, I so wished that he’d done TOM AND JERRY cartoon reboots or even a BUGS BUNNY reboot; surely, his wabbit would have rivaled that of the manic character created by Bob Clampett, modeled after Tex Avery’s model.

    • That would’ve been ultimately cool!

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