FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
March 16, 2014 posted by Fred Patten

Fred’s First Anniversary Post

astro_boy_bwI am interrupting my schedule to celebrate a special occasion. Jerry posted my first weekly column on March 14th, 2013, so this column is one year and a couple of days old today. (Cheers and fireworks!) I was not sure when I started for how long I could keep up a weekly column about animation – two months, maybe? – but I have found more to talk about than I knew. Can I keep going for another year? Well, I am certainly going to try!

For the occasion, here are some memorable cartoons with birthday or anniversary themes.

Astro Boy. #25, “The Strange Birthday Present”. On the anniversary of Astro Boy’s activation, his friends and the Ministry of Science create a special present for him – one that gives him a lot of trouble in the future.

This episode is from the first year of the TV program. It was episode #37 in Japan; shown on September 10, 1963 in Japan and on February 14, 1964 in the U.S. It exhibits all of the charm of the earliest Japanese TV anime: notably the extremely limited animation (supposedly only a thousand cels per half-hour episode), and the electronic sound effects. Mostly, it made cartoonist Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) and his Mushi Productions famous. Tezuka was already well-known in manga circles since the 1950s. Astro Boy on TV made him known to everybody.



The Birthday Party. January 6, 1931.
Mickey’s Birthday Party. February 7, 1942.

This is an interesting pair of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons. The first (at right), directed by Burt Gillett, was made when The Mouse was the only notable character that Disney had. Both feature Walt Disney himself doing Mickey’s voice, though in 1931 everything was fresh and Walt enjoyed it. By the 1942 remake (below), directed by Riley Thompson, Walt was running a much larger company and must have already been looking for someone else to take on The Mouse’s role. In 1931 Marcellite Garner was Minnie, still the original voice; by 1942 Minnie was Thelma Boardman. In 1931 Mickey’s birthday cake has only two candles, accurately enough. It’s hard to count the candles on the 1942 cake, but it doesn’t seem that there are enough — by 1942, there should have been 12 or 13. In 1931 most of Mickey’s supporting cast had not yet been created – not Donald, not Goofy, not Clara Cluck. Aside from Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, Disney had to pack Mickey’s surprise party with generic barnyard animals. (The pig baker is not Peter Pig; Disney had not created him yet.) The Mickey in the 1931 The Birthday Party is the original spry and energetic young Mickey; playing the xylophone seems natural to him. The Mickey in the 1942 Mickey’s Birthday Party is the properly-dressed Mickey-as-sedate-corporate-image. Swinging at the party seems unnatural and almost embarrassing, like a mature partygoer wearing a lampshade.



(Blooper) Bunny! Made for theatrical release during 1991; not released until June 13, 1997 on TV.

Warner Bros. closed its legendary animation unit in 1963 – or 1969 — and has restarted and reclosed it several times since then. (Blooper) Bunny!, produced during 1991 and directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon, was a specific parody of all the adulatory TV specials produced for Bugs Bunny’s 50th anniversary in 1990. Unfortunately, after it was finished, WB management decided that it was too unflattering a depiction of its famous cartoon stars and refused to release it to the public. Time passed, management changed, and the forgotten short was rediscovered by the Cartoon Network, which loved it. The WB management of 1997 had no objection to its release on a semi-satirical TV program. Since then, it has appeared on a DVD compilation of classic Looney Tunes (even though it’s a Merrie Melody).

The 8½ minute cartoon is supposed to be, not a TV special celebrating Bugs Bunny’s 51½ anniversary, but the true story of the making of that special, including all of the flubbed lines, missed cues, Daffy Duck’s losing his temper and swearing on-camera, and Elmer Fudd switching his prop gun for a real one. Everything that can go wrong, does, during this TV Anniversary Spectacular.



Nu, Pogodi! #17 The 25th anniversary cartoon, released on June 24, 1993. The Soviet-era “wolf and hare” series, arguably the most popular that the state-run Soyuzmultfilm (Soviet Animation Film) studio in Moscow ever produced, was admittedly created just to be popular after years of heavy-handed propaganda cartoons. It was believed by Western animation fans to have been inspired by the MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons, although Director Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin (1927-2000) swore that he did not see any until 1987 – he was trying to produce Russian equivalents of the 1940s Disney theatrical animation.

The series, named for the Wolf’s frustrated promise to get the Hare next time (“Nu, Zayats, pogodi!”), started in June 1969. The series was numbered rather than individually titled. Like most Soviet-era short animated cartoons, they were mostly in pantomime so they could be shown throughout the multilingual U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. Actors Klara Rumyanova (Zayats) and Anatoly Papanov (Volk) mostly squeaked and grunted, except for Volk’s famous catchphrase. The series started with one or two a year from 1969 until #12 in 1982, then slowed and stopped after #16 in 1986. Papanov died in 1987, the U.S.S.R. with its state subsidy for animation disintegrated in 1991, and everyone assumed that they had seen the last of Volk & Zayats. But a commercial sponsor, the AMT Group throughout Western Russia and Nokia in Finland (telecommunications), was found to fund the production of a 17th, 25th-anniversary cartoon, released on June 24, 1993. It was designed around Papanov’s unused outtakes, which had been saved, so it featured the original voice cast.

“25th anniversary” is shown throughout the cartoon. There is one Russian-English pun: when a painting is shown of Wolf’s Volvo automobile, it is a “Volk-vo” – wolf car. If I didn’t know it was impossible, I would’ve sworn that Jim Tyer was one of the animators of the cannibal hares toward the end of the cartoon.



Party Smarty. This was the third (of ten) Famous Studios Noveltoons to star Baby Huey, directed by Seymour Kneitel and released on August 3, 1951. Baby Huey was famous, or notorious, as a pale imitation of the Warner Bros. theatrical cartoon formula of creating a popular situation and running it into the ground with endless, but always funny, variations. The Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote and Pepe le Pew series are the best-known examples. With Baby Huey, the formula may have been funny the first time, but it became very boring, very fast.

huey61Baby Huey, the grotesquely giant duckling (7 feet tall), friendly but stupid, would try to play with the other duckling children, but would innocently break or ruin everything. The other ducklings would nastily (but understandably) trick Baby Huey into going away and leaving them alone. The fox would show up to capture and eat them all; Baby Huey would return at the last minute to rescue them, and become their hero. In Party Smarty, it’s a birthday party that Baby Huey barges in upon, oblivious to being an uninvited and unwelcome guest, where he smashes the cake and breaks all the toys.

Baby Huey’s main value may have been to help keep veteran Fleischer/Famous employees employed. Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye for over a decade, co-wrote Party Smarty, and Mae Questal (Betty Boop, Olive Oyl) was the voice of Baby Huey’s doting Mom and of Oscar, the leader of the other duck children. (It’s his birthday party that Baby Huey crashes.)

Baby Huey’s theatrical Noveltoons only lasted for a decade, but he has been kept alive through licensed new TV cartoons, and especially comic books. In fact, he appeared in a comic book in 1949 before his theatrical debut in 1950, thanks to the licensed comic book getting advance materials on what Famous Studios were planning. Famous’ animated cartoon characters (Casper, the Friendly Ghost was the most popular) were sold to Harvey Comics in 1957, and Harvey kept Baby Huey more reliably visible in comic-book form than in his erratic TV appearances.

Baby Huey would probably be forgotten today, but for unexpected tremendous publicity when Time magazine revealed in a March 1998 issue that back in 1993, when President Bill Clinton was letting his hair down in a private conversation with Newt Gingrich, Clinton said, “I’m a lot like Baby Huey. I’m fat. I’m ugly. But if you push me down, I keep coming back.”

Today, the rights to Baby Huey have been acquired by DreamWorks Animation. Can you imagine a CGI feature like DreamWorks’ current Mr. Peabody and Sherman starring the Fat Fowl? “Duh, I tink you’re da Fox an’ you’re tryin’ ta eat me!” The mind cringes.



marsupilami-stamp

The Marsupilami. Okay, this is an unanimated postage stamp, but the Marsupilami has been a favorite of mine since I discovered French comic books while in college. This is my column, and I want to add him.

This is a French half-euro stamp released on June 2, 2003 for “Anniversary” mail, with no real connection to the Marsupilami. I guess he was used just because he looks cute and fits a generic birthday-party theme.

The Marsupilami (“marsupil + ami”; marsupial friend) was introduced on January 31, 1952, toward the climax of Spirou and the Heirs (Spirou et les héritiers). Spirou (slang for a young scamp) was introduced in the first issue of the Belgian weekly Le Journal de Spirou on April 21, 1938, by cartoonist Rob-Vel. Spirou’s adventurous friend Fantasio was added to the Spirou strip in 1943, and it soon became Spirou et Fantasio. In 1946, young cartoonist André Franquin (1924-1997) was given the strip to both draw and write. He turned it from a gag-a-week strip into one of long serialized adventures, one page a week lasting about a year each in the weekly magazine. As is standard with French/Belgian comics, Spirou’s and Fantasio’s adventures were designed to be 48 pages each, to be reprinted in hardcover albums. Spirou et les héritiers is still in print after more than sixty years, and is still earning royalties for Franquin’s own heirs.

spirou-marsupiliamiSpirou and the Heirs is about three tests between Fantasio and his evil cousin Zantafio to inherit a fabulous fortune. The final test is to capture an ultra-rare marsupilami from the Amazonian jungles. The animal (and it was a wild animal, not an intelligent character) was like a jaguar-furred and –spotted friendly monkey with an incredibly long, prehensile tail. He was instantly popular, and became a regular member of the cast as an impish, innocently trouble-making pet. He did not quite take over the series from Spirou and Fantasio, but whenever he was absent from their adventures for too long, readers complained.

In 1968, Franquin retired from Le Journal de Spirou. The series was continued without the marsupilami by Spirou’s editors with new creators (the latest hardcover album is #53, In the Claws of the Viper (Dans les Griffes de la Vipère), by Yoann Chivard (art) & Fabian Vehlmann (writer), January 2013). But Franquin had invented and defined the Marsupilami, and he was allowed to take it with him. In 1987 Franquin began a new series of Marsupilami albums, not written or drawn by him but prepared by a staff under his close supervision to look exactly like his work. The staff has continued after his death. There are currently 27 Marsupilami albums; the latest is Coeur d’étoile, November 2013. Officially, this is not the same marsupilami; the series features another marsupilami from the jungles of Palombia. But as far as the average Belgian or French kid is concerned, it’s the same Marsu.

The Marsupilami is a natural for animation, but Franquin and his estate have had mixed luck with it. The first animated version was produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, theoretically co-produced by André Franquin; 13 episodes during 1993. (The final episode was shown on my birthday, December 11, 1993.) Disney ignored Franquin’s established background and teamed “Mars”, who now talked, with Maurice the gorilla and Stewart the elephant; two well-known South American jungle animals. The new Marsupilami episodes were shown with reruns of Sebastian the Crab episodes from Disney’s The Little Mermaid TV series, and Schnookums and Meat from Raw Toonage.

How bad was it? Well, the resulting lawsuit did not go into the program’s quality, but let’s say that Disney did not give it the expected attention. Franquin’s company, Marsu Productions, sued Disney for, essentially, failing to promote the Marsupilami internationally as promised, and lost revenue caused by that failure. To quote from the judge’s decision: “The court awarded Marsu $8,015,400 in lost profits. It also awarded Marsu $431,159, the amount Marsu would have received in guarantees from sublicensees had Disney not waived the guarantees.” The judge confirmed the decision, which Disney had appealed.

In 2000 a second series began, produced by Marathon Animation in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris. There have been three “seasons” so far, starring the Marsupilami (or a Marsupilami), his mate Marsupilamie, and their three babies Bibi, Bibu, and Bobo in the Palombian jungle. Each season has new human supporting characters of friendly children and their scientist/naturalist parents, and a returning villain, the ruthless zoo hunter Bring M. Backalive. Marsupilami, beginning in March 2000, has 26 half-hour episodes; Mon Ami Marsupilami has 15 episodes beginning in August 2003; and Houba Houba Hop!, September 2009 to the present. (This third season is technically seasons 3 through 5.) These are no worse than the average American TV cartoons, in my opinion, and the series has sold to 36 countries around the world including Canada and Mexico; but apparently it is not considered good enough for the U.S.

In 2012 there was a theatrical live-action feature with a CGI-animated Marsupilami, On the Trail of the Marsupilami (Sur la piste du Marsupilami). The reviews were not good – see its trailer and judge for yourself — and it was never released in the U.S.

And there is a French postage stamp showing the Marsupilami holding a big birthday cake. A good note to end this column on.

19 Comments

  • There was a 1940s Donald Duck cartoon about the nephews raiding their own piggy bank to buy Donald a box of cigars (he’s trying to force the kids to learn thrift). Donald, thinking the boys bought the cigars for their own uses, forces them to smoke the whole box as a lesson . . . finally finding the birthday card after the boys have turned several colors of nausea. Thoroughly ashamed of himself, he literally shirks to the size of a big. The End.

    For the Disney TV series, that became the introduction for an hour episode. Donald decides to square things by throwing a party, highlighted by home showings of his own cartoons. The boys keep subbing in Mickey and Goofy titles, then turn on the TV to watch the Mickey Mouse Club ( a then-rare chance to see the opening titles in color). Donald, locked out of the house, runs to the TV studio and pops out of the Mousekartoon mine, presenting one of his own shorts.

    • That was one of the episodes of the familiar Disney anthology shows (Wonderful World of Color being one of it’s many names over the years). I think the title was “At Home with Donald Duck”. It got an early release on the Laserdisc form (known as “DiscoVision” at the time).
      http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/At_Home_with_Donald_Duck

  • Popeye had a sorry “anniversary” party featuring caricatures of Bob Hope and Martin & Lewis. It was a cheater filled with recent clips.

    If memory serves, the launch of the Yogi Bear Show (Yogi had been introduced as a character on Huckleberry Hound) was a special episode about a surprise birthday party. Local station KTVU built it into an hour special featuring the local live kid show hosts and lots of plugs for Kellogg’s cereals.

  • Disney ignored Franquin’s established background and teamed “Mars”, who now talked, with Maurice the gorilla and Stewart the elephant; two well-known South American jungle animals. I’m pretty sure you meant African jungle animals, which indeed is a direct contract to the character’s Amazonian background. But Disney knew best what the public wanted, and what it apparently wanted was a brain damaged gorillas, a main character that never stopped talking and cracking jokes, and whiny, obnoxious elephants.

    Yeah, the Disney version was just simply stupid. In retrospect it was kind of a dry run for the types of cartoons that would make up the Timon & Pumbaa TV series and others of its ilk.

    • I was being sarcastic.

    • Ah gotcha!

      *puts on dunce cap*

  • congratulations on your column’s one year anniversary! looking forward to those to come!

  • Fred, I’m enjoying your pieces, and it’s obvious that you’re enjoying writing them.

  • The funniest part of the Baby Heuy cartoon was that the duckling party guests sounded 30-40 something poker buddies. Hearing those voices come out of such cute characters is very amusing.

  • There was also Terrytoon’s “Farmer Alfafa Twentifth Anniversary” which commemorates the character’s twentifth birthday.

    And who could forget Warner’s “Porky’s Party”?

  • “It was believed by Western animation fans to have been inspired by the MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons, although Director Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin (1927-2000) swore that he did not see any until 1987 – he was trying to produce Russian equivalents of the 1940s Disney theatrical animation.”

    I can see how people would think that way about it. While I can see the Disney influences there, I still thought there was something about the pairing of those characters that does harken back to Golden Age classics like Tom & Jerry or those from WB like Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner (if only the “chase” premise, Disney didn’t have too many of that unless it was Donald or Pluto going after Chip ‘n’ Dale perhaps).

    “The series was numbered rather than individually titled. Like most Soviet-era short animated cartoons, they were mostly in pantomime so they could be shown throughout the multilingual U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe.”

    Been told the series also got airplay in some Asian countries like Vietnam, even Cuba got some of it too I think, but obviously these were still in the sphere of influence from the USSR I suppose. Don’t suppose they got much traction outside of that unless by chance somehow like a release of several episodes dubbed in English that were released in the U.K (these were handled by the state film exportation unit).

    “The series started with one or two a year from 1969 until #12 in 1982, then slowed and stopped after #16 in 1986.”

    Yeah unlike the American Golden Age studios in their day, they didn’t try to milk this for all it’s worth if they only did one short every year rather than say 3 or 4.

    “But a commercial sponsor, the AMT Group throughout Western Russia and Nokia in Finland (telecommunications), was found to fund the production of a 17th, 25th-anniversary cartoon, released on June 24, 1993. It was designed around Papanov’s unused outtakes, which had been saved, so it featured the original voice cast.”

    There was also an 18th episode as well that seemed to stray further from the look/feel of the show (the Wolf already got such a 1990′s ‘tude look going on with his hair). It does made the later efforts in the 2000′s (done by the creator’s son) seem adequate to say the least.

    Wouldn’t be the only time they had to shill for a product, here’s an ad for some candy brand they also appeared in…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNs8CM-pN50

    This YouTuber alone has all the Nu, Pogodi! you’ll ever want to see, even the unofficial stuff!
    https://www.youtube.com/user/NuPogodi1969/

    “The Marsupilami. Okay, this is an unanimated postage stamp, but the Marsupilami has been a favorite of mine since I discovered French comic books while in college. This is my column, and I want to add him.”

    You have every right to, and dispell the myths that he was created over as a few people I know who would like to continue to believe that, having watched “Raw Toonage” 20 years back as I did (even I didn’t know it all either, but I guess it followed the Smurfs Syndrome in that respect).

    “The new Marsupilami episodes were shown with reruns of Sebastian the Crab episodes from Disney’s The Little Mermaid TV series, and Schnookums and Meat from Raw Toonage.”

    Raw Toonage, as least what I remember of it on CBS was more an odd little anthology show that had a guest host every episode with at least three cartoons per episode (I recall one with Don Karnage from TaleSpin), the cartoons themselves were of Bonkers the Bobcat, Marsupilami and a one-shot type piece called “Totally Tasteless Video”, they might’ve had others but I haven’t watched the show entirely. Schnookums and Meat was a separate series itself that ran in syndication I believe (if it started on Raw Toonage, then perhaps I was wrong there).

    “Franquin’s company, Marsu Productions, sued Disney for, essentially, failing to promote the Marsupilami internationally as promised, and lost revenue caused by that failure.”

    Certainly wasn’t any (you’d think they could’ve pushed it in the stores with plushies of the guy).

    “These are no worse than the average American TV cartoons, in my opinion, and the series has sold to 36 countries around the world including Canada and Mexico; but apparently it is not considered good enough for the U.S.”

    Probably for the best since we’ve ruined that opportunity already.

    • Actually, there was a Marsupilami plush that was sold in the U.S. around the time of the show. I forget who did it, though.

      And to be fair about the animated show, it’s not like Columbia had trouble on doing cartoon with Krazy Kat either. I mean, they made him into an annoying Joe Penner imaitation (NOT Stephen Fetcher as it was said in “Of Mice and Magic”) by the time his series ended in 1940.

    • Well at least something came out at all, even if I didn’t noticing it existed at all at the time (being already a high school student with other things to do).

  • Wow! I know I shouldn’t be surprised at how much Fred knew about SPIROU & FANTASIO, let alone the spinoff character Marsupilami! I think Spirou needs more exposure in the US. :)

    • Dealing with a pro here John! I sorta wish we had those characters over here too. You’d think these publishers would consider in some way to set up shop in the states with the hopes of distributing these books themselves but I guess it doesn’t work quite like that, nor do we have potential companies who may like to license said properties to sell here though we do get relatively few efforts out of it.

    • I love the “Spirou et Fantasio” albums, but I can’t say that they have been any better than “Astérix” or “Tintin” or “Lucky Luke” or the much more serious “Alix” (set in Roman times); and every attempt in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and probably 1980s to publish English-language editions in America only got a few volumes out before they were cancelled for poor sales. Translations of French/Belgian comics have been faring much better during the last decade, with “Blacksad” from iBooks and, after its bankruptcy, Dark Horse, and the “Gil Jourdain” and “Blake et Mortimer” series from Fantagraphics. I don’t know if any American publisher has tried to license any of the “Spirou et Fantasio” albums, but with 53 of them now and considering their popularity in Europe, I imagine that the rights are quite expensive.

    • Wouldn’t surprise me Fred. It’s a shame it never took off for that particular series otherwise. True though about Blacksad’s success here (I see a new story popped up last year though I’m not sure if Dark Horse has published that yet locally).

  • A look at Amazon shows that a British publisher has been translating and releasing some of the Spirou albums, which are available as imports through Amazon US. I’ve been recommending that people interested in the series take a look at THE MARSUPILAMI THIEVES from 1954. It’s still somewhat early Franquin, but a pretty decent outing and shows the characters in good form.
    If memory serves, a short-lived American company announced a couple of the Spirou albums (the Zorglub ones) in the ’90s, and I think Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson was doing the translations. I’m not sure if they were actually published.

  • POPEYES MIRTHDAY -1953!

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