Into the last throes of theatrical animation hops our six-legged friend and subject of this series, to earn the highest honors to be bestowed upon an insect – and also to “flesh” out a string of both popular and not-so-well-remembered television ventures up to the present day.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (Paramount/John and Faith Hubley, 1966) was the Hubleys’ experiment in something which was only beginning to come unto its own in film media – the music video. One might say that the studio Hubley had helped so much to found – UPA – was the first to exploit the music video format for the animated cartoon, churning out numerous virtually plotless accompaniments to original or already established music pieces for the “Ham and Hattie” short-lived theatrical series, and throughout the run of the “Gerald McBoing Boing Show”. But Hubley was long gone from the studio before it turned in such direction. Possibly taking a leaf from the approach of his old haunts, but definitely steering the visual style into his own unique conception, John, with the assistance of Faith, finally got his chance to try out the genre, for perhaps the only time in his career, at the presumed commission of A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert, then riding on the crest of a nationwide wave with a seemingly endless string of chart-topping instrumental hits. Soundtrack for the film is a series of straight needle drops, without either dialogue or sound effect augmentation. While billed as a “double feature” (in the same manner of a split-reel as used in the “Ham and Hattie” series”), the film is actually more of a set of triplets, its title sequence being animated to a third Brass minor success from their second album – “The Mexican Shuffle” (which will also be remembered for its use as jingle on the Clark Teaberry Gum commercials), although its animation might just as well have accompanied the Brass’s first major hit – the #6 charting “The Lonely Bull”. While “Tijuana Taxi” completes the film as its third entry, our attention is on the middle segment, “Spanish Flea”.
Its attempt to ingrain something of a plot upon the piece can be roughly described as follows: A flea, who makes his home in the center of a large flower, spends an average day pestering an old mule and a strutting chicken in a barnyard. While the mule and hen are nonplussed at being painfully nipped at, the flea rests peacefully at night – until their world is shattered by the advance of progress. A bulldozer chases the mule and hen off the property. All trees and shrubbery are swept away, and in an instant, a fancy resort hotel takes their place. A short sunglassed owner appears in a limousine, along with a “trophy” wife (or girlfriend?) twice his size, and barks orders to a crew of yes-men. The flea looks on in amazement, as a flock of guests appear from nowhere and engage in a swinging pool party, dancing to the latest dance crazes. Even the owner disappears into a beach cabana with his lady fair for some assumed “swinging” (suggested by fitful shifts of the tent walls). But a commotion outside attracts his attention, and prompts him to pop his head out. All the guests are getting really “bugged”, as the flea makes the rounds chomping down wherever flesh is available. The owner barks a new string of orders to his flunkeys, and with the help of the bulldozer, the entire resort is pushed to the next lot. To the now vacant original property return the old mule and the hen, who barely have time to resume their old activities when they are set upon again by the flea, who, well fed, settles into his flower for a peaceful night’s sleep once again.
Notable among the animation crew is the name of Warner’s former wild-man Rod Scribner, who must presumably be credited for the wilder takes or action sequences in the picture. My bets would be that he may have provided animation for the mule and the screaming owner in the “Flea” segment, as well as some of the “Trumpet-nosed” bull for the titles. Despite being something of an experiment, the film took Oscar gold in 1967.
The Pink Flea (DePatie-Freleng, UA, Pink Panther, 9/15/71 – Gerry Chinitquy, dir.) – Poor Pinky gets the itch, just by being a nice guy and petting a stray dog. The flea he acquires proves the usual nuisance, and Pink resorts to a number of hopeful remedies, both store-bought and original. A can of “Flea Gone” smokes the critter into revealing his hiding place atop Pink’s head – but applying a club to one’s own dome is no effective means of extermination – just a good recipe for lumps. Taking a stroll through a car wash is a new approach – but Pink comes out the other end of the washing apparatus blow-dried into a floating pink puffball – with the flea floating above him as a black puffball! A dive into the ocean provides brief relief, but the flea appears using a drinking straw as a snorkel; then, when Pink plugs the other end of the air supply, the flea makes an escape in a miniature motorboat. A purchase from a snow cone vendor is used to create an artificial snowdrift on Pink’s back. The flea, now sneezing and turning blue, thaws himself out on a thrown-away cigar butt on the sidewalk, then returns to his host. Pink can’t even get a peaceful meal at the beachfront hot dog stand, as the flea devours his food (although Pink gets brief revenge by coating the next hot dog in tabasco sauce). Pink finally takes the most drastic step – and with a “Schtick Electric Razor”, cuts off all his fur. (He is, for the record, chalk white underneath.) Leave it to mother nature to launch a sudden cold snap, and white panther turns blue. He is forced to purchase a thick fur coat from a furrier – and guess who shows up as an uninvited passenger?
Starting From Scratch (Warner, 10/1/90), a first-season episode of Steven Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures, hits a bit of an uncharacteristic sentimental note, in its effort to lampoon another overly sentimental story that had recently struck paydirt for Don Bluth – “An American Tail”. Instead of mice, the immigrant family are Italian fleas, who happen to reside on a dog recently captured by Elmyra. When Elmyra catches the dog scratching, she applies flea spray. The family races through the dog’s fur to escape the “gas attack”, finally leaping off the dog’s nose and out the window. Below, Furrball (the junior counterpart to Sylvester) is being pursued by a huge white dog (not the usual “Arnold” character parodying a soon-to-be California governor, but apparently the same breed). Papa, Mama, and Sister flea land safely on the aggressive dog – but young son Fleo misses his aim and winds up on Furrball instead. As Furrball escapes the hound, Fleo finds himself hopelessly separated from his family. That night, Furrball discovers his new occupant, singing a sad song intentionally staged by the writers to resemble the Bluth film’s song hit, “Somewhere Out There”. Taking pity on him, Furrball does his best to resist his scratching instinct, and allows the flea to bed down for the night.
Next morning, Furrball acquires another tenant – a hungry bedbug (a hulking green monster of an insect), looking for new feeding grounds and with a hearty appetite for fleas. Fleo is discovered by the bully, and a chase begins within the cat’s fur. Furrball eventually crosses paths with Babs and Buster Bunny, and displays for their view the panicked situation going on within his fur overcoat. Buster decides that in a case like this, answers can best be found by using Acme Looniversity’s cartoon supercomputer. Programming in the problem, Buster receives an answer on the computer monitor – “Cartoon Cliche #1: Shrink your heroes.” Babs replies, “It’s so crazy, it might just work.” Buster informs her, “That’s Cartoon Cliche #2.” Calamity Coyote is called in for technical assistance, having at hand a device that looks like the transporter room from the Starship Enterprise. The rabbits ask how the thing works, and Calamity holds up a sign reading, “Magic.” “The miracles of modern science”, quips Buster. Appearing from nowhere, Plucky Duck joins in the festivities so he can get in on the hero worship they’ll receive later if they accomplish their mission. With some standard Star Trek special effects, the three of them are “beamed” aboard Furrball. In the course of the chase, the trio travel through Furrball’s ear (Plucky not being able to resist playing the eardrum, in a borrow from “Jack Wabbit and the Beanstalk”), inside his cranium, and out again on his back, finding Fleo, and attempting to confuse the bedbug. One odd tribute scene has Buster don a Mexican sombrero, and duplicate the face-slapping sequence set to the tune of “Chiapenecas” from “Bully For Bugs” – but the bedbug doesn’t play along for long, and flattens Buster under the sombrero, leaving him to wonder how come it worked for the elder Bunny. Finally figuring out that the flea’s family is on the very dog that’s been chasing Furrball all through the picture, Buster yells in Furrball’s ear that the only way he can help his flea pal is to confront his own worst fear. After a gulp, Furrball turns on all the heroism he has in his heart, and marches straight to the dog’s yard. The dog seizes him in one paw, and rears back his other fist to do some major damage. Having no other approach of attack left to him, Furrball blindly flails his claws every which way – and gets lucky, scoring a minor scratch on the dog’s nose. Despite all his bravado, the dog turns out to be a total coward, dropping Furrball, and running to hide whimpering behind some trash cans. Furrball flushes him out, and while the dog cringes in terror, Furrball surprisingly offers the dog his hand in friendship, which the dog timidly accepts. Fleo is reunited with his family, all of whom decide to take up residence on Furrball. Restored by Calamity’s machine to normal size, Plucky complains that no throngs are present to let him bask in heroic glory. Buster comments that Furrball has them beat on real heroics, as they watch Furrball and his new adopted family depart, Furrball still doing his best to resist a scratch now and then.
Strike Flea! You’re Out! (The Pink Panther Show, 10/20/93) is another of those overly long, talking Pink Panther television episodes voiced by Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), which proves to be a bit better than usual, but falters as usual in the ending. Combining baseball with the unlikely angle of fleas, Pink is a wanna-be rookie trying out for a team known as the Mutts. The Mutts’ regular putcher (Rex D. Ball) is busy beaning batters, so Pink is given a chance to show his stuff to manager La Bamba (any similarity to Lasorda is purely intentional – even the team announcer sounds like Vin Scully). Pink winds up – and the ball dies halfway to the plate. La Bamba tells him to face it, “When you stink, you stink!” But Pink is so anxious to make the team that La Bamba finds one remaining opening for him – as dog washer for the team mascot. Rex (who has an odd split personality fixation of talking to his baseball, on which he has drawn a face and who he refers to ad “Spalding”) razzes Pink on his new position, calling him a “flea agent”. Pink shrugs off the comment from the kook, just as a flea escapes from the bath water and jumps onto the panther. Pink goes into a fitful series of twitches amounting to a “wind-up”, and hurls a bar of soap out onto the field and through the manager’s hat. La Bamba begs, “Can you do that again – on the field, with a baseball, and not through my hat?” Pink becomes the overnight fast-ball sensation, rocketing the mutts into the World Series – and leaving Rex sitting out the season on the bench. The flea bites prove equally capable of making a power-hitter out of Pink, too, making him a double threat. Rex vows revenge to Spalding. Rex tries various direct methods, including a baseball full of TNT. Unfortunately, Pink pitches it to a batter who hits it foul, directly into the upper deck bleachers where Rex waits for the explosion. He kicks the ball off the deck, but the team mascot retrieves it for him just in time for the blast. Finally, Rex spots Pink applying the flea to himself, and discovers his secret. Here, the writers fall apart, as Rex obtains the flea in the middle of the World Series with a “flea magnet” (since when are fleas made of metal?), and tosses the flea into the stands, where it gets caught in the fake wig of an angry patron, preventing Pink from getting it back. Pink’s fast ball flops, and La Bamba pulls him from the mound. Let’s break all the rules of major league baseball, shall we – as Pink, despite being pulled in the top of the inning, is allowed to bat in the bottom of the 9th. (????????) And with no flea, and no other secret weapon of explanation, Pink finally hits a homer of his own power to win the game – and no punchline. Script quality just dropped off the scorecard.
Fleas! (Universal, 11/19/94), an episode of the Saturday morning “Beethoven” series on CBS, features a unique approach to the itchy insect, equipping squads of them with standard army issue walkie-talkies, and having them radio communicate between troops and commander as if on a mission to parachute behind enemy lines. In reality, they are merely leaping from a dresser top in one of the kids’ bedrooms onto the huge St. Bernard’s sleeping back. When Beethoven awakes, he hardly seems to notice the invasion except for an occasional scratch. But in traversing the living room and the kitchen, he manages to spread fleas to everyone in the family. Pop goes crazy at being chomped by one of the squadron leaders, and vows to rid Beethoven of the little buggers. His first suggestion is to give Beethoven a “B – A – T – H”. Hearing this, Beethoven leaps right through a screen door and out into the yard. “All right,” asks Pop, “Who taught him how to spell?” After first dousing Dad in the bath water, Beethoven is finally forced to take the plunge by the whole family, and further endures the humiliation of a blow dryer. Returning to the bedroom, he is further humiliated by the family’s second pet, a hamster named Mr. Hugs, who laughs himself silly at Beethoven’s frizzled fur and at him smelling like a “Daisy.” Beethoven finally intimidates Hugs to shut up, and falls asleep again – only to be dived upon by wave 2 of the invading flea infantry. Just as Pop brags to the family that there’s no way any flea could have survived that bath, Beethoven passes again, and Pop receives two bites from twin intruders. Plan of attack 2 – flea powder. Beethoven returns to the bedroom in a veritable white cloud, to the further jeers of Mr. Hugs, who calls him “Ghost Dog”. But neither rain nor “snow” will stop the diving hoards, and Beethoven is infested for a third time.
Drastic measures are in order. Papa buys aerosol bombs for each room of the house, and, evacuating the family, sets them off with military precision and rolls out of the house just ahead of the gas. Mom says the instructions say they have to wait four hours. They wait in the yard, in a montage of shots showing them doing crossword puzzles, reading magazines, playing cards, and other activities, only to have Papa ask how long its’s been, and Mom reply, “Seven minutes.” Finally, night falls – and so does Papa trying to enter the house a little too soon. But all their effort is for naught, as a first look on the kitchen countertop reveals a live flea still jumping. There is but one recourse left – shear the dog. Papa, now half-crazed, views this new task with delight, arming himself with an electric razor. Beethoven dashes wildly around the house and up to the bedroom, with Papa in pursuit. As Beethoven cringes in a corner with nowhere to run, the clippers come ever closer and closer – until Pop’s eyes fall on a surprise discovery – Mr. Hugs in his cage, scratching! On closer inspection, Pop realizes that the source of the fleas wasn’t Beethoven at all, but the hamster. Guess who gets the shearing. And as Mr. Hugs stands denuded and shivering in his cage, insisting to Beethoven, “Don’t say it”, Beethoven gets the chance he’s been waiting for – to call the hamster “Daisy”.
The Moxy Show (Cartoon Network, 1993-1995) is considered a lost series. It was a primitive experiment in CGI and motion capture, to provide interstitials between old cartoons. Moxy was an orange humanized dog, who would later be joined in the series by a huge flea about half his size (sometimes purple, sometimes pink, and in early episodes wearing a propeller beanie). Only a handful of clips and a single half-hour pilot appear to have survived. Just as well. The interstituals are pure hokum slapstick, with no apparent attention called to the flea’s natural tendencies, nor explanation offered as to why he should be best buds with the dog. The pilot, about an alien abduction where they are mistaken for hair specialists, needed to rescue a balding race of space chimpanzees from a future of endless humiliation, makes no sense whatsoever (perhaps the film’s only charm). A notable voice recasting, however, occurred in the pilot, appearing to be the only use of a notable star talent on the series – flea is voiced by Chris Rock, before his landing a niche in the successful “Madagascar” series. What a step up in the world to rise from this humble cartoon beginning.
At long last, an episode from DIC’s The Wacky World of Tex Avery works its way into these articles. This was an odd series built upon an odd premise – saluting a classic animator of the past, by naming a cartoon character after him? ”Tex” Avery thus became the moniker for a classic Western-style cowboy hero, pestered by a villain with demeanor similar to Avery’s wolf, and with a girlfriend (Chastity) doing her best to mimic Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood. (Had thus concept become a trend, what would have been next? An undersea series with a lead character named Bob Clam-Pet?) The results were inconsistent, but actually turned out overall somewhat better than expected – though, even with a good deal of effort put into the project from a studio not previously known to strive for anything in the vein of the classic animated short, the films, even at their best, were a far cry from those of the character’s namesake. Also, to support a half-hour package of 65 eposodes, a lot more had to be written than just one series. Thus, a stringof new series were composed. One, “Ghengis and Khanie”, at least bore a resemblance to Avery characters, Ghengis being a modification of Avery’s Slap-Happy Lion”, and Khanie being something of a little-girl panda counterpart to Droopy. “Einstone” also tried for the stone-age look of “The First Bad Man”, creating an original character who is something of a Ludwig Von Drake egghead genius, hopelessly trying to educate a dum-dum race of Neanderthals. But other series went in errant directions, either creating new characters without historic derivation or sometimes deriving from characters that weren’t Avery’s at all. For example, “Maurice and Mooch” was nothing more than a ripoff of rival studio Paramount’s Baby Huey, without the super strength, and giving the duck a Scandahoovian accent. “Freddy the Fly” was a horrendous effort at a hobo insect character – forgetting that Avery only borrowed the character “Homer” from Rudolf Ising rather than creating him. And “Pompeii Pete” and “Power Pooch” bore little if any resemblance to anything that had preceded them. Our study below focuses on a “Power Pooch” installment – a canine superhero, more human than mutt, and his small kitty kat sidekick battling the “forces of evil”.
Flea! Run Away (11/19/97) opens in the mad scientist laboratory of recurring arch-villain, Professor Hydrant (literally, a live metal fire hydrant with megalomaniac tendencies). In classic Frankenstein tradition, he creates “a super-radiated, quantum inflicted, steroid pumped, giant flea.” Programming the flea to track Power Pooch’s DNA (which Hydramt notes Pooch left samples of upon him so many years ago), the flea (somewhat resembling the Mighty Angelo) is set loose, breaking down the rock door of the castle and leaving large dents in the road down the hill with each hop. In the city, Power Pooch flies on patrol. The flea senses him, and views Power Pooch as if a large T-bone steak. Leaping into the sky, the flea takes a healthy bite on Pooch’s rear end. Pooch loses control and crashes into the pavement below, depleting his superpowers (which he derives from the secret weapon of chomping on an old shoe which was dropped years ago from the foot of another passing superhero). As Pooch withers to non-super form, the flea suddenly loses his appetite for what he is biting on, spits the dog’s skin out of his mouth disgustedly, and hops away. Pooch’s cat sidekick produces the power shoe to provide Pooch with a recharge. The minute Pooch is restored to himself again, the flea picks up the scent, slamming into Pooch so hard, he flattens him into a brick wall. Pooch is again temporarily depleted of power, and the flea again loses his taste for dog meat. Pooch’s sidekick detects a pattern, and suggests Pooch lay off the shoe for a while, as his powerful self seems to attract like a magnet. Pooch now suspects the tracing to his super DNA, but wonders who would have a sample of same lying around to perform the programming. Only one person – Professor Hydrant.
In a missed plot hole for the proverbial Mack truck to pass through, Pooch appears at Professor Hydrant’s castle in super form, despite his sidekick warnings. The flea has also returned a few moments before, empty-handed, and Professor Hydrant has donned a metal helmet to prevent any remaining trace of Pooch’s DNA from attracting the flea. Pooch gently knocks at the castle door, and Hydrant, who had assumed Pooch had been done in, reacts in disgust, “You’re harshing my mellow, man.” Pooch announces he’s come to right the wrong he’s done to the Professor’s life, but Hydrant is in no mood for apologies, claiming that after all this time, he’s found he likes having been made an evil genius by Pooch’s wrong. The flea appears on the scent again, and Power Pooch remarks, “This should be painful.” For protection, he steals the Professor’s metal helmet, but gets bit anyway, again deflating to normal form. This leaves no other source of DNA in the immediate vicinity except – the Professor’s head. The Professor wails helplessly under the onslaught of the flea, while Power Pooch states an object lesson to his sidekick about the importance of hygiene – that Hydrant’s troubles would have been over “if he had simply washed”. As the heroes leave, Pooch’s sidekick points out that instead of making amends, Pooch has left Hydrant even more miserable than before. “True – But he likes it that way’, says Pooch for the iris out.
Fleas Release Me (2/7/98), from Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, barely deserves mention. While nominally a case for Granny to track down a missing flea circus, the entire episode turns instead into a day at the “flea market”, with the fleas only making an appearance in distant long shot in the final scenes of the film. The only really notable feature of the episode is a comeback cameo for the genie originally voiced by Jim Backus from “A Lad and His Lamp”, who takes up most of the storyline as Sylvester discovers Aladdin’s lamp amidst the bric-a-brac, and both he and Tweety somehow wind up inside it to discover the whereabouts of the missing fleas as well.
Flea or Die! (10/5/98) , an episode of Nickelodeon’s Catdog, has the titular “Pushmi-Pullyu” style freak (a direct lift from a character design introduced by Bob Clampett in Porky in Wackyland and reappearing in Tin Pan Alley Cats) at the beach, with its cat head trying to give the dog head tips on how to pick up babes. Cat (voiced by Jim Cummings, in essentially the same voice used for Lucky Piquel on “Bonkers”) says you gotta be cool – but demonstrates exactly the opposite when the tide makes the slightest touch upon his paw, revealing he is deathly afraid of the water. Dog’s tastes are quite different than cat’s in females, dog expressing interest in a water rat. Cat responds, “Oh, yeah. Set your sights low enough, and you’re bound to score.” Instead, cat flirts with two females of his own species. He finds out the girls are about to play with a beach ball. The sight of a ball sets dog wild, and all chance for coolness is blown as dog chases madly around the sand after the sphere. In the process, he tramples across the water rat – and picks up passengers – an infestation of fleas, who, upon seeing the canine/feline, shout “Two for one special!” The next thing we know, Catdog is visiting the vet a certain Rancid Rabbit. The vet focuses a televiewer magnifying device on Catdog – but gets an old Western. “Whoops, wrong channel”, he observes. Finally zeroing in on the fleas, the vet advises there are two courses of action – a flea dip (ruled out immediately by cat to avoid the dreaded “water”), and an unfashionable huge flea belt around their waistline. Cat insists the belt is the only way to go – but soon regrets the choice, as they are now the laughing stock of all the cool girls – and everybody else. After public humiliation, cat decides the solution is to push the belt down to dog’s end so it won’t appear that cat is wearing it. One little problem – this places the belt out of range to do any good for cat, and the infestation merely moves to his half. In desperation, he pulls the collar back to his end – leaving dog with the infestation. The two engage in a tug of war to see which will get the protection, while the fleas multiply wherever the collar isn’t and eventually engulf both of them. They drag themselves at the point of exhaustion back to the vet, and cat finally relents to take the flea dip. As cat descends into the soup, the fleas (several of whom having been wearing little outfits like tourists on a cruise ship, shout in Bob Clampett fashion, “Agony! Agony!” Now ready to face the beach once again, Catdog discovers an unexplained surprise. Trends have changed, and now, everyone’s wearing a belt. No longer “cool” for lack of the accessory, Catdog leaves the beach, with Cat commenting, “Just shoot me.”
A Bug’s Life (Pixar, 11/20/98), one of the only early triumphs of the Pixar studios to not have been sequelized (yet), centers on a sort of “Three Amigos” storyline, with an ant populace in search of heroes to battle a menacing mob of grasshoppers who raid their food supply as annual “tribute”. The “heroes” are found in the unlikely setting of a troupe of circus performers, who have absolutely no idea they’re setting out for what might very well be a life-threatening battle – thinking instead they’re bound for a performance gig. Losing their services is their former ringmaster – as to whom Pixar doesn’t miss a trick in twisting an old cliche. If you’re going to have an insect circus, what better species to put in charge than the one most closely associated with circuses – P. T. Flea! (with a nod in initials to famous circus impresario P.T. Barnum, from whom “Barnum’s Animal” crackers acquired their lasting fame). While P.T/s role is minimal in the overall film, the legend of the mythical flea circus continues through him to live on.
Super Flea (Warner, 4/5/05), an episode of Krypto the Superdog, is a script that underperforms, in a series I generally felt was an overall underperformer. Taking DC characters to a juvenile level is challenge enough, but a promising idea for a comic relief episode seems to leave the writers stymied to keep things as non-violent as possible while trying to leave something to smile about. The results are ho-hum and derivative. Krypto (who talks in this series) is showing his new human owner, a boy about 8 years old, his old space capsule in which he came to Earth. Having been only a pup when he was launched from Krypton, he has no actual idea what all the buttons inside the craft are for, but remembers that pushing one of them used to make him happy. His owner tries the button out – and gets dog-groomed by a set of robotic hands, with his hair in a poodle cut. Disgusted, the boy returns to his room to undo the makeover as best he can. As they exit the ship, they fail to notice a last robot hand holding a dog brush, on which rests a large green flea. The flea awakens and begins exploring his new world, bouncing off walls like one of Ricochet Rabbit’s trick bullets. Meanwhile, duty calls, and Krypto heroically puts out a pet shop fire by digging into some loose soil across the street and smothering the flames with the dirt he kicks up. The flea crosses paths with him – and sees the makings of a tender juicy meal in Krypto’s rear end. Krypto, usually impervious to pain, yowps at the impact, and goes through the usual biting, scratching, and dragging his backside against the ground (except for the unique feature of digging a furrow in the process due to his super power). Returning home, Krypto drives himself dizzy chasing his tail in supercircles. He begs his master for help, and the boy, with the aid of a magnifying glass, notes the bug’s odd color and size. He tries to pull the flea out of Krypto’s fur with tweezers – but the bug engages in a tug of war, then twists the tweezer into a bowknot. Realizing the bug must be Kryptonian, Krypto tries heat vision on him, but the bug stands tall and unphased, with the rays bounding off his chest.
A next door cat scoffs that maybe what Krypto needs is some real claws such as his own for scratching – but his attempt to help only results in him getting judo-flipped by the flea. The boy finds some flea powder – but the result is a lift from “An Itch In Time”, with the flea making six-legged snow angels in a winter wonderland. Finally Kryto re-enters his space capsule, and randomly bangs things around in search of a miracle. A kick ejects from a compartment an aerosol can with unreadable writing. The boy follows and grabs the can, saying, “I hope this isn’t just some doggy hair spray.” Spraying it on Krypto, a thick green mist envelops his fur. (It is never explained if this contains Kryptonite, and if so, why it wouldn’t affect Krypto as well – too small a dose?) The flea is definitely affected, backing up against one of Krypto’s hairs and gasping for breath. But he chooses to make an escape, leaping off Krypto, and grabbing the shirt collar of the boy who sprayed him. Demonstrating that he too has powers of super flight, the flea drags the boy into the air and high into the sky, seemingly with intent of evil revenge. But the spray seems to have had a less than lethal side affect of making the big sleepy, and halfway into his ascent, he nods off to sleep, letting go of the boy. The boy goes through the usual dialog of “Let me go. Let me go. – I take it back, don’t let me go!”, and falls. But it’s Krypto to the rescue, as he zooms in and catches the boy on his back, just before a near collision with the nose of a passing jumbo jet. Krypto flies the boy home, then undoes his damage to the yard just before Mom can get wise. They speculate as to where the flea went, and Krypto says that wherever it is, it can’t be too far away to suit him. The camera returns to the jumbo jet, and finds the flea snoring away on a windowsill, as the plane disappears over the horizon into the setting sum. What dog on the other side of the world will soon face this alien peril? The writers will never tell. The principal problems with this episode, which reads better on paper than in the viewing, are poky timing, a definite paucity of gags for its running length, and that ever-present feeling that the writers are being forced to hold back for fear of making the show too hyper for the tiny tots. We scoff these days at the “illustrated radio” style of early Hanna-Barbera TV ventures – but I wouldn’t be surprised if even the staff that produced “Home Flea”, given the super-powered theme of this episode, could have been more creative and provided better timing if this project had been in their hands.
Itching To Be Pink (5/16/2010), from Pink Panther and Pals, once again pits a slightly younger junior version of the panther against dog’s worst friend. This time, the source of infestation is a dog owned by nameless Mr. Bignose, who is cast as a snooty mansion-owning millionaire. His dog, however, is just plain mutt, with a bevy of fleas throwing a wild party aboard his back. Bignose tries to dissuade the dog from scratching like Elmer in “An Itch in Time”, but the dog finds some relief as Panther, zipping through the park on inline skates, stops to pet the dog, offering some brief satisfying scratching. In the process, however, one enterprising flea sees pink in the sky, tests the wind, and launches himself off the dog’s back as if wearing a jet pack. Pulling a hidden ripcord to a drag chute, he comes to a soft landing on Pink’s back As Pink resumes his skating, he suddenly realizes he is not alone – as the flea pitches a pup tent and drives tent stakes into Pink’s skin. Pink ties up traffic crossing a street, unable to make it all the way across without physically dragging himself along the asphalt to get some relief. The flea sets a picnic blanket down, with a basket that has no bottom – so that he can merely reach in and grab a mouthful of fresh tender flesh. In reaction, Pink dives into a barrel full of rakes in front of a gardening shop, scraping off most of his back fur in sublime satisfaction. The flea, however, gets down to business, building a miniature construction foreman trailer, and pulling out one of A. Flea’s old props – a jack hammer.
We get an augmented repeat of a gag from The Pink Flea, with Pink going through a car wash. Gags are pretty much te same, except for reaction shots of the flea, who is enjoying the trip, using the water for a waterslide, popping soap bubbles like a little kid, and handling vibrations from the equipment by relaxing in a “vibrating” easy chair. Despite all these efforts, the flea sets up an oil derrick, and one touch of the drilling mechanism sends Panther soaring into the stratosphere and, in an interesting nod to “Pokemon”, disappearing with a “ping” like Team Rocket. On the other side of town, Bignose has acquired a can of flea powder to handle his pooch’s problem, although the dog will have no part of it, and cringes in his doghouse. Panther crash lands through the roof of Bignose’s limousine, and, seeing the flea powder, tries desperately to negotiate a trade for services to get some for himself. Bignose holds out for one particular service – giving Rover a bath. Pink obliges, although getting thoroughly plastered with mud from the pooch’s back in the process. Begrudgingly holding up his end of the bargain, Bignose hands the can of powder to Pink. But the flea is now discontented with his mud-soaked surroundings, and seeing a huge white finger, once again hurtles himself skyward, to connect with a miniature grappling hook into Bignose’s finger. Panther suddenly realizes the itching has vanished, and has no further need for the powder. But Bignose can sure use it, and covers himself in it from head to toe. On his skin, the flea emerges from the coating looking like a snowman, but completely unphased, and merely clears a path in the “snow” and takes a loud chomp, as the screen blacks out to Bignose’s pained scream.
And finally, there is To Be the Flea, You’ve Got To Beat the Flea (1/30/20), a New Looney Tunes episode from Cartoon Network, featuring a surprise comeback for Chuck Jones’s Mighty Angelo – looking very much on model to the original production of To Itch His Own. (Angelo actually had one earlier comeback in this series – Angelo the Mighty Flea (2/8/18), but seemed a little out of place beating up on Bugs Bunny in a much less original episode – so I choose to review only the superior follow-up.)
Angelo has taken up pro-wrestling, and opens the film pitted in a bout with Jones’ other well-known wrestler, The Crusher. Crusher is no match for Angelo, and is quickly down for the count. But Angelo is not a fan favorite – as the audiences can’t even see him, and many think the Crusher is just flipping himself. A fight promoter turns down Angelo’s request for a shot at the championship on this basis, suggesting that if Angelo could find a way to put on a couple of feet in height, he’d gladly arrange the bout. Angelo passes the yard of another well-remembered Jones character – tough but warm-hearted bulldog Marc Anthony (the adopted papa of Pussyfoot, introduced in Feed the Kitty). An idea hatches, and, hopping on Anthony’s back, Angelo finds he can manipulate the bulldog like a marionette just by pulling and tugging at his skin. Angelo attempts to drag Marc off to the ring. Marc can’t figure what’s happening, and dons his collar attached to his doghouse so he’ll stay put. One yank from Angelo, and the whole doghouse is pulled apart. Marc duct-tapes himself like a mummy to a building wall, but another pull from Angelo rips a hole in Marc shape right out of the side of the building. Marc tries to drown Angelo with a hose, but Angelo knots the hose, leaving it to explode in Marc’s face. Use of a stiff brush merely gets Marc whacked in the head and stomach by the device. Marc finally tries a shaver, removing several patches of his fur. Angelo takes hold of same, and buzz-cuts into Marc’s chest fur the words, “Angelo was here”. Marc is finally dragged to the arena, and thrown into the ring with reigning champion, Cal Zone. A manic battle ensues, with Angelo not only deftly manipulating Marc, but even hopping on the champ’s back, and causing him to punch himself. Ultimately, Cal is defeated. But when the championship belt is presented, Angelo merely tosses Marc into a hogtie amidst the ropes, and claims the belt for himself.
I hope this little series has “scratched your itch” for entertainment. Next week we turn to new subjects, but – rest assured – it’s only a matter of time before some new variety of flying or crawling critter infests these pages once again for another chapter from the insect world. Till then, keep things buzzin’, cousin!
I’d like to point out that Scooby-Doo, in his fifty years on television and over the course of hundreds of adventures, has never picked up a single flea. Shaggy, I’m not so sure about.
The Australian animated TV series “Flea-Bitten” (2012-13) featured the unlikely friendship between Fleabag the dog, who looked like a cross between Huckleberry Hound and Scrappy-Doo, and Itchy the flea. It ran for just one year on the Nine Network, has never been released on home video and is largely forgotten now. It’s not the worst Australian cartoon ever made — that would be Gwen Stefani’s “Kuu Kuu Harajuku” — but it’s certainly one of the least memorable.
“Tom and Jerry: The Movie” (1992) has a similarly mismatched friendship between Puggsy the dog and Frankie the Flea. It being a musical, they sing a duet, “Friends to the End” — a very well-written, though old fashioned, song, as you’d expect with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Henry Mancini.
In 1980 the Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto, best known internationally for the feature film “Allegro non troppo”, made a series of short cartoons about insects under the collective title “Lilliput Put”. In “La Pulce [The Flea]”, our hero attempts to hitch a ride to the beach on the back of a dog. After several misadventures he winds up far from the beach, at the tail end of a long queue of dogs, each inhabited by a cranky and impatient flea family (a nod to the horrendous traffic jams endemic to European seaside resort towns). The flea decides to make the best of things by inflating his inner tube and settling down to a relaxing holiday in the dog’s water dish.
In the 2011 French animated film “Un monstre a Paris [A Monster in Paris]”, a retelling of “Phantom of the Opera”, the titular monster (voiced in the English dub by John Lennon’s son Sean) is a giant flea, whom a chemical explosion has enlarged to human size — and blessed with a beautiful singing voice.
Don’t know if this counts, but Flea, the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, has made cameos in both “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.
I’ll let you know if I think of any others. Meanwhile, I look forward to next week’s Animation Trail, as well as future instalments dealing with the crawling denizens of the toon world. Which insect will it be? The butterfly? The honeybee? The praying mantis? Please, please, let it be the praying mantis!
Scooby had a flea in the Don Adams episode, and Don (who was playing an exterminator) takes if off of him, say’s “the flea in on me” (costwise), then throws it on Shaggy, who say “Now, the flea is on me!”
Termites sound to me like the next most likely subject.
In an effort to halt speculation on Charles’ next trail… I’ll only pipe in to say he’s giving insects a rest (for now). He’ll be going in a different direction next week. Stop by next Wednesday to see where.
Another late discovery in an unexpected place. A brief reference to fleas appears in the second episode of Warner’s “Loonatics Unleashed”, entitled, “Attack of the Fuzz-Balls” (9/24/05). The episode is a direct nod to the “Gremlins” franchise, with possibly another wink toward Star Trek, as a new variety of pet has swept Acmetropolis, looking like a harmless ball of fluff roughly resembling a Tribble, but transforming into a giant, dangerous beast if exposed to chocolate. The Loonatics (far out hi-tech mutant descendants of our beloved Looney Tunes gang) are of course called in on the case, and successfully round up all of the beasts into a chocolate-free environment, and their mad creator to justice. But Danger Duck (Daffy’s counterpart) says he’s ready to make the transition from the lovable furballs to ‘the next big thing’, and produces a miniature carry-case from his pocket that the other group members think is a hamster environment, but Danger Duck indicates is a flea circus. Only one problem – it’s empty, with a small hole in the bottom. “Then where are the fleas?”, the duck queries. In extreme close-up within his feathery tail, we see hordes of the evil-faced insects parading randomly, as several commence munching on Duck’s feathers and skin. An agonized “AHHHHHGGH!!” is heard offscreen from Duck, and we fade out.
wow charles….thanks for the “review”…..I pray when you produce and direct your cartoon show it comes out much better than the effort I put forth without any network or powers that be interference….good luck with that….I wish you all the best….
“The Fairytaler” (1998-2003) is a Danish animated anthology series based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, among them “The Professor and the Flea”.
The Professor, a carnival entertainer who has failed as balloonist and magician (not to mention husband), finds success as the proprietor of a flea circus with a single performing flea. (The flea had previously lived on his wife and, now that she has left him, is the only memento of her that he has.) Having traveled the world, the Professor and the flea finally take their act to an island of cannibals ruled by a spoiled little girl. While the Professor is stewing in the pot, the flea begs the princess to release him so that they can perform for her. She is so pleased with their act — which concludes with the flea firing a tiny cannon — that she decides to marry the flea and serve up the Professor as the main course at the wedding feast. But the flea tells her that, since she so enjoyed the firing of the cannon in their show, they want to build a giant cannon to set off at the wedding, if she will only provide them with materials. She agrees, but the Professor and the flea build a balloon instead and use it to make their escape.
“The Fairytaler” is quite a good show, with full animation, and a more faithful adaptation of Andersen’s tales than Disney or any other American studio would have done.
While the nefarious Yzma is plotting against Kuzco in “The Emperor’s New Groove” (Disney, 2000), she fantasises about turning him into a flea, then putting the flea in a box inside another box, then mailing the package to herself and smashing it with a hammer when it arrives. But to save the cost of postage, she decides to poison him instead.
One of the short cartoons premiered on the Cartoon Network animation showcase “What a Cartoon!” was “Raw Deal in Rome” (Hanna-Barbera, 18/6/95 — Eugene Mattos, dir.), starring Shake, a dog, and Flick, a flea. It has no dialogue, and the story is difficult to describe, or even follow. Flick wants to eat Shake, but is also determined to best him in a series of musical and athletic contests. The Roman setting rather arbitrarily mixes ancient elements like gladiators, chariots and the pantheon of deities with modern appurtenances like elevators. I enjoy oddball surrealism as much as anybody, but this bizarre flea cartoon is a real head-scratcher; and I’m not surprised that, unlike the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory, the duo of Shake and Flick was never picked up as a series.
“Tinga Tinga Tales” (2010), a Kenyan-British co-production, is a collection of animated African fables, reminiscent of Kipling’s “Just So Stories”, rendered in the Tinga Tinga style of Tanzanian art (which I understand is strictly for the tourist market, but I quite like it). In “Why Flea Jumps”, we learn that the flea jumps onto the backs of large animals in order to attain a loftier perspective and thereby see more of the world. The prospect of feasting on their blood apparently has nothing to do with it.
The long-running PBS series “Arthur” had a flea episode in season 8, “Flea to Be You and Me” (2003). Arthur’s baby sister Kate finds a flea on their dog Pal. The flea, Pepe, was once a performer in an Italian flea circus but got separated from his partner, and ever since then he has traveled to Egypt, the Serengeti, Japan, and now the United States in the hopes of finding his partner and resuming their act. After telling his story, he hitches a ride to the post office on an envelope; and in the end the family is surprised to receive a post card from a flea circus in Italy, proving that Pepe’s odyssey had a happy ending.
No real educational value to this episode besides the travelogue, and it’s a nice break from the show’s usual issue-of-the-day or it’s-cool-to-go-to-the-library formula
And then there’s Uncle Grandpa. In “Fleas Help Me” (Cartoon Network, 21/5/16 — Casey Alexander, dir.), Uncle Grandpa wants to help his dog Charlie Burgers with his flea problem, but the tiny parasites are just too small for him to deal with. Rather than sinking to the level of Tiny Toons’ Cartoon Cliche #1 — “Shrink your heroes” — Uncle Grandpa does the exact opposite, and enlarges Charlie Burgers to giant size, fleas and all. Turns out to be a bad idea….
Sesame Street had it’s share of animated segments with fleas.
The first one come to mind is one about the letter F and talks about possibly the worst flea circus act ever. “Anybody want to buy a used F?” No idea on what studio animated that segment. According to Muppet Wiki, it debut in season 3, episode 309: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiEggVRWkhI
The other two that come to mind were done by Bruce Conrad who also did the “Man vs. Stomach” ad for Alka-Selzer. The first one is short and also about the letter F. Basically a lady says “Fleas have Fun in Fur!” which shows some dancing fleas on a fur covered “FUR” that scratches itself. It debut in season 5, episode 630: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFn2dImfm0U
The second bit show a flea setting up camp on a dog to a nice musical score. Have no idea what the learning concept is for this segment, but it debut in Season 8, episode 1004: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5Ioyz9rHWk
A BUG’S LIFE really owes more to THE SEVEN SAMURAI/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which THREE AMIGOS itself was somewhat of a parody.
“Super Flea” (24/11/73) is the twelfth episode of Hanna-Barbera’s “Inch High, Private Eye”. A scientist has invented a mechanical flea with a camera eye to use in surveillance operations. When the super flea is stolen, Inch High is assigned to recover it. If he succeeds, the flea will replace him; if he fails, he’ll be fired — a lose-lose for the little guy.
Unfortunately the only video of “Super Flea” that I was able to find online was in Polish, of which I know only two words: one of them is “kielbasa” (sausage), and the other, let’s just say, isn’t. The translation contains neither of these words, especially the second one, so I can add nothing to the above synopsis other than that the Polish actor who dubbed Inch High made no effort whatsoever to mimic Lennie Weinrib’s Maxwell Smart impersonation.
“Teacher’s Pet”, arguably the ugliest cartoon ever to have had the Disney name attached to it, is the story of a talking dog, Spot, who masquerades as a human boy, “Scott”, so he can attend school with his master. Unsurprisingly, it has a flea episode, “Don’t Bite the Hound That Feeds You” (3/5/02 — written by Billiam Coronel and David Maples; Alfred Gimeno, dir.).
After watching a science film in school explaining the difference between symbiosis and parasitism, Spot finds that the itchy sensation on his skin is being caused by a couple of beret-wearing, French-accented fleas. The fleas declare that they are not parasites, but symbionts, who will happily do Spot’s bidding if he will only serve as their home; however, the fleas prove too weak and inept to be of any benefit to their host. Unwilling to see them perish in a flea bath, Spot finds another home for them — on the body of one of his classmates, an unpopular nerd named Ian, who has always dreamed of owning his own flea circus.