And so we reach closing arguments. Do we vote Yea or Nay on whether the toon justice system really works? It’s far from perfect. As Super Snooper appropriately observed in his first cartoon, “Leave us face it. The good guys don’t always win.” We’ve seen villains regularly beat the rap, and heroes sent up the river. Even when a baddie is incarcerated, he always lives to threaten the populace another day, or hastens his freedom through an escape. The trial process has repeatedly proved a travesty, and its rules of conduct generally resemble pure chaos. But, on the other hand, would toons have it any other way? Placing oneself into their mindset, the intricate workings of the system must seem comfortably reassuring and familiar to the patterns of their everyday lives. After all, who cares how the result of each proceeding turns out, when we all know things will be right back to the same starting point by the first reel of the next episode?
Does the system then serve a function? Yes, at least one. It dictates that there will forever be toon good guys, and toon bad guys. We may not know which is which from one specific moment to the next – but the very fact that a toon can feel bad or good by definition determines how he will behave, and the role he will play in society. Were there no justice system to label him, her, or it, there would be no protagonists, no disputes, no controversies. And toon society would settle down to a rut of pure boredom, with nothing more to do than trip over their own feet. The toon court thus stands as a landmark in providing a foundation of stability in an otherwise unstable world – a root upon which to build that most essential commodity of toondom, the plotline. Such fact alone makes well worthwhile the welling up of a spirit of civic duty in every toon who has taken time out of their lunatic lives to serve on a sardine-can jury.
This week’s final exhibits continue to shine as examples of these esteemed principles in motion, and lead to the unequivocal conclusion that the toon judiciary branch is as vital, if not more so, to the healthy existence of the animated community as the crooked or ineffectual politicians who inhabit its executive and legislative branches. And so, being the good audiences you are, I ask that your verdict be one of resounding approval, to be signified by rounds of applause and spontaneous laughter whenever the spirit moves you.
I’m not sure when the original “Shortie”, Harasscat, was produced for Cartoon Network – possibly in the late 1980’s or 1990’s – an original two-minute short starring entirely off-model versions of Mr. Jinks, Pixie and Dixie. (Who drew this thing – John Kricfalusi or Jim Tyer?) Anyway, after 30+ years of chasing, Pixie finally hits on an idea to get Jinks off their backs. Hiring a good attorney (who bears a resemblance to an off-model George Jetson), the mice show up in court, bandaged and made up as if severely battered, seeking relief against Jinks for ritualistically stalking them. Jinks just doesn’t grasp the import of the moment, commenting, “Is like every day ritualistically?”, prompting the judge to comment “Oh, boy.” A jury of miscellaneous oddball characters (including a Frankenstein monster) finds Jinks guilty. The Judge writes up a restraining order, pinning it to Jinks’ fur, reading “Whosoever wears this is not to come within three feet of Pixie and/or Dixie.” In merely trying to leave the courtroom, Jinks finds his ability to judge such distance is slightly impaired, as he is immediately engulfed in a fight cloud of police batons and wailing sirens.
Back home, as the mice make free use of the living room and kitchen, Jinks again attempts to get his distance bearings, standing in various places of proximity to the “meeces “ and asking if this is too close. Pixie produces a metallic tape measure, extending it for confirmation of distance. It touches Jinks’ chest, and the fight cloud returns for another round. The same thing results to Jinks again and again, as the mice become the aggressors, always slipping in just close enough to touch Jinks with the tape measure. “This just don’t feel right”, comments Jinks, as he beats a retreat into the bathroom to mend his wounds. As Jinks looks at himself in the medicine cabinet mirror, he reads carefully the language of the restraining order, “whosoever wears this…”, and hits upon his solution. Striking up a surprise pursuit of the meeces, and drawing closer and closer to the 3-foot perimeter, Jinks, in slow motion shot, rips the stick pin holding the restraining order off of his fur, and slaps the order and pin onto a grandfather’s clock (playing on the old tradition of Hanna-Barbera backgrounds constantly repeating the passing of the same props over and over again in endless rotation for chase scenes). Each time he and the mice pass the clock, the fight cloud reappears, but beats up on the grandfather clock instead of Jinks. Jinks is free of his legal curse, and cheers his own victory as he continues his endless pursuit of the rodents, with a battle-cry of garbled Latin, then adds “That is legal for, I hates meeces to pieces!”
La La Law (Steven Spielberg/Warner, Animaniacs, 9/30/93) – Dr Scrachensniff, Warner studio psychiatrust, while picking up a new couch for his practice, finds his car windshield plastered with a parking ticket from the city of Burbank, although he swears he remembers purring money in the parking meter. Back at the studio, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot learn of the ticket, and volunteer their services to help Scratchensniff. But the doctor knows the Warners too well, and realizes he would be as crazy as they are if he accepted their brand of “help”, so instead insists he will pay the ticket regardless of his innocence, and commands the Warners not to come anywhere near him. No sooner has he left the room, than our wacky trio do tazmanian devil spins to make a quick change of clothing into attorney suits, and declare that they have a trial to prepare.
Scrachensniff appears before the Burbank traffic court (whose signs indicate they are available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and bingo). Just as Scrachensniff is reaching for his checkbook to pay the fine, Wakko appears out of the pitcher of water on the judge’s bench, introducing himself with a big kiss on the judge’s face a la Bugs Bunny, then pulls out his briefcase from the picher, opening it to introduce “my associates”, Wacko and Dot, who also kiss the judge. They vow to prove Schchensniff innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt, as a large shadow appears on cue from the feet of Dot. “I hate puns”, says the judge. Yakko also declares his intent to prove that Justice is not blind, pulling in the court’s statue and removing its blindfold. “She’s only cross-eyed”, Yakko illustrates, curing her vision with a pair of dark sunglasses. The judge asks if the Warners have subpoenaeed a witness. Mistaking the term for a dirty word, Yakko states the judge should be ashamed for even thinking it. He does, however, call to the stand Gertie Bilgemointner, the meter maid who issued the ticket. Wakko brings her a bible, and asks if she swears. “Yes”, she says. “Well, you shouldn’t. It’s not nice”, states Wakko. Dot initiates the questioning. “Miss Bilgemointner – or is it Anna Puttridge of Calabaso, California?!!!” “No”, replies the witness. “Oh”, mutters Dot, tossing away her notebook, “I’m done.” Wakko goes next, making about four false starts as if to raise a question, but not thinking of a thing to say. When the judge insists he get on with it, he ad libs, “Do you – like candy?” “Yes” the witness responds. “Do you have any?”, asks a drooling Wakko. “No”, she replies. “I’m through”, moans Wakko. Yakko sarcastically thanks Wakko for giving him a lot to go on, then asks why the witness gave Scrachensniff the ticket. She answers that the meter was expired, a violation of the Penal Code. Yakko again mistakes this for a dirty word, and turning to the judge, remarks, “You know, you two ought to get together.” Then he asks the witness, “You’re a meter maid – do you you windows?” “Stop badgering the witness”, demands the judge. Yakko hides away a real badger he is holding in front of the witness’s face, responding, “Sorry.” He suggests that since she is such a terrible “maid”, might not the meter have been dirty and malfunctioning? The judge cautions him to stop leading the witness. “All right, you lead”, Yakko says to her, and he and the witness suddenly break into a tango dance, accompanied by music provided by Wakko and Dot. Soon, the whole cast is in the act, in a three-way production number. Yakko calls for everyone to change partners, and now the judge and the meter maid are tangoing together, forgetting everything except the rhythms of the dance, and each other. They tango out the courthouse door, amidst a shower of flower petals from the Warners, and the judge orders, “Case dismissed’ as the door closes. Scrachensniff’s not quite sure what happened, but Yakko declares that Justice wasn’t blind or cross-eyed – just in love – as he and Scrachensniff tango away the afternoon to the iris out.
You can watch this cartoon on B98.tv
And Justice For Slappy (Steven Spielberg/Warner, Animaniacs (Slappy Squirrel), 11/19/93), has geriatric comedienne Slappy up on criminal charges for “assault with intent to squash”. Her equally-aged rival Walter Wolf is the complainant, and has packed the court with an all-wolf jury (one holding a picket sign reading “Hang Slappy”), a wolf judge who is his golfing partner, and a prosecuting attorney who is his grandson. While Slappy’s nephew Skippy periodically warns that the jury wants to railroad her (they come complete with conductor), Slappy reassures him that he doesn’t have to worry about those “change of venue and E Pluribus Unum” things, because she has a “dynamite case”. Walter takes the stand, giving testimony roughly resembling the studio’s earlier work in “The Trial of Mr. Wolf”, painting himself as a squeaky-clean do-gooder out on his daily rounds of good deeds, when Slappy (portrayed as a devil imp with glowing green eyes) rejects his gracious offer of a wagon load of cookies, to catch Walter by the feet upside down in a snare trap, then hit him with a boulder from a catapult “for no good reason”. Slappy’s cross-examination is careless, blasé, and entirely ineffectual. Skippy next testifies, adding the detail that it was really Walter who brought the catapult, and also planned to throw into Slappy’s house a hive full of bees. (Walter, now himself appearing in Skippy’s flashback as a devil, asides to the audience, “Who says you have to be a coyote to set a trap?”) Trying to warn Slappy, Skippy is tossed aside by Walter, and all he knows was there were a lot of explosions afterward. Slappy’s cross-examination is as random as ever, as she asks Skippy, “Do you know if Mr. Magoo is in a Mexican jail?” Skippy replies, “Yes”. “Really?”, responds Slappy – “I wondered what happened to him.” Finally, Slappy is called to the stand. She testifies that Walter set a standard-make snare trap outside her door, then tossed into her house the hive of bees. Knowing these old tricks from her comedy experience like the back of her hand, Slappy emerges from the house in beekeeper’s costume, and tosses the hive out onto Walter’s head. Stumbling about in panic, Walter steps into the snare trap, which springs him upside down between two trees, while the other end of the rope triggers his catapult to fire the boulder at him. Slappy thinks Walter didn’t stoke the trap properly – so embellishes upon it for extra zing with a truckload of dynamite, one nuclear warhead, and a firing plunger placed directly under Walter. (“Call me old fashioned. I believe in the big bang theory.”) Then, she walks to the catapult and gently unties the rope, leaving Walter to fall onto the plunger. KA-BOOM! Back in the courtroom, Slappy sums up that everyone else’s testimony was way off. “I didn’t just squash him. I blasted him into little pieces of lint like you find at the bottom of your purse!” With this damning testimony, it seems certain that the jury will convict – but to everyone’s surprise, the foreman nervously announces, “Not guilty”. The explanation is simple – as the jurors all look behind their chairs – under which have been placed several sticks of dynamite each. “Good choice”, says Slappy, making good on her promise to Skippy of a “dynamite case”. As the film closes, she carelessly drops the match with which she was threatening the fuse to the jurors’ chairs – and they blow up anyway, with Slappy closing with her catch-phrase, “Now that’s comedy!”\
You can watch this cartoon on B98.tv
The Devil and Daniel Webfoot (Steven Spielberg, Warner, an element of the “Tiny Toons’ Night Ghoulery” primetime special, 5/28/95), has been discussed before in my early “Go To Hades” series on this website, being a parody of the famous yarn, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, about a legendary trial to save a soul from the devil. In this case, Montana Max is the soul at stake, having sold it to the Devil for ten million dollars. “A man’s gotta eat”, he says. Plucky Duck plays attorney Webfoot, insistent that a man is not mere chattel, until he hears the going price for Monty. He whispers the availability of his own “slightly tarnished” soul for twenty million. “I wouldn’t give you forty cents in recyclable cans”, replies Satan. “Then I’ll see you in court”, challenges Plucky. “But I choose the jury”, retorts Satan, producing from the underworld a courtroom, jury box, and a jury empaneled from the ghosts of ”the most vile scum ever to walk the colonies – pirates, thieves, traitors” – and a network executive. Plucky reflexively asks his client for payment in advance. Plucky appeals to the jury’s American spirit, insisting that the jury all loved this land once, but were led astray by Satan’s false promises. He trues to paint Monty in a favorable light, ultimately admitting that Monty is “a total louse – but he’s an American louse!” He asks the panel to free his client for love of this land of “baseball, apple pie, and Rush Limbaugh.” But, for all his words, when he discovers the Devil’s evidence to be a long scroll contract, signed in blood, Plucky can only ask his client, “How ‘ya fixed for sunblock?” A chasm opens below Monty, and he falls into the underworld. “I’ll get you for this, you cheap shyster!”, Monty yells. “Cheap? Wait’ll you get my bill”, responds Plucky. Somehow, Monty elastically extends his arm to grab hold of Plucky’s wrist, yanking him also into the pit. Finding themselves at the end of the fall surrounded by flames and dancing imps, Plucky’s speculations at where they are are confirmed by the pitchfork-wielding Satan. “That’s right, Mr. Webfoot. Sooner or later most attorneys end up here.” Perhaps Monty should have followed the advice of Babs Bunny in introducing the cartoon – “I’ll take my chances with Jacoby and Meyers.”
Carrotblanca (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 8/25/95 – Douglas McCarthy. dir.) – a highly promoted, all star theatrical sendup of the classic Bogie feature, “Casablanca”, starring Bugs in the Bogart role of the proprietor of the Café au Lait Americain, up to his ears in political intrigue. Other illuminaries from the Looney Tunes ranks include Yosemite Sam as investigating officer General Pandemonium, after the prize of stolen German plans, Tweety Pie as the thief who took them (spontaeously breaking into his most unsettling impression of Peter Lorre), Sylvester and Kitty (Pepe Le Pew’s girlfriend) as the Americans suspected to be in possession of the plans (for the breakthrough invention of “funny nose and glasses”), and little black duck Daffy in the role of piano-playing Dooley Wilson. Bugs has as little respect for Sam’s official entrance (careening his staff car right into the middle of Bugs’s establishment) as usual, greeting the minute figure of authority with, “Does your mother know you’re out this late?” The film climaxes with an interrogation sequence at Sam’s headquarters, as he grills Sylvester for information. Despite Bugs’ assertion that “I stick my cotton tail out for no one”, a few tears from a distraught Kitty, and Bugs’s head morphs into the proverbial all-day “sucker”. He intrudes upon Sam’s party, and decides to teach Sam what it really means to administer the third degree. Placing Sam in the “hot seat” instead of Sylvester, Bugs engages in the sort of quick-change artistry that Snagglepuss so well demonstrated in “Legal Eagle Lion” a few articles ago. He first assumes the role of a standard 1930’s movie Irish chief of detectives, threatening that he has the goods and the motive on Sam, so he might as well confess. A further costume change, and Bugs is a three and a half year old widdle boy in a sailor suit, providing positive recognition of Sam as the bad man who stole his balloon. A quick switch into drag, and Bugs, in wig and with effeminate voice, is providing another positive I.D. of Sam as a “brute”, smacking him in the face with a purse that reveals the tell-tale shape of an anvil concealed inside. Suddenly, Bugs is in powdered wig, banging a gavel atop a high podium, as the judge presiding. “General Pandemonium, how do you plead?”, he intones. A battered Sam isn’t up to presenting a defense, and pleads “Guilty” to get things over with, and allow him to escape to the safety of a nice quiet jail cell. Sylvester gets the paper, Bugs gets the girl, and Tweety provides a Peter Lorre “That’s All Folks”.
The Day the Violence Died (Fox, The Simpsons, 3/17/96) – For this installment, the Simpsons are spray-“painted in” for the “couch gag” in the reverse order that one would produce an animation cel – paint layers first, then the ink (with interesting rapid-fire popping sounds as their eyeballs are all squirted into place). The opening is fitting for the content which is to follow, which is all about animation history. The scene opens with the kids watching an Itchy and Scratchy 75th anniversary diamond jubilee marathon on TV (which would technically make them older than Mickey Mouse, whose frequent birthday/anniversary celebrations were being lampooned). After a typical episode where Itchy (the mouse) demonstrates that he can still inflict violence upon Scratchy (the cat) once the cat is reduced to a ghost, Bart asks Lisa to shoot him if he ever stops loving violence, which Lisa promises, “Will do.” The kids hear of a celebration parade, and leave the house in the middle of the night to stake out seats – at least once Marge appoints Homer as unwilling chaperone. The long wait proves fruitless, as parade personnel construct a grandstand in front of them while they sleep in their chairs on the sidewalk. So Bart sneaks between the legs of the crowd, and joins the parade itself, as it proceeds through “Bumtown”. The sounds of nearby gunshots cause the paraders to exit at double tempo, leaving Bart behind, where he observes an old man throwing tomatoes at the retreating floats. “Hey, show some respect man,” says Bart, pointing out that the creator of Itchy and Scratchy was depicted on that float. “He didn’t create Itchy. I did.”, claims the irate man. He tells that the character was stolen out from under him in 1928 (coincidentally about the time Disney lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), when he was ejected from the studio and an anvil dropped upon him. The man claims he wasn’t badly hurt because he was carrying an umbrella (bringing back memories of standard Wile E Coyote reactions to such situations). He also claims to have created the whole concept of cartoon violence, and that before him, all characters ever did was play the ukelele. To prove his claim, he carries with him wrapped in a bindle stick a film can of a 1919 cartoon (now we’re going back to the approximate creation time of Felix the Cat), which he claims was the first Itchy cartoon ever made. Seeking out a “90 year old projector” to run it on (this chronology gets more dated by the minute), one is located in the kids’s school. There, accompanied by music provided by the bum on a school piano, Bart and Millhouse witness a primitive black and white version with intertitles of what is definitely Itchy, decapitating Teddy Roosevelt – all with production credits entirely crediting the old bum, Chester J. Lampwick. Bart and Millhouse realize that once the public sees this film, Lampwick will be famous. However, Millhouse has left the projector bulb on – which ignites the nitrate film into flames and incinerates it. The bum sadly departs, until Bart decides he should see the studio’s current head (the son of the man who swindled him) in hopes that a cooler head will do him justice. On the contrary, Bart and Lampwick gets the bum’s rush at the studio, kicked out into the street. “This brings back old memories”, mutters Lampwick.
Bart invites Lampwick to sleep in their basement, while they attempt to obtain legal representation from the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm”. Eventually, Homer shells out the $1,000 fee on the sheer hope of getting rid of Lampwick. Trial commences against the studio, but with no film, and no other copy located, Lampwick’s lawyer is left with only two types of evidence – hearsay and conjecture. Nevertheless, Lampwick testifies that the studio never created any of their hit characters, and that all its original owner could come up with was pathetic stick figures such as “Manic Mailman”. Defense counsel moves for dismissal, and the judge, for lack of proof, is about to grant such request, when Bart remembers an animation cel he had previously seen for sale in Comic Book Guy’s display case. Nabbing another $750 advance from Homer, Bart races to the comic store, while the hired counsel filibusters by recalling to the stand all his surprise witnesses. Bart purchases the cel, which turns out not to be from the present studio’s first release “Steamboat Itchy”, but from the 1919 version by Lampwick, with a hidden inscription inside the frame from Lampwick encouraging the original studio boss despite his lack of talent. The studio head tries to bluff around this turn of events, pointing out that where would animation be without plagiarism? No Yogi Bear from Art Carney. Flintstones from The Honeymooners. Top Cat from Sergeant Bilko. The bluff does not persuade, and Lampwick is declared the creator of the character, and awarded $800 million in royalties. While Lampwick is sated, and sets off to purchase a solid gold house (after reimbursing Homer for his investment plus a couple of bucks profit for his troubles), the victory is shallow for Bart, as the bankrupted Itchy and Scratchy studio is forced to close.
Bart and Lisa, and the rest of Springfield, are left to watch the educational fare left to fill the air time of the Krusty the Clown show (a dead-on Schoolhouse Rock parody entitled “I’m Just an Amendment”). Thry bury their heads in law books day and night for a solution, to no avail. Reminded by their mom that they’re always the ones that solve everything, the kids are ultimately inspired to hit upon a possible solution, and hurry to tell the news to the studio executive – but are surprised to find him already engaged in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the studio. It happens that two children have pointed out to him that his father’s drawing of Manic Mailman is a dead ringer for Mr. Zip of the U.S. Postal Service, and that they ripped off the idea from his father. Obtaining an even bigger back-royalties check from the government than the one paid to Lampwick, the studio is back in business. What is unsettling to Bart and Lisa is that the two children responsible for the idea are visual knock-offs of themselves (basically from the old model sheets from “The Tracy Ullman Show”). The episode ends on a note of mystery, as to who is now plagiarizing from who.
An unusual entry in the ABC One Saturday Morning lineup of the 1997-2000 seasons was the series Science Court (sometimes known as “Squigglevision”). Created and produced by veteran news anchor turned talk show host turned producer Tom Snyder, the series was a soft-sell educational program, where each week some scientific concept would become the central point of litigation in an ersatz cartoon-style “People’s Court” mockery, complete with hyper kid interviewers of the key litigants and attorneys between actual testimony. Animation (if you could call it that) was primitive and rudimentary – talking heads with a few three or four drawing cycles dropped in for variety from time to time. The “Squigglevision” subtitle came from the technique that character outlines would never be drawn straight, but randomly wiggled constantly throughout the program like little black serpents, even when characters were standing stock still (a technique used at least once more in the syndicated prime-time series, “Home Movies”). It was sort of the 90’s answer to Max Fleischer’s 1930’s characters who would bob around to musical beats even when they were standing idle – in fact, it’s easy to say that the outlines in this series did more physical work than any of the characters did. But the writing sometimes showed a bit of pep and zing, breathing far more life into the characters than did any of the animator’s pens.
Particular effort was made to develop the two regular attorneys who would always represent the combatants before the bench – straight-laced, head on her shoulders Alison Krempel, who always had a witness list of the best scientific experts to present her cases logically and efficiently, and nitwit, emotional, and aggravating Doug Savage – the kind of brash newbie hotshot you tend to meet fresh out of law school, who thinks he can ignore preparation and every rule of ethics and win cases strictly by flying by the seat of his pants – and for whom money is the only object. As in real life, the cooler heads prevailed, and Savage would not only notoriously ask the exact wrong questions on cross-examination, but racked up a list of case losses longer than Perry Mason’s score card of victories. But he was always back next week, ready and raring to blow it again. Some science concepts playing key roles in the cases were often pretty obvious – but others were put across more cleverly. One I recall did a good job of debunking that a basketball player could be taught to increase his “hang time” in jumping, against the ever-present force of gravity. Another involved a foot race between two contestants in a park on a sweltering Summer day. Each of the competitors obtains a tee shirt from the same supplier. One racer chooses white – the other black. The man in the black shirt overheats halfway through the race and collapses, while the other racer goes on to victory. Doug Savage talks the losing racer into suing the winner and the tee shirt vendor for slipping him a booby-trapped shirt dipped in something to make him lose. But all testing on the black shirt comes up negative for any foreign substance. Krempel, of course, figures the solution, and introduces an expert on heat absorption caused by certain colors over others – black being the worst offender for trapping heat. The loser sabotaged himself by choosing the wrong color for a hot day. And Savage finishes out of the money again.
Fear of a Bot Planet (Fox, Futurama, 4/20/99) – Planet Express receives an assignment to deliver a package to Chapex 9 – a planet colonized centuries ago by murderous robotic separatists. Today, the planet is entirely uninhabited – except for robots, who pride themselves in conducting daily human hunts (always without success) and operate under orders to destroy humans on sight. Leela (a cyclops) asks how they feel about humanoid aliens like herself. Professor Farnsworth replies, “They’re not fans.” The task of actually depositing the package on the planet thus falls upon the metal shoulders of Bender, who is already in a huff over his belief that humans have as much regard for robots as they do for toasters. Leela and Fry wait in the ship and lower Bender on a platform to the planet surface. After a considerable wait, a garbled communication is received from Bender, indicating he’s in trouble because they discovered he works for humans. The signal breaks up with a last view of Bender being carried away by two robot sentinels. Leela and Fry are forced to improvise a rescue. Grabbing every spare metal object the can find in the ship, they create makeshift robot costumes, and descend to the world below.
They attempt to mingle as best they can (claiming to be looking forward to a romantic evening of “performing mindless repetitive tasks”), but Fry is spotted taking a whiz behind some trash cans, which a passing robot views as “leaking coolant at an alarming rate”. They locate Bender, who, to their surprise, is now not a prisoner at all, but a public guest of honor at an anti-human rally. To save his own tin, Bender has publicly renounced the humans, claiming to have personally killed a million billion humans on Earth. Leela and Fry wait their chance during the evening’s human hunt, and reveal their identities to Bender, attempting to bring him back to the ship. But Bender doesn’t want to be rescued. “I have wealth, fame, and access to the depths of sleaze that those things bring.” The robots roll into this scene, and Bender, to save his image, fakes a capture of the two intruders as prisoners. A trial commences before a computer monitor bearing a digitalized face resembling a metallic elderly judge. While Leela and Fry watch from a holding cell, the Mayor acts as prosecutor, declaring he will prove beyond 0.5 percent of a doubt that the humans are guilty of the crime of – being humans. Realizing the charges are self-proving, (though Leela objects that her one eye should be a disqualifying factor), the Mayor immediately rests his case. “I will now consider the evidence”, says the digital judge, as the screen displays a Microsoft-style progress bar, registering percentage completion of the process of “Judging”. Of course, the screen freezes in mid-function, with various spectators from the gallery shouting, “Try control + alt + delete”, “Jiggle the cord”, “Turn him off and on”, “Clean the gunk out of the mouse”, and even Fry chiming in, “Call technical support”. The judge comes back on line, decreeing the prisoners guilty. They are sentenced to live like robots do on Earth – doomed to perform tedious calculations, and spot-weld automobiles, until they become obsolete, and are given away to an inner-city middle school. A trap door drops the prisoners down a chute to another chamber hidden deep below the planet surface, where they receive a new surprise verdict by a panel of robot elders who are the real rulers of the planet – immediate death. And who is called in to perform the task but Bender. Bender attempts to follow through, but relents and realizes he can’t betray his friends. Bender intercedes on their behalf, informing the elders that humans are really harmless. The elders already know, but insist they too must keep up a front of human hatred to keep the populace’s electronic minds off more pressing problems at hand, such as their critical shortage of lug nuts. As all three of the visitors now know too much, the elders shift into kill mode. But Fry bluffs, claiming he will breathe fire upon them, and the three escape while the elders debate whether humans really have that power or whether the elders themselves made that up. As the robots pursue, Bender, Leela and Fry hop aboard the platform to lift them back into the ship. The pursuing robots begin stacking themselves one atop another to give chase. At this critical moment, Bender remembers that he never did deliver the package, and tosses it to the top robot on the totem pole. The extra weight topples the column, sending the bots and the package crashing back to the planet. As the package cracks open, a shower of a precious commodity rains upon the populace – lug nuts! The intruders are hailed as heroes by emphatic cries from the planet, while Leela, Fry and Bender renew friendships with a party thrown in Bender’s honor – for a robot holiday (Robanukah) that Bender made up entirely just to get out of work.
Another full-fledged legal series for animation was Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, produced for the “Adult Swim” hours of Cartoon Network between 2001-2007. I cannot speak for the consistency of the entire series of these short cartoons (about eleven minutes each), as I’ve only caught sporadic episodes to date – but there were some definite sparks of eccentric ingenuity in a few I’ve seen. The entire concept is so off the wall, it’s almost as it this and another series, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” were coined by the studio writers at a local tavern Happy Hour in a friendly contest of non-sequiturs. A former cartoon superhero and his avian sidekick pitching it all for a 9 ro 5 position as an apprentice criminal defense attorney? Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall to have heard the pitch that sold this one to the executives? Not only do several familiar faces from the Hanna-Barbera superhero world provide regular attendance in this series’ strange doings, but many episodes are greatly assisted by cameos by Hanna-Barbera’s real superstars. Race Bannon in a custody battle with Dr. Quest over Johnny and Hadjii? Shaggy (from Scooby-Doo) up on “possession” charges? Boo Boo Bear accused of being a serial killer? And Fred Flintstone in a full-blown parody of “The Sopranos” as “The Dabba Don”? The series was odd and quirky – but sometimes it could be a pretty wild ride.
A trio of features from the 2000’s highlight court proceedings as central plot points, for our wrap up. The Incredibles (Pixar, 11/5/04), springs entirely from a lawsuit. Mr. Incredible, in the course of a routine evening of saving the world from various perils, performs an unexpected rescue of an attempted suicide leaping off a tall building. Being in the right place at the right time, Mr. Incredible launches himself from a building across the street, to intersect the path of the falling jumper at a right angle, smashing himself and the jumper through a plate glass window of the skyscraper, and also landing atop the jumper on the floor inside. The jumper claims he broke something, but Incredible only sees it as a situation where the man is lucky to be alive at all. The night gets further complicated, as Mr. Incredible discovers they are not alone, finding an emplosives charge planted by mad bomber Bomb Voyage. Adding further to the randomness of the moment, a headstrong fanboy of Incredible tries to butt in on the action as a would-be sidekick, with a pair of self-invented rocket boots. As Incredible tries to get the fanboy to go home. Bomb Votage slops an explosive device on the kid’s boots. Incredible leaps out the window after the departing fanboy, catching hold of his leg and loosening the explosive device, which falls onto the tracks of an elevated rail trestle below. The resulting blast destroys a section of the elevated track, just as a train makes its approach toward the now absent trestle. Having no other way to avert the peril, Incredible stands in the path of the train, bracing his feet against the track ties.
He slows the train with an abrupt jolt, tossing the passengers inside about, while grinding up track with his feet to bring the train to a halt. He runs out of place to stand, and the train stops with its forward cars dangling from the trestle at a 45 degree angle. Incredible leaves the scene in the hands of the police – to attend belatedly his own wedding! But the repercussions of the evening come back to haunt him. A lawsuit is filed by the jumper for battery and resulting injuries, claiming he never wanted to be saved and now faces a lifetime of painful injuries. Jumping on the litigation bandwagon, the train passengers also sue for damages. And before you know it, every superhero across the nation is facing similar litigation for the after-effects of their own daring deeds. The only way to rescue the heroes from this liability nightmare is a government amnesty program, whereby the heroes are offered amnesty from liability for their past actions, in return for joining the superhero relocation program, whereby they assume the roles of normal human beings and pledge to never again use their super powers to fight crime. It takes two features (this and the subsequent sequel, The Incredibles 2) to straighten everything out, and for superheroes to regain their previous prominence and acceptance by society. It all seemed so simple in the glory days of Underdog, when he could leave entire city blocks devastated from his battles, and dismiss the whole affair with a casual call of, “I am a hero who never fails. I can’t be bothered with such details.”
The Ant Bully (Warner, 7/28/06), features a trial by an Ant Council of a boy (nicknamed by his mother, to his chagrin, as Peanut), who has reacted to bullying by his schoolmates with his own brand of bullying – taking out his frustrations upon the ant colony in the yard of his home. The ants, far more advanced in their societal development and scientific ways than the boy counted on, come up with a potion to shrink their tormentor down to their size. (We’ve seen this idea before, dating back to Buddy’s Bug Hunt.) Dragging the boy before the council, and an angry mob, the charges are read against “Peanut the Destroyer”, including willfully and with malice aforethought crushing their food chambers, flooding all the lower hatching chambers, and dousing the colony with the dreaded “yellow rain.” “Hey, I had to go”, replies Peanut. While the mob chants that they be allowed to eat him. “We are not mindless savages” says the prosecutor. “This human should be studied – and then we’ll eat him.” But the huge ant queen appears to pass judgment. Having a sort of spiritual aura and all-knowing demeanor, she sees a chance for a greater future through the boy, proposing that he be taught their ways to become one with the ants, then returned to the human world to spread what he has learned, in hopes of striking a peace for a better tomorrow. The crowd is none too pleased, but no one will question the wisdom of the queen. The queen leaves a low-key threat over Peanut’s head – not only will he never be returned to his normal size and his own kind if he doesn’t cooperate, but if he should fail to achieve the status of an ant, “That would be – regrettable.” Further detail on Peanut’s retraining, and his ultimate heroism, has been previously supplied in last year’s series of articles, Bugz Lives: Ants.
Bee Movie (Dreamworks, 11/2/07), an odd sort of vanity piece for Jerry Seinfeld, brought the cartoon courtroom to even greater CGI feature length. Jerry plays a bee (who looks much more like a little version of himself than any actual insect) who befriends a young female human florist. Fed up with the rut of hive life, Jerry gets wind of the fact that humans are eating bee honey. He also realizes that for this to be happening, some bee somewhere is getting robbed of his life’s work. Forming an allegiance with the florist, he vows to fight for bee justice – and they prosecute a case in which the honey companies are sued to cease their ways and leave all the honey back with the bees. But the consequences of a stunning courtroom victory do not go as expected for Jerry. Instead of bringing to his fellow bees a life of easy living and prosperity, honey supplies reach such a glut that the normally active and industrious bee colonies have no idea what to do with themselves, and fall into a sort of lethargic coma. No one pollinates the flowers – and the world’s plant life begins to crumble. Jerry and the florist of course spend the rest of the picture trying to reverse the damage and set things right. Jerry even opens up his own law office at the end of the film, “Insects at Law”.
To quote Honest John from Rooty Toot Toot, “Ipso facto. Status quo. I rest my case.”