We finally reach the final chapter of our longest non-stop flight to date down an animation trail. The tower has given us the signal to make our final approach. Our landing gear are operative and lowered. Runway lights are in sight. Visibility clear, no turbulence. We’ll make a smooth pass over the remaining studios with something to say about aeronautics, then bring this pleasure excursion to a close.
King Features Syndicate would finance the production of episodes starring several of its comic strip mainstays in the early 1960’s, handing out the tasks of nuts-and-bolts production to several directors and studios. Most remembered are the long-running series of new color Popeye episodes, produced in varying quality by both established production houses and other newcomers headed by experienced directors, trying to gain a foothold in TV production. Among these newcomers to the medium was Jack Kinney, legendary director of Disney’s Goofy shorts, plus of featurette segments such as “The Wind in the Willows”, “Casey at the Bat” and others. His new venture into TV, after the short subject division at Disney stopped a regular schedule of releases, was nearly limited to the one project of producing about one-third of the TV Popeye cartoons for King Features. (He would produce pilot films in effort to gain the later contracts for cartoons featuring Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat – but neither turned out well, and remaining production of each series was handed over to someone else.) While Kinney’s first efforts at Popeye featured a few ingenious scripts and new twists upon the tropes of the old character, none (excepting perhaps the pilot, Barbecue for Two) approached the zing of his work with Goofy, Casey, or Toad.
In fact, the restrictions of limited budgets seemed to present a creative stranglehold upon his work quite quickly on in the series – and eventually, titles became so banal and poorly animated that one seriously wondered if Kinney was taking any hands-on role in their production at all, or just casually taking name credit for the haphazard labors of others. Anything resembling his style quickly vanished from the screen. No attention was paid to musical scoring, which became repetitious and fixed music cues by a squawky combo, adding nothing to the impact of the storylines. Badly-drawn stock shots were repeated from film to film again and again, often in places that would entirely break up the continuity of the shots that preceded and followed them. Many episodes became virtually unwatchable, and some scripts were butchered to cut out whole sequences of expository dialogue, to the point where the audience had no idea how Popeye had transitioned from one situation to another. It was clear that without the fine guidance of Disney in placing storytelling first, Kinney was independently a washout – or, in fairness to the man, just reached a point where he didn’t care any longer, and was just looking for a quick royalty check. Perhaps King Features accepted his final work solely out of desperation to meet production schedules, or because of contractual commitments they were afraid to break. But their refusal to sign Kinney on for the subsequent projects referenced above indicates they were aware of the fall-off of his work, and while perhaps Kinney’s failed pilots show a bit more effort than his Popeye atrocities, King Features knew better than to assign a whole package of new episodes to him, only to watch quality fall off again.
At about a mid-point in production, when quality levels were not exceptional, but had not yet dipped to unbearability, we find “Popeye in Haweye”. Popeye and Bluto (renamed Brutus) run rival businesses as tour guides in the Hawaiian islands. Both of them approach tourist Olive Oyl, fresh off the plane, each claiming to have the best tour. Olive only has money enough for one, so offers the boys a proposition – she’ll pay the one of them who shows her the best time. Brutus wins the honor of conducting the first tour (by calling “heads” with a two-headed fake coin). To keep the costs of his tours affordable, Brutus believes in jamming in everything possible at top speed, barely leaving opportunity to take a breath between transportation from one location to another. He speeds Olive around a first island in a jeep, not even having a chance to name the points of interest of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach until he is already well past them. Olive spends the whole ride looking backwards at what she missed, as Brutus plows past a group of hula dancers, reducing their grass skirts to haystacks. Driving into an airfield, Bluto quickly ushers Olive up the boarding ramp of a private plane. He straps Olive into a passenger seat, fastening her seat belt around her arms in the manner of a strait-jacket, leaving her barely able to move her hands as Brutus steals a kiss. “Fresh” she protests. “Sit tight, miss. I’m gonna make a pass at Mauna Loa”, shouts Bluto from the pilot’s seat, and soars into the blue at top speed. His descent in and out of the volcano crater leaves Olive’s head and torso stretched and contorted from the G-forces. “Oooh, pineapples”, observes Olive on the next leg of the journey, spotting a plantation out the window. “Hold tight and I’ll pick ya’ a fresh one”, says Bluto, putting the plane into a nose dive. Buzzing over the tops of the vegetation below, Bluto grabs one of the fruit from his cockpit window, and tosses it back to Olive. With her arms still restrained. Olive reacts in pain as the fruit contacts her hand. “It’s full of prickles”, she cries, tossing the fruit from one hand to the other to keep from getting punctured. Below is a small group of surfers and sailing canoes. Brutus dives directly in among them for a close look, leaving boats and surfers capsized in the water, and angrily shaking their fists at him. Brutus hurriedly skids the plane in for a landing, and carries out the last leg of the journey on high-speed racing bike, with an exhausted Olive clinging around his waist from behind to keep from falling off. He arrives back at the airport arrival gate where Popeye waits, and hands Olive’s drooping figure to Popeye, stating, “She’s all yours.” Seeing her condition, Popeye suggests that maybe she needs a breather, but Olive somehow snaps out of it, showing as much enthusiasm as she can muster under the circumstances for finally getting to start Popeye’s tour. Popeye replies, “Youse is a gluttoness for punishment.”
Popeye’s tour is substantially more leisurely – conducted solely by sea in a two passenger sail-driven catamaran. Olive receives the comforts of home, with soft pillow under her head, a fresh-picked orchid to enjoy the fragrance of under her nose (her speech being delivered through the bell of the flower petals as if a second mouth), and Popeye serenading her with his best sailor’s impression of the Hawaiian native language, strumming on uke and dancing a hula. Olive also gets to take in other hula dancers on shore in real time, and, while she may not see as many sights numerically, totally enjoys her experience. When they return to the airport gate, Brutus greets them with the wise-crack, “Well, did the Vulgar Boatman show ya some flying fish?” He holds out his greedy palm, expecting payment. Olive pulls out a checkbook, and fills in the recipient’s name as Popeye. Brurus responds in the usual manner, by belting Popeye on the jaw, and smashing a uke over his head. As Popeye sits on the ground with a blackened eye, Olive bends over him to see if he’s hurt – and Popeye gets a whiff of one of Olive’s leis – made of spinach. A quick snack of same, and Brutus, who is trying to direct Olive to a luau being conducted nearby, gets socked skyward for an aerial trip straight to the stated event. He crashes into the food spread out on a blanket on the beach, and comes up with his head trapped inside the skin of a large pineapple. Unable to see, he stumbles around blindly, and the tourists, seeing the pineapple head and green points protruding therefrom resembling a crown, state he looks like King Kamehameha, and begin dancing the hula in time to Brutus’s stumbles. Back at the airport, Popeye suggests that Olive take one more tour. “But I’ve had two already.” However, Popeye promises this one will be different – conducted by moonlight on board his boat. The couple end the film in a romantic embrace among the moonbeams, as the screen is filled with the word “Aloha” for the iris out.
Gene Deitch, already responsible for a portion of the TV Popeye output, won the contract for most of the cartoons featuring Krazy Kat in a later series. His surrealistic animation style and background work seemed best suited to the visual style of the original strip, and he made considerable effort to preserve most of the character cast of the comic icon, as well as include plenty of signature brick-throwing by Ignatz Mouse, to the dismay of Offica Pup. In There Auto Be a Law, Ignatz’s jail term for his last round of brick-throwing at Krazy is up, and Offica Pup boots the mouse out the jailhouse door, with a warning that one more tossed brick and its back in the clink. Krazy appears, stating that Ignatz will never darken his doorway again. “How come?” asks both the pup, and the mouse with even more curiosity, knowing his intentions are highly likely to go criminal at the first opportunity. Krazy states she has spent her life savings to buy Ignatz a surprise present to keep his mind occupied and away from brick throwing – a new, futuristic bubble car. Ignatz is impressed, and, while showing no degree of sensitivity for Krazy (“Get your own car”, he shouts as he leaves her behind), takes off down the road, happy about his new possession. “Greater love hath no Kat for an ingrate mouse”, observes Offica Pup. But Ignatz’s temporary happiness dies quickly, as the car dies and sputters out while traveling down the beach. Ignatz opens the hood, and clouds of steam shoot out from under the radiator cap. “The cheap model…I shoulda known”, grumbles Ignatz. Krazy catches up, believing Ignatz stopped for her after all, but Ignatz disappoints her by informing her that this “lemon” has broken down. “Maybe I can help fix it”, Krazy replies, turning the ignition key. The pistons of the engine beat upon Ignatz’s face under the hood, knocking him unconscious. Krazy tells Ignatz to take his “little nap” while she sees what can be done to fix the vehicle.
Examining the engine, Krazy concludes that the thermostat has become disconnected from the photostat – and makes her own modifications. She is proud of her labors when she finishes – “And only five parts left over.” Krazy turns the ignition key, and the car turns and proceeds directly into the surf. A splash from the water brings Ignatz to, just in time to see Krazy zoom over the top of the waves, the car floating beautifully, and performing as if a speedboat. Finding a rowboat, he rows out to intercept Krazy. The cat meanwhile believes Ignatz will be furious at her inadvertently turning his car into a boat, and stands on the bumper to make more modifications under the hood, hoping to turn it back to a car again. Just as Ignatz reaches the spot, enthusiastic that all his life he’s wanted a speedboat, Krazy announces that she’s just changed it back to a car, drawing Ignatz’s anger. But Krazy is wrong, as another turn of the ignition key propels the vehicle straight down, underwater – as a submarine. Ignatz is more excited than ever, having wanted a submarine all his life more than a speedboat. But on the ocean bottom below, Krazy is hard at work on more modifications, working with wrench in one hand while holding her nose with the other. A turn of the key causes the sub to rise to the surface – and continue rising, right through the bottom of Ignatz’s rowboat and into the sky, as a soaring airplane. Ignatz is drenched, but his excitement has reached euphoria, wanting an airplane even more than a sub. But Krazy somehow manages to figure out how to bring the craft in for a landing, back upon the beach where she started. A few more minor adjustments are completed befor a dripping Ignatz emerges on shore, and as Ignatz finally regains the driver’s seat and settles in to take his aircraft up for a solo hop, Krazy informs him that she finally got the vehicle back to being a car again. The engine sputters, and parts fly out from under the hood, as Krazy concludes, “And it still don’t work.” For all her troubles, Krazy receives the inevitable brick tossed at her cranium – and we next see Ignatz back in his home away from home in the jailhouse window. “You’re incorrigible”, says Offica Pup. “I did it, and I’m glad”, responds an angry Ignatz. Out on the lawn in front of the jailhouse rests Krazy, smelling a flower, and resigned to wait until Ignatz’s new term of incarceration is up – lovesick for him again. “Me too”, she responds to Ignatz’s expression of gladness, as the scene irises out.
Assignments for the production of “Beetle Bailey” were divided between Paramount Studios and Format Films. Geronimo was one of Format’s efforts, opening with General Halftrack eating popcorn at his desk while watching an old black-and-white TV show about WWI pilots. The hero (Smiling Buck), shoots down the enemy Germans by writing his name in bullet holes along the side of the German’s fuselage, causing the plane to nose-dive and crash, A long distance call is brought to Halftrack by Sgt. Snorkel, but Halftrack attempts to brush off the caller, informing him, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” He does not realize the call is from the Pentagon, and a superior General, predicting Halftrack’s activity without even seeing him, tells him to get his feet off the desk, stash the popcorn, and turn off the TV set. Halftrack hurriedly does just that, and returns to the phone, timidly standing at attention, and referring to himself as “Half-wit”. The Pentagon officer informs him that Camp Swampy has been selected for a crash parachute course. Halftrack is ordered to hand-pick three men to learn to jump from 20,000 feet – within one week. And Halftrack himself is also to join the training course, with instructor to arrive in the morning. In total confusion, Halftrack ends the call by hanging his hat on the phone cradle, and placing the speaker handset upon his head. “Oh, well, how bad can parachute jumping be?”, Halftrack reassures himself – then pounds the desk, and calls for Sgt. Snorkel to write for him a will.
The next day, a Corporal Ripcord arrives to provide instruction. He first informs the men to get familiar with yelling the word “Geronimo” upon commencing a jump. None of the soldiers seem capable of pronouncing it, with Private Zero coming the closest by repeating, “Jerry and Moe?” They enter the plane, and are seen from the cabin interior preparing to take their first jump. Sgt. Snorkel gets weak knees, but Halftrack heroically volunteers to be the first to take the plunge. His leap, however, demonstrates that he is not such a hero – as the plane hasn’t even left the ground, and he merely falls about four feet onto the runway. But now comes “the genuine goods”, as the plane ascends to 20,000 feet. On order, the petrified troops file out one by one, yelling the magic word – all except Beetle, who disappears out the door, then knocks on it from outside. Lingering against the forces of gravity in mid-air, he asks the instructor, “What was the name of that Indian again?”, then falls only after he gets it right. Zero is ahead of the rest of the squad, having typical trouble counting. “Duh, how do you get to ten? – That’s it, ten! Iroquois and Mohawk!” He is, however, unable to find his ripcord ring, and lands directly on his heels, keeling over like a falling tree, as the chute opens by itself too late, for a Yogi Bear-style cover-all. The rest of the group are still above, having succeeded in getting their chutes open, and Halftrack tells them to dress up their formation by closing ranks. Bad move, as one trooper gets his lines fouled in the next’s chute, then the next, then the next, until all but the Sergeant’s dog Otto fall together like a stone, leaving a large crater where they land in a dog-pile of dogfaces. The final scene finds the General back behind his desk, having nevertheless succeeded in earning a parachuting medal for completing the course, despite his sub-standard performance. He watches the latest installment of the same WWI show, and sees a German pilot bail out with a call of “Jerry and Moe”. The General reacts in surprise at hearing the same verbal mistake made again, and turns to the camera for the curtain line. “That’s all there is. There ain’t no Moe.”
Filmation studios found some flying opportunities for Tom and Jerry in their low-budget CBS revival of the characters in the 1980’s. Of course, with the studio’s track record, that didn’t mean that successful execution was assured. Actually, the studio managed a 50-50 score – one flop, one passable. The flop was Kitty Hawk Kitty (10/25/80) – a precursor of WB’s “Kitty Hawked”, reviewed in a previous article, but with none of the skill, charm, or attention to historical detail of the clever Warner project. Jerry is again supposed to have been responsible for the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. However, there is no sign of the wind tunnels, kites, or any significant aeronautical innovations in the Filmation version – demonstrating that the writers did no homework, but proceeded to production on a bare idea as an excuse for more chasing, without a proper follow-through. All that Jerry seems to do is marvelously create a paper mache miniature version of the Wright Flyer to pester Tom, with no explanation how he obtained aerodynamic expertise. As the Wrights struggle with failed experimental models, using Tom as unsuccessful test pilot, Jerry drives Tom crazy at night, disturbing his sleep in preparation for the next morning’s tests, leaving the cat frazzled. The Wrights finally discover Jerry flying one morning, and declare his design a breakthrough – then take him up as a good lick charm on the historic flight, while Tom slow-burns on the sidelines at losing his chance to make history. Amazing how bad writing, directing, and execution can make one film seem pointless, while a later thoughtful reworking can generate a near masterpiece.
Although the episode’s title is a complete misnomer, “The Plaid Baron Strikes Again” (9/27/80) tries about as hard as the studio was capable of to mirror a Hanna-Barbera original, within the crew’s limited budget and talent. Spike has undertaken a craft project of building a working radio-controlled model airplane for Tyke’s birthday. Jerry has also adopted the same hobby, simultaneously completing a model airplane for himself in his own scale, needing no radio control, as Jerry himself fits comfortably into the pilot’s seat. Jerry decides to take his creation up for a test flight, while Spike puts finishing touches on his larger version. Meanwhile, Tom snoozes away the afternoon in a hammock, much as in “Cat Napping”, dreaming of being waited on hand and foot by a bevy of beautiful harem cats. Jerry interrupts his dreams by buzzing his plane under Tom’s back, flipping the hammock and causing Tom to land on his head. The eternal chase begins. For a Filmaton episode, the chase is quite action-packed, with many decent gags almost killed by flashing past so fast, they don’t always register to full effect. Tom encounters various obstacles: crashing into the side of a well, dislodging the foundation so that the structure slides forward several feet, allowing Tom to fall into the hole – then, with no apparent explanation, having Tom emerge from the hole, being snapped at by an alligator. Tom crashes into a loaded wheelbarrow, and is buried under a ton of bricks. And they even repeat H-B’s old rake and shovel gag, having Tom repeatedly step on the ends of the implements, to get whacked in the head by the handles. All the while, much in the manner of H-B’s The Dog House, each pass Tom makes past Spike’s work table causes a wing of the model plane to be repeatedly knocked off, to Spike’s growing consternation. After several layers of glue and Scotch tape are already beginning to mar the appearance of his creation, Spike sees Tom coming again, and grabs away the plane as he passes, saying, “Not this time”. But Tom and Jerry double-back behind him, Tom colliding with the upraised plane held over Spike’s shoulder, and gets his foot caught in the model’s cockpit. Tom hobbles around with the winged “boot” around his ankle, trying to shake it loose. As Spike lunges at him, Tom succeeds, flipping the plane off his foot and right onto Spike’s head. Then, the wing falls off again, with Spike’s angry eyes peering out at us through the hole in the fuselage side.
More chase gags abound, including an interesting sequence where Jerry whizzes under a clothesline. Tom is too tall, and gets caught up in the lines like a slingshot, then launched backwards. He snags into the hammock, crashes through the yard fence, then is slingshotted by the hammock back through the fence hole. He zooms straight for the open spout of a rain gutter, and takes an unusual trip in reverse direction up the gutter, popping out on the roof. Jerry whizzes by again, and Tom instinctively grabs for him – walking right off the roof, to take another pratfall. Tom’s had enough of ground tactics, and decides to take his battle into the air – by stealing Spike’s plane. Tom manages to comfortably fit into its cockpit, and takes off mere inches ahead of Spike’s clutching paws. One nice looking shot shows Jerry from point of view ahead of his plane, visible through the blades of his whirling propeller, as up behind him rises Tom’s plane from the same vantage point, right on his tail. (Of course, Filmation can only justify the expenditure of this shot by repeating it twice during the cartoon.) Jerry puts an obstacle into Tom’s plans, by flinging out of his own cockpit a silk aviator’s scarf, which wraps around Tom’s head to block his view. Tom’s plane goes into a dive, while Spike races along on the ground below to catch his precious craft project. Tom gets the scarf off just in time to see the ground looming below, and to pull back on the control stick. The plane averts a crash and loops upwards, as Spike grabs onto the plane’s wheels. Spike is lifted off his feet, but the plane continues to turn vertically upwards, causing Spike to lose his hold. Spike crashes into an upper-story wall of the house, and the camera pans as we hear three more crashes with walls within the structure – then Spike pops through the opposite exterior wall of the hoise, while the wall surfaces he has punctured fall away from his body, revealing a pancake-flattened Spike, who exclaims, “Ooh, I hate that cat!”, then falls. Jerry executes a barrel roll to evade Tom, but Tom’s repeat of the move drops him out of the plane. The aircraft swoops under him, catching the cat upside down with his head stuck in the cockpit. By the time Tom is right-side up, he is heading straight for a barn door, and crashes through it. As with most cartoon barnstormers, he picks up a cow along the way, who gives him a big kiss. Spike, again running below, reacts, “What?”, as the cow’s added weight causes the plane to take another dive, straight at Spike. An unusual shot (which could have been executed better) cuts away to a view of Earth from outer space, as the whole planet is impacted by the force of the crash. The cow now sits atop a deep hole, within which are pinned under her the protruding heads of Tom and Spike. But Spike is happy – because Tom is finally grounded. “Hello, pussy cat”, he says in menacing tones, while Tom grins sheepishly, hoping for mercy. The final shot reveals he does not receive any, as Spike presents Tyke with his birthday present. Of course, the plane is mostly history, having been pretty much wrecked in the crash. But Spike has salvaged the wings, the motor, and the wheels – all of which have now been tied to Tom’s nose, arms, and feet, allowing the cat to serve as fuselage and tail. Tyke operates the remote control, proving not to be a great pilot, as he repeatedly crashes Tom nose-first into buildings and trees. “Aw, don’t worry, son. You’ll get the hang of it – – later!” says Spike, winking to the audience for the iris out.
DIC would provide “Inspector Gadget” on a series basis – a character that had as many inventions on his person as Professor Pat Pending had on the Convert-a-Car – including a helicopter prop which would pop out of his hat, with steering handles so that Gadget could travel by air to any destination.
DIC also ventured into the venue of am anthology of various series of seven-minute shorts, in strange (was it even licensed?) posthumous tribute to “The Wacky World of Tex Avery”. One of their creations was quite far from resembling any brainchild of the former animator – “Pompeii Pete”, a little Italian shmoe from the ancient city, who is buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, encased in volcanic rock for centuries and displayed as a statue in a museum, but who somehow finally breaks out in the modern era, unaged, and entirely ignorant of modern life – a sort of “Born Yesterday” instant idiot. The series developed a regular character named Dan, who would appear in every episode as an aggravating jack of all trades following one vocation or another, to constantly be pestered to distraction by the little Italian-accented twerp. One episode of the series seems almost a direct steal of the concept from Animaniacs’ “Plane Pals”, entitled Just Plane Trouble (11/2/97). Instead of a self-absorbed accountant as in the original, Dan is a self-absorbed attorney on board a commercial flight, seen on his cell phone chewing out someone on the other end of the line. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do. I became an attorney so I could make money off of losers like you. If you don’t like it, sue me.” The caller he is addressing turns out to be his own Mom. Pompeii Pete (for once not wearing his ancient Italian outfit) turns up in the seat next to him, on his first flight. Pete keeps reaching his window seat by hopping over Dan’s, at one point bouncing on Dan’s head, forcing Dan to almost swallow his laptop computer. As Dan opens his mouth, the screen of his computer reads “Ouch!” Pete helpfully assists Dan in fastening his seat belt – so tight, Dan inflates like a balloon, then deflates to a limp mass when the belt release is pressed. Pete shares refreshments, by pouring a bucket of salty peanuts into Dan’s mouth – then helps him wash it down with a gallon of water. Of course, what goes in must come out. As Dan’s digestive tract brings upon him the need for the little boy’s room, Pete beats him to the door by a split second, and lingers inside for the longest time, taking a complete shower from the sink. Dan suffers the tortures of the damned outside – especially whenever he sees a stewardess pour from a pitcher of water, or the inflight movie on Niagara Falls. Finally bursting inside, he flushes Pete down the toilet, but finds the inescapable pest outside on the wing when Dan returns to his seat. Dan obtains a bazooka from an emergency box with sign reading “Break glass in case of war”, and fires a shot at Pete through the window, blasting a hole that sucks him into the wall of the plane by his rear end. Dan screams for something to hang onto, and Pete, who somehow finds his way back into the passenger cabin, tosses at him a suitcase. Instead of giving him support, the luggage knocks Dan completely outside, and he falls into the ocean – fortunately near a small palm tree island. Swimming ashore, with everything else lost, Dan wonders what’s inside the suitcase, only to find it filled with more salted peanuts. But that’s not the only thing to eat – as Pete turns up on the island from nowhere, dressed in native attire, and offers Dan a cocoanut from the palm tree. Dan goes into a series of shock takes so extreme they reveal his skeletal head, and departs as did the Animaniacs’ accountant over the waves to parts unknown. The film closes as Pete bids him “Ciao.”
Film Roman has become a mainstay in television animation, still continuing into the present with the most popular series in the Fox prime-time lineup. It achieved some of its first great success, however, with a long-running hit from the CBS lineup, “Garfield and Friends”. Cartoons’ favorite fat cat would have many encounters with aeronautics, both directly and indirectly. A running gag of the series was a longstanding desire to utilize postal air mail to ship “world’s cutest kitten” Nermal to a location where he would not be a bother to Garfield – Abu Dhabi. In one episode, Garfield himself winds up in his own air mail package, and suffers the fate intended for his nemesis. He laments that there are two things about the place he can’t handle – not a decent Italian restaurant to be found, and the place is crawling with cute kittens that others have shipped there to be rid of them.
In Box o’ Fun (9/24/88), Garfield kills time by playing with an empty box Jon has used to carry in books to cram for a night school examination. In an episode that no doubt inspired a similar first-season episode of “Spongebob Squarepants”, Garfield envisions the box as various types of vehicles, first as a racing car, then as a jet fighter. Picking up a paper cup from the table, Garfield imagines he is on a flight intercom, calling “Blue Leader, this is Lasagna 1.” He asks someone to check what the inflight movie is tonight, then takes off. He pauses, suspecting that someone is on his tail, then looks at his own striped tail, and reacts, “No one there. My mistake.” Suddenly, three real fighter jets approach. Repeating the tactic from George Pal’s The Truck That Flew, Garfield makes the pretend sounds and movements of shooting at the planes with an imaginary machine gun, riddling the planes with bullet holes and downing them. Garfield adds the touch of blowing on his fingers as if to cool a smoking gun barrel. Then, sputtering engine sounds are heard. “I’m outta gas. I knew I shouldn’t have filled up on unleaded.” Just as Garfield is about to crash, Jon enters the room, shattering Garfield’s daydream and bringing him back to reality. By the end of the cartoon, Jon proves he’s no more grown-up than Garfield – placing the box on his head, and imagining it to be a naval captain’s hat, as he pretends to battle a crew of imaginary pirates.
Skyway Robbery (12/15/90) finds Jon trying to book a flight to Miami with only $70 in his pocket. Conventional airlines offer 4th class booking in the baggage compartment, where you can eat old pretzels and see entertainment from a stewardess’s family slide show, provided you fly on groundhog day and stay at your destination for six months. Only Swindler Airlines offers a travel package for whatever Jon’s got in his pocket. Departing from Gate 86 (a tool shed at the end of the runway, Jon, Odie, and Garfield find a rotting hulk of a fuselage with only one wing. Jon complains it needs two to make it go, and Swindler begrudgingly carts out the extra wing from the tool shed, muttering at how passengers get so demanding. Swindler doesn’t even know where Miami is – and consults a road map he obtained from a service station, showing the layout for Copenhagen, Denmark and vicinity. The takeoff is a rocky one, as none of the seats are fastened down, vibrating out heroes all over the cabin. Swindler loses his flight manual out the window, and averts a crash by sheer dumb luck guesswork at which control to pull, flipping his passengers onto the ceiling. Things finally level off, but not in the cockpit, where the controls begin to spark wildly in short-circuits. Without a moment’s thought for his passengers, Swindler bails out. A panicked Garfield sees him float below the window, and our heroes rush into the empty cockpit. Using a Dixie cup tied to a string that serves as the plane’s radio, Jon manages to contact a tower, but is totally confused as the controller tries to tell him where to find the rudder control. The flight controller is a grossly overweight man munching on a lunch of Italian pasta, and speaks Garfield’s language, when he describes various controls as looking like types of Italian food. “It’s simple when they explain it in a way you can understand” thought-talks Garfield, and easily brings the plane in himself for a perfect three-point landing. But their destination is anything but sunny, as they have landed at an airport near the arctic pole. Jon vows they’re spending their vacation there anyway, as nothing is going to get him up in a plane again. That is, until he asks a bystander in a parka for directions to a good hotel, and the stranger turns out to be Swindler, directing then to a hotel of his own name. Jon and his pets scream, barrel back into the plane, and take off for anyplace distant, while Swindler shrugs his shoulders, commenting that it’s getting harder all the time to make an honest living.
The Wright Stuff (9/18/93) is yet another effort to attribute the first flight of the Wright Brothers to an animal – this time a distant ancestor of Garfield named McKinley the Cat. Owned by Orville Wright (played by Jon, opposite a twin brother who only differs from him by addition of a moustache), McKinley suffers greatly as the Wrights labor to build their plane – as they fail to take any breaks to fix him a decent meal. McKinley and an Odie-dog counterpart continue to watch the Wrights putter around, installing a propeller backwards so that it sucks up everything around it to be chopped up by the propeller blades – including most of the brothers’ clothing. The Wrights get the plane looking right, but the plane’s tests do little more than traverse the ground like a lawn mower. As the brothers give up for the day (and maybe forever), McKinley and the mutt explore the plane themselves to see whether the monstrosity is worth all the attention of the Wrights and their own missed meals. The dog barks instructions to the cat, pantomiming a stewardess’s lectures on fastening seat belts, oxygen masks, and keeping seat at full upright position. The dog finally sets the prop in motion, and the craft begins to bounce and shudder its way across the ground, McKinley holding onto the controls for dear life, and wishing he had figured out how to make it stop. From the house, the brothers hear the startup of the engine, and discover the cat is at the controls. One brother tells the other not to worry, as they have already seen it couldn’t get off the ground – until the other brother reminds him that the cat is lighter than either of them. The brothers race outside to head the plane off, but find themselves becoming the pursued, finally cornered against the wall of a barn. But the cat finally has the dumb luck to pull back on the control stick, hopping the plane over the barn and the brothers. He also invents the first in-flight meal, buzzing a couple of picnickers and grabbing their sandwiches as he passes (which turn out to be terrible). A tree finally brings an end to the plane’s journey, but McKinley is tossed safely to the ground, and the brothers are happy to see their invention test-hopped, and of course make the necessary modifications to adapt to human weight, taking the credit for the discovery, but rewarding the cat with meals that satisfy even his appetite. Narrator Garfield illustrates that the modern-day plane is much more sophisticated, computer equipped, spacious and roomy, as he settles into a seat on a commercial flight. However, he observes, as a stewardess hands him a meal, that the in-flight food is still terrible.
The Simpsons, for which Film Roman would inherit the reins from Klasky-Csupo, would of course become the studio’s most long-running hit. In Fear of Flying (12/18/94), Homer talks Marge into taking the family on an aerial vacation (mainly to seek out a new venue for drinking Duff beer, after failing to mesh with the crowds at all the drinking establishments in town). Marge is nervously coaxed aboard the plane, but makes every possible excuse about some task she left undone back at the house, to get herself off the aircraft. When no excuse works, she freaks, and runs screaming up and down the aisle of the plane, until she and the entire family are left with bag and baggage, standing on the tarmac watching as the plane takes off. Marge remains traumatized, driving the family crazy with over-obsessing over every little household activity and living like a recluse, until the kids finally convince her she needs professional help. Homer tries to dodge the issue, certain that a head-shrinker will always put the blame on the husband no matter what, but eventually foots the bill for the therapy. Marge undergoes psychoanalysis, and finally confesses to an incident involving her father that left permanent psychological scars. Papa had always told the family that he was a pilot, and would regularly leave to carry out his assignments on departing commercial airliners at the airport. One day, little Marge manages to get away from her mother, and follow Daddy up the ramp and into the plane’s cabin. The sight she sees places her into shock – Daddy is not the pilot at all, but a male assuming the role of a stewardess. “Don’t look at me”, yells Daddy, and Marge’s memory blacks out. The psychiatrist puts a new spin on this information, noting that male stewards have since become common in the industry, and giving her father credit as a “trailblazer”. Marge’s whole disposition changes, finding a new respect for her father’s efforts, and a sense of pride. Suddenly, Marge’s memory opens wider, and she now recalls three further incidents in her life, where her mother repeatedly splattered baby food in her face while trying to feed her with the old game, “Here comes the airplane”, and further memories of riding in a kiddie car airplane that somehow has both mock-engines catch fire, and even a further memory mirroring Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, where little Marge is shot at by a biplane buzzing a cornfield! “Do you think those things could have contributed to my fear of flying, too?” asks Marge. So as not to dilute her own perceived success in pinpointing the cause of Marge’s phobia, the analyst casually dismisses the importance of these events with the reaction, “Yes, yes, it’s a rich tapestry.” Homer, happy to get Marge off the couch without taking the blame for anything, finally gets Marge on board a plane again, and tells her he’ll be right there to help her through. He assures her as the plane begins takeoff that all the noises she hears are normal. “That’s just the plane powering up. That’s just the engine struggling.” The plane reaches the end of the runway, gains no elevation, and slides with a plop onto the ocean surface. “That’s just a carp swimming around your ankles”, concludes Homer.
The gags come fast and furious in Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming (11/26/95), when arch-villain Bob mounts a campaign against all television, by escaping during a proson detail of cleaning up planes for an army air show, pilfers a 10-megaton nuclear weapon from a hangar, and installs the device in the Duff beer blimp. He then cuts into the cable for the big screen TV covering the air show, and demands that all television be silenced, or he will detonate the device. From a bunker below the base, Mayor Quimby, Chief Wiggum, and other officials, unable to discover Bob’s hidden location, cave in to the demands. “May God have mercy on our souls”, remarks Quimby. All broadcasting is silenced, including Bumbleee Man and Krusty the Klown – but one thing remains on the airwaves – the emergency broadcast system. Krusty, distraught at his cancellation, sees a possibility for number one ratings as the only game in town – and flees to the remote desert shed from where the emergency signal originates, returning to the airwaves for twelve-hour days of non-stop, unscripted comedy. This pitfall is more that Sideshow Bob can stand, and he readies to detonate the bomb. But Lisa Simpson, an attendee at the air show, has figured out his location, from an increase in the pitch of his voice during the ransom broadcast, which she attributes to helium inside the Duff blimp. She and Bart attempt to intercept Bob’s plans, but Bob pushes the red button anyway – only to have the bomb fall apart, revealing a bevy of rats within, and an expiration date label inside reading “Best before November, 1959″.
Bart stalls the still furious villain, who now turns his attention to settling old scores with Bart, while Lisa slips unnoticed to a computer keyboard that controls the message display on the side of the blimp, signaling the police via an elaborate board display that Bob is inside, and the bomb a dud. Bob grabs Bart as a hostage, plunges a knife through the fabric of the blimp, and escapes through the hole, leaving Lisa and the police clambering out of the deflated fabric. Bob leaps with Bart into a Harrier jet, so simple even a child is supposed to be able to operate it, by simply pressing a button marked “Fly”. Instead, the jet moves forward twenty feet, and grounds itself into a ditch. Bob is not through, and commandeers the Wright Brothers’ plane on loan from the Smithsonian. It is so slow, fighter jets cannot calculate an intercept speed, passing right by it. The police engage in a slow-motion chase, trying to grab the plane from the ground. But Bob finally pulls back on the stick, gaining elevation to elude the cops, and announces to Bart that this is a kamikaze mission o get Krusty. He heads the plane straight for the desert emergency broadcast shed, where an exhausted Krusty is running out of improvised ideas to keep his broadcast day alive. Hearing an engine approaching, he wonders if someone is running a lawn mower, then spies the oncoming plane. He leaps out a window and hits the ground, bracing for the worst – then looks up, and seeing nothing happening, takes a cigarette break, commenting, “What the hell’s the hold up?” The slow-motion Wright Flyer is still trying to reach the building – and has so little momentum, that upon touching the structure, the plane buckles and stops cold. An army tank finishes the job by rolling right over the plane to disintegrate it, as Bob is captured. Bob closes the episode by observing the irony that his downfall came in a manner that could have come from the pen of the most amateur of television hack writers, as he is taken away, to escape another day.
Yes, there are even some memorable aerial moments among the output of Family Guy. Peter, forced to don the robes of the specter of Death when the grim reaper winds up laid up in the Griffin’s living room after fracturing an ankle bone, and charged with the responsibility of bringing down an entire 747 of passengers through pilot error. Quagmire, pranking the guys on Halloween by taking them up for a flight in a working Japanese Zero, then claiming to revert to the “spirit of his ancestors” in staging a kamikaze dive upon Quahog harbor. But we can’t go into the details here, or we’d lose our family-friendly rating. I leave it to the curious reader’s investigation for further plot points. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Some of the most recent breakthroughs in flying have come from feature-length projects. In Dreamworks’ Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (11/7/2006), possibly taking inspiration from “The Flight of the Phoenix”, Alex the lion and his gang from the Central Park Zoo, together with their new-found companion King Julian, the self absorbed king of the ring-tailed lemurs, decide to leave the island of Madagascar, via the hulk of an old plane crashed into a tree which Julian has been using as a palace. With the technical guidance of the self-proclaimed military-operative Central Park penguins, and the able hands of some chimpanzees, the plane is somehow rendered semi-operational again, and launched from the tree using a Goofy-style giant slingshot. The penguin leader, Skipper, lifting a catch=phrase from Don Adams’ Get Smart, refers to it as the “second biggest slingshot” he’s ever seen – leaving us of course to wonder what was the first. The launched plane banks into a roll, immediately descends into the tree canopy as if to crash – but miraculously rises again, and successfully bridges the gap between Madagascar and the mainland. One of the penguins plays stewardess, instructing on safety gear that is already well past use and popping at the seams, while also supplying lobster and champagne to King Julian and his entourage in first class. But a red warning light on the instrument panel spells trouble. The penguins analyze the situation with military efficiency – concluding that the flashing light is slightly hypnotic – then call for the flight manual, with which their leader whacks the bulb to smash it out of commission, rendering problem solved. Of course, the real meaning of the light is that the fuel supply has run out, and the engines quickly fail. Skipper instructs his troops at the controls to break out of a nose dive at the absolute last minute, and attempt to “kiss the runway” with the landing gear. Instead, the wheels break off completely at their first contact with the ground. The plane violently skids along the savannas, clipping its wings off on passing trees, carving off its underbelly, and ultimately shedding its entire metal skin. The penguin leader consoles a bobble-head hula girl figure vibrating uncontrollably on the dashboard of the instrument panel, whom he believes is “shaking like a leaf”. The plane finally comes to a stop with the use of two installed drag-chutes the penguins have added, leaving the passengers with little left around them but their seats and the steel frame. The penguins are completely satisfied with their own performance, and exchange high-fives, declaring, “Who says penguins can’t fly?”
Illumination Studios, has also provided aerial escapades in its Despicable Me franchise. The original feature (7/9/10) features an aerial dogfight between two highly-futuristic flying machines of pod and flying wing design, with a varied array of doo-dads to saw into each other’s craft and gain access to cargo within, and an arsenal of twenty or so homing missiles, counteracted by an equal number of anti-missile devices. The dogfight is brought to an abrupt close by hitting Gru’s aircraft with a miniaturizing ray, which shrinks the plane around its occupants, forcing them to pop out, and cling upon a tiny ship they can barely find space to stand upon.
In Despicable Me 3 (6/14/17), the Minions briefly part company from Gru, and land themselves in a jail rap, They plan an elaborate escape, heisting virtually everything from the prison, including washing machines, electric fans, prison laundry, and even toilets – and construct a huge airship with sail knitted together out of striped prison uniforms and driven by the washing machine motors hooked to the fans, for an escape vehicle capable of holding the lot of them.
I’m sure there’s more incidental aircraft appearances I’ve overlooked or which didn’t stick in the memory. If any of you have any other favorites that come to mind, feel free to go crazy with your additions.
We’ve just about reached the end of the runway. Your tray tables should be up and in locked position. Time to cut the engines, and roll out the ramp to disembark. We hope you’ve enjoyed your flight, and will return to visit with us soon.