Animation Trails
December 16, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Reign of the Supertoons (Part 11)

The old Green Lantern battery is running on low, as we’ve almost reached the present, so it’s time to wind down this review of non-career superheroes and their various exploits and follies. While time, however, is running out, the creative spark still continues to flow through several recent productions, bringing back classic characters in new powerful misadventures.

To start things off on a highly positive note, we’ll first review a couple of episodes from Pink Panther and Pals, the most recent (and one of the best) revivals of the DePatie-Freleng franchise. While Panther is visibly modified into a junior adolescent form, his spirit and pantomme humor remain intact, and comic inventiveness continues to excel. This is also true of the revival of his stablemates, the Ant and the Aardvark, one of whose episodes shall be the first examined. In Zeus Juice (3/7/10), Aardvark is having more trouble than usual keeping up with Ant (who in this incarnation has the personality of a wise-cracking Chris Rock instead of a Dean Martin drawl, though Aardvark retains his Joey Bishop persona), as ant prides himself on working out, and claims to be the speediest thing in the jungle. Before he can build up his muscles, Aardvark realizes he must develop muscles to build up. So he goes on line looking on the web for a quick-fix muscle builder. He encounters an ad for a super-juicer – a mixmaster with recipes guaranteed to provide super strength and vitality. Purchasing the product, Aardvark first tries a mixture to produce legs of steel – a concoction of fruit juices and fish oils. At first, nothing – then his legs begin to swell, and his feet start pounding the turf of their own volition. His legs take off like the Road Runner, with Aardvark’s long nose trailing helplessly behind on the ground. He finally manages to come to a stop, conveniently at the door to ant’s anthill. A pound on the ground from his “thunder thighs” jostles Ant out of his bath and up the hole, where he sees the new physique of his adversary. Racing for dear life, Ant looks back and reacts, “He’s a freak of nature. I can’t outrun that freight train.” Instead, Ant hides begind a rock – a few feet from the edge of a cliff. Aardvark sees the cliff coming, and tries his best to stop, skidding until he is hanging onto the cliff with his arms, his legs danging over the edge. “You know what he needs?”, comments Ant, “Ant-i lock brakes.” As Aardvark grabs Ant with his nose, Ant climbs up Aardvark’s face and yanks on his ear, which acts as an ignition key to stat Aardvark’s legs again. Aardvark is pulled by the sheer speed of his legs off the cliff face and onto mid-air. Looking down in horror, Aardvark tells us, “Next time, I’ll use flying fish oil.” As he falls, Ant meanders home, stating “I better call somebody to clean that up.”

If at first you don’t succeed. Aardvark’s next recipe is for super-vision. His eyes develop red swirls – and suddenly fire a laser beam at his front door, leaving a charred hole. “Suddenly I’m in the mood for a barbecue”, he says. He arrives at ant’s home, and invites him to come out to observe his “new look”. Ant believes Aardvark’s been eating too many jalapenos, which would account for the red swirlies in his eyes. But a blast from Aardvark’s lasers blackens the surface of the anthill. “After all this time, it looks like you finally got me”, says Ant. “Go ahead, fry me.” Aardvark revs up his eyes for a fatal blow, but Ant produces a mirror at the last split second – and the reflected beam chars Aardvark’s head to a powder. “I’d stay out of the sun if I were you”, retorts Ant. “Your head looks a little well done.”

Recipe #3: Super smell. Aardvark’s already pronounced nose develops biceps of its own, prompting Ant to inquire if his sinuses are acting up. Aardvark turns on his vacuum power at super level – but only succeeds in sucking himself into his own nose, rolling him up like a pill bug. “Hey, you need a ride home?” asks Ant, giving him a kick to roll him back to his cave. Recipe #4: Since physical strength has failed, how about a super mind? Aardvark returns to Ant’s hill with lobes swollen five times their normal size. Ant inquires, “It looks like that hurts.” “Well, a little”, responds Aardvark, “…but enough already! Now you’ll never outsmart me.” So ant instead poses him a question he’s been pondering for years: “Why can’t you ever catch me?” The old unanswerable question trope strikes again, and, as Ant produces an umbrella to avoid the splatter, Aardvark’s head explodes.

Aardvark is finally through with the juicer, dumping it in the trash can. He returns to the ant hill, vowing to get his meal the good old fashioned way. Turning on his vacuum nose, he miraculously sucks out the Ant on the first try. “I did it. It’s a miracle”, shouts Aardvark. Suddenly, from inside his nose, Aardvark is repeatedly judo flipped. Out of his nose emerges Ant – buffed like a miniature Hercules, thanking Aardvark for turning him on to the juicer. Aardvark lays prone on the ground, and closes with the line, “Next time I’m hungry, I’ll order pizza.”


Pink! Pow! Kaboom! (Pink Panther and Pals, 8/13/10) – Pink Panther faces the same dilemma as Bart Simpson in an earlier post in this series – an irresistible collector’s comic in a comics store window – and only a buck to his name. When proprietor Big Nose (who’s priced the collectible with a tag reading “$$$”) sees Pink’s single bill, not only does he respond with humiliating laughter, but for the price hands Pink a stack of blank paper and a pencil – draw your own. Ponk returns home, and sets to work from the inside out – leaping onto the paper itself, drawing a box around him, and filling in the details as he goes. He draws in a city – but finds it inhabited by a humongous green monster, who begins a destructive rampage. Pink realizes he holds the upper hand, as his pencil is equipped with an eraser, and begins to erase the giant’s toes. The giant flings him into the skies with a snap of his fingers. Pink counters by drawing a super suit around himself (some padding might have helped, as it deflates from muscular build to his puny skinny form the moment after it is drawn). Pink begins some playful fun with the monster, drawing two windows in mid-air so he can pop in and out of them. When the giant looks in, Pink pencils his face with clown make-up, then holds up a mirror to emphasize the embarrassment. Pink next pulls a “Duck Amuck” tribute, changing the backgrounds behind the monster in mid-chase, causing him to slide on ice into a snowdrift (leaving a hole in the snow in the silhouette of a jackass), then coming out the other side as a giant snowman.

Pink changes the background again to a desert scene, and melts the giant’s snow away. He draws and offers to the perspiring giant a huge glass of water – then renders his need totally unnecessary by drawing him into the middle of the ocean. Pink flushes him away by pulling a plug, returning the background to a cityscape. The giant returns from the sewer, but Pink crosses him out with the pencil and redesigns him as a baby in a baby carriage. But even a baby monster has powers, and the creature lets out with a super-bawl that has the power of an atom bomb – sending the entire comic book blasting through Pink’s roof, to land outside on a city sidewalk. Back in the comic, Pink finds himself prone on the ground, and the giant somehow regrown to his original form. On top of that, the giant has taken Pink’s supersuit, and tears the suit in half. The giant generates a force field from his fists, which encircles Pink – and from which emerge an army of giants like himself. Still wielding the pencil, Ponk faces the situation with determination, and a heroic glint in his eye, as the camera angles change to a tribute to anime. Swinging the pencil like a Samurai, Pink erases giant after giant in a ferocious battle – until the street is cleared, save the original monster, for a final showdown. With a roar, the monster charges at Pink, and Pink charges at the monster. They meet in the center, Pink wildly swinging his pencil. Pink lands unharmed, but the point breaks off his pencil tip. The giant chuckles fiendishly – but looks down to find his parts separated from each other by broad strokes of emptiness from the eraser. With a clatter, he disassembles and falls in a heap of parts to the ground. Pink has reached the last panel on the comics page, and exits the completed book. As fate would have it, the sidewalk on which the comic landed is right outside Big Nose’s shop, as Big Nose returns to open up. He spies the new comic on the ground, and is impressed by its artwork. He reaches into his pocket for some cash for a purchase – but Pink insists on a trade – for the collector’s item in the window. Reluctantly, Big Nose can’t resist, and the rare prize becomes the panther’s own. Inside the shop. Big Nose settles down to read Pink’s masterwork, when the huge green hand of the monster emerges from its pages and hauls Big Nose inside, the pages closing as thuds, thumps, and leaping pages denote the battle resuming all over again within.


Then there is Garfield (as promised from last week’s article). He’s undergone some considerable changes in recent times – the first being a move to CGI (in a few feature films, and then in a series of direct to video features starting with Garfield Gets Real). Garfield’s Pet Force (6/16/09) is one of these, and not very super at all. Some primary problems of this feature series were as follows. First, instead of keeping Garfield rooted in reality, he, Jon and Odie are now residents of Cartoon World, outwardly aware of their fictional nature, something like Heckle and Jeckle. (One particularly good line results from this, in a scene where Garfield is twisted like a spiral in a torture device, but feeling no pain – “I’m a cartoon character. I do squash and stretch for a living.”). Instead of being a career cartoonist, Jon now takes Odie and Garfield to a TV-like studio, where they “film” a comic strip for each issue. And the various animal characters actually talk, and Jon and Liz can understand them, instead of merely being heard by the audience through thought projection. The whole thing is rather unnerving for old-school fans of the show. Top that with the fact that the personalities of two of the principals are altered or watered-down. Garfield still gets jokes on food, fatness, and laziness, but seems to have lost the power to insult or belittle, making no particular zingers about canine stupidity or even Nermal’s ability to aggravate. And Nermal, instead of playing the innocent or thriving on reputation as world’s cutest kitten, now seems to have swapped personalities with Scrappy Doo, just generally diving into trouble.

Egad!

Plotwise, it’s a convoluted tale of a parallel universe, in which an animal superhero squad are the guardians of the kingdom of a Jon-lookalike monarch, who shares with Jon a complete lack of talent in attracting women. Garfield’s parallel (Garzooka) talks in a resonant superhero voice, is muscular in build, stands about four times taller than Garfield, and is leader of the Pet Force – his powers being super strength, and radioactive hairballs. Odie’s counterpart specializes in stunning blows with his tongue. The counterpart to Arlene (Garfield’s new girlfriend) gives icy stares that freeze her victims in place. And Nermal’s counterpart has super speed. Enter a counterpart to Liz, visiting from another planet. King Jon falls for her instantly, babbling out an instant proposal of marriage. Oddly, she accepts – only for purposes of getting her hands on a set of keys to the royal arsenal, to obtain the kingdom’s latest invention – a molecular scrambler gun that not only mutates its targets into combinations of each other’s parts, but renders them mindless zombies under the shooter’s control. Three of the Pet Force are so mutated, and only Garzooka escapes, nabbing away the Klopman crystal (a counterpart to the original series’ recurring references to the Klopman diamond), which is the scrambling gun’s power source. With the assistance of the gun’s inventor, Garzooka also obtains vials of serum to endow the powers of his mutated comrades to new replacements, and the space coordinates of the only other residents of the galaxy with DNA matches to his fallen comrades. He takes off in a space ship to find the “matches” – Nermal, Odie, and Arlene. Garfield himself gets rather left out of the superhero action (since Garzooka is still in charge), while his friends take the serum and acquire the powers within. Garfield’s only real connection to the storyline is a brief assignment to guard the Klopman crystal – which, despite slipping it into a glass of lemonade as an “ice” cube, is eventually discovered by the villainess who follows Garzooka to Cartoon World. The villainess zombifies most of the population, and orders them to obliterate the Pet Force. The Force heads for a tall tower in the center of town, in hopes of using the structure as a giant harpoon to spear the villainess’s ship, while the zombie army pursues and corners them for a showdown. Garfield finally decides, against his nature, to become “involved”, and, standing on the shoulders of one of the co-workers at the comic-strip studio, devises a Garzooka disguise, luring the zombie army back to the studio to march en masse into a trap door opening to the cellar. The diversion allows the Pet Force to harpoon the ship. The villainess counters by mutating half the buildings in town into a giant metallic monster. Garfield somehow survives the chase, trips up the monster, obtains the ray gun, and mutates the villainess into a “good” girl who apologizes and accepts the position as loving queen. The film tells a story, yes – it’s just not a Garfield story.


The Garfield Show, a more recent revival, at least returns the characters to the contemporary suburbs. However, it retains from the prior incarnation the animal characters continuing to talk with actual lip movements. It compromises a bit back toward the old days, striving for a halfway poont between the original and the non-abrasive Garfield, and between the “cute” verses the proactive Nermal.

Super Me (12/21/09) – Garfield and Nermal watch the television adventures of hero “Ultra Powerful Guy”. Garfield as usual won’t share his snacks with Nermal during the viewing, and yields the bag of potato chips only when its contents have been emptied. Nermal stands up for himself, telling Garfield he doesn’t need his snacks, as he can get them all by himself. “This I gotta see”, said Garfield. Nermal seats himself on the sidewalk, and puts on his most adorable cute-kitten face and irresistible meows. A car stops abruptly, its occupants mesmerized by Nermal’s cuteness – and they just can’t resist handing over to Nermal an entire pepperoni pizza with mushroms and Canadian bacon. Garfield’s jaw drops in amazement, as he races over to get a share of the take. But now it’s Nermal who claims to have nothing left to share. Garfield complains that he’d bet Nermal would share if Ultra Powerful Guy were around – then states to the audience, “Idea happening.” Fashioning a supersuit out of old clothes from Jon’s closet, Garfield follows Nermal to a phone booth where Nermal is looking up local cat shows to win, and props a broom against the booth door, trapping Nermal inside. He then dives on the broom from the roof of the booth in his outfit as Ultra Powerful Guy, making a “rescue”. Nermal reacts in disbelief that Ultra Powerful Guy is so short and round in build, but feels indebted to him in view of the timely rescue. Garfield convinces Nermal that superheroes need to eat, too, and suggests as a reward that Nermal turn on some of his “cute” magic to drum up an entree. Nermal repeats his performance at the curbside, and stops another motorist in his tracks, who just happens to have a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. This reward suits Garfield fine. After devouring it, he notes “You know what goes great after spaghetti for desert? Anything!” He rigs another rescue of Nermal, pushing a trash dumpster to roll down a steep hill. Garfield rides atop the dumpster to issue a timely warning for Nermal to get out of the way.

At the foot of the hill, two would-be bank robbers debate holding up the bank, but are fearsome that Ultra Powerful Guy might be in the vicinity. On cue, Garfield’s trash dumpster reaches the end of the line, and Garfield falls inside the trash. Garfield emerges with a banana draped over his head, noting that this never happens to Batman. He removes his soiled mask – and the crooks believe they’ve just witnessed the hero’s true secret identity – a fat cat. Unafraid, they decide the time is ripe for bank robbery after all. Garfield meanwhile returns to Nermal, demanding a reward of a banana cream pie with chocolate sprinkles. Nermal’s best “cute” face only reaps a chocolate cream pie with banana sprinkles. “Close enough”, saus Garfield. An alarm nearby reveals the crooks making a getaway from the bank. Nermal pyshes a reluctant Garfield forward to apprehend the culprits. The crooks state they are not afraid, as they know Ultra Powerful Guy’s secret and his weakness. They drop before Garfield a catnip mouse. Nermal sees instant hearts, and flips onto his back to play with the toy. Garfield isn’t affected in the least, and states that nect time, they should try stuffing the mouse with lasagna. Their plan not working, the crooks head for their getaway car, catching Garfield’s cape in the door. Another predicament Garfield insists would never happen to Batman. Garfield is dragged down the street, frantically yelling for assistance and to let him off at the earliest opportunity. But who should arrive to stop the getaway, but Ultra Powerful Man himself, thanking Garfield for delaying the crooks long enough for him to arrive. Nermal catches up to congratulate the hero on the amazing capture – then notes that there are now two of them. He asks which is the real one, and both Garfield and the hero chime in unison “I am”. “Now c’mon, that’s not fair”, says Nermal, and asks them again. “I am” comes the simultaneous reply. “Aw, really, which one of you is it?” Garfield and the hero exchange winks, as they are starting to enjoy this, and for the remainder of the night, continue to frustrate Nermal with their united response of “I am”.


The Amazing Flying Dog (12/22/09) seems more aimed at the younger viewers than usual, attempting to build a meager plotline about Odie’s daydreams of being a caped superhero and flying to the rescue of a cute poodle he has his eyes on. His daydreams include a rescue of the pooch from a burning building (using flying power to pull her from a fiery balcony, and ice breath to blow out the fire), and from the passenger seat of a car careening without brakes backwards down a steep hill. Garfield keeps waking him from his dreams, and eventually breaks it to him that “Dogs can’t fly!” Then Garfield tries to cross a road under construction, and his feet get caught in fresh asphault. The poodle tries to rescue Garfield, and gets stuck too. Here comes the steamroller. Odie hears the calls for help, and gives one last try to jumping off the roof. His ears extend, and he soars aeronautically like Dumbo, swooping in to make a nick of time rescue. Garfield turns to the audience, asking in complete puzzlement, “Did you see…” – and then awakes from his own dream about Odie. The episode peacefully ends, with the nagging question of what is life, and what is reality?


The Caped Avenger Rides Again (9/10/12) – Jim Davis expected a long memory from his viewers, harkening back in this installment to his original “Caped Avenger” from 1988 previously reviewed in these articles – without barely so much as a recap to establish Garfield’s previous venture into superherodom. Jon is making a personal appearance at a comic book store to sign autographs, and Garfield brings along his Caped Avenger outfit just in case. To no viewer’s surprise, nobody shows up for Jon’s nom de plume. The store proprietor, an old-timer in the business, is disappointed at the lack of turnout, and says he’s tries everything to drum up buisiness, but attendance has slipped off drastically. He even has a rare first edition comic on display as another attraction, but still no interest. The comic isn’t even his – only there on a loan from its owner, with the condition that an armed guard be posted on duty at all times. Mysteriously, when everyone is engaged in conversation, a crash is heard. The front window is broken, and the guard seemingly knocked unconscious, with the rare first edition gone. Upon reviving the guard, he claims the assailant wore a mask, and can provide no detailed description. Garfield reverts to his Caped Avenger costume to play amateur sleuth, and Odie joins him in the same Superman style outfit used in the 1988 episode, as his sidekick, Slurp (Garfield lifting a line of dialogue straight out of the original cartoon, that the sidekick must never dress better than the superhero). They skulk through some back alleys for clues, as the film suddenly becomes slightly 2D for a flashback to provide an origin story (much in the way cutaway sequences were used in some of the “Power Pig” episodes for side-trips in the storyline of the original show).

A few reasonable gags appear in the flashback. Garfield searches for an image that will strike fear in the hearts of the criminal element, so fashions his first costume as his own scariest nightmare – a pizza with anchovies. Not very effective. Converting to proper attire, the Avenger and Slurp hit the streets. Hearing a citizen’s cries of a despicable – and dangerous – villain robbing the bank, Garfield decides this is a job for – his sidekick, and tells Odie to look him up when it’s over in Bermuda. But the robber (a lobster-clawed supervillain) blocks Garfield’s attempt to exit carrying a surfboard. Garfield tries to convince the villain to give up, in view of Garfield’s devastating super powers. Garfield demonstrates super speed by running clear around the world – arriving back about a minute later, completely winded, and complaining that he was held up in a traffic jam in Luxembourg. Garfield demonstrates super strength by lifting the heaviest object in the vicinity – himself – eventually losing his grip, as he acknowledges “Jon was right, I do need to lose a few pounds.” Instead of surrendering, the villain throws Garfield through a brick wall. As Garfield notices the stray bricks on his side of the wall, something clicks in his memory, and he reverts back to reality, returning with Odie to the shop. The glass of the broken window is outside, not inside the store, indicating that the thief nroke the window from the inside. The security guard is spotted attempting to sneak out of the store – with comic book hidden inside his coat. An obligatory chase (in which Garfield uncharacteristically runs at a speed far beyond the expected velocity of an overweight cat) leads to a blind alley, with an inclined board the only route over a fence. Garfield and Odie find it first, and lay a trap. As the guard mounts the board to leap over the wall, Garfield and Odie position a trash dumpster on the other side, then slam its lid down as the guard lands inside, Garfield sitting on the lid to prevent the guard’s escape. The police make the arrest, the comic book is retruned, and the comics store has a new attraction that finally draws customers – the Caped Avenger in person. Garfuels asides to the audience, “Batman, eat your heart out.”


The Superhero Apprentice (9/10/12) – Last time, we were expected to remember an episode from 1988. This time, we’re unbelievably supposed to forget a central plot point from the previous episode in the same half-hour! All memory is supposed to disappear that Odie has already been used twice as a sidekick. The comic book store has been saved by the publicity of the Caped Avenger’s solving of the comic book mystery, and its proprietor has invested in an expected shipment of Avenger action figures, which has fans lined up around the block awaiting delivery. Footage of the Avenger’s capture of the criminal (now how did they happen to have camera shots of the dumpster capture in the blind alley?) has gone viral, only eclipsed by a #1 video of the world’s cutest singing kitten – Nermal. But Nermal fears the Avenger’s popularity is striking too close to home, and might topple him from the #1 berth. Meanwhile (ignoring Odie’s previous involvement in the chase and capture), the comic book guy reveals in a news interview that consensus of fan opinion is that the Avenger should take on a sidekick. Garfield ponders this as a serious issue, realizing all the past great heroes had sidekicks. Odie prances around, demonstrating his willingness to join up – but choosy Garfield instead holds open interviews for the position. All applicants disappear after Garfield lets slip that they’ll be placing their life on the line for no pay. One runaway (a Chihuahua) encounters dejected Nermal, and the dog’s costume gives Nermal the idea that the only way to counter a superhero is with a supervillain. Nermal recruits the dog as his own assistant, and acquires a wrestling mask and cape as a disguise for himself. That night, the newly-evil duo doctor a “bat-signal” for the Avenger outside the comics store, to make the Avenger’s image paunchy and ridiculous. They also show up at the unveiling of the action figures. Garfield, however, also arrives, having seen video footage of the attack on his signaler, and, sensing a need for assistance, has finally relented and hired Odie as his partner “Slurp”. The delivery of the figures is interrupted by the Chihuahua nipping at the truck driver’s heels, while Nermal commandeers the truck, with just one catch – he doesn’t know how to drive. The truck takes off on a downhill road, with puny Nermal clinging to the spinning steering wheel, unable to reach the brakes.

Garfield pursues, stumbling on a street trash can and running atop it like a log roller, finally thrown onto the roof of the moving truck. The truck crashes into the fence of a trash collection center, throwing Garfield and Nermal over the fence and into a chute for trash disposal. Inside, they face a conveyor belt of chopping and shredding contraptions, with a flattening wheel at the end of the belt. Garfield and Nermal race against the speed of the belt to keep from being pressed into pizzas. Odie appears, looking through a hatchway above. Garfield calls him for “doggie tongue”, and Odie lowers his long appendage down the hole, where Garfield grabs it like a rescue rope, and also grabs Nermal, with Odie hauling them out to safety, a split second before Nermal’s cape would have dragged him into the machinery. For all their effort, the action figures fail to sell, as now all public attention has shifted to Slurp, with footage of his rescue taking the #1 web slot, knocking Nermal’s video out of the lead once and for all. Nermal decides to take his meow-singing act to the streets, and Garfield, also through with superheroing, joins him.


The Looney Tunes Show was all about a tenuous marriage of media – the Looney Tunes gang, in a contemporary “Friends” style new millennium sitcom? While occasionally generating a winning situaion, there usually seemed to me a certain uneasiness at pressing the characters into “everyday” situations. (I’ve wondered if the group might have been better-fitted to a 1960’s sitcom. Imagine Bugs and Lola Bunny as Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. Daffy and his girlfriend as Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. And Elmer Fudd as Richard Deacon. For a son, we could even revive Clyde from “His Hare-Raising Tale”.) However strange the series may have been on the whole, the writers found a combination of genres that clicked for their series finale – Super Rabbit (5/23/13) (not to be confused with the original 1943 classic of the same name). Daffy’s looking for quick cash, so raiding through Bugs’ stuff for something to sell. Bugs attempts to guard an old knick-knack (a glass carrot) with a tall tale. “I’m not the bunny you think I am. My real name is Kal El. I was born long ago on the planet Krypton.” Daffy stops him cold. “Krypton? That’s Superman’s home planet. I fell for that once, but I’m way too smart to fall for it again.” Bugs qualifies his statement – “That’s ‘Crypton’ with a ‘C’” – and Daffy buys into the tale, hook, line, and sinker. Bugs spins a yarn of his exploits guarding the city of Metropolis – an adventure unique in its presentation, retaining much of the zaniness of the Looney Tunes stars while telling in the background of the action a pretty straightforward Superman story, complete with all the dark backgrounds and elaborate special effects that have become standard to the Warner DC Universe. It succeeds in coming off as the best of both worlds. Bugs has a comic exploit outwitting Marvin the Martian as Braniac (including a visually-inventive scene with Bugs taking pot-shots at Marvin with his own miniaturizing-enlarging ray, until every part of Marvin has eigher expanded gigantically or shrunken substantially. ‘I’m a regular Pablo Picasso”, says Bugs. He next tackles Elmer Fudd as Lex Luthor, eventually blasting him out of his supersuit and leaving him only a pair of striped shorts, and kicking the remains of Luthor’s armor into space. But Elmer informs Bugs that he has just succeeded in launching a radioactively unstable generator within the suit into deep space.

The suit turns out to be on collision course with the Phantom Zone in which General Zod (Daffy Duck) and two minions (one his girlfriend, the other a robot) have been imprisoned. The blast frees the prisoners, and Zod and his companions plot the conquest of Earth. Amidst a ticker-tape parade, Bugs’s enjoyment of the side-perks of being a hero is interrupted by Zod’s trio. Battling is work for underlings, so Zod leaves his companions in charge to make short work of Super-Rabbit, who is forced to surrender beneath the foot of Zod’s robot. Zod sets up a palace, complete with huge golden idol of himself, and a chorus of slaves who attempt to compose for Zod a new national anthem (“My Country Tis of Thee” played in a minor key with new lyrics hailing Zod). Bugs meanwhile visits the Fortress of Solitude, where the spirit of his father states he had his defeat coming, as he had softened under the effects of showboating for the attentions of fame rather than fighting for the right. Bugs is advised to learn the adversaries’ weaknesses, and make them his own strengths. Making an entrance at Zod’s palace as reporter Clark Kent, Bugs deduces that Zod’s girlfriend is constantly being put down by him, while the robot is treated by Zod as a brainless infant. Revealing himself for battle, Bugs puts in the right words of flattery to each of the minions in the course of the fray, acquiring friends among Zod’s ranks. He finally confronts Zod polishing his statue, and when Zod orders his cohorts to attack, they step away, leaving Zod to battle alone. An epic confrontation on a Superman scale follows, with laser eye beams cutting buildings in half, vehicles thrown as weapons, and a flying chase through the tunnels of a subway. Bugs finally outmaneuvers Zod upon his emergence from the tunnels, grabbing Zod’s cape from behind and flinging him into his own golden statue. As Zod lies dazed at the foot of his own image, Bugs says, “Hey Doc, kneel before yourself”, then uses his laser vision to cut through the base of the statue. As the statue collapses, Zod, seeing it about to topple, screams “I’m going to hurt me!” Then crash! – and Bugs stands alone.

Concluding his story to Daffy, Bugs claims he banished Zod and his minions to another Phantom Zone, then gave up his powers, realizing power corrupts. This is where Daffy suspends his belief in the story – feeling that no one would give up such power and super-goodies – and leaves to hock Bugs’s stuff anyway to finance his date for the evening. The scene changes to a movie theatre, playing “The Mark of Zorro”. Daffy and his date, dressed in what appears to be period attire, decide to save a ridiculously small number of seconds getting back to their car by going down a dark alley. Fans of Batman can see what’s coming a mile away – a Crime Alley accosting by a hoodlum. Who should arrive to save the day but – Bat-Rabbit. The hero hands pearls back to Daffy’s date, while Daffy offers no reward, since he didn’t specifically ask to be saved anyway. As the ducks leave, Bat-Rabbit reveals himself to us as Bugs, delivering in his best impersonation of Kevin Conroy his own signature line, “Ain’t I a stinker?”


While I’m usually a fan of Rowan Atkinson in his appearances in person on big or small screen, I’m rather underwhelmed by his “Mr. Bean” animated series. Superhero Bean (2/22/16) is little more than a time-filler, with no actual powers whatsoever, merely chronicling Bean’s costumed attempts to trail a domestic burglar on the rooftops. Not a genuinely funny moment in the whole slow-paced episode.


Super-Wacky (Cartoon Network, Wacky Races (revival),10/29/18) tries to pack a lot in, but forgets entirely that the premise of the show is to conduct races – instead devising a far-out plot on the personalities of the show’s characters alone. Peter Perfect rules the roost as the superhero guardian of a city, until one day he faces the challenge of – superhero oversaturation. Suddenly, all the current Wacky Racers (excepting Dastardly and Muttley) have transformed into superheroes too, and want in on a piece of the city’s action. In competition with Petet’s super chin-laser, Penelope Pitstop flies, turns everything she touches pink (as she admits, more of a curse than a power), and carries a radioactive lasso that makes anyone caught in it utter bad puns. I.Q. (junior counterpart to Professor Pat Pending) is half cyborg, with a robotic arm that often acts out of control with a mind of its own. The Gruesome Twosome have bat powers and invisibility. Meanwhile, Dick Dastardly is Wackopolis’s resident super villain, with a head swollen with psychic powers to control minds, and Muttley possesses a sonic snicker that can bring down walls. Dastardly hypnotizes the mayor to outlaw super-heroes, but the racers plot their strategy to bring her out of it. Part of the plan is to round up “the best team of heroes the legal department will let us use on this show”. The open auditions attract an overflow of old Hanna-Barbera stars, including Snagglepuss, Rosie the Robot, Space Ghost, Hong Kong Phooey, Winnie Witch, and Jabberjaw (this on top of a one-shot cameo for Quick Draw McGraw as El Kabong in the opening scene). All the applicants flunk out (Snagglepuss even exiting stage right), leaving the original racers to forge on alone. They head for the mayor’s office, and battle an army of flying Muttley robots (a harken back to Muttley’s rotor tail flying in “Dastardly and Mettley in Their Flying Machines”). Then, taking the battle to Dastardly’s lair (which Peter had a map to all the time), the group, except for Peter, succumb to Dastardly’s mind control, until Peter reminds them of the greater strength of their super-friendship. Muttley carries Dastardly to an escape as the racers break freee of his brainwashing – but Dastardly returns in the final frames of the episode at the helm of a giant town-stomping robo-Muttley. The racers launch into the fray again, and are stopped in a freeze frame for “The End” and a last insertion of a merchandising advertisement for their super products.


Snowball, the rebellious rabbit who led a revolution against the human race in 2016‘s The Secret Life of Pets, undergoes a nearly complete personality transformation to keep him in the storyline in The Secret Life of Pets 2 (6/7/19). His new little girl owner is into superhero shows, and dresses him in a miniature mask, suit and cape as “Captain Snowball”. Snowball adapts to the new role, now determined to be the protector of the world rather than its overthrower, and incorporates his love of kung fu moves into the act. A short 2D segment provides the closest to superpowers he demonstrates, including socking a bad guy through the side of several buildings, and an ultrasonic roar. In real life, minus anything but his own speed and fight moves, he becomes involved in a rescue mission to save a rare white tiger who is being abused by a sinister circus owner determined to train him to perform death defying feats. Snowball must outwit a quartet of wolves who serve as guards to keep the tiger in and strangers out (including a humorous chase through various midway attractions), release the tiger from its cage, and attempt to find the tiger a hiding place in the apartments of the big city.

Eventually, the whole cast of the franchise are drawn into the action, as the wolves and circus owner close in, and tranquilize the tiger, transporting him back to the circus train. Snowball uses an RC vehicle to catch up with the train, and engages in a battle of fisticuffs with the circus owner’s maniacal monkey, climaxed by shooting the monkey out of a cannon. Snowball and several of the other pets, together with the tiger, gang up on the villain in the engineer’s cab, and the tiger is eventually freed, and finds a new home amongst the flock of felines in the apartment of a neighboring cat lady. Just as Snowball is content and confident in his life as a superhero, his little girl changes his outfit to fit her latest craze – dressing him as a fairy godmother. Snowball surprisingly accepts the role with glee, confident that he can face any new challenge after surviving the last one. (A direct to video short, “Super Gidget”, released on the home editions of the feature, was unavailable for review – anyone with nformation on it is invited to comment below.)


DarkBat (8/29/19), from New Looney Tunes, is an interesting character mashup. Hubie and Bertie (together with an unknown fat mouse who seems to be new to the series) run a fruit stand for mice with the spillage from a human fruit stand, trading for cheese as currency. They are set upon by an unusual posse of cats – Sylvester, Claude Cat, and Pete Puma, in what may be their first onscreen meeting. But to the rescue comes the unexpected arrival of a small winged caped crusader – DarkBat. The deep-voiced vigilante, runs the cats a brief merry chase, landing alternately on their “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” in mimic of a children’s game-song to draw stick blows from the other cats upon whoever he lands on, then playing a game of “whack-a-mole” among the produce with Pete, armed with what DarkBat guarantees is a mallet that will only bash bats, but manages to hit only the other cats instead. Darkbat finally tries the mallet himself, smashing Pete on the head, then declaring, “You’re right. Defective.” With some banana peels, DarkBat caises the three cats to slip into a packing crate, which DearkBat nails shut and labels for delivery to Nome, Alaska. Hubie and Bertie thank DarkBat, but inquire as to his true identity.

DarkBat is quite eager to share, pulling off the cowl to reveal the most unlikely choice for a superhero among the classic warner toons – Sniffles the Mouse! In his “can’t sop talking” mode, Sniffles babbles on how isn’t it something, that he can put on this costume, and it lets him do all sorts of crazy things. “Pretty cool, huh?” he asks. “It was until you took the mask off”, aays the fat mouse. But Sniffles flies off into the night (interesting that he would choose to become a bat, when a real bat was the cause of his change to talkative personality in The Brave Little Bat in 1941), while the mice comment that there goes another superhero who’s just a little batty.


Writers will again be writers, trying to milk a good one-shot idea for extra episodes. Bonjour, DarkBat (8/29/19) pits Sniffles’ super-alias against Blacque Jacque Shellacque. Unfortunately, with the “cat out of the bag”, so to speak, as to DarkBat’s true identity, the element of surprise for an ending is gone, so the episode has to rely entirely on its gag content to justify itself. Actually, it manages to not fare badly on such count, dealing with a war inside Shelacque’s cheese shop when he wrecks rivals Hubie and Bertie’s curbside cheese wagon. A duel sequence uses everything in the shop as weaponry, from French breads to kitchen utensils down to tasting toothpicks. And the dialogue packs in every bad cheese pun the 4 1/2 minutes can handle – including using a high-pressure Brie dispenser to turn Shellacque into “de-brie”, and DarkBat telling Hubie and Bertie that only the Gouda guys win. Not too shabby an effort.

Still funny, but becoming formulaic, is a final installment. Smoothie Operator (1/30/20). Same premise as previous episode, different villain. Yosemite Sam shuts down the mice’s smoothie stand to stop competition with his own. More bad puns on fruits and vegetables. Battles with alternating hot and cold ingredients, and a final chase with a jet-propelled motorcycle. A lot of action, but not as original.

I’m sure there’s a few I’ve missed along the way. If anyone has any favorites that didn’t receive print space here, your input below is as always appreciated.

The holidays (such as they are) are nearly upon us, and next week, it’s time for celebration – as the song goes, “if only in our dreams”.

9 Comments

  • “…I’m not a fan of the superhero. They’re all cut from the same cloth, and you can’t warm up to a superhero like you can to Yogi Bear or Fred Flintstone. But I don’t worry about that. Superheroes are a fad on the way out.” — Joseph Barbera, 1968

    That’s Joe for you: wrong, as always, about everything. People have thrilled to the exploits of superheroes since the days of Hercules and Perseus, and, as this Animation Trail has amply demonstrated over the past eleven weeks, they have never stopped doing so. It’s not only a form of vicarious wish-fulfillment; just as everyone has a dark side, we all possess hidden strengths that, given the right circumstances and opportunity, can come to the fore and save the day. As Tiny Tim told TV Guide, also in 1968: “I am not a sissy. The gentle me is only half the picture. Clark Kent, after all, can turn into Superman.” (Years later, Tiny would put on a Superman outfit to promote his disco novelty single “Biff! Bam! Slam! I’m a Comic Strip Man!”)

    Looking forward to setting out on a new Animation Trail next week. In the meantime, as they say on Superman’s home world, have a Merry Kryptmas, everybody!

  • Maybe I missed it, but did you mention the Robonic Stooges?

  • Did I miss “Super Chicken”? A high point of Jay Ward was “Super Chicken & Fred”….”You knew the job was useless when you took it!”

  • Amazon Prime’s recent Rocky and Bullwinkle reboot has our duo dawning superhero alter egos, Amazamoose and Squirrel Wonder, and set out to take on a superpowered Fearless Leader  (“Fearless Laser”). Mark Hamill guest stars as Captain Great-Guy.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SyCzvIgioCE

  • Gene and John – I think the concept of this series of posts by Charles is to highlight characters who aren’t regularly “super”, but are normal characters who on occasion (or occasionally) become super-powered. Being “super-powered” was the whole premise of both Super Chicken and the Robonic Stooges. That said, if there was a one-off “super powered” episode of the Cambria “Three Stooges” cartoons (and there probably was) that would make the cut here.

  • The fat mouse in the recent Sniffles shorts is Minnesota Rats—possibly derived from Minniesoda Fats, a vanishingly obscure 1980s-era character. See here: https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/the-1981-looney-tunes-character-chart/

  • You skipped the Gumball episode The Comic

  • Another noteworthy instance of acquired superpowers occurs in DreamWorks’ “Megamind” (11/5/2010), which depicts a supervillain, the titular Megamind, who unexpectedly triumphs over the good guy and seizes control of the city. He soon realizes he enjoyed the thrill of the fight over the tiresome tasks of governing and, using his mad scientist lab, imbues a local schlub with superpowers to relieve the tedium. The ex-loser, however, decides to use his new powers to become an even more tyrannical villain and Megamind must step into the hero role to stop him.

  • An episode of H-B’s Richie Rich cartoon series (1980-81) had Richie’s dog Dollar idolize a popular tv robot superdog (I forget his name) to the point of wearing his suit. A nasty tv director made the dog evil and so Richie and Dollar go and find out what’s happening (I think Richie’s family owned the tv studio the show was made in). The robot superdog turned back to his good self and went after the director who was escaping in his plane. Dollar dreamed of helping his hero in capturing the bad guy so, thinking he could fly, jumped after them and his cape got caught on something (I think). That’s all I remember as it has been about 38 years since I saw that episode.

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