We cover this week titles from the last half-decade before the “turn of the century” – the late 1990’s. A few old faces from the Golden Era continue to make appearances. But a large share of new instances of super-silliness would arise from more recent cable franchises, including Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. So soar with us into the world of pay-TV, and see how much super money could buy – even if most of these cartoons are NOT available to embed in this post.
The Really Mighty Ducks (Disney, 9/3/96), was the promising pilot for the new Donald Duck weekday series, “Quack Pack”. (Sadly, despite a small number of excellent episodes, the promise of quality was not genuinely met by most subsequent installments.) The title spins off of the hockey-movie franchise that became a real-life hockey team in Anaheim, and eventually a short-lived animation series about alien ducks who play hockey – “The Mighty Ducks”. Let us give thanks that another such project was not a box office hit, or we might today be watching games by a soccer team bearing the name “The Big Green”. Let us also give thanks that there is no hockey playing in this episode.
It all starts with a room full of comic books, interspersed with the remains of leftover pizzas. Donald’s nephews, occupying the attic, have made the place in their own style – a total mess. Donald enters to reprimand the kids about lying around all day with their beaks buried in the comics, doing nothing. As the kids make every excuse in the book as to how many things they allegedly have to do, Donald gets completely entangled in cheese from their leftover pizzas, tied up as if suspended in a spider web. Tied so tightly in cheese that he has to walk on his hands, Donald issues an ultimatum for the kids to clean their room – then falls down the attic stairs. If necessity is the mother of invention, Ludwig Von Drake is the father – and the kids pay a visit to the old kook to see if he has any labor-saving devices that can bail them out of the prospect of resorting to physical work. As Ludwig runs an inventory of what kind of gadgets he has lying around, he carelessly bandies about a verbal reference to a “superhero machine”. The kids stop him right there, and are intrigued. Ludwig disappoints them with the news that he was never able to make the darned thing work – until one of the nephews observes a plug not inserted into the wall socket. “And to think they question his genius”, observes another nephew. Firing the gadget up, Ludwig invites the kids to take a test spin. “Fasten your seat belts. Ir’s gonna be a bumpy experiment”, says Ludwig. When the lights stop flashing and the smoke clouds clear, Dewey emerges with a head swelled five times its size, referring to himself as “Brain Boy.” Louie emerges in buffed form as “Captain Muscle”. Huey is not affected in visual size, but now wears an outfit resembling The Flash, and demonstrates his powers by zipping away and returning a second later with a kangaroo and an Aussie hat. “It made him Australian?” asks Louie. No, it gave him super speed. “Call me the Really Incredibly Fast Guy – until I can think of something better.” Ludwig suggests that they’ve had their fun, and should get back in the machine for a reverse process, but the kids see this as the solution to their problem. Not that their abilities might be used to make easier the task of cleaning their room – but that what can Uncle Donald do to make superheroes do anything they don’t want to? As a lucky writing coincidence, a hotline call for Von Drake comes in from the International Organization of United Neighbors, who happens to be facing a series of dire perils, and wonder if Von Drake knows any superheroes. The kids immediately volunteer for duty, and are sworn in as the Tremendously Talented Trio of Truly Trusted Troublshooters – or the T-squad for short.
The kids are given an orbiting space station headquarters (complete with super-narrator Gary Owens concealed in a closet) – which they quickly make as messy as their old attic. They embark on various heroic missions. Brain Boy rescues a kid’s kite from a tree by using his mental kinetic telepathy powers to convert a palm tree’s fronds into a whirling fan, setting up hurricane forces that denude and topple other trees, uproot fire hydrants, and crash the little boy into a wall – but nevertheless retrieve the kite. Incredibly Fast Guy stops a shopper’s car, noting that the pineapples in her shopping bag are not quite fresh, and replaces them with new ones hot off a tree in Hawaii. His stopping of traffic only had the side-effect of piling up twenty other cars in the process. And Captain Muscle uproots a building from its foundation and pours out all its contents – just to find one guy’s lost sock. Meanwhile, Donald keeps leaving phone messages to the space station for the boys to come back and clean their room – always getting a tape message to leave your name, number, and disaster after the tone. A million-dollar phone bill is the breaking point. Without explanation from the narrator, Donald somehow learns that Von Drake’s machine gave them their powers. Donald slips into the lab at night, and into the machine, jostling one of the controls in the process from a smiley-face to a frowny-face setting. He asks the narrator, who is tagging along in the laboratory, to push the machine’s button. “Anything to further the plot”, says the narrator. The machine’s bells and whistles go off again, but the change in setting results in a personality makeover, reaching the level reading, “Rotten to the Core”. Donald emerges a super-villain – the Duck of Doom.
The kids are getting bored with a world where every rescue seems too easy, and there is no real villainy. Be careful what you wish for. A crashing vibration reveals Donald tossing huge boulders at their spacecraft, yelling “Strike”. He then flies into the air, stops a jumbo jet in its tracks, pastes a sticky note to the plane’s nose telling the kids to clean their room, and throws the plane through the wall of the space station. The kids jettison the plane back to Donald with a sticky note answer attached – “No way, Jose.” Donald’s eyes morph into exploding atomic bombs. To get the boys’ attention, Donald goes on a crime spree, tying freeway cloverleafs in knots, pulling the plug to drain great lakes, and putting funny noses and glasses on the faces of Mt. Rushmore. The kids brush these deeds off as trivial, until Donald tops them all by stealing and piling up all the world’s television sets, and wielding a huge mallet to smash them into oblivion. Reporter Daisy Duck broadcasts the story, then realizes if all the sets are there, who is she broadcasting to? Feeling safe that no one is watching who will criticize, she does something she’s wanted to do for years – perform a bagpipe solo. One last TV viewing family in Scotland applauds – “Finally!. Something good on American TV”, until Donald swoops into their living room. “Oops. Forgot one”, he apologizes. The International Organization insists the nephews come out of hiding. “What will we do without TV? People may actually have to talk to each other. It will be the end of civilization as we know it!” The kids arrive at the crime scene, but Donald carries through on his threat – a sight too gruesome for even the heroes’ eyes. Donald projects a brain wave at Brain Boy, and Brain Boy projects back While Brain Boy struggles to keep his thought focused, Donald in devil-may-care fashion attends to his laundry ironing in mid-air. Donald’s wave finally reaches Brain Boy’s swelled head, popping it like a balloon. As Brian Boy struggles with a bicycle pump to reinflate, Captain Muscle starts throwing vehicles at Donald.
As Donald comes out from under a tossed car, he grows exponentially in size. Brain Boy deduces that his anger is fueling his super powers. “So annoying him might not be such a great idea?”, observes Huey, as a tossed bus on Donald’s foot doubles Donald’s size. The kids figure Donald can’t make them clean their room if he can’t catch them, and orbit the Earth, landing at the North Pole. “At least we’re safe until we can come up with a plan”, says Dewey. From under the ice pack emerges Donald, tripled in size and dressed as Santa Claus, shouting, “I don’t think so.” One of the nephews calls for a new destination – Pluto. (A cutaway gag shows Pluto the pup in his doghouse, looking at us as if to say, “Huh?”) A now cosmically giant Donald stretches the rings of Saturn over to Jupiter, and using them as an elastic rubber band, launches Mars at the boys, obliterating Pluto into meteorites. As Donald continues hurlig planets with the call, “Clean your room!”, one of the nephews points out, “We can’t. You destroyed it.” “Excuses, excuses”, replies Donald with another volley. The narrator appears floating in space, and announces that the only thing remaining in the cosmos is Von Drake’s laboratory, standing on a small shard of what once was the Earth. “Quite a coinkydink, don’cha think”, says Huey, breaking the fourth wall. They knock furiously on the door, and Ludwig responds, “Keep your capes on”, letting them in. Realizing that dodging work is too much work, they implore Ludwig for help. Ludwig notes that he could reprogram the machine to bring them back to the very second before they obtained their superpowers, and the boys cheer him to do so. The trick works, and the boys emerege normal, just as Donald, also normal, barges into the lab with his usual cleaning demand. “Sorry, Uncle D, but we’ve got a room to clean”, the boys apologize in hasty fashion, disappearing out the door. “Well, I’ll be doggoned. What got into them?”, asks Donald to the camera for the iris out.
Return of the T-Squad (Disney, Quack Pack, 9/25/96) – This episode requires a little background, and assumes a lot as to its audience being regular followers of the program, in that it is a double-sequel, requiring for full understanding some knowledge of two prior episodes, without so much as a recap. In character use, it is a follow-up to H, L, and D’s super-personas from “Countdown to 2020: Better Late Than Never”, to which the reader is referred for fuller description. In such episode, Donald, through impossible-sounding mishaps, foils an invasion by elephant-headed aliens and saves the world (even though all he really wants to do is not get fired for being late to work). Of course, no one believes his tall tale – except the aliens.
This episode picks up where that one left off, with the alien commander returning to Earth to seek revenge and bring Donald to justice for destroying the invasion fleet. Zeroing in on Donald’s domicile, he first tries to gain entrance with a cheesily-disguised robot dressed as a salesman. Donald averts this strategy with a brilliant response – “I’m not home.” The alien is forced to revert to his “big shiny weapon”, a huge destructo-ray. With one blast, Donald’s house is 90% blown away, leaving Donald and the nephews cowering behind the remaining front door. Seeing the alien ship, and hearing the alien’s threats on a loudspeaker, the nephews are impressed that Donald’s previous story wasn’t made up. But they observe the alien’s trouble with Earth language – “Surrender, or be squished into….squishy…squish.” “This guy needs a thesaurus”, notes a nephew. The alien finally draws a bead on Donald, and the duck makes a run for it, off a pier, into the ocean, and walking on water out to sea, with the alien ship in firing pursuit. “I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Uncle D might be in trouble”, remarks anther nephew. They conference, and realize there’s nothing they can do in present form. But – – if they were to return to Von Drake’s laboratory, and fire up his superhero maker again, the odds might be more even. Finding Von Drake out (a message in the lab says he’s trying out a time machine, and that he’ll be back yesterday), the nephews set the dials and switches themselves, and emerge once again as the T-squad. Meanwhile, Donald has reached a tropical island, crashing into a cocoanut tree. A cocoanut falls, and bends the tip of the ray gun at a right angle. The alien is furious, but impressed with the ingenuity of Donald’s tactics. He still has one more device in his own bag of tricks – the Awesome Duck Sucker – a giant vacuum cleaner. The T-squad arrive just in time to get sucked into the alien ship along with Donald. (“The T-Squad?” asks Donald, having no recollection of the previous episode. “Later. Long story”, replies a nephew.) They announce to the alien that Donald is under their protection. But the alien knows that superheroes have to protect things in general, and turns to a “Wheel of Misfortune” to create global disasters to keep the squad too busy to concern themselves with Donald. The wheel comes up with a tidal wave on Los Angeles, a meteor hurtling towards Earth, and bad clams aboard a jumbo jet. The team splits up in three directions, promising to return for Donald in the nick of time.
The Really Incredibly Fast Guy gets the California assignment. At lightning speed, he builds a giant sand wall along the entire coastline. The wave is stopped, but the wall topples inward, burying several rows of buildings. Captain Muscle tackles the meteor, carving a huge tree into a baseball bat, and batting the meteor back into space. His aim, however, needs improvement, as the meteor hits the moon, cracking it into a crescent, which falls out of the sky like a rotating saw blade, and cuts the Earth into two halves. “I can fix this”, says Captain Muscle. “Anyone got some glue, or staples, or something?” Brain Boy finds the jumbo jet about to crash, its pilot having eaten the bad clams, and the stewardess at the controls having no idea how to fy a plane. Brain Boy uses his mind-controlling rays to switch brains long-distance with the stewardess, placing himself virtually in the cockpit, then realizes a tiny flaw in his plan – he doesn’t know how to fly either. The plane crashes through a chocolate syrup factory, and a chicken ranch, essentially becoming tarred and feathered. Now, the nephews can finally turn their attentions back to Donald, who has been taken to the alien’s home planet to stand trial. He receives a severe sentence – 40 lashes with a wet noodle. Donald hears this sentence with amazement, and laughs. The shocked alien, seeing no fear in him, increases the sentence to 50. “Make it 70″, scoffs a confident Donald. “So be it! 70 lashes with a man-eating wet noodle!” “Man-eating?”, stammers the duck. The “noodle” on this planet is a giant subterranean species shaped like a flatworm, and Donald is dropped into a cavern to meet it. The nephews arrive, and for them, the alien unleashes the Robo-bliterator – a giant, disintegrator-ray equipped robot. A first blast from its trident knocks the trio through the wall of the court/arena, and the robot follows them outside. “No more fancy stuff”, the nephews agree, choosing to resort to “brainless brute force”. But a serving dish appears out of the robot’s chest, with the one substance that can absorb the trio’s powers – broccoli. (Where’d this come from? It was never in the prior episode.) They are transformed back to their normal Earth selves. The robot blasts away, as they cringe behind a boulder. They split up for a new tactic, as one nephew allows himself to be captured, but plays psych games with the robot’s artificial intelligence, empathizing with the metal monster’s pent-up anger, and delving into his “inner robot” for the source of his frustration. He gets the robot to “let it all out” and burst into tears, while the other nephews scale his legs and torso and enter his command module inside his head. Flipping and turning every dial, button, and switch, they cause the robot to drop the nephew in his hand, the robot’s tongue to roll in and out like a birthday party favor, and all the robot’s teeth to fall loose. While the aliens watch Donald on a big screen in the caverns about to be devoured by the noodle (I thought it devoured men, not ducks!), the nephews, in command of the robot, break into the cavern, and a blast from his trident shorts out the TV hookup. “Hey, I paid the cable bill”, shouts the alien, looking at a screen of static. The robot forces the noodle to spit Donald out, then picks the creature up, using him for a jump rope, as a towel for a Latin dance, and as dental floss (somehow, the robot got his teeth back), finally stretching him like an elastic band and shooting him out of the cavern past the aliens in the arena. As Donald and the nephews emerge from the ground, inside the robot, all of the aliens flee, and the alien commander joins them, admitting that Donald’s powers are beyond comprhension, and that he will never again meddle in Earth affairs. The nephews raise Donald on their shoulders as a hero, for an iris out – – but then, one of the nephews pokes his head out of the iris, asking if anyone in the audience can give them a lift back home.
The Man From J.U.N.G.L.E. (Disney, Timon and Pumbaa, 10/28/96) – An inappropriate title, having nothing to do with the cartoon that follows – which is not a spy spoof, but another superhero cartoon. Signs in the jungle announce a public appearance of “Super Duper Hero X.” Pumbaa is the first one in line at the crack of dawn. Hero X makes an early special appearance before the crowds – Timon, in a scrawny-looking super suit. He decides to let his pal in on his “little secret”, revealing his true identity to a shocked Pumbaa. “All these years, and I never knew”, Pumbaa exclaims. Timon clarifies to the dense warthog that he is not the real Hero X – but as nobody knows the true identity of the masked hero, there’s nothing stopping him from posing as the real McCoy – and selling cheap souvenir merchandise for a quick profit. He tells Pumbaa that whatever happens, call him Hero X. “You mean you want me to lie?” says innocent Pumbaa, and tells Timon to mark his words – that no good will come of it. The words ring true, as a “Jules Verne style airship” (lifted in design from Disney’s “The Island at the Top of the World”) appears in the sky and pulls Timon inside with a tractor beam. A distraught Pumbaa receives encouraging words from one Speedy the Snail (a Bing Crosby impersonation, who believes that singing is the answer for everything), and together, the two take off after the airship. Inside, Timon is manacled to a wall, while the arch enemy of Hero X, recurring hunk villain Quint (this time calling himself “Chromosome Quint” and wearing a red super-outfit) announces his plan for vengeance – to fly over Pride Rock and reveal Hero X’s secret-identity in light display resembling the Goodyear Blimp. Timon tries to spoil the show by announcing that he’s only Timon. But Quint gasps at what he believes is the true reality – “The wise-cracking meerkat from The Lion King is Hero X?” Timon misses a perfect opportunity to call him a mook.
The airship flies over Pride Rock, flashing teaser announcements about the big identity reveal to drum up a crowd. Pumbaa and the snail riding on his head catch up, ascend Pride Rock by way of a secret elevator (Droopy’s old gag from “Wild and Woolfy”), and leap atop the airship. They are sucked down a ventilator shaft and into the cabin with Quint and Timon. Timon begs Pumbaa to straighten this guy out be telling him who Timon really is. Inside Pumbaa’s mind, a tape machine plays back Timon’s instructions from earlier in the episode – and he parrots that his buddy is Super Duper Hero X – so Pumbaa joins Timon in manacles on the wall. Only one good guy remains free – Speedy. Timon sarcastically marvels at the ingenuity of bringing along a snail for escape – until Speedy enters a conveniently-located phone booth inside the airship, and emerges as Hero X! From his shell eerge an array of chopping and cutting devices, which hack away at the manacles until Timon and Pumbaa are freed. Just as Quint’s light display is about to name Hero X’s identity, the lights go out, as our heroes have cut the main power switch to the airship. Quint exclaims “You’ll kill us all!” “We will?” reply our heroes in slow-uptake unison. The propellers of the airship stop turning, and the ship begins a rapid descent onto Pride Rock and the animals below. Borrowing a leaf from Bugs Bunny’s “Hare Trigger” and from 1930’s-40’s movie serials, an announcer cuts in over a four-screen split imagery with the burning questions, “How can Pride Rock be saved from this catastrophic calamity? Will Timon learn his lesson about lying? Will Hero X sing another song?” Then, suddenly calm, the announcer continues, “And now a scene from next week’s show” – which clip gives entirely away that somehow Hero X saved the day. everything turned out all right, and Quint was placed behind bars. As Timon and Pumbaa wave goodbye to Speedy, an albatross swoops down and plucks the snail from the ground. The bird turns out to be a robotic plane, piloted by an escaped Quint. “What do we do now?” asks Timon. Remembering the advice of his hero, Pumbaa replies, “We – – SING!”, and the two go chasing after the albatross, performing a chorus of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Purely for an attempt at completeness, I include glancing reference to “Super Felix”, one of the least inspired episodes from Film Roman’s “The Twisted Tales of Felox the Cat” (4/12/97). A crime wave hits the city. Felix converses with his magic bag: “You know, we’ve run into a lot of shady characters in our time, from Martians to mad professors – and we’ve defeated ‘em all. I think it’s time we fought crime full time!” Turning his bag inside out, he pulls it down over his head – and is transformed into The Black Cat – a caped superhero. From here on, things get too weird and pointless for full discussion. Felix battles a clown-masked bully who threatens to crush him with a bus – who is actually only causing mayhem as a distraction for a bigger operation by a magic elf who is stealing the city’s fruit supply in a dirigible to make a giant pie to offer to a volcano god to get magical powers greater than he has already. Have you heard enough? I have.
Muscular Beaver (Nickelodeon, The Angry Beavers, 6/8/97), began what became a five-part story arc of sorts – which began in original and clever fashion – but eventually got run into the ground. The original finds Daggett reading the comic book exploits of superhero Muscular Beaver – whose identity is so secret, even he doesn’t know who he is. Daggett emulates the powers of his hero by soaring around the room, suspended from a wire attached to the blade of a ceiling fan. His brother Norbert begs him to lay off for the umpteenth time before he breaks more things in the household. Daggett realizes that there is truth in Norbert’s words of how things get destroyed every time he plays superhero – but his brain has reached the state of dementia, and he vows that “bumbling Daggett” is an alter ego which has outlived its usefulness and must be cast aside – so that Muscular Beaver can exist full time! Donning his makeshift superhero suit crowned with a ski mask, he sets out into the wide world, whooshing around in belly-flops upon an old red wagon. He attempts to help various “citizens” of the woods, with secret powers he seems to make up as he goes, including the magnetic pull of “fish-o-vision” (googly eyes that scare a fish out of the water onto a bear’s head), teaching baby eagles to fly off a cliff by telling them to merely hold their arms out in front of them and say “Whoosh”, and the imaginary “cloak of near-invisibility”, with which he brazenly steals a tourist family’s picnic lunch to help a “starving” forest creature who isn’t really hungry at all. All these “citizens” come complaining to Norbert about his nutzo brother. Norbert knows he must take action, and decides the only way to counter a crazed brother who believes he’s a superhero is to take on the identity of his most feared arch enemy/supervillain – Baron Bad Beaver. Norbert fashions his own costume, featuring a pail helmet and an umpire’s chest protector, and strides into the forest providing his own musical stings. “They’re both nuts”, reacts the bear.
Norbert finds Daggett in the midst of another “good deed” – trying to yank a turtle out of his “foul head-eating shell”. The two combatants face off, and “talk” a titanic battle. Daggett threatens to use his “laser teeth,” while Norbert claims his cape has the power to reverse their strength and toss it right back at him. Daggett flexes his “fur of steel”, while Norbert plucks Daffett’s longest hair out of his chest and stomps on it, causinh Daggett to believe Norbert is protected by some sort of villain force field. “But not his mind”, said Daggett, turning on his mind melting powers to turn Norbert’s brain into putty. “Fool”, said Norbert, claiming that Daggett didn’t even notice that Norbert had already traveled at the speed of light, taken out Daggett’s brain, neutralized its mind melting powers, and replaced the brain in Daggett’s head, all while he wasn’t looking – and for good measure claims that he just did it again while Daggett was looking, too fast to be observed! “Then there’s only one thing we can do”, says Daggett – “Thumb wrestle!” “The final finger fight of fate”, says Norbert.
The clash lasts nearly all night, deadlocked. But Norbert employs psychological games mid-battle, posing Daggett inponderable questions, such as “What color is your cloak of limited visibility? And can you melt your own mind with your mind melting powers? And how come you only travel 8 miles per hour faster than the speed of light, and not 9?” Confused like a computer with equations it cannot compute, Daggett weakens, and is defeated in thumb wrestling. Norbert claims victory – and that the loser must be an imposter – “a plain old ordinary beaver by the name of – DAGGETT!”. unmasking him. The “baron” points out that it’s really not that bad – considering that a superhero has to go out on patrol, fight evil – all that hard work – while a plain ordinary beaver gets to sit around the den all day and watch TV. Who really has the better deal? As Daggett admits the logic in this observation, Norbert reveals his own true identity. Daggett is shocked that his brother is really a supervillain, until Norbert clears the cobswebs from his head by pointing out he was playing villain so Daggett would stop embarrassing him by playing hero. Norbert exerts a promise from Daggett never to do it again, and Daggett so swears. But when Norbert walks away, Daggett reveals that e had to make that promise not to blow his cover for his real secret identity – Double O Beaver. He converts into “Bond” attire, and rides away in his wagon as if it were a sports car, with the iris out tracking across the screen like the opening of an Ian Fleming story.
With a brilliant opener like this, the story should have ended there. But, writers will be writers. When one episode clicks, find any excuse to write a sequel. As a result, over the next few seasons, “Muscular Beaver 2″ through “5″ also aired. “2″ finds an excuse for them to go out on a real mission, with a pair of government scientists misinformed that Daggett possesses real superpowers, and sending him on a dangerous mission to capture a giant tree-like “splinter thingy” running amok from an experimental lab. Norbert is forced to return to his “Baron” role as a reformed villain turned sidekick, and takes most of the lumps as Daggett sends him in for all the difficult attacks, instructing him to use superpowers that of course aren’t really there. “3″ has Norbert’s girlfriend playing along with Daggett’s fantasy, as well as dragging Norbert in as villain again, all to keep Daggett under control and to try to keep him from catching too bad a cold in the dead of winter.
“4″ is the best of the sequels, as Norbert tries to throw a party for his friends despite Daggett’s constant interruptions of his decorating the den. Daggett becomes fixated on a puppet villain he has constructed out of a thimble and some springs attached to his big toe, called “Toebot” – whom he claims has developed mind control and a mental bond over him, such that whenever “the bond is broken” by removing the puppet from his toe, Daggett’s eyes flash in multicolored spirals and he screams in gibberish as if his mind is being sucked away. No matter how long Norbert waits it out, Daggett just won’t quit the lunacy act every time Norbert attempts to take the puppet away. When the guests arrive, Norbert covers by claiming it’s a superhero party, and that everyone should play along to attempt to rescue his brother. The guests transform themselves into the “Justice Guys and One Girl”, and one by one do battle with Toebot – but deluded Daggett seems to have an answer to every one of their imaginary powers. The only thing that conquers the puppet’s control is placing a shoe over Daggett’s foot – the smell does the evil-doer in! Episode “5″ almost doesn’t deserve mention. An issue of the “Muscilar Beaver” comic has the hero hang up his cape after finding that the “American way” he’s been fighting for was really a cover for the Baron, who was disguised as the President. Discouraged Daggett also hangs up his cape, much to the relief of the beavers’ circle of friends. But it seems that Norbert now can’t get the Baron alter ego out of his system, which allowed him to do evil things he could never consider in real life. And Muscular Beaver is forced out of retirement to do battle with the Baron once again.
Super-Duped (Cartoon Network, Johnny Bravo, 7/14/97) – A recurring little girl character (Suzy) talks Johnny Bravo into being her show-and-tell project – on the lure that it will give Johnny a chance to meet her attractive teacher – a Miss Babé (whom Johnny merely pronounces “Babe”). To Johnny’s surprise, Suzy introduces him to the class as “the world’s greatest superhero”. He’s at first taken aback at the unwanted attention of all the class kids following this announcement – but when teacher seems impressed too, Johnny is ready to attempt feats of super ability: “You wanns see me comb my hair really fast?” An alarm is heard across the street at a local bank, and a panicked lady runs out announcing a robbery, calling for anyone around here who’s a superhero. The kids all volunteer Johnny, who again tries to impress the teacher by barging in on the scene of the crime. A cop in charge of crowd control tries to get him to move back, but when the kids announce he’s a superhero, the police all decide it’s a great time to break for donuts, and leave the scene unattended, in the incapable hands of Bravo. Johnny is bowled over by a candy-striped villain leaving the bank – Sweet Cheeks, the candy-powered villain. Suzy shows some mercy to Johnny, telling him that he doesn’t have to play along any more, as she already got an “A” on her presentation. But Johnny still has eyes for the teacher, and tells Suzy, “I’m gonna get you an A+.”
Johnny tails Sweet Cheeks, and confronts him. “Don’t force me to whip ya’ right here”, he boasts. “How about I whip you – with my licorice whip?”, replies the villain, tying Johnny up like a Christmas package in licorice and flattening him against a wall. Once untied, Bravo whirlwind changes into a karate outfit – but gets booted by the villain into an open manhole. Suzy attempts to lure the villain to the manhole so that Johnny can jump him. But a sewer rat climbs into Johnny’s pantleg as he lies in wait, and takes a chomp on Johnny’s leg. Johnny soars in pain straight into outer space – then straight back down again, landing up to his neck in mud. “Man, my favorite shirt”, an irritated Johnny complains, now forced to take time out to wash up. Meanwhile, Sweet Cheeks has captured Suzy, and threatens to turn her into a chocolate rabbit. “With a caramel center?”, asks Suzy – but assurances that she will have the biggest caramel center ever fail to stifle her instincts to scream. Johnny is too busy to notice, tangling with a garden hose in attempt to clean up his wardrobe. The hose pressure gets out of control, and Johnny rides the hose in mid-air like a bucking bronco. Its blast dampens most of his entourage, but especially focuses on Sweet Cheeks, who turns out to have been made of candy, and melts in the same manner as the Wicked Witch of the West (even repeating her well-known dialogue line, “What a world!”). Johnny is by now sure he’s a hit with Suzy’s teacher, who remains impressed – but informs him she already has a boyfriend, who chooses this moment to land behind them – a real superhero, with bigger chin and more handsome face and physique than Johnny ever laid claim to. The hero flies away with the teacher in his arms. while Johnny is left with the lifetime friendship of Suzy, but nothing else to show for his efforts. With urge to kill, Johnny responds to one kid’s request to “Use your heat vision”, by looking around at the kids, and asking, “On which one?”
Boo Wonder (Warner/Steven Spielberg, Animaniacs, 10/11/97) – Chicken Boo held an odd status in the Animaniacs line-up – as a general purpose time filler, his episodes averaging no more than 4 minutes each. This one-joke premise centered on a giant chicken, speechless except for the usual chicken clucks, who for some reason has made it his life’s ambition to mingle into the human world by means of disguises. Despite the obviousness of his cheesy getups, he always achieves some place of fame by this device – but it is a matter of minutes before his secret is revealed. Some of his impersonations entertained better than others. In this one, he impersonates Robin, partnered with the real Batman – Adam West, a few seasons before his cartoon association with “Family Guy”. While nearly everyone – down to the commissioner and Alfred – keep informing the caped crusader that his partner is a giant chicken, Batman insists that the “Boo Wonder” is not a chicken, but a great crimefighter who’s “the strong, silent type.” This in spite of his ward pecking about the Wayne Manor carpets like a standard rooster in a barnyard. A news telecast is interrupted by master villain Punchline taking over the studio, and holding the cast hostage until Batman and Boo Wonder are turned over to him, with threat to otherwise wreak havoc upon Flotsam City by programming endless reruns of “She’s the Sheriff”. Batman rouses Boo with the cry, “To the guano cave”. They slide down the batpoles, one of which includes a convenient nest for Boo to sit in on the way down. The turbines ignite on the Batmobile (bearing a license plate of “No. 1 Bat”). Outside the cave entrance, a worker posting a billboard reading “Eat at Joes” is flattened as the billboard falls upon him to allow the Batmobille to exit the cave mouth.
The dynamic duo scale the walls of the TV station in classic 1960’s style, with a window opening for a celebrity cameo – Dot, who sighs, “I love a man in uniform.” Inside, the inevitable confrontation and fisticuffs ensue, with some custom word-effects for Boo added amidst the usual “Biff”s and “Pow”s, including “Buc-Caw!”, “Capon!”, and “Cluck!” Punchline attempts to reveal the Boo Wonder’s secret identity as a giant chicken, but is merely laughed at, and tied up with a rope attached to the Bat-a-rang before he can unmask Boo. As Batman is receiving congratulations from the Commisioner, he gives credit where due to his partner Boo, and affectionately slaps him on the back. The mask falls, and Batman finally realizes, “Holy drumsticks! You really are a chicken!” Boo receives the usual “boot” halfway across town (the camera freezing for a silhouette of him against the moon that resembles the bat-signal), and Boo accepts his own “resignation” from the superhero business, wandering off to his next impersonatio.
Again for completeness sake, another reference to a cartoon alter-ego – Super Cow, from the “Cow and Chicken” series – a show requiring “acquired taste” which I never warmed to. Circa 1997. Cow would occasionally don tights and a cape – but of course had absolutely no super powers whatsoever, except for her super girth to land on villains with crushing weight. The only other “super” thing about her outfit was the size of her udders protruding through it.
Superior Duck (Chuck Jones Productions/Warner, Daffy Duck, 8/23/98 – Chuck Jones, dir.) – One of Jones’s often irregular, self-produced comeback efforts for the studio late in life – and this one’s a bit more irregular than usual. For one thing, it was produced at a transitional point in the studio’s history. Having permanently lost the services of Mel Blanc with his passing, the studio was still searching for new voices. One permanent substitute was in place – Jim Cummings had been assigned the role of the Tasmanian Devil, for a brief walk-on (or is it spin-on?) cameo. But the role of our hero Daffy Duck is assigned here (I believe for the only time) to Frank Gorshen. While Gorshen for a time became Jones’ go-to man for any difficult-to-fill-voice, his Daffy takes a bit of getting used to, and really only comes somewhat close in the under-the-breath muttering mode. (Gorshen was perhaps most convincing in his voicing of Yosemite Sam in “From Hare to Eternity”- though even that effort was considerably different than Mel’s.) For another thing, this episode might have fared better if there had actually been a plot written for it. Jones self-penned the project without the assistance of Michael Maltese, and seems to have settled on accomplishing nothing more in the six minutes than parodying the same standard intro to Superman cartoons that it took him only about a minute and a half to accomplish to greater effect in “Super-Rabbit” 55 years earlier.
Narrator Thurl Ravenscroft (voice of Tony the Tiger, with whom Jones had previously worked in performing the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) sums up the whole thing best at the outset of the film, introducing Superior Duck as the “duck of yesterday” (while Daffy coaches him, “Tomorrow, The duck of tomorrow!”) Even Daffy’s outfit looks like yesterday – a sort of rumpled version of his old Duck Dodgers suit, with a yellow exclamation point insignia on his chest. The narrator starts into the usual spiel, with what an earlier Daffy might have called “noun trouble”. Superior Duck is “faster than a speeding snail”. “A speeding what?” reacts an irritated Daffy. Passing such a gastropod on a roof, the duck asks. “Are you suggesting that I’m only faster than a speeding – – that?” As he makes derogatory comments upon the slug’s ability to shift from zero to 60 inches, the snail suddenly revs up its tail like an outboard motor, and zips out of frame at super speed, spinning Daffy around and making his beak fall off. “I could be wrong, you know”, says Daffy’s detached beak. As another larger character streaks by Daffy, largely unseen, Daffy says, “It’s about time”, and outraces it, as the narrator changes his line to “faster than a speeding pullet.” It is, in fact, a small chicken. Daffy tries to get the narrator to straighten it out to “bullet”, but is interrupted by a cameo from Foghorn Leghorn, who rises to the defense of the chicken. He refers to Daffy as a gander, until Daffy states he is the illustrious Superior Duck. “I just wonder if you can superior duck – this!”, says Foghorn, laying a blow to Daffy’s bill with the visible word, “Ka-Pow!” Daffy is again forced to reattach his bill.
He soliloquizes why he ever got into the animation business anyway, speculating how he might have made out providing supply for duck down pillows, when the narrator reminds him he hasn’t done the “more powerful” bit. “Get lost, Jack”, says Daffy. “No work, no pay”, says the narrator. Daffy freezes, reverses course, and returns to his duties, muttering, “If it wasn’t for avarice, for sheer greed, I’d be a very happy duck.” He stands upon a railroad track, and braces to hold back the approach of the headlight of an oncoming locomotive. The headlight turns out to be considerably smaller than expected – attached to a miniature toy locomotive controlled by Tweety, who passes between Daffy’s feet, commenting, “I did taw an upside-downy putty duck.” Several other cameos randomly fill out the remaining time, including the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote (the latter encountering Daffy after the Road Runner has flattened him, and holding up a sign reading, “Well – Better a duck dinner than nothing at all.”), Marvin Martian and space-cadet Porky Pig (reprising for no good reason the disintegration/re-integration pistol gag from “Duck Dodgers of the 24 1/2th Century”), and the Tasmanian Devil. Daffy finally settles down to his own self-narration and to concentrate on saving the human race, when a large human hand seizes him by the throat and drags him upward out of frame. The hand belongs to the real Superman, in his only crossover into a Looney Tune, who informs Daffy, “I’m working this side of the street. Now bug off!” Daffy does just that, making a costume change to one with insect wings, bee stripes, and a stinger, as “Superior Bug”. In the last shot, as the narrator ad-libs new “faster than” and “more powerful than” lines, Daffy demonstrates his flying prowess, by regularly bumping into tall buildings, causing lighted signs on them to register “Tilt”.
Dog the Mighty (Catdog, 2/16/99) – The mayor is presiding over a world’s record event, at the public unveiling of the world’s largest hamburger (being lifted into place by a heavy-duty construction crane). Among the onlooking crowd is Catdog, Dog taking a particular drooling interest in the mammoth entree. Just as the burger is about to be lowered into place, the supporting cable snaps, and the burger falls on a collision course with the mayor. The sight of so much meat is too much of a temptation for dog, and he leaps into the air, biting a huge hunk off of the burger. It lands with a crash – but the bite has left a gap in its diameter, just wide enough that the mayor has been missed by the impact completely. The mayor declares Dog a hero, and awards him a medal. At home, Dog reads his newspaper clippings, admires his medal, and repeats his story of valor to a mouse for the tenth time. The mouse suggests he’s not only a hero – but maybe a superhero. Cat sarcastically suggests that next thing you know, he’ll be wearing a cape – and indeed, Dog takes him up on such suggestion. Proclaiming himself “Dog the Mighty”, he appoints an unwilling Cat as sidekick ‘Catboy”, providing him with a cowl cut out of a grade-school milk carton. Being physically attached to Dog, there’s nothing much Cat can do but tag along. Dog goes through the same sort of “foiling crime when there is no crime” cliches as Daffy’s “Stupor Duck” and Magilla Gorilla’s “Super Blooper Heroes”, attacking a little boy helping an old lady across the street as “accosting” her, and tackling a bank employee with a satchel of money. Eventually he makes a laughing stock of himself – and what’s worse, blows Cat’s chance at a hot date with a curvaceous feline. Back at home, Dog tosses his medal on the floor, while Cat reads headlines reading, “Still Laughing”. A news bulletin announces a freak accident at a bubble gum factory, with workers trapped in the goo, and the plant about to explode. The newscaster observes, if only there were someone with a strong sense of smell to locate the workers. Cat realizes this is Dog’s one natural super-talent. Unable to rouse Dog’s spirit to take on the rescue alone, Cat adds his personal commitment to make them a winning team again, by donning the milk-carton cowl as Catboy (even though the carton still has some milk drippings in it). Dog responds by putting on his inverted dog dish as a helmet – even though his soggy dinner is still in it. They of course arrive in the nick of time, and emerge from the explosion with the workers safe and sound, with Dog blowing a bubble in celebration. The mayor arrives in a limousine, and hands Cat and Dog a box full of medals, then shakes Dog’s hand. Unfortunately, Dog’s hand is covered in bubble gum, which adheres to the hand of the mayor. As the limousine pulls away, Catdog is dragged along for the ride, leaving a trail of medals strewn everywhere throughout the countryside.
A somewhat less-than-stellar sequel, Dog the Not-So-Mighty, aired on 6/15/2002. Strange how cartoon time seems to tick on a different clock than production schedules or the real world, as this episode is supposed to occur one year to the day of the previous one, with a “Dog the Mighty Day” declared to commemorate the anniversary of the rescue of the mayor. Cat doesn’t even want to get out of bed, and when Dog keeps slapping down the milk-carton cowl on him as Catboy to dress for the occasion, Cat loses it. He insists he won’t take part in these play-hero shenanigans again. Dog sadly observes that the rules of superherodom state that when a sidekick is no longer loyal, he can no longer be a sidekick. “You mean you’re firing me?”, said Cat, in a mood both sarcastic and relieved. “Yes”, sighs Dog, with a last embrace of his other half for old-times sake. Dog then prepares to make his entrance from backstage at an amphitheater. Cat peeks out from under the curtains, and is amazed that nearly the whole town is in attendance as an adoring mass. Dog receives a thunderous ovation, and Cat begins to feel left out. The mayor observes Dog’s surprisingly long face, and inquires why, and Dog explains that he’s lost his sidekick. “That will never do”, observes the Mayor, and issues a public call on the microphone for anyone who wants to apply for position of new Catboy. Nearly everyone anxiously volunteers – and Dog finally chooses a cat with a heroic cleft in his chin, a Cary Grant style voice, and three times the size and strength of Cat. Of course, the natural connection between Dog and Cat means that Cat has to witness all this as he is dragged along, including Dog’s ticker-tape parade, and side trips to be wined and dined at the town’s swankiest restaurant (where Cat is kept from eating at the table by a velvet rope set up across the tablecloth), and to a clog dance festival. After being well trodden-upon at the last event, Cat begins to become demented, and hatches a plan to regain a place of fame. The last event on the agenda is the unveiling of a commemorative statue (the sculptor must work quickly, as the depiction of Catboy in marble has already been altered to look like cat’s replacement). Cat braces the statue at a slight angle by means of a stick below it (how he does this without attached Dog noticing is never explained), and ties a string around the stick, planning to pull out the underpinning at an opportune moment to cause the statue to topple, then push the mayor out of harm’s way to get credit for another rescue. As the mayor pulls away the curtain, Cat pulls away the stick. Conveniently, the statue depicts Dog and Catboy holding up the giant hamburger from the previous episode – and the hamburger is a real one. (Is that statue going to be smelly after a day in the park!) As the statue begins to fall, Dog again gets wind of the burger, and repeats his same reflexive reaction from the preceding year – leaping into the air and taking a huge bite out of the burger. The statue falls – again with the burger bite leaving a gap so that the mayor is not struck. However, the marble pedestal falls directly on Cat. Dog finally becomes aware of Cat’s continued presence, and pulls him out from under the marble weight, observing, “You saved the statue!” He and the mayor proclaim Cat a hero, along with Dog for again saving the mayor. “Does this mean I get to be a sidekick again?”, asks Cat. Both Dog and the replacement Catboy respond yes. Bit it’s not quite how Cat envisioned it. Back at home, Dog beds down for the night – with the replacement Catboy still present, occupying the other end of the bed. Cat is relegated to an extra cot, assigned to a third-banana entry level position as Kid Kitty, uttering with absolute lack of enthusiasm, “Terrific.” The Iron Giant (Warner, 7/31/99, Brad Bird, dir.) – This highly-entertaining animated feature was for a time known to few, being released in the days when if a feature animation didn’t bear the name “Disney”, it could usually be written off as a box-office loss. Home video and cable TV, however, have brought the film to a more deserved position of semi-prominence. Dealing with a technologically-advanced, weapons-laden giant robot, its origins unknown, descending upon cold-war 1950’s America, the film plays well upon the sense of “commie” paranoia and craze of alien invader films that predominated the period, with seemingly everyone but one young boy (Hogarth) and a junkyard proprietor seeking the invader and instinctively convinced that he is up to no good. But, whatever his initial programming may have been, the robot’s artificial intelligence is now something of a blank slate bordering on amnesia, and he takes his cues in gradual learning from the boy, who thinks he’s the coolest thing to ever walk on two legs. Part of the robot’s re-training entails learning of the boy’s love of comic books, particularly Superman. The boy points out that Superman is like him, having landed on Earth, and at first not knowing what he is doing. He emphasizes Superman’s creed of using his power only for good, not evil, and dissuades the robot’s attentions from another comic, Atomo, depicting an evil robot. Hogarth insists, “You are Superman”.
A somewhat less-than-stellar sequel, Dog the Not-So-Mighty, aired on 6/15/2002. Strange how cartoon time seems to tick on a different clock than production schedules or the real world, as this episode is supposed to occur one year to the day of the previous one, with a “Dog the Mighty Day” declared to commemorate the anniversary of the rescue of the mayor. Cat doesn’t even want to get out of bed, and when Dog keeps slapping down the milk-carton cowl on him as Catboy to dress for the occasion, Cat loses it. He insists he won’t take part in these play-hero shenanigans again. Dog sadly observes that the rules of superherodom state that when a sidekick is no longer loyal, he can no longer be a sidekick. “You mean you’re firing me?”, said Cat, in a mood both sarcastic and relieved. “Yes”, sighs Dog, with a last embrace of his other half for old-times sake. Dog then prepares to make his entrance from backstage at an amphitheater. Cat peeks out from under the curtains, and is amazed that nearly the whole town is in attendance as an adoring mass. Dog receives a thunderous ovation, and Cat begins to feel left out. The mayor observes Dog’s surprisingly long face, and inquires why, and Dog explains that he’s lost his sidekick. “That will never do”, observes the Mayor, and issues a public call on the microphone for anyone who wants to apply for position of new Catboy.
Nearly everyone anxiously volunteers – and Dog finally chooses a cat with a heroic cleft in his chin, a Cary Grant style voice, and three times the size and strength of Cat. Of course, the natural connection between Dog and Cat means that Cat has to witness all this as he is dragged along, including Dog’s ticker-tape parade, and side trips to be wined and dined at the town’s swankiest restaurant (where Cat is kept from eating at the table by a velvet rope set up across the tablecloth), and to a clog dance festival. After being well trodden-upon at the last event, Cat begins to become demented, and hatches a plan to regain a place of fame. The last event on the agenda is the unveiling of a commemorative statue (the sculptor must work quickly, as the depiction of Catboy in marble has already been altered to look like cat’s replacement). Cat braces the statue at a slight angle by means of a stick below it (how he does this without attached Dog noticing is never explained), and ties a string around the stick, planning to pull out the underpinning at an opportune moment to cause the statue to topple, then push the mayor out of harm’s way to get credit for another rescue. As the mayor pulls away the curtain, Cat pulls away the stick. Conveniently, the statue depicts Dog and Catboy holding up the giant hamburger from the previous episode – and the hamburger is a real one. (Is that statue going to be smelly after a day in the park!) As the statue begins to fall, Dog again gets wind of the burger, and repeats his same reflexive reaction from the preceding year – leaping into the air and taking a huge bite out of the burger. The statue falls – again with the burger bite leaving a gap so that the mayor is not struck. However, the marble pedestal falls directly on Cat. Dog finally becomes aware of Cat’s continued presence, and pulls him out from under the marble weight, observing, “You saved the statue!” He and the mayor proclaim Cat a hero, along with Dog for again saving the mayor. “Does this mean I get to be a sidekick again?”, asks Cat. Both Dog and the replacement Catboy respond yes. Bit it’s not quite how Cat envisioned it. Back at home, Dog beds down for the night – with the replacement Catboy still present, occupying the other end of the bed. Cat is relegated to an extra cot, assigned to a third-banana entry level position as Kid Kitty, uttering with absolute lack of enthusiasm, “Terrific.”
The Iron Giant (Warner, 7/31/99, Brad Bird, dir.) – This highly-entertaining animated feature was for a time known to few, being released in the days when if a feature animation didn’t bear the name “Disney”, it could usually be written off as a box-office loss. Home video and cable TV, however, have brought the film to a more deserved position of semi-prominence. Dealing with a technologically-advanced, weapons-laden giant robot, its origins unknown, descending upon cold-war 1950’s America, the film plays well upon the sense of “commie” paranoia and craze of alien invader films that predominated the period, with seemingly everyone but one young boy (Hogarth) and a junkyard proprietor seeking the invader and instinctively convinced that he is up to no good. But, whatever his initial programming may have been, the robot’s artificial intelligence is now something of a blank slate bordering on amnesia, and he takes his cues in gradual learning from the boy, who thinks he’s the coolest thing to ever walk on two legs. Part of the robot’s re-training entails learning of the boy’s love of comic books, particularly Superman. The boy points out that Superman is like him, having landed on Earth, and at first not knowing what he is doing. He emphasizes Superman’s creed of using his power only for good, not evil, and dissuades the robot’s attentions from another comic, Atomo, depicting an evil robot. Hogarth insists, “You are Superman”.As the complex plot unfolds, government agents close in on the robot, causing his instinctive defense mechanisms to activate with devastating effect. As his sensors are about to unleash an explosive force field upon a battleship, Hogarth catches up with him and intervenes, distracting him so that his shot misses, and standing in the line of fire, telling him he is what he chooses to be, and doesn’t have to be a gun. The robot’s recognition overrides his defensive weaponry, and the giant returns to the side of good. But a headstrong government agent is not satisfied to believe that the giant has reformed, and grabs a general’s walkie-talkie to order the battleship to fire an atomic weapon – not having the sense to realize it is targeted to the giant’s present position, and will blow the whole town to kingdom come as well. The giant tells Hogarth to stay and not follow, and launches itself into the sky. As it soars into the trajectory of the missile, the giant remembers Hogarth’s words about choosing what he wants to be, and mouths aloud his choice – “Superman”. He intercepts the missile high above the Earth, exploding the bomb upon himself, out of the range of the town. The town erects a statue in the Giant’s honor, and Hogarth receives a package from the general containing a small screw – the only part recovered from the robot’s remains. That night, the screw begins to blink with light in Hogarths bedroom, and rattle against the window under its own power. Hogarth recalls an earlier incident where parts of the robot had been knocked loose, but were attracted back to him in an automatic self-reassembly. Hogarth opens the window, and bids the screw, “See you later.” At a remote arctic location, the camera shows us several more parts converging on a central location, and we find the giant’s head half-buried in the snow, awaiting the return of his pieces with eyes lit, the film ending with the anticipation that he will someday be reassembled again.
NEXT WEEK: Into the new millennium next time, with special emphasis on new super-franchises from Nickelodeon. Meanwhile, as you munch on roast Chicken Boo, Happy Thanksgiving!