In the wake of Hanna-Barbera’s veritable flooding of the television market with space cartoons, as discussed last week, numerous other animation shops would of course attempt to put their two cents in to offer competing product. Though never matching the sheer output of the H- B studios, several notable (and some not so notable) figments of the animator’s imagination arose from these efforts. Eventually, the survivors of other major theatrical studios would also join into the television field, and provide us with a few ideas of their own.
One of the most infamous early efforts in competition with H-B came from the fledgling Soundac studios – Colonel Bleep – the demented concept of a heroic space alien teaming up with a puppet and a neanderthal caveman to battle evil, from headquarters at “Zero-Zero Island” (zero degrees in both longitude and latitude). The “animation”, if you can call it that, while filmed in color, usually consisted of a character striking a pose, then “wiggling” in a repeated two or three frame cycle, and gets tiresome on the eye in a hurry. The plotlines, mostly in narration with a minimum of dialog for any of the characters, were generally as vacuous as space itself, and bear no repeating here. Not surprisingly, the films brought no lasting fame to their creators, no longstanding resyndication rights, and ultimately wound up as filler on public domain video packages – a gravesite befitting their quality.
Though only in direct competition with “Ruff and Reddy” in its late stages, a show definitely inspired by the former’s success was Rocky and His Friends – the adventures of Rocket J Squirrel – a flying squirrel with supersonic speed – and his best friend Bullwinkle Moose – short on brains, but helpful when the situation calls for “moose muscle”. The serialized adventures were as equally inspired by producer Jay Ward’s previous involvement in Jerry Fairbanks’ pioneering animated series for TV, “Crusader Rabbit” – owing a good deal of the modeling of its heroes to Jerry’s stars Crusader Rabbit and Ragland T. Tiger. While Ward’s animation was initially somewhat primitive, it was light-years advanced as compared to its “Rabbit” counterpart, which featured virtually no animation at all, but mostly filmed storyboards. Plus Ward benefitted from a wild and zany creative staff, including the talented Bill Scott (formerly of UPA, and a creative factor in such studio classics as “Rooty Toot Toot”, etc.), and the impressive voice talents of such greats as June Foray, Paul Frees, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, Edward Everett Horton, Charlie Ruggles…….”and a host of others”, as the credits proclaimed.
Several story arcs would present “moose and squirrel” in space age plots and intergalactic trouble – starting with their very first. In “Jet Fuel Formula”, we are treated to a first glimpse of our heroes – as seen though a telescope, waving at us from the moon. Shortly thereafter, an explosion sends them rocketing homeward. (Turnabout of the initiating force for this line of articles is fair play here, as a caricature of Orson Welles (Dorson Bells) appears on the radio announcing the approach of the oncoming rocket, and, just to make sure there’s no confusion with his “War of the Worlds” broadcast, announces, “This invasion is not a play. I repeat, not a play. Please feel free to panic!”) They tell of their exploits – an attempt by Bullwinkle to follow a family recipe for Grandma’s fudge cake results in a massive explosion of the first layer that jet- propels their old-fashioned stove to the moon. Building a makeshift rocket in order to retrieve the stove, they use the cake’s second layer to fuel them to the moon, and the third layer to get back! Only Bullwinkle will have one trouble in replicating this surprise powerful formula – the recipe has been ripped in half by the explosions.
“I know how much of everything but not what of”, bemoans Bullwinkle. This sets the stage for a story filled with twists, turns, and political intrigue from the renegade country Pottsylvania (and their crack spies, series regulars Boris and Natasha), as everyone either tries to obtain the formula or keep our heroes from creating it again. Principal in the later motivation are a pair of nosy moon-men: green, hairy near look-alikes named Cloyd and Gidney, on a mission to see that the moon is not invaded by (dare we say it) – tourists! Gidney (the one with an itchy trigger-finger) packs a secret weapon – the “scrootch” gun, which freezes its victim in his tracks for any selected amount of time.
Unfortunately, the weapon’s controls are not well-marked. As Gidney explains, when set at the number “8″, he can’t tell if it scrootches for 8 hours or 8 years! A favorite chapter of this story arc is Episode 3, “Bullseye Bullwinkle”, which not only introduces the moon men, but gives us a rare chance to see Bill Scott’s UPA influence again at work, in a surreal sequence illustrating the training program the moon men endured in preparing for their trip to Earth – in stylized minimalist animation and backgrounds looking like something out of “Gerald Mc Boing Boing” or “Christopher Crumpet.”
A second Rocky story arc with outer-space twists, “Metal Munching Moon Mice”, is also well remembered. Though originating from a home base on the moon, the nefarious plot behind this one is really masterminded by Pottsylvania’s own mini-villain, “Mr. Big”, who enlists moon men to create an army of six-foot wind-up robotic mice with an insatiable appetite for – of all things – TV antennas! Mr. Big envisions a TV-less society driven to madness, amidst which he will rise to world-dominating power. (Why didn’t Pinky and the Brain ever think of this?) Boris Badenov is of course recruited to act as a sort of ringmaster to control this outer- space circus, in a metal costume in which he assumes the identity of “The Big Cheese”. An all- time favorite chapter from this arc is “Bullwinkle Bellows Again, or Moonin’ Low”, in which ukelele playing Bullwinkle discovers his singing has a pied-piper like effect in controlling the metal mice. Boris is forced to pull out all the stops to compete with Bullwinkle, strumming a balalaika and rendering terrible impressions of Elvis Presley and high school rock and roll ballads to lure the mice back. Some background on the wide and eclectic selection of songs used in this episode has been previously chronicled in James Parten’s Needle-Drop Notes article on this website, Music For Some Metal Munching Moon Mice. Ultimately, Bullwinkle is scheduled to perform in concert for the mice – in a stadium whose columns are stuffed with TNT. But all ends well as the mice – not our heroes – are ultimately blasted back to the moon, leaving our heroes free to pursue their next adventure.
An early Bozo The Clown episode from Larry Harmon/Jayark Films, “The Space Ace Saves Face”, might have qualified for my previous articles on invisibility – except this creature was born invisible, and stays that way. Bozo and Butch witness a crash landing of a space ship, and investigate, reviving the pilot from the crash. That is, after they figure out where he is, as the ship’s pilot seat seems empty. The Alien is totally invisible, though he can speak fluent English. Bozo puts a hat on him so that he can figure out where he is – and the idea is hatched for a terrific circus act featuring the floating hatted alien juggling and cavorting in the center ring. Only one problem – the locals won’t believe it, and figure it’s done with strings or mirrors. Bozo and the ringmaster wind up in trouble with the law, but Butch and the alien figure a way to beat the rap. In the police’s presence, Butch presents the invisible man – then sprays him with a paint sprayer. The alien is finally visibly revealed, and Bozo is in the clear. No more circus shenanigans after that mishap, and the alien happily heads back to his planet.
At least two of the King Features produced TV Popeye cartoons feature space invasions. In Ace of Space (producer: Larry Harmon; dir., Paul Fennell), a peaceful drive with Olive is interrupted by radio bulletin of a flying saucer spotted flying South over North Dakota. A metal spaceman spots Olive on a televiewer, and pulls her up to the ship in a tractor beam. Once Popeye realizes what’s happened, he gains access to the ship by lassoing it with a rope lariat, telling the audience, “I ain’t been watchin’ them horse operas fer nuthin’”. He encounters the space man at a window of the saucer, and insists that “I want Olive Oyl.” Only partially understanding, the spaceman responds with speeded-dialog gibberish, then produces an oil can which he squirts in Popeye’s face. “Not motor oil. Olive Oyl!!”, shouts Popeye. The two ultimately meet in confrontation inside the ship. As the spaceman pulls out a ray gun, Popeye eats his spinach, and calls his shot, announcing he will counter with Spinach rays. He emits a beam of green from his pipe, which collides with the spaceman’s ray, and pushes it backward. Popeye’s ray hits the spaceman, who is rendered weightless, and, as with Ruff and Reddy last week, floats out of the saucer through a hatch in the ceiling. “Who’s gonna fly this thing?’, asks Olive. “I’ve sailed the seven seas, so reckons I can navigate a space ship”, replies Popeye, easily mastering the controls. But as they fly back toward home, they see a strange sight in the televiewer. The Martian robot has landed on Earth – in the driver’s seat of their car, and in his speeded gibberish waves to them with a “Toodle-oo” for the fade out.
In Partial Post (Rembrandt Films, Gene Deitch, dir.), an even stranger invader arrives on Earth to perturb Popeye – a metal creature who for all purposes looks like a twin to a U.S. mailbox, but with retractable arms and legs. Popeye of course is in the midst of trying to mail a birthday card to Olive, and surprised to find a new mailbox so close to home. But the letter isn’t to the creature’s tastes, and he keeps spitting it out every time Popeye inserts it. Popeye finally force-feeds the letter by reaching way down into the creature’s insides. He then goes to visit Olive (why didn’t he save a stamp and just deliver the card in person?). Olive is boasting of receiving another birthday present from an unknown admirer – a rose – making Popeye jealous, and Olive a bit spiteful for not yet receiving anything from Popeye. But the space visitor lurks outside, and sucks away the flower from Olive’s window with a powerful vacuum breath. Olive blames the flower’s disappearance on the jealous Popeye – until she feels the powerful suction of the alien’s breath too. Popeye gets in the way, and gets sucked into the alien instead. Inside, he manages to retrieve Olive’s flower, but gets sucked in himself again. Popeye pounds the alien’s metal insides with little effect, until the alien passes the produce racks of a local grocer. “I smell spinach”, says Popeye from within the creature, and manages to slip his arm out the alien’s mouth-slot to grab a handful. Of course Popeye not only regains his freedom, but socks the alien through the air back into the cockpit of his space ship. Before departing in frustration, the alien finally succeeds in again spitting out Popeye’s card, then takes off into the clouds. Seeing the card addressed to her, Olive realizes Popeye remembered her birthday after all, and plants kisses on him “from a known admirer.”
Paramount, who had already and would continue to give its theatrical audiences more than their fair dose of outer space pulp, doses out a healthy share of same to the television audience as well. One of their first television ventures was production for Joe Oriolo of the television incarnation of Felix the Cat, taking great liberties from the Pat Sullivan original. Replacing Felix’s all-purpose removable tail with a new convertible gizmo – the “Magic Bag of Tricks”, Felix is updated starting with episode 1 into confrontations with modern science – in the form of recurring arch-enemy, the nameless “Professor”, who endlessly covets the Magic Bag, or generally creates nuisance with crime waves or illegal get-rich-quick schemes, all with the assistance of modern inventions and contrivances. To make things more far out, the studio quickly introduced a relative -the Professor’s nephew, Poindexter – who is doubly as inventive as the Professor himself, and can either be Felix’s best friend, or occasionally his worst nightmare. Poindexter showed an early and compelling interest in outer space – so much so that he uses an industrial-strength “Erector set” to build his own junior flying saucer – which works perfectly – except for running out of gas on the moon. Never fear. Poindexter tinkers with some spare parts and improves the model by adding a little “atomic drive”. He also finds the time along the various story lines to invent a super rocket fuel formula.
This would ultimately prove the motivating force for a long series of two-part episodes in which Felix and Poindexter would encounter the “Master Cylinder” – a large robotic creature shaped like – what else – a cylinder, with a large window hatch in front for two huge eyes to peer out. In most episodes he had neither visible mouth nor any legs – but a pair of metal-claw arms was always at the ready. This denizen of space sometimes hailed from the Moon, sometimes Mars – but he really was not a citizen of either. It was established in an early episode that the Cylinder was in reality one of the Professor’s old science pupils – who flunked at chemistry and blew himself up. “That’s how I lost my body”, explains Cylinder – but nothing could destroy his diabolical brain , for which his metal exoskeleton was built. In many episodes, Cylinder is assisted by General Klang – a sort of space octopus wearing an official hat that strongly resembles something from the Keystone Kops. He’s not a real space alien, either. In his first episode, one of the real men from Mars explains to Felix that Klang isn’t a Martian, but a refugee from a Coney Island freak show. “Oh”, remarks Felix, “a phoney from Coney!” Plots generally revolve around Cylinder having an armada of rocket ships at the ready to invade Earth – but no rocket fuel powerful enough to get there – leading to need to obtain the formula from Poindexter. (An interesting sidelight is that another early episode defies all principles of space travel, illustrating on a graph that their rockets would simply fall away from their flight path at the halfway point of their voyage – ignoring that frictionless momentum through empty space would actually carry any rocket that had gotten that far straight to the gravitational pull of its intended destination!).
Other real Martians would occasionally appear in the Felix world. Many would be in disguise in the Cylinder episodes – including as rocks, trees, and a torture chamber manacle device. Another real inhabitant was Martin the Martian (not to be confused with Warner’s “Marvin”), who traveled in a fourth-dimensional space capsule – a transparent cube which would “fold” from three dimensional, into two-dimensional flat, one dimensional line, then disappear entirely. One stray Martian provided a different angle for Felix’s The Martian Rescue (2/19/60). A radio bulletin announces sightings of a flying saucer bove Earth. Felix, bolder than his better judgment should let him be, grabs a rifle and meets the arrival of the saucer as it crashes to Earth. A hatch in the saucer opens, and a towering giant robot emerges and looms over Felix. But a “floor indicator” in the style of a hotel elevator lights up in one of the robot’s legs, as a cab inside descends to ground level – and our of a small door in the robot’s foot emerges a tiny Martian, for whom the robot is just an exoskeleton. He carries a road map, and in Martian gibberish expresses frustration at being lost. Felix takes him in, and feeds him. In brief Jim Tyer animation, the Martian gobbles down everything as fast as Felix brings it. Then, he swallows Felix’s gun. Felix wonders what he’ll eat next. “Me?” Yes, the Martian has a cat dinner in mind. But before the main course, he is distracted by Felix’s radio, and swallows it too. (A strange continuity error appears here, as a dangling power cord is swallowed up like a spaghetti strand – yet the radio keeps working unplugged! Guess it must have dual battery power too.) In a direct borrow from Disney’s 1938 classic, Donald’s Ostrich, the radio broadcasts start playing havoc with the Martian from inside. Advertisement for an Air Show sends the Martian soaring through the air like a Blue Angel – then reference to the fireworks display after the show sends him sputtering through the room in a series of mock blasts. Then, as in “Ostrich”, a boxing match broadcast lands every virtual right hook and upper cut on the Martian’s jaw, knocking him through walls, windows, and finally out of the house back to the space ship. He spits out the radio as a parting gift to Felix and heads back where he came from. As radio reports of sighting the spaceship again come over the airwaves on the Martian’s return flight, Felix addresses them the way he should have the first report – by throwing a book at the radio, transforming its speaker area into the visual equivalent of a black eye.
Paramount’s The New Casper Cartoon Show also featured an alien visit, in The Kid From Mars (a 1961 Modern Madcap, shown on the ABC Casper show in 1963), where a junior Martian plays hookey from school by “borrowing” a flying saucer and crash-landing on Earth. The ghostly trio run for cover, but Casper plays guide to show the Marian kid around. Unfortunately, Mars notices the missing saucer, and challenges Earth to get it back. A squadron of saucers approaches Earth. Earth retaliates with missiles, which Casper and the Martian try to fly their way through them to ward off the invading ships. The pun-oriented Paramount boys throw one at us that I still to this day don’t get; an Earth missile launches, marked. “Thor”. Another follows, marked, “Very Thor”. Please explain what’s the gag? Anyway, Casper gets the Martian back to his dad – after which some disciplinary paddling is overheard by Casper on a radio antenna that fell off the kid’s hat.
ABC’s animated incarnation of Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil also got into the space age act very early on – in fact, from its first telecast. Invasion of Earth By Robots, discussed in my previous post Bugz Lives: Antz (Part 3) on this website, appeared in the series’ first week, as Cecil tries to head off an invasion by kid robot Venice the Menace and his “mother ship”, Venus the Meanest, both of whom are in fact merely on the Earth for a peaceful mother- son picnic. In fact, Venus quickly makes friends with Cecil, seeing his as prospective matrimonial material!
Somewhat off subject, the series would also embrace the space age with a junior astronaut laboratory mouse launched in a rocket ship, known as Little Ace From Outer Space. But more directly relevant to this article were the two notable appearances of a mischevious and resourceful miniature space alien known as Beepin’ Tom. The character had the unique feature of musically delivering all of his dialog lines while the line is visibly illustrated in a comic strip dialog balloon above him – not in words, but as a rebus! This was an obvious play upon the then- current success of the perennial and often-revived game show, “Concentration”, where matches of various cards would reveal two parts of a larger rebus puzzle embedded in the lower layer of the game board. Tom’s two films, “Strange Objects” (below) and “Ain’t I a Little Stinger?”, not only offer a vast array of typical Bob Clampett puns, sight gags and destructive hijinks, but ample opportunities for use of the freeze frame on your video viewer so you can either appreciate the visual puns included in the rebuses, or actually try to play along yourself by attempting to translate same with the volume off. Highly recommended.
How did an episode of Mr. Ed get in here? The famous talking horse was in essence rendered an experimental guinea pig for one week’s broadcasting, practically disappearing from the script, as Filmways trotted out an attempted TV-pilot that went nowhere, Moko, the Mischievous Martian (5/17/64) – an animation and live action mix with a Martian so small, he and his ship can fit inside a human ear and control the host’s brain. The plot, such as it is, has Moko invading the normally no-nonsense minds of Wilbur, his military former superior officer next door neighbor, and a visiting four-star general, to turn a military reunion into a swinging wild party. It plays like a weak episode of the Great Gazoo, and was quickly forgotten. Virtually no information is available as to who provided the short animated sequences, or even where they were produced. Does anyone have any data on this oddity?
At Terrytoons, now in a mixed role of sometimes concurrent television and theatrical releases, the space craze was also going far from unnoticed. “Deputy Dawg”, Terrytoons’ surprise television hit, developed a recurring character in the form of a sometimes gray, sometimes blue long-nosed antennaed space alien introduced in The Space Varmint, who would later become known as Astronut.
Initially, the little guy (who always flew a compact- model flying saucer), was limited in language to the single syllable “Unk”, and was basically a rival to Muskie the muskrat and Vincent Van Gopher as even a better egg-stealer than Muskie and Vince had ever been able to manage in all their years of experience. He would appear in at least three Deputy Dawg episodes – even getting Deputy to fly in his saucer on one occasion. A Little Wonder book was published adapting the Astronut stories into form the kids could hold for their own – and probably led to lasting memories of the character.
Enough so that a few years later, playing on the success of CBS’s My Favorite Martian with Ray Walston and Bill Bixby, Terrytoons would inaugurate roughly concurrent theatrical and TV production of The Astronut Show, where our same alien (now standardized in the color of blue) has developed full language fluency, and struck up a friendship with an Earth man – one Oscar Mild (play on words of author/playwright Oscar Wilde). Mild is as mild-mannered as his name suggests, and, in the same manner as his live-action counterpart Bill Bixby, is constantly drawn into trouble situations from “Astro”’s recurrent interplanetary visits (beginning with “Brother From Outer Space”,(1964, Connie Rasinski, dir.), in which Astro usually demonstrates some one of his super alien powers or the latest technology or other items from his home planet (such as weather making machines, kisser plants). In one episode, he even inadvertently intercepts the Telstar sattelite. The show provided dependable “mild” laughs, and sustained production over the course of a few theatrical seasons.
Less successful was an attempt at a second Terrytoons alien series, Martian Moochers. Produced in 1966 and directed by Bob Kuwahara (of “Hashimoto-San” fame), only two episodes were created – about a pair of Martian space mice, booted off a passing space ship and deciding to live it up on Earth. Their episodes are only a modified excuse for the same “cat and mouse” style antics that Terrytoons had been doling out for decades – except with mice who can go invisible or pass through objects at will. They passed largely unnoticed, their two cartoons randomly getting sandwiched into slots usually reserved for the Astronut cartoons. Pretty much the less said, the better.
Total Television’s most popular character Underdog seemed to spend half of his animated life battling villains from another planet (when he wasn’t battling Riff Raff or Simon Bar Sinister). Cloud monsters, Marble Heads; Magnet Men; giant robots; Alien kings obsessed with obtaining baking slaves; two headed dragons on the planet Zot; and Overcat, to name a few. His exploits exceed the alloted space for this article, and are best summarized in the Wikipedia article, List of Underdog Characters.
Many Disney projects would also follow the space craze – but originally in generally more realistic fashion. In its “Tomorrowland” segments for the Disneyland TV series, Walt would chronicle the modern marvels of the U.S. Space Program – and its future hopes for manned flight to other worlds, including animated simulations that would be adopted as official by NASA. However, one notably exceptional episode took the notions of interplanetary travel and alien life to the lengths of its animators’ imaginations: Mars and Beyond (11/4/57, Ward Kimball, dir.).
At about the 13 minute mark, an exploration of pulp fiction about Mars is presented, in the form of a self-standing animated episode, involving as hero a young electronics genius at a super secret military base, who spends all day “formulating new laws of thermodynamics and astrophysics” in complicated equations that appear in smoke clouds from his pipe over his head, and his attractive secretary (who types with one finger). A Martian mechanical robot (menacingly black and cylindrical in shape – possibly an inspiration for Paramount’s “Master Cylinder”) abducts the secretary to satisfy a shortage of women. Arriving at Mars, the robot presents her to their “mastermind”- a wide-mouthed green creature with suction tentacles, who exhales bats when he breathes. The girl slaps him, and gets dropped through a trap door into which also climb about forty assorted creepy crawly creatures.
Camera play alternates at this state between our “hero”, oblivious to the abduction and still formulating equations, and the heroine facing countless hopeless cliffhangers, including a disintegration ray and being trapped in a giant laboratory beaker while a gaseous concoction is injected from the other end of its glass tubes. The heroine passes an “Emergency” wall case containing a ray gun. She grabs it and fires at the mastermind. Every shot multiplies the mastermind exponentially into more identical monsters. A panning shot shows the leader now backed up by a rogue’s gallery of aliens of such varied size, shape, and horrendousness that we may feel we are watching a Technicolor remake of Max Fleischer’s Swing You Sinners (1930) – but Ward Kimball can’t resist temptation, and includes among the monsters a typically squawking Donald Duck! Finally, the secretary has had enough, ducks behind a dressing screen for a quick costume change, and emerges dressed as a super-heroine. She stands her ground, and bids her pursuers to halt. When they stop, she presents them with a box of “El Atomic Cigars”, and passes out cigars to each of the monsters.
Lighting them up, she beats a graceful flying exit out a window, as each one of the cigars explodes, leaving a charred and battered alien. Our heroine flies through space, following a road sign suspended from a balloon pointing the way to Earth. She returns to her typewriter, her clothes miraculously transforming back to her original attire. The camera pans over to her boyfriend, who finally stops puffing his pipe and forming equations long enough to say, “Take a litter, Miss Smith. After due consideration and thorough calculation, it is my unequivocal opinion that ther is absolutely no life on the Planet Mars.” Over him looms the space robot, who now makes off with him – as our hero’s last smoke puff displays in the air a large question mark, for the fade out and dramatic musical sting. The space robot design was memorable to Disney fans and animators alike, resulting in two comebacks for the robot, in Mickey’s Mechanical House (1999) for ABC’s “Mickey Mouse Works” series, and as Ludwig Von Drake’s running partner in Mickey Mouse’s recent short for the Disney Channel, Three-Legged Race (9/15/17).
Ducktales, Disney’s first leap into weekday TV series animation, would provide us with “Superdoo!” (10/9/87), an episode focusing on the Junior Woodchucks and Huey, Louie, and Dewey’s fat and inept friend Doofus, who is a washout at summer camp until he finds a “diamond donut” during a geology field trip. The trinket is really a super energy crystal stolen by two alien thieves (amphibians with protruding antenna-like eyes) who have ditched the crystal on Earth while eluding intergalactic police. The inept criminal duo spend the episode plotting disasters to get back the crystal, while Doofus develops super powers which he at first tries to keep secret to earn every Woodchuck merit badge there is – surpassing even the all time badge champion, Scoutmaster Launchpad McQuack. Eventually, to ward off the aliens’ disasters,
Doofus creates a makeshift costume and assumes the heroic role of “Superdoo” – but his identity is soon discovered by the nephews, who scorn him for cheating on getting his badges. Doofus gives up his false powers in favor of his fast friends, tossing away the crystal. It lands inside a tree, and the aliens attempt to retrieve it – only to discover it is lodged around the neck of an angry squirrel, who, chasing the thieves back into their space ship, gets in himself, and runs amuck inside, causing the ship to bounce erratically out of control throughout the cosmos.
In Micro Ducks From Outer Space (10/27/87), Gyro Gearloose’s new super satellite dish connects in transmission with an alien spaceship – with a race of ducks seeking new food sources for their planet. Scrooge, attempting to unload an overstock of grain in a bear commodity market, negotiates a sale, and waits for the arrival of the aliens. What he believes is an insect enters his window, and won’t leave him alone. He swats and sprays at it, and is about to deliver a crushing blow, but Webbigail saves the creature by covering it with Scrooge’s hat. The nephews discover its not a bug at all – but a microscopic space ship! Scrooge’s customers offer payment in attractive jewels – but they’re so small, they’re barely specks of dust. The aliens remedy this problem with an enlarging device, which enlarges the jewels to Scrooge’s size, then shrinks the grain so it will fit into their ship. The sale is completed – but Scrooge discovers the tiny enlarging machine has been left behind. He sees possibilities for the gizmo, and grabs his first gold nugget to see if he can enlarge it to fill the room. But his large hands can’t mange the miniature controls, and the machine goes haywire – shrinking Scrooge, Webby, and the nephews to the size of the alien ducks. The remainder of the episode is an elaborate adventure in the style of “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, as the family are carried off in the trash, explore the city sewer drains, hitch a ride on a kid’s skateboard, and finally make it back to the mansion, eventually intercepting the aliens who have returned for their missing enlarger.
Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers presents Dale Beside Himself (3/12/89), featuring visit of a race of shape-shifting aliens who can transform into any animal or object desired. One refuses to leave for home, and uses an escape pod to separate from the mother ship. Returning to Earth, he encounters Dale on a search for walnuts to replace the supply he devoured while watching old space invasion movies. The two strike up a superficial friendship, and the alien assumes the shape of Dale as his cover. The alien demonstrates walnut hunting made easy, using a beam from his head to blast a walnut tree apart, leaving only the nuts – then levitating the ample supply to Dale’s home. The alien enjoys helping so much, he takes over all of Dale’s chores.
But when TV reception is interrupted by the mother ship, with his fellow crew members indicating they are homing in on his location, the ‘friendship” is quickly dissolved, as the alien tricks Dale into taking a ride in his space pod, then shuts Dale inside with the controls set to dock with the mother ship. When Dale arrives at the ship, his crew members can’t understand why he won’t transform out of his Earth-creature disguise, nor why he won’t eat his favorite food – crawling blue sluglike creatures wriggling on the plate. The crew decide to use a freeze ray to preserve Dale for the trip home, to prevent him from getting worse until medical care can be provided. Dale dodges the ray, and one of the aliens gets it instead. Dale commandeers a space pod and flies out toward home. When he arrives, the real alien spots him climbing the rangers’ tree, and gets an idea. Shouting “Aliens!”, he claims to have seen a flying saucer, and that the alien just assumed his shape. Dale arrives, and no one can tell which is which. The two Dales battle it out in fisticuffs, while the mother ship arrives. Even the crewmembers can’t tell who’s who, and they turn their ship’s weaponry to aim at the ground, announcing that if their shipmate doesn’t reveal himself , they’ll disintegrate the Earth itself to give him no place to stay. The real
Dale gets a better idea. Darting into the ship, he emerges with a covered plate in hand – full of those tasty blue slugs. The alien Dale’s mouth waters uncontrollably, his eyes glaze over – and he transforms back to himself to devour the whole plate. Everyone is happily reunited, and the visiting alien at least leaves with the consolation of a full tummy.
Fake Me To Your Leader (10/12/89) presents an alien hoax, as recurring villain Nimno uses a ray device to magnify the size of ordinary pill bugs to monstrous proportions, then passes them off as conquering space aliens, with himself in commanding control to demand “space fuel” in the form of gold. But Zipper, the house fly member of the Rescue Rangers crew, happens to get a dose of the ray himself during the initial trapping of the pill bugs, and is also growing out of proportion for the rangers’ headquarters, plane, and the rangers themselves. The elaborate plot even pays homage to “King Kong”, as the now giant Zipper, with Nimno in his hand, climbs the city’s tallest skyscraper to avoid capture by the authoritie, while his friends race to the rescue inside the building with Nimno’s ray gun. Of course, Zipper is restored to normal size, the gold is recovered, and Nimno faces the wrath of one of his own vengeful pill bugs.
War of the Weirds (11/31/90), from Talespin, harkens a bit to the power of radio suggestion from Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast that started it all. Trying to get a few weeks off from his pilot duties, Baloo hatches an elaborate scheme with his mechanic Wildcat. Wildcat disguises as his polar opposite – a rocket scientist – and asks Rebecca to hire out Baloo’s plane for an experiment that will convert an ordinary plane into a rocket ship capable of flying to Mars. Rebecca smells a rat – or bear, as the case may be – and plays along with the gag. But when Baloo reaches his vacation destination, she constantly pesters him on the radio to bring back alien samples, describe the alien scenery, etc., making Baloo work harder than he did when he was on the clock. Fed up, Baloo attempts to solve the radio pestering, by, together with his co- pilot Kit, faking over the radio the sounds of an attack upon them by the Martians, then cutting off communications.
Rebecca is not taken in – but an overzealous young army officer bursts into the office, having intercepted the radio messages, and demands information, in the belief that the broadcast is real. Rebecca and Wildcat are dragged along with the army officer to investigate the source of the broadcast. Rebecca inquires what would happen if the whole thing turned out to be nothing, and the officer replies that everyone who had any connection with pulling a fast one on the government would be arrested. Rebecca is thus forced into an uneasy alliance with Baloo, where they join forces to take the lies to an even greater extreme – staging a visible invasion, where an elaborately costumed Baloo (using part of a Tiki mask for his face) appears to swallow Wildcat, spray flesh-devouring ooze on Rebecca (actually a leftover shipment of guacamole), and chase the army officer off into the hills. When the officer returns with his uncle the general and a crew of armed reinforcements, all they find is a quartet of peaceful campers by the lakeside, who deny knowledge of anything. The young officer is demoted to private by his uncle, and the army departs. Realizing that Rebecca is a great liar when she tries, Baloo declares that “There’s hope for you yet.”
Darkwing Duck had several close encounters. In When Aliens Collide (10/8/91), Gosalyn discovers a crash-landed alien – small, cute, harmless appearing, but oppressed. He wears a collar that he struggles to remove, and cannot speak. Another ship pursues him, and Gosalyn, who wants her discovery as a pet, tries to hide her find, and get his collar off. When she finally succeeds, the alien grows substantially, finds his voice, and is revealed to be a galactic master criminal on the run. Darkwing meanwhile discovers that the pursuing ship’s pilot is an outer space cop, and the collar was a criminal containment device. Eventually things sort themselves out, and the criminal is recaptured.
Smarter Than a Speeding Bullet (10/11/91) plays on the Superman mythos, as Darkwing meets Comet Guy – champion (in training) of another planet, who desperately seeks the tutelage of the local planet’s champion to cure his hopeless bumbling. Darkwing sees himself as the qualified educator – but endures multiple “Oopsies” as Comet Guy’s best efforts to help continually backfire. Finally harnessing Comet Guy’s weaknesses as destructive strengths against Steelbeak and the agents of F.O.W.L., Darkwing prepares to bestow on Comet Guy a diploma. Comet Guy states how proud he is to receive such an honor from the champion of the planet Floog. “This isn’t Floog. It’s Earth”, replies Darkwing. “Oopsie”, responds Comet Guy, and hastily makes an embarrassed exit in search of his real intended tutor – crashing into the moon on his way out. Planet of the Capes (11/27/91) brings Comet Guy back, requesting Darkwing accompany him to solve a situation on his home planet. Unexpectedly, the planet’s problem is that everyone’s a superhero – but there’s nobody to rescue, and Darkwing is recruited to be the planet’s one and only “ordinary guy.”
Battle of the Brainteasers (11/9/91) and The Revenge of the Return of the Brainteasers, Too! (9/26/92) introduce a trio of aliens shaped like hats, who control the thoughts of anyone who wears them. U.F. Foe (5/3/92) involves an unlikely backstory of an early encounter between Launchpad and a female space alien – leading to his current abduction to another planet for royal wedding to her as the current queen of the universe – and a nefarious plot by a royal minister to replace his brain with a robotic one to follow the minister’s every command. Twin Beaks (11/7/91), a parody on TV’s Twin Peaks, is perhaps the wackiest and most decidedly surreal of all of Darkwing’s spacey episodes, with a town full of mutant space cabbages with pod-duplication powers as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a lunatic dream sequence as Darkwing tries to use his subconscious mind to solve the crime, and a “good guy” army of space cows “from the planet Larsen, in the Far Side of the Galaxy” (reference to comic strip, “The Far Side”).
An episode of Bonkers includes a clever title parodying Disney’s famous rival – Luna-Toons (9/24/93). Aside from its title, it’s comparatively routine fare about an unassuming green alien sent to Earth to conquer the planet – but no one will take him seriously, as they all think he’s a toon instead of an alien. Even Bonkers doesn’t get it at first, and talks shop talk with the creature trying to improve his gag sense and comic timing. Bonkers of course ultimately helps convince his alien commanders not to blow up the planet, and the little alien is left on Earth, as it is believed he’ll make a better toon than an alien.
I.O.U. a U.F.O. (9/5/96), from Donald Duck’s Quack Pack, stretches plausibility a might, as an old-timey western galoot invades the warehouses of a desert government installation – then becomes the proprietor of a boomtown where U.F.O. sightings are regularly reported. News reporter Daisy Duck, with her crew of Donald and the nephews, witness an elaborate close encounter with an alien ship and a whizzing trio of mini-saucers inside. But closer investigation by Dewey reveals the aliens to be transparent – and in fact produced by an experimental holographic projector the old-timer stole from the government warehouse. Of course, the nephews expose the scam, and Daisy as usual gets a newsworthy story.
Warner Brothers TV also gets into the act. Two made-for television Bugs Bunny appearances prove interesting. In Spaced-Out Bunny (5/21/80 – Chuck Jones/Phil Monroe, dir.), part of the Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over special, Bugs cavorts in carefree fashion with nature – though nature isn’t too friendly in return. A flower wilts at his greeting. A boulder rolls away as Bugs comments, “I guess that’s rock and roll.” And a dogwood tree barks at him. “Fortunately, its bark is worse than its bite”, quips Bugs. Suddenly, a carrot appears at eye level, suspended by a string. Now there’s something to get friendly with! Unfortunately, it’s a tranquilizing carrot, on the end of a fishing line from Marvin the Martian’s space ship.
Transported to Mars, Bugs awakes from his sleep, and spotting a blue and green sphere in the sky says, “Hello, Earth” – then has a reality check. “Hello, EARTH?? Then where the heck am I??” Marvin fills him in that he’s been brought to Mars as a companion for another Earth creature he’s captured – and introduces him to “Hugo” – a return of the Himalayan Yeti from The Abominable Snow Rabbit. “Not again!” says Bugs, as some old wheezes from the predecessor cartoon are reprised. Eventually, Bugs of course talks the Yeti into adopting Marvin instead of himself, and borrowing the closing gag from Beanstalk Bunny, Marvin is pressed into service inside the Yeti’s new “Mickey Martian” watch. Bugs asks the Yeti if he can hit that little ol’ planet over there with a Frisbee – and the Yeti obliges by tossing Bugs in Marvin’s saucer back in the direction of Earth. Bugs closes by telling the audience if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s don’t get too friendly with strange carrots – then he brightens, and says, “Hey, I’m a flying object lesson!”
In Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers (8/25/92 – Greg Ford, Terry Lennon, dir.), Bugs faces a typical day in his studio career, pestered by the bullets of Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, and the war of words over what season it is with Daffy Duck. However, something new has been added – the appearance of strange oversized carrots with long blue-green stems at every location – fallen from space. As Bugs leaves the scene of each event, the carrots take on a glow, and work their power on the arch-enemy Bugs has left behind. Next day is decidedly different in Bugs’ life. Elmer Fudd looks like a cardboard cutout with a ventriloquist-dummy’s jaw. Bugs notices something different about him – especially that he appears (gasp!) BADLY DRAWN! On top of that, the “new” Elmer won’t even fire a rifle – and only wants to make friends, and talk Bugs into taking one of those strange looking carrots home. The same story with a flat-looking doppleganger of Yosemite, who’s so anxious to make friends and talk Bugs into taking a carrot that he willingly falls off a cliff without being hoaxed into it. Daffy is drawn even worse, with segmented features that don’t quite join up, body parts that deliberately disappear for a few frames, then reappear like an unchecked animation error, and features that change inconsistently in every scene, such as one mode with a wind-up key in his back, and another with his bill converted into the “Synchro-Vox” superimposed human lips of a Clutch Cargo cartoon! Bugs finally relents to get these aggravating pests off his back, and brings a carrot home.
While he lays in bed sleepless, puzzling over the “unreasonable facsimiles” he encountered during the day, the carrot by his bedside splits open, revealing a bubbling steaming primordial ooze inside, from which emerge thick-outlined blue-gray arms and legs. A tap on his shoulder – and Bugs meets another badly drawn duplicate of himself, wielding an axe. A stoke of the axe chops his bed in two, and Bugs runs out of his rabbit hole and over the hills. An iris out, and a “That’s All Folks” sign fades in. Like Screwy Squirrel, Bugs walks out in front of it, stopping the proceedings. “Ya didn’t think I’d let it end that way!”. he complains, and pulls aside the backdrop like a curtain to get to the bottom of the duplicates. Returning to each of his adversaries, he spots small labels on each reading “Made on the planet Nudnik”. He decides that if he rids the world of the duplicates, maybe the originals will return. Capturing each of the duplicates in a bag marked “Pale stereotypes”, he ties the bag to a skyrocket and lights the fuse. The rocket carries the bag beyond the milky way, and past a sign warning they are approaching a black hole. The rocket disappears into such cavernous hole – which morphs into giant human-style lips in mid-air (closely resembling those used in Bob Clampett’s Tin Pan Alley Cats), which burp, and say, “Pardon Me”. Next day, everybody’s back, and taking it on the chin again from Bugs’ typical antics.
Bugs’ notes how much he missed everyone trying to kill him, and observes,”It’s a Wonderful Life!” For a final closing gag, the classic Looney Tunes drum of the 1940’s appears, with a terribly drawn duplicate Porky bursting out of the drum, only to have Bugs appear onstage, cast him aside, and replace him with the real Porky for the “Th-th-th-That’s All. Folks!”
Steven Spielberg’s Animaniacs offered a double-bill half hour of invasion hijinks on 10/1/93. Space Probed was a double-length Animaniacs segment, with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot targeted for alien study. The aliens talk in the garbled gibberish of Frank Welker, so the film is interspersed with subtitles. “Oh boy, a foreign film!” comments Yakko, and he and Wakko answer the alien in mock-Japanese, subcaptioned as “Greetings, Yoda. We are the Warner Brothers.” Another subtitle gag has one alien display the Warners to an auditorium of others, with caption reading, “These are typical Earth creatures.” The Warners move a few of the words around and add punctuation to the subtitle, changing it to, “Are these typical Earth creatures?”
A chase through a laboratory passes a domed case, providing a cameo for Pinky and the Brain inside, with Pinky holding up the sign, “Send Help”. Wakko is tested on a conveyor belt device, but switches places with the alien, then shifts the belt motor to full speed. A Hanna-Barbera tribute results, with the alien trapped on the device, yelling in subtitle, “Jane! Stop This Crazy thing! (Even an alien version of Jane Jetson appears to do just that.) More nuttiness abounds, and the siblings are eventually returned to their home planet.
In the second episode, Battle For the Planet, another direct tribute is made to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast, with Pinky and the Brain adapting the same technique to a television broadcast via sattelite hookup. With several adaptations of dialog and settings similar to the original broadcast, the mice attempt to create with miniatures and makeshift props a devastating attack on Earth (with Brain as reporter and Pinky as the space monster in a getup adapted from a rubber glove). Brain assumes the populace has fled into the streets, leaving the centers of government and the White House unguarded and open for the taking. But before they get 50 feet from Acme Labs, a truck delivering newspapers drops upon them an extra edition announcing their show to be the nation’s surprise comedy smash, leaving them the laughing stock instead of rulers of the world. Back to the lab again for tomorrow night’s plan.
Here’s a clip:
The DC Comics universe had two alien comic troublemakers that periodically invaded the worlds of Superman (Mr. Mxyzptlk) and Batman (Batmite). Mxyzptlk was a pure troublemaker just for the fun of ir. Batmite was a fanboy gone to the extreme, for whom any effort to help naturally turns into a hinderance. They both appeared in the Filmation adaptations in the 60’s, but proved better fun in the WB and Cartoon Network adaptations. Mxyzptlk appeared at least twice in Superman, the Animated Series, most notably in Mxyzpixilated, where Superman finds repeated and clever ways to use the little pest’s name to send him back where he came from. Batmite appears in four episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, most notable in Legends of the Dark Mite, featuring multi-shot homages to Daffy Duck’s The Great Piggy Bank Robbery and even Batmite in a Looney Tunes drum, and Batmite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases, featuring a reworking of Batman’s appearance on “The New Scooby Doo Movies” with Scooby and Shaggy allowed to throw punches at the villains!
From Savage Studios/Nelvana in Canada, Eek vs. the Flying Saucers (10/3/92), from “Eek the Cat”, is rather cornball by comparison to most of the product reviewed above. Eek’s peaceful day of humanitarian fishing (feeding the fish sandwiches while the worms feast on gourmet dirt) is interrupted by the arrival of what appears to be a peaceful alien claiming to be in search of information to complete a homework assignment for a class back in its home town. In reality, it is, in disguise, Zoltar, the Destroyer of Earth. Some of the most notable points of the episode are two gags stolen from other studios. Twice repeated is a gag from Disney’s Mars and Beyond – the opening of a trapdoor, followed by an array of creeping crawling things converging and dropping in after the victim, and a lift from Warner of Marvin the Martian’s reason for wanting to destroy the Earth – “It obstructs my view of Uranus”. Eek’s girlfriend Annabelle is abducted to serve as a battery for the aliens’ death ray, and Eek has to stow away with space chimps in a launch from Cape Carbuncle to attempt a rescue. After blowing up the alien planet, Eek is forced to emergency measures on the return trip to Earth when the space chimps’ heads shrink from the g-forces of reentry. Eek uses the ship’s supply of chewing gum to fashion a lasso to hook the crescent moon. In bungee-cord fashion, the gum brings the rocket to a stop just inches before Earth impact, then yanks the body back into space, leaving the nose cone safely on Earth. Eek, however, was riding on the wrong half – and from the moon, tries to assure himself – unconvincingly – that someone will come up someday to rescue him – somehow.
The “U.S. Acres” segment of Garfield and Friends gave us Unidentified Flying Orson, providing standard-level filler between Garfield cartoons, as Orson the Pig has his nose buried in a book once again, this time about invasion of space aliens. His imagination as usual starts running away wwith him at the thought of aliens who disguise themselves as cheese Danish. Practical joker Roy the Rooster has a spare box of such confections saved for just such an emergency, and scatters them around the barnyard, causing Orson, and his scaredy-cat pal Wade the duck, to assume the worst and run in panic. Roy then sets up a booby-trap, disguising the farm’s grain silo to look like a Mars rocket, and trying to talk Orson into saving earth by taking over the alien ship (intending to bury Orson in grain when he opens the door). Lanolin the sheep, who has been watching from a distance, figures out the plot, and fast-talks Roy by claiming he’s not heroic enough to save Earth himself. Roy’s ego takes the bait, and he volunteers to show everyone how heroic he is by opening the door himself – then realizes just as the grain is about to burst forth, “What am I doing?” Deluged Roy is left with the task of shoveling all the grain back in the silo, which he figures will take until Christmas. “Of what year?”, asks a chick. Meanwhile, on another side of the barnyard, a real alien, dressed as a cheese Danish, has observed everything, and abandons his mission, reporting back to his planet that there is no intelligent life on Earth.
Besides Astronut, discussed above, other whole series would get devoted to alien visitors.
An early Halas and Bachelor import from Britain was Dodo, the Kid From Outer Space, a boy with various alien powers (including propellers on his heels to fly) and a robotic duck sidekick named Compy, voiced a bit like the dour Ned Sparks but handy to have around when you needed mathematical computations or thought-images projected onto a screen. It’s unknown how much of this early material survives, as only a handful of episodes have surfaced to date, most of which are only in black and white, though at least a few survivors prove the show was produced in color. It was one of those “drop-in” type cartoons intended to be inserted into any general animation program or with a live host.
My Favorite Martians (Filmation, 1973) spun directly off the live-action series of similar name, adding Uncle Martin’s nephew Andromeda. (I never watched it – generally, all a show of the period had to say was “Filmation”, and I would turn the channel.) “Space Goofs” (Gaumont Multimedia/Xilam, France, 1997), ran briefly here on the Fox network, and was your basic Aliens trying to live in an attic setting, followed by such live-action vehicles as “Alf” (which also had animated counterparts, though they only dealt with his life on Planet Melmac rather than visitation to Earth), and “Third Rock From the Sun”, and further spawned the regular character of Roger on Fox’s American Dad. Alf itself would have another animated offspring of sorts in Paul Fusco’s “Spacecats” for one season on NBC – a heroic trio of alien cats from Triglyceride – 7 operating from an underground base so secret that even the Spacecats have no idea where they are. They fight for truth, justice, and to find cat food without a fishy aftertaste. Lots of bad verbal pins and non-sequitur humor abound in these episodes, which, if not classic, at least tried hard. Matt Groening’s Futurama would provide a healthy share of alien creatures, including at least one feature length special about an all-out invasion, “The Beast With a Billion Backs” . The WB network would give us an attempt at an animated version of “Men In Black”. Nickelodeon would present the short- lived “Invader Zim”. And Disney’s writers would get the most thankless job of all – writing a weekly series to promote Disney’s real-life acquisition of a hockey team, “The Mighty Ducks”, casting the players as a race of alien space ducks solving crimes by day, playing hockey at night. Brother!
Several feature films have also centered around themes of Alien invasion. Perhaps the most popular was Disney’s Lilo and Stitch (6/16/02), an offbeat comedy about “Experiment 626″, a genetically altered saw-toothed mutant creature bred to destroy (referred to by fellow aliens as an “abomination”) escaping captivity from galactic patrols and landing in Hawaii – to be tamed by the “Ohana” love of a misfit young girl and avid Elvis Presley fan, who mistakes him for a puppy and ultimately provides him with the help to elude his pursuers. The film proved to be a lucrative franchise maker – spawning three direct-to-video sequels and several spin-off TV shows internationally, plus attractions at various Disney theme parks.
Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 12/21/01) presented the CGI adventures of an inventive boy with a super-brain, his robotic dog-creation Goddard, his dopey best friends and a rival girl genius of equal caliber in the space-age town of Retroville, who team up to defeat an alien invasion which abducts all the parents of the town, leaving the kids in charge. The alien race (the Yolkians) produce several laughs with their civilization’s fixation on items resembling eggs and creatures resembling chickens – right down to a sequence set to the polka standard, “The Chicken Dance”. Another moneymaker, the film was nominated for an academy award, and gave life to a successful television series and a less-successful one-season spinoff, “Planet Sheen”.
Space Jam (Warner Bros., 7/15/96) would provide Warner Brothers with a one-time flame of glory but no legacy of sequels. A bit of a stretch, the film itself spins off of a famous Nike commercial featuring a pair-up of basketball star Michael Jordan (Air Jordan) with Bugs Bunny (Hare Jordan), giving the unlikely duo a chance to pair up again in feature length, in a sort of “Roger Rabbit Meets Basketball” plot mixing live action and animation, as all your favorite Looney Tunes stars join Jordan as representatives of Planet Earth in a grudge basketball match with the “Monstars” – creatures from outer space bent on abducting the Toons – and Jordan – for an intergalactic amusement park. Amazing the lengths to which a little celebrity fame power will force writers to stoop. Personally, I feel that everything this movie lacked was eventually made up for in the later animation/live action pair-up, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”, which didn’t do great box office, but in quality was downright hilarious.
Monsters vs. Aliens (Dreamworks, 3/27/09), delivers just what the title ordered. An unlikely super-squad is assembled of a towering shapely blonde transformed into a giant (a play on “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”), a mad doctor with the mutated head of a cockroach, an aquatic gill-man appearing to be descended from “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”, and a blue transparent “Blob” (shades of Steve McQueen) warding of an alien invasion as the military’s crack secret weapon. Surprisingly, I was more taken with the holiday special and TV series spun off from this “epic” than by the feature itself – I think it took the writers a little time to build and capitalize upon the personalities within the characters.
Home (Dreamworks, 3/27/15), was decidedly less successful, and in my estimation ranks quite low on the list of the studio’s output. A purple alien with a weakness for rock and roll music is part of an invasion plan of his race (the Boov) that relocates Earth’s population into confined equivalents of concentration camps while the aliens inhabit all the good parts of the planet for their own new home. Eventually, of course, he befriends an Earth girl, wards off a further invasion by a presumed monster pursuing the Boov, and sets things right for Earth man and Boov alike. There was of course the obligatory Netflix miniseries produced in the film’s wake – but none of the fame and fortune associated with Stitch or Neutron would shower upon this convoluted effort.
More spaced-out features included Planet 51 (Tristar/Ilion Pictures, 11/20/09), which turned the genre on its ear by having an Earth astronaut become the accidental invader of an alien planet whose lifestyle seems rooted in the modes of typical suburbia of the Earth 1950’s – complete with paranoia in the movies about outer-space invaders! While not an artistic masterpiece, it generated a reasonable amount of laughs and satire. Far less successful was Escape From Planet Earth (The Weinstein Company/Blue Yonder Films. 2/15/13) – another visit of aliens to our planet, with very few laughs (my only favorable recollection is of a vainglorious alien mistaking an “airdancer” outside a 7-Eleven for a distressed Earth creature). Other than that, I’ve done my best to blot it out.
Enigmatic for possible inclusion is Warner’s The Iron Giant (7/31/99 – Brad Bird, dir.), as the source of the titular giant robot is never truly determined. Was he from space? From a foreign nation? (The cold war setting of the picture might suggest Russia.) From the future? We may never know, so don’t know if this classifies as an invasion. Whatever the case, a superior movie – which is more properly deserving of its own article to summarize rather than suitable for comprehensive description here.
Who next will invade our galaxy? Only an animators’ hyperactive creativity can say. So when your cell phone interrupts normal texting with a news bulletin about invaders from the Crab nebula, don’t be so sure it’s a play!