Animation Trails
November 2, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Where There’s Smoke (Part 16)

The 70’s and 80’s loom ahead, providing a few more sporadic sparks for our subject topic of hot fire cartoons. A pair of notable new players to the daily television arena – Disney and Warner Brothers – make their contributions to the subject, while Hanna-Barbera continues to hang on. To round things out, these established three are also joined by the raucous raunchiness of newcomer John Kricfalusi, providing something for all tastes – and even for the tasteless.

Popeye’s Engine Company (Hanna-Barbera, The All New Popeye Hour, 11/11/78) – Yet another chance for the sailor to wear fire hat and slicker, though some of the spark has gone out on his storyline. As in his last episode, there is no real fire – only Olive’s bad cooking from the window of her new penthouse apartment, and a barbecue grill. She calls up Popeye at the station house, inviting him over for dinner, but just as Popeye is about to accept, he spots the trail of smoke from her apartment miles away, and says he can’t talk now, as he has to go to the fire. Olive is upset that Popeye didn’t even take down her new address. Meanwhile, the rival fire station of Bluto is in a vicinity closer to the location, and Bluto is awakened when the trail of smoke from Olive’s barbecue infiltrates the station house and physically pulls the clapper of the alarm bell. Bluto hurries to his engine, figuring this blaze will win him honors as fireman of the week. Popeye and Bluto’s engines wind criss-crossing paths through the city streets, finally arriving at the same destination. Bluto runs to and grabs hold of the fire hydrant, covering it with his person. “Get lost, Popeye. This is my fire.” Popeye responds by yanking the hydrant out from under Bluto, shooting him into the air on a fountain of water. “I can’t play hydrant-go-seek all day”, shouts Popeye. The sailor replants the hydrant in the ground, attaching his hose to it. The hose nozzle, still hooked on the rear of Popeye’s engine, fires a shot of water across the path of the falling Bluto, blasting him through the seat of his engine, stuck in a hole waist deep. Popeye takes “steps” to fight the fire – climbing stairway after stairway with his hose. On the ground below, Bluto resolves to slow down the “quick starter”, by looping Popeye’s hose around the crankshaft of his fire engine, and setting the motor running. The crank spins to wind in Popeye’s hose, yanking him down all the stairs he has climbed. Bluto leaves Popeye wrapped like a mummy in the hose, while he himself rises high on an extension ladder, Popeye manages to squeeze his pipe between loops of the hose, hooking the corn cob end onto the switch to turn the nozzle on. A tug, and the force of the rushing water partially unwinds the hose, setting Popeye free. He lands at the base of Bluto’s ladder.

“I think Bluto owes me a retraction”, says the sailor, activating the controls to lower the ladder out from under Bluto. Popeye waits with a net below the falling fireman, and bounces Bluto off it, onto a high-rise under construction on the next block, several stories above the ground. As Popeye activates a ladder on his own engine, Bluto retaliates by swinging an I-beam girder from the construction site across the block on a rope, knocking out a portion of Popeye’s ladder. “I better gets on the beam”, states the sailor, jumping upon the girder on its backswing, and approaching Bluto’s position. Bluto hits Popeye in the eyes with a face full of foam from a fire extinguisher, stating that this should “extinguish” Popeye’s chances for fireman of the week. Popeye slips and slides on the girder from the foamy residue, but manages to obtain a footing, landing on another floor of the construction site. Wiping the foam from his eyes, Popeye decides he needs a little help. Stretching and reshaping the barrel of his pipe, Popeye blows through it to play musical notes, “snake charming” his hose to join him on the construction site floor. He then takes aim with a shot that puts out the fire in Olive’s barbecue on the rooftop above. Olive complains about the fire going out, remembering that Popeye likes his steaks well-done, and takes them inside to finish cooking. Bluto also tries aiming a hose at Olive’s window, just as Olive complains about the racket outside, and closes it. The water bounces off the closed windowpane, hitting Bluto squarely in the belly, and knocking him off the girder on which he stands. His hose snaps, and Bluto free-falls, hitting a stretch of Popeye’s hose on the way down, to flip the sailor into the air. Popeye reaches for his spinach can under his hat, and acquires the power to fly, hang-gliding his way down by extending the leather of his fireman’s slicker like wings. Popeye swoops under Bluto, catching him, and deposits the fireman upon the swinging pendulum of a large tower clock. (How many such clocks have pendulums?). Popeye lands safely on the ground, charging up the stairs again with his extinguisher, only to find Olive setting the table for dinner, and thankful that Popeye came right from work. “Did you have any trouble finding the place?” “No”, replies Popeye, “I just followed the smoke…I mean, the smell of your home cookin’.”

Pokey the Bear (Hanna-Barbera, The New Yogi Bear Show, 9/28/88) – Pokey, the fire prevention bear, is scheduled for a personal appearance before the kids if the tourists at Jellystone – but Ranger Smith receives a last-minute call from Pokey’s agent, telling him that Pokey can’t make the date, as he is laid up in traction in a hospital bed. “If I told him once, I told him a thousand times. Use a ladder when you climb down a building.” Among the hero-worshipping youths anticipating Pokey’s arrival is Boo Boo. Yogi is miffed to hear Boo Boo refer to Pokey as his hero. “And what am I? Chopped liver?” In his irritation, Yogi falls out of a hammock he is resting in, prompting Boo Boo to refer to him as his “fallen hero.” The ranger meanwhile is mulling over how he can break the news to the kids without breaking their hearts, and spies Yogi. With the right suit and a pair of dark sunglasses, Yogi could easily pass for the real thing. Smith informs Yogi of the dilemma, but Yogi wants no part of it, classifying Pokey as a stuck-up celebrity. Smith puts the proposition another way: “Watch my lips. How would you like to live in a zoo?” The volunteer is promptly obtained.

Studying up on fire-fighting rules in a crash course from a book, Yogi debuts as Pokey. His first demonstration on putting out a campfire hirs a snag when his can of extinguisher gets clogged, then clears up to spray the Ranger white with foam. A demonstration on safe barbecuing results in a roasted chicken flipping into the air off the spit, ricocheting off a tennis court net, and returning to land right in Yogi’s mouth, leaving the rest of the guests without any lunch. Meanwhile, two young delinquents lag behind the crowd, and decide to take advantage of the Ranger’s absence from his cabin to loot the place of its shortwave radio equipment. Yogi provides autographs between demonstrations, but almost has his cover blown when he enters Boo Boo’s name on his autograph book – even though Boo Boo never told him who he was. Yofi tries an excuse, telling Boo Boo not to have suspicion – it’s just Pokey’s intuition. Boo Boo peeks under the sunglasses, but agrees to go along with the gag as Yogi whispers to him the situation. For the final demonstration, Yogi attempts to show how to put out a trash fire with a fire hose – and gets the usual bubble by standing on the hose with one foot. The exploding hose shoots its jet of water into the ranger station door, flushing out the two junior hoodlums and their about-to-be-stolen loot through the window. Yogi is a hero, and gets to use his moment of glory for his own personal benefit – setting up a booth to sell life0sized Pokey dolls to the tourists, at a price of one picnic basket each.

When You’re Hot (Warner/Steven Spielberg, Tiny Toon Adventires, 9/17/91 – Rich Arons, dir.) – Pete Puma, fire chief of Acme Acres, hosts a field trip day at the local fire station for the students of Acme Looniversity. He engages in various demonstrations of what he refers to as fire “no-nos”, demonstrating (by doing precisely the wrong thing) the dire consequences that may result. His lesson on smoke inhalation is demonstrated by lighting a match to a gasoline-soaked rag on a desk. The students hit the dirt in search of any remaining oxygen, while Sneezer the mouse (counterpart to Chuck Jones’ Sniffles) has his allergies set off by the smoke, resulting in a super-powered sneeze that blasts the smoke out the building chimney, and Pete out the front door into a telephone pole. Pete’s next demonstration is of the dangers of firing off a rocket indoors. Igniting its fuse, Pete’s demonstration rocket crashes through the station house roof, soars to the other end of town, and lands in a fiery crash directly on the tower of Acme Looniversity. Pete runs in confusion, trying to find his fire truck (which is in plain sight). He jumps into the cab and takes off – dragging along Buster Bunny, Plucky Duck and Hamton Pig in the hose. Plucky is swept by the breeze rushing over the speeding engine into the tail-wheel seat, followed by a fireman’s slicker and hat, rendering him in uniform as a volunteer. His steering careens the rear of the vehicle across all lanes of the freeway – then a wild turn tosses Pete off the engine, landing him upon a junior-sized fire-engine coin-op ride at a local supermarket, out cold. The Tiny Toons gang arrives at the fire themselves, taking charge of the assault upon the flames. Buster forms a bucket brigade from his volunteers – not knowing that at the other end of the bucket line stands a little flame imp, who is loading the bucket supply with gasoline instead of water. An explosion nearly denudes Buster and Hamton, while the flame runs past them with a taunting laugh set to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” (borrowed from the Gremlin in Bugs Bunny’s wartime classic Falling Hare). Hamton chases the fame imp into the school, cornering it in a classroom. He expects an easy battle against a foe so small – but finds the room also occupied by the imp’s mother – towering humongously over Hamton. Hamton attempts to pacify Mom by offering her a snack of a piece of dry wood – rich in fiber, he adds, as he himself takes a painful bite of the tasty treat. Mom bats Hamton right through the classroom door, then mimics her son’s laugh.

Junior imp hops down the corridors, setting fire to benches along the way. He pauses at an open door to a costume department for theatre arts, revealing a woman’s dress on a mannequin stand. Getting an idea, he pushes the mannequin to the window, and shifts the dress around as he imitates a woman’s voice, calling for help out the window. Buster below is faked out that there’s a lady in distress, and climbs a fire ladder to the window. “My hero”, says the flame, burning up the dress to reveal himself, then sliding down the ladder, burning it out from under Buster to let him fall. Hamton rejoins the assault, chasing the imp into the school cafeteria. As he enters the dining room, he encounters the imp seated at a table, reading a menu. The imp refers to Hamton as “Garcon”, and places an order for wood chips with hot sauce, Hamton, totally distracted from his task, changes outfits to assume the appropriate garb of a restaurant waiter, and is about to enter the kitchen to fill the order, when he turns beet red in a slow burn at being played for a chump. Commenting on Hamton’s change of color, the imp responds “I don’t recall ordering roast pig. No tip tonight.” Hamton chops at the imp with an axe, but just splits him into two flames, each delivering the same taunting laugh. One flame races down the corridor, into a vault marked Tiny Toons film library. Hamton enters, but the flame delivers an ultimatum. “Stop! You come one step closer, and I’ll set your precious shows on fire – STARTING WITH THIS EPISODE.” The camera pulls back, revealing the screen image to be a frame upon a moving projected film. “You wouldn’t dare”, says Hamton, taking the step. The imp reaches a flaming hand out of the frame outline to the sprocket holes of the film, and burns the entire image right off the screen – leaving only a new picture of Hamton as a pork roast on a plate. “I feel so used”, moans Hamton.

Outside, Plucky approaches an emergency box on a pole, labeled “Open In Case of Fire”. He swings at it with an axe – but the axe head falls off. He rolls in a cannon to take a shot at the box, bit the cannonball bounces off the pole without damaging the box, taking out the cannon instead. Plucky drives in a crane with wrecking ball, only to have the ball bounce off the pole again, wrecking the crane in similar manner as the cannon. “Plucky, do something!”, shouts Buster. Plucky shouts back, “I’ve done everything but say, ‘Open sesame’!” Wouldn’t you know it – those are the magic words. Inside the box, who do they find but Sneezer – and a pepper shaker. A few shakes of the black stuff into Sneezer’s nostrils, and he’s loaded for action. A blasting sneeze – and the flame is gone (even though the school is reduced to matchsticks). “We did it”, yells Buster to his crew. We’ll never see that little flame again.” This is true, as the flame is next seen trying to hitch a ride along a local highway, holding up a sign announcing his destination as “Universal Studios”. (This is probably a dated reference to an attraction I believe was then on the studio tour, relating to the film “Backdraft”.) Someone stops to pick him up. It os, of all people, Elmyra Duff, who wants only to “hug him and squeeze him. The flame can’t take this, and explodes to disappear in a puff of smoke forever, leaving Elmyra bald and frazzled, saying, “Little flame go bye bye.”

Fire Dogs (Spumco, The Ren and Stimpy Show, 9/29/91 – John Kricfalusi, dir.) – The irascible Chihuahua and dimwitted cat are down on their luck again, their food supply dwindled to Stumpy’s last morsel of kitty litter. A want-ad on the local firehouse announces openings for fire dogs – limited to dalmatians. No problem for Ren, who produces a convenient can of Dalmatian Paint to produce instant spots for he and his pal. They knock on the chief’s door – and barely miss getting sliced open by the chief’s axe, the Chief having mistaken them for circus midgets. Ren announces that they are the answer to the Chief’s problems – fire dogs. Stimpy blurts out, “But Ren, I’m a cat.” “Don’t listen to him”, Ren confides to the Chief. “He’s a good man, but he’s not quite right in the head.” “I’ve known guys like that”, whispers back the gullible Chief, who hires them on the spot, but with the proviso that they’re gonna work. Taking a “says who” attitude, Ren uses his first afternoon of employment to lounge around doing nothing upon one of the comfortable bunks in the station, while Stimpy in contrast tries to keep active and alert, running in place, then down a flight of stairs to the ground level, where he defies gravity by sliding up the fire pole – repeating the process again and again. Just watching him is exhausting to Ren. Ren insists that Stimpy relax, claiming that the odds of there being a fire are a million to one. So much for statistics, as a clanging fire bell sends Ren into an instant fit of jitters, leaving him hiding under the bed. :”Oh, joy, a fire”, responds Stimpy, dragging Ren along, to hang on to the rear of the speeding fire truck, trailing behind it like a waving flag all the way. Arriving at the scene of a burning high rise, our duo are assigned to man the fire net for jumpers. Above them, a humongous fat lady calls out, “Save my baby!” The boys position the net, and call okay for the drop. As the toddler falls, the boys realize they’re in trouble, as they find themselves in the shade of an ever-growing shadow. The baby is nearly as big as his mom, easily 300 pounds, and squashes the boys pretty flat. They somehow haul him out of scene, and reposition themselves for more jumpers. “Save my horse”, shouts the fat lady. The horse lands squarely upon both out heroes with his rear hooves, then overacts a painful scene of dragging himself away.

“Save my walrus”, comes another shout. The boys are getting the idea of the routine, and try to run, but get flattened again anyway. “Save my elephant.” Ren tosses the net away and assumes a pose as if to say, why bother? – then gets flattened again, with both out heroes well tucked into folds of the elephant’s rear fat. “Save ME!” shouts the woman. With no net left, Stimpy responds to the call by jamming Ren onto the engine ladder, then cranking Ren up to the building with all his might. The acceleration reaches a level of G-forces sufficient to leave Ren’s cheeks trailing behind his jaws, and his eyeballs forced deep into their sockets. Suddenly, Stimpy puts on the brakes, stopping Ren cold just shy of the lady’s window. Ren breathes a sigh of relief, until he looks down – then faints on the spot after seeing how high he is. The fat lady changes roles from rescuee to rescuer, clutching the prone Ren in her teeth, and climbing onto the ladder. Her sheer weight forces the crank out of Stimpy’s hand, sending its rotation in reverse, with the handle clobbering Stimpy repeatedly in the face. The ladder descends with the speed of an incoming comet, nearly producing re-entry flames upon the lady’s ample butt. She lands with such force as to drive Stimpy and the fire truck into a crater in the ground, while she herself manages to hang on to the pavement above, clambering to safety. Ren is still unconscious, and she gives him artificial respiration. Ren awakens to find himself in a lip-lock with the mass of pink blubber – and faints dead away again from the shock. Stimpy meanwhile takes a new approach to the blaze, appearing in a helicopter overhead. His copter carries an unusual cargo – a king-size sack of kitty litter, as wide as the building itself. Stimpy pulls a lever, unzipping the bag below, to empty its contents upon the building. The fire-retardant properties of the litter smother the fire as it sifts its way down through the floors of the building, and the danger is quickly passed. “You boys are heroes – and I thought you were bums!”, shouts the Chief in joy. He presents the two with the station’s highest honor – special helmets, shaped like golden fire hydrants. “I’m so happy, I can hardly contain myself”, says Stimpy to Ren. “Neither can we”, shout voices close by them – a line of local dogs, waiting to use the hydrants, clutching themselves in a manner clearly indicating they need to go. Adding insult to injury, the last in the line is not a dog at all, but the fat lady, who seems to be more in need of letting loose than any of the canines. On this sobering note, we iris out.

Enjoy this clip:

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Goof (Disney, Goof Troop, 9/1/92) – The Spoonerville Fire Department is in the height of a fund-raising drive to amass funds for a new fire engine. Their old one is an antique pumper from the 1930’s, and a direct throwback to the animation styles of that period, complete with headlight eyes and bumper mouth, a living entity with its own personality. The chief and an assistant Dexter pay a call on Pete, the chief promising to put Pete’s name on a donor’s plaque in return for a contribution (though Dexter almost blurts out, “What donor’s plaque?”) It the midst of these doings, Pete’s new-fangled barbecue, loaded with three times the charcoal recommended by a gauge on the side, exploads in a blast resembling an atomic cloud. The force of the blast breaks Goofy’s grip in a tug of war pulling up weeds next door, and he flips into Pete’s yard, landing atop Pete’s satellite dish. Tbe dish breaks loose of its mounting, and Goof rolls with it over to the barbecue, where it lands upsde down upon the conflagration, smothering it. The chief praises Goof on his quick thinking, and suggests that Goof should be commended with the position of honorary fireman – for a small donation. Goof reaches into his wallet, and before you know it, is suited up at the station, assigned menial tasks of answering the phone while the chief continues his pledge drive, and of cleaning up the joint. The chief instructs Goof to rev up the engine siren in event of emergency, and he and Dexter will come a-runnin’. Goof brings along to the station his son Max and cat Waffles for company and backup, and familiarizes himself with the equipment of the old engine – that is, engages in a battle of wits to get the engine to let him look under its hood. Needless to say whose will prevails. Meanwhile, the chief and Dexter pay a call on an eccentric millionaire, Howling Huge, at his penthouse office atop a tower building sharing his name. The slightly batty Huge operates as a recluse in his penthouse, with only a goldfish for company as his best friend and CEO, occupying a large water tank that takes up about one quarter of the office space. Huge is in no mood for donations, seeing no need for a new fire engine, as the chief never even let him ride the old one. The chief and Dexter make a sudden exit as Huge opens a trap door out from under them, dropping them ten stories to the sidewalk below.

At the station house, a call comes in for assistance. Max notes the location on a map board, but doesn’t get the details of what the emergency is. Goof tries to crank up the old engine siren, but cranks Waffles’ tail instead, whose yowling fails to reach the ears of the chief. With no regular firemen available, Goof tells Max that its up to them, and assigns Max as rear wheel man, while Waffles tags along for the ride, as the engine careens out of the station. In a seemingly overlooked plot hole, a small stream of smoke is seen coming from the station door just after Goofy leaves, suggesting another fire has broken out without explanation, unnoticed by the Goof The engine ride takes the usual wild turns, with Max steering his end of the vehicle right over the streamlined body of an oncoming car. A new twist has the engine loop around a diner and come out by way of the drive-through window lane, allowing Max to grab a burger and a drink along the way. First stop turns out to be a kitten in distress up a tree. Goof receives the usual claw swipe from the cat, while Waffles takes a different approach, and strikes up a flirtation with the cute feline. But the romance is short-lived, as Goofy uses his axe to fell the tree – on top of someone’s house. Time for a quick exit to the next emergency call. An old-timer has his big toe stick in the bathtub faucet. When Goof is through, the whole house is flooded, and the man and tub have sailed outside onto the sidewalk, leaving the old man to hide his modesty. Back at the station, the chief and Dexter return to find the station house burned down, and begin to follow the sounds of the sirens to catch up with the Goof for reparations. Goof meanwhile has made an unscheduled stop, to rescue a man on the side of a tall building – who is actually a window cleaner just performing his duties on a scaffold. When Goofy and Max hold a net under him, and call out that they’re from the Fire Department, all the man above hears is “Fire”, and reflexively jumps in panic. The two Goofs fail to line up the net on target, and the man falls into an open manhole, down a few extra stories and into the sewer. But now, Goofy encounters a real emergency – the Huge tower is on fire, and Huge and his goldfish remain trapped in the penthouse. Goof applies the brakes so hard, his feet go through the floorboards, and the friction with the pavement below sets the toes of his shoes on fire. A couple of routines are nearly lifted from Donald Duck’s “Fire Chief”. There’s the traditional runaway hose – complete with Goofy using the horn bell of the siren to blow snake charmer music in attempt to tame it, and the knotted hose that causes a mega-water bubble and explosion. There’s also the rising extension ladder breaking loose and continuing its way into the sky. We get the old “I can see my house from here” line, plus a new wrinkle as Goofy ducks to avoid getting hit by a passing jumbo jet. Goof and Waffles come to a safe landing on the penthouse roof when Goofy’s fireman’s slicker billows out to serve as a parachute.

Goofy is met on the roof by a sextet of flame imps (another 1930’s throwback), who dance him backwards through an open skylight. Goof and Waffles land inside the tank for Huge’s goldfish. Huge also leaps in to save his precious pal, while Waffles follows the goldfish for different reasons – namely, to fill his tummy. Amidst all this, Max attempts to rescue his dad, by driving the engine up an endless string of staircases inside the building. They crash into the penthouse, emerging through the roof and into the air, carrying the goldfish tank with them. As all fall back into the building, the tank breaks open, and its substantial gallons of water perform a “Towering Inferno” homage, flowing down through each story of the tower to quench the blaze. Huge is furious as the fire chief finally catches up, at allowing the loss of his goldfish best friend – but Waffles belches, and the goldfish pops out, safe inside the water of a paper cup handed to Huge. The chief wants to pit responsibility upon Goofy for all the damage he’s caused, but Max plays a trump card on him, by reminding him that it was the chief’s shirking of his responsibilities at the station for his pledge drive that started the whole thing. Over a barrel, the chief endures Huge’s praise of Goofy as a hero, and derogation of the chief as the goat, and witnesses a change of circumstances as Huge finally opens his pocketbook to support the department, on a few conditions. Goofy and Max are his new crew, with himself as chief so he gets to ride the brand-new fire engine his money has bought. And as for the old chief and Dexter? They are left behind to clean up the station as Goofy had, and to baby-sit the old engine, who enjoys every minute of the attention he is getting with the cleansing dusters and mops.

Here it is, flipped:

Firehouse Mouse (Hanna-Barbera, Tom and Jerry Kids, 12/12/92) is for the most part a pointless chase that gets practically nowhere. Sparky, a dalmatian firedog, tries to snooze on a comfy cushion at the fire station, while Tom and Jerry chase throughout the station with no motivation provided nor explanation why they are there. Sparky attempts to complain that their chase is “afainst regulations”, but every time he tries to rise in pursuit, he aggravates a back condition, and collapses back onto the pillow again. He dreams of the days when he was top dog at the station, engaging in dramatic rescues of alluring French poodles from upper-story windows, but his dreams are interrupted by talk between the firemen of word that Sparky has reached that age where he’ll have to be retired. Sparky declares that no one is going to retire him, but remains ineffectual as ever in stopping Tom and Jerry’s pursuit. Jerry reprises the old “greased pole” bit from “That’s My Pup” to keep Tom from pursuing him up the fire pole, letting Tom slide down within reach of Sparky’s jaws. Sparky finally takes a chomp out of Tom’s tail, sending the cat howling. Sparky tosses Tom out of the station window, where Tom lands on the engine extension ladder outside. He is hoisted by the ladder to an upper story window, where he observes Jerry in the pantry of the fire station. The chase resumes again, with a bottle of cooking oil overturned, followed by a yank by Tom’s feet upon an electrical cord, setting a spark to the oil. A wall of fire ignites from the oil trail, trapping Tom and Jerry in a corner. On the floor below, Sparky smells smoke, and is finally roused to action. Donning a fire helmet, he dashes upstairs with an extinguisher, and sprays foam on the blaze until it is out. The other firemen arrive just in time to see Sparky putting out the last of the blaze, and declare that he won’t have to worry about retirement any more – once a fire dog, always a fire dog. Sparky rides the engine out on its next call, posing proudly for the public, while T&J wave a fond goodbye from the fire station window – then settle back into their old routine, soaking each other with squirts of extinguisher foam, for the iris out.

Here’s a clip:

The Flame, a one-shot from Animaniacs (Warner/Steven Spielberg 10/12/93), is a patriotic cartoon which we have once before visited along a previous trail, “A Revolutionary Article”. However, it does briefly include anthropomorphic flames out of control.

A strike of a match in the darkness produces a glowing spark at the end of an antique-style candle wick mounted in a standish. From the glow grows a personable little ball of fire with face, who can periodically use extensions of his flickering luminescence as hands, and talks in an engaging little-boy voice. He speaks as if communicating with the owner of the hand who brought him to life, though it actually becomes apparent (to only the audience) that the man is only talking to himself, and never hears a word the flame says. As the flame comes to life and yawns, he notes, “Is it hot in here? I definitely feel warm.” Turning around, he sees his reflection in a mirror. “Oh my gosh, there’s a fire!” Attempting to shout an alarm for somebody to put it out, he finally realizes, “I am a fire. Imagine my embarrassment. I wish someone would tell me these things. I’m always the last to know.” As his master picks up the candle-holder and walks through a dark corridor, the flame thinks he’s being provided a guided tour of the place. Arriving at a darkened staircase, the flame begs not to be taken upstairs, as he’s afraid of the dark. But, as his owner mounts the steps, he realizes things are getting lighter, and looking back, thinks he scared the darkness into hiding downstairs. The man enters an antique-style study, and the candle is placed on a writing desk. “Burning the midnight oil, huh?”, observes the flame. “No problem. I’ll keep you company.”

A cool breeze from an open window causes his light to wiggle and flicker. ”I was born to dance”, comments the flame, as his light makes the shadows behind male and female figurines on a high shelf appear to dance the minuet. The wind, however, increases. “Whoa, it’s a tornado. Batten down the hatches!”, he shouts, clutching desperately to stay attached to the candle. With effort, his master finally shuts the sticking window frame, but as he attempts to retrieve the papers he’s been writing, knocks the candle from the desk. “Mayday! We’re goin’ down”, shouts the flame. Landing sideways, a circle of sparks begin to ignite atop the papers on the floor and dance around. “Hey, you guys, are you crazy?”, remarks the flame. “Knock it off.” As the papers ignite, the man pours a pitcher of water upon them, quenching all but the candle. The flame claims he didn’t do it. It was his “evil cousins”, and advises to next time, “Be more careful. My relatives can’t be trusted.” Seemingly at the flame’s suggestion, his master gets “back to work. You keep on writing, and I’ll keep the darkness away.” Dawn finally breaks. The flame now rests atop a candle that has melted almost to its final stub. “Finished”, comments the human author, writing in the final words with a quill. Seeing what he wrote, the flame reads aloud the first sentence of the paper – the Declaration of Independence. It’s author, finally seen, signs his name in the corner. “Not bad, Jefferson”, congratulates the flame. Thomas takes the paper to the other patriots, and John Hancock signs and dates the instrument. “Good luck with that independence thing”, says the flame encouragingly, then yawns. “As for me, I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Maybe you should do the same. We could call it a national holiday.” He goes out and disappears. The scene dissolves to a subsequent year of celebration, with a traditional fourth of July fireworks display. On the end of another candle, the flame enters the scene for a moment, closing with the line, “I guess they took my advice.”

The Flame Returns, By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (11/1/95), from a subsequent season, is visually inspiring, but far less creative, as the flame provides the light for the writing of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s recounting of Paul Revere’s Ride. A few light laughs are included, first when the flame is lit by Longfellow, and complains when he smells something burning. He starts to panic again when he sees that “This candle is on fire!”, then gets a hold of himself as he again realizes that he is the fire. “Hey, I just woke up. I’m groggy.” The flame is later seen in various locations throughout the poem, upon other candlesticks, inside streetlights, and in the lanterns of the Old North Church, where he is joined by his “twin brother” in the second lantern for the “two if by sea” signal. The brother, mirroring the behavior of Dot Warner, informs the audience. “I’m the cute one”, while the flame responds, “Yeah, right.” Largely, however, the flame recites virtually the entire poem in non-humorous dramatic fashion, with periodic cameos among the visuals for most of the Animaniacs cast of characters, also in non-humorous form. The film is thus a harken-back to “Old Glory”, with rich background work, though its animation is less meticulous and costly than its theatrical predecessor – and in some respects, it gives one more the feeling of an episode of “The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo”. Appropriate viewing for July 4th, but not of the universal appeal of the flame’s first appearance.

We’ll try to put a lid on these fires, in a final installment next week.


  • How many tower clocks have pendulums? Well, apart from the modern ones that run on electricity, all of them. Big Ben, for example. The pendulum clock was invented in the 17th century by the great Renaissance man Christian Huygens, who tinkered around with timepieces when he wasn’t developing theoretical physics or discovering the rings of Saturn. It was a great improvement over the earlier water clocks because pendulums don’t freeze in cold weather, and you don’t have to carry buckets of them to the top of the tower every day.

    “Watch my lips. How would you like to live in a zoo?” Yo, Mister Ranger dude, what a like totally 1988 thing to say. That was the year of Vice President Bush’s “Read my lips, no new taxes” campaign speech, and everywhere you went people implored you to pay attention to their lips as a way of lending emphasis to any remark, however inane. I haven’t heard the expression in many years, and I don’t miss it at all.

    I don’t care for gross-out or toilet humour, but nevertheless there were a few episodes of Ren & Stimpy that made me laugh as hard as any cartoon ever has. “Fire Dogs” wasn’t one of them.

  • Despite the animation issues, “Fire Dogs” is one of the best Ren & Stimpy episodes, both from season 1 and the series in general. No psychodrama stuff, just a goofy storyline with some funny gags. That it was apparently written in an afternoon only makes it more impressive.

  • you’re not going to miss “D.W.’s Fire Drill” and “April 9th”, are you for the 90s and 2000s

    • You may have to fill me in on what series you are referring to with these episodes, as I’ve never heard of them. Perhaps you may wish to provide a descriptive.

      • D. W. is a character in the “Arthur” cartoons (Arthur’s little sister). Since this public-spirited and educational show has been on the air for a full quarter century, one would expect at least a couple of episodes devoted to fire safety.

        • If I recall correctly the “April 9th” episode also doubled as an allegory for 9/11 trauma.

  • I seemed to notice that there’s a rather important fire related film that hasn’t been covered yet. A humorus education film from the National Film Board of Canada directed by Zlatko Grgic called “Hot Stuff”. Released in 1971, it later aired in the U.S. that same year on Chuck Jones’ short-lived Saturday morning ABC series, “The Curiosity Shop”.

  • Gosh, those “flame” segments were SO boring. I love the USA but I want to LAUGH when I watch a cartoon.

    • Something like “Firehouse Dogs” is anything but ‘boring”.

  • The little blue guys from Belgium had a few episodes worth mentioning here.

    “Sir Hefty” (24/10/81): A fire-breathing dragon is terrorising the area around the Smurf village. When it starts a forest fire, the Smurfs organise a bucket brigade to douse the blaze; as soon as it’s out, the dragon sets fire to the village itself, and then Handy Smurf comes to the rescue with his fire engine. At a meeting called by Papa Smurf to find a solution, Hefty suggests hiring a knight to battle the dragon. A lazy, cowardly drifter overhears the meeting and passes himself off as a knight to take advantage of the Smurfs’ hospitality. When the dragon shows up, he flees in terror, and it’s up to Hefty to save the day.

    “Smurf Fire Brigade” (17/9/83): An origin story for the fire engine seen in the previous cartoon. After a magnifying glass carelessly left out in the sun starts a tabletop fire, Papa Smurf organises a contest to build the best fire extinguisher, with the winner to receive an extra helping of smurfberry pudding for a month. Handy wins handily with his state-of-the-art fire engine. Almost on cue, a kitchen fire spreads throughout the village, and the fire engine is put to the test. However, the wells have all gone dry, and there’s no water in the Smurf River, because the evil wizard Gargamel has dammed the river upstream hoping for the Smurfs to die of thirst. When he sees that his plan promises to bring about a faster and more spectacular demise for the Smurfs than he had anticipated, Gargamel dances with glee on top of the dam. This undermines its structure and causes it to burst, flooding the Smurf village and putting out the fire. Papa Smurf orders an extra helping of smurfberry pudding for everyone to celebrate — although by rights, that extra pudding should really go to Gargamel.

    “Fire-Fighting Smurfs” (22/11/86): Greedy, Smurfette and a group of young Smurflings are roasting marshmallows over a campfire in the woods. Before they leave, they pour a bucket of water over the campfire, and then Smurfette tells a young Smurf named Snappy to fetch another bucket of water from the creek to make sure the fire is completely out. This is more work than Snappy bargained for, so when he spills the bucket en route, he doesn’t bother getting another one. After he leaves, a strong wind stirs up the embers and causes a blazing forest fire to spread. Handy’s fire engine is no match for it, so the Smurfs build a fire wall between the forest and their village, but the wind blows the fire right over it. Finally Papa Smurfs rides a stork into the sky and seeds the clouds with some magical crystals. This creates a rainstorm that puts out the fire, but the forest is devastated, and many of the animals are badly injured

    Racked with remorse, Snappy throws himself tirelessly into the recovery effort, which greatly impresses the other Smurfs. Papa Smurf even rewards his hard work with a special cake and a Medal for Smurfiness, but that only makes Snappy feel guiltier. During a heart-to-heart talk with Papa Smurf, Snappy confesses to having been responsible for the forest fire, and Papa says Snappy will never be able to forgive himself until he admits his responsibility to the others. Meanwhile, Gargamel and his apprentice Scruple disguise themselves as injured bears in order to gain access to the Smurfs’ animal hospital; once inside, they gather up the Smurfs to impale them on skewers and eat them. (Funny, I thought Gargamel was only interested in transforming them alchemically into gold, but I missed a few episodes along the way.) Snappy comes to the rescue and frees the Smurfs; but when they start to treat him like a hero, he admits that the forest fire was his fault. Because of his bravery, honesty, and acts of atonement, all is forgiven.

  • Firefighting figures in Episode 1, “The Beginning” (6/10/85), of the truly outrageous animated toy commercial “Jem”.

    After the untimely death of her father, Jerrica Benton (alias Jem) becomes co-owner of Starlight Music with the nefarious Eric Raymond, manager of the Misfits. One of Starlight’s subsidiaries is Starlight House, a foster home for orphaned girls, located in an old building with faulty electrical wiring. Conflicts between Eric and Jerrica lead to them declaring a Battle of the Bands, the Misfits vs. Jem and the Holograms, with the winner to assume full ownership of Starlight. During a power failure at Starlight House, Jerrica and the band spend the night there to keep the girls company. Eric takes the opportunity to send his henchman Zipper over to break into the house and throw a scare into Jerrica. When she and the girls surprise Zipper in the dark, he pushes past them to make his getaway, knocking over a kerosene lamp and setting the house on fire. The fire department manages to save all the girls and put out the blaze, but Starlight House is completely destroyed.

    The story continues in Episode 2, but I’ll stop here as prolonged exposure to cheesy ’80s music and animation makes me feel, not truly outrageous, but truly outraged.

  • “Three Alarm Alvin” (Ruby-Spears/Bagdasarian Productions, Alivin and the Chipmunks, 28/9/85 — Charles A. Nichols, dir.) opens with Alvin, Simon and Theodore getting a lesson on fire safety from a friendly firefighter. When the alarm sounds, the whole company springs into action, and the boys are invited to ride along in the fire engine and witness the firefighters in action. Inspired by their heroism, Alvin and his brothers form their own volunteer fire department, though they’re disappointed when called upon for minor tasks like getting a cat out of a tree or getting Dave Seville’s finger out of a faucet. But when Theodore spots a real fire in their neighbourhood, they rush to the rescue — and then wind up needing to be rescued themselves.

  • “These Are the Days”, one of Hanna-Barbera’s very few forays into dramatic animated programming, dealt with the daily life of the Day family in small town America at the turn of the 20th century. It has not been shown anywhere in many years, was never released on home video, and is now one of the most obscure Saturday morning programs from the ’70s. In the second episode, “The Fire Brigade” (14/9/74), Grandpa is dismissed from the town’s volunteer fire department for being too old. I presume he proves his mettle in the end and is reinstated. A scene from this episode, showing the volunteers with their antique fire engine, was used in the series’ opening title.

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