Monday, December 23, 2013

George and Junior's Christmas Spectacular

Written and Directed by: Patrick A. Ventura
Based on Characters Created by: Tex Avery
Layout Artists: Mark Kausler, Andrew Bialk, Miles Thompson
Background Stylists: Kathryn Yelsa, Jonathon Goley
Music by: Peter Lurye
Voices: John Rubinow, Tony Pope, T.K. Carter
Produced in Association with: Fil-Cartoons, Inc., Philippines

Interesting how the first characters to get a second entry at WAC are among the ones that weren't created for WAC. Here we have George and Junior's second and final outing, in a cartoon that doesn't break from the norm you'd expect from a Pat Ventura cartoon. It has a simple setup, then the whole thing rides on gags. This is also the only short in the entirety of the series that is Christmas themed, so we have a timed review to boot. Yeah, that's totally the reason why I spent so much time procrastinating with this blog. Sure.

George and Junior, now as mailmen or mail... bears, I guess, arrive at the North Pole with a letter for Santa. However, Santa has just left to deliver the yearly presents and since that letter Santa didn't get to read means some kid won't get what he wanted, Head Elf Steve appoints George and Junior to deliver the last present. All they need to do is sneak into the house and leave the present by the Christmas tree. Should be easy, if it wasn't for the fact there's a vicious dog guarding the house. After a bunch of numerous gags, most of them ending in pain for our heroes, it turns out the present was for Greta (the Dog) all along. Santa then shows up and thanks George and Junior for helping him and gives them a cute kitty as their present. Everything looks like a happy ending until the kitty turns out to be vicious as Greta.

There isn't really much to say about this short that I haven't addressed in previous Pat Ventura cartoons. The plot is set up, we get several minutes of gags, then the cartoon is over. This of course, is not necessarily a bad thing since this short does make great use of wild takes and slapstick all the way through. It starts off a bit slow, with the rather lengthy and talky sequence of Steve explaining George and Junior why they must deliver the present. A lot of it seems unnecessary and it could have been trimmed down a bit, and it doesn't help the expressions aren't particularly interesting during this point.

But it gets better as it goes along. Ventura really shows his skills at coming up with unique, over-the-top expressions and wild takes, as well as great gags to go along (He even takes a couple of traditional Tex Avery jokes and adds his own style to them). Once the action starts, the cartoon doesn't stop until it's over, giving us a very frantic short with lots of laughs to be had and interesting stuff to look at. Perhaps the one thing I don't like about this short are a couple of gags that revolve too much on toilet humor (some of which isn't really necessary in context) which could be a bit gross for some people, but outside of that, this cartoon works for the most part.

Kudos to Peter Lurye for making great use of classic Christmas tunes as part of the score of this short. In particular, the use of "Jingle Bells" as George and Junior ride the sleigh is fantastic, leading to probably the best gag in the cartoon. I'll go in detail in the screenshot section, but there's some amazing timing right there. On the voice acting, John Rubinow and Tony Pope still do a good job as the title characters, with T.K. Carter doing a serviceable job as Steve and Santa.

In the end, George and Junior's Christmas Spectacular is not spectacular by any means, but it does a good job at making the viewer laugh, plain and simple. It's pretty standard as far as Pat Ventura cartoons go, but I definitely like this one better than "Out and About" at least, and probably on the same level as "Look Out Below". Unless you really despise toilet jokes, give this one a shot. Merry Christmas!

I do like the contrast here with George freezing while Junior doesn't seem to care.

Not sure if it was necessary to introduce this character like this. It's Santa's Toy Shop at the North Pole, so it's pretty obvious this guy is supposed to be an elf.

As I said, Steve's speech at the beginning goes a bit too long. These are the only expressions I find remotely interesting.

We do follow with some great mouth movements on George. Ventura never disappoints with this stuff.

Steve snaps his fingers (with an almost explosion-like sound) and these elves slide into the screen. I swear some of these guys look familiar, specially the one on the far left.

I remember this scene was used in the promos for this cartoon, so it always stuck with me as the most remembered shot in the whole cartoon. The screenshot is here to help me remember more, I guess.

I like the sleigh taking off like a car, but there's a huge animation cheat here with the reindeers being tied one-on-one first, but in pairs while they're flying. Also the blue-nose reindeer is missing in the flying shot. He will show up again in the next shot, even.

This does lead to my favorite moment in the short, however. George & Junior arrive at the house they're supposed to and land on the roof. "Jingle Bells" has been playing through the whole scene, and as we pan to the other side of the roof where the sleigh is about to fall off the edge. Here, the verse "Dashing through the snow..." plays very slowly and with a "wah wah" tone to it, right before the sleigh with G&J and the reindeers fall to the ground. The timing is just perfect.

Now that's a really long arm.

This is great. George is calmly waiting for Junior to drop until he realizes he's about to fall on him. His expression in the first image kinda looks like something from Ren & Stimpy.

Of course, we get a "bend over" joke. The bouncing effect here (complete with bouncing ball sound) is great.

This is what I mean by toilet humor that feels unnecessary. Did they really have to add that urine puddle?

Weird how Greta imagines the people who broke in as George and Junior as robbers, even though she hasn't seen their faces yet. The joke would have worked better if they would've used a cloaked figure or something.

Another great expression, this time using extremely angled figures.

Never noticed before the toy horse Greta rides becomes "alive" when she jumps on it. Heh.

Easy joke, but I do like the animation of George and Junior after the big bell falls on top of them.

Another joke I feel went a bit too far, although it's not too bad.

Nice walking loop with George and Junior tip-toeing around the house.

Another incredibly exaggerated expression. Good stuff.

Yet another variant of "Two guys run around a hall while a third guy keeps hitting the wrong guy as they pass." Also nice attention to detail with Junior hitting George six times and thus he gets six lumps on his head.

Second and final "Bend over" gag. They sure went all out with it.

Pretty much all that was left for an exaggerated expression. DAMN.

Another cheat here with Junior sawing a hole in the roof that becomes a lot smaller in the next shot. Great expressions on George, though.

Now THIS is how you do toilet humor right. Greta's present turns out to be a hydrant, so she takes it to the bathroom and locks herself in, but quickly reopens the door to pick up a book from the nearby shelf.

I'll admit, this is probably one of my favorite Santas.

Definitely not the gift they expected. Maybe next year, guys!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Fat Cats in: "Drip Dry Drips"

Directed by: Jon McClenahan
Story: Chris Brandt, Tony Cervone
Creative Director: Ron Fleischer
Key Animators: T.J. House, Jon McClenahan, David Pryor
Scene Layouts: David Pryor
Background Design: Dick Thorn
Music: Hennes & Harris Music
Voices: Hank Azaria, Ken Hudson Campbell, Doug James
Produced in Association with: Startoons, Chicago, Illinois.
(No creator credit, oddly enough)

We've had a streak of great cartoons for this second batch of shorts, which despite a rocky start with "Shake & Flick", I can still acknowledge that particular cartoon has some positives going for it, and after that, it's been all pretty much uphill. However, that streak hits a peak with this cartoon, the best short in the series so far, and one of the best in the entire WAC run. Definitely Top 5 material. It has absolutely everything you could ask for: A simple, yet well executed story, fun characters, great gags, hilarious voice acting, and most importantly, absolutely gorgeous art and animation. What more could you ask for?

Brothers Louie and Elmo decide to try their luck in the dry-cleaning business. Their first assignment is to have a suit dried and cleaned before 5PM... from the President of the United States himself. Everything seems to work just fine... until Elmo runs the suit through a shredder. With only five minutes on the clock they manage to create a new suit from scratch and deliver it to the President in time, who rewards the two main characters with a very generous stack of cash. Unfortunately, Louie's celebration doesn't last long, as Elmo getting stuck in the high pressure cleaner causes the entire building to explode, along with their money, forcing Louie and Elmo out of the dry-cleaning business.

Simply put, "Drip Dry Drips" is an amazing cartoon because once it sets itself up, it never stops until the very end, keeping the viewer glued to the screen at all times. I love how the short jumps right away from Louie and Elmo in their small apartment to them opening the dry cleaner. How did they manage to get that? Who cares? We have seven minutes of short to fill, so let's move right away to the action. This is followed by the setup with the U.S. President calling and immediately showing up asking in person to have his presidential suit ready by 5PM, which is great. What could be more important than this? The characters and the stage are all set, and given the importance of the situation at hand, we can take a guess where this is going.

We get a few filler scenes at this point, but they're hilarious. Easily the best scene in the cartoon is Louie asking if the suit is finished, then he pushes a button causing several pieces of clothing to slide in rails, but suddenly big pieces of meat slide by, making Louie do a double take. He runs to the back of the store and finds Elmo holding a meat hammer and standing next to a cow. Elmo does an awkward laugh and asks "What was I supposed to be doing?" Brilliant.

The story reaches a climatic point when Elmo ruins the suit to shreds, and in an amazing montage, Louie and Elmo manage to produce a new, identical one, just in time for the President to receive it. Not only is this montage hilarious due to the scenes ranging from pretty obvious to incredibly silly (Elmo raising a bunch of silk worms), but it's also believable. At this point I really want the characters to succeed, so after watching all those scenes of Louie and Elmo cutting through fabric and sewing a pair of pants and managing to make a new suit from scratch, I totally bought it. This is also one of the few shorts in WAC with a climax that feels it has an actual sense of urgency. Sure, as I said, we want the characters to do things right, but during the montage, the ending could still go either way. First time I saw this short, I expected something more obvious like Louie & Elmo presenting a half-assed suit, or one that didn't look like the original at all, followed by suffering the wrath of the President. Instead, Elmo getting his butt stuck in the high pressure cleaner causing the whole place to blow up, right after Louie delivers the finished suit and gets the big cash reward, is a pretty good twist, and while it's kind of a downer ending, I guess it was done to set up a series. Too bad this short is all we got of these characters.

I've spent so much time talking about the story, it feels I haven't given enough credit to the rest, but doing that would really be selling this cartoon short. "Drip Dry Drips" comes from the incredibly talented hand of Jon McClenahan, whose solid direction and lively animation is all over the cartoon. His studio, Startoons, had just come from doing several episodes of Tiny Toons and Animaniacs, and if you're familiar with their work there, then you can surely expect amazing art here. This cartoon is filled with hilarious expressions and wild takes, and the great animation and timing make everything flow beautifully. There's tons of stuff to talk about here, but I'll leave it for the screenshots section, where it belongs.

One more thing that definitely deserves mention is the voice acting, which is absolutely top-notch for the main characters. Elmo is voiced by Hank Azaria, who you may surely know for his multiple roles on The Simpsons. I've always been rather surprised they got such a high-profile actor to do a role that's relatively small (Elmo is on every scene, but doesn't speak much compared to Louie), but even then, Azaria made it memorable, as every line he says is hilarious ("Uh... yay, liquidy!"). Louie, on the other hand, talks all over the place, voiced brilliantly by Ken Campbell in one of his earliest roles. He absolutely nails the character, giving him a very fitting businessman voice. It's sort of serious, yet not serious enough for the funny scenes to work... if that makes any sense.

"Drip Dry Drips" is easily the best WAC short we've had so far, making it a great blend of good characters, plot, gags, art and animation. You can clearly tell all the effort and skill that went into crafting this cartoon, and the talented hand of Jon McClenahan makes sure everything goes well together. An absolute classic, and I say it's a staple of what Startoons was capable of. The studio may no longer exist (Brandt and Cervone worked on various projects for Carton Network and Warner Bros., and McClenahan works on freelance now, I believe), but their work will definitely be remembered, and this cartoon is no exception.

Nice fake out joke at the beginning with Louie believing Elmo is cooking something delicious but is revealed to be a burnt shirt he was ironing. Although you have to wonder how do you mistake one for the other. I've smell burnt clothes, it's not a pleasant fragrance.

Stuff like this is what Startoons was king at. Amazing expressions done in succession to express several mood changes, yet still all wonderfully done and fun to look at. We're not even a minute into the short and we get those three above in a matter of seconds.

Not easy to visualize in stills, but I love the running animation of Louie and Elmo going into their new dry cleaning laundry. It's simple, yet very effective and funny.

I love the contrast here, with Elmo's happy, innocent smile and Louie's big business-like grin. Both are great.

More great expressions as Louie realizes it's not the regular phone that is ringing.

The timing here is amazing. Louie answers the red phone and immediately pulls out a cue card to make sure he can read the whole intro to the very important person on the other side of the line. Nice detail with him throwing away the card when he's almost done talking, indicating that he memorized the last few lines of the speech. Also great is Louie hanging up the phone and immediately fainting, without his expression changing. Hilarious.

The scene ends with Louie asking Elmo if he knows who the caller was. The "brbrbr" sound he makes between lines is great, but even more hilarious is Elmo not putting two and two together, instead repeating the line from the previous scene. "Eh... liquid?"

Nothing too special, but I like how Elmo, still oblivious at what's happening, asks the "Who wants to know?" to the President after he himself asks if this is Louie and Elmo's Dry Cleaning. It's kinda silly but I like it.

The President is mostly based on Bill Clinton, who was the U.S. President at the time, but his face is never shown and he's made generic enough not to date the cartoon. Also, love this part here with Louie measuring the President and Elmo monotonously taking notes in the background.

Okay, to this day I wonder how this got past the censors. While measuring the President's suit, Louie measures the inseam, he lifts his arm and... we hear a gong sound effect and Louie quickly apologizes, followed by the President replying a very high-pitched "No problem". There's no innuendo here, Louie literally punched the President in the balls. I'm truly resisting making a pun here, but what the hell, I'll do it. It takes some serious balls to make a joke like this. HAHA! HAHAHA! Haha... Ha... ... I'll show myself out.

Great reveal with Elmo's notes being an extremely kiddie drawing of him and Louie, but Elmo's amazing laugh is what really sells it. Azaria doing an awesome job as usual.

Now this is a great facepalm.

I mentioned this scene in the review, but here it goes again. Just look, it's hilarious.

Love the sound effects as the clothes in the rails pass by.

The change in expression here is simply brilliant. I love it.

And look at THIS. I'm pretty sure this is something Jon McClenahan himself drew. It's amazing.

And here's how the scene ends. It's just so random and dumb, but I can't help but laugh at it.

Love how after Elmo places the suit in the shredder it slooooowly rips to shreds as Louie slooooowly realizes what's going on. We can also see the Animaniacs influence here, as Louie looks like Slappy Squirrel in the second shot, or is it just me?

Also great are Louie's mouth movements as he screams to Elmo "You shred the president's suit!" The timing with the animation and the voice acting is perfect.

Hilarious too is Louie's grim visualization of what will happen to them when the President finds out his suit is ruined. Being thrown into a vortex and into hades? That's pretty serious stuff.

This is really... something. Elmo tells Louie there's still time to make a new suit, they just have to work together. Louie's expression... I'm not sure if it reflects the agony of having to actually work or him slowly realizing that there's a solution... but either way, it works.

These are some of my favorite scenes during the montage, and I love how all of them connect to the theme of making a suit, except maybe the beach one, but it's so silly I can't leave it out.

The back-and-forth between Louie with the President and Elmo stuck in the high pressure cleaner is pretty good, and you know at this point it will end badly. At least the President got out safely.

Probably one of the best "I'm rich" expressions ever.

"We're rich!" *BOOM!*

"We're poor..." The timing is what makes this work. Kind of a downer ending, as I said in the review, but in the end I'll definitely remember this one for what it was instead for what it could have been. Startoons, you did an amazing job.