Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Let's Talk Animation!

OK, so it'll be a bit one-sided, since it's my blog, after all, and you won't be able to participate in this "talk" unless you leave a comment. But anyway...

I've been a fan of animation and cartoons for as long as I can remember, and one of the frustrating aspects of this is the inability to always be able to watch the cartoons that I loved when I want to see them... which changed when home video tapes first hit the scene (and I used to have a pretty large collection of those, mostly animation, all of which were sold off, and damn few of which are available on DVD... yet), and is changing even more with DVDs.

As you know, I've been involved as a transcriber with Andy Mangels' special features for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe DVDs, as well as other stuff that has and hasn't yet been officially announced. I've found myself wishing that I could've been involved with the same facet of production of other animation DVDs, but apparently none of the producers of those DVDs have asked Andy (or any of the people at Twomorrows, from whom Andy got my contact info) who they could go to for this kind of work...

But that's not the point of this particular blog entry. Instead, I'm going to talk about revivals of characters.

Most cartoons that have been revived for all-new episodes haven't fared that well. Probably the only really good one that was done was Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse series for CBS, which was head and shoulders above the original, one-note toons.

There have been many more that were just plain awful... and it strikes me that when someone's revived a cartoon (yes, even Filmation was guilty of this), the people who worked on them probably didn't have the deep love of the character enough to keep the character (or characters) true to the original spirit... instead, they mucked with them, or at best, did pale imitations of them.

Speed Racer was revived once, did you know that? And they changed the look of the Mach V.

Now, the Mach V is, hands-down (at least in my opinion) one of the coolest cars ever imagined by the minds of men (the only car cooler than that was the 1960s TV Batmobile, and the Monkeemobile is at least in third place). Redesigning the Mach V so it looked like any other car was completely asinine. It's probably a good thing I never saw the revival, because it might've soured me to the original series (which, thank goodness, is on DVD, and yes, I have the first two volumes of it).

Even He-Man was revived, and shown on Cartoon Network a while back... and you know, it wasn't that bad when I saw it... although I hadn't watched the original series since it was originally on, so I just had 20-plus-year-old memories to go by. However, watching the "10 Best" DVD when I got my comp copy, I decided I preferred the original.

I didn't care for the revived Transformers, either... but then, I didn't really like the original series.

Probably even worse than that Speed Racer revival was the Hanna-Barbera Popeye series... which may eventually come out on DVD (all the other Popeyes are coming out, after all).


Now, the Fleischer Popeyes are probably among my top five cartoon series of all time. These cartoons pretty much cemented who and what Popeye was in the minds and hearts of mankind, even those who never saw those original cartoons, but may instead have seen the lesser Famous Studios cartoons, or even the King Features direct-to-TV cartoons (which were the first ones I'd ever seen as a child, and as bad as I've heard those are, I'm looking forward to those coming out on DVD)... they all basically imitated -- poorly -- the Fleischer cartoons.

For all I know, the people who worked on the latter Popeyes were just as big a fan of the sailor man as I am, maybe even moreso... but it doesn't really show.

So far as I'm aware, nobody's tried to revive Popeye in animated form since Hanna-Barbera's Popeye series (which included an Olive Oyl in the Army series imitating Private Benjamin -- the Laverne and Shirley animated series took this same tack -- as well as a Popeye and Son series)... but I, for one, would like to see someone attempt it again.

Now, I have no idea if any animation studio would even be interested in trying it... even less idea if any network would be interested in airing it... but if the right people were on the project, I think it could be an outstanding series.

Here's what I'd like to see in a Popeye revival:

First of all, the characters need to look like the classic characters. Popeye's non-missing eye is just a dot, as are both of Olive's eyes. Nobody should look like their Famous Studios counterparts.

The characters should be mostly drawn from the original comic strips... the lead characters should naturally be Popeye, Olive, and Wimpy, but we should also get Poopdeck Pappy, Eugene the Jeep, and some of the other residents of Popeye's hometown of Sweethaven. The villain shouldn't always be Bluto... the Sea Hag should get her licks in, too.

Of course, Bluto should be in there... but I'd throw Brutus in, too. Yes, Brutus was Famous Studios' version of Bluto, but I think there'd be room for both characters. Play them as being identical twins, both bullies, but play them slightly different. Bluto would be more rough-looking, while Brutus would be slicker. So, if an episode revolved around Popeye becoming a professional wrestler, he'd be fighting Bluto... but if an episode featured Popeye in a Ballroom Dancing contest, his foe would be Brutus. If appropriate, you could even have both of them teaming up.

No nephews. The only child Popeye deals with is Swee'pea.

The show should open with the traditional Popeye song... you know, "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." Not necessarily the slower version from the Fleischers' series... but use those lyrics, naturally.

The show should have a very high sense of humor... both in the dialogue and in the animation itself. If Popeye has to save Olive Oyl from a rampaging bull, when he hits it, the bull goes flying into the air and lands as a butcher shop display of meats. Maybe when Popeye sees the bull, he could make some comment about it being a severe case of Mad Cow. Maybe not.

The voices need to be the best you can find... Popeye has to sound like Jack Mercer voiced him. If they can hire a stand-up comic who can do the voice and is good at improvisation, so much the better -- so the under-the-breath muttering can return after all-too-long an absence.

The stories themselves should take place in the "present day" -- acknowledging that Sweethaven is kind of locked in the past, but the rest of the world moves on. There's still unexplored places in the world, and Popeye is the best man to explore them. Magic does exist, obviously (after all, the Sea Hag is one of our villains). I'd even like to see some multi-part stories in this series... perhaps the way to go would be to open the show with a short gag piece, about five to six minutes in length. The remainder of the episode could be the latest part of a multi-part storyline with Popeye's adventures. The plots for these longer adventures could likely be drawn from the original newspaper strips.

Why do a short cartoon and a serial in each episode? Well... I'm glad you asked. Or I'm glad I'm assuming you asked.

The shorter cartoon could provide all the "bits" one expects in a Popeye cartoon... introduce a humorous situation in which Olive (or Swee'pea, or Wimpy, or someone else) is threatened, and Popeye tries to deal with the situation until that's all he can stands, he can't stands no more... then the spinach comes out, the music starts, and that's the end of the threat. The longer serials might not have room for that in each chapter.

It would have to be remembered that Popeye, even without eating his spinach, is still terrifically strong, and also very, very tough. Spinach just acts as a super-booster to his abilities, and its effects don't last terribly long, and therefore, Popeye only uses it when that's the only thing left to do.

Now, as I said, the stories should be present-day... but they could possibly start in the present-day, and go into the past or the future... if O.G. Whatasnoozle invents a time machine, or the Sea Hag casts a spell to send Popeye into the past or future. That would give us the opportunity to have Popeye spend a story fighting dinosaurs in the Jurassic, for example.

What could well work for story ideas would be the concept of Popeye being sort of a one-man Challengers of the Unknown in some stories... where he'd be hired to check out some bizarre situation that nobody else can handle. Naturally, Popeye would get his crew on his ship and set sail without hesitation (but not without comment... after all, this is the guy who was known for saying in one comic strip adventure, "I hates myskeries on accounts of I cansk unnerstands 'em.").

In this instance, he might try to convince Olive to stay behind and out of danger, but she'd end up on the ship anyway... probably accompanied by Wimpy and Swee'pea (and maybe Eugene the Jeep, who could act as babysitter for the kid) and whoever else the writer feels like accompanying them this time around.

The series would not be about explaining things about Popeye! No explanation as to why spinach doesn't seem to affect most other people like it does Popeye or his relatives (although as we have seen, Swee'pea, being Popeye's adopted son, gets the same instantaneous benefit of the green stuff).

So, to sum up... the characters have to be true to themselves, the voices have to be good, and the series has to be FUNNY!

Anyway, that's all I have for now... when I started writing this entry, I'm sure I had other aspects of this that I've since forgotten (I've been kind of thinking about this all day, actually), so I may revisit this some day.


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