Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Stupid Cupid

Premiered November 25, 1944.

"Say, keep your arrows out of other people's businessesses... buster! You shot me last year, and look what happened. Tied down. No more fun. Now look at me. A has-been. A hen-pecked duck. A canvasback Cassanova. And it's your fault, you bare-backed bandit. So beat it, bub. Take a powder. Scram!"
-Daffy Duck

Cupid (Mel Blanc), who bears a striking resemblance to Elmer Fudd, is flying around, shooting his arrows at males of various species.

They all turn into love-struck Romeos.

Cupid eventually tracks down Daffy Duck (Blanc).

But Daffy had enough of Cupid's arrow last year.  He was shot, got married, had a bunch of kids and is "tied down".

But Cupid nails him again, prompting Daffy to fall for a chicken.  She's not interested, but Daffy chases her around the coop.

In the middle of the chase, her husband, a muscle-bound rooster shows up and is out for blood.

J.A. Morris says:
This is a great Looney Tunes short.  I'm a huge fan of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, but this is one I haven't seen many times.

It was directed by Frank Tashlin, who later went on to helm live action films like The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?  Tashlin was a master of sight-gags, and this cartoon is full of them, as these screen caps indicate.

Check out this sequence below.  A bluebird is shot by Cupid's arrow.

We see him morph into an airplane.

Great stuff.


There are some aspects of this toon that haven't aged well.  We try not to judge works of the past by today's standards, but these aspects keep me from giving it a higher rating.  My co-blogger goes into this in more detail below.
The animation in The Stupid Cupid is outstanding and Stupid Cupid is must-see for Daffy fans and all fans of classic cartoons.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Valentine Hearts.

RigbyMel says:

This is great classic Looney Tunes, as J.A. Morris says.    The animation is top-notch and the gags (mostly) still play well.

Cupid takes aim at Daffy
That being said, I have two issues with it, both of which stem from it having been produced in the 1940s when cultural mores were a little different than they are in the early 21st century.  

Bulldog struck by Cupid's arrow whilst chomping on cat
First, there is a gag involving a dog chasing a cat.   The dog gets shot with one of Cupid's arrows and wishes to be amorous with the cat in a very Pepe Le Pew fashion.   The cat's reaction is to pull out a gun and shoot himself in the head nine times (thus, taking out all nine lives).    This feels very uncomfortable on a number of levels.

Secondly,  I feel kind of bad for Mrs. Daffy and the chicken who is the recipient of Daffy's new amorous attentions.  They didn't do anything wrong.  I guess we can blame that on Cupid's arrows?   Love is strange.

That being said,  this is a fun, silly cartoon and worth checking out if you're a fan of classic Warner Brothers animation.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 1/2 Valentine Hearts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An appeal to Disney and The Henson Company

We spent this Christmas season blogging about Muppets holiday programming.  Tonight is Twelth Night, so we bid farewell to Christmas with an appeal to the owners of the Muppets to release some other specials that are not currently available on dvd.  In fact, they've never been officially released domestically on home video in any format.

The ownership of the Muppets and the various Muppet specials, movies and series is complicated.  For example, Kermit and the other characters from The Muppet Show are owned by Disney, but the Jim Henson Company owns other characters, such as the fraggles.  Song rights are also preventing some specials from being released in their original form, without major edits.  There are unauthorized copies of these specials floating around and clips on the internet.  But it would be nice to see them officially released.  

The Great Santa Claus Switch features a great assortment of Muppet monsters and elves, with Art Carney playing both Santa and the villain Cosmo Scam.  It was hosted by Ed Sullivan and is considered an episode of Sullivan's classic variety show.

Art Carney as Santa Claus.
The Ed Sullivan Show is owned by SOFA Entertainment, which adds yet another wrinkle to why we haven't seen it released on home video.  But it's a very good Christmas special, you can see Henson trying out ideas that would be used in later Muppet productions.

Cosmo Scam (Art Carney again) plots with his monster minions.
John Denver And The Muppets:A Christmas Together is also unavailable due to music rights. This is covered in detail in an excellent post at Christmas TV History.

John Denver leads the Muppets in a performance of "Silent Night."
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree aired in 1995 and is an adaptation of a book by Robert Barry.  In addition to Muppets, it features a great cast of humans, with Robert Downey Jr., Stockard Channing and Leslie Nielsen in starring roles.

Mr. Willowby and friends.
Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) hosts and narrates the special, which features both Mr. Willowby (Downey) and a family of mice seeking the perfect Christmas tree.  It's a short but nice story, with new Christmas songs.  Downey gets to sing here, something you don't see him do in recent films like Iron Man 3.  There are also some beautiful and intricate puppets created by the Henson Workshop,  the owls are especially stunning.

We know it's unlikely that these specials will get a legitimate release.  But that's what they used to say about the 1960s Batman series. That show was produced by Fox, with characters owned by Warner Bros..  But Batman was finally released in 2014, so why not these rarely seen Muppet specials?  These shows are part of TV history as well as the legacy of one of our greatest performing artists, Jim Henson.  They deserve to be available to a wider audience.

J.A. & RigbyMel

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fraggle Rock - "The Bells of Fraggle Rock"

Premiered December 24, 1984

The fraggles are preparing for their annual holiday that takes place around the Winter Solstice.  They call it the "Festival of the Bells" and believe that by ringing bells and doing the dance of the Weebabeast, they can keep the Rock from slowing down & stopping thus allowing time to continue as usual.

Red (Karen Prell), Boober (Dave Goelz) and Mokey (Kathryn Mullen) with a portion of the Weebabeast costume
In the land of the Silly Creatures, Doc (Gerry Parkes) and his dog Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) are excitedly getting ready for Christmas.  Doc decides that they will learn about other Winter Solstice traditions as a part of their celebration and brings home a pinata and other items.

Sprocket is ready for the holidays!
Everyone except Gobo (Jerry Nelson) is excited about the coming holiday.  Gobo isn't really feeling the holiday spirit, in fact, he's feeling like it's all a big waste of time.

Gobo is an unenthusiastic Weebabeast head
He has found an old map that shows many ancient tunnels and doesn't see the Great Bell that is said to be located "at the heart of the Rock."  His friend Wembley (Steve Whitmire again) notices a bell shaped cavern near the center of the map and wonders if that might be the great bell.  

Wembley and Gobo check out the map
A wise and mystical fraggle named Cantus (Jim Henson) arrives to kick off the festivities.

Cantus arrives
Much to the dismay of Red and the other fraggles,  Gobo announces that he is going to go find and bring back the Great Bell.

He asks that the fraggles wait to ring their bells and celebrate until he returns and Wembley rashly promises that they will all wait for him.

Gobo makes a cold and lonely journey in search of the Great Bell
Cantus tries to dissuade Gobo from searching for the Great Bell, saying that there is no need and that the tunnels will soon be too cold for anyone to travel safely.   Gobo doesn't want to listen and sets off on his quest.    Cantus offers to go bring him back.

Cantus talks to Gobo
Will Gobo be successful in his quest to find the Great Bell?   Will Sprocket ever break open the pinata? Will the Rock stop turning?    You'll have to watch to see!

RigbyMel says:

I am not sure that I saw "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" when it first aired, but I certainly remember watching and enjoying the Fraggle Rock program when it aired on HBO.    I probably did see this episode, but it would have been out of season and hence, it didn't make as big an impression on me the first time around.

Red, Mokey, Boober and Wembley trying to keep warm as the Rock slows down
Gobo's quest to find the Great Bell reminds me of children who are beginning to have questions about Santa Claus.    Cantus acts as a parental figure (albeit a mystically comedic one)  and tries to explain that the idea behind the Great Bell is just as important -- perhaps MORE important  -- as any physical manifestation.   But Cantus is also wise enough to allow Gobo to discover the truth about the Great Bell and the real "heart of the rock" in his own way.

The seasonal themes continue with  a Christmas Carol-esque hint of spooky when Gobo returns to find that his friends seem to have been frozen in time.   Fortunately,  the freezing proves reversible when Gobo -- like Scrooge --  manages to find his holiday spirit.

Gobo discovers a frozen Wembley
The Fraggles' story dovetails nicely with the interaction between Doc and Sprocket as they talk and learn (and teach viewers) about other Winter Solstice customs.

Doc explains how axial tilt creates the Winter Solstice
As is typical in most episodes of Fraggle Rock, we also get a postcard from Uncle Traveling Matt where he shares his perspectives on "Outer Space" and the "Silly Creatures"  (aka the viewers' everyday world) and more thoughts on different Solstice traditions.

Uncle Traveling Matt wonders why the "Silly Creatures" don't know about the Weebabeast
Although there is obviously a message being shared through these interlocking stories,  the warmth and tolerance of the storytelling give the message real resonance.    It also serves as a good introduction to various winter holiday traditions for younger audiences.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 candy canes

J.A. Morris says:
I can't add much to what RigbyMel said, but I have to mention that I enjoyed the original songs, written by Phil Balsam and Steve Whitmire.  "There's A Promise" is very catchy and festive.  Another song, "Weeba Weeba" performed by the young fraggles as they practice the Weebabeast dance, is amusing.  It consists of nothing but the words "Weeba Weeba" shouted over an 80s synthesizer accompaniment.  Not very complicated, but it is the sort of thing kids would sing and it's also a been stuck in my head since I watched "The Bells Of Fraggle Rock."

Wembley rings a bell at the festival.
Gobo's seasonal depression is something that adults and kids alike can relate to around the holidays.  His disillusionment with the festival also recalls Charlie Brown's attitude in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This episode is available on dvd, in the season 3 set and on a standalone disc called A Merry Fraggle Holiday. It also streams on Amazon and iTunes.

"The Bells Of Fraggle Rock" is a good holiday episode that teaches a nice lesson about faith and also shows how different cultures celebrate Christmas and other Winter holidays.

Sprocket and Doc wish each other a Merry Christmas.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

Premiered 1977.

Emmet Otter (Jerry Nelson) and his mother Alice (Marilyn Sokol) live on the river in the town of Frogtown Hollow.  They are very poor and rely on odd jobs and doing other people's laundry to get by.  Emmet uses his late father's tools to make repairs, while  Alice sells baked goods and does laundry in her washtub.  But they love each other and love to sing. 

Emmet & Alice sing "The One Bathing Suit."
When Emmet and Alice go shopping in Waterville, they pass a music shop.  Emmet spots a guitar in the window and tells his mother that he wants it for Christmas.  It costs $40, more than Alice has to her name.

The otters observe a group of toughs known as the Riverbottom Gang.  They're led by a bear named Chuck (Frank Oz) and they wreck havoc in the music shop.

The Riverbottom Gang, led by Chuck the Bear.
Emmet's friend Wendell Porcupine (Dave Goelz) tells Emmet of a talent show that will be held on Christmas Eve.  Wendell says Emmet is a good singer and that the winner gets $50.00 in prize money.  Their friends Harvey Beaver (Jim Henson) and Charlie Muskrat (Richard Hunt) suggest that the four of them form a jug-band and ask Emmet to play washtub bass.  Emmet isn't sure about that, because it would require him to put a hole in his mother's washtub, thereby ruining her laundry business.

Charlie, Harvey, Emmet & Wendell talk about forming a jug-band
At the same time, Alice is considering entering the contest.  She'll need a nice outfit to wear onstage and is forced to hock Emmet's tools to pay for it.  Unbeknownst to her, Emmet has put a hole in her washtub so he can join the band.  This means both of their livelihoods have been endangered.

Alice Otter discusses the upcoming talent show with her friend Hetty Muskrat (Eren Ozker).
The competition begins and Emmet's band mates are optimistic.  The other contestants aren't very talented and Harvey is confident that their band will win easily.
"Carrots, the Dancing Horse," one of less successful acts in the talent show.
But they're surprised when they see Alice singing on stage.  It gets worse when another contestant sings the song they were planning to perform.  They hurriedly rehearse a new song for the show.

Alice sings "Our World" at the talent contest.

The Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug-Band performs "Brothers."

The talent show seems to be over, but a last-second entry arrives--the Riverbottom Gang, performing as a rock band called The Nightmare.

Riverbottom Nightmare Band!

Will Emmet's band or Alice win the contest?  How will they survive without their washtub and tool chest?

J.A. Morris says:
It's very difficult to be objective about Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.  I first saw it when aired on ABC in 1980 and I've been a big fan ever since.

The band rehearses the song "Barbecue."
The songs are all very catchy and Emmet and Alice are very sweet and sympathetic.  It stands with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas as something I must watch every holiday season.

Emmet brings home the "Christmas Branch."
It's basically a retelling of O. Henry's "The Gift Of The Magi", with washtub and tools standing in for watch and hair.  But unlike that story, Emmet and his mother sell the things that help them make ends meet.

Emmet uses his tool chest to rebuild a fence.
I want to give some kudos to the two leads in this special.  Jerry Nelson gives Emmet an innate sweetness and gives the title otter an endearing speaking and singing voice.

Nelson also performs Stanley Weasel, villainous guitarist for the Nightmare band, who is as nasty as Emmet is nice. It's a tribute to Nelson that it took me years of viewing before I noticed both characters were voiced by the same person.

Marilyn Sokol is also great as the voice of Emmet's mother Alice. 

Her lovely singing voice on "Where The River Meets The Sea" and "Our World" has brought tears to my eyes on just about every viewing of this special.  Sokol is a highly accomplished Broadway and TV veteran and has won an Emmy and an Obie award for her work in other shows.  

J.A. Morris meets Emmet & his mother at the Smithsonian.
While the Riverbottom Gang are decidedly bad animals, it's to the credit of writer Jerry Juhl that they are funny characters.  Their song at the end of the talent show is a very good rock n roll song.  You'll find yourself tapping your foot and headbanging even you don't really want them to win.

Chuck on stage.
This special is available on DVD and can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes.  The special in its current form is different from the original version in several respects (my co-blogger goes into more detail in her review below).  You can read more about the various edits at the Muppet Wiki.
Alice meets Harrison Fox (Henson), Mayor of Waterville and MC of the talent show.
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is one of the greatest productions Henson and his troupe of Muppeteers ever made and is highly recommended.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says:

I also find it impossible to be objective about this special.   Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is one of my all-time favorite holiday programs.   I love it for many reasons - the wonderful puppeteering (which allowed the Henson workshop to practice and develop techniques they would go on to utilize in various feature length Muppet movies),  the beautifully designed naturalistic sets, and the sweet story, for starters.    

The Waterville Town Hall all ready for the Christmas Eve talent contest
This special is based on a (now long out of print) picture book of the same title by Russell and Lillian Hoban. My family had a copy of the book and I have fond memories of my parents reading it to me when I was small.   I was excited when I learned of the Muppets adaptation, which I think I first saw on HBO in the early 1980s.

Here's the cover of the original book  (I still have my battered and be-stickered copy). 
Henson and company do a great job of adapting the Hobans' story and illustrations.   The additions of giving the River Bottom Gang/Band more things to do as well as more personality and dialogue is welcome.  

The Riverbottom Nightmare Band wails out their number during the contest.
Also, Kermit the Frog makes an excellent host in the original version of the special.  He both introduces and wraps up the action, tying things together nicely.

Kermit gets harassed by the Riverbottom Gang at the beginning of the original version of the special.
Sadly,  Kermit is not currently allowed to appear in present releases of the special on DVD, due to copyright issues.   (Dear Disney and Henson folks,  please can we get it together enough to make this happen sometime in the not too distant future?)

Kermit would like to be restored to the home video releases of the special, please!
Music is very important in a story that centers on a talent contest and Paul Williams' music and words are spot on.   They are fun, clever and folksy without being twee and the Riverbottom Nightmare Band's self-titled song is an amusing mash-up of 1970s glam rock awesome.  

Harvey Beaver plays washboard and kazoo!
The musical highlight of the program for me is "When The River Meets The Sea" a sweet and tender gospel-tinged ballad that is sung twice during the course of the show.     I suspect that Jim Henson rather liked this song as well as it appears on the John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together album, which was released in 1979.    It was also performed by Jerry Nelson and Louise Gold during Henson's memorial service in 1990.

Goofy dancing rabbits in the talent show.
Although this special makes no mention whatsoever of either Jesus or Santa Claus,  it has a generous spirit and heart that melds perfectly with the Christmas season.   Emmet and Alice Otter's sacrifices wind up paying off in unexpected and heartwarming ways.

Sadly,  when I mention Emmet Otter to most people, they stare at me blankly. That is a shame since this special is utterly charming and deserves to be much better known, with or without the inclusion of Kermit.  

RigbyMel has a moment with Emmet and Alice Otter in a special exhibit at the Smithsonian during 2006. 
If you love Christmas and the Muppets, you owe it to yourself to watch Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and get the songs thoroughly stuck in your head!

RigbyMel's rating:

4 candy canes!!!!