Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Baby Preacher

Here's one for all my children's ministry friends who are workin' in the nursery...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Sock-a-Bye Baby

Sock-a-Bye Baby
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye the Sailor Vol. 1

“Sock-a-Bye Baby” features a pretty ruthless Popeye. He’s put in charge of watching a napping “infink,” and he does anything to keep the baby from waking up.

It’s that classic cartoon premise we’ve talked about before where one character is sleeping and another tries to keep him from waking up.

The baby in this short is not Swee'Pea, who had only just been introduced into the Popeye comic strip shortly before this short was made. Olive Oyl and Bluto don’t even appear in this one, it’s just Popeye and the baby. He still manages to do a great bit of damage, though. There are some classic bits of Popeye violence in this one, including him swinging from a flag pole to knock out people in the windows of a building and punching a radio and sending an electronic fist through the air waves to sock the person at the other end of the microphone. Another great example of that warped Fleischer sense of humor.

Cartoon a Day: Wild Elephinks

Wild Elephinks
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye the Sailor Vol. 1

“Wild Elephinks” is another very memorable early Popeye short. I remember this one being in the regular rotation on Channel 32 in Chicago when I was a kid. It’s another one in which Bluto does not appear, but don’t worry, Popeye has his hands full with a bunch of nasty animals. In other words, this short is PETA’s worst nightmare.

Popeye and Olive Oyl end up on a jungle island in this one. As Popeye is doing battle with a giant elephant, a gorilla takes the opportunity to run off with Olive. This leads to one of my favorite moments in this short, and a perfect example of the Fleischer sense of humor, when the gorilla picks coconuts as he carries Olive and uses her head to crack them open.

Eventually, Popeye must battle a snake, a moose, a lion, and all sorts of other creatures. These animals have a great look. There is a lot of character, not just the generic look-as-much-like-Mickey-Mouse-as-you-can style that was so prevalent during this era. The great look of the animal characters is all the more important when Popeye beats them to pulp, and we get some great reaction shots.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cartoon a Day: I Eats My Spinach

I Eats My Spinach
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye the Sailor Vol. 1

The last four days were pretty wild. Everything from snow storms, to sci-fi conventions, to jigsaw puzzles with the kids. I have been watching my daily cartoons, so it will take a little time to catch up. Normally I might just skip the blogging, but I'm loving these Popeye cartoons so much, I just can't.

In "I Eats My Spinach," Popeye joins the ranks of many cartoon characters by participating in a bull fight. I did a whole week of bull fight cartoons awhile ago, this one begins with a simple visit to the rodeo only to have Popeye get roped into competing against the star of the event, Bluto. Eventually he must do battle with both Bluto and a bull. It's fun to watch Popeye show up Bluto in every way, shape and form. You've gotta wonder why the guy keeps on trying.

One of my favorite parts of this particular cartoon is fight where Popeye, Bluto and Olive all end up socking it out. I call this thing a "fight cloud," you see them in many Popeye cartoons. With the magic of DVD, it's fun to freeze frame these sequence and watch all the unique animation poses the characters end up in. I won't waste any more words...just check out this great sequence of images...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Before Oprah

17th Annual Women In Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast - Arrivals

I'm pretty sporatic when it comes to my Twitter account, but at least I can claim that I was there before Oprah. Now that the queen of the universe is "tweeting," the world may just colapse upon itself. But some geniuses have come up with, where you can type in someone's twitter name and find out if they were a twit before Oprah was.

Here's my proof straight from the site.

Space Invaders

This is one cool video. That is all...

Happy Up Here from Röyksopp on Vimeo.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #23

23. Veronica - Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello is a great songwriter. His lyrics can create such great images, and this song is no exception. “Veronica” is about an old woman slowly loosing her memory as she lives out her life in an old folks home. The song was inspired by Costello’s own grandmother who battled Alzheimer’s disease and was co-written by Paul McCartney.

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #24

24. Lola - The Kinks

Ok…um…so…uh…alright, if you don’t know by now that Lola is a man then you don’t know much about music. A controversial song for sure, but it revived the career of The Kinks and inspired one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s greatest parodies, “Yoda.” You gotta give it some points for that.

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #25

25. Barbara Ann - The Beach Boys

Now I’m no great musical expert, but The Beach Boys’s version of this simple little song seems to consist of a guitar, a tambourine, and several clapping singers who are just inebriated enough that they can’t quite remember all the lyrics. Supposedly Capital records released this recording without informing the band. Wonder why?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Blow Me Down

Blow Me Down
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye the Sailor Vol. 1

Popeye's third big screen adventure takes our hero south of the border and steps up the action and the entertainment in many ways.

In some ways, you can see the animators realizing what they had in the character of Olive Oyl. If ever there was a character made for animation, it's Olive. At this point she's pretty much a clothes pin with rubber band arms and legs. Throughout her dance sequence we see the artists explore the range of her movements.

This short also steps up the level of violence...big time! Barely a minute into the short a bandito takes a shot at Popeye from behind! Of course it bounces off of his skull and nails the shooter who falls several stories to the street below. Kids stuff, right?

The bar room brawl that follows between Popeye and Bluto's gang is even more violent. The commentators on the DVD actually compare it to the House of Blue Leaves fight sequence from Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 1." To be honest, I can see it. Some of the elements of the setting and angles used are similar. Not to mention the fact that one person manages to fend off a slew of attackers. I wouldn't put it past Tarantino to have looked to Popeye for inspiration, let's put it that way.

It is strange to see this level of violence in a cartoon today, but I guess the fighting is part of what gives Popeye cartoons their charm.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cartoon a Day: I Yam What I Yam

I Yam What I Yam
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye The Sailor Vol. 1

Popeye's second screen appearance is quite different from his first. It actually strays from the Popeye vs. Bluto formula but is still a great cartoon. Bluto doesn't even appear in this one, but another famous character, Wimpy, makes his debut (though without any hamburgers).

As the short opens, Popeye, Olive and Wimpy are rowing across the sea through a storm. Actually, Olive is doing all the rowing, which makes for a very funny opening sequence. Popeye stands at the front of the boat like Washington crossing the Delaware, Wimpy sits back and eat fish pulled right from the water, meanwhile Olive is rowing like mad.

The action gets started after the trio have arrived on land and are attacked by a group of indians. The sequence where the indians close in on the cabin is a classic example of the Fleischer style. The indians actually morph into bushes and trees as they move in for the attack. It's certainly not politicly correct by today's standards, but a fun cartoon none the less.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Popeye the Sailor

Popeye the Sailor
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: Popeye the Sailor Vol. 1

I had a great Easter weekend, but busy. My parents were in town and we did four puppet shows at four Easter services, thus the break in blogging. However, with my birthday just a few weeks away, my parents gave me some early gifts. One was the first DVD set of Popeye cartoons, so I think we'll focus on the one-eyed sailor this week.

This is the very first short to feature Popeye, it is technically a part of the Betty Boop series even though she only makes a cameo. The basic premise that would direct most of the Popeye films for years to come is in place right from the beginning. Popeye and Bluto compete for the affections of Olive Oyl, a fight ensues, Popeye eats some spinach and wins Olive.

Popeye is a unique character in animation history. He wasn't born on film, but came from comic strips. But his film career only added to the popularity of the character. One of the commentators on this DVD set describes him as being the first superhero, and I suppose that 's true.

He's also a somewhat absurd character that perfectly fits the outlandish style of the Fleischer studio. It's interesting note in this first cartoon that Popeye, Olive, and Bluto are the only human characters. The other characters are anthropomorphic animals, which is something that would not continue as the series progressed.

It has been so long since I really watched the Popeye shorts. They were daily viewing as a kid, but I must admit I have avoided them as an adult as many of the showings on Cartoon Network in recent years have been colorized abominations (curse you Ted Turner). It's going to be fun looking at these shorts again!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Greener Yard

The Greener Yard
Directed by Jack Hannah
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Vol. 3

"The Greener Yard" is a short which puts Donald Duck against a beetle out to feast on his garden. It's a short that has some great moments of creativity but is not without a few flaws as well.

To start, the background art is amazing. Some of the most detailed and colorful work you will ever see. Donald is a far better gardener than I could ever be, that's for sure. The animation is, of course, top notch. Both Donald and the beetle are extremely well drawn.

Where this short runs into problems is in how it presents the story. It begins with narration from the Beetle..."One day my son was blah blah blah..." and we're let into the story. Or so we think. The younger beetle is eyeballing Donald's beautiful yard next door and wanting to head on over there. It's "grass in greener" scenario. The older beetle then launches into telling about when he was younger and wandered over to Donald's yard. The majority of the film is that flashback. So technically it takes two flashbacks to even get to the story. Both are completely unnecessary when they could've just made it Donald vs. the beetle rather than trying to give it a lesson at the end.

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #26

26. Lucille - Little Richard

If you can’t enjoy a Little Richard tune, well you may just be a zombie raised from the dead by an evil scientist. This tune about the singer being surprised by the sudden departure of his girl, Lucille, was supposedly written as a ballad, but Richard later sped it up. It’s also been covered by the like of The Everly Brothers, Van Halen, Deep Purple and even AC/DC.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Band Concert

The Band Concert
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color

In 1932 Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in color. It was a short made for the Academy Awards ceremony, "Parade of the Award Nominees." However, the publics first look at the famous mouse in color came in 1935 with this groundbreaking short, "The Band Concert."

In this short Mickey is conducting a band concert in the park. All is going well until the intrusion of a pesky food vendor (Donald Duck), a stubborn bee, and finally a tornado that rivals the one Dorothy hitched a ride on.

This is certainly one of Mickey's best films, and is probably one of his funniest as well. Remember, Mickey was known for being fun, but not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny. The pacing of the gags in this short is closer to what you'd expect from the Looney Tunes crew than the folks at Disney.

It's also interesting to watch Donald Duck in this short. He's actually more like his cousin from the Warner's lot, Daffy Duck, in this one. He plays the lovable troublemaker rather than the temper driven fowl he is in later films.

The film makes fantastic use of color in everything from the band uniforms to the dark sky that slowly creeps into the scenes as the storm approaches. It was just a little over 6 years before the release of "The Band Concert" that Disney had amazed audiences with his Mouse that spoke (in "Steamboat Willie"). It's easy to see how audiences were wowed again when that mouse showed up in color.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cartoon a Day: To Duck...or Not to Duck

To Duck...or Not to Duck
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

We've talked before about how there are several different versions of Daffy Duck. "To Duck...or Not to Duck" is an interesting short that somewhat transitions between the looney Daffy and the indignant Daffy.

Here he plays the Bugs Bunny role. Elmer Fudd is hunting when he shoot down Daffy. Daffy then starts in with the "how dare you" attitude and ends up switching things around to turn the scenario into a boxing match between the two.

What's interesting is that this doesn't feel like a Chuck Jones short. It seems to lean a little more toward the Bob Clampett style. Some of the extreme poses that you can catch Daffy and Elmer doing if you freeze frame at the right moment are examples of this. Elmer's dog being the lone member of the crowd rooting for Elmer (and getting pelted with tomatoes because of it) also feels more like a Clampett gag to me. Regardless of whether it's the normal Jones style, it's a funny short.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Mask-A-Raid

Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: YouTube

Time for another Betty Boop short. These are quickly becoming some of my favorite shorts. Thanks to YouTube and the public domain, you can enjoy it in it's entirety.

In "Mask-A-Raid," Betty is at a masquerade ball where Bimbo and some grumpy old guy are battling for her attention. Part of why these shorts are becoming favorites of mine is that they are just so original. This short is 78 years old, yet there are gags that are so strange that they weren't copied by the other studios over and over again. The way that every single thing in a Fleischer cartoon can be alive never ceases to amaze me. The Fleischers also didn't care about being polite, and I'm not just talking about the scene where Bimbo stares at Betty's legs. Check out those mice carrying the train of Betty's dress at the beginning of the short...they look an awful lot like Mickey Mouse. But what's great is when Betty tells them to, "Go on, Scram!" It's as if she's saying, "News flash folks, no mouse will rule cartoons while I'm around." Of course, Mickey Mouse became infinitely more popular than Betty ever did, but it just fits her character, doesn't it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Prog Rock and the Hall of Fame

24th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

Last night was the annual induction ceremony for the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. I watched most of the broadcast and let me tell you, the Oscars got nuthin' on these guys. The show was over 4 hours long.

It was very interesting to watch as quite a diverse group of musicians were ushered into the hall. The inductions of Metallica and Run D.M.C. were the focal points of the night but also inducted were the likes of Jeff Beck, Little Anthony & the Imperials, and rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson (who I thought was the highlight of the night).

I love the way the hall of fame includes so many diverse style of music that fall under this umbrella of Rock N' Roll. Though, one of my favorite styles, progressive rock, is sadly underrepresented in the hall. I can only think of two acts that can really be considered progressive rock that have been inducted into the hall...Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, and Zappa is pretty much in his own genre. Of course, I would like to see my favorite band, Genesis, make the cut someday, but I'm not sure if they'd be considered "influential" enough. I actually think their former frontman, Peter Gabriel, stands a better chance of making it in as a solo artist. He's always been a bit more respected than his former band mates, while they have consistently outsold him.

So...Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, it was a fun evening...but let's try to get some prog on the bill soon, ok.

Cartoon a Day: Night

Directed by Walt Disney
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies

"Night" is an early entry in the Silly Symphonies series. It's simple and without a story (as are many of the shorts in this series) but it features some great animation and is another great hint at what was to come when Disney created "Fantasia."

The short begins by using bits of "The Blue Danube," which sets the tone as being a lot like "Fantasia" right from the start. However, this is still the early days of animation, so there is still a lot of silliness.

The animators focus on creatures of the night...owls, bugs, and frogs being the main characters. A great sequence involves a lightning bug dancing with the flame from a candle. It's fun to watch the shadow of the bug and then realize that cartoon characters don't cast their own shadows. That all had to be drawn and it's masterfully done. This is a great example of the simple genius of much of Disney's early work.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #27

27. Elvira - The Oak Ridge Boys

Recent country artists like Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift made a habit of crossing over to the pop charts, but in the early 1980’s that was a rare thing. The Oak Ridge Boys’ version of “Elvira” was a rare exception. Helped along by the unusual bass vocal part, some probably consider this a novelty tune, but you’ve got to admit it’s catchy.

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #28

28. Runaround Sue - Dion

Most songs that feature a girls’ name in the title have to do with the singer’s deep feelings for said female. “Runaround Sue,” however, is a classic cautionary tune about one you should stay far away from. Originally a hit for Dion but it also charted again in the 70’s for teen heartthrob Leif Garrett.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole
Directed by Alex Lovy
Available on: Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection

"Ace in the Hole" is a pretty solid Woody Woodpecker short in which Woody dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. His nemesis in this one is a drill sergeant bull dog.

The sequence early in the film in which Woody rides across the ground on the moving shadow of a passing plane is a fun scene. It actually shows a sweet side of Woody, a character who is fun to watch but often hard to root for.

A sequence in which Woody struggles with a flight suit and a box of flares is also a highlight of the film. I think what works well with this film is that Woody isn't being a vicious as he often in, but he's just sticking up for himself. This is probably one of the best of the early Woody shorts.

Cartoon a Day: Crazy Cruise

Crazy Cruise
Directed by Bob Clampett and Tex Avery
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5

It’s pretty rare that a Looney Tunes short ends up being a complete disappointment to me, but that ‘s just what “Crazy Cruise” is. I’m still not exactly sure where the title of this short comes from. The format is like a travel documentary, though not all of the stops are on a cruise. The film doesn't feature any major characters except for a brief cameo by Bugs Bunny at the end of the film.

The gags are pretty disjointed, and in all honesty, seem like a collection of discarded jokes from other shorts strung together. What’s odd, especially for Warner Brothers, is that none of the gags really work well. And that's about all I have to say about that.