Friday, August 26, 2016
Completing a trifecta that has thus far spotlighted Jay Ward Productions, Bert & Harry Piels ads voiced by Bob & Ray, Tom Terrific, Nudnik, Q.T. Hush and Roger Ramjet, today's tip of a top hat worn by either Jay Ward or Bill Scott goes to (drum roll). . . Aardman Animations!
While this writer often finds current CGI animation - with the exception of those features made by Pixar - a bit too snarky and dialogue-heavy (and lacking the saving grace of Jay Ward Productions/Stan Freberg style witty repartee), the films of Aardman, from their first music videos and short subjects to the latest efforts, delight this lifelong animation fan. That certain indefinable but welcome element of genuine whimsy - a quality not seen at all in the overwhelming majority of American movies and TV shows - delivered with intelligence and nuance, permeates the Aardman films and has since the very beginning.
Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog does not cover much along the lines of 21st century pop culture, but shall make an exception here, given how much we like the Shaun The Sheep movie.
And also the splendid 21st century Aardman Animations features that preceded Shaun The Sheep: Chicken Run and Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (note: have not seen the 2006 Aardman CGI feature Flushed Away).
Nick Park created the dynamic and Wensleydale cheese-fueled duo.
A Grand Day Out, the first Wallace & Gromit adventure, originated as a student film.
Indeed, the very British world of Wallace & Gromit possesses a knack for hitting this animation buff's sweet spot every time. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are not alone in this assessment, as Wallace & Gromit have their own YouTube channel.
Aardman Animations was founded in the 1970's, made their reputation as creators of wonderful short subjects and commercials in the 1980's. Many of us first encountered the model animation of Aardman in the 1986 Peter Gabriel music video Sledgehammer.
Not long afterwards, in such touring feature-length compilations as The Tournee Of Animation and Spike And Mike's Festival Of Animation, the Aardman Animations short subjects would premiere on the big screen in America. Audiences went nuts over the good humor, invention and, most importantly, the whimsy in such Aardman productions as Creature Comforts.
Subsequently, the first Wallace & Gromit adventures would be on the Tournee and Spike & Mike programs - and frequently were the runaway hits.
Ranking high on the short list of this writer's all-time favorite films is Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.
The followup, A Close Shave, would introduce another Aardman Animations stalwart, Shaun The Sheep.
The three short subjects, A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), were followed by a TV series, Cracking Contraptions, the Curse Of The Were-Rabbit feature, the featurette A Matter Of Loaf & Death and the Wallace & Gromit's World Of Invention TV series.
The studio has survived much hardship, including a fire in the Aardman Animations warehouse, to re-emerge, most recently with the Shaun the Sheep movie. After the October 10, 2005 fire, the hope was that the company would eventually be able to return from the damage. The blaze wiped out just about all the original sets for the Wallace and Gromit films and panels of original storyboards.
The studio made it back from this adversity, rebuilt and would launch the Shaun The Sheep TV series, as well as the children's show Timmy Time.
Wallace & Gromit returned to the big screen with the half-hour short subject, A Matter Of Loaf & Death (2008).
These would be followed by Wallace & Gromit amusement park rides, video games, an association with The National Trust and TV commercials.
We close with behind-the-scenes clips direct from Aardman Animations - and, last but not least, a cracking good concert from The Royal Albert Hall paying tribute to our heroes.
To paraphrase Wallace, "cracking good cheese - Gromit!"
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Watching Jay Ward cartoons in the last post got this writer thinking of other animated series designed for what Ernie Kovacs called "the orthicon tube" in the late 1950's to mid-1960's.
Ace animator, writer and animation historian Mark Kausler beat us to the punch with a well-written and comprehensive article on the Cartoon Research website about a very good show Your Correspondent liked a great deal, Ed Graham Jr.'s Linus The Lionhearted.
There were some odd 1-shot syndicated series that transcended low budgets with clever ideas and a bit of style. Q.T. Hush, produced in 1960 by Animation Associates - readers may recognize the name of Lou Zukor from the credits of Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons - was a serialized sleuth series that many children of the early 1960's still remember fondly (note the sound is extremely low on this clip).
It's a tough call to select the funniest of the latter 1950's and 1960's TV cartoon series not produced by Jay Ward. Certainly the animated version of Beany & Cecil (many entries directed by former Walt Disney Studio "duck man" Jack Hannah) featuring a winning, funny and likable cast of characters backed with fine voice work, would be in the running.
Chuck Jones termed many of the made-for-TV toons "illustrated radio" - and there were positive and negative examples of this. It all started in the late 1940's, when Jay Ward and Alex Anderson figured out how to make entertaining cartoons on no budget; write exceptionally funny scripts - and spend the budget on damn funny voice actors. Voila - the first cartoon series produced specifically for TV, the witty Crusader Rabbit.
The first made-for-TV cartoon, Alex Anderson and Jay Ward's Crusader Rabbit basically was still frames. Except for a moment in the opening, there really wasn't any animation. Still, the comedy writing and storylines by Anderson, the voice work and central characters were very funny.
Besides Crusader Rabbit, other than the Tele-Comics series – quite literally comics – in the early days of TV, daily puppet shows as Kukla, Fran & Ollie and Time For Beany were the rage.
In animated commercials, the quintessential example of the new breed would be the Bert & Harry Piel ads produced by Gene Dietch at the New York wing of the UPA studio. The Piels were voiced by two of radio's finest, Bob & Ray. It was a very successful campaign which combined limited animation with stylish graphic design and winning yet understated humor.
Dietch would go on to be hired by Terrytoons, write and directed a group of fascinating theatrical cartoons (the best designed specifically for the wide dimensions of CinemaScope) and then create the series Tom Terrific that aired on CBS-TV’s Captain Kangaroo show. While Tom Terrific is not of the same satiric or subversive cloth as the TV shows by Jay Ward, it remains a prime example of designing a series specifically for children which also offers great entertainment value for all ages. Much of this is due to the contrast between ever-plucky Tom and phlegmatic Manfred The Wonder Dog - and how the minimalist pen-and-ink design and soundtrack music fits the storylines and series concept beautifully.
The series Gene subsequently produced at his Prague studio featuring a little nebbish named Nudnik might have also made a wonderful TV show.
And then there was our favorite at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the both silly and satiric Roger Ramjet.
The series creator, Fred Crippen, previously worked at UPA and subsequently made some excellent indie animation short subjects; Network Awesome has paid tribute in a Films Of Fred Crippen collection. Other key figures in the series went on to work on the Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart shows, while radio great Gary Owens, not long after contributing stellar voice work to all 185 Roger Ramjet episodes, joined the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
What happened? It's pretty clear that as the 1960's progressed and vast numbers of individuals across the nation were dropping LSD-25 tabs as if they were peanut M&Ms, the TV cartoon world was getting . . . well, more conservative. Among the last series that Jay Ward and Hanna-Barbera would launch in the 1960's, George Of The Jungle (17 episodes) and Scooby Doo, Where Are You? ended up establishing the direction for the next decade. The former, often hilarious albeit not as satiric as Rocky & Bullwinkle, ended up not getting renewed and would being the last show produced by Jay Ward - subsequent pilots did not sell - while the latter, which recycled plots and animation ad nauseum, would prove a harbinger of series after series after series produced by Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.
The writing was on the wall. The labor-saving, budget-lowering techniques and, most importantly, storyline repetition of Scooby Doo were the polar opposites of the blueprints for how to do entertaining limited animation series for TV established by Jay Ward Productions, Bob Clampett Productions and other studios - and would usher in the Saturday morning Dark Ages.
Much of this could be attributed to Action On Children's Television. These were well-meaning folks who saw the growing and alarming violence in our society and thought that ACME anvils dropping on Wile E. Coyote may have been a determinant that led to Charles Whitman shooting people randomly on a tower in Texas.
For two decades, stringent rules were placed on cartoons made for TV. Producers of Sesame Street for PBS worked within those rules as best as possible, as did the Schoolhouse Rock series, but nonetheless these would be dreary days for Saturday morning television - and the end of the trail for such imaginative producers of content as Jay Ward Productions. The Action On Children's Television era is also where the idea that cartoons were entertainment designed for children and, unlike Tom Terrific, ONLY for children - a concept that must have made Tex Avery cringe - truly took hold with a vengeance, leading to two decades of terrible animation for TV.
The one thing that can be said for the unending recycling and repetition of Scooby Doo and countless other animated series from the 1970's and early 1980's - besides the fact that it gave animation artists employment - is that the Saturday morning formula ended up inspiring some pretty wonderful parodies, all very much in the spirit of Rocky & His Friends, Fractured Fairy Tales and Roger Ramjet, decades later.
Scooby Doo, Scrappy Doo and Dippity Do (but not Hüsker Dü) would be the norm until those very first glimpses of The Simpsons on The Tracy Ullmann Show, ushering in the next era. These initial efforts were darn near as crude as the early Crusader Rabbit shows, but on the right track.
The Ralph Bakshi produced Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures would soon follow, debuting in the 1987-1988 season - and a new and far less rigid era was at hand.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Having just made a cross country trip involving trains, planes and automobiles, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has enough energy to. . . well, watch Planes Trains & Automobiles but even more likely relax on a Friday with some cool cartoons.
The series of Jay Ward Productions, starting with Crusader Rabbit in the late 1940's, are a perennial favorite.
I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for the cartoons of Jay Ward Productions, even to the extent of having tracked down Bill Scott in November 1981 and interviewed him at length.
Jay Ward Productions' incredible roster of character actors/voice talents - Scott, June Foray, Bill Conrad, Daws Butler, Edward Everett Horton, Hans Conreid, Charlie Ruggles, Walter Tetley - combined with the studio's satiric edge, still gets Mr. Blogmeister laughing after all these years.
In the TV cartoon field at that time, the Jay Ward cartoons were only equaled - in comedy mojo and voice work - by Pantomime Pictures' Roger Ramjet series.
Even the second string Jay Ward shows - Fractured Flickers and Hoppity Hooper - have much to offer in the way of big time belly laughs, in large part due to all of those incredible voice talents and the consistently brilliant comedy writing by Lloyd Turner, Allen Burns, Chris Hayward, Chris Jenkyns, George Atkins and head writer Bill Scott.
As far as the Jay Ward Productions commercials for Quaker Oats go, they were frequently wonderful and superior to the programs they sponsored.
The Jay Ward studio's last series, George Of The Jungle, also featuring Super Chicken and Tom Slick, certainly had moments of serious hilarity. Alas, the two decades after this went off the air, the 1970's and 1980's, would be a dark, dreadful, arid, awful and worst of all, boring stretch for American cartoons. . . a bombed-out wasteland.
June Foray's career in radio, recordings (Stan Freberg), movies and in the cartoons of Warner Bros. and Jay Ward Productions has been responsible for a gazillion laughs. Here she is with animator and writer Darrell Van Citters, author of The Art Of Jay Ward.
For more info, by all means get a copy of the Jay Ward Studio history, The Moose That Roared, A.S.A.P. The story of Jay Ward, Alex Anderson, Bill Scott and the multi-talented animators and voice artists involved in these shows has been painstakingly researched and very entertainingly written by character actor/voice artist/impressionist and film and radio historian Keith Scott.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
We're happy to plug a very fun project, the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, taking place over the next six days.
Thanks to Silver Screenings, Once Upon A Screen and Movies Silently for getting this 6-day film history show on the road!
Tuesday, August 02, 2016
This Friday Night In Redwood City, CA: Silent Movies Accompanied By Jeff Sanford's Cartoon Jazz Septet
As our friend and collaborator Robert Emmett from KFJC-FM likes to say, silent films are never silent, so, this Friday night, vintage films and cartoons produced 100 years ago will be accompanied live by the music of Jeff Sanford's Cartoon Jazz Septet at Angelica's in downtown Redwood City!
From the press release:
Angelica's and Montuno Productions present Jeff Sanford’s Cartoon Jazz Septet, a smaller version of the Cartoon Jazz Orchestra, which Jeff Sanford organized in 2003 to play the eccentric, highly entertaining and challenging music of American composer Raymond Scott. This music is known to millions around the world—it was the soundtrack to 120 classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons.
The vision of the Septet extends far beyond Raymond Scott’s music these days. Among other icons, Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington are represented, as is Charlie Shavers, the brilliant trumpeter, composer and arranger who “jazzed the classics” for the John Kirby Sextet in the 1930s.
Since 2009, Lenny Carlson has been composer-in-residence for both the Septet and the Orchestra.
Lenny has taken the spirit of Raymond Scott and updated it, combining classical and jazz elements with klezmer and folk styles from around the world.
The show will also feature a comedy and magic performance. Old school 16mm films will be presented by film historian Paul Etcheverry.
The Date: Friday August 5, 2016
Showtime: 8:30 p.m.
The Place: Angelica's, 863 Main Street, Redwood City, CA
Bell Stage Main Dining Room
Buy Advance Tickets here
Tickets at the Door $35.00
Premier Seating while available on line $35.00
Regular seating while available on line $27.00
If you wish to be seated with another ticket purchasing customer please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Band members will be interviewed on KALW-FM on Thursday (August 4) at 1:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. For more info, see:
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra official website
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra Facebook page