American Animation Round 3: Tiny Toon Adventures

Since my first encounter with the TTA movie, ‘How I Spent My Vacation’ (see TC12), this has been one of the few TV programs I’ve made any significant strenuous attempt to catch. If you haven’t seen it – likely, as ITV file it away in the children’s slot – the central characters and themes are mostly updated versions of the old Warner Bros Looney Tunes ones. Thus, Buster Bunny is a 90’s version of Bugs, with the same street smarts and wise-cracks, and the supplier to Wile E.Coyote, Acme, now operate a home shopping channel. However, there are additional characters such as Montana Max, an archetypal rich brat; his bodyguard is a white Doberman called ‘Arnold’ who speaks with a strangely familiar middle-European accent…

One difference is that while the old crew were almost without exception male (despite Bugs’ fondness for cross-dressing), equality of the sexes has hit even the toon world. As a foil for Buster, there’s now Babs Bunny – “no relation” – and Pepe Le Pew is replaced by Fifi, as these days Pepe’s activities would get him slapped with a sexual harassment suit. The basic psychology, however, remains the same.

But the undisputed queen of Acme Acres is Elmyra, the most wonderful and frightening of the new characters. Best described as ‘She-Wolf of the Primary School’, she sports a skull-and-crossbones hair-clip and can even send the Tasmanian Devil spinning off in terror, by the simple expedient of treating him like a soft toy. Her perpetual obsession is “furries”; any animal (and thus most of the TTA cast) are fair game to be snatched and smothered in affection: “I want my very own animal to love and hug and perform animal experiments on”.

Being a Spielberg production and a Warner Brothers series, TTA is free to plough into vast herds of cultural icons with tongue firmly in cheek. This was most obvious in ‘Batduck’, parodying a certain superhero who battles villains over…T-shirt merchandising rights? With references to ‘Dork Knight’, and a partly-obscured graffito on a wall reading “Who watches the W…”, it may be closer to Frank Miller than Tim Burton has yet managed to get.

Luckily, traditional animation concerns i.e. gratuitous violence aren’t forgotten. Take ‘The Anvil Chorus’: after repeated demands to be the star, Plucky Duck finally gets his wish. Unfortunately, the plot involves him being hit with anvils in every conceivably amusing way. This abuse is punctuated with an interlude explaining the history of the anvil, a commercial for the Acme Anvil Company, and a protest by a spokeswoman for Adults Against Funny Cartoons, complaining about the level of violence. Her diatribe is interrupted by, yep, an anvil landing on her head.

Admittedly, it has good days and bad days. Part of the reason for this is obscured in Britain by an odd quirk; we always get the same credits (trivia note: they’re taken from episode 108), instead of them varying from episode to episode. This is detrimental in at least three ways:

  • a) it fails to give the cast proper acknowledgement, which is a shame, not least because it can include some famous names, such as Tim Curry, playing Prince Charles?
  • b) it removes the delight of spotting the different in-jokes hidden in every title sequence. This is taken to it’s inevitable, ultimate conclusion in ‘How I Spent My Vacation’, where the end was more like a series of gags with the odd credit here and there
  • and c) hides the fact that different episodes are animated by different companies. Generally the best are done by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, one of Japan’s leading animation houses, who work from American storyboards (leading to debates over whether Tiny Toons can be classed as anime!). Irrelevantly, I’ve seen an episode dubbed into Japanese: a salutary experience, perfect lip-synch and superb voice acting. Why can’t we get dubs of that quality here? Of course, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the script…

But even at it’s most moral, it remains fascinating due to the OTT approach. When Plucky Duck stole a choccie bar, his guilty conscience took on the appearance of something suspiciously like a bad trip; I say “suspiciously”, as director Art Vitello worked on “Fritz the Cat”, so is bound to be aware of how many illicit pharmaceuticals make five!

One episode was actually written by three teenage fans of the show, who sent an unsolicited script to their local station, who promptly filed it in an official folder and forwarded it to Amblin, the producers. The author-ettes were then invited in, and to cut a long story short, their episode ended up getting made. However, as the in-joke at the end was something like “please send all unsolicited scripts to…some other show”, I think it’s a ‘mistake’ unlikely to be repeated.

The TTA series led to a spin-off show, ‘Animaniacs’, starring the Warner Bros (and Warner Sister), three…beings who inhabit the studio back lot. This is perhaps even more overtly non-child orientated, with the core frequently being movie parodies of such kiddie fare as ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘The Birds’ and ‘Goodfellas’, the last named starring three pigeons and retitled ‘Goodfeathers’. While occasionally hitting the mark with precision, the shows are padded out with less amusing material, which dilutes the overall effect a little too much.

Despite this recent aberration, for my money TTA is one of the best, and thanks to it’s time-slot, is quite probably also the most subversive of the new wave of American animation yet to be screened in Britain.

Nothing in Between

by DF Lewis

Virgins don’t have nipples on their breasts.

There were two men in the back room and one of them had come out with a statement which made the other realise that this was not the routine conversation at all, but one where nothing could be proved or disproved — and very little in between. And he who had spoken took off his hat and continued . . .

My first love was my mother. She was also the first to tell me of the likes of God — a real eye-opener. As a baby, I used to crawl over her body like a large pink fleshy spider with half its legs missing. She took me into the bath with her, where I sucked at her useless paps. I shared her bed, because my cot was far too small for both of us. It was easier to kneel and pray by a proper bed, in any event, whilst she fed me tampons like holy wafers.

My father had died the day I was born and was passed from coffin to coffin like a hot potato, until finally stuck fast up the chimney flue where, I was told, he became the corpse of Santa Claus — but, like all children, I thought it all sounded pretty hollow.

My second love was my sister. She was older by a long chalk and she took over where mother left off. She told me that virgins cannot grow nipples on the boobies and that was why hers were unfinished moulds of semi-solid cones, the heavy-duty crucifix dangling between each one. But it was her face I remember most, like a flat-faced vixen, with a widow’s peak and eyebrows which crawled about across her forehead from ear to ear.

Being told my sister used to change my nappies, I felt certain she must have innocently examined my privities which a baby knows no reason to conceal. A little later, when I was fully potty-trained, she invaded my secret places to see if her first impression could be believed. She tried to tongue me up, but I had no ulterior motive to respond. In fact, I recall being surprised that she apparently wanted to suck out my wee-wees, because what else was that part of my body for?

She showed me her own nether regions but, again, I had no interest in them. I merely wanted to play ludo or snakes and ladders. . . .

However, time is a destroyer or healer of all things. Both of us, under our mother’s very nose, dilly-dallied behind curtains and, as the clock struck five for high tea, almost reached fulfilment.

But the problem of breasts remained. Even I, a boy, had vestigial nipples, whilst she couldn’t even grow the eeni-meaniest end products upon her swollen mammaries. She’d stare at herself in the mirror for hours, stripped to the waist, like a snake-charmer humming tunes that fitted more with the dark sweaty seed-beds of working-class people than the brightly lit chambers of the civilised world of nobility and nonchalance to which I was accustomed.

Technically, she told me, she was still a virgin since the congress between us so far had been innocent. I was now mature enough to suggest she obtain a boy friend, but she said she didn’t want complete strangers mucking about inside her. I was not fully knowledgeable about the ways of the world, so I could only agree with her. Keep it all in the family and any outsiders at arm’s length. So I tried to muscle up, but no amount of foreplay gave me sufficient get-up-and-go.

She tried fingers, every finger of her hand; even the coal-tongs hanging by the roaring log fire in the lounge were brought into service. But her titties, although ripe enough, did not nipple forth into what she considered to be her Godgiven birthright.

The man finished talking, a look of resignation on his face. The listener responded by pointing out that virginity had nothing to do with nipples and, come to think of it, the sister could never have been a virgin in the first place, because there were no such things as virgins, anyway. It was all a myth since God had fucked them all before they were born.

The main speaker replaced his hat and left the smoke-filled room, whilst he sadly recalled overhearing, all those years ago, the muffled prayers of his sister to that same God for a spanking new pair of nipples in her next Christmas stocking. His eyes were full of tears, since he now began to realise that his dearest sister had been little better than circus freak, with nothing between the ears.

The one who had listened so patiently, upon trudging home through the crisp and even snow, smiled to himself. He wondered:- If the speaker’s father was really Santa Claus, who was Santa Claus?

Spirit of enterprise 2: boys (& girl) in blue

Police poseurs in Chinese cop couture

Beijing – China’s streets teem with uniforms but checks in one major city alone found only seven of 37 people in police uniforms had the right to wear them, a report in the official China Daily said. “People from factory guards to minor officials and drivers to travelling salesmen are defying a state ban on unauthorised wearing of (police) uniforms. Some have used them to get involved in crime,” it said, adding the problem is nationwide. Fake cops are also obtaining police cars, allowing them to race through traffic with impunity while tending to their blackmail and prostitution operations, it said.

Police try to shake down…their boss

Lagos – Two policemen in Nigeria’s Kano state ended up with more than they bargained for when they stopped a private car at a roadblock late at night and demanded money. Nigerian radio said police commissioner Haliru Zakari was travelling in the car with his wife. Zakari, who was not amused, sacked the two men and warned other officers under his command against terrorising the public. Newspapers say policemen in Nigeria are owed 3 months’ salary arrears. Motorists in cities say officers at checkpoints can be quite forceful in demanding “kola” (gifts).

Policewoman offers sex in uniform

Rome – Italian police who raided a massage parlour where sex was on sale were surprised to find one of their female colleagues among the prostitutes, Il Manifesto reported on Thursday. The woman cashed in on her double life by offering sex in uniform at prices of around one million lire (£400) per session at the Turin brothel, the daily added. She now faces police disciplinary proceedings and possible criminal charges.

Bizarre murder defence?

Bangkok – Seven Thai policemen have been charged with robbing and murdering at least ten ethnic Chinese tourists. The gang preyed on Chinese-speaking tourists and may have killed as many as 40 people, police said. Victims were befriended by a Chinese-speaking member of the gang, Corporal Somchai Opaso, then lured into cars on the pretext of going sightseeing before being robbed and shot. “I am a junior policeman and earn very little… The police department should look after the police,” gang member Somchai said. “I can only warn those responsible for tourists to look after them better.”

Against Disney

Munich, Germany – The mayor of the Bavarian city of Dachau has banned Mickey Mouse and other American cultural emblems from fairgrounds, in a letter to the Bavarian Showman’s Society made public on Wednesday. “Why in the world do Bavarian and German fairground entertainers find it necessary to decorate their worthy and highly valued businesses with these stupid and tasteless decorations and names?” Mayor Lorenz Reitmeier asked. Dachau would no longer tolerate fairground rides bearing such “idiotic” slogans and designs, Reitmeier said.

Unquestionably, Disney are the greatest producers of animated features. But recently, I’ve experienced growing disenchantment with the current state of the studio, partly based on their output, partly on the behaviour of the Disney corporation. Now, I could talk about concepts such as the proposed “Disney’s America”, including an attraction which, according to one executive, would “make you feel what it was like to be a slave” (a comment rapidly disowned!). But the TC libel lawyers are still working through the ideologically-loaded concepts that litter Disneyland, so
let’s start instead with an important subject in the Magic Kingdom: money.

In 1993, Disney’s chairman Michael Eisner was paid a cool $203m. Doubly stunning, when you realise the entire company’s profit that year was less than $300 million. Is this the same company who sent round that famous memo decrying the rise of the blockbuster and telling everyone to think small? Clearly the advice did not apply to Eisner’s pay cheque. Indeed, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of Disney Studios, reputedly once declined the vice-president post as he’d then be legally obliged to disclose his (embarrassingly large) salary. This sort of hypocrisy may help explain why Disney, together with McDonald’s and H.Ross Perot’s EDS, rank high among companies I’d least like to see running the planet.

To discuss the studio’s current state, we need an awareness of Disney’s history. It may be hard to believe now, but there was a time when cartoons were for everyone: an evening at the movies would include a B-feature, a newsreel and, before the main attraction, almost always a cartoon. This could be sexy – or at least, as sexy as was permitted in those days – and violent almost to the point of sadism; many Warner Bros. and almost all of MGM’s ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons have a level of aggression that Van Damme would find tough to match.

However, Disney were first to move into feature-film production, with high quality, feature length movies such as ‘Snow White’. The horrendous costs involved discouraged others: most stuck to shorts, leaving Disney with a virtual monopoly on films. But given the frightening price of intensive full-scale cel animation, for a movie to be financially viable, it had to be seen by the biggest audience possible. A ‘G’ rating was therefore an economic necessity.

Walt did not, I feel sure, intend to drive animation down into the ghetto of family viewing, but because of this restriction, that’s where it spent thirty years, in America at least. Other studios, unable to compete in quality, cut costs by simplifying backgrounds and reducing the effective frame rate. The world of animation entered what we might refer to as the Dark Ages, populated by such “masterpieces” as Scooby Doo and The Flintstones.

Today, Disney remain the number one studio in the world, a position they could use to help animation become an art form worthy of respect and success, both critical and popular. Instead, they still insist on that ‘G’ rating for every Disney animation, confusing family values and family entertainment. This stifles the creativity of some of the best animators in the world – it’s as if someone had told Salvador Dali he could only paint portraits. Little wonder they rebel: witness the snatch of Jessica Rabbit (pun intended) in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’. Until it was pulled, the laser-disc also had an advert saying ‘For a good time, call Alyson Wonderland’, giving chief executive Michael Eisner’s home telephone number.

As an example, look at “Beauty and the Beast”. It had moments of real tension between the two eponymous characters. But whenever the pair threatened to achieve the heights of real drama…on would come the talking crockery and dancing candlestick, destroying the whole effect. I’d love to see the Disney animators given full rein to unleash their talents on a more challenging subject than light romantic comedy.

Look through Disney’s catalogue, you’ll see a frightening percentage of public domain stories: “Aladdin”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Snow White”. Nor were the authors of “The Jungle Book”, “Peter Pan” and “The Little Mermaid” around to negotiate good deals or complain if their stories were sanitised (“The Little Mermaid” doesn’t have a happy ending – and have you read The Brothers Grimm? Not nice…). Even the supposedly original “Lion King” bears certain resemblances to Japanese series “Kimba the White Lion”. This parsimonious approach extends further: Robin Williams played the part of the genie in ‘Aladdin’ for a minuscule fraction of his standard fee but Disney still broke their agreement by using his voice for a burger commercial.

Such morality is scarcely unique. ‘Aladdin’ saw a rapid change to the lyrics of one song after complaints from the Arab community, and Disney also took the unprecedented step of withdrawing and changing all the prints of a live-action film recently, after a couple of kids were run over imitating a stunt therein, where people lay down in the middle of the freeway. The sensible reaction might have been to enquire precisely what the victims thought would happen if they lay down in the middle of the freeway, but once again, Disney were the caring studio. Screw art, let’s be socially responsible.

Or at least, pretend to be socially responsible. Much was made of the fact that Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ read books (wow, welcome to the 20th century), while the bad guy was a jock, brawn and no brain. However, it was badly blown in the final reel when the beast turned into an almost exact reproduction of the villain, only to have Belle swoon over him like any other bimbo. If there’s one thing I hate more than political correctness, it’s fake political correctness.

Quick question. Name the hero in ‘101 Dalmatians’. Tough, huh? On the other hand, no points for remembering who the villainess was! It’s not generally known that Cruella de Vil was, to a large extent, inspired by Myra Hindley – the blond hair, the cruelty, the fur coats. Okay, actually this is complete fabrication, but the very fact that it seemed vaguely plausible, even for a single sentence, tells you something about Disney villains. The heroes and heroines are nowhere near as memorable, because they are all ground down to the point of blandness.

Things would be ok, if Disney were just one colour in a spectrum of animation studios. But while in live-action movies, there exists a rainbow of producers with almost anything possible, virtually every feature film animation made in the States over the past thirty years has been “Disney­fied”. Chief among the D-clones is Don Bluth, an ex-Disney animator who now makes features which are indistinguishable from the original product, except by their technical inferiority. In this country, it’s Nick Park and his bloody plasticine penguins that occupy the same position, with their relentless repetition of a bland comedy theme.

However, there has recently been an upsurge of hope; names like Plimpton and Chung have shown that there are still animators willing to work outside the system, and have shown that there is more to the field than banal rehashes of familiar tales. Unfortunately, it may be a while before anyone gives them $20 million dollars for a movie. The major cause for optimism is that of the trio responsible for Disney’s “success”, Katzenberg and Wells have gone, and Eisner recently underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. I wouldn’t sell the man any life insurance.

But just as non-stop pizza deadens the palate, so Disney’s unending supply of cloying entertainment is detrimental to movie-goers in general, and animation in particular.


Winona Ryder plays a hooker with a penchant for Shetland ponies, off on holiday with her sister (Phoebe Cates). The plane is shot down and they’re forced to struggle through the jungle clad only in lingerie. They are caught by a band of renegade Nazis, led by Nastassja Kinski…

Fantasy? Yep. But those with active imaginations can get the dream closer to reality – through a game called ‘Movie Mogul’, for a few quid a week, you too can be a Hollywood producer.

Movie Mogul is a Play-by-Mail game, or PBM for short. For those unfamiliar with this concept, a short introduction may be useful (I’m tempted to say that Play-by-Mail games are games you play by mail…). Almost any game with well-defined turns can become a PBM. Chess is a good example: send a move to your opponent, he posts his response back. ‘Diplomacy’ is another: turns go to a central controller who resolves resulting conflicts. The intervals between turns make it easy to engage in the mutual plotting, conniving and back-stabbing which are the game’s core.

PBM’s have been around for a while – probably, almost as long as mail – and a mini-industry has sprung up running them, ranging from bedroom amateur to seriously professional. They had a phase of popularity in the late 80’s, led by “It’s a Crime!”, which achieved notoriety as players played the parts of mob bosses and “won” by ordering their gangs to mug, rob and push drugs. This is one example of a game invented specifically as a PBM: most such fall into four categories: war; role-playing; space exploration; and sport simulations (such as fantasy football). However, Movie Mogul is really rather unique, which is why it’s appearing in TC.

Players in Movie Mogul run film production houses. Each turn, they can send in a film plan: 300-400 word synopsis, cast list, and budget breakdown. These are processed with the help of a computer, generating simulated box office figures based on genre, budget, certificate, stars, director, etc. You get back results showing how well everyone performed their jobs, plus a booklet containing all submitted synopses, press releases from the players, and a table giving summary data for every film. How to “win” is to a certain extent up to you: some want box-office smashes, others critical acclaim. The choice is yours, Emma Thompson or Sharon Stone?

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Firstly, you start with just one million dollars, and rapidly learn that even low-grade stars like Tom Berenger want a minimum of $500K. The first few movies, you’ll end up directing and acting in yourself, simply because you can’t afford anyone else. However, lack of budget is no barrier to imagination or invention! It’s nice the fantasy actors seem to have no scruples: hire Roseanne Barr & Traci Lords to wrestle in mud, and they’ll do it (for a price).

The major problem is other people. You want Winona Ryder desperately, but let’s face it, who doesn’t? If another producer offers her more, it’s bye-bye Winona, hello Pia Zadora. Rule #1: “There’s always someone with more money”, and it is a problem that if outbid, a replacement choice is automatically selected for you, and might not match your mind’s eye. Oddly, you can state backup directors and writers in case your top choice is unavailable, but can’t do it for actors. And the choice of crew seems odd: I’d rather be able to specify soundtrack composers than editors, though it has to be said, my knowledge of technical credits has certainly improved – “Adam Greenberg? Oh, yeah, cinematographer on the Terminator movies”.

In any case, other people are also half the fun, with sincerity, openness and honesty every bit as common as in Hollywood: studios happily snipe at each other in press releases, under the guise of anonymity. Plus, there’s no reason why your mogul’s name has to be the same as your real one: my company, Channel 83, is run by the irrepressibly psychotic Max Renn. It’s made 40 films, has a bank balance around $250m, and aims towards the ‘exploitation’ end of the market.

Basically, it’s a game for those with imagination, though if you’re short of ideas, you can ‘buy’ the rights to books, TV series, or just about anything else, and turn it into a movie. The potential is there for enormous profits – or enormous losses, the live-action version of ‘Aeon Flux’ is still spoken of in the same way as ‘Ishtar’ and ‘Heaven’s Gate’. Initially, the challenge is provided by the limited assets at your disposal, but eventually this really ceases to be significant. The main problem is then the struggle to come up with fresh ideas: difficult though it is to believe, there is a limit to how many times one can portray Emmanuelle Beart having strawberry cheesecake licked off her. And originality is valuable: while standard action fare does ok, most big hits come from ideas not so much in left field, as sitting in the top deck of the stands.

This barely scratches the surface of the game: also involved are things like investment, advertising, long-term contracts, film festivals, etc. I’ve been playing for over a year and haven’t sussed out how it all fits together; Channel 83 have just come through a nightmare period of four total turkeys in three months, so I guess I still have a lot to learn. The entire universe is at your disposal – I’m still trying to work out the plot involving Nastassja, Winona, Phoebe…oh, and the blancmange too, of course. See you in Hollywood.

[Contact Andrew Perry, 55 Martley Road, Worcester, WR2 6HG. Send an SAE for info, or if you’ve already been convinced, £5 gets you the necessary rule-books, cast/crew list and first turn. Further turns cost from £1.50, depending on synopsis length and other options you select]