Will cartoons ever live in peace with man? Animation is the most degraded art form in history, a miracle of filmmaking which has lived in the entertainment ghetto so long that the Japanese surpassed America’s product output years ago. On native soil, cartoons either shuck and jive for the kiddies in movie theaters or prattle listlessly for jaded ironic young adults on late night TV. The stigma of cartoon characters as harmless subhumans who can only entertain is an old one, while the alluring stench of danger that wafts around “cartoons for adults” was more recently spewed by the resurgence of animation at the dawn of the 90s, embodied by The Simpsons and The Ren and Stimpy Show. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast dives headfirst into the silent cold war of animation’s struggle for legitimacy with two films that straddled the line between animated and live-action entertainment, with varying results.
The use of cartoons as a metaphor for black entertainers marginalized within mainstream entertainment was extrapolated upon by author Gary K. Wolf in his 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? Although cartoons and humans had been matched onscreen before, the movie rights to Wolf’s novel represented the bold possibility of a feature length collusion between the two. Robert Zemeckis, in his first of many obsessions with technological animated feats to come, seized upon the opportunity and released the (apparently minimally faithful) film version Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. Roger Rabbit was a bonafide cultural phenomenon at the time, although later films inspired by its technological feats were a lot less artistically compelling.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was produced by Disney, and as such, although it contains a few cameos from cartoon characters of other studios it rather treats the medium of animation the way the Oscars treats the medium of film – that every contributor to the form has been part of one big happy tapestry and the very idea of itself deserves celebration for all the laughs and tears and tears of laughter we’ve enjoyed. That, and a horrifically malformed “sexy” cartoon woman named Jessica Rabbit who was probably the biggest factor in Disney taking their name off the opening credits and making it a “Touchstone Pictures” film.
The first and most infamous of Roger Rabbit inspired movies was, ironically, directed by an animator whose name was synonymous with “adult animation” – Ralph Bakshi, director of the first X-rated animated movie Fritz the Cat and other transgressive animated features in the 1970s. Just before Roger Rabbit he had given future Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi (“John K”) his big break on the animated TV series The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and with the recent renewal of mainstream interest in animation, the opportunity to return to feature filmmaking seemed like a great idea. Bakshi pitched Cool World to Paramount Pictures as the story of a cartoonist who enters a cartoon world and has sex with a cartoon girl, resulting in a half-cartoon half-human daughter who vengefully seeks him out in the real world to kill him – a horror film.
That was what was meant to be, until the Bakshi showed up on the first day of shooting to be handed a completely rewritten script in which there were now two human leads in the cartoon world, and rather than any horrific half-breed cartoon/human child, the plot now concerned the cartoon girl’s efforts to become human by sleeping with her cartoonist creator.
The resulting film is a giant disaster in which the convoluted metaphysical logistics are seemingly being written by the screenwriters minutes before the scenes are filmed, with hacky genre dialogue being peppered atop everything to explain the randomness – like the cartoon girl Holli Would referring to her human cartoonist’s visitation as “just a mindslip.” There’s also head-slappingly cheesy lines which contradict whatever internal logic the writers were pretending to create, like when a cartoon person says “I don’t give a doodle” despite the fact that the cartoon denizens of “Cool World” refer to themselves as “Doodles” and nobody goes around saying we don’t “give a human.” And that’s even before you can begin analyzing the wretchedness of a Kim Basinger performance.
The concept of a movie revolving entirely around having sex with cartoons is tailor made for 13 year olds (the oldest children who could see Cool World unaccompanied by parents) but the concept was much better delivered in the Fred Olen Ray joint from the same year, Evil Toons.
All this, plus digs at Steven Spielberg, TV cartoon writers and a rare kind word for Roger Ebert in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast!
NEXT EPISODE: MUPPETS SPECIAL! THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979, JAMES FRAWLEY) & MUPPETS FROM SPACE (1999, TIM HILL)
As you may have heard, America’s economy is in a state of deep hurting. This affects professionals of all kinds, especially small business owners and private practitioners. Fortunately for the characters in both our movies this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast business is always booming when your line of work is illegal, and if you’re criminally insane money is just a social construct for meatbags.
Hiroki Matsukata, star of Blackmail Is My Life, reflects early in the film how lucky he is to be living in the economic salad days of 1968 Japan. Everyone’s got walking around money and nothing supplies guilt-ridden vice like disposable income. For Matsukata, nothing supplies steady business like recreational bad behavior and with so many others on the supply side of bad behavior, he can blackmail those who supply the gambling and prostitution rather than their average joe customers. Matsukata and his gang have a lot of fun and games under the colorful lens of director Kinji Fukasaku until our merry backmailers bite off more than they can chew: the trick to trickle down economics is not to squeeze too hard those at the top. The schemes employed aren’t exactly a how-to guide for a new career but there are some valuable tips for swinging boomtown living.
While blackmail has always been a niche market, in 1992 the demand for one-liner spouting serial killers was at an all time low. Oversaturated by the likes of Freddy and Chucky, most consumers no longer were looking for quippy puns after being stabbed and analysts declared the industry dead. Then out of nowhere, ads began appearing in the back of Spider-Man comics for a bold new physician named Doctor Giggles who was producing astounding breakthroughs in the excessive use of medical-related post-mortem one-liners. As the bad guy from Darkman, Universal Pictures gave Larry Drake the coveted once in a lifetime role to immortalize the renowned Doctor Giggles in the film Dr. Giggles, thus inspiring a generation.
Prosperity, perversion and MURDER are just around the corner in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: ALAN SMITHEE PODCAST 50TH EPISODE SPECIAL! TOP 5 BEST AND WORST MOVIES & DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER (1969, ALLEN SMITHEE) & THE BIRDS II: LANDS END (1994, ALAN SMITHEE)
This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.
It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)
Continuing their conversation on Carpenter, Matthew and Andrew pick up with his Christine adaptation. Following a discussion of all his theatrical releases, they touch on his recent television episodes and become wistful at thoughts of his future endeavors.
Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Body Bags (1993), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996), Vampires (1998), Halloween H2o (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), Cigarette Burns (2005), and Pro-Life (2006).