Archive Page 2

20
Dec
09

The Misfits Are Still a Hit

No animated Christmas special has been more durable than “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”   This Rankin-Bass perennial favorite, based on the Johnny Marks song of the same title,  premeried on NBC on December 6, 1964. 

There are several characters in the program, the main character among them, who don’t quite fit into their circumstances.  Rudolph doesn’t fit in with the other reindeer because the other reindeer don’t have glowing red noses.  Hermey the Elf doesn’t quite fit in with the other elves in Santa’s workshop because Hermey would rather spend his time being a dentist than a toymaker–toymaker apparently being the raison d’etre of the average North Pole-dwelling elf.  Rudolph and Hermey meet up and come upon a character named Yukon Cornelius.  The three of them manage to find a place called The Island of Misfit Toys, the denizens of which apparently have various defects that render them unlovable by children (as one of them puts it, “No child wants to play with a Charlie-In-The-Box!”). 

Rudolph decides to see if Santa can help the misfit toys so he goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.   However, inclement weather places Santa’s annual mission in peril.  It is at this point that Rudolph’s glowing red nose becomes an asset and he leads Santa’s sleigh on its annual journey around the world.

Marks wrote the music for this program, the soundtrack of which contains some beloved tunes, among them “We’re a Couple of Misfits”, “Silver and Gold”, “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year”, and “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” 

The original preproduction of the show apparently did not include folk singer/balladeer/actor  Burl Ives, who would play the role of Sam the Snowman and would perform several of the songs in the program.  Originally, Yukon Cornelius (Larry D. Mann) was to perform many of the songs Sam ended up performing.   Ives was most likely brought in as a star name to sell the show to network TV and, in fact, Sam did bear a resemblance to Ives.

Other voice artists to perform on “Rudolph” besides Mann and Ives were Canadian actor Paul Soles as the voice of Hermey the Elf and Billie Richards (using the name “Billy Richards”) as the voice of Rudolph.

I have attached a YouTube clip featuring Sam the Snowman’s performance of “Silver and Gold.”  My main source of information for this entry was the “Rudolph: Behind the Scenes” page on TVParty.com.  Rick Goldschmidt, the author of  “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass”, wrote the text for the TVParty.com page.  Another source of information I used was a “Rudolph” plot summary page from The Internet Movie Database.

Advertisements
02
Dec
09

How the Grinch Stole the Credits

Last night, ABC ran my all-time favorite animated Christmas special, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The cartoon was based on characters which Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) created in the book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, a Random House publication released in 1957.

In December 1966, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” aired for the first time. Animator Chuck Jones, who created arguably some of the greatest cartoons of all time, directed this feature.

We all know the plot behind “Grinch.” The Grinch, who lives just north of Whoville where the Whos live, hates Christmas and the merriment the Whos experience every year during the Christmas season. He hatches a plan to steal all their food and presents on Christmas Eve while they sleep. However, after going through with this nefarious act (with a great deal of assistance from his canine sidekick, Max), the Grinch finds out that it is the meaning of the Christmas season, not the food and presents, that the Whos cherish so much. In the end, the Grinch’s heart grows in size and he reforms, returning all of the items he stole.

To get to the point of my post, the opening credits for “Grinch” list only one voice artist– who was not primarily known for lending his vocal talents to cartoons–while leaving out two other voice artists, both of whom were well known for their work in animation. Boris Karloff was best known as a star of horror movies, so being the narrator of an animated feature and the voice of the title character in this special were new experiences for him.

The uncredited voice artists who performed in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” were Thurl Ravenscroft and the legendary June Foray. Ravenscroft, who sang the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. was best known as the voice of breakfast cereal spokestiger Tony the Tiger. June Foray’s reputation as a cartoon voice artist speaks for itself (no pun intended). In this annual classic, she was the voice of Little Cindy Lou Who, whom The Grinch encountered when he was in the midst of stealing a Christmas tree from the Whos.

I’ve attached a clip from YouTube from “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Sources of information for this post are biographical information from the pbs.org web site on Chuck Jones, and a page from the “A History of Horror” web site, which includes biographical information on Boris Karloff.

25
Nov
09

Jerky Turkey

When you think of some of the best work of legendary animation director Fred “Tex” Avery, “Jerky Turkey” probably does not come to mind.  However, Thanksgiving is coming up, so it’s an appropriate time to discuss this short.

Metro-Goldwyn Mayer’s original theatrical release of this cartoon occurred on April 7, 1945.   The cartoon featured two main characters, an unnamed Pilgrim and an unnamed turkey.  The Pilgrim was trying to catch a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  In the manner of the Warner Brothers shorts in which various characters find their lives threatened and escape unscathed, the turkey in “Jerky Turkey” proves to be smarter than his potential captor and eludes the Pilgrim throughout the feature.  Anther character in the feature is a bear carrying a sandwich sign saying, “Eat at Joe’s.”  The bear turns out to be the Joe from the “Eat at Joe’s” sign and provides something of a surprise twist at the end of “Jerky Turkey.”  The source for the factual infomation in this post comes from the Big Cartoon Databse.

28
Aug
09

From the Mouths of Babes…or Were They?

In the world of animation,  there have always been cartoons featuring children’s voices.  However, those who provided the voices were not always children.  I can think of at least four adult voice artists who provided children’s voices in cartoons.  Two of these had a natural advantage while two more were just very skilled at their craft.

To the extent it’s possible to consider advertising icons as cartoon characters, Dick Beals began his illustrious career as a cartoon voice artist in 1952 as the voice of Speedy Alka Seltzer.  Speedy was a character  Wade Advertising in Chicago created for Miles, Inc., the manufacturer of Alka Seltzer.  Wade auditioned hundreds of actors and actresses for the role of Speedy, which eventually went to Beals.  Over the ensuing decades, Beals would provide the voices of such cartoon characters as Dan and Yank in “Roger Ramjet”,  Tiny Tom in “The Lone Ranger”, Arthur Spacely in “The Jetsons”, Buzz Conroy in “Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles”, Davy Hansen in “Davy and Goliath”, and the titular character in “Gumby.”  Beals was able to provide the voices of children in cartoons throughout his career due to a glandular condition which prevented him from going through puberty.  To this day, Beals is less than five feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds.

Like Dick Beals, Walter Tetley had a glandular condition that prevented him from going through puberty.   Tetley was perhaps best known as  the voice of Sherman, Mr. Peabody’s “pet boy” in the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments of “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

Daws Butler was, obviously, one of the most prolific cartoon voice artists of all time.  His considerable voice actor credits go beyond the scope of this entry.  Among the juvenile cartoon characters to his credit are Elroy Jetson of “The Jetsons”, Aesop, Jr. from the “Aesop and Son” segments of “Rocky and His Friends”, Beany from “Time for Beany”, Lambsy from the “It’s the Wolf!” segments of “The Cattanooga Cats”, and Augie  Doggie from, originally, “The Quick Draw McGraw Show.”

There is not much I can say to contribute to the considerable volume of  information already in existence on the legendary June Foray.  To say that she is good at her craft would be a huge understatement.  I remember seeing an interview years ago with June in which she talked about one of the more famous characters to whom she gave voice, Rocket J. (Rocky) Squirrel on “Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show.”   In the interview, June said she tried to project the voice of a little boy into Rocky, so I think Rocky would definitely qualify as one of the child characters to whom June gave voice.   The credits in the small screen version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (which I will get into in a future post)  mention only Boris Karloff as a voice (that of The Grinch), but it was June’s voice that made a brief appearnce as Little Cindy Lou Who.  Another animated child character for whom June provided her voice was Karen from the animated Christmas special, “Frosty the Snowman” (the little girl who befriended Frosty).

The sources of information for this post were the Voice Chasers web site, the WFMU blog site which has information on the career of Walter Tetley and the Advertising Icon Museum web site, which includes information on the origin of Speedy Alka Seltzer.  As has been my custom since creating this blog, I have included video clips relating to the information covered in this post. 

10
Aug
09

“I’ll Get You, Penelope Pitstop!”

There were two cartoons that were spinoffs of “Wacky Races.” One was “Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines.” The other was “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.” While watching the latter not long ago, I happened to notice that the introduction made reference to the show starring, “those seven rollicking rescuers, The Ant Hill Mob.” For what reason(s) did Penelope not rank starring status on her own show? I’ve never heard an explanation of this, but I have included a clip of an opening from the show that confirms Penelope was not mentioned as the star. Such a snub is, I suppose, one of those mysteries of the cartoon world to which we may never find an answer.

10
Aug
09

Edward Everett Horton

The following is a story I heard regarding a conversation which took place between Edward Everett Horton and legendary cartoon voice artist June Foray.  Horton, among other things, was the narrator of the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segments on “Rocky and His Friends”/”The Bullwinkle Show”/”The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”  Foray provided the voices of Natasha Fatale and Rocket J. Squirrel on “Rocky and Bullwinkle”,  etc.,  as well as the voices of various characters on “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

To set up the story behind this post, I was active on Yahoo Groups at one time (and am kicking around the idea of a possible eventual return).  One of the Yahoo Groups mailing lists I was on was called “ForayFansForum”,  the list owner of which was an expert on all things June Foray.  He told the story that, one day when the vocal cast of “Rocky and Bullwinkle”, etc.  was recording an episode, Foray remarked to Horton that she admired the sweater he was wearing. Horton responded that he received the sweater as a gift when he was in high school. Keeping in mind that “Rocky and Bullwinkle”,  etc., debuted on November 19, 1959 and Horton was born on March 18, 1886, he would have had to have been at least 73 years old at the time he and Foray had this conversation, meaning that Horton had owned the sweater he was wearing for well over 50 years.

I’ve included a clip from YouTube that is an episode of “Fractured Fairy Tales.” The episode is titled “Leaping Beauty” and is a parody of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale.

21
Jul
09

The First Anime to Be Broadcast Outside Japan

Okay, a virtual show of hands on this. How many of you think the first anime to be broadcast outside Japan is “Speed Racer”? Okay, you can put the virtual hands down now. Let’s have another virtual show  hands on the next question. How many of you think the first anime to be broadcast outside Japan is something else? Okay, you can put your virtual hands down now. The second group gets the extra credit points.

The first anime to be broadcast outside Japan is “Astro Boy.” The simplest way of defining “anime” is Japanese animation.

“Astro Boy” was a futuristic cartoon, set in a time where humans and androids co-existed. In the first episode of “Astro Boy”, we are introduced to Dr. Umataro Tenma (known as Dr. Aster Boynton II in the English version of “Astro Boy”), who is head of the Ministry of Science. Dr. Tenma/Dr. Boynton loses his son, Tobio (known as “Toby” in the English production) in an automobile accident in the first episode and, in his grief, decides to build a robot in Tobio’s/Toby’s image. Thus, Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) was “born.”

Although Dr. Tenma/Dr. Boynton was, at first, pleased with his creation, he soon realized that the android he created could not possibly be a substitute for Tobio/Toby.  Unlike a human child, Astro never got older and never grew.  This fact disappointed Dr. Tenma/Dr. Boynton and he reacted to his disappointment in a rather cruel manner, selling Astro Boy to the circus.

Eventually, Professor Ochanamizu (known as Dr. Packidermus J. Elefun in the American version of the TV series) notices Astro Boy in the circus and convinces the circus owner to turn Astro Boy over to him.  Dr. Ochananmizu/Dr. Elefun becomes Astro Boy’s guardian and makes note of Astro’s powers and skills.

Given that “Astro Boy” was going to be shown in the United States, someone had to dub it into English.  The job of doing that fell to Fred Laderman,  known in animation circles as  “Fred Ladd.” Mr.  Laderman had become an expert in dubbing European cartoons as a result of his work in repackaging old nature clips into a documentary for a Europena firm.  The work Mr. Laderman did for the European firm was in the postwar years when some European countries could not export cash, so the firm for which Mr. Laderman packaged the documentary “paid” him for his services in cartoons, which he then worked on dubbing into English.  NBC Enterprises hired Mr. Laderman to dub a foreign cartoon that had previously been a success in Japan into English.  At this point, the animation industry did not hold Japanese animation in high regard.  The show NBC Enterprises hired Mr. Laderman to dub became “Astro Boy.”

Of the 193 episodes of the original Japanese series, Mr. Laderman adapted 104 into the English production.  There was discussion of the name “Mighty Atom” as the title of the English version because the title character was thought of as being an atomic-powered robot.  However, that name was considered too generic and not “catchy enough” for American TV, so the final name of the series’ American version became “Astro Boy.”

Professor Ochanamizu/Dr. Elefun created a mother and father for Astro Boy and Astro Boy also had a sister, Astro Girl (Uran) and a brother, Cobalt (Jetto).  In the English version, Billie Lou Wyatt was the voice of Astro Boy, Astro Girl and their mother.  Ray Owens provided the voices of Dr. Elefun and Dr. Boynton and Gilbert Mack was the voice of Astro Boy’s father and Shunsuke Ban/Percival Pompous, Astro’s teacher.

My main sources of information for the above were some excellent web sites, among them the “Astro Boy” page on the “Absolute Astronomy” web site, the “Astro Boy World” blog and “The Fred Ladd Biography Page.”   The attachment is a black-and-white clip from YouTube of the opening of the original Japanese cartoon–which, of course, is in Japanese.