Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tunesday #1 - 4 Cartoons, 1 Director, 2 Good Ones: Part One

Eh...what's up, Doc? Welcome to the first installment of Tunesday, my special series of Tuesday blog posts. These will all be about the great Warner Bros. cartoons, and their many highlights and lowlights.

Ah, good ol' Chuck Jones. Indisputably one of the  greatest animation directors of all time, his track record includes wonderful shorts like What's Opera, Doc?, Duck Amuck, Bully for Bugs, and the Hunting Trilogy. However, Jones was more art-inclined than humor-inclined. Granted, his shorts are most certainly funny, but as time wore on he became more focused on making them look good than on making them funny. As such, by the end of his career, he made shorts like Superior Duck and From Hare to Eternity that looked great but were, in terms of humor, terrible. Also, like most directors, he liked using premises more than once if they worked. This was the thinking that turned characters like Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, and Pepe Le Pew from one-shot standouts to recurring players. However, like other directors, he tended to do premises better the first time than the second. For the first ever Tunesday post, I'm going to look at 4 Chuck Jones cartoons, all starring Daffy Duck. 2 of them share one premise, 2 share another, but in both cases, we'll see how the earlier, slightly more humor-inclined Jones made it work better than later, when his humor became more subtle.
First, let's see the before-and-after of how Chuck handled Space Age cartoons. At one end of the spectrum is 1953's highly-praised Duck Dodgers in the 24.5th Century. What's to be said about this cartoon that hasn't already been said? It was named the 4th-greatest cartoon of all time, and stands out as one of the finest Daffy Duck shorts ever made. The story is creative, both as a spoof of '50s space serials and on its own: Duck Dodgers, hero of the 24th and half century, is sent to Planet X in order to claim it for the Earth, as the planet contains Illudium Fozdex, "the shaving cream atom," which Earth is running low on. Dodgers goes on with his Eager Young Space Cadet (Porky Pig), but encounters trouble when Marvin the Martian tries to claim it for Mars. The duo engage in a battle of wits ultimately leaving the planet a football-size chunk after an explosion. This short is brilliant; the writing is excellent, provided by Chuck's long-standing writing partner Michael Maltese, who is responsible for writing most of Jones's best work. The short features gags that connect to the story in some way, but stand alone as gut-bustingly funny moments, such as Daffy's long-winded plan of action to get to Planet X (and Porky's simple alternative, which Daffy takes credit for) to Daffy's lame supply of Acme products (a disentegrating gun that..well, disentegrates.)
Watch it and enjoy:

Of course, Jones decided to return to the space cartoon formula. However, he had a different writing partner this time: Tedd Pierce. Although a great writer when working with Jones in his earlier shorts, by this point Pierce had spent most of the '50s making topical TV show spoofs with Bob McKimson, such as Wideo Wabbit (1956) and The Honey-mousers ('57). None of these were very funny as they were dated the day they came out. Jones shouldn't have trusted Pierce to help with this next spoof, 1956's Rocket Squad. It somehow becomes a spoof of Dragnet...in space. I'd like to see how the gag session for this went.

Chuck never leaned toward topical spoofs; that's what makes his best shorts timeless. Here's a real clunker: Daffy and Porky are space detectives Joe Monday and his partner, Tuesday ("He always follows me"). This sets up a series of gags based off of Daffy the narrator messing up the facts (and Porky breaking the fourth wall to correct him), the many space age gags that tire out quickly (although one clever one manages to work in some WB crew members' names), and the eventual lame ending. You can tell Jones didn't like the material here, but had to just go with it. Were this just a lame McKimson outing, nobody would care. But this is Chuck Jones, one of the greatest animation directors of all time! Why would he make a stinker like this? The gags aren't funny and those who don't know Dragnet will be clueless to how they reference it. Watch it if you must, as it is on the 3rd Looney Tunes Golden Collection, but I warn you, it's a clunker.
Come back next week for the Chuck Jones Cowboy Double Feature. Yippe-ti-yi-yay.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Thoughts on Monsters University

Hi, gang. Well, I just returned from seeing Monsters University with a pal. And I've gotta tell you: it was great! Better than Monsters, Inc? Well, no. Though I do think it'd be important to preface my thoughts on MU with my thoughts on MI.
Now, this movie couldn't even try to top the original.  Monsters, Inc. may very well be my favorite Pixar film. Of course I love other Pixar films: Ratatouille, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and, of course, the Toy Story trilogy; trying to choose a favorite Pixar movie is nearly impossible for me. But Monsters, Inc. just edges out on top for having several factors adding to its stance as my favorite Pixar movie. First, the story is creative. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's original: The old Chuck Jones cartoons with Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog and Little Monsters did the same thing, and movies like Bolt or Wreck-It Ralph would do it again afterwards. Namely, the idea that monsters, video game characters, action heroes, or natural enemies are only so on the clock, as being a hero, monster, enemies, or video game character is just part of their job. But Monsters, Inc. explores it creatively and heartwarmingly. Looking for heart in Little Monsters is like looking for a nuclear device in a bag of Cracker Jacks, the Jones cartoons were more focused on comedy than heart, and while it does play a role in Bolt and Ralph, the focus tends to shift more toward other story elements. Inc stays true to the premise and also uses it as a way to further the plot and character development. The characters are great, the animation fantastic, and I've seen it more than any other Pixar film since I was a kid. So, yeah, although a sequel could get me pumped, it didn't have a prayer of topping the original.

But does that make MU bad? Not in the least. The premise is interesting: we finally get to find out how Mike and Sulley met, how they became lifetime scaring partners, and how this all built up to them receiving jobs at Monsters, Inc, as well as other tidbits like how they met Randall or how Sulley managed to first beat the All-Time Scare Record. The film shows that the duo were not fast friends; both possessed spectacular egos and were fierce rivals. Mike was of the "study hard, scare later" mindset, Sulley the opposite. However, both egos were deflated after being bumped out of the elite Scaring Program and being relegated to Scare Canister Construction. The duo still saw a chance to prove their worth by enlisting their fraternity, Oozma Kappa (OK) in the Scare Games. But they still had to both join forces and turn their different strengths (brains for Mike, brawn for Sulley) into one while simultaneously turning their motley crew of misfits into top-level scarers.
This movie works well in showing Mike and Sulley's gradual transition into friends. Also interestingly, it (briefly) shows the transformation of Mike and Randall from studying roommates into bitter rivals once Randall pledges into the cool frat Roar Omega Roar (ROR), taking the place of the booted Sulley, while Mike sticks to his guns with the underdogs. The underdogs in Oozma Kappa aren't that intriguing as individual characters, but they do represent that all important group of Awesome Nerds you find in so many of these movies, as all their strengths are used to help win the games (SPOILER ALERT: sorta).

Other new faces include villains like the folks at Roar Omega Roar and Dean Hardscrabble, voiced by Helen Mirren, who has been compared to Maleficent as a villain who projects an icy sort of hatred toward those she intimidates. However, all the new characters share the same flaw: they aren't that memorable, primarily because they're all in groups, so you have to concentrate on all of them at once, which is not an easy feat in a colorful cast of characters like these. The Oozmas are heroic nerds; the Omegas are jerks. We get this, plus a few standout nerds and jerks (held-back Don Martin, Gaston-like Johnny Worthington) to supply us with any details.
Yet none of the flaws I listed can staunch my liking of this movie. We don't need to focus on those guys, we want to learn more about Mike and Sulley! And we do, and as their friendship blossoms we get quite a few great scenes in which both confide that they need the other to be as good as they are in each field they specialize in. This movies is just the pick-me-up Pixar needs after the lousiness of Cars 2 and the less-than-memorability of Brave. Check it out when you can: Monsters University earns an A- in my book.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Welcome to We Live to Nerd!

Welcome to the very first post of my blog, We Live to Nerd! This is a blog dedicated to all of my various nerdy interests: my favorite music, movies, books, brand of Diet Snapple (Peach FTW!), etc. But primarily, this blog is about cartoons. Not just animated cartoons, although that's primarily what I'll talk about, but also comic strips and stuff like that. But what you're probably asking is: why would I want to check this blog out of all the other blogs on the internet? Well, it's cool, funny, and let's face it, do you have anything better to do?
There isn't much of a pattern of posts, per se. There are some recurring features, but there are only 3 specific series of posts that will be done weekly. First, Tuesday will be Tunesday, as I reflect on various things related to my all-time favorite cartoon series, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. It could be a short I like, a short I hate, a TV show like Taz Mania-anything goes. Wednesdays will be Waltdays, all about the best feature-length animation house, Walt Disney Studios. The first 52 (!) Wednesday posts will all be my retrospective on the 52 films in the Disney animation cannon. Yes, this has been done before, but my version is different: I'm going in reverse order. That's right, I'm starting with Wreck-It Ralph and ending with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. After that, it'll just be various Disney-related posts, and I'll put in a word about the latest Disney movies when they come out (animated, mind you. No Lone Ranger.)

And every Friday, I will be doing a Top __ list. Sometimes they might be so long they will be split up into more than one part. Also, I just like leaving you guys in suspense. The first of these will be "The Top 10 Underrated "Weird Al" Songs." Riveting, I know. Other than these, there will be other recurring segments I still have to think of. And once in a while I'll call upon a friend to write a guest post. But all in all, I just want you to enjoy this blog. Maybe you're reading this because you want to be entertained. Maybe you're reading this because you're a supportive friend. Or maybe you're reading this because you're bored and ICanHasCheezburger is taking too long to load. But in any case, sit back, relax, and put your brain in neutral mode. You're in for a nerdy ride.