Category Archives: Cartoon

Caught in a Ham (2019, Miguel Jiron)

I think I went into Caught in a Ham with unduly high hopes (I’ve been a Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham since 1983) and apparently I’m enough of a purist to be a little upset Spider-Ham loses out on half his four minute cartoon so it can tie into Into the Spider-Verse. There’s also the issue of him getting the shaft on the runtime. If you’re going to ape an old Looney Tunes cartoon, give it at least seven minutes. Four just isn’t enough. Especially not when half of it is bridging material, which is the nature of the made-for-home-video-supplement beast but whatever. Have some respect for the brand.

Anyway.

The cartoon opens fine. Spider-Ham swinging through the city, making jokes about the hot dog he’s about to eat (I don’t remember cannibalism from the old comics but I was in grade school) and he gets into trouble with a painfully uncool villain, Doctor Crawdaddy. Oh, right. John Mulaney voices Spider-Ham, Aaron LaPlante voices Doctor Crawdaddy. They’re both fine. There’s not much for them to do. LaPlante’s the butt of Mulaney’s jokes and gags, which are lifted—most obviously—from Bugs and Elmer and then something else with slamming doors and hallways. I can’t remember if it’s Tom and Jerry but it’s something. I feel like there’s a cat in it.

Caught in a Ham, considering how “meta” it gets, would do just as well if not better to give citations on screen with the nods because they’re not meant to be discreet and citations would—do something.

Because once LaPlante’s Doctor Crawdaddy disappears and the cartoon gets very meta about Spider-Ham being a digitally animated creation being digitally animated, it becomes obvious it’s not adding up to anything. And it doesn’t. It just sends Spider-Ham, presumably, off into the Spider-Verse, where—hopefully—he gets more to do than in his own truncated cartoon.

Maybe it plays better after Spider-Verse but it certainly shouldn’t.

The animation’s good. Wish there was more of it and less perfunctorily animated meta-nonsense.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Miguel Jiron; screenplay by Jiron, based on the character created by Tom DeFalco and Mark Armstrong; animated by Daran Sudric; produced by David Schulenburg; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring John Mulaney (Spider-Ham) and Aaron LaPlante (Doctor Crawdaddy).


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Puss Gets the Boot (1940, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera)

Until the exceptionally racist caricature of “Mammy Two-Shoes” arrives, the most distinguishing thing about Puss Gets the Boot is the exceptional cruelty of the cat. Puss is the first Tom and Jerry cartoon, before Tom is named Tom (he’s Jasper here) and Jerry doesn’t get an onscreen name.

For the first two minutes, it’s just Jasper–sorry, no, it’s just easier to call him Tom–it’s just Tom tormenting Jerry. Jerry can’t run away faster enough or smart enough; the awkwardly cruelest moment is when Tom revives Jerry with some water after knocking him unconscious. I’m sure cats can be this evil playing with their prey but… not sure I have any interest in seeing it.

And it doesn’t really play for slapstick laughs because, until this point, it’s just the cat beating up on the mouse.

Then Mammy shows up and Puss gets gross and then grosser. It’s not just how the cartoon portrays the character, voiced by Lillian Randolph, it’s how Joseph Barbara writes the dialogue. He goes out of his way to be more racist about it all.

At that point, there’s no real way for Puss to save itself–later versions of the cartoon lightened Mammy’s skin and redubbed her–but, even so, the cartoon doesn’t do anything special or even interesting. Randolph tells Tom he’s out on his furry behind if he breaks anything else in the house. Jerry tries to get Tom break stuff. On and on it goes. There’s some amusement when Tom turns the tables on Jerry for a moment, but it’s far from significant.

The animation is fine, though it dips in quality as the cartoon progresses. Tom gets too loose. The direction’s all right too. Nothing special. Just racist.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera; animated by Carl Urbano, Tony Pabian, Jack Zander, Pete Burness, and Robert Allen; edited by Fred McAlpin; music by Scott Bradley; produced by Rudolf Ising, Jack Petrik, and Bill Schultz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lillian Randolph (Mammy Two-Shoes).


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It's Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown (1980, Bill Melendez and Phil Roman)

There’s an adorable moment when Woodstock makes a nest out of dental floss in It’s Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown, but otherwise it’s a hard going five and a half minutes.

Charlie Brown needs to floss and Lucy’s going to teach him. She wants to get all that plaque out before she goes to Schroeder’s concert. There’s so much pointless exposition, all of it with wooden delivery, one has to wonder how much work writer Charles M. Schulz put into Flossophy. Or how much work the directors put in to Michelle Muller’s performance as Lucy. It’s impossible to believe some of her deliveries weren’t just first takes.

Woodstuck gets Lucy’s dental floss because he’s having trouble building a nest. It’s a twenty or thirty second subplot and about the only charm in the cartoon. Snoopy helps him with it, apparently able to maintain brain function through Lucy’s flossing instruction instead of just shutting it off entirely.

And it’s all on Muller. Schulz gives her all the lines. She’s got to precisely describe various flossing techniques and there’s no way to make them work in dialogue. It gets her some sympathy, even if her performance itself doesn’t deserve it. When she gets to the “smell your floss, isn’t it gross, that smell is the plaque” moment, the goodwill’s gone. It’s unclear if the plaque smelling is supposed to be funny, disgusting, or instructional; regardless, like the rest of Flossophy, it’s a fail.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez and Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; music by Vince Guaraldi; released by the American Dental Association.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown) and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


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Charlie Brown Clears the Air (1979, Bill Melendez)

Charlie Brown Clears the Air opens with a deceptively funny gag. Snoopy messing with Linus. It’s the only funny thing in the cartoon, produced for American Lung Association with the apparent purpose of boring children into environmentally responsible behavior.

See, Snoopy’s in a mood because his dog house has got soot all over it because the neighbor is burning leaves and trash. The neighbor won’t stop burning leaves and trash unless Snoopy gets his motorcycle’s exhaust system fixed. Woodstock is Snoopy’s mechanic and he can’t figure it out–when the Woodstock cameo falls utterly, painfully flat, it’s clear how little Clears is going to impress–so they’re just going to have to live in mutual misery.

Then there’s the baseball game where Lucy can’t see because of air pollution and Linus can’t catch fly balls because he trips over litter. We see the litter. We don’t see the air pollution–apparently the American Lung Association didn’t offer the filmmakers much in the way of money, Clears has almost no backgrounds and nothing in the way of establishing shots. What can Charlie Brown do about it?

He can give a report at school.

A really boring report.

Bad dialogue throughout from Charles M. Schulz–so bad I didn’t think he wrote it–and similarly bad deliver from Arrin Skelley as Charlie Brown. There’s no way to make the clunky, expository dialogue work. Neither Daniel Anderson (as Linus) or Michelle Muller (as Lucy) do much better; they don’t do as bad, however, just because they don’t have as much dialogue as Skelley.

Clears doesn’t have anything going for it. Not writing, not animation, nothing. It’s charmless to the point of being annoying.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the American Lung Association

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Daniel Anderson (Linus), and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


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