Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Cereal, Soda, and Middle Age
You never forget the first time.... you feel old. I had a flash of my actual age while attending this past Ottawa International Animation festival. Looking around the room, I wasn't the oldest, but I wasn't the youngest either. There's a name for that: middle age.
Even more evidence of my age arrived last week in the form of a dvd release: Mighty Mouse, The New Adventures. This groundbreaking saturday morning cartoon series first arrived in 1987 when I was a 14 year-old kid, too old for Saturday morning cartoons despite the fact that I still ate sugary cereals. If you could see my bedroom wallpaper, not that anyone was lining up to, you would have seen a gaggle of animation articles torn out of the newspaper and stuck all over the place. There were clippings about Roger Rabbit, An American Tale, and Oliver & Company. I figured if I surrounded myself with animation it might rub off on me, not knowing that silly putty would have picked it up just well.
I was very aware of Ralph Bakshi. Growing up, my dad and Bakshi shared the same Brooklyn street and possibly a can of soda. The pair later attended The High School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design) where they might have shared another can of soda. Bakshi went to work at Terrytoons, and my dad earned a scholarship to attend Cooper Union––heading for a career in advertising. Despite the fact that Bakshi still owed him a soda, my dad retained a life long interest in the man, making a point to see all his films.
And then one day there was the article in the paper announcing Bakshi's new TV series, a fresh take on Mighty Mouse. I watched every episode, taping some of them using an early form of TiVo called a VCR. The show featured jump cuts, random gags, paint splatter BGs, characters changing model, obscure references, inside jokes, and lots of breaking the fourth wall. It was a brilliant mess. The words "game changer" are thrown around far too often these days, but that's the only way to describe this cartoon series.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Click here to read a review from The Onion.
Because of Mighty Mouse, The New Adventures coming out on DVD, someone who wasn't born when the show debuted can now better understand what came after this series. For instance, The Ren and Stimpy Show didn't drop out of the sky. Many of its ideas were first tried on Mighty Mouse and by John K, himself. While Mighty Mouse didn't invent the many elements that made up its humor, the innovation was in their combined effect.
More important still, is that this release helps celebrate a different side of Bakshi's legacy. The controversial filmmaker is usually associated with his groundbreaking feature films such as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. As a result, we don't automatically credit him with sparking the creator-driven TV animation era. But, as John K says in a bonus documentary included on the DVD, "None of this would have happened without Ralph."