History of Animation

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I just wanted to show you that it does exist.

Animated direct-to-video cheap-quels (short for cheap sequels); ask anybody who grew up watching classic Disney movies how they felt when they saw “official” sequels to their beloved films such as Bambi 2, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Pochahontas 2: Journey to a New World, or any of the other poorly made sequels and they’ll probably say how horribly these so-called piece of animation tended to ignore any sort of past plot or character development, have horrible attempts at any sort of humor, and have the animation be horrendously cheap-looking and ugly (fun fact: some of these “animated movies” were actually failed attempts of TV spinoffs that had barely enough material for 13 episodes/ 1 season). However, I’m not going to talk about Disney’s history of cheaply made sequels that they blighted for the sole purpose of making a quick buck; I’m going to talk about another famous animator whose beloved animated films (well, some of them anyway) also fell victim to studios trying to cash in on Cheapquels: Don Bluth.

Poor Don Bluth seemed to never really get a break during his career as an animation artist/ director. His peak as an animator was when Disney was at their lowest, he struggled throughout the 1990’s, a.k.a. Disney Renaissance, and despite his 1997 film Anastasia being the only film to surpass sales of a Disney movie (though that may have something to do with it copying the Disney 90’s formula), his next movie, Titan A.E. was caught in the animator’s trap of being a cartoon (which means it’s for kids, right?), yet containing “mature” material that frightened kids. However, much like Disney, his films An American Tale, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and The Land Before Time (ESPECIALLY The Land Before Time) suffered from studio executives making multiple direct-to-video sequels to cash in on the success of the name (though it’s debatable among people when it comes to An American Tale 2: Fievel Goes West, All Dogs Go To Heaven 2, and The Land Before Time 2-4, because admittedly they do have pretty good animation and continuity). However, one Don Bluth cheapquel was made that has not only pissed off the grand majority of his fanbase, but, on a personal note, traumatized me as a young girl: The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy To The Rescue.

So, what’s so bad about The Secret of NIMH 2, you may ask? Well… how about I just describe the plot, and stop when it gets stupid? So… the movie starts out by an obvious CGI rendered book with the title of the first movie (oh wow, how original) summarizing Nicodemus’ previously heartbreaking and frightening tale about the origins of the Rats of NIMH and just glossing it over. However, it goes onto say that Nicodemus also prophesied that one of the sons would save Thorn Valley from NIMH’s return, and…

…that’s where the movie proceeds to go off in its own moronic direction and proceed to literally T-bag everything that made the original movie good. So, continuing where we left off, it’s now been years since the whole NIMH incident happened, and it turns out the Timmy is the Chosen One, much to the chagrin of his brother, Martin, who wishes that he was the Chosen One (oh boy, you can see where this is going, can’t you?). Anyway, Timmy then travels to the new location of Thorn Valley (more on that later), and despite being trained and educated by Mr. Ages and Justin is still restricted to the sidelines of missions. On one of these missions, he runs into another mouse named Jenny that can read, and it turns out that Jenny escaped from NIMH… because there were these other mice that tried escaping from Nicodemus’ flashback… that got sucked through the air tunnels but survived… Anyway, the point is that Timmy and Jenny travel to NIMH to save not only Jenny’s parents, but the captured mice as well. Meanwhile, NIMH seems to be preparing something diabolical…

Okay, if you couldn’t tell by the complete lack of explanation or the way that I sort of danced around with my sentences, the number one thing wrong with the plot is that it has more holes than a slice of Swiss Cheese. There was nothing that talked about any of Mrs. Frisby’s sons being a Chosen One of Contrivance, or any sort of that crap. If you recall from the original movie, the reason why Mrs. Frisby went to the rats of NIMH in the first place was because she needed help moving her home so Timmy, then bedridden would be safe and away from the plow during the Farming Season; and the rats helped her because she was the wife of Jonathan, a hero to them, and they felt like they owed Jonathan. In a sense, this… I can’t even call it a plot, essentially has no direction or meaning, and in a sense, shouldn’t even exist in the first place. Nevermind the fact that the newly built Thorn Valley is now completely visible (with a huge, Ferngully-esque tree in the middle of the whole city), which defeats its purpose of the rats hiding from NIMH and risk getting discovered; that the way to get there is (and I quote) “South by South by South”, and not questioning on how in the world Jenny managed to escape NIMH when the others couldn’t. Don’t even try to think of how it these can even make sense, you’ll suffer a massive headache.

Characters… can you even call these characters? Mrs. Frisby is probably the one whose character is ruined the most, as instead of being the concerned, yet strong and determined mother that was just somehow so enduring and frightening to watch, now just appears for 5 minutes to serve as The Worried Mother About Her Grown Up Kid. Jenny is just the Love Interest (and in a disturbing move by the animators… she’s given… assets… *retch*), Timmy isn’t even that much of a hero and doesn’t even really learn anything (although we’re led to believe that he’s learned to think of a plan before just storming in, guns blazing) through the movie. Justin and Mr. Ages are just relegated now to tutors/ cranky old people who don’t understand young people, not retaining any sort of their original personalities whatsoever, and Jeremy, previously a somewhat annoying, yet carefree and adorably bumbling crow is now just flat-out annoying, and doesn’t really serve any purpose whatsoever, except to play second-fiddle to an even more annoying comic relief, a caterpillar named Cecil who tries to scam people for their money/ valuables by dressing up Jeremy as the Great Owl. Yes, the fearsome yet intelligent Great Owl is made into a lighthearted joke in this movie. As for Martin… well, I would warn about spoilers, but spoiling this movie is doing everyone a favor by showing why they should NOT watch it. Anyway, Martin turns evil because of jealousy towards Timmy, and apparently becomes voiced by Eric Idle due to being experimented on (on a sadder note, when he- spoilers again- reforms and sees the error of his ways, he’s voiced by Philip Glasser, aka Fievel Mousekowitz. If your childhood hasn’t shattered yet, it probably did now).

Speaking of NIMH and their experiments, it gets ruined as well in this movie (big freaking surprise)! Now, in the original, the reason why NIMH was such a nightmarish and horrifying place was because it was almost like a REAL ANIMAL TESTING FACILITY. One was able to suspend their disbelief that such a place like NIMH could exist and performs such horrible experiments on innocent animals. In Timmy To The Rescue, NIMH has now been turned into a bombastic Evil Mad Scientist’s castle that is so cliche and done-to-death that the it completely loses its threatening menace (the head scientist even looks like a deranged animated Doc Brown).

The animation is laughable. Bright colors and cheap animation, nothing more; it’s a complete joke, especially when considering that the animation in the original movie had a dark, yet lovely palette, capturing the dangerous atmosphere that was present in the film. Do I even really need to comment on it?

To end on an ironic note, Don Bluth actually expressed an interest in making a sequel to The Secret of NIMH, but with the roles between Timmy and Martin reversed (Timmy would be the antagonist and visa-versa). I can’t really say how well it would’ve fared, but after watching this 79 minute-too-long pile of crap, I can only assume that this was Don Bluth’s evil movie twin from a parallel dimension. It singlehandedly destroys everything that made the original great, and easily makes a complete mockery of Don Bluth’s intricate and well-written plot, that it’s no wonder fans of Bluth and the original movie refuse to acknowledge this movie. It would be easier to just buy the original movie, watch it, enjoy it, and refuse to acknowledge the existence of this blight of animation was ever made.

I commented on Victor Koski’s blog and Cory Finch’s blog.

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Mel Brooks probably put it best when talking about trying to find comedy and humor in horrifying events and people, such as the infamous dictators who reigned during World War II: “Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good as rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance.”

This was definitely present in the Wartime Cartoons that animation studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. made; very heavy on pro-American/ USA and heavy on anti- Axis Powers, these cartoons heavily relied on bombastic parodies of the infamous dictators that occupied the areas of Europe and Asia, as well as stereotypes of the various ranks of Nazi soldiers. Though the Japanese had their fair share of being stereotyped and mocked by these cartoons, a lot of the Wartime Cartoons focused on the Nazis, mostly because of their heavy, widespread invasion and ever-growing fear. Characters such as Daffy Duck, Superman, Donald Duck, and Popeye all got opportunities to fight the Nazi menace in their own way, much to the enjoyment of people staying at the home-front in America who were worried about how their husbands or oldest sons were fighting overseas, and the constant threat of Axis or Nazi expansion throughout the world. Nowadays, these kinds of Anti-Nazi Wartime Cartoons are usually parodied or have become homages in more recent cartoons; one the best example of this would be the South Park episode where Cartman defeats infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a manner quite similar to the Daffy Duck cartoons described here.

Warner Bros. used Daffy Duck quite a few times for fighting Nazis; two of the best examples of these would be the cartoons “Daffy The Commando” and “Scrap Happy Daffy“. In the 1943 cartoon “Daffy The Commando“, Daffy Duck goes behind enemy lines to infiltrate a Nazi camp headed by Von Vulture, an obvious stereotype of German commander as he has the evil monocle, is incredibly short-tempered, and even has a bumbling soldier named Schultz (interestingly enough, if anyone has watched the show Hogan’s Heroes, Colonel Klink and Sgt. Schultz could be considered homages to these two). Most of the cartoon involves a series of comedic mishaps with Daffy foiling Von Vulture, but it’s the ending that makes this cartoon extremely memorable. Daffy Duck is fired out of a cannon and lands right in Berlin where Hitler is making a speech; as Hitler is just rambling on in a nonsensical mix of English and German (with a stereotypical German accent), Daffy whacks him with a cartoon mallet, causing Hitler to cry like a baby. What makes this scene so iconic and funny is the entire setup and the way that Hitler is portrayed; the background music is a goofy, organ-grinder mix of “The More We Get Together“, Mel Blanc as Hitler rambling incoherently and bombastically about random things (“MEIN POOMPKIN! MEIN MILK! MEIN HEIMLICH!” just to name a few), and the whole mallet scene, which makes Hitler act like a temper-tantrum throwing kid is all perfectly-timed hilarity (weirdly enough, as I recently watched this cartoon, I got heavily reminded of how one first sees Hitler in Inglorious Basterds).

Scrap-Happy Daffy“, another 1943 Pro-America/ Anti-Nazi cartoon with Daffy Duck against the Nazi menace, and was also interestingly the last cartoon to feature Daffy Duck in black and white. It features Daffy Duck guarding a gigantic scrap yard, as it’s part of his job as an American citizen (during WWII times, every piece of metal and steel wav very crucial; there were many posters that encouraged American citizens to do specific things to cut down on costs and such). Unfortunately, Hitler isn’t pleased about Mussolini’s downfall due to Daffy’s huge scrap pile, and so, sends his troops to launch one of their most powerful weapons to destroy the scrap pile- a billy goat. What makes “Scrap-Happy Daffy” notable is that it’s a textbook example of American Pride at it’s finest; Daffy Duck even sings a song in the beginning of the cartoon about how the citizens of America can be like him and help the Allied forces win the war by saving specific items (with also a very adult joke thrown in of him pointing to a drawing of a pin-up girl). There’s also a very clever visual gag of how Hitler gets introduced in this cartoon, namely cross-fading from a horse’s backside to Hitler sitting at his desk reading the paper.

The final cartoon that I watched, the 1943 cartoon “The Ducktators” directed by Norman McCabe, is another cartoon encouraging US citizens to buy US savings bonds and stamps, but it’s significant in the fact that it not only makes fun of Hitler, but also Mussolini and Hirohito as well. It begins on a farm with a husband and wife duck expecting their egg (which is curiously black instead of white) to hatch. The egg hatches revealing a duckling with Hitler’s mustache yelling “Seig Hiel!”, indicating, obviously, that he’s Hitler. As the Hitler-Duck grows older, he attracts a goose who bears a resemblance to Benito Mussolini and a duck who is a complete parody of Hirohito, with large stereotypical front teeth and round glasses. The only animal on the barn that tries to stand up to them is one single white dove, but when his peace treaties and requests fail, the dove takes matters into his own hands. This story almost has a Dr. Seuss-like feel to it, as a narrator tells the story in an almost storybook-like tone. Weirdly enough, the ending which features the dove telling his kids how his enemies were defeated (and are shown like animal heads above his fireplace) and the “Buy War Bonds” noticed has been censored since the 1950s (though the whole ending can be found on the sixth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection).

I understand that Disney had their fair share of making fun of the Axis Powers, but Warner Bros. was much more bombastic in the way that they made fun of Hitler and the Nazis; whereas Disney portrayed them as bumbling fools, Warner Bros.’s type of satire seemed to almost be akin to how Mel Brooks portrayed them in The Producers‘ “Springtime for Hitler” segment. …I guess we just sort of came full circle, didn’t we?

Sources:

TvTropes- Wartime Cartoons

TvTropes- Those Wacky Nazis

I responded to Danyael Hughes and Andrew Steward



  • Cory: I was initially put off by the look of this show, I guess i had some sort of notion against the channel or art or something, but last year i sat down
  • Post #11: Fritz the Cat « History of Animation 389 Blog: [...] here and here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Post #9: Summer WarsRalph Bakshi’s [...]
  • vkoskihist387: As a big fan of the original film, this movie sounds incredibly painful. Just looking at the box art makes me cringe, and I can't imagine sitting thr

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