Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection, Vol. 2 (DVD)

If you're looking for Balloon Land (aka Pin Cushion Man), the cartoon that The King of Cartoons shows in The Pee Wee Herman Show (the earlier, more risque version of Pee Wee's Playhouse that ran on HBO in the early 80's), it's on this DVD. The DVD is a collection of cartoons that Ub Iwerks did for MGM after parting ways with Disney. When I had read references to Ub Iwerks in the past, I had thought it was the name of an animation studio, or maybe a process like IB Technicolor, but Iwerks was one of the most important figures in Disney animation, credited with having created Mickey Mouse and, in later years, developing many of the technical achievments in Disney's animated features.

The first half of this disc focuses on Flip the Frog, a character every bit as annoying as Mickey, but not as cute. These cartoons are of the "rubber hose" school of Fleischer Studios (and early Disney cartoons). While they don't quite distinguish themselves with any improvement on the Fleischer formula, the cartoons do offer some cool, rubbery visuals: cars walking down the street on four legs, and the like. There's also some risque business here that you could never get away with in cartoons today, including a keyhole view of a naked woman.

The second half, titled "Things That Go Bump in the Night," basically contains all the good stuff. The first of these cartoons, The Cuckoo Murder Case, begins with a cartoon character being SHOT AND KILLED. He doesn't just walk away with a hole in him, he DIES, something I don't think I've ever seen in a cartoon before. There's also a cartoon on here with the title Hell's Fire! This is such culture shock for anyone raised in the era when cartoons were thought of strictly as kids' entertainment (or, for that matter, when "kids' entertainment" didn't mean that any "dark" element had been carefully excised). Hell's Fire has Willie Whopper and his dog falling into a volcano and down to Hell, where Napoleon, Rasputin and Jezebel perform a dance number and the dog gives Cerberus fleas. Another Willie Womper cartoon, Stratos Fear, has him inflated by his dentist's gas, causing him to float into space, where he is abducted by aliens and put through all sorts of nightmarish ordeals. Balloon Land remains the best of these cartoons. Set in a land where all the people are made of balloons, and menaced by a human pincushion, it takes the rubbery aesthetic of Fleischer toons like Betty Boop's May Fair to fantastic extremes, with the bonus of being in candy-coated color (all but 4 of the toons are in black & white).


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