Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Comic Covers and DVD Packages: It Can Always Get Worse!

For decades, I thought that this comic book cover displayed one of the most egregious errors that could possibly be committed! …Look closely, and see it for yourself!  You may click to enlarge.

But now, here’s a DVD package that has actually topped it! (Perhaps in MORE ways than just one – but it certainly outdoes the comic book cover above in terms of the TYPE of error committed!Click to.. Aw, you know!

…Again look closely, and don’t trust what you see at a glance – especially if you read with glasses, as I do! 
I expect Public Domain DVD and video covers to be bad, but this takes it to new lows – unless you count horribly drawn cartoon characters, that is! 

At least Bela LOOKS like himself!

 It’s a good thing Bela Lugosi isn't alive to see this! 

Then again, he HAS been known to “rise from the dead”, so ya never know!

We'll probably review this DVD sometime soon.  It's better than its packaging -- but how could it NOT be!

Monday, July 22, 2013

DVD Review: Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose.

Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose

(Released May 14, 2013 by Warner Home Video)

A partial, but still Looong, DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

 SUMMARY: In TAZ-MANIA, “…The SKY’S always YELLOW!” Be glad it never SNOWS there!

But, Taz LIKE snow!
TAZ-MANIA was a key player in the liberation of television animation from the horrors of the seventies and most of the eighties. Sadly, its role in the pantheon of great modern-era animated series is largely forgotten today. Let’s look back and remember, shall we?

Once upon a time, as the 1960s drew to a close, television animation began to really suck!

It sucked, and sucked, and sucked some more! And, it just kept on sucking! Mightily, did it suck! Verily and forsooth, the sucking became-eth the stuff of legend!

Through the seventies, and well into the eighties, it continued to suck… until The Walt Disney Company moved to reverse the trend with its syndicated series DUCKTALES in 1987, and Ralph Bakshi may have arguably worked an even greater feat of magic by secreting his MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES into a Saturday morning broadcast network’s lineup.

Fear not, Young Fellow... The sucking has ended! ...I think!
Alas, even “The Mighty Ralph” could not withstand assaults from the pressure groups that had ruled – and ruined – Saturday morning network animation, completely obliterating anything resembling quality, all-ages entertainment.

Conversely, Disney’s DUCKTALES flourished in the relatively new arena of original syndicated afternoon animated programming (something that NO LONGER EXISTS today, thanks to the encroachment of extended, profitable local newscasts, and the unfortunate proliferation of trashy syndicated talk shows). This new “Afternoon Animation Boom” spawned CHIP AND DALE’S RESCUE RANGERS and TALE SPIN, and ultimately resulted in a two-hour block titled “The Disney Afternoon”.
The sucking has ended for CERTAIN!

Warner Bros., clearly noticing Disney’s success, woke up and wanted in!

"Wake up -- and welcome to the nineties!"
Thus, for fall 1990, to counter Disney’s TALE SPIN, Warner Bros. introduced TINY TOON ADVENTURES. This series, where “young toons” aspired to grow into the roles of their classic Looney Tunes counterparts, was both refreshing (…after all, it COULD have been “Baby Looney Tunes” – oh, wait… that came later!) and clever (its pervasive “cuteness factor” notwithstanding).
Despite my great fondness for the achievements of such a trend-setting first effort (See: the later ANIMANIACS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN), one would not be remiss to assert that TTA failed to best TALE SPIN, which was the Walt Disney Television Animation machine arguably operating at the height of its powers.

And, with Disney laying claim to the 1990-1991 Season’s competition, so began an annual contest between the two toon titans… that would not last anywhere near as long as I’d expected it to.

For 1991-1992, Disney’s entry was the enormously (and deservedly) popular DARKWING DUCK, while Warner countered with the subject of this review – TAZ-MANIA.

TAZ-MANIA, I should point out, had the disadvantage of not going head-to-head with DARKWING DUCK in afternoon syndication (as TINY TOON ADVENTURES did with TALE SPIN), but was deposited into the new “Fox Kids” Saturday morning lineup where the 13 episodes on this DVD set were broadcast. But, one might make the case that, as a Sat AM show, TAZ-MANIA had the rougher road to hoe (for all the reasons that made Sat AM so atrocious in the first place), and still succeeded.
Taz want DUCK for dinner!

In my view, at least, it was the first time a Warner show EQUALED its Disney counterpart in terms of both quality and enjoyment! Even if you disagree and give it to DARKWING (which I certainly won’t argue), there’s no doubt the tide was irrevocably turned by the coming of TAZ-MANIA and the “Damn the Torpedoes!” confidence it instilled in the folks at Warner TV Animation. Imagine “finding your footing” with a character that “spins”.

The following season WB ran out the unprecedented BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES against Disney’s GOOF TROOP, and things soon deteriorated for Disney to the point where it became ANIMANIACS vs. (Choke!) BONKERS!
Sorry folks, but we won't even picture those Disney shows!  ...You'll thank us!

The animation competition, that looked as if it would thrill us fans for years to come, was over before we knew it and Warner Bros. never looked back – instituting the “WB Network” and its “KIDS WB” Sat AM block that gave us such great series as PINKY AND THE BRAIN, FREAKAZOID!, THE SYLVESTER AND TWEETY MYSTERIES, SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, and BATMAN BEYOND!

But, in all this, let us not forget that it was TAZ-MANIA that took a nearly-forgotten (but KEY) step in closing and/or evening the gap between the animated product of Warner and Disney, and helped set Warner Bros. TV animation on the extremely high trajectory it would follow for its next decade or more.

On a more personal note, it was while becoming a regular viewer of TAZ-MANIA that I came to the conclusion that "good TV cartoons" were not merely an anomaly, or a short-lived blip on the overall entertainment continuum, but might very well be "here to stay".  ...And, for most of the nineties and shortly beyond, they were!  

Further, TAZ-MANIA delivered, what was to me, a perfect balance of the good old violent slapstick, that cartoon fans had craved since the advent of parents watchdog groups, and consistently great and downright funny dialogue, which the older and more classic slapstick cartoons usually lacked.  None of the other great series created to this point of the TV animation resurgence really did that on a consistent basis. 

As if to perpetuate its unjustly ignored place in modern TV animation history, Warner Home Video has waited until 2013 to finally release TAZ-MANIA on DVD. But, now they finally HAVE “given the Devil his due”!

Oh, and about that “Partial” part… I’m pleased to review Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose – for its FIRST FOUR episodes.

If we waited for all 13, the review would be a VERY long time in coming. And, given the detail with which I tend to discuss the episodes, it would be an unwieldy read – or it would have to be posted over several parts. Besides, these first four really give you a taste of what TAZ-MANIA is all about, and introduce many of the series' best characters. These episodes are from the initial 1991-1992 season, and originally aired on the “Fox Kids” Sat AM block:

Like Father Like Son”/ “Frights of Passage”: We are introduced to the unlikely concept of Taz as a nuclear family member – meeting his frenetic super-mom Jean, laid back Bing Crosby-like dad “Hugh Devil” (A nice joke in itself!), teen sister Molly, and little bro Jake! Funny thing is each member of the Devil Family speaks incessantly, while Taz has the same limited powers of speech as “that Tasmanian Devil” in the Robert McKimson theatrical shorts. Hugh attempts to “tame”, or at least “calm” his wayward son but, needless to say, it works the other way around.

In the second cartoon, we meet Francis X. Bushlad (named after famed silent-era actor Francis X. Bushman, whose career lasted long enough to guest star in such 1960s TV classics as BATMAN and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – the latter being his last role, per IMDB, which aired after his death!), a yuppified young member of the “mud-people”, whose right of passage (per his Thurston Howell-like father) is to bring back a Tasmanian Devil. Here, Taz is far more like his savage, untamed classic-self – except he wins each battle of wits!
Bushlad not smart... like Rabbit!
Francis X. Bushlad, too, speaks incessantly around Taz, revealing that this device will be a hallmark of the series. If you enjoy verbal / dialogue humor as much as I do, this is a very funny approach to take, especially with a starring character like Taz.

The Dog the Turtle Story”: Taz mistakes a turtle for a dog, and takes him home to be a pet. But the real story here is the introduction of Bull and Axel Gator, two animal trappers whose aim is to capture a Tasmanian Devil “…for the zoo-going children of the world!”

Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Axel?
In a prior post, our friend and commenter “Comicbookrehab” likened Bull and Axel to Warner’s later “Pinky and The Brain” and I think that’s a superb analogy! One might also draw parallels to the (unfortunately) short-lived MGM Tex Avery duo “George and Junior”, as this character-defining exchange reveals:

BULL: “Axel, you just said SOMETHING STUPID – so, you know what TIME it is, don’t you?”

AXEL: “Yeah… Seventeen and a half minutes after three.”

BULL: “Uh-uh!” (Whips-out a club)

AXEL (realizes): “Oooh!”


BULL: “Now, you know WHY that had to happen, don’t you?” And, so on

Of course, Tex Avery’s “George” would have simply said: “Bend over, Junior!”, and kicked him!

I'm BENT OVER, George!
I was "relentlessly cheerful" back when it was depressing! 
John Astin (former star of THE ADDAMS FAMILY), as the “relentlessly-cheerful-in-the-face-of-painful-disaster” Bull, turns-in one of the flat-out FUNNIEST performances seen to that point in the new TV animation renaissance! He, too, speaks incessantly – though in a “relentlessly cheerful” manner. And, as Rob Paulsen’s “Pinky” perfectly complemented Maurice La Marche’s “The Brain”, so Jim Cummings’ Axel complements Bull. It was ALWAYS the biggest treat for me, when Bull and Axel would show up on TAZ-MANIA.

Gee, Bull... Should we have tried to take over the world instead?

Don't be ridiculous, Axel!  How would THAT help the Zoo-Going Children of the World?

War and Pieces” / “Airborne Airhead”: On a rainy day, the three Devil children are left home in the family’s split-level, modern cave. Taz and Molly wage war with one another, using poor little innocent Jake as their mutual intermediary and “agent of destruction”. Highlight: Taz’s VIDEO GAME, where a “digitized Tasmanian Devil” travels a path, gobbling-up one “digitized Bugs Bunny” after another!

Like Brother, (don't) like Sister?
Great line by Hugh Devil, to allay Jean’s fears over leaving the kids alone: “Taz has been much calmer, since he and I had that chat about the replacement cost of furniture!”

Like Brother, like Brother, these guys love each other!
Familiar, perhaps?
Then, enter Timothy and Daniel aka “The Platypus Bros.”, a pair of insufferably nerdy, identical “platypi” (?), except that one wears glasses and the other does not, with the obsessive politeness of Warner’s “The Goofy Gophers”, and the bill and lisp of Daffy Duck. They live in their own “mutually self-congratulatory bubble” and fancy themselves as mechanically inclined, inventive geniuses.

Here’s a typical slice of their dialogue:

PLATYPUS # 1: “Here’s the problem, just as I suspected! Somebody installed the what-cha-ma-hootchie backwards!”

PLATYPUS # 2: “You have such a GIFT for technical language, O’ scholarly sibling!”

PLATYPUS # 1: “Elementary, my Dear Duplicate!”

Need I say that, in their sped-up, Rob Paulsen voices, they (all together now) speak incessantly around Taz, while assisting the Devil in his unsuccessful efforts to secure a LARGE EGG from the top of an immensely sharp, high needle-peaked rock formation. Attempt after attempt violently backfires on Taz, as the Brothers obliviously congratulate each other and / or analyze their “brilliant” techniques.

Are they measuring Taz for his COFFIN?

Two great moments: Taz falls from the incredibly lofty peak, yelling unintelligibly (as is his custom) all the way. On his downward trajectory, he FREEZES in mid-air to take a DEEP INHALING BREATH, so that he can continue the yelling, once his fall resumes! The Platypus Bros actually remark on the cartoon’s “Surprise Ending” to come. No spoilers, but it’s even more of a surprise than we (or they) think!
I KNOW three's a crowd, dear brother of mine, but who's going to TELL HIM?

Along with Bull and Axel, and the upcoming Didgeri Dingo, The Platypus Bros round out my three favorite “guest pairings” with Taz on the show.

Battling Bushrats” / “Devil in the Deep Blue Sea”:

Taz, honey, you stay away from that BIRD while I’m gone. Try and CONTROL YOURSELF, please. Besides, if you leave the bird alone, I’ll give you a SURPRISE when I get back from the store. Taz, I KNOW I can TRUST you!”

Now, Taz, dear... You KNOW I have eyes in the back of my head!
With these words of super-mom-love, Jean Devil leaves a large, succulent roasted “seabird” on the kitchen counter to cool – and off she goes to run about 65 errands in the space of an hour. Taz TRIES to suppress temptation – he really does, and succeeds – but eventually finds himself in the middle of a war between “The Bushrats” ( a pack of pastel-colored, spear-carrying, vaguely-German-speaking, ravenous rats in grass skirts) and a colony of militaristic red ants, over the bird-bounty!

Bushrats and Military Ants?  What a delightful imagination you have, Taz!

Taz goes through all sorts of heck to defend the seabird from the hungry warring factions – and actually gets the bird back in time for Jean’s return, only to get a “toy seabird” as his surprise… which he promptly EATS! …No one speaks incessantly around Taz in this episode.

THEN, we get to the REALLY good stuff:

How you doin’! I’m Didgeri Dingo! I’m a DINGO! I SCAVANGE!” Yep, we’ve just met Didgeri Dingo, another favorite character from this show! Didgeri, while characteristically scavenging, finds a “Treasure Map and a Key to a sunken chest”.
Yep-eroonie!  I do nothing but TALK through the whole cartoon, too!

Now, let me see…”, he says speaking incessantly (as TAZ-MANIA characters are wont to do) in a smug and obnoxious Rob Paulsen voice, “…Who can I find that’s DUMB – uh, gullible enough to get that treasure for me? Someone of courage and stamina, yet of the LOWEST POSSIBLE INTELLIGENCE!
Guess who spins into the scene.


This is the famous TAZ HATE WATER!episode that I’ve been waiting about 15-20 years to see again! And it did not disappoint.


Many painfully humorous deep-sea diving gags ensue, with poor Taz on the receiving end – while Didgeri (all together now) speaks incessantly around him.

 In rapid succession, Taz comes up from the briny with: a drum of toxic waste, a life preserver from the Titanic, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and an explosive underwater mine.

Oh, did I fail to mention that: "TAZ HATE WATER!"
 He runs afoul of a giant squid – French accented variety, wearing a beret, who clearly mistakes Taz for a previous visitor:
 So, Captain Clousteau, we MEET AGAIN, huh? Ha-ha-ha! But, ZIS TIME, ze advantage is MINE!”, he says with all arms full of the nastiest looking kitchen implements this side of Hollywood Golden Age violent theatrical cartoons!

Poor Taz can't even call on Jerry Lewis for help!

Oh, and there’s a gang of “West Side Story”-inspired hoodlum sharks… And what diving cartoon wouldn’t be complete without an encounter with a “slumbering (opening and closing) giant clam”?

Did ya REALLY think there wouldn't be a giant clam?

Above the waves, and literally above it all, Didgeri comments on the action thusly: “Oh, man! That’s GOTTA HURT!”, “That’s not supposed to BEND THAT WAY!”, and the meta-declaration “This is too terrible to watch – we really better FADE TO BLACK!
...Or, is that "Fade to black AND BLUE!"
Taz eventually gets fed up with the arrangement, and takes matters into his own hands… um, grubby paws. Too bad for Didgeri Dingo!

OVERALL: You can’t go wrong with this! Be a part of the ascension of Warner Bros. as the premiere purveyor of television animation for the last near-quarter century with Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose!

…And remember, Volume Two is coming this August 6th!

...Taz won't let you forget it, either! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taz All Folks!

Coming on Monday, our “partial” DVD Review of Taz-Mania – Season One, Part One: Taz on the Loose!

It’s “partial” for a number of reasons, including the time it would take to view and write-up all 13 shows on the disc. Limiting the review to the first four shows, in which is found a good cross-section of the wonderful guest-starring characters, will be sufficient in communicating to you my feelings on the series itself.

But, more importantly, it leaves room for an opening discussion of the period of TV animation during which TAZ-MANIA came to be. I think that’s an interesting topic that hasn’t gotten nearly as much coverage or analysis as it should.

Thad Komorowski does a fine job in covering the times in question in his book on the REN AND STIMPY series, titled “Sick Little Monkeys”. I’m not even a REN AND STIMPY fan, but I’ll recommend the book – because it covers R&S and the period leading up to its debut quite well. 

For the purposes of tying it to Taz-Mania, our own discussion will remain within the scope of Disney and Warner Bros., but there was far more to it than that. 

 Perhaps we’re still too close to the period for true historical analysis but, by now I feel more should have been written on the subject. Anyway, we’ll attempt to tackle it, in our own humble way, in our upcoming TAZ-MANIA post. Be there, won’t you?

I-I-I'm not even sure w-w-why I'm H-H-Here!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

R.I.P. Victor Lundin.

Victor Lundin in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Menfish"
Victor Lundin in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Lobster Man"
Actor Victor Lundin passed away on June 29, 2013, at the age of 83. 

For an actor with only 30 listed television and film roles to his credit on IMDB (HERE), Victor Lundin spent an unusually high percentage of his screen time performing in roles within my favorite genres – Sci-Fi / Fantasy, Western, and Spy.  
Victor Lundin as "Friday" in "Robinson Crusoe on Mars"
Perhaps that’s why I was so surprised to find a mere 30 such credits for an actor that’s been almost as ubiquitous a presence as THIS GREAT CHARACTER ACTOR – and also THIS GREAT CHARACTER ACTOR. 

You MUST be a great character actor to play a LOBSTER!
As with the others linked above, a walk through Victor Lundin’s credits might as well be a walk through both my DVD collection and my pop-culture roadmap (listed in chronological order): 

Oh, and don't forget to click on the illustrations to enlarge!  Well, most of them, anyway...  

Matt and Miss Kitty sure don't need Victor Lundin around right now!

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Feature film, as “Friday” the alien).
On the other hand, on Mars, Paul Mantee DID need him around!

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (twice: 1966 and 1968, the latter as “The Lobster Man”).

Batman (twice: 1966 and 1968, the former as Penguin’s Henchman “Octopus”)

How many actors get to play a Lobster AND an Octopus?

The Time Tunnel.
Looking for Lundin?  You'll find him on Krakatoa!

Get Smart.
Not now, Vic... I'm trying to call The Chief!

Star Trek TOS (as one of the very first Klingons ever seen)
You never forget your first Klingon!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Lundin Calling?
Need I say that his appearances on VOYAGE rank among my favorites?  He was quite good as “Hansjurg”, unwilling assistant to an insanely mad doctor, in “The Menfish”.  But both John Dehner, as the Doctor, and Gary Merrill, assuming the “Guest-Admiral” role in place of the unavailable Richard Basehart (and playing it amazingly like him), stole that show. 
Lundin (left) with John Dehner and David Hedison
Oddly, his chance to “sub-surface shine” would come while costumed as a crustacean, on the later and more famous VOYAGE episode “The Lobster Man”. 

Far from the typical mindlessly rampaging monsters that all too often menaced the Submarine Seaview, Victor Lundin’s “Lobster Man” was a deviously intelligent being from a far-off water-planet who coveted the Earth as an ideal place for the crustacean life-forms of his world to expand on.

An ultra-rare "First Season" Black and White Lobster Man photo?  Yeah, right!
As aliens of every stripe are wont to do, the Lobster Man communicated with Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane in perfect English, but a rare attempt was made in this instance to explain why this was possible.  It also figured into the plot’s resolution in a minor way.   
Convincing Nelson and Crane?
And, with as “black-and-white” an approach as VOYAGE tended to take in the matter of good vs. evil, Victor Lundin’s Lobster Man offered up a few shades of grey seldom seen in this series. 

For instance, his saving the life of Kowalski and demonstrating his good faith and value as an ally, WITHOUT the old plot device of his secretly being behind the crewman’s near-fatal predicament, made for a more interesting episode than anything titled “The Lobster Man” had any right to be. 

 I must also note that, as TV alien costumes of the era go, the Lobster Man costume was QUITE GOOD, though it must have been a hot ‘n’ heavy horror for Victor Lundin to wear! 

One can actually HEAR Victor Lundin in his own words on the Commentary Track for the Criterion Collection’s Blu-Ray release of “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”.  The track is a compilation of comments from director Byron Haskin, star Paul Mantee (who’s own guest-starring turn on VOYAGE, would directly follow “The Lobster Man”), Victor Lundin, and others. 
How often do you get to hear VOYAGE guest-stars like Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin?
Lundin’s contributions begin at the 1:05:55 mark of the 1:49:55 film – coinciding with the first appearance of his “Friday” character.   Lundin offers much about the production of “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” and other personal anecdotes, including being one of the original Klingons – but mentions only ONE other production specifically by name: 

I did a part at FOX, on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA… I actually played an alien who was a Lobster Man.  For those of you who’ve ever seen that, that’s yours truly dressed in the lobster suit with an English accent…”

Interesting that, with no prompting, nor as part of any attempt to list his overall credits, Victor Lundin mentions his 1968 (filmed in ’67) role as the Lobster Man to the exclusion of all else, save his historical standing as a “Charter Member Klingon” (...and that includes his other role on VOYAGE) as part of a film commentary recorded in the age of DVD! 

To his credit, he makes no attempt to deride the (pardon) "Lobster role" (get it?), but appears to look back on it fondly!  For this, and for all those wonderful years that “The Lobster Man” has reverberated through my brain, I hereby dub the great character actor Victor Lundin: “Lobster a la King”!  Rest in peace, Victor Lundin... and thank you, I enjoyed every minute of it!