Cartoon

Sgt. Rock (2019, Bruce Timm)

Sgt. Rock is a bait and switch. But what’s got to be a pointless one. The bait is a fifteen minute “violent” Sgt. Rock cartoon with Karl Urban doing the voice. Only the character doesn’t get many lines and when he does, they’re usually barking orders lines. So basically it’s like Karl Urban doing the voice of an action figure. Could be a Sgt. Rock figure, could be a Judge Dredd figure, doesn’t matter. As far as delivering on Karl (“Make Dredd 2”) Urban as famous DC Comics WWII war comic Sgt. Rock? Fail.

Only it’s not some cartoon about Urban doing war things. It’s about the Creature Commandos. It’s a Creature Commandos cartoon. It should be called Sgt. Rock and the Creature Commandos. Maybe His Creature Commandos if you want to kick dirt at the competition but Rock doesn’t really have the gumption to kick dirt. And shouldn’t. The best thing about it is how writers Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan plot the big fight scene. Rock’s a really simple fifteen minutes—war battle scene, hospital and assignment, Creature Commandos reveal, Creature Commandos vs. Zombie Wehrmacht. There’s no character development, the Frankenstein Monster doesn’t get a line (or a direct name), the werewolf gets even less (though he’s scared of shadows), and vampire guy gets a name and a hiss. Oh, and Urban runs into his German nemesis, “The Iron Major” (William Salyers), because it’s a comic book.

As amusement, Sgt. Rock flops. Timm’s direction is lousy. The animation’s cheap and whatnot, but the direction’s lousy. Whenever Timm runs out of ideas, he does slow motion. There’s a lot of slow motion. As a pitch for a “feature” sequel, Rock flops. As a violent cartoon, Rock flops—there’s some creative violence, but the animation’s so cheap the impact’s all lost. As an encouragement to read Sgt. Rock comics, fail. As an encouragement to read Creature Commandos comics… incomplete. It’s feasible Rock could get one interested in the comics. I’m curious (though more because of the Commandos creative team).

As a reminder it’s sad there’s no Dredd 2? Well, on that level, Sgt. Rock might just be a success. But only if you lose interest enough to daydream.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Timm; screenplay by Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan, based on the DC Comics characters created by Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, J.M. DeMatteis, and Pat Broderick; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and Kristopher Carter; producer, Amy McKenna; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Karl Urban (Sgt. Rock), Keith Ferguson (Lt. Shreive), and William Salyers (The Iron Major).


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).


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).


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).


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).


Tooth Brushing (1978, Bill Melendez)

It’s incredible Tooth Brushing only runs five minutes. The cartoon (an educational short produced for the American Dental Association) starts innocuously enough. Charlie Brown gets out of the dentist, heads home to try out his new brush and other dentist goodies–he’s also got fresh instructions from the dentist.

He runs into Snoopy, then he runs into Linus. And decides he’s going to instruct Linus… and Snoopy instead of brushing his own teeth. It’s fine, because Linus has his toothbrush handy and Snoopy has Lucy’s toothbrush. The Snoopy using Lucy’s toothbrush sequence, as Charlie Brown and Linus get more and more mortified, is where Tooth Brushing nails it. It’s gross (though, really, does Snoopy have more plaque than Linus) and it seems like it can’t be topped.

Then Lucy gets home and shows the boys the real way to brush your teeth.

Great animation, great performance from Michelle Muller as Lucy (and decent ones from Arrin Skelley and Daniel Anderson as Charlie Brown and Linus, respectively) and some perfect comic timing make Tooth Brushing so funny you forget it’s supposed to be educational and not just a great bit. Roger Donley and Chuck McCann’s editing and Jeff Hall’s perfect animation (he holds the horrified expressions just right) are outstanding.

Brushing’s hilarious.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; animated by Jeff Hall; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; production designer, Evert Brown; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the American Dental Association.

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


Secret Agent (1943, Seymour Kneitel)

Secret Agent opens with this really exciting car chase. Clark (Bud Collyer) has just called in and been told to get to work on the right story, only then a car crashes through the drug store he’s in and so he hops on the back of it as it chases another car. Then the cops start chasing the car Clark’s on; he pushes up a thug’s gun hand so he can’t shoot at the cops. The whole thing ends with a female secret agent getting away and Clark apparently unconscious and captured by saboteurs.

The chief saboteur has a monocle and a Hitler mustache. It’s unclear how he manages to get around in the United States without people wondering what he’s up to… oh, and a German accent.

So most of the cartoon has to do with the secret agent (voiced by Joan Alexander in a less than impressive performance–she’s got one monologue and it’s flat) trying to get to the airport. The cops are going to give her an escort, but the saboteur ring ambushes them and mows down a bunch of cops before the agent gets through.

But the shootout ambush was just a red herring, the real ambush is at a swing bridge. The secret agent ends up on the bridge’s mechanics, in danger of being crushed. Luckily, when the bad guys call the Hitler boss guy, he and his guys get ready to go and lock up Clark before leaving. Once he’s safely in a broom closet, Clark finally changes into the long johns and saves the day.

Shame he didn’t do anything to save those shot down coppers. Because he was either unconscious or just didn’t think he could break the ropes and take out the guards? Not very super.

There’s some lame jingoism, which the cartoon could’ve gotten away with as cute if it were any good (that opening with the car chase is decent stuff though) and for some reason a lot of focus on the secret agent’s shapely legs.

Secret Agent is a stinker.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Seymour Kneitel; screenplay by Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Otto Feuer and Steve Muffati; music by Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Secret Agent), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Nazis); narrated by Beck.


Jungle Drums (1943, Dan Gordon)

Sitting through the first third of Jungle Drums, I kept hoping the cartoon would keep the African natives in silhouette. I had zero confidence they wouldn’t do some racist caricature and, at least in silhouette, there would be specifics. The natives do get out of silhouette and they are racist caricatures, but… at least there’s no real activity from the natives? It could be a lot worse. The cartoon could go two streams of racist, it just goes one. Yay?

So the story is these Nazis are pretending to be… witch doctors or something? They hide their identities by wearing white robes. Yes, that kind of white robe. Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark (Bud Collyer) are in Africa for some reason, each taking an individual ride with a pilot to somewhere. Doesn’t matter. Lois’s plane crashes. She gets captured, tied to a stake, burned alive. Lois takes long enough to burn (she just passes out from the heat) Clark can save her. He’s not worried about his pilot seeing him change into his long johns after parachuting out with no warning.

Then it’s Superman versus Nazis in white robes. Then Hitler’s in it.

The setup of the temple–while the natives are silhouetted–is visually striking. The rest of it is less. Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison’s animation is mostly competent, Gordon’s direction just isn’t compelling. He does all right with exposition and lead-up, but has very few ideas once the action starts.

Though maybe it’s because the action is more about bombers and conveys and upset Hitler than Superman?

Jungle Drums is an object lesson in the perils of propaganda media. Though Alexander does almost get a good part. When the Nazis are interrogating her, it seems like it might go somewhere good. Unfortunately, it goes to pot.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dan Gordon; screenplay by Robert Little and Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (German Commander), and Jack Mercer (Lt. Fleming); narrated by Jackson Beck.


The Mummy Strikes (1943, Izzy Sparber)

If it weren’t for the needlessly racist finish from Lois (Joan Alexander), The Mummy Strikes would probably get a pass. Maybe. The action isn’t particularly impressive, but the Egyptian history lesson is pretty cool. Even if it’s all about young King Tush.

Jay Morton’s script is (mostly) strong–it, Sparber’s direction, and animator Graham Place and Myron Waldman’s backgrounds are the highlights. An Egyptologist is murdered, his assistant is charged. Another professor calls the Daily Planet for Clark (Bud Collyer) to come and hear the truth.

The professor–Jackson Beck–is long-winded and gives Clark the whole history of King Tush, which is remarkably similar to King Tut but with giant guards and some other embellishments. Turns out the dead professor tried to get into the sarcophagus, ignoring the curse. There’s also something about him working to revive the mummified giant guards. Doesn’t matter. There’s just a lot of great Egyptian backgrounds (the museum’s recreating the tomb) and Beck’s exposition delivery is solid. Even with the nonsense.

Lois is also at the museum–she snuck after Clark because he kind of scooped her, or at least was a jerk about it. She’s sadly immaterial. Clark’s the one who sets off the sarcophagus trap, which revives the giant guards. Whose skin inexplicably gets darker the more evil they get? Like the guards of the hieroglyphic backdrops don’t match the revived ones.

The resulting action sequence with Superman fighting the giant guards is unsatisfactory–the detail isn’t great on the animation, it’s the detail on the Egyptian-themed stuff (and the mystery angle at the beginning)–and there’s actually no resolution whatsoever given the revived mummified guards at the end. Just Lois’s joke, which could be done without the racist part yet… they felt the need.

So, ew.

But the first half is good, even if it’s obvious they’re not going to be able to get anywhere with it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Graham Place and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane/Jane Hogan), and Jackson Beck (Dr. Wilson); narrated by Beck.


Destruction Inc. (1942, Izzy Sparber)

Destruction Inc. is nearly a success. It’s frustratingly not, particularly because the only thing holding it back is the animation itself. Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar lack detail on the action, lack detail on the background, and don’t composite the two well. But Sparber’s direction is fantastic. There are some great action sequences in Destruction, they just don’t look good.

The cartoon has Lois (Joan Alexander) going undercover at the munitions plant and discovering a saboteur ring. Bad acting from Julian Noa on the villain doesn’t help things. All of the henchmen are poorly acted as well. And then there’s the pervy news boy, Louis (Jack Mercer), who gets a desperately unfunny bit after ogling Lois.

But still. The sequence where Lois is on the run from the goons, even if she doesn’t have a face in long shots, is great.

Superman shows up after the goons catch her and put her in a torpedo. Saboteurs in munitions plants have all the access.

And even though the Superman saving Lois and fighting goons sequence is, again, beautifully directed, the animation is just the pits. The cel and background compositing just gets worse during as the cartoon goes along, even if overall it’s far from bad… it’s just not good.

Jay Morton’s plotting and pacing are great. His attempts at humor are not. They drag. Sparber doesn’t direct them well either. So Sparber’s got the action down, he’s got some of the expository down, not the humor. And no one’s got the animation detail.

It’s too bad. Destruction Inc. should’ve worked. It nearly gives Alexander a good part too. The animation really sinks it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (Louis), and Julian Noa (Chief Thug); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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