Richard Thompson

Peanuts: A Tribute To Charles M. Schulz (October 2015)

Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. SchulzPeanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz. “Over 40 artists celebrate the work of Charles M. Schulz.” It says so right on the cover. And Tribute is a fine celebration of Peanuts. There are some great cartoonists who contribute pieces for the collection. It’s 144 pages, which means contributors average less than three and a half pages each.

Collections of Peanuts strips, like the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts, have three strips a page. So Schulz would have ten or eleven strips in similar page count. It shows just how magical he was with pacing those strips day-to-day.

There are some good strips, some okay strips, some cool strips. The Paul Pope Snoopy and Schroeder strip? Very cool. But given the whole grab is Pope doing these realistic looking Pope characters and them still operating on Peanuts logic. When Schroeder worries Lucy’s going to show up… well, Snoopy’s cute and all but I’d much rather see Pope Lucy. Beautiful art, though. Because Pope’s a lover.

There aren’t any strips non-Peanuts loving strips in the book. There are even strips just about loving Peanuts.

A few strips after Pope is Roger Langridge, who does a Snoopy the flying ace strip from the perspective of enemy pilots. It’s cute. It’s not great. Raina Telegemeier does a one page thing right after. Langridge got four pages. Her’s is cute. It’s not great. But she does it in one.

Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii do one of the best longer strips in the book, Escapade in Tokyo. Charlie Brown gets separated from the class on a school trip and spends the day with a cool Japanese girl. It’s anti-crap on Charlie Brown (most of the book, if not all of it, is anti-crapping on Charlie Brown) and it’s a nice story. Sakai and Fujii give it just the right amount of nostalgia and sentamentality without sacrificing the humor.

Terry Moore does something similar. Lucy vs. Charlie Brown only this time Charlie Brown’s going to kick that football. Moore mimicks Schulz’s style but sort of not enough to get away with the strip. Charlie Brown winning has to be perfect, like Sakai and Fujii did.

Chynna Clugston Flores does a “Why I Love Peanuts” strip. It’s good. It’s just a “Why I Love Peanuts strip”. There are some more in the book and Clugston Flores’s is probably the best but… Tribute is just a tribute. Sometimes the cartoonists interact with the characters, sometimes with the media itself.

Evan Dorkin and Derek Charm do a “Cthulhu comes to Peanuts” long strip and it’s inventive, beautifully illustrated (the style homage ages like Schulz’s did as the strip goes on), and kind of thin. Not many contributors do a riff on Peanuts without staying in Schulz’s constraints.

Except then there’s Melanie Gillman’s beautiful Marcie strip addressing her relationship with Patty. Liz Prince had a nice Patty strip earlier, but nowhere near as ambitious. Shaenon K. Garrity’s long, color strip about Patty taking on Lucy is good. It’s mostly in Peanuts constraints, just with some visual storytelling differences.

Peanuts: A Tribute is a good book for a Peanuts fan. To check out from the library. It’s a great proof of concept for a more ambitious project. I didn’t realize I wanted other cartoonists doing Peanuts until I read it. But I want them doing more, trying harder.

I also wish, given it just being this assortment of homages, Boom! had printed it more coffee table size.

CREDITS

Contributors, Mike Allred, Art Baltazar, Paige Braddock, Megan Brennan, Frank Cammuso, Derek Charm, Colleen Coover, Evan Dorkin, Chynna Clugston Flores, Shaenon K. Garrity, Melanie Gillman, Zac Gorman, Jimmy Gownley, Matt Groening, Dan Hipp, Keith Knight, Mike Kunkel, Roger Langridge, Jeff Lemire, Jonathan Lemon, Patrick McDonnell, Tony Millionaire, Caleb Monroe, Terry Moore, Dustin Nguyen, Molly Ostertag, Lincoln Peirce, Paul Pope, Hilary Price, Liz Prince, Stan Sakai + Julie Fujii, Chris Schweizer, Ryan Sook, Jeremy Sorese, Raina Telgemeier, Richard Thompson, Tom Tomorrow, Lucas Turnbloom, Jen Wang, and Mo Willems; editors, Alex Galer and Shannon Watters; publisher, KaBoom!.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, Ben Washam and Chuck Jones)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has three rather distinct things going on throughout the twenty-six minute television special. It also some some indistinct things going on–the Whoville songs, while charming, are nowhere near as impressive as the big things.

First, but not foremost, is Washam and Jones’s direction. Although Grinch is a Dr. Seuss adaptation, as a cartoon, its possibilites are different. Jones and Washam make the Grinch (and Max, his dog) into familiar cartoon roles. The Grinch is the bad guy, Max is the reluctant accomplice. It’s familiar because the dog can’t talk, while the Grinch does. Though not to poor Max so much as at him.

And when the Grinch does talk, it’s Boris Karloff’s voice, which is the second distinct thing going on. Boris Karloff narrates The Grinch–reading the source book. When the Grinch speaks, it’s Karloff’s voice… just filtered a little. The effectiveness of the filtering is a tad questionable, but more because of the additional noise the filter adds. Karloff’s familiar but not exactly the same voice for the Grinch’s dialogue? It works. It just sounds too distant.

Karloff’s narration is always good, frequently awesome. For example, the times he has to list various silly-named Christmas items are delightful, as Karloff approaches each new and absurd word with the jovial–but still reserved–calm; it’s awesome. It’s great narration. It defines Grinch.

At least for the first half or so.

Because then in comes the third distinct thing. Thurl Ravenscroft, uncredited singer of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. When the Grinch is stealing Christmas, sure, there’s some narration from Karloff, but it’s all about Ravenscroft’s voice. There are some great lyrics too–the song is set aside from the narration and is more a musing on the poor character of the Grinch. It’s awesome.

The Karloff narration and, eventually, Ravenscroft’s singing never bump into each other. Throughout, the animation works with the narration–expression is important in Grinch, as the amount the Grinch can contort depends on how long it takes Karloff to get through a particular line. And it can seem like Karloff is dragging it out to encourage contortion. And a contorted Grinch is not a pretty sight.

Similarly, when Ravenscroft gets back to the chorus in each of the Mean One segments–there are at least three–it defines the moment, not the animation. Lovell Norman and John O. Young cut most every sequence just right. There are a couple long moments during the Whoville songs, but Jones and Washam have the charm baseline high enough to allow indulgences. And even enjoy them. The finale’s tensions work because Jones and Washam don’t rush things, because they do slow down the pace. They let the finale rhyme with the opening, back to relying on Karloff.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is fantastic. Jones and Washam pace it out just right for the narration and song. Except without Karloff or Ravenscroft, there’d be nothing to pace. Good thing everything works so well together. Or, so well, alongside each other.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Washam and Chuck Jones; teleplay by Irv Spector, Bob Ogle, and Dr. Seuss, based on the book by Seuss; animated by Ken Harris, Tom Ray, Phil Roman, Richard Thompson, and Don Towsley; edited by Lovell Norman and John O. Young; music by Eugene Poddany; production designer, Maurice Noble; produced by Jones and Seuss; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Narrated by Boris Karloff.


Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Chuck Jones)

Robin Hood Daffy is an unappealing mix of pointless, dumb and bewildering. Besides Porky beating up Daffy (Porky’s Friar Tuck, Daffy’s apparently Robin–more on that one in a bit), Jones’s gags all seem recycled from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It’s Daffy swinging around to disastrous result.

It’s never clear if Daffy’s actually Robin Hood or just playing in the forest and pretending. One hopes the latter, as it makes Robin a little more interesting. Also interesting is Jones and writer Michael Maltese’s anti-welfare take on the redistribution of wealth. It’s just a line, but it gets the brain working more than the rest of the cartoon.

The animation’s not bad, with the grand finale somewhat impressive, but there’s no energy. Mel Blanc does exceedingly well with the voices. It’s a shame the cartoon doesn’t match his efforts.

Jones only had to fill six minutes; he fails miserably.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Abe Levitow and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / Porky Pig).


Martian Through Georgia (1962, Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble)

Martian Through Georgia has three directors and no ending. It also has nothing to do with Georgia.

It opens fairly well, with very expressionist mainstream cartooning showing life on Mars. A bored Martian then travels to Earth, which kicks off the majority of the run time. Even though the Martian’s only on Earth for a day or so.

There’s narration for the entire cartoon and the Martian never speaks. It’s sort of a character piece actually, just without a strong protagonist.

Still, it could be a lot worse. The opening is incredibly strong, it’s just the Martian’s adventures on Earth where Georgia lacks. There aren’t any gags–they’d be inappropriate–but the Martian’s experiences are simply boring. And the animation, while interestingly stylized, isn’t compelling enough to make them exciting.

The end is a complete disaster, as the narration doesn’t make any sense. The suggestion of celestial importance just confuses.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble; written by Carl Kohler and Jones; animated by Bob Bransford, Ken Harris, Tom Ray and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by William Lava; produced by John W. Burton and David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Warden / Businessman / Old Man / Little Boy / Taunting Voice / Scared Citizens) and Ed Prentiss (Narrator / Policeman).


Baton Bunny (1959, Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow)

Baton Bunny casts Bugs as a perfectionist conductor who, during a performance, has to cope with wardrobe malfunctions and a bothersome fly.

The most interesting thing about the cartoon–and something I’ve never seen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon before–is how co-directors Jones and Levitow go out of their way to make Bugs cute. He’s not drawn cute–in fact, he’s quite ugly in some shots–but Jones and Levitow show his little fluff tail being cute as it dances to the music and his ears doing something. It’s odd, but at least it keeps one’s attention.

Sadly, even though Baton has good direction (sometimes great) and good animation, it’s boring. It’s not the best way to listen to the piece of music the orchestra plays and it’s not a good Bugs Bunny cartoon. Bugs is interchangeable with anyone in Baton.

At best, Baton‘s a tedious viewing experience.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Richard Thompson and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.


Hook, Line and Stinker (1958, Chuck Jones)

I don’t get it.

I haven’t seen a Road Runner cartoon since I was a kid, but watching Hook, Line and Stinker, I couldn’t figure out the appeal.

Oh, Jones’s direction is outstanding and the animation is great, but it’s a long series of gags. They’re not laugh out loud funny, but some of them are amusing–especially in Stinker‘s case, this long complicated one at the end. But there’s no other point….

Stinker‘s an exercise in craftsmanship, a cartoon boiled down to the gags and those gags drawn out to extremes.

And, even though Wile E. Coyote would undoubtedly eat the Road Runner, one can’t help but feel sorry for him. The whole cartoon is centered around laughing at the poor coyote. At least the Road Runner isn’t stuck-up; he’s clearly a birdbrain.

Again, Jones and his animators do a great job. Just a pointless one.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Richard Thompson and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.


Cat Feud (1958, Chuck Jones)

Cat Feud is almost too precious for its own good.

In fact, the precious nature is what gets it into most of its trouble.

The cartoon concerns a tough construction site guard dog who gets all mushy inside when he finds an adorable kitten. Trouble comes in the form of a stray cat, who is after the kitten’s lunch.

Jones has some fantastic shots of the construction site, where all the action plays out (including the chase) but the cartoon’s pace is disastrous. Milt Franklyn’s score is most obvious culprit. Franklyn concentrates on accentuating the cuteness of the situation–the bulldog protecting his kitten–without bringing any of the tension. The kitten will be about to plummet from a steel skyscraper frame and the music will be pleasant and ethereal.

Feud could have been exciting and enthralling. Instead, it’s just a cute little cartoon.

Adorable or not, it’s lesser work.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones; written by Michael Maltese; animated by Ken Harris, Abe Levitow, Richard Thompson and Ben Washam; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Marc Anthony / Pussyfoot)


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