Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part VI
The Successful Magical Protagonist
Tweety: Created by Bob Clampett and honed to perfection by Friz Freleng, this tiny yellow canary packed a punch for his size. The disparity between his baby-soft voice, too-cute appearance, and his lethality made for hilarious cartoons. Aided by the ability to materialize mallets, dynamite, construction equipment and other deadly paraphernalia out of thin air, Tweety accounted for all of Sylvester cat's nine lives many times over. Although Tweety could call on his beloved owner Granny in a pinch, he often took matters into his own wings. As he put it, "I lose more puddy tats that way."
The Road Runner: This scrawny bird is the undoubted master of magical happenstance. It remains a matter of conjecture whether the laws of reality love the Road Runner or hate Wile E. Coyote, but one thing is certain: there's a winner and a loser, and the loser is never the bird. Such is the Road Runner's omnipotence; all he has to do is run by or show up in order to destroy his foe. To recount the ways in which the laws of nature bent to his will is to go on for pages. Engineer Scott famously told Kirk, "You canna change the laws of physics, Captain!" Of course, Scotty never had the Road Runner aboard the Enterprise.
Mister Magoo: Quincy Magoo was the most nearsighted character in cartoons, and his lack of visual acuity often put him in hazardous situations. Someone up there was watching out for the crotchety old dude. Magoo was heedless of the perils he couldn't see, and frequently mistook an object, a building or even a situation for something else entirely. Making snappy comments while danger whizzed past by inches, Magoo wandered undamaged through a deadly and unpredictable world on what should have been simple missions. His best cartoons were thrilling, hilarious rides. Magoo was often let down by writers who let him sag into a one-dimensional character by the end of his career.
Screwy Squirrel: Tex Avery's Screwy Squirrel commanded the same powers as the Road Runner, but this MGM star lasted only a handful of cartoons. Although Screwy could do anything he wished, including break the "fourth wall" to address the audience or warp the fabric of his own cartoons, he was nothing more than a front man for his frenetic director. During the early 1940s, Tex Avery was experimenting with speed, technique, and unconventional approaches to animation. Screwy's cartoons were essentially his laboratory; Avery cared little for the character. In recent years, Screwy has gained a cult following but his time has come and gone. Had Avery invested in a personality for the squirrel, he might have rivaled another Avery creation: Bugs Bunny.
Things to consider:
Examine the Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons. Did the Fleischers do an excellent job of actually creating superhero cartoons, or just translating the comic books to the screen? Why do you think so?Should a magical character have limitations? How would this affect its cartoons? What would be the scripting benefits or pitfalls?
What, in your opinion, were the very best/worst superhero adaptations from comic books to animation? What influenced your answers?
Why do you believe so many superhero or magical characters were created as parodies? What purpose do such cartoons serve for the audience?
Which characters with paranormal powers (choose any you wish) benefitted the most from having defined personalities. Were their cartoons popular?
Next month: The role of conflict in animated films and series: how to do it right (and wrong). As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Class dismissed.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.