Any list of Internet pioneers should include John Evershed and Mondo Media. Not only a webisodic animation production, distribution and licensing pioneer, but a creative pioneer who brought together, for the newly connected global masses, two things they dearly loved: cute little characters and scenes of horrifically graphic mutilation. The world has not been the same since.
It’s hard for younger audiences to understand that only recently has the media world completely gone to hell, drowning us with millions of pieces of HD schmeh on every conceivable topic delivered on every conceivable viewing platform in a frantic and usually feeble attempt to steal 30 seconds of our attention and 1/100 of a cent for their troubles. We’re only shocked when things seem missing – we fully expect every show, every story and every scene to devolve into sex, violence, obscenity, vulgarity or some interesting combination.
Which, intrinsically, it not necessarily a bad thing. Who among us hasn’t watched an episode of NCIS, Grimm or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and thought, “That autopsy/shootout/dough kneading would have been much more awesome if that cop/bartender/random customer had been pleasuring themselves instead of vomiting/ducking for cover/claiming some herbed spaetzle was the real deal?”
I know it sounds crazy, but there was a time when truly nasty AND humorous content was just beginning to populate the Internet. Once upon a time there were no such things as “Viral Videos.” I actually remember when the biggest thing on the Internet was information-packed “gopher” servers. Before there was a web. Hey, I actually remember the day my dad brought home the first Pong video game. It was fabulous.
Then seemingly overnight, vast fortunes were invested and lost backing any number of Internet entertainment “schemes” to put the TV networks out of business and make a fortune delivering engaging, funny and compelling content free from the evil, controlling hands of the broadcast fascists and imbecilic motion picture studio suits. Every person who fashioned themselves the next James L. Brooks or Hunter S. Thompson set out to stake a claim on the newfangled “Interwebs.” Hah! Fast forward to 2013. Disney owns Star Wars. Cartoon Network is into live action. Blockbuster just announced the closure of its last 300 stores. WTF?
I dare you to name a single animated webisodic comedy created in the last 5 years. Or the last time you read or watched anything about an animated webisodic comedy in any mainstream press. Atom Films? Digital Entertainment Network? Heavy? Are those crickets I hear? I have a file cabinet FILLED with syndication contracts for AWN video content – every single company is gone. Every one!
The inherent problem is, creating funny and engaging episodic content for web audiences isn’t any easier than creating funny and engaging episodic content for TV. It’s unbelievably hard. There’s little money in it. In the online world, disruptive behavior rather than consistency seems to get rewarded. Do something cool once, you’re awesome. Do it 100 times, you’re boring. That’s why so few creators succeed. But that’s another discussion for another day, one sure to raise hackles, fists, barbed Tweets and angry stares. Point is, crap is crap no matter how and where you view it, and very few people are consistently successful for any length of time at creating anything of quality in any episodic medium. There, I said it. We settle for terabyte after terabyte of brutally awful content these days because we’ve pretty much forgotten what good content is. Especially good comedy.
Which brings us back around to our Happy Tree Friends. Cuddly creatures, terminally cute, simply designed and cleanly animated in Flash, Happy Tree Friends always existed to setup and deliver the same “let’s eviscerate a cute stuffed-animal-like character” gag over and over and over. And over. Then once more. And again. This time, with more entrails.
And it worked. Sometimes you saw impending carnage coming a mile away. Sometimes death came knocking completely out of left field, in a manner so ridiculous, so wrong you often wondered, “Is anyone making sure the creators never come in contact with concealable weapons?” Episode after episode, Happy Tree Friends left no creative stone unturned or unstained by the blood of an abrupt collision with a cuddly critter. Every visible sharp edge, every pointy, protruding object became a deadly implement for amputation, beheading or impalement. All inflicted on happy-go-lucky critters playing on a swing set, skipping through a green meadow, or lending a hand to a friend. To celebrate the very essence of the show’s inherently warped sense of humor, the Happy Tree Friends Wiki even provides an amusing and quite detailed breakdown of each plot, moral of the story, death, injury, goof and piece of trivia from every single episode. Using words like shattered, impaled, crushed and splattered quite frequently.
Far from one hit wonders, Happy Tree Friends has endured for, if I’m correct in my math, 14 years now. Endured where so many others have failed Over 2 billion online video views. The newest compilation DVD, Happy Tree Friends Complete Disaster, bares homage to it all – 4 DVDs filled with all 13 episodes from the TV series as well as 75 shorts, all remastered in HD for crisp, vibrant and bloody viewing.
As the box cover proclaims, this truly is the most comprehensive compilation of “killer” content available anywhere on DVD. Get your copy today.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.