I loved this video essay by Tony Zhou about Chuck Jones, the genius behind many of the Looney Tunes cartoons. I absolutely love the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. New ones are still being made but sadly, they fall quite short of the mark set by the original ones made in the 40s, 50s and 60s. This video will help you understand the disciplined artistry that took place behind the scenes in order to create those beautiful cartoons.

Thank you Chuck Jones!

Thoughts

Something wonderful happened last night

I want to share something with you, something wonderful that happened last night. Read on, it’s worth it.

Around 4 pm, the water company turned off the water for the entire city due to emergency repairs. Late at night, they turned it back on but it was full of silt and mud, so we let the faucets run to clear the pipes. I went back to my work and Ligia took Sophie to bed.

About an hour later, I got up from my desk and went to see if the water was clear enough to take a shower. To my surprise, the entire kitchen was flooded with about 1-2 cm of water. The kitchen sink had run over. There I was at 11:15 at night, faced with having to mop up all that water when all I wanted to do was to take a shower and hit the sack.

I got the mop and the bucket and got to work, grumbling to myself about the water company and the sink and the pipes and the dirty water and my luck.

A few minutes later, Sasha (one of our cats) came into the kitchen, stepped right onto the wet floor (you know cats, they avoid water) and started looking at me. She even drank some of it.

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As I looked at her, I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry, entitled “Mice Follies”, released in 1954. In it, Jerry and Nibbles (his nephew) flooded the kitchen and froze it with the aid of the refrigerator in order to create a skating rink. Tom naturally pursued them, leading to lots of pratfalls, pranks and laughter.

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That wonderful memory of a wonderful cartoon was enough to wipe the slate clean for me. All of a sudden, a late-night disaster was an opportunity to enjoy the moment. My attitude toward it changed completely and I began to enjoy mopping up all that water. I half expected Jerry and Nibbles to tiptoe into the kitchen holding a couple of refrigerator wires in hand, ready to freeze it.

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It took about 45 minutes to get all the water mopped up. All of the cats joined me by the end, entranced by the circular movements of the mop through the water. I even started a roaring fire in the kitchen stove to keep me company. I had a blast and went to bed with a smile on my face.

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Isn’t it amazing how differently we can perceive the same event if our attitude toward it changes? We can complain and grumble or we can smile and enjoy ourselves thoroughly doing the very same thing. And of course it helps if we also love Tom and Jerry cartoons!

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Thoughts

Cloudy – the cartoon

This is a super-happy cartoon about the life of clouds. It’ll perk you right up! 🙂

Created by Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III. Animation by Matías Fernández. Music by Norman Bambi.

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Thoughts

Mel Blanc: the man of a thousand voices

I found and watched a documentary about Mel Blanc today, entitled “Mel Blanc, Man of a Thousand Voices“, and I wanted to share it with you as well. This one man has given me and countless other people so much joy over the years, that I can’t thank him enough. He’s gone, but knowing the kind of person he was, I’m sure he would have appreciated my thanks and would have been glad to say hi to me, if we’d have met, just as he did with all his fans.

Photos used courtesy of Mel Blanc and Warner Brothers. 

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Thoughts

How about a real Apple TV (an Apple tablet)?

Ligia and I were watching cartoons in bed this morning, on my laptop, and I realized Apple still hasn’t capitalized on the opportunity to create a real Apple TV. Here I was, after having ejected my external drives, disconnected the laptop from its peripherals, taken it off its stand and put it on our bed, when all of this could be handled very simply with a larger iPod — a combination iPod/Apple TV/Apple Cinema Display.

Try as I might, I just can’t watch movies or video content on my iPod. The screen is too small, even though I have an iPod touch. It has no speakers, so I have to use headphones. Clearly, Apple has the technological know-how to put together a really nice Apple TV that’s not yet another box tethered to a TV in the living room, but a display with integrated speakers and the circuitry that allows it to get on my network and access media from various drives, or to play the media I sync to it through iTunes, or to download media from the Internet. And yet, it’s content to charge people for small fry (iPods, hamstrung Apple TVs, etc.) when it comes to personal entertainment devices.

Just think, with a nice LED screen of about 13-17 inches, a touch screen, plenty of onboard storage, a good battery, WiFi, Bluetooth, and speakers, they could have an amazing device that I could take with me wherever I decide to sit in the house or in the yard. I could take it in bed and watch movies without draining my already tired laptop battery, I could take it outside on the patio at night to watch stuff there, etc.

Apple already has all of this technology. Why don’t they put it together?

They have the LED displays already, in their laptops and in their Cinema line.

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They have the touch screen capabilities, from the iPod and iPhone.

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They have the media playback capabilities and other circuitry from the Apple TV.

Apple TV

They have the amazing batteries from the MacBook Pro line.

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The speakers are also from the MacBook Pro line, and they’re some of the best small speakers on the market, if not the best.

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People talk about an iTablet, but I’m not really sold on the idea. Yes, if you put all of these components together, you could have an iTablet, but what I want is a larger iPod, or rather a usable, untethered Apple TV with a nice, built-in display and decent battery life. It could look something like this (and no, this isn’t a rendering, it’s a screenshot from Apple’s own website).

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Take away the stand, and imagine a nice iPod-like bezel around it, so you can grab it in your hands and hold it. Perhaps it could have some sort of leg that folds out to let it stand on its own, too. This is what I’m looking for. An iPod I can actually watch, anywhere.

Images used courtesy of Apple.

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Thoughts

What cartoons are your children watching?

This is a question I keep asking myself every time I turn on the TV and look at the Cartoon Network, or The Disney Channel, or Nickelodeon these days. It’s unbelievable how much thoughtless, cheaply made programming they shove into their slots, with little or no thought for substance, style, quality and most of all, for values.

Just like most foods you can buy at the store these days are made up mostly of fillers and devoid of nutrition and natural goodness, most cartoons on TV are nothing but patina, a modicum of presentation pulled over a steaming pile of dung.

The Disney Channel is in the most shameful state of all. They have a legacy to live up to. They have a heritage, which is something no other channel has. Back in the early 90s, when I came to the States, The Disney Channel was way up there on a pedestal in terms of programming quality. It was heaven for a boy with a hunger for good cartoons.

Now, it’s 95% garbage. They’ve got terrible live-action shows geared solely toward filling programming slots and selling merchandise and hurriedly-done computer-animated cartoons.

What happened to shows like Duck Tales, or the Rescue Rangers, or Tale Spin? What happened to the old cartoons with Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Daffy Duck and the rest of the gang? Aren’t there any people who still have good ideas at Disney’s TV subsidiary? There are obviously very talented people at Pixar, where great movies still get made. Can’t Disney recruit some more people like that? They’ve obviously got the money, since they just spent $4 billion on Marvel. Only a small fraction of that money would go a long way toward turning around The Disney Channel.

Overall, the industry is in decline, precisely because they’ve been focusing on quantity, not quality and substance. They’re trying to spend as little money as possible and churn out as much footage as possible, without any foresight or real planning about a show’s direction, character development, plot, dialogue, character animation (movement, drawing style, aesthetic appearance, etc.), progress (generally, if characters are doing something or striving to achieve something, progress or setbacks toward an overarching goal ought to be achieved with each show), and most of all, since these cartoons are shown on children’s channels, they ought to be kid-friendly, they ought to promote good values, and they ought to appeal to one’s artistic sensibilities.

As for those who give these shows the go-ahead, I can only describe their approach as auto-pilot. They’re throwing stuff at a wall in order to see what sticks, and instead of trying to figure out why stuff doesn’t stick, they’re looking for more stuff to throw. They care little about any of the things I mentioned above. They care about filling slots, preferably with stuff made by people they know, and about selling ads during those slots. They’re trying to hock merchandise instead of realizing their jobs involve a much higher responsibility than that of a vendor at the local flea market. They ought to care deeply about what they put on the air, and instead of examining the merchandise they’re selling through the critical lens of someone who is helping shape young children into responsible, caring, sensible adults, they’re looking at these cartoons as a means to an end — the end being solely the channel’s bottom line.

What they don’t realize is their revenues are decreasing not because they need more live action shows on a cartoon channel, or because less people are watching TV because they’re spending more time on the internet, or because they need to spend less money and cut more corners — they’re decreasing as a direct result of the crap they are putting on TV. If only they took their time to find quality cartoons and filled their programming slots with them, they would see revenues and ratings increase, not to mention that we’d have happier, healthier children all around.

You may ask yourselves, how do I find good cartoons when the good offerings are so slim? I outlined a few good rules of thumb in this post. The most important part is that you should use your good judgment to find shows that are worth watching. Don’t give into popular opinion or into what kids may ask for, because at younger ages, they need guidance. They’re not ready to save the world, in spite of what’s portrayed in run-of-the-mill cartoons. Ask your friends, or go online to sample what’s available in stores. Go to YouTube and look for video clips from quality cartoons you can purchase, or if you hear of a good cartoon show that’s not televised, go to their website and see if they show clips. Now, more than ever, there’s real choice, because you’re not limited by what’s on the TV channels, and it’s so easy and affordable to get to the good stuff if you only put a little effort into it.

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Thoughts

Sometimes you need to use a book the right way

There’s a Looney Tunes cartoon from 1944, entitled “Brother Brat“. It stars Porky Pig and speaks eloquently about child discipline. In it, Porky becomes the unwitting baby sitter for a Rosie the Riveter type super-woman who’s pulling long shifts at the factory, helping out with the war effort.

When she leaves her brat, Butch, with him, she also hands him a book, which she says always helped her. It happens to be a book on Child Psychology.

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Porky takes the offer at face value, and believes the book will really help him. When baby Butch starts acting out, he checks the book for advice.

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He soon finds out the book is no good, as he applies the wishy-washy, sound-good nonsense from the book to his real life situation and things go from bad to worse.

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By the end of the cartoon, he’s running for his life, with an axe-wielding maniac baby on his tail.

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Then Susie the Riveter comes in, notices the mayhem, and asks him if he used the book. Desperate, still running, he screams, “Yes, but it didn’t work!” Then Susie grabs the book and shows Porky how it’s done: “Maybe you didn’t use it right. It always works for me!”

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The punchline is obvious, and yet it teaches all of us, to this day, a valuable lesson: sometimes the only thing that works is a spanking. As for child psychology books, I share the opinion of the animators — those books are a bunch of hooey, fit to be printed on toilet paper and used that way. I’m not alone in that sense. Most people shared this opinion when classic cartoons were made. Cartoon studios of all sizes lampooned child psychology books, including Disney.

Spanking has sadly become a tabu practice in this “enlightened” age. If you spank your child now, the state will take it away from you. Surely the state must know what it’s doing, right? Because governments in all developed countries have shown us they manage everything else to a tee, beyond reproach, right? Naturally, we ought to trust what they tell us to do with our children?

I see parents these days, stressed to the breaking point because of children who haven’t been properly disciplined, and they’re afraid to discipline them. They try talking to them, they try to reward them for good behavior, they try timeouts, but seriously, sometimes a child just needs a good spanking. The Bible knows what it’s talking about when it says in Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” It has the benefit of thousands of years of experience on its side when it gives that advice.

If you’re interested, my father wrote a couple of articles several years ago. One is on the duties of children toward their parents, and the other is on the duties of parents toward their children. The articles are a compilation of verses from various books of the Bible on those topics, and they’re not doom and gloom stuff — they’re thoughtful, fascinating stuff. To make things even more interesting, my father is a psychiatrist who is keenly interested in the proper development of one’s character and personality.

On an unrelated note, thank goodness for Google Video, which indexed the cartoon from Dailymotion! I wouldn’t have been able to provide you with screenshots from the cartoon otherwise, because I couldn’t find it in regular web searches. I don’t have it in my collection, and only saw it a few times on TV, including once on Boomerang recently. I encourage you to watch it.

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Reviews

The Raccoons

I recently re-discovered a show I used to watch and love as a kid: The Raccoons. I can’t remember if I saw it in the US or in Romania as I grew up, but I remember the characters quite well. My wife remembers watching the show as a child, too. Now, thanks to Boomerang, I can watch it once again.

The Raccoons

What I like about it is the stories, which always have a nice lesson in them for children, and the show’s setting — a beautiful evergreen forest somewhere in the mountains. The characters, though odd at first, get to be quite likable as you watch the show regularly.

When I was little, I didn’t really care who created the show — I only wondered why the main characters had to have big, bent noses, and why Bert and Cedric had such whiny voices. Now that I’m older, I still wonder about the noses and the voices, but I also want to know who is responsible for creating this wonderful show and bringing it to market. One name pops up time after time in the show’s credits, as producer, director and writer: Kevin Gillis.

Kevin Gillis

Kevin Gillis - creator, producer, director and head writer for "The Raccoons"

As you can see, he looks like a normal human being. I wondered about that… He doesn’t have a huge, bent nose, so I don’t know why he chose to make the characters that way. And since I haven’t yet heard his voice, I don’t know if it’s whiny, like Bert and Cedric’s. I guess that’ll have to wait. In the meantime, I’m glad I can watch “The Raccoons” once more.

If you have children, please know that I highly recommend this show. If you have Boomerang where you live, or have another channel where it’s being shown, then definitely tune in and enjoy it. If you don’t, the store pickings are unfortunately fairly slim. The DVD production is discontinued for now. At leat YouTube has quite a few video clips from various episodes available.

Images used courtesy of Breakthrough Films & Television. There’s more info about the show on IMDB and Wikipedia.

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Thoughts

Another point of view about ferryboats

Nowadays, people think a ferry is a romantic way to get over a river, but in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, people used to think otherwise.

A ferry ride

A ferry ride

For a great look back in time, watch “Bridge Ahoy“, a Popeye cartoon released on May 1, 1936. In it, Bluto overcharges passengers for rides on his ferry, so Popeye, Olive and Wimpy decide to build a bridge and let people cross the river for free.

You see, when you’re the only way to get across a river, you’ve got a monopoly. You control the market and set your own price. Before monopoly laws, it’s probably what happened with ferryboats, and it didn’t sit well with the cash-strapped folks of the mid-1930s. If we had only ferryboats to get across rivers nowadays, we’d no doubt share the same feelings.

Things worked out in the cartoon and the three delivered a bridge made to order. Everyone was happy except Bluto, the ferryboat owner, which was as expected.

Of course, if we carry this solution over to modern times, it breaks down right away. You see, we get charged to go over bridges nowadays. Kind of makes the point of building a bridge to avoid ferry tolls moot, doesn’t it?

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Lists

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-21

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