"Mighty's Benefit Plan"
We interrupt our long voyage through the golden age of animation to present something more recent... although made exactly 20 years ago. Yes, I'm going to talk about a cartoon from the dreaded 80s, an awful decade for the animation (and fashion too :)
The majority of Saturday Morning animated TV series produced during that period were based on a toy. The rest were the bastardized and watered down versions of the well known and established characters from the past. It was nearly impossible to launch a series with new and fresh characters, or a series with any new and fresh (not to mention funny) ideas.
However, one series that premiered on September 19th, 1987 as a part of CBS Saturday Morning line-up, managed to break many of the stupid rules imposed on the cartoon world. This series was short lived (barely two seasons) but proved to be really influential and important, and also served as a launching point for many careers. It was based on a classic and beloved character, but treated in such an original and outrageous way that it counts more as a real re-invention than mere remake. Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm talking about...
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures was produced by Ralph Bakshi, who in a way returned to the character that marked the beginning of his career (Bakshi started to work at Terrytoons studio in 1959, and animated on the last few Mighty Mouse cartoons produced there). Bakshi's creative input on this new series was relatively minor, but as the producer he allowed a great creative freedom for his crew of crazy cartoonists helmed by a certain young and unknown director named John Kricfalusi who had a big ambition to revive the lost art of making funny cartoons.
John K. was a main force behind the first season of MMTNA, and this show was a big springboard both for him, and for many other talented artists who continued with very successful careers in animation. Some of the names: Jim Smith, Lynne Naylor, Eddie Fitzgerald, Bob Jaques, Bruce Timm, Tom Minton, Kent Butterworth, Vicky Jenson, Andrew Stanton, and many more. Some of these cartoonists will three years later follow John K. into another, even greater and more influential adventure called "The Ren & Stimpy Show", but that's another story.
Here's a extremely interesting interview from 1988, where John K. explains it all. This interview was conducted by Harry McCracken and originally published in ANIMATO magazine:
John K. interview
And this is an interview with Ralph Bakshi from seven years ago. Near the end of the interview, Bakshi talks about Mighty Mouse, and tells a funny story of how this series came to life:
Ralph Bakshi interview
Also, take a look at the post I made last year, about the previous Bakshi/John K. collaboration, the "Harlem Shuffle" music video for The Rolling Stones. Most of the same crew worked both on this video, and Mighty Mouse:
The series is still fondly remembered today for the wild humor, funny and cartoony animation, anarchic non-linear stories and strange angular design (unseen on TV cartoons at that time). This spirit prevails through the both seasons, though the series occasionally featured some more conventional episodes mixed with the weird stuff. Sadly, The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse remain unseen for many years, without the official DVD release on the horizon (although it is a very popular bootleg item).
In this post, I'd like to present an episode called "Mighty's Benefit Plan", in particular the first minute and a half from it. It's a miniature music-video for the song "Twitch & Writhe" by Elvy and the Tree Weasels (in fact, a hilarious and savage parody of Alvin and the Chipmunks). This part could function as a stand-alone animated music video, and it fits nicely into the group of other music videos directed by John K. during the last 20 years, starting from "Harlem Shuffle" and Bjork's "I miss you", up to the most recent work for Weird Al and Tenacious D.
All of you who enjoy the funny girl drawings will love these screenshots. The female characters were most probably designed by Lynne Naylor , and they show the appealing mixture of cuteness and weirdness that will remain one of trade-marks of Kricfalusi's work even today.
I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into the more recent past. If there's enough interest, I will prepare few more posts with high quality screenshots from this series (especially if any of you have requests for some particular episodes).