Week of Cartoons – Day 2: The Best of Marvin the Martian

March 24, 2008

marvin01.jpgFROM JASON’S SECRET BASE ON THE RED PLANET — Okay, so I’m cheating. There were only ever five original shorts made starring Marvin the Martian, so a “best of” list is really damned stupid.

Marvin was created by (who else) Chuck Jones in 1948 for Haredevil Hare, which I dislike intensely because the prototype for Marvin’s voice is horrid. It’s a stupid, almost meek voice — not the superior nasal condescension we’ve come to love. You can still watch that episode on YouTube, but I refuse to post it here.

Marvin’s never named in the old shorts; he was supposedly called Commander X-2 around Warner Brothers but his name changed when the company decided to start marketing him in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had instant appeal to kids like me, who were obsessed with outer space and serialized sci-fi.

Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century

Here it is, right at the top — the absolute best Marvin cartoon, and the only one starring Daffy Duck (and Porky, for that matter). The rest star Bugs Bunny, but I think Daffy’s righteous rage is awesome.

The Earth’s supply of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom, is dangerously low. It’s up to Duck Dodgers to go to Planet X and claim its resources in the name of Earth. The only problem is that Mars sends a certain conquerer as well.

Incidentally, the Martian flag is a red circle on a white background. This proves conclusively that Martians are Japanese. And at 5:53, is that an interociter?

Hare-way to the Stars

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This is the one that gives Duck Dodgers a run for its money. Bugs wanders into a rocket by accident and gets blasted to an Escher-esque world of glass pyramids, antennas, and zig-zagging red space platforms. By a stroke of good timing, he interrupts Marvin just as our Martian legionnaire is getting ready to use Illudium PU-36 to destroy the Earth (it’s blocking his view of Venus).

Apparently, Martians are very long-lived, because Marvin says he’s been working on PU-36 for 2,000 years.

This episode is all about futurist concept art depicted in a very 1960s World’s Fair style. It also features the just-add-water aliens on scooters, which is a priceless sequence.

Mad as a Mars Hare

Astro-rabbit Bugs Bunny is tricked into exploring the surface of Mars and runs into a stubborn native who doesn’t want the red planet befouled by Earthlings. Marvin gets the drop on Bugs but accidentally misfires his time-space gun, mutating Bugs into a Hulk bunny.

The Hasty Hare

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General E=mc² sends Marvin with Commander K-9 on a mission to bring back one live Earth creature to Mars. Bugs Bunny is once again his target and succeeds in the first minute or so in making Marvin say, “You have made me very angry!”

How Buck Rogers can you get, you ask? Well, Marvin and K-9 break out the ACME straight jacket-launching bazooka.

Also, I just want to point out that at the end, when Bugs offers to sell a flying saucer with only 3 billion miles on it, that means the ship has traveled 0.00051 light years. Of course, at its closest, Mars is only 36 million miles from Earth (or 250 million miles at the greatest gap in the planets’ orbits). That means that theoretically Marvin’s ship could have gone from Mars to Earth 83 times already.

YouTube Cinema: More Bugs Bunny cartoons

March 4, 2008

FROM JASON’S BLAG-O-METER — Well, you asked for it. Our post on The Best of Bugs and Yosemite Sam continues to get mad hits, and I figure we should give the people what they want.

Bugsy and Mugsy

When two bank-robbing gangsters use Bugs Bunny’s apartment as a hideout, Bugs decides to toy with them until the coppers arrive.Friz Freleng gets credit for creating Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, Porky Pig, Tweety, and Sylvester, but Rocky is one of the best. In this short, Bugs is used almost just a catalyst for Rocky’s Al Capone-ish quirks and diction (“Turn it on, the radio.”) I also love how the Looney Tunes world seems to persistently remain in the 1930s even as Freleng directed for Warner Bros. into the 1980s.

The way Bugs Bunny plays Bugsy and Mugsy against each other — whispering into the ears of each so they fight — has always reminded me of that early passage in The Hobbit where Bilbo does the same to the trolls to rescue the party of dwarves.

Rabbit Hood

“Arise, Sir Loin of Beef. Arise, Earl of Cloves. Arise, Duke of Brittingham. Arise, Baron of Munchausen. Arise, Essence of Myrrh, Milk of Magnesia, Quarter of Ten.”

Here’s further proof that Bugs Bunny is a dick. The Sheriff of Nottingham (who doesn’t hold a candle to Alan Rickman) is just trying to do his job and gets the tar knocked out of him for his dedication to the crown.

Transylvania 6-500

Count Bloodcount hasn’t a chance against his rabbit guest after Bugs learns a couple of magic words, and Bugs totally spawn-camps the vampire into submission.

Ali Baba Bunny

Bugs always uses his opponents’ greed against them. While Daffy is busy trying to steal Ali Baba’s treasure and fending off the guard, Hasan, Bugs tries to wash his hands of the situation calmly. It seems like Bugs became more and more apathetic to wealth and possessions as Chuck Jones aged.

YouTube Cinema: The Best of Bugs and Yosemite Sam

November 25, 2007

samandbugs.pngFROM JASON’S SATURDAY MORNINGS OF YORE — Bugs Bunny never needed samurai skills, a robot sidekick, a secret base, superpowers, or a gun.

Using just his wits and impeccable luck, he managed to fend off hungry hunters, vengeful rednecks, ravaging Tazmanian devils, and even the devil himself.

Chuck Jones, the legendary Warner Brothers animation director who gave us the best Looney Tunes, never needed fancy computer-generated landscapes or extravagant cell-shaded character models, either. There’s something to be said for the simplicity and minimalism of Jones’ watercolor matte backgrounds and Escher-ish settings; very few modern cartoons with much larger budgets have achieved the same atmosphere.

Rather than focusing on the style (though there was plenty — it was just understated), Jones and WB dallied instead on giving us relatable wise-guy heroes and surly-yet-sympathetic antagonists.

My favorite of the later by far was Yosemite Sam, who throughout his tenure as Bugs’ anvil-dropping nemesis went by a dozen different aliases as the setting dictated.

Director Friz Freleng (his first name was Isadore, typically truncated in the credits to I. Freleng) said Sam was based on his own irritable and rash characteristics. The mustachioed villain was intended to be a leaner, meaner, more cunning version of Elmer Fudd, but he still never managed to hand Bugs Almighty his comeuppance.

But at least you knew that whereas Fudd was… well… a fuddy duddy, easily fooled and manipulated, Sam was much less of a push-over. Bugs versus Fudd was always the San Francisco 49ers versus the Cleveland Browns. But Bugs versus Sam was the 49ers versus the Dallas Cowboys.

That’s what made these three videos, my favorite Bugs and Sam match-ups, so much fun to watch. No matter how many times the 50-odd-year-old episodes ran, I always thought maybe — just maybe — Sam would get his day in the sun.

Sahara Hare

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While searching for the ever-elusive Miami Beach, Bugs instead finds himself in northern Africa. When he tries to take a swim in an oasis, he becomes embroiled in a property rights dispute with Sam.

Let’s pony up to the truth here (or camel up to it). Censors, sensibility, and sensitivity would never let this piece air today. We’re too afraid of depictions of anything Arab (even though this is Africa) to let children watch this.

That aside, this short gave birth to one of the most memorable catchphrases in the Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies cannon: “Whoooooaaaaa, camel!” I was born in the 80s and had fun watching it about 35-40 years after this cartoon was made — but my little brother and I to this day quote “whoooooaaaaa, camel!”

All of these episodes have the same ploy-and-counter-ploy feel as the Road Runner cartoons, with Sam as the stand-in Wile E. Coyote. But while this has the quick-talking and self-assured Bugs to anchor it, Sam’s failure lacks the long-suffering resignation resignation we see every time Coyote plunges to the canyon floor.

Don’t worry. Someday I’ll post about those shorts, too.

Roman Legion-Hare

The Roman Emporer Nero (Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus, 37-68 A.D.) demands gladitorial entertainment and sends Sam to find a suitable victim. Guess who he finds.

Jones and Freleng always had a way of making historical contexts interesting. Here, they have problems with dating — construction of the Colosseum didn’t even start until 72 A.D., and didn’t finish until 80 A.D.

Nero does fiddle at the end of the short as his lions turn on him (as the old legend goes, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”), but as historians have often remarked, the instrument is entirely anachronistic. Fiddles weren’t even invented for another 1,000 years after his death. Maybe Nero harped while Rome burned — that would make far more sense.

Especially obvious here is Jones’ attention to shadowing, which other cartoons simply didn’t do. It added an element of depth and integrity to the pictures. Pay special attention to the sun-lit walls in the prison cells.

That’s where the absolute best bit happens: Bugs casually walks through a lions’ den, then as Sam tries to tip-toe through, Bugs lowers an alarm clock into the midst of the sleeping cats. Another anachronism? Sure. Hilarious? You better believe it, buddy.

Knighty Knight Bugs

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This short actually won an Academy Award in 1959 for Best Short Subject (Cartoon) and was even released on the big screen.

Court Jester Bugs is sent to recover (the absent) Prince Valiant’s Singing Sword, the sister blade of King Arthur’s Excalibur. The sword was stolen by the Black Knight (Sam) and is guarded by the sneeze-a-rific Gerry the Dragon.

In a brilliant call-back to Sahara Hare, we get, “Whoooooaaaa, dragon!”

When CBS used to air this one, it would censor the scene where Bugs smashes Sam on the head with a mallet. The resulting edit wouldn’t make any sense; we saw Sam cinch up a rope trying to storm the castle, then without explanation we saw he slide back down the rope in his boxers.

Bring Looney Tunes back

It’s time for Bugs and Sam and the rest of the gang to return to television. Sure, the cartoons are nearly 60 years old, but they hold up remarkably well. While I’ve seen them hundreds of times, young viewers haven’t.

I remember ABC would have the Bugs Bunny and Friends hour every Saturday morning. Nickolodeon used to air them every night, then Cartoon Network took up the cause. No longer. I miss them, and I would watch diligently. The least I’m asking for is a regular slot on TV Land.