Saturday, March 22, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: Nostalgia Edition

Title: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975)
Director: Chuck Jones
Time: 25 minutes
Availability: On DVD from Family Home Entertainment
This was sort of a family favorite growing up, and I watched it many times. I was too young to understand how awesome it was that you got Chuck Jones adapting Rudyard Kipling with narration by Orson Welles, but I clearly had good taste even from an early age. The story follows the friendship between an English family in India and the titular mongoose. A pair of evil cobras resents the interlopers and plans to kill the family’s boy, forcing Rikki-Tikki-Tavi to summon all the courage he can muster. The animation is not particularly sophisticated, but it communicates a deep sense of place, often times shaping the personality of the characters through color, texture and mise-en-scene.

I always hated “The Jungle Book” (the movie) and vastly preferred this humbler Kipling adaptation. Seen today, the film has some awkward wisps of imperialism (where are all the Indian people anyway?) and an overly pointed agenda about the importance of duty and bravery, but in many ways it is surprisingly mature (not to mention scary) for a children’s movie. The depiction of the scheming cobra couple with their soon-to-hatch eggs presents a dark mirror version of the humans, both of whom are willing to murder for the sake of their offspring. Underneath it all is a complicated message about patriarchy, xenophobia and violence that is far subtler than a first glance would reveal.

Title: Rupert and the Frog Song (1984)
Director: Geoff Dunbar
Time: 13 minutes
Availability: On the DVD of same title, and an abbreviated version on “We All Stand Together,” or on continuous loop at the Museum of Canterbury. It can also be found in two parts on YouTube, although the truncated version is inferior.
As the son of a die-hard Beatles fan, it should not be surprising that my family owned a tape of Paul McCartney’s short-lived animation studio. The frog song is basically an animated music video set within the universe of the British serial comic and TV show “Rupert.” In the framing device, Rupert Bear goes into the hills to play and eventually finds his way into a cave where he witnesses a secret society of frogs that sing a grandly choreographed orchestration, “We All Stand Together,” once every 200 years. The animation is a delirious blend of anthropomorphized frogs croaking and dancing interspersed with several sequences of amphibious abstraction.

“Rupert and the Frog Song” was a major hit in 1984, hitting #3 on the UK charts, becoming a top-selling short and winning a BAFTA. Across the pond it was hardly noticed, but it left a definite effect on my childhood. The sense of mystery and conspiracy, combined with the vocal variety and dusk-time scenery still impress me today.

Title: Tummy Trouble (1989)
Director: Rob Minkoff
Time: 7 minutes
Availability: On the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” special edition DVD.
After the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” several Roger Rabbit shorts were made to play before other feature films, a practice which had died out twenty years earlier. “Tummy Trouble” played before “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” and featured the usual setup of incompetent babysitter Roger Rabbit getting left in charge of Baby Herman. When the infant swallows his rattle, Roger rushes him to the hospital, but ends up with the surgery being conducted on him (with dubious medical instruments that include a chainsaw and a “hare”-splitting laser). The resulting debacle wreaks havoc throughout the hospital, generally inverting the care-giving potential of everything nearby. Jessica Rabbit, sultry voice courtesy of Kathleen Turner, makes an appearance as a nurse.

Though not as funny as the feature-length “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and its preliminary short “Somethin’s Cooking,” this was my favorite of the stand-alone Roger Rabbit cycle (others include “Roller Coaster Rabbit,” which was shown before “Dick Tracy,” and “Trail Mix-Up”). The hyperactive slapstick zaniness on display throughout may not be as appealing to me today, but it took the action of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies up a notch. I’m still impressed by the breakneck, imaginative violence, which strings together sequences of manic hyperbolic brutality that still get a smile from me today.


Mad Dog said...

I remember seeing Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on Saturdays on Nickelodeon and treasuring each and every viewing of it. :)

I also had a tape of Rupert and the Frog Song on VHS. It was bundled with a hilariously racist animated music video called Seaside Woman (you can see it here: and another really odd video by Linda McCartney notable for being probably the first time I saw a woman's breasts (also found here:

I also hope you will include What's Opera Doc? eventually.

Mad Dog said...

whoops, that second URL should be this:

FilmWalrus said...

Hey Mad Dog,

Yeah, that is definitely the same VHS we had. I actually kind of like the third short, "Oriental Nightfish." I had no idea you shared my same animated nostalgia taste!

And yes, I will be including "What's Opera, Doc." It will be in the top-rated edition although it is not my personal favorite classic cartoon (that goes to "Duck Amuck").

Anonymous said...

I remember all of these.

I remember being especially enchanted by Rupert & The Frog Song. {:3

FilmWalrus said...

Yay for everyone who grew up with Rupert and the Frog Song! I never even watched the Rupert show (I may have seen a couple episodes), but I have such fond memories of the short. I had figured no one would know what I was talking about.