Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review of Night Bacon

I generally try to avoid writing negative reviews, and I’ve vowed as much before, but catching an advanced screening of “Night Bacon: The Movie” (2010) a few days ago, I feel actively obligated to break that vow. Being moderately familiar with the television show I had pretty low expectations to begin with, but decided to attend because (a) it was free, (b) I try to keep up on even bad animation and (c) a friend invited me who claims, incomprehensibly, to be a big fan. I’m assuming his enthusiasm is all part of that inexhaustible 80’s nostalgia thing, but I hated the show even as a kid.

Though “Night Bacon,” the cartoon series, was an indelible part of my childhood and that of most people growing up in 1980’s Kansas, I realized later (when it came up in conversation at college) that almost nobody outside of the Midwest has even heard of the show. That’s not surprising, in retrospect, since I find on Wikipedia that it was funded exclusively by Wichita Pork Agglomeration and produced by their small animation subsidiary, Porktoons, not far from where I grew up. The low-grade animation, moronic plots, obnoxious music and appalling misinformation served as little more than an extended commercial for pork products and the show, sensibly enough, was never carried by any station outside of Wichita Pork Agglomeration’s sales region.

So for those of you from the west coast, east coast and the world at large, who missed out on the experience, I present a pseudo-summary of the television series cobbled together from my distant memories and a few quick internet searches:

The star was Francis, a rather generic all-around boy genius and pop singer who transforms, at dusk, into dashing crime-fighting superhero Night Bacon. Night Bacon looks exactly like a giant strip of bacon, but retains Francis’s eyes and mouth. In a strangely cannibalistic twist, which never seemed to bother me as a kid, Night Bacon eats large quantities of regular-sized bacon for energy.

I never saw the earliest episodes, but my friend (the “big fan”) says that the origin involved Francis’s mother being bitten by a Pork Fairy while pregnant, causing Francis to be born with all the intelligence of a human boy, but with the innate superpowers of bacon. The list of these superpowers was endless, but apparently in constant flux due to the show’s total lack of continuity. The writers would invent or forget about powers depending on the needs of the current episode, but the one semi-consistent element was the Bacon Ray, which was usually deployed at the last minute as an irresistible killing blow.

Even the Bacon Ray alternated inexplicably between a lightning bolt that fried villains into, you guessed it, more bacon and a laser beam that caused foes (even chickens) to explode into bacon bits. I have a fuzzy memory of one occasion when the Bacon Ray was portrayed as a rainbow (a la the Care Bears), but with the colors restricted to the meat spectrum (dark red to pulpy yellow), in keeping with the show’s exhausting, though immediately-recognizable, color scheme.

I do remember the Pork Fairies, which were a reoccurring element of the show and, though surreal, actually kind of adorable. The Pork Fairies were smiley, winged, nearly-circular pigs that frolic and flutter happily in the woodlands of some unspecified third-world country. Their habitat is constantly under threat by foreign conspiracies to cut down the forest and plant oat fields and vegetable gardens (invariably portrayed as menacing and undesirable). Francis, his best friend Roger and the rest of the gang (all members are his father’s Friendly Meat Corporation) are constantly trying to save the lovable Pork Fairies from misguided activists and vegetarians. These scenarios are typical examples of “Night Bacon” appropriating, and inverting, environmentalist rhetoric towards its own twisted ends.

Francis had a laboratory where he produced the inevitable stream of wacky gadgets that appeared in every animated kid’s show of that era. He also had Maria Porkova, a sexy lab assistant whose outfits and pork-based innuendo never seemed appropriate for the target audience and never had anything to do with the plot. Her one task seemed to be running the Baconizer, a hovering, spinning golden ring. The Baconizer is the one part of the show I will never, never forget, though I often wish I could. The Pork Fairies, willingly self-sacrificing to assist Francis, would leap through the Baconizer which magically transformed them into a flurry of energy-providing bacon to fuel Night Bacon’s superpowers.

While the Baconizer completely misrepresents the complicated and gory process by which bacon is actually made, one decision by the creators, doubtlessly intended to make us worry even less about the poor Pork Fairies, made the entire thing almost traumatizing. This was the shrill, giddy, hysterical giggle that the Pork Fairies emitted as they passed through the Baconizer. Watching clips on YouTube, this hideous laughter still sends chills down my spine. Nothing and nobody should ever be so… happy. According to the trivia on the official fan site the Baconizer was originally going to be called the Super Laughter Ring, or SLaughteRing for short (whose idea was that?), and the sound bite was recorded with that in mind. Since the show regularly recycled whatever animation they already had, it was never changed.

Like with a lot of other Saturday morning cartoons, the best part of Night Bacon was often the villains. These fell into two categories. The first were miscellaneous monsters-of-the-weeks like the Asian stereotype Master Veggie Med-Lee, psychotic Professor Health Nut, clueless vampire Count Calory and the nefarious Vitamen from Venus. Even as a kid I remember thinking these villains were awfully tasteless and sent a horrible dietary message for impressionable kids.

The other type of badguy was poultry, usually chickens, but drawn to look more like vultures, harpies and gargoyles. They were frequently depicted as bumbling, unsanitary and suffering from leprosy. The birds lived segregated from the rest of society (my friend claims this was a race metaphor) and were usually just ignored by Night Bacon (though due to a favor he performed in some episode I never saw, he was occasionally allowed into their exclusive Turkey Club), but they inevitably turned out to be working as henchmen for the main villains.

One of the shows running gags will give you some idea of the shocking amount of violence (to say nothing of the sex) that eventually caused so many complaints that “Night Bacon” was moved from Saturday mornings to Tuesday Evenings. This running gag involved the chickens, who often ended up in police custody or were otherwise subdued by Night Bacon by the end of the episode. Then, mere moments before the episode ended and for no reason whatsoever Night Bacon would slash off the heads of the captive chickens and their bodies would dance around spastically to the closing credit music. If that weren’t enough, the intermittent gouts of blood that squirted from their necks splattered, as though on a camera lens, to form the names in the credits.

I remember that my mom HATED “Night Bacon” (she never knowingly let us watch it) and nothing more so than the gratuitous violence directed at chickens. And yet, on cleaning out my closet in my parent’s home some years ago, I discovered that it was a plastic toy chicken that was the sole item of “Night Bacon” merchandizing that I apparently ever possessed. The chicken was meant to be filled with ketchup through (I kid you not) a cap right where the anus should be and the head could be removed so that the ketchup could be squeezed out through the neck. I never liked ketchup and my “Night Bacon” chicken has, consequently, never been used. I’m tempted to see if I can get anything for it on Ebay.

The animation was always abysmal, even lazier than the worst moments in Rocky and Bullwinkle or Schoolhouse Rock, from which it borrowed many of its money-saving techniques. These included not only repeating clips, but lengthy segments of looping, most notably during the shows insufferable musical interludes. These involved two practically interchangeable bands: (1) Francis and the Sausage Links, who played mindless techno beats with Francis singing in falsetto and a trio of sausages providing backup, and (2) Sergeant Pepperoni’s Hearty Breakfast Band, which featured bad pork-themed parody songs and commercial jingles.

Francis and the Sausage Links would often play for several minutes at a time with no visual accompaniment other than the titular strip of bacon and the three sausages waggling around in front of microphones. The whole thing was mysteriously hypnotic and vaguely obscene. Sergeant Pepperoni’s Hearty Breakfast Band only stuck around for half a season, partly because of Porktoon's failure to negotiate music rights and partly because their blatantly unhealthy advice caused several accidents amongst young viewers. Lyrics varied from the stupid and disgusting (“sausage grease brings world peace, but bacon fat is where it’s at!”) to the dangerously self-serving, like telling kids that “vegetables are a fad” and to eat a pack of bacon “once a day and twice at night!”

Even less animation effort was involved with the once-an-episode speeches delivered by Pork President Alexander Hamilton, who was drawn as a strip of bacon with a blue square face in one corner, designed to look like an American flag with the streaks of meat and fat serving as the red and white stripes. Only the mouth would move during the speeches, which could run for five minutes and consisted of little but dishonest propaganda about the health benefits of pork products and the dangers of a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

For example: “You wouldn’t eat a dirty penny you found on the ground, would you? Or a trampled gob of bubble gum? Or a hunk of dog excrement? And yet many people eat stuff that grows in and on the ground every day! I ask you, is that wise? Is that sanitary?” These rants often sounded closer to Mussolini than any American president, let alone our first Secretary of the Treasury. The FCC made Porktoons cease airing these segments after a 1984 court decision.

The movie adaptation includes cameos from Hamilton and almost every other character from the series, although the chickens are conspicuous absent and are, in fact, never even referred to. Hamilton commissions Francis and Roger to stop a group of terrorist Neutritionists [sic] who have convinced the world that bacon is dangerously high in fat and sodium and should only be eaten only in moderation. Night Bacon soon discovers that the Neutritionists are not what they seem. Their real motive is to enslave the human race by turning them into health-obsessed zombies using their Neutriton bombs, which can only be resisted by eating excessive amounts of bacon. As Maria Porkova says, “At least a dozen strips of bacon per meal is the only guarantee for immunity. And after a strip, a big juicy sausage is just the thing!”

Night Bacon is captured after taking a bath in his restorative grease reservoir, which Doctor von Vegan has maniacally replaced with strength-sapping vegetable oil. Just when all seems lost, Francis administers a light “pork chop” to Doctor von Vegan’s scrawny neck, and he withers like a punctured balloon, but not before activating his Organic Farming Doomsday Device. Night Bacon remembers his trusty Bacon Ray just in time (the device's countdown shows one billionth of a second remaining) to destroy the machine and save the day. In celebration, his father’s Friendly Pork Corporation hosts an ultimate world concert for Francis and the Sausage Links. Despite the fact that plot has completely petered out, the concert scenes continue for another 25 minutes before the film ends.

Personally, I don’t think any amount of 1980’s nostalgia can justify how bad the film is. The transition to 3D CG is somehow even uglier than the original. The show’s humor remains clunky and unpleasant and there is no attempt to make the story even slightly interested. The sole mildly funny moment, in a sick kind of way, occurs when the cast of Veggietales shows up to the concert and are offhandedly slaughtered by Francis and Roger.

Do I have anything good to say about “Night Bacon: The Movie”? It could have been worse: it could have been live action.

Walrus Rating: 1.0

8 comments:

Mad Dog said...

"a friend invited me who claims, incomprehensibly, to be a big fan."

I wonder who that could be...

Not my fault you could never understand the Dadaist background of the executive producer and how he was subtly underlining the absurdity of such a blatantly-biased marketing tool by a soulless corporation.

Guess I won't be inviting you to the sequel.

Walrus said...

Hey now, I didn't use any names!

But seriously, if Night Bacon actually grosses enough to justify a sequel, I will eat my words and tag along.

Cmaue said...

I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS AND I NEED TO WATCH THIS SHOW. RIGHT. NOW.

Patrick said...

I think I predicted all three of the above comments before they were even written.

Also, how do I not remember this? Was this one of those many things for which I was "too young"?

JDP said...

I'm with Pancakes on this one. Your review is hilarious (and harrowing?) but I have absolutely no recollection of this facile cartoon.

exactly why said...

Incredibly entertaining review. I clearly missed out on some quality television growing up in Utah. If we have any similarly isolated media phenomena, I doubt they are nearly so crazy.

theczech said...

I too have no recollection of this show, though I grew up in Kansas in verrrry close proximity to Walrus.

Suspicious!

Anonymous said...

There is no Night Bacon, is there? This is an elaborate hoax.