Cartoon Creeps: Why Horror Lovers Are Obsessed with Max Fleischer

Don’t let Max’s playfulness or Betty’s sultriness fool you; beyond here, there be monsters.
Source: TV Tropes

Finally, I get to do something spooky for Halloween. Again, I apologize for how unexpectedly eventful this month has been, but we finally get to talk about creepy stuff that’s totally relevant.

If you’ve been following the gaming scene recently, you’ve likely been hearing the name Max Fleischer get thrown about quite a bit. You’ve also probably heard the name attached to hellish imagery and intimidating challenge as well. You can thank the dual successes of Bendy and The Ink Machine and Cuphead for bringing this man back into the limelight as both draw heavily from Max’s body of work for inspiration. So, what was that work exactly?

Well, Uncle Max, as he’s occasionally known by, is a Polish-American animator born in 1883 and one of the founding fathers of modern western animation. Today, most will recognize him for the creation of Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and possibly the most iconic animated depiction of DC Comics’ wonder boy Superman.

And when I say ‘founding father’, I mean he developed the most important technological advancements of his time including The Stereoptical Process, the classic ‘Bouncing Ball’ style sing-a-long, and – most notably – the rotoscope that allowed for more detailed movement with less effort by artists. Basically, everything you associate with the earliest cartoons you can likely remember exist because of dear Uncle Max.

That’s all well and good, but why the interest in him as a horror icon? Well, there are quite a few reasons.

Firstly, much of his early work, prior to being strictly limited by the now abandoned Hays Code, dealt heavily in dark surrealist imagery. Uncle Max was no stranger to including stories and art depicting malevolent spirits, violent demons, and occult practices. Fans of early Fleischer Studios productions – myself included – will often cite films like Bimbo’s InitiationRed Hot MammaMinnie the Moocher (yes, that IS Jazz legend Cab Calloway performing the music and providing rotoscoping for the dance moves), and probably the most cited of his works – Swing You Sinners.

You’ll notice that the way a lot of these characters move feels unsettling as well. Well, that brings us to another factor to the freakiness of Fleischer’s Films; his use of an animation technique called ‘Rubber Hose Animation.’ Named after the rubber hose-like construction of many character’s limbs, the lack of any points of articulation (wrists, elbows, knees, etc.) means almost everything moves with an inhuman fluidity. Imagine a person whose limbs and body seemed to slither around themselves while they walked and you can see why this would be so unsettling – especially if the person doing it was otherwise conventionally cute and innocent looking like most characters from this era of cartoons.

But probably the big thing that most don’t think of is the horror potential in the real-life rivalry between Max Fleischer and Walt Disney. Contrary to popular belief Disney’s Steamboat Willie in 1928 was NOT the first animated film to sync sound and film together; that accolade belongs to Max’s Good-Bye My Lady Love a good four years prior in 1924 (which I sadly could not find). Walt was also quick to jump on and use rotoscoping once Max’s copyright on it ran out. He attempted to claim credit for it while using it to finish Snow White in 1937. The Disney Company would then spend several years lobbying to extend copyright length to ensure no one could make a better version of the public domain properties they adapted (shady business practices; just one more reason for me to hate Disney).

And through all of this taking of Fleischer’s hard work and unfairly discrediting him, Disney put his studio out of business in 1942 when it was incorporated into Paramount as ‘Famous Studios.’ Max would then pass away due to arterial sclerosis of the brain in 1972.

Basically, the idea of a hard-working artist who pioneered ways to make his art “come to life” as it were getting shafted by his old business rival to the point of being nearly forgotten by history is a good back story for a vengeful-spirit-from-beyond-the-grave story. So good, in fact, that some of the more obsessive nit-pickers among us have already made that connection to some of the stuff Max did and the things it inspired.

So, whether you’re looking for a good creep show or looking to brush up on your animation history, it would be worthwhile to study Uncle Max’s early offering. Just maybe watch with the lights on.

First Impressions On The New DuckTales

Oh, hey; I can talk about something happy for a change!

At this point, you know that I have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to Disney. However, don’t take that to mean that I hate EVERYTHING about them; I am a human capable of love after all and Disney was still a formative part of my child. And one of those parts I loved was DuckTales.

Looking back, it was a very simplistic show – very much your standard, 1990’s, baddie-of-the-week, action-adventure serial. It was light on plot and character development, but it was completely serviceable with high-energy action, decent humor,  and still holds up surprisingly well after over two decades.

But, you want to know what they changed in the 2017 reboot and if they stayed true to the original source material, right? Well, let’s rap about that (NOTE: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT).

The first thing I took note of was a heavier focus on an overarching plot for the series. The first two episodes (conveniently mashed up as an hour long premiere in the video above) starts with Donald Duck struggling to make a home for his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie as the life of a sailor isn’t conducive to being a family man. Donald is forced to drop the trio off at the mansion of their grand-uncle Scrooge McDuck while he heads off to a new job interview. As the plot continues, new elements are added such as Huey, Dewey, and Louie being disillusioned with Scrooge’s greatness, Scrooge struggling to patch up strained family relations, Donald having to choose between family and success after unintentionally being hired by Scrooge’s arch-rival Flintheart Glomgold, and – end-capping the second episode – the discovery that Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s long-lost mother might have joined Scrooge and Donald in their early adventuring days.

With heavier plot came a greater chance for character development. This was where things started getting risky as this meant a chance of people complaining that the characters weren’t true to the originals. However, I didn’t have those concerns while watching. For the most part, I felt they were the same lovable goofballs I grew up with.

Donald is still a neurotic ball of rage, panic, and feathers (playing up the foul-mouthed sailor cliche… heh, FOWL… ’cause he’s a duck), but now he has the humanizing element of being an adoptive father figure to his nephews. Now his anger and frustration are justified because he’s constantly agonizing over the well-being of those in his care.

Scrooge is still the money-grubbing miser that he always was, but now he’s learning to accept family back into his life now that he’s made his fortune, thus making him a warmer and lovable character. Now, he has a chance to share his glory days with the next generation and has new meaning in his life by teaching them how to be, in his own words, “tougher than the toughies and smarter than smarties.”

Of course, the two biggest changes in character and the ones everyone wants to discuss are Scrooge’s maidservant Mrs. Bentina Beakley and her granddaughter Webbigail “Webby” Vanderquack. It’s understandable why the internet would go nuts over these two as their previous incarnations were a bit troubled from a modern feminist perspective.

Where the original Mrs. Beakley had almost no character other than being a doting nanny and mother figure to the child cast, this new incarnation is much more strict and professional – characterized as being very hard-nosed about how things are run around the McDuck mansion. She’s also not afraid to call Scrooge out on his B.S. when she smells it which has the effect of making her the Alfred Pennyworth to Scrooge’s Bruce Wayne. Her visual design reflects this by replacing her round rimless spectacles and frilly blouse with square horn-rimmed glasses and a broadly shouldered blazer to harden her appearance while keeping her bun hair-do, frilled apron, and giving her a classy brooch to remind us that under her sternness, she’s still a loving soft-hearted gentlewoman.

And she needs to be loving because she’s looking after the new Webby.

The original Webby was an example of one of the WORST kinds of female characters in fiction, the one that insists on being involved in everything with the boys for no discernable reason despite having no useful skills and calling sexism when someone tries to explain how dangerous that is for them and the rest of the team. Here though, she keeps this ‘up-for-anything’ personality while mitigating the problems previously attached to it.

For starters, there’s a reason why she wants to be with others on an adventure; she’s been horribly sheltered. Mrs. Beakley, fearing for her granddaughter’s safety sharing a home with a famous thrill-seeker, taught her every survival technique she knows but insisted that she be in a position where she’ll never actually need to use them by keeping her in the house. She’s bouncing off the walls with her growing social awkwardness. So when she finally meets Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she clings to them as the first living creatures she’s interacted with outside of the mansion.

Oh, and those survival techniques. Yeah, that means she actively contributes to the team instead of standing off to the side until she inevitably becomes a liability. It also makes my previous Mrs. Beakley/Alfred comparison stronger by suggesting that she’s a total badass.

And, of course, I’d be foolish if I didn’t mention the reworking of the original theme which is just as legendarily catchy as the before but doesn’t wear out its welcome nearly as quickly.

So, basically, this is just a REALLY wordy way of saying that I’m looking forward to seeing what else Disney comes up with. It seems they’re still making good use of those pages from the Cartoon Network school of plot and character development in animation that they borrowed when making Gravity Falls. The only difference is that they had the guts to apply it to one of their longest running franchises.

Now then, which of us is gonna start petitioning for a Darkwing Duck reboot?

Rejected Princesses: The Blog For People Who Think Disney Princesses Are Too Soft

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Source: Rejected Princesses

There are two truths of the universe that this blog illustrates consistently and without fail; I love to support worthy talents that I feel don’t get enough attention and I F***ING hate the Disney Princess model of storytelling.

To that end, I thank Jason Porath for doing what he does over at Rejected Princesses.

For the uninitiated, Jason was a former visual effects animator for Dreamworks (THE “anti-Disney” in their own right). But the one-off conversation he had with his friends asking who was the least likely historical/mythological figure to be selected as a Disney Princess style heroine in a children’s movie inspired him to flaunt his illustrating and writing skills as well.

What’s funny is that Jason – a white, straight man from Kentucky with no background in history or drawing (his major in college was Film Theory) – seems to realize that he’s the least likely person to be spearheading a multicultural, historical, feminist art blog that has gone viral. However, I would argue how that just proves that anyone can have a worthy voice and extraordinary talent.

So, what about the blog itself? Basically, Jason has taken notes on THOUSANDS of famous women from history, legend, and myth that he feels would be deemed by studios as, “too awesome, awful, or offbeat for kids’ movies.” He then proceeds to gather information from various credible sources, illustrate them in a Disney-esque style that he feels reflects both their real-life appearance and personality/story, and shares their tale with the world – recently in the form of full comics.

I think my favorite tale was his take on the bitter-sweet life of Lyudmila Pavlichenko; the ‘Lady Death’ of Russia during World War II and holder of the title of the world’s deadliest female sniper (309 confirmed kills by the age of 25). Jason’s rendition of her story shows a woman’s dark descent into bitter hatred only to be saved by one kind soul – in this case, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

One of the nice features of Jason’s site is how he included collapsible footnotes between panels of the comics. This allows the reader to get the full story without cluttering the page with asterisks or simply enjoy the epic tale of a princess escaping her imprisonment only to come back with an army without fretting over the history.

Of course, he also has a humorous side to him and does less history driven comics with a more comedic bent to them.

Naturally, this is the point where I urge you to support his work and there’s no shortage of ways to do this. He sells prints of his work on Redbubble and his official Rejected Princesses book is available for autographed pre-order. So the next thing you should probably do is buy them lest you face a beheading from Lady Ching for your cheapskate antics.

Why Maleficent Doesn’t Work

I miss you, creepy green-skinned dark sprite.

I’ve voiced my displeasure with Disney many times in the past. That said, I feel I’ve always justified my stance. It’s not that I enjoy ragging on them and their work, it’s just that I consistently find flaws that ruin them for me. In the words of Bennett ‘The Sage’ White, “I don’t hate from ignorance, people. My hate is sharp, honed, and well-informed – the better to cut the subject, you see.”

To that end, I’m sure I’m not going to make many friends when I say that I couldn’t enjoy myself while watching Maleficent. But, I can at least defend my position.

Firstly, this is not a review of the film by any means. My family begged me to give it 15 minutes to grab me, I gave them the kindness of 30 minutes, and it failed.

Yes, you can take this to mean that I walked out on it; a feat that only two other films – Earth Girls Are Easy and Redneck Zombies – have ever achieved. So, I can’t review it in good conscience because I didn’t finish it. But I can tell you why I left it.

First is the point that I sense most people will debate me on; I personally don’t find Angelina Jolie a compelling actress. Granted that, as far as A-list actresses are concerned, she was probably the best pick in terms of looks. She looks like Maleficent, she just doesn’t sound, move, or act like her. She had a very one note performance that was very distracting to me and prevented me from taking in the scene (seriously, I almost started laughing at her ‘cries’ of pain and betrayal when her wings were clipped in the beginning).

Secondly, it was a movie that I had seen already. It’s the retelling of a classic story that paints the antagonist in a sympathetic light. Look, Disney – my drama club colleagues forced me to see Wicked and I already watched and enjoyed Frozen before the music was overplayed to hell. I want to see you do something new.

The sad part is that I could have forgiven the reuse of this formula if it weren’t for the subject that it was being applied to. Wicked worked because most people only know the source material –The Wizard of Oz – through the 1939 film. Frozen worked even better because the source material is a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that’s over a century and a half old and mostly forgotten by this generation. In both cases, there was little in the way of preconceptions to impede my suspension of disbelief.

Maleficent, on the other hand, has to contend with over 50 years of Disney hammering the notion that it’s heroine is a heartless, demonic, bitch who will do anything if it means furthering her power or paying back a minor slight (her original motivation was being snubbed an invite to Aurora’s christening).

And make no mistake, she IS Disney’s big bad. From leading the takeover of The House of Mouse in Mickey’s House of Villain’s to playing the master manipulator of the Heartless in the Kingdom Hearts games, Maleficent is always at the front lines of the enemy army cackling like a woman possessed. The only time she wasn’t the Disney equivalent of a final boss in a video game was the book series The Kingdom Keepers and that’s only because she was second-fiddle to Chernabog (you know, that devil-looking guy from Fantasia).

Bottom line, you can only make a person who was nominated for AFI’s 50 Greatest Villains and whose most famous line of dialogue is, “Now shall you deal with me, o’ prince… and all the powers of hell,” so sympathetic… and Angelina will not help you in that goal.

Is Disney Right To Ditch The Boy Scouts?

Lesson learned: One does not mess with The House of The Mouse.
Source: Scouts for Equality

Recently, Disney announced that, effective next year, they would cut all financial support to The Boy Scouts of America. This act has seemed to strike a cord with The Scouts and as well as stir up controversy among the general public.

The reason for Disney’s turn around is a ban that BSA has on gay scout leaders.

So the big question is this; Was Disney justified in telling The Scouts off and employing the ‘taking my ball and going home’ diplomacy? Well, lets look at the facts.

Disney has always been big on the idea of ‘rock on with your-weird-self.’ Heroes in Disney films tend to be outcasts and outliers from the norm. Ariel from The Little Mermaid wanted to mingle with humans despite the animosity between them and her merfolk. Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a disfigured man shunned for his appearance. Elsa from Frozen was ran out of her own kingdom for fear of what her phenomenal power could do. So supporting a group with any kind of exclusionary regulation would be hypocritical.

Speaking of Frozen, opposing gay rights would be especially hypocritical of Disney. Remember, one of the fan favorite characters of that film, the shopkeeper Oaken, is theorized to be gay.

And even if that isn’t true, Disney World is still home to a massive LGBT event that attracts over 150,000 people to Orlando, Florida every year. And though Disney doesn’t officially sanction the event, it is still synonymous with Disney and any action to the contrary would have the potential to destroy the company’s image.

So, from a corporate standpoint, Disney is making the right choice. However, on prolonged examination, one can’t help but feel badly for The Boy Scouts.

Clearly not all of the Boy Scouts support this policy. A sub-group known as Scouts for Equality is working to correct the issue by ending the ban and regaining Disney’s support.

Speaking personally, I’d like to see the ban lifted and Disney continuing to support the BSA. The Scouts still do a lot of good for people and it’s a shame that this horrible act could ruin them. Here’s to hoping that they eventually become an all-inclusive team for everyone’s benefit.

I suppose the lesson to be taken from this story is to know what the people – both your audience and those supporting you – want from you. Although it also would help if your policy wasn’t incredibly bigoted.

Three Very Good (Spoiler Filled) Reasons To See Disney’s Frozen

Any movie that I’m still talking about about three days after seeing it must be good.
Source: The Disney Wiki

Let’s get something VERY clear; I have had a grudge against Disney since 1989 at the mere age of five (We’ll get into why later, trust me.) So understand how amazing Frozen is to make me forgive Disney for what I have calculated as a near 77-year long sin.

I’m not spouting hyperbole when I say that Frozen is the greatest film Disney has produced – not counting anything Pixar or Marvel related – since The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So, in order to convince you to go and see this movie and enjoy it for it’s warts and all, I’m going to describe in detail the great things about this film.

The Soundtrack

For once, the best song in a Disney film isn’t from a villain.
Source: Flavorwire

Here’s the rub; normally, I despise musicals with a passion.

For one, actors rarely make good singers in my experience (Exhibit A: Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”) and singers make even worse actors (Exhibit B: the opening moments of the “Imma Be” video). For two, it’s very distracting. Just as I get emotionally invested in the action on screen, I get cinematic whiplash as the characters break out into song. It’s just not what a normal person would do in a dramatic situation – it’s what you would do for cheap laughs.

All of this was true for me in Frozen, but I quickly realized that, taken on it’s own without the movie, the soundtrack is beautiful. This is especially true of the main song “Let It Go” preformed by Idina Menzel of Wicked fame who, incidentally, is one of the few people that can act AND sing (sadly, I’m still bitter because I’m convinced she deserved better then Glee).

If I can find this soundtrack on CD (yes, I still use CD’s), I will buy it just to flaunt it in the face of my friends who criticize me for not giving musicals a chance and say, “See! I’m NOT impossible to please now, am I?”

The Comic Relief

I love you, cold, moronic, ball of snow! *Sob*
Source: Inside the Magic

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that my girlfriend convinced me otherwise, I would have given the whole movie a miss just because I misjudged the stupid snowman.

Olaf, the talking snowman, is actually far more charming than the trailers and adverts painted him to be. At first, I wrote him off as very similar to Claptrap from Borderlands – annoying and very quick to wear out his welcome.

But, as it turns out, I grew to love Olaf as much as Anna and Elsa did. Underneath his facade of comedy is a legitimately tragic and lovable character – a creature of ice and snow that desperately wants, but sadly can’t, experience warmth without melting. He can’t even get the “warm hugs” that he loves so much.

Trust me, you will feel for Olaf by the end of the film just as I did.

The Big Twists

Elsa’s about to blow your mind.

Okay, this is where the BIG spoilers show up. So if you have not seen Frozen yet, stop reading this, bookmark it, go watch the film, and come back. Seriously, if you read beyond this point, the entire movie will be ruined for you. Go watch it first. Get it? Got It? Good.

So there are two amazing plot twists in the story that spit in the eye of Disney’s previous conventions of their Princess mythology. Those conventions are what got me to hate Disney Princesses in ’89. That was the year that The Little Mermaid was released.

In addition to getting the previous two aspects of a movie wrong (seriously, I don’t get the appeal of Jodi Benson’s singing voice and Sebastian has all of my hate), the movie baffled me as a child because I didn’t get why Ariel would sell her soul (voice and soul are thematically the same here) for someone she barely knew and hadn’t even spoken with prior. As an adult, I look back on this outdated patriarchal sensibility and realize how lucky she was that Eric wasn’t a total creep. Not to get too lurid, but throwing yourself at people without knowing them is a good way to leave yourself open to a VERY dangerous situation.

The two big reveals in the third act of Frozen defy this trope that has so long plagued Disney. The “good” princess Anna is accidentally cursed by her sister Elsa with a slowly freezing heart that threatens her life. It’s revealed that the only way to thaw her heart is an act of true love. Everyone assumes that this means a kiss from her true love Hans, the prince of the Southern Isles whom she had agreed to marry the same day she met him.

However, when Kristoff, the mountain man that had been guiding her returns her to the castle to get her kiss from Hans, he reveals that he only asked her to marry him so that he could eventually claim the throne since, being the youngest of thirteen brothers, he’d never rule the Southern Isles. It’s just as Elsa warned in the first act – “You can’t marry a man you just met.”

At this point now, you’d expect Kristoff to be the man to save the day and rescue Anna. Well, You’d be wrong again! In fact, it’s not a kiss that saves Anna at all. Instead, it’s Elsa’s tears. Her weeping for her sister shows that she truly cares about her – an act of true love from a source no one could have expected.

Also, there’s something touching about Elsa’s arc of childhood repression and delayed teenage rebellion. If I wasn’t disillusioned into thinking that a smaller section of the corporate whole wrote this, I’d think that Disney might be feeling guilty about what they’ve done to their former starlets.

Seriously, You Better Have Seen This Movie By Now

Like I said, Frozen is far from perfect. The music – beautiful as it is – is still distracting, Olaf – charming as he is – is still annoying, and the references to modern life fracture my beloved immersion in the old world Nordic story slightly.

That said, this is still one of the best things Disney has ever made and has insured that I’ll be following them very closely from here on out. You’ve raised the bar very high and very quickly, Disney; Maleficent better be life changing.