Archive for October, 2013

Gargoyles “City of Stone,” parts 3 and 4

Gargoyles City of Stone screenshot

“The access code is: alone.”

After one and a half season of questioning the admiration that was heaped upon Gargoyles, I finally see it. I do not regret my earlier criticisms of the show; for all the genuinely engaging moments, Gargoyles was filled with clunky ones, way past the point a show of this caliber should have. But within these final two parts of “City of Stone,” we have arguably one of the best episodes of the 90s, rivaling even that of the best Batman: The Animated Series episodes. All those table-setting episodes are finally put into place. The writers’ attempt at their own Shakespeare story was a rounding success.

Revenge, and the futility of revenge, was always an underlying theme of Gargoyles. Finding one’s purpose was the major theme, and revenge can be an understandable purpose in life, if a wholly misguided one. Demona, Macbeth, Xanatos, and even Goliath all at some point strove for vengeance – only the latter two managed to push past that desire into something more rewarding: Goliath on protecting the city, Xanatos on… well, yet another massive scheme. Demona and Macbeth, however, are so driven and controlled by revenge, and people who want revenge, that their lives, by their very existence, are tragic in themselves. When Macbeth approaches Demona, he means to kill her, thus ending his own life, after 900-plus years of death, destruction, and tragedy. He wants it to end. He needs it to end. Demona, still driven by vengeance, does not.

But I’m jumping ahead. Part three of “City of Stone” begins with Goliath teaming up with Xanatos to save the city from the stone curse, but they can’t quite begin, since the sun is coming up. The gargoyles turn to stone as the humans turn to flesh, so Xanatos and Owen determine that to break the curse they have to “light the sky on fire”. Science is officially better than magic, because all of these ridiculous curses with seemingly impossible methods to end them can be done simply with some good ol’ fashioned know-how. Thus, Xanatos comes up with the idea of filling the sky with some kind of harmless gas and burning it. Science: 1, Magic: 0.

We then return back to Scotland 1040AD, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this story is based on the real life King Duncan and King Macbeth of Scotland, as mentioned by a commenter in the last post. While that definitely warms me up to the proceedings, I’m still a bit wonky on exactly why Duncan hates Macbeth so much. (Later, it is mentioned that Duncan thought Macbeth’s father would make Macbeth king, which seems a bit of a reach.) They want Duncan to seem paranoid, with a side of crazy, which might have worked better if they didn’t have the scene where Macbeth saves Duncan from falling off a cliff, upon which they become BFFs. The tone shift(s) is sudden, and I’m not sure who Duncan is anymore – not that I knew who he was in the first place.

They wander into a cave and find Demona’s clan in stone. Macbeth convinces Duncan to spare them, which is nice. Unfortunately, they meet the Weird Sisters, who, by calling them both king, instills Duncan with his paranoia again. I have to give kudos to Gargoyles – between Bluestone and Duncan, “crazy” is quite often portrayed very low-key. Still, at the very least Bluestone is a competent cop; Duncan changes attitudes on a whim. (Maybe he’s bipolar?) NOW he’s thinking that Macbeth had him spare the gargoyles because he planned to use them against him. So he goes back with a few men to take the gargoyles out, and crushes quite a few of them, right as the sun sets. Demona emerges from her slumber and breaks free, escaping with a scant few survivors. Also, notice that Demona is getting old.

Koko improved considerably since the previous episode. They don’t screw up Demona’s face, and fight scenes are simultaneously clear and chaotic (in a good way). Their best moment is the animation around the spell that ties Demona and Macbeth together in life and death; lighting flashes, spinning winds, and physical transformations – it’s as if Disney saw the first two parts, called up Koko immediately, and told them to “slow the fuck down.” I also love the detail in how Demona and Macbeth “see” the Weird Sisters – based on their own species – through a hazy, cloudy blur. For you see, Demona and Macbeth, both desperate in their goals for protecting their clans, agree to a pact by the Weird Sisters that results in Macbeth’s youth given to Demona. By tying their lives together (they can only die if one kills the other, Highlander-style), there’s little chance they can betray each other. Right? But lives are not clan, which they will both soon learn.

Their pact settled, the two team up to beat back Duncan’s army. Duncan and Macbeth have it out, and the most bizarre death scene occurs: Macbeth tosses an orb that was given to him by the sisters at Duncan, which explodes and, like, obliterates Duncan’s spirit, electrocutes him, and sets his ass on fire. It’s so crazy, it’s even more intense than watching Demona destroy human stones. This isn’t a saga for the faint of heart. Yet even in this victory, Duncan’s son, of course, vows revenge as he’s exiled to England. Macbeth is crowned king, and Demona is made his adviser, all in the effort to bridge a new relationship between human and gargoyle alike. The road to hell, etc.

Back to the present, Goliath and Xanatos head out with the gas with which to fill the sky. Elisa arrives just then and scuffles with Owen a bit before the sun sets and they turn to stone again. Who so secretly emerges from the hidden depths of the castle? Demona! Mace in hand, she approaches the frozen Elisa, alone, eager to smash her most hated adversary to bits. Goliath is driven to protect, but Demona is still driven by hate and revenge.

Luckily, Bronx saves Elisa from Demona’s wrath as part four of “City of Stone” begins. This episode also goes all out with its theatricality, starting with Demona scenery-chewing over her hatred of humans and her plan to ignite the sky-gas earlier than expected, thus wiping out Goliath, Xanatos, and the rest. Outside of this episode I might have cringed over this Swat Kats-level of exposition, but here, it works, and voice actor Marina Sirtis delivers each line as if she was a real demon on the stage.

It is at this point that the story becomes just as juicy as the dialogue. The modern-day Hunter appears, demanding he and Demona finally settle things. We then return back to the past, where the newly crowned Macbeth goes up again an invading army of Englishman, led by Duncan’s son, Canmore, in Hunter-mask and all grown up. The Hunter has convinced the English of the monstrosity of the gargoyles and their “Satanic” loyalty to Macbeth, which netted him a sizable force. It’s a battle Macbeth easily wins with the help of Demona and her fellow gargoyles, but he swears to return. What “City of Stone” tells us is how the need and thirst for vengeance is endless, causing people to make terrible choices with horrific consequences. Even though the show focuses solely on its main characters, how many people died on the outskirts for these out-of-control personal vendettas?

Bodhe, Gruoch’s father, in some ways, was always the voice of reason, or at least the most level-headed person here. I’ve not talked about him at all, but he’s probably the most important character within this massive game of murder and violence. His attempts to reach Macbeth is simply his way to end the madness, but, like all great tragedies, nothing can really stop the dramatic momentum of the inevitable. It’s in Bodhe’s suggestion that Macbeth betray the gargoyles to the Hunter – a suggestion that Demona overhears – that breaks everything apart. It’s the poison from Romeo and Juliet. That mere comment immediately leads to total ruin.

When the Hunter returns with more English soldiers, there are no gargoyles to help. Macbeth and Gruoch flee as their castle is conquered, and out in the wilderness, Canmore, Macbeth, and Demona meet for the last time. Demona immediately assumed that Macbeth, without a doubt, would betray her – and you can’t really blame her, after all she has been through. But we know Macbeth would never betray her, which makes this all the more tragic. It’s a painful, heartfelt scene, and Canmore doesn’t give two shits, stabbing Macbeth and killing the soul-linked gargoyle in the process. It’s a temporary death, though, as the Weird Sisters wakes them up, clarifying that only one can kill the other. They flee from each other, to fight for another day.

Which happens to be today. It’s been obvious since the beginning, but Macbeth was under the modern-day Hunter mask all along. While I have to point out how Macbeth was retconned a little over the course of the series, changing from a general, nondescript gargoyle-hunter into a real character solely aiming for Demona, the change was for the better. Note how Macbeth’s desire to kill Demona isn’t revenge, but couched in his desire to end it all – after so many years living on the run, alone, a killer, he’s so, so tired. But Demona still has humans to kill.

The final sequence here is fantastic. Goliath and Xanatos and Macbeth and Demona battle it out, made much more exciting with so many varying forces and elements in play. When Macbeth has an opportunity to finish off Demona, though, the Weird Sisters appear. After being so mysterious for so many episodes, it seems as if they’re ultimately good (or, chaotic good), as they manage to convince Macbeth to end the violence and, impossibly so, convince Demona to confess her part in this entire century-spanning disaster. The quote above – the code to prevent the sky from burning up prematurely – is heart-breaking, showing Demona’s vulnerability for the first time. It’s even more tragic when, afterwards, she convinces herself she was under a spell, showcasing her desire to wipe out the human race. That will come at another time, for the Sisters magically snatches Demona and Macbeth up to god knows where.

Xanatos lights up the sky and indeed saves humanity from its stone prison. Goliath and Xanatos reluctantly admit their made a good team. It’s doubtful that will last – team-ups with Xanatos don’t seem to have much staying power. Still, “City of Stone” worked because it was focused and tragic, with motivated characters and extremely high stakes. I’m still not one hundred percent on the Weird Sisters’ motivations, but that’s the point – they’re meant to be mysterious. Throughout “City of Stone,” the Sisters spoke often to Goliath, to ensure that he would remember to keep his own sense of vengeance in check, some he has learned many episodes ago. If someone so passionate as Goliath can break away from such desires, perhaps there’s hope for Demona. That, to paraphrase the Sisters, is a story for another day.

City of Stone: A-

[This will be the last Gargoyles review for about two weeks, as things have gotten somewhat hairy in real life. More information will be given on Friday.]


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TaleSpin cast picture

TMB: So the biggest question that seems to be tossed around is: why The Jungle Book characters? Is there a particular reason why you focused on Baloo, Louie, and Shere Khan, as opposed to Kaa or Bagheera?

JM: Originally, we were using Baloo in the “B-Players” series we were pitching.  So when that pitch died, I kept Baloo (cuz I liked his laid-back quality), then I put him in an earlier Duck Tales concept (Launchpad’s courier service).  So Baloo became the cargo pilot.  I also liked the Baloo-Mowgli relationship, but I didn’t want a human, so Kit was invented.  Rebecca, Wildcat, and Karnage came next.  That was the main crew.  When we decided to add a Rick’s Cafe American-style setting for all the pilots to congregate in, Louie became the natural bar owner.  And as the series expanded, we wanted a conglomerate mogul – and who better than Shere Khan, right?  That voice! There was never a thought of “Oh, which Jungle Book characters should I use and not use.”  It just grew as the series grew.  Bagheera’s parental, level-headed character was already taken care of by Becky… so we kept the black panthers as Shere Khan’s pilots, as an homage.  Kaa was never considered… no freakin’ limbs!

TMB: It’s been noted that TaleSpin was loosely based on Tales of the Gold Monkey (which is a pretty fun show even today). Any insight in how the overall decision to base TaleSpin on that show would be appreciated. How’d you go from that show to what you created here?

JM: Yes, TotGM was in inspiration, but simply because I liked the feel of the genre: the adventurous pilot, the tropical setting.  That TV show, in turn, was inspired by black & white movies of the 30’s & 40’s.  Like Sky King and Jungle Jim combined, right?  So I think Tale Spin still would have turned out pretty much the same even if TotGM never existed, cuz the genre already existed… but it was a nifty inspiration.

TMB: On that note, TaleSpin is unique in that the tone of the show seems more, for lack of a better word, “realistic,” as realistic as a show about talking, walking animals can be. Were there any issues from Disney execs in minimizing the wackiness? What was the pitch for this show like?

JM: I never heard any concerns from execs about the tone of the show.  In fact, the pitch probably stressed wackiness more than you would think.  One piece of art showed the Seaduck delivering a whale on its roof.  Another showed Baloo eating a snack while driving with his feet.  And another showed Kit air-foiling behind the Seaduck, holding onto the towrope with his foot while lighting a stick of dynamite with his hands.  To the execs & buyers, it probably felt like an off-shoot of Duck Tales – which was hugely popular.

TMB: Episodes in particular like “Her Chance to Dream,” “The Old Man and the Sea Duck,” and “Paradise Lost” really hit some powerful and dramatic character notes. That kind of adult slant to cartoons seemed rare these days. What made you feel confident to tell those kinds of stories, given the slate of the other Disney Afternoon cartoons?

JM: There was never anything conscious about doing those shows.  They felt right, so we did ’em.  We had 65 episodes to fill, and every so often you wanted a change of pace. I think it was producer Larry Latham who said, “We’re not doing cartoon shows… we’re doing mini-movies.”

TMB: Where and how did you conceive and develop a character like Don Karnage? His combination of viciousness, goofiness, and excellent wordplay. How did you discuss putting that all together?

JM: Great question.  Karnage is a terrific character, and one of Jim Cummings’ faves.  I wanted a band of crazy air pirates (inspired by those nuts in Miyazaki’s Laputa). The notion of a “wolf pack” (like the Nazi submarines) came to mind.  So in the pitch, we had a slew of smelly wolves… and a really mean-looking French poodle.  The poodle disappeared, but the wolves got a leader: The Dread Pirate Anthrax (inspired by The Princess Bride).  But Disney Legal said we couldn’t use Anthrax, cuz it was the name of a heavy metal band.  (I pointed out it was originally the name of sheep disease, but Legal didn’t budge.)  So at the last minute (just before a recording session, no less!), I wrote up a bunch of names.  I knew I wanted “Don” something… like Don Destruction or Don Diego Death.  Carnage seemed right, and of course Karnage would never pronounce the word as “carnage,” he’d say “kar-NODGE”. ///  Backing up slightly, when we were casting for Anthrax, someone suggested Billy Crystal’s imitation of Fernando Lamas on Saturday Night Live.  (“You look Mah-velous.”)  That was funny, so we thought, “Hey, what if Anthrax is just a mangy, common wolf, but he THINKS of himself as royalty?”  So he always speaks like he’s educated and noble, but he completely mangles the language, yes-no?  Jim Cummings nailed it perfectly.

TMB: Likewise with Rebecca Cunningham – a strong single mother with a MBA. I assume she’s built off Sarah Stickney White. What was that process of that growth and change? And how much of a “get” was Sally Struthers as her voice?

JM: Sarah Stickney White is the gal from Gold Monkey, yes?  I had to look that up, cuz I didn’t know who she was.  She was not the inspiration for Rebecca (though there may be similarities.  I don’t remember Sarah’s character.)  Becky was part Rebecca Howe from CHEERS and part of a female MBA in our TV department (named Cunningham).  The perfect foil for Baloo.  He’s street smart, but not educated (kinda like Sam Malone), while she’s educated, but not street smart.  Baloo lost his business (like Sam) to a novice business woman, and he bristles the whole time – trying to earn enough money to buy back his business.  Becky was the 3rd leg of the cast’s emotional stool.  Kit needs a mother and a father.  Baloo needs someone to tell him to “grow up” so he can take care of Kit.  And Becky needs a pilot (and co-pilot) to make her business run.  (Plus, the sexual tension between single mom Becky and footloose adventurer Baloo.) /// As for Sally Struthers, I always had her in mind for the role.  I asked for her, but I didn’t think we’d get her.  She was doing a play somewhere, and her agent mailed her the materials.  She did a voice test on cassette tape and mailed it back.  That’s how it happened.  Later, a Disney exec said his little son didn’t like the voice, and she was almost recast, based on this one child’s opinion, but cooler heads prevailed, and Sally stuck.  (I always had a crush on her from All in the Family anyway.)

TMB: Can you share a few words on the design and layout of Cape Suzette? From the docks and planes to the city landscapes and skyscrapers, the world of Talespin feels so rich and varied. Besides the Art Deco influences, what else did you base the city on?

JM: I knew the basis of our world was tropical.  So Japan, India, southeast Asia was the real world equivalent.  Like a Hong Kong or a Rio de Janeiro.  The time period was the mid-30’s – the time of pulp magazines, adventure serials, art deco, and (duh) Indiana Jones.  When the world was still not fully explored.  The world of National Geographic.  So Cape Suzette grew on the banks of a bay, deep in a tropic continent.  (Naturally, Cape Suzette is just a play on words… it’s not a cape at all, it’s a bay or an inlet.)  Like Hong Kong I wanted skyscrapers as well as slums.  It’s all there. Whatever we needed.

TMB: What’s your favorite episode? What about characters? How about one-off characters? A bunch of friends really like Ace London, but I’m personally a fan of Doug Benson.

JM: Most fans don’t believe this, but I was working so hard to do 65 episodes in a year and a half that it’s all a blur.  To this day I’ve never seen the bulk of the finished episodes.  Naturally, I love “Plunder & Lightning,” because it was written as a movie.  Ace London and Kitten Kaboodle come to mind as characters.  (Don’t remember Doug Benson.)

TMB: Any type of specific authors, comics, or stories that you based some episodes on? I noticed some based on The Rocketeer, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and so on. Any particular favorite writers or authors?

JM: I’m sure you’re right about the influences, but I don’t remember a Rocketeer or a Shrinking Man episode.  We had the Ransom of Red Chief (“Chimp”) and The Defiant Ones (“Stuck On You”).  Sometimes ideas came from real situations, like watching an in-air refueling jet video… that turned into Louie’s floating gas station.   And I think we did a Hope-Crosby Road picture take-off.


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Tumblr Tuesday – 10/22/13

Another Tumblr Tuesday coming your way!

— A political cartoon that nails gender discrepancies in terms of social progression:

— Christ. Even the way students in classrooms on TV and in films are cliched:

— Why dogs are great while being utterly stupid:

— Great poster designs of Darkwing Duck and Scrooge McDuck:

— And a side-by-side rough/final animation of Darla Dimple from Cats Don’t Dance:


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