Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation – (1992)
Director: Rich Arons, Ken Boyer, Barry Caldwell, et. al
Starring: Charles Adler, Tress MacNeille, Joe Alaskey, Don Messick
Screenplay by: Paul Dini, Nicholas Hollander, Tom Ruegger, Sherri Stoner
I feel sorry for this generation. They’ll never know the feeling of watching their favorite characters being smashed by a piano or an anvil. They won’t understand the staples of animated comedy, of the eye-pops, the jaw-drops, the stretch-scream and sprint-run-away when a character is scared out his or her mind. Like the banana peel and the pie in the face, they shall be regulated to an era of time no longer seems worthy of today’s cartoon fair. It’s all non-sequiturs and pop culture references now.
I don’t mind them, however; to be honest, it isn’t like Tiny Toons or Animaniacs didn’t have them (Katie Kaboom’s father is CLEARLY supposed to be Jimmy Stewart). It just that the more physical aspects are most likely deemed to violent for today’s social sensibilities. This is complete and utter bullshit, of course, but that’s an argument for another post.
So here we have a movie that was the culmination of Tiny Toon Adventures, a surprisingly smart show “presented by Steven Spielberg” that had cartoon characters learning their craft from the greats like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. Also, they’d go on little adventures of their own, on occasion breaking the fourth wall for some nice meta-humor (Animaniacs is good but went WAY overboard in that department; Freakazoid perfected it). So, let’s begin!
NOSTALGIC LENS: I remember the opening song, in pieces, and I also am aware that Buster and Babs’ adventure has them stuck on a riverboat, while Plucky gets roped in a hilarious road trip with Hamton’s parents. There are some little insights into other characters’ summer vacation, but they are hardly blips on the film’s radar. I wonder how many more jokes I’ll get since I’m older now?
DOES IT HOLD UP: In the early 1980s, after the Loony Toons shorts went kaput, the animators and suits decided to release a few movies that essentially bridged several of the old animated shorts together, creating a compilation of the old cartoons with modern segues connecting them. How I Spent My Vacation utilizes the same idea, but at the very least manages to create new scenarios for the Tiny Toons cast. Each scenario really works for the characters to really shine in some immensely funny moments.
Too bad they couldn’t even out the focus. Although I understand giving Buster and Babs, Plucky and Hamton the most screen time, it’s unfortunate to provide so little to Dizzy, Shirley, Fifi, Fowlmouth, and, my surprise favorite of all, Elmyra. Still, what you get is an enjoyable movie, one which antics will strike a chord for my older readers, who still remember a time when cartoons were what they should be: wacky, silly, hilarious action. Why venture into the animated medium to creature generic teenagers having teenage problems? That’s what MTV is for. Please bring back my talking dogs, walking chairs, and anvil after anvil of the falling variety.
Anyway, the movie begins in classical musical fashion:
(Apologizes for the song cutting out a bit early.)
Then it’s pretty much what you expect. Buster pesters Babs with a watergun, starting a fight that ends up overflowing Acme Acres with water and sending them down a Huck Finn-like trip. Plucky manages to bum a ride with Hamton’s family to “Happy-World-Land”, only to regret every single miserable moment. Fowlmouth convinces Shirley to go with him to the movie theater, but talks throughout the picture (I miss when he’d actually cursed, but simply bleeped him out). Fifi harbors an obsession for celebrity skunk Johnny Pew, only to be ignored when he sees a sexier… um… skunkette. Elmyra terrorizes an entire jungle with her overly aggressive passion for animals. And so on, and so on.
All of that cuts back and forth among each other, similar to the clip-like compilation of the Loony Toons movies mentioned earlier. It works for what it is, but it definitely leaves you wanting more. (I ended up watching random eps on Youtube afterward to satiate that desire.)
Oh, and there’s plenty of pop culture references, meta-jokes, and non-sequiturs here, too. Critics may claim that Tiny Toons adds more variety with jokes and plots, while something like Family Guy or everything on Adult Swim doesn’t, but let’s be honest: they’re there, they’re cheap, and they’re easy, no matter where you see them. And they all call obvious attention to the fact. Buster tells Babs that she looks like “Morey Amsterdam” in the moonlight. How many of you even knew who he was before you clicked that link? Later, during a variety-show performance in a riverboat, Babs sings “Rowing Down the River” and ends with the line “Rowan and Martin”. I had to look up that the full title to the 1967 variety show Laugh-in was actually “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in”. To quote Johnny Carson, I did not know that.
And as for meta—well, at the end, Buster and Babs escape their dilemmas by falling through a literal “plot-hole” (to which Babs quips “I was wondering how those hack writers were gonna wrap things up.”) So it isn’t as if Seth MacFarlene created this type of humor. Although he did overdo it.
Still, we want some good old-fashioned nonsense sometimes, and we get it:
I know I’ve written at length about Buster and Babs; that’s mainly because all the Youtube bits I could find focused on them. Also, since they had the most screen time, they had the most to discuss. But I’d be remiss not to mention Plucky and Hamton’s hysterical road trip with the Pig family; playing inane games like “Spot the Car” (“Any car!”) and singing “100 Bottles Non-Alcoholic Beverages on the Wall”. (Plucky mentions it should be beer; in the 90s, it was okay to have cartoon characters mention beer and imply sex). The whole trip here, laugh-per-minute, wins that category. But the winner of funniest bit, overall, goes to Elmyra loosing Furball and her search for another “kitty” in the middle of a safari, if only given two sections to shine. Shirley and Fifi’s bits are a bit lackluster, but they get points for trying.
The animated fare of the 90s strong allusions to the silent comedies of the 30s and 40s is striking, both in a good way and a bad way. Silent comedies were created specifically to be cartoon-like: wacky, nonsensical, and crazy – logic was irrelevant; everything was about the gag. Period. So it’s nice to see Buster and Plucky and the others engage in similar antics to the likes of Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, and Charlie Chaplin.
However, what struck me while watching this movie was the equal amount of “abuse” given to the female characters as well as the male ones. In fact, there’s a bit more abuse given to Babs and Fifi than anyone else. Not that I particularly care – after all, it’s just a damn cartoon – but it’s something I felt I should point out. The silent comedies were criticized for their over-abuse of the female cast (and it was kind of brutal), so the relation here is plausible, whether it was intentional or not. Still, Babs and Fifi get their due, while Mabel Normand most likely did not. When was the last time you’ve seen a female character got so thoroughly smashed in a cartoon?
The times, they are a’changing.
IN A NUTSHELL: Content wise, it’s a lot of fun, and truth be told a part of me wants to praise this movie a lot more than it really should get. But that’s just the nostalgic part of me; so while subjectively I enjoyed the hell out of it, objectively it was really just okay. Well, better than okay—it was very fun. I guess this was the first movie I’ve seen that made me really pine for my childhood again. As Fifi would say: “Le sigh.”
August 17th: An American Tail
August 24th: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West