Posts Tagged Comedy

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Bonkers, part 2

Sporadic and uneven, it’s clear that production issues and the lack of executive/creative cohesion ruined Bonkers’ potential. Why Bonkers never could quite get off the ground. Part 2 of 2. Part 1 is here.

Bonkers D Bobcat

[Before I begin, I received a bit of more information about Bonkers from Bob Schooley, a producer/writer who was very much present during this time, that has proven invaluable: The first couple of Miranda episodes were sent to different studios because the main Disney Animation studios were working on Goof Troop at the time (this doesn’t explain why Kennedy was involved in anything though). This would bolster my argument that Disney Afternoon at this point was spreading its resources out way too much – with Goof Troop, Bonkers, Marsupalami, Raw Toonage, Aladdin, Gargoyles, and The Mighty Ducks more or less being put together at the same time. I also learned that the weird pacing and other oddities that seem out-of-place in the Miranda episodes were due to the new crew going back to those episodes and trying to “fix” them, which just doesn’t work at all. This would explain why Kanifky pops up once in a while (see below about my thoughts on Kanifky) and would also explain the crossover episode “New Partners on the Block.” I don’t talk about that episode, mainly because – besides the terrorism plot that caused this episode to be banned (more episodes of Bonkers are banned than any other Disney Afternoon show, which is surprising) – there’s nothing really to the crossover. Also, it’s not that really great of a episode.]


 

Here’s what you need to know about nu-Bonkers: he was a former toon star who was unceremoniously kicked out of his acting gig and stumbled into the world of law enforcement. That’s legit. Transitioning from “role” of police officer to actual police officer is enough material, comedic or otherwise, to make Bonkers into a decent show – by focusing on how a cartoon star with a particular set of wacky skills could possibly function as a member of the LAPD. The first set of toons by Weisman, Hathcock, Capizzi and company didn’t work quite as well as expected, but Robert Taylor’s retooling made for a secondary mess.

It sucks, too, because the core of Bonkers re-categorization works. It comes from a deeper and more thematic point of view. Everything you need to know about Bonkers is portrayed by his home – which is a trailer park on the edge of a cliff hidden behind a facade of a mansion. It’s a perfect visual microcosm of what Bonkers was versus what he has become. The show overall is more ambitious, reaching for a richer, exploratory approach to the differences between humans and toons. There are more rules, more excuses to engage the various ideas that separate toons from humans, and the show pulls much more from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit template – it’s a bit darker and the crimes are more serious, which involve framing people for murder, a near-toon genocide, and even terrorism. Taylor’s retooling makes one huge, crucial mistake though: while it went through hell to note the differences between humans and toons, it never bothered to find them on similar ground. In other words, unlike The Odd Couple, which worked every episode to connect the two different characters, Bonkers implied that these two “species” should stay apart. This creates an uncomfortable, borderline racist, dissonance that Bonkers will never, ever be able to overcome.

Here’s the thing: millions of children around the world would kill to be able to hang out with their own cartoon buddy, goofy and physically immune to real violence. The last thing they want to see is that the experience would SUCK. You could kind of get away with that in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Eddie was working through his pain and grief to return to a point of toon appreciation again (it helps that the film is definitely geared towards an adult audience). To see that kind of frustration week in and week out, however, is the opposite of fun. Lucky and Bonkers rarely click outside their Laurel/Hardy-esque dialogue (Jim Cummings should be given some kind of knighthood for how well he vocally plays off himself), and with episodes reaching for deeper, darker stories, character cohesion becomes even more important. In a more threatening, more dangerous world, a rich partnership is paramount. The Lucky episodes of Bonkers have none of that.

Bonkers (Lucky episodes) thrives in a world of misery and discomfort, of a struggle for accomplishments sans recognition. Both Bonkers and Lucky never get admired for their constant and consistent merits, always ending up losers. Even their most studious wins feel like losses, which most likely leaves audiences frustrated and children depressed, or vice-versa. And while there’s nothing wrong with a cartoon set in what amounts to two characters’ “personal hell,” the show failed to maintain a real, albeit exaggerated, connection between these two down-and-out figures. Lucky, the pushed-around family man desperate for a promotion and stability; Bonkers, the toon star viciously thrust out of the limelight into a world beyond his limited understanding – these two work best when their manners, action, and dialogue compliment and support each other, despite their comic craziness and frequent misunderstandings. When their conflicts enter into bitterness and desperation, Bonkers drops into a quagmire of sadness, and even the most ardent attempts at jokes only add to the melancholy. No one wants to laugh at a sad clown when he’s actually crying.

If the Miranda episodes were focused on the relationship between Miranda and Bonkers (to mixed results), then the Lucky episodes were more concerned with Lucky’s and Bonkers’ individual stories, of sorts. This actually works quite well in the “Going Bonkers/Gone Bonkers” pilot episodes, which does a lot to establish the lowest point of the main characters: Bonkers fired from his hit show as its replaced by some generic action cartoon, Lucky stuck in a dead-end position with illusions of advancement to improve his and his family’s lot in life. Bonkers, in particular, is in a shitty state – he has no home and no job, and his exaggerated tears are quite effective to create sympathy for him. Bonkers, overall, hasn’t been turned up to eleven just yet; the episode is subtle enough to keep his wackiness tied to specific moments of desperation. I love, for example, the scene where he happens to run into Donald Duck and forces an impromptu audition – while the duck is being held hostage. Disney’s animation and timing here is just perfect, building a nice, wacky, growing misunderstanding that leads to the Lucky’s incidental involvement and the criminal’s capture. Bonkers’ specific cartoon skillset is showcased here as well.

There’s a shot in particular where, while Lucky delineates various barriers in the office, Bonkers gives him this look. It’s a perfect scene: for a brief moment, Bonkers may just be in over his head. The toon that has been in so many insane situations (as an actor) has no idea what to do. This utter lost feeling of displacement is there throughout the pilot, which works as Bonkers’ friends disappears and he loses Lucky’s trust. So when “The Collector” captures Bonkers, the bobcat doesn’t bother to run. Where would he go? He accepts his fate as the glass container comes down on him. The pilot parallels Who Framed Roger Rabbit sensibilities so much here – remember when Roger says he couldn’t escape the handcuffs “at any time – only when it was funny”? That’s not a joke – that’s a truism of being a toon. His life, his existence is limited to “toon rules,” and so is the case with Bonkers, who finally wins back his confidence when Lucky arrives (after a change of heart) and Bonkers gets back into the swing of his cartooniness, besting The Collector at a toon-off. It’s also no coincidence that while the villain in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a toon pretending to be a human, The Collector is a human pretending to be a toon. Ninety percent of the pilot is genuinely good.

But the ending hints at what will be Bonkers downfall. The Collector is thrust into a “toon box,” with looks to be some kind of psychopathic cartoon hell. Bonkers says he’ll be fine, but come on. The guy will be psychologically tortured until he’s dead. Really, though, this is an excuse for the writers to end the plot without having to engage in any proper denouement or resolution, a gimmick that writers will constantly utilize to downplay any and all of the success Lucky and Bonkers have. Secondly, the ending tries to force-rush a relationship between Lucky and Bonkers, but this fails because the pilot ends with Lucky NOT happy being Bonkers’ partner. Between the tossed-off endings and the disconnect between Lucky and Bonkers as partners, Bonkers begins a slow, unfortunate descent into pure bitterness and awfulness.

Subsequent episodes are basically a timeline of writers and animators getting lazier. Some ideas are sound, like “Is Toon Fur Really Warm,” where Lucky asks Bonkers to use his former acting connections to find a toon skunk wanted for murder (to appear at his daughter’s birthday party). Already you see the problem – a cop asking a toon to find a (alleged) murderer? To its credit, the episode does get into Bonkers’ past a bit, and shows that he’s actually a decent investigator. The animation and expressions are great, and the use of shadows and shading to evoke a noir-esque mood is genuinely effective. I’m still a bit unclear about Marilyn’s age – she looks 13 but acts 7 – but the disconnect between Lucky and Bonkers is still present since Lucky isn’t even involved with the whole “blackmail for murder thing,” despite being, you know, a cop.

I’m certainly not asking a show like Bonkers to be true to the nature of police work, but it would be nice if the show at least paid lip service to the job. Lucky rarely acts like a real cop, spouting bullshit, hypocritical advice mainly to get Bonkers off his back. By this point, Bonkers is less a toon actor with a police badge and more of a moronic ball of almost-homosexual energy. I don’t mean to be offensive, but Bonkers aggressiveness should have been left to his acting history and craving for attention unleashed, instead of wildly desperate attempts to win Lucky’s (actual?) love. So something like “Luna-Toons” works, because Lucky acts like a cop and Bonkers is enthused with teaching his skillset to an alien he confuses for a toon. But then episodes like “Out of Sight, Out of Toon,” “Calling All Cars,” “In Toons We Trust,” and “Never Cry Pigs,” begin to sour any type of partnership between the two (despite being relatively decent overall). Lucky hates Bonkers for no real reason, despite the bobcat being absolutely right in all those episodes. That being said, Bonkers’ “Trust me…” claims often make things worse, so Lucky’s hatred is justified! Nothing is working.

Things only get worse, as Lucky gets lazier, Bonkers grows more out of control, and the writers stop giving a shit. “Once in a Blue Toon” is just frustrating, watching the characters try and reform a villainous toon, failing, and then watching the toon just “magically” reform himself for no reason. Then there’s “Time Wounds All Heels,” where we watch Lucky, who, I must emphasize, is a COP, act uncomfortably cowardly as he’s stalked by a released prisoner he put in jail. “Stay Tooned” is just depressing, where an unhinged Bonkers concocts a nonsensical conspiracy theory which gets everyone fired. Potentially interesting episodes that approach the thematic level of the pilot fall flat, like “The Day the Toon Stood Still.” There is so much potential in an episode about a deistic toon-clock distoring up toons’ timing (since timing is so important to a toon) and returning time to a point before toons existed. Too bad the solution was weak since the clock just needed to be told “Thank you.” (PROTIP: if the solution to your story is a character needing to say “Thank you,” then you failed).

Bonkers continues to be a waste of potential and ambition. Take something like “Get Wacky.” “Get Wacky” suggests something fascinating. Humans view their purpose in life through the lens of a philosophical/religious mentality. “Get Wacky” claims that toons view their lives as being characters in their own cartoons. This is an AMAZING idea, especially applied to someone like Bonkers, who was actually in his own cartoon. Not only does this give weight to Bonkers’ reaction in the pilot, but potentially gives a real drive to Bonkers as he goes up against a Wacky Weasel (Rip Taylor!), a toon criminal that never got caught in his own cartoons. What should have happened: after failing to catch Wacky, Bonkers gets really, really depressed about his lot in life, but Lucky pulls him out of his funk by the virtue of being his partner, inspiring Bonkers to go one-on-one with Wacky to the end. What actually happened: well, after a lot of failing, Bonkers is told by a useless toon radio he’s a character of his own cartoon, which then just leads to the Wacky/Bonkers showdown, which the latter wins. The episode never reaches for the potential stakes of its premise, and Lucky continues his semi-prejudice, anti-toon diatribes, in between Chief Kanifky’s mindless claims for results.

Speaking of which… Chief Kanifky is quite possibly the WORST character ever – not just in animated shows, but in entertainment in general. Look: you can have clueless, brainless characters. You can have tyrannical, aggressive characters. You can’t have both. If you do, he better be in jail or dead by the end of the episode. Bonkers has the audacity to make Kanifky into a significant character, being both an idiot and overbearing, freaking out Lucky/Bonkers with his audacious demands and his moronic ramblings. When the mayor demotes, then fires him in “The Good, the Bad, and the Kanifky,” THIS IS A GOOD THING, but the show justifies Bonkers and Lucky getting his job back because… well, I’m not sure why. Because he’s sad? Kanifky is just shit. He’s not a good boss, and he’s not fun to watch. Bonkers at this stage isn’t fun to watch in general, but Kanifky is just dire, adding to the utter frustration of the entire show in general.

Everything after that is just nonsensical and uninteresting, watching writers and animators pad their time for the paychecks. All the interesting dynamics that “Going/Gone Bonkers,” “Get Wacky,” “Is Toon Fur Really Warm,” and “Luna-Toons” are gone, replaced with boilerplate plotting that grows stupider in time. You may get something fun(ish) like “Never Cry Pig,” a goofy twist on the Three Pigs fairytale, but mostly you get asinine episodes like “Hamster Houseguest,” “Weather or Not,” “A Wooly Bully,” or “Cereal Surreal,” simple plots where Lucky and Bonkers are pretty much useless. Sooner or later you see EVERYONE give up, like in “Seems Like Old Toons,” where some old-school toons need to be animated before the studio is destroyed (no one thought to move the equipment?), or “Toon with No Name,” where a current crime spree mirrors an old Bonkers cartoon (but it absolutely DOESN’T, so impossible to tell what’s going on?), or “Comeback Kid,” where for some reason, the villains, who are in possession of tank that they are literally about to fire, suddenly do not fire it, which makes me think they utterly screwed up the storyboarding process. “Imagine That” follows a toon pencil and Marilyn to the toon world but the episode makes no sense, plot-wise, and what the world is going on in “Fall Apart Land”? Lucky, the guy who hated toons for 57 episodes, is secretly looking at theme park ideas with Fall-Apart Rabbit in his spare time? NO.

Broad strokes, combined with characters inconsistencies and egregious bouts of pessimism dooms Bonkers. It might be crazy think that the one thing Bonkers needed is subtlety, but that’s the very thing that prevented Who Framed Roger Rabbit from spiraling out of control – and even now there are people who find Roger Rabbit too much to handle. Still, it’s the wasted potential and disconnect between the show’s leads makes Bonkers painfully disappointing. There’s something to the idea of Lucky working to teach Bonkers how to work his way through police procedure with respect and control. There’s something to the idea of Bonkers guiding Lucky through the crazy, unique rules of the tooniverse (one detail I love is how Bonkers can literally paint colors on himself when a random act causes him to lose his hues). This contrast is interesting. Too bad Lucky is an awful teacher, sending Bonkers away out of laziness, anger and frustration. Too bad Bonkers is less a guide and more of an unrestrained tornado of overly-affectionate chaos. Rare are moments of inspiration, like the beginning of “Stand-In Dad,” where Lucky calms a lost kid, and Bonkers transforms into a card so the kid can write his home address on. The rest of the episode is a mess, but for a moment, Lucky is endearing, Bonkers is helpful, and the two CONNECT. Most episodes are the chaotic, incomprehensible kind like “Basic Spraining,” where all that early potential is jumbled and sporadic. How could Lucky completely forget Bonkers was the only toon cop on the force? How could they both fall for a fake police academy training session that, upon failing, they’d lose their badge? At a metaphoric level, why wait so late to pull in Bonkers’ toon rules and their abilities to be useful? There is a better, tighter show here, but god forbid the writers give it to us beyond the pilot.

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Bonkers (and characters like Bonkers) are inherently hard to write for because writers tend to fall into the trap of emphasizing silliness and stupidity for easy laughs. They never bother to contextualize reasons for that obnoxious behavior other than the belief that Bonkers is a toon = he’s a moron. WAY too many writers mistake goofy innocence for excuses to be idiotic (see also: Spongebob, post-movie). The thing is, Bonkers ISN’T an idiot. He made a killing in his cartoons. He was unceremoniously kicked out of his lifestyle and thrust into a career in law enforcement by sheer coincidence. Bonkers’ wackiness should be a result of him falling back on his “acting” since that’s all he knows, which, to be fair, the “Going/Gone Bonkers” pilot showcases really well. But Taylor’s episodes quickly loses track of this (actually, they lose track of all sense of characterization, but Bonkers takes the hardest hit), having the bobcat resort to mindless behavior because, goddamn it, we need funny things to happen.

In the end, neither Lucky, Miranda, or Bonkers could save the show. If the bold, thematically rich subtext and world-building of the Lucky episodes were combined with the relationships and characterizations of the Miranda episodes, Bonkers would be a great show, along with TaleSpin and Ducktales. Unfortunately, Disney’s animation B-team of animators and writers seemed unable or unwilling to take its premise to task, basking in awfulness and unearned silliness, making the prospect of hanging out with toons seem like torture. Overall, while I appreciated the Lucky episodes for their ambition, the Miranda episodes worked better for me, even though both needed extensive work. A human/toon would should have been a fun excursion, but through the Disney machine, the whole concept most likely would have driven anyone….well, crazy.

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Tumblr Tuesday – 06/10/14

We continue with catching up with Tumblr Tuesday today!

A quick lesson in confronting people with racist/sexist “jokes”.

Some real life “free-running.”

There’s more going on at Disney than Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man…

There’s an amazing animator cooking up a cute animation you need to check out!

The funniest two GIFs from cartoons, ever – AKA, fuck physics and logic.

I will never not reblog posts disproving that “women are hard to animate” quote.

And some classic trolling from the 1800s.

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Tumblr Tuesday – 06/03/14

Tumblr Tuesday is back! The best of Tumblr is available here. I’m going through a small backlog, so it’ll take a few weeks to get this thing current.

I compare Doctor Who writers Russell T. Davis and Steven Moffat to Kingdom Hearts, and it works better than you think.

Buzzfeed usually sucks, but they’re surprisingly accurate here when it comes to the BS of working while young.

I found a great tumblr that explores the animation in the Disney Afternoon shows. They’re doing Darkwing Duck now but I’m eager to see them explore other programs.

Why is the “women are too emotional to lead” stereotype still a thing?

DC Comics is now twelve years-old and wants you to take it super serious, you guys.

Darkwing Duck is just goddamn funny, people.

Tumblr discovers how sexual appeals affects how people respond to “gamer girls”.

THIS GODDAMN STUNT THO.

 

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