Saturday, 30 June 2012

Zig and Zag!

Anyone who has lived through the 90's in Britain would know who these extraordinary extraterrestrials are...

Created and performed by Irish actors Ciaran Morrison and Mick O’Hara, Zig and Zag were insane alien puppets who first started out in RTE’s Dempsey’s Den (1987). The pair didn't receive global attention until they were moved to one of Channel 4's most popular programmes (and no, Big Brother doesn't even top it in my books) - The Big Breakfast - alongside future DJ star Chris Evans.

As you may tell from the playlist below, it's evident why these two are so remembered by fans alike:

When The Big Breakfast aired for the last time, the pair gained their own series for ITV, and continued their fame with a wide selection of merchandise and further insanity - including a top UK single "Them Girls Them Girls".

In recent years, the pair appear to be making a gradual comeback. They've appeared on Big Brother's Little Brother to interview past contestants and, more surprisingly, plans are afoot for an animated series set to air come 2013, courtesy of Dublin-based Double Z Productions and Co. and animation house Flickerpix.

So watch this space...!


Sunday, 17 June 2012

DC Nation Shorts

While I'm not really a regular reader of anything DC / Marvel-related, I will admit that this looks really cool.

As part of the DC Nation block on Cartoon Network US, Warner Bros. have released a mini-series entitled DC Nation shorts which, as the name suggests, gives various animation teams the chance to tell mini-adventures of some of our favourite super hero characters. Amongst the majority readily available online, these are considered my faves:

Plastic Man - originally released as a pilot for an animated TV Series by Tom Kenny, Andy Suriano and Stephen DeStefan, these new shorts very much take full advantage of the traditional "squash-and-stretch" methods.

Super Best Friends Forever - created by Lauren Faust (of the current My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reboot), we see Super Girl, Wonder Girl and Batgirl team up to fight crime - and do other "super awesome fun stuff" too.

DC's World's Funnest - in keeping with their award-winning series Creature Comforts, Aardman Animations showcases kid-versions of Superman, Catwoman, Batman and Robin and the Joker as only they know how.

Various other shorts include Mad Presents..., Doctor Fate, Catwoman, and the familiar return of Teen Titans. Only a matter of time until these bite-sized little wonders are made available to the United Kingdom I shouldn't wonder...but check them out whichever way you can. A true definition of "Short but Sweet".

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Water Music

She may not be "Ariel", but she can pack a good set of or out of the water!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Top Cat: The Movie (2012)

When Boomerang was first launched in the UK, we Brits were granted equal viewings of classic American Animation such as DePatie-Freleng, Rocky and Bullwinkle and, most notable of all, the Hanna-Barbera collection. Nowadays, the only HB characters that we see on a regular basis are Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry - with the "rest" shunted in a 5am - 7am block, consisting of The Flintstones, Dastardly and Muttley, Wacky Races and Top Cat.

Thing is the entire Hanna-Barbera catalogue is still fondly remembered by a majority of us British, thanks to repeated airings on the BBC in the 70's / 80's - and which are still being viewed overseas today in Russia, Japan, Mexico and other places overseas. But one of the most popular Hanna-Barbera cartoons ever made, whichever part of the world you live in, is one Tip-Top character name of Top Cat.
Hey! Hey! The gang's all here...!
You may have heard the story of how the series came to be - created in the 1960's, Top Cat was inspired by Sgt Bilko of The Phil Silvers Show and focused on T.C and his gang of alley cats living in the alleyways of New York city, all the while avoiding the long arm of Officer Dibble as they seek new ways of earning a quick buck.
Featuring the voices of Arnold Stang, John Stephenson, Leo De Lyon, Allen Jenkins and Marvin Kaplan, and in spite of running for 30 episodes, overtime it has become one of the most popular cartoons in Hanna-Barbera's legacy. Popular enough to gain a feature-length TV movie, Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats, and for T.C himself to feature in the 1985 series Yogi's Treasure Hunt.

Useless fact: for a short while in the UK, Top Cat was "retitled" as Boss Cat shortly after it premiered in 1962 because "Top Cat" was also the name of a then-popular British brand of cat food. You can read more about the story behind "Boss" right here.

In a 2004 poll survey, Top Cat came fourth as one of the Top 10 cartoons for Boomerang UK, just beating the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny, but missing out on Danger Mouse and the other two first mentioned above…

As such, in the common "trend" of creating theatrical movies out of cartoon characters, Top Cat was eventually given one of his own in late 2011, produced by Anima Studios of Mexico. The film was to be made exclusively for the South American markets, but had proven to be such a hit in Mexico that an English dub was recently released for the British Market on June 1st - so far, no word on an American release.
The first Teaser Poster of "Don Gato" - revealed by Jerry Beck on Cartoon Brew about two years ago.

So does the movie hold up? Let us see from an honest, in-depth view…


Top Cat and the gang face a new police chief, the grotesque Stickleback, who is not at all happy with Officer Dibble's performance of trying to prevent Top Cat's scams. Stickleback proves to be a bigger con-artist than T.C when he replaces all the officers with robots in a bid to take over New York and then frames T.C for a robbery he didn't commit. It's up to the residents of Hoagie's Alley to rescue their leader and thwart Stickleback's plans for modernisation and domination.

First off is the animation. Unlike the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and the semi-recent Yogi Bear before, which were either live-action or live-action / CGI, Anima Studios (in co-production with Illusion Studios) took a different angle. The characters remain 2D - a mixture of hand-drawn and supposed Flash animation - while the environment around them was rendered in CGI. A very nice move, something that hasn't been attempted fully since "The Lampies".

Granted, the animation isn't of Toon City quality and many will question the slight redesign of the characters here. But a lot of folks seem to forget that the original 1960 series wasn't as slick as Disney's quality either back then - Kenneth Muse, Carlo Vinici and others had to make limited animation look fun with a snazzy script - and anyway, the look of the movie grows on you after a while. In fact, it improves slightly as it goes along if you-all stopped complaining...

Besides, it was the character (re)design of the Spanish poster that caught my attention in the first place. I really like it, TBH; it feels like how Top Cat would have looked had Ed Benedict designed the cast for the later years of MGM. Then again, we could have ended up with this if Warner Bros had their way some years ago…

The script by Timothy McKeon (Adventure Time, Fish Hooks) and Kevin Seccia (Duck Dodgers, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness) may prove to be a mixed-bag. On first viewing, they seemed to have nailed the spirit of the original series fairly well with an obvious modern update, in terms of mobile phones, computers and the robotic police force. I knew it wouldn't be exactly like the T.C we all grew up with, but I'll tell you now I was left pretty impressed, and found myself giggling at plenty of good moments here. Surprisingly small number of toilet humour, too.

Notable scenes include;
  •  Choo Choo, as a Confectionery Seller, "auctioning" a chocolate bar
  • A fade-out gag involving an eclipse
  • T.C convincing Griswald that he's a cat
  • The gang fighting against dog counterparts of themselves
  • A few odd conversations between two of the Robot Cops - "Did you see that latest model? She had some fancy attachments!"
Officer Dribble...erm...Dibble wonders if he'll ever be promoted to Chief someday...
With plenty of action to keep interest, there was also a nice slice of emotion involved, which I felt were in the right places without feeling too sappy. Heck, even the original series wasn't ashamed of showing heart from time to time. It really helped to build a friendly relationship between T.C and the gang with Officer Dibble - who can't watch Dibble's Birthday or T.C Minds the Baby without emitting an "awww"? The same feeling was right here in terms of loyalty and friendship.

What also got my interest were the number of throwbacks to the 1960 series in total, consisting of the signature theme tune and the number of references and characters involved - Lazlo Lazlo, the Maharajah of Pookajee (oddly named "Pikachu" in the movie), All That Jazz, Big Gus, Benny's Horse from the $1,000,000 Derby - even a mention of Blubberitis and other notable scenes from the original show were showcased in the movie's credit sequence, including Benny's Hawaiian Dance. Either Tim and Kevin did their homework good or they're both immense T.C fans themselves!

Now comes one of the toughest areas of the movie, something that everyone had a good moan about for the English dub - the voice acting.

OK, OK, fair enough. So they don't sound exactly like the original actors, who are either deceased or in comfortable retirement - SO WHAT? At least the voice cast who were involved tried to do a good job, even admitting of not wanting to do "phoney" impersonations. There was no real need, I feel, to slate them because they weren't "good enough". Sure, some were hit-and-miss, but in the end they all did the best they could while paying their own tribute to the series (and the fans) in their own way.
There are times, after all, when "You Can't Go Home Again..."
Stickleback - handsome to no one but himself :P
To add, I'd like to give special credit to Jason Harris, who voiced up to six characters, including T.C himself and the villain Stickleback - sure it's not dead-on to Arnold Stang's tones, like Chris Edgerly was with Benny the Ball, but in this interview he at least did his research when recording the scratch track to get the right feel of the voices.

The biggest changes, though, were for Spook and Fancy Fancy - again revealed by Jason:

"We made those decisions way back doing the scratch track. We felt there were places we could modernise it just a bit. So instead of the hep cat, we made Spook a surfer dude and instead of Tony Curtis we made Fancy a bit of Vince Vaughn. Overall the tone was the original 60s style with winks to the future - cell phones, etc."

You have to be content with their reasons given - at least in terms of characterisation, the voice actors and script writers all did well without changing too much.
T.C with love interest Trixie.
Final thoughts:

To many fans this may not hold a candle to the original show, but at least for once, even for a Mexican production, it was produced, written and voiced by people who knew the show inside and out. So at the very least, go and watch the movie with a positive mind and relive some lost nostalgia. It's not as bad as you may think…!!


"Like" Top Cat on Facebook - both Mexican and English versions!