Violence Voyager (2019) Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Shadow of the Bat (Season 1, Episodes 57 & 58) Original airdates: September 13 & 14, 1993 Written by Brynne Stephens Directed by Frank Paur
Shadow of the Bat does many things and feels like a movie boiled down into weekday afternoon animation. It’s the best modern presentation of Batgirl we’ve ever gotten outside of the comic book, and it really showed how poor she was brought into the films with Batman & Robin. What’s interesting here is how separate & independent Batgirl is from Batman & Robin, the characters. Her origins are born out of a story centered around her, and the established heroes play supporting roles in this two-parter, with Robin being the more prominent of the two, in my opinion.
With the success of 1989’s Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns, it was clear that Warner Bros. was going to cash on this newfound love for the Dark Knight. One of those ventures was Batman: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox before moving to the WB network for its final season. BTAS exploded on the children’s television scene as nothing else had before. This was not the Superfriends, or the other Hanna Barbara takes on Batman. It also wasn’t exactly a one-to-one match to Tim Burton’s vision of Gotham City. While the series was undoubtedly influenced by the Burton films, it also owed much to the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s. There’s even a strong vein of Hitchcock through the series with its emphasis on the darker aspects of the human heart as well as explorations of the subconscious mind.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) Written by Dr. Seuss Directed by Chuck Jones & Ben Washam
This is my favorite of the classic Christmas animated specials. When I was in the middle of my childhood, in 1988, I think that TNT bought the rights to the Grinch and aired it exclusively on their network. As stated before, I grew up without cable television, and so I’m not sure how I saw this special and remember it so well. I’d like to attribute that to how well animated and written the story is, and so it ingrained itself firmly in my memories. The special came back to broadcast in 2000 on The WB and has floated around networks like ABC and its current home NBC.
Frosty the Snowman (1969) Written by Romeo Muller Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. & Jules Bass
By the end of the 1960s, Rankin-Bass had solidified themselves as one of the major animation companies in North America. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer began their ascent, and in 1969 they had eleven films & animated specials under their belt. This was going to continue into the 1970s but would steadily decline in the early 1980s. When Frosty hit the air, we saw Rankin-Bass at their prime. I would also say this is by far my least favorite of the popular re-aired Christmas specials, but I’ll get more into that later.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) Written by Romeo Muller Directed by Larry Roemer
Rankin-Bass dominated holiday television for decades, yet almost none of their productions are remembered aside from this one and maybe a sprinkling of others. Rudolph was the beginning of what would become a bizarre shared universe with Santa Claus, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, and more. All of this would serve to inspire later work, especially A Nightmare Before Christmas, which exists as a sort of lost Rankin-Bass crossover between Halloween and Christmas. Rudolph keeps airing every year, but I wondered if it still held up as time has passed and stop-motion animation has evolved since.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Written by Charles M. Schulz Directed by Bill Melendez
This is my favorite of all the classic Christmas specials. It’s very in line with my own complicated feelings about the holiday, imbued with a sense of melancholy while still not lacking that charm you expect from these cartoons. What’s funny is upon its initial viewing for executives, they hated the cartoon. It was seen as too slow-paced, the music was off-putting (genuinely shocking to me), and they hated the animation. This shocked the creators as they were sure this would be a holiday classic from the start, and fears set in that it would never air again. Instead, the public fell in love with the story, drawn to the fact that this wasn’t a shallow feel-good Christmas story but deeper and talking about something more profound.
Animaniacs 2020 (Hulu) Written by a lot of people Directed by many more people
I was 12 years ago when Animaniacs originally debuted in 1993, and from the first episode, they had me hooked. I did not have cable growing up; we lived in a rural area where Comcast wouldn’t expend the resources to lay the line. Other options just weren’t there yet. This means I didn’t get to see formative 1990s animated comedies like Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life. Those were viewed when I visited my grandparents and had access for a few hours to cable television. So, a show like Animaniacs was a straight injection of zany meta-commentary that I hadn’t really been exposed to in my youth. So, what chance does a revival of Animaniacs over twenty years later of being successful?
Over the Garden Wall (Cartoon Network) Written & Storyboarded by Steve Wolfhard, Natasha Allegri, Zac Gorman, Bert Youn, Aaron Renier, Jim Campbell, Laura Park, Pendleton Ward, Steve McLeod, Nick Edwards, Tom Herpich, Mark Bodnar, Cole Sanchez, and Vi Nguyen Directed by Patrick McHale
When I was a little kid, I remember Thanksgiving Day and the next day being an exciting time for cartoons. The morning programming of some of our local channels was planned around the idea that kids were home from school. There were strange & rare cartoons shown; I distinctly recall Rankin-Bass’s The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. These were odd movies in both animation style and the mystical worlds they created. They exist like so many things from my childhood as fragmented memories in a fever dream now. I don’t necessarily want to revisit these cartoons because I like how they are in this piecemeal state in my mind. Over the Garden Wall, while a coherent narrative simultaneously feels like that show you watched as a kid, laying on the couch curled up under a blanket, so cozy, you begin to drift off.
The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show (Season 8, Episode 14) Original airdate: February 9, 1997 Written by David S. Cohen Directed by Steven Dean Moore
The Simpsons has always been focused on lampooning and critiquing the medium of television. The method of doing this frequently comes from episodes centered on Itchy and Scratchy, the in-universe children’s cartoon series featuring a hyper-violent cat and mouse. In 1990, the series did its first episode with Marge against Roger Meyers Jr. and the animation studio that makes Itchy & Scratchy. In 1997, with The Simpsons looking like it would last forever (and arguably has), the writers decided to comment on what happens when a show has been around for so long that it appears it might be going stale.