Animator Jeff Hale was best known for creating beautiful, classic shorts for Sesame Street—perhaps most famously, those infectious counting pinball segments that continue to run today, still making an indelible impression on so many young minds. His death in February at the age of 92 has also sparked interest in some of his lesser known work, particularly the 1971 cult classic short, “Thank You Mask Man,” featuring voice work from no other than Lenny Bruce.
The decidedly not-for-kids cartoon came about through one of Hale’s studio partners John Magnuson, who was a close friend of Bruce. Lifting some recorded audio from a 1962-ish vintage bit about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Hale tells a story of altruism and accolades—a perfectly cynical Lenny Bruce take on heroes and their motivations. “Thank You Mask Man” tanked. The scheduled debut at the San Francisco International Film Festival was cancelled without explanation, and Magnuson believed the Academy Awards blackballed it. Regardless, the cartoon gained a following on late night 80s TV program, Night Flight, and now stands out as one of the more daring moments in animation history.
British animator Neil Williams (aka Stelos485) has created two of the coolest punk-related cartoons ever. The animation for the Bad Brains’ “Pay To Cum” is very much like the song and band itself: stripped-down, kinetic and as frenetic as a frog on a hotplate.
Williams’ animation for The Ramones’ “Chainsaw” is an ingenious mix of Saturday morning cartoon visuals, Tobe Hooper’s slice and dice horror films and beach party fright flicks. It’s perfectly in the spirit of The Ramones’ own obsessions and I wish there was one of these cartoons for every Ramones’ song ever recorded.
More of Neil Williams’ work can be viewed on YouTube channel. It is definitely worth a visit. Check out his Beatles’ stuff and an animated version of the notorious Orson Welles’ frozen pea radio ad.
Midwesterners are quick to claim DEVO as native sons (as well we should—shout out to Akron, Ohio!), but this lovely little animation—a collab between Google Play and The California Sunday Magazine—illustrates their Hollywood migration in Mark Mothersbaugh’s own voice. But not before the prolific composer/artist/frontman/fashion designer (etc, etc, etc.) explains how he saw the world—fuzzy—until someone had the bright idea to test his vision when he was in the second grade.
I will say I feel like a complete dick after watching it. I had always subconsciously assumed Mark Mothersbaugh’s glasses were a bit of a nerd affectation/fashion choice (nothing wrong with fashion, and to be fair, they were certainly fashion for a couple of of DEVO fans I’ve met). Don’t get me wrong, I figured he needed specs, but I suspected the heavy frames of said specs were chosen more for their ostentatiously geeky aesthetic than mere functionality. Turns out there’s a lot of glass in those glasses, because he is legally blind and needs them to see damn near anything.
It also turns out that I am a cynical jerk. Sorry Mark!
In 2002 David Lynch unveiled on his website eight short animated movies, each one an episode of a series called Dumbland. Featuring a blistering cowpunk score and a stark animated style that is vaguely reminiscent of Dr. Katz on mescaline, Dumbland may represent Lynch at his most unvarnished, revolving around a mouth-breathing troglodyte named Randy. It was released on DVD in 2006 and also appears on Lynch’s jaw-dropping multi-disc release The Lime Green Set from 2008.
Lynch said of it: “Dumbland is a crude, stupid, violent and absurd series. If it is funny, it is funny because we see the absurdity of it all.” It’s true, everything about this tossed-off show is violent and absurd; perhaps it is the detritus that lodges in one’s brain if one has been busy dreaming up crazed, animalistic characters like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks, and Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart.
This is everything. King Diamond stars as the voice of He-Man in a tale of homosexual betrayal in the disco men’s room of Eternia. This batshit cartoon from Nancy Pagan Animation features the music of Mercyful Fate’s “Gypsy.”
More than a decade ago, New York-based artist and musician Yoshi Sodeoka did these remarkable experiments where he would take videos of well-known hard rock videos and render each frame as ASCII art—then he’d create an 8-bit or midi version of the music and you’d have a whole new thing, the same video as seen by Neo in The Matrix or as seen by the Jeff Bridges character in the original Tron.
The series was called, appropriately enough, “ASCII ROCK.” The lineup of videos Sodeoka transformed is mouth-watering: Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” AC/DC’s “TNT,” and so on. I say “mouth-watering” because when I went to play them on his website, my browser was not up to the task, sadly. It was that much harder to find YouTube videos of them, files I could embed here, and I failed at that as well. Ten years is a long time in the land of the Internet, it seems.
Jimmy Page and ASCII Jimmy Page
However, I was able to find Sodeoka’s version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” online, and we’ve provided it for your pleasure below. Here’s the original video, for comparison.
When I comes to trash TV, I don’t play around. If I’m going to watch some shit entertainment, I want it to make me feel like I’ve been drowned, poisoned, and lobotomized. I want my IQ to decrease by one-half to three-quarters; I want spinal fluid to leak from my nose; I want to exhibit three or more symptoms of severe head trauma. To a person of my tolerance, an episode of The Brady Bunch is the TV equivalent of a wine cooler. I can only regard its partisans as effete, middle-class mama’s boys slumming in the lower reaches of the VHF dial, “experimenting” with brain damage. No, give me “the hard stuff”—give me Gilligan’s Island and its many authorized sequels and spinoffs.
Producer Sherwood Schwartz was not one to let go of a good thing. Following the initial three-season run of Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz sold Dusty’s Trail, a new series with Bob Denver that was just Gilligan’s Island in the Old West; a Saturday morning cartoon produced by Filmation called The New Adventures of Gilligan; and three TV movies that reunited the original Gilligan’s Island cast, minus Tina Louise, who hated the show. After all this, Schwartz knew the idea still had some life in it. You can almost feel the excitement of the original pitch as Schwartz outlines the idea for the second animated series, Gilligan’s Planet, in his revealing book, Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication:
In 1982, I developed another animated series called Gilligan’s Planet, based largely on [Filmation founder] Lou Scheimer’s idea. In this series, the Professor on Gilligan’s Island manages to reconstruct a spacecraft that had been aborted by N.A.S.A. and had landed on their island. All the Castaways crowd into it, expecting to contact N.A.S.A. and return to civilization. Unfortunately, the spacecraft goes back into space and lands on an uninhabited tiny planet far removed from Earth. The Castaways are still cast away, but instead of an island somewhere in the Pacific, they are cast away on a little planet somewhere in space.
Bob Denver devoted two sentences to the animated Gilligan shows in his memoir, Gilligan, Maynard & Me. I quote them in full from my own tear-stained copy. You can almost feel the excitement in the voiceover studio as Denver reminisces:
In the 1970s, I did the voice on two animated series: The New Adventures of Gilligan and Gilligan’s Planet. All the old cast—except Tina Louise—did their character’s voices as well.
You’ll notice a few things about life on Gilligan’s Planet. There’s a laugh track. There are colorful forests of giant Stropharia cubensis fungus everywhere. And, as you’ve already guessed because you remember Glomer from the Punky Brewster cartoon and the Great Gazoo from The Flintstones, Gilligan has a mischievous alien buddy, a space lizard named Bumper.
Though “Gilligan in space” might seem like the last possible iteration of the Gilligan’s Island premise, Schwartz, writing in 1994, left the door open to further exploitation of the franchise:
Is there a possibility of another animated series? Like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under “Gilligan’s Island”?
As Mr. Howell would say, “Heavens to Jules Verne, why not?”
It’s all about timing: if Vince Collins had made his trippy animation Malice in Wonderland in the sixties or seventies then it would have probably been a success, especially with freaks and acidheads. That it was made in the 1980s, when your friendly neighborhood independent cinemas were closing and a new puritanism had sneaked into political discourse perhaps explain why Collins’ short animation was booed off the screen by audiences for offensively “exploiting women.”
Malice in Wonderland (1982) is an imaginative and richly Freudian retelling of Lewis Carroll’s famous tale in which Alice repeatedly disappears up (or down) various orifices.
At the time Collins was a struggling animator who had relocated from Fort Lauderdale to California to make short animations. He was best known for his award-winning animation Euphoria, which many had thought was about (or had been inspired by) LSD but was mainly the animator experimenting with visuals. Though Collins has admitted he made his psychedelic drug films in the 1970s and his blue movies in the 1980s. Malice in Wonderland is Collins’ blue movie.
More people have watched this startling animation on the Internet than all the people who saw it on its first release. Where it was once booed, now people are more likely to ask, “Dude, what the fuck is that shit?”
Malice in Wonderland may still be controversial and disturbing to some, but I think it’s a spellbinding tour de force from an unfettered imagination—though maybe not best watched when you’re actually taking LSD.
“Revolt in the Fifth Dimension” is a 1967 episode of the old Spider-Man cartoon which was directed by a then 25-year-old Ralph Bakshi. It was in part fashioned from reused animation cells from an episode of a Canadian cartoon called Rocket Robin Hood that Bakshi had recently produced. Spider-Man was simply substituted for Rocket Robin Hood on the animation backgrounds. This el cheapo production method ended up yielding an episode of Spider-Man where the plot was more Doctor Strange than the kind of stuff everyone’s friendly neighborhood webslinger usually got up to.
A dying scientist from the destroyed planet Goth in the deceased galaxy of Kamosah must land his crippled spaceship on Earth and, before expiring, entrusts Spiderman [sic] with a tiny but encyclopedic library of information, including the secrets of a dimension of living thought, whose one-eyed, skeletal ruler, Infinata, wants this information destroyed.
For reasons no longer specifically recalled, this was the only episode of the Spider-Man cartoon series that ABC either chose not to air in the first place, or when they repeated the series, although it lived on in syndication for years afterward. Reports are conflicting.
The possible reason they didn’t transmit (or rerun) this memorable episode might be how acid-tinged and druggy it is—not that the overt death theme and flying sperm wouldn’t have been enough!
A crack team of second year Character Animators and CG Artists at The Animation Workshop/VIA UC in Viborg, Denmark, were given the task of producing 30-second trailers inspired by classic movies. The animators produced a selection of beautifully executed work which included trailers for Francis Ford Coppola’s last great movie Apocalypse Now, Wim Wenders’ cult hit Paris Texas, everyone’s holiday season favorite Casablanca and the rock ‘n’ roll musical Grease—which has been made into an interesting hybrid using elements from Tron and Blade Runner.
Previous trailers made by the workshop include Alien and The Big Lebowski (which has hints of Kung Fu Panda in it)—all of these and others can be viewed here.
The Animation Workshop is considered to be “one of the most dedicated animation institutions in the world,” and you can have god look at their back catalog here.
Bonus trailer for ‘Alien’ and ‘The Big Lebowski,’ after the jump…