Saturday, June 30, 2012

Red, White and Blue Toon Revue

With the Fourth of July approaching, I thought I'd share some of the patriotic animated works I like to dust off and rewatch to celebrate Independence Day. Some try to teach us about the American Revolution and the founding fathers, others are just silly fun.


First off are the so-called "America Rock" family of shorts from the Schoolhouse Rock series. I remember watching Schoolhouse Rock when it used to air on television Sunday mornings in the late 70s and early 80s. I loved them then, but appreciate them even more today. There has always been children's programming that tried to educate and entertain at the same time, but Schoolhouse Rock actually pulled it off!

"Fireworks" (1976), which tells us about the "pursuit of happiness" clause of the Declaration of Independence, seems like an obvious choice for Independence Day viewing, since it specifically mentions the Fourth of July...

...but there's also "No More Kings" (1975), focusing on the Boston Tea Party that turned the harbor into the "biggest cup of tea in history"...

..."The Preamble" (1976), which sets the opening paragraph of the Constitution to music...

...and my favorite, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" (1976), chronicling in song the Revolutionary War, from the first warning cries of Paul Revere ("The British are coming!") to the final surrender by Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown.


Next up is the 1939 Warner Bros. Merrie Melody, "Old Glory".

Porky Pig is visited by the spirit of Uncle Sam himself, who gives Porky a primer in early American history, including the ride of Paul Revere and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

All the historical segments are animated in a very realistic style.

By the end, Porky is stirred to a heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (the original version, omitting the phrase "under God" which wasn't added until 1954).


The 1970 TV-special Uncle Sam Magoo (UPA) has our favorite sight-and-hair-challenged geezer, Mr. Magoo, getting his own visit from the spirit of Uncle Sam...

...who proceeds to lead us through an overview of American history, including yet another depiction of the ride of Paul Revere.

Magoo marches through the streets with Patriot soldiers...

...and we get a glimpse of the Boston Tea Party...

...before skipping to Betsy Ross seeking Magoo's approval of her just-sewn American flag prototype (spoiler alert: he liked it!)

Then we jump forward to Chesapeake Bay, 1812, for a visit to Francis Scott Key (where Magoo contributes a line or two to the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner.)

BEN AND ME (1953, Disney)

Based on the 1939 children's book by Robert Lawson, Walt Disney's "Ben and Me" reveals how many of the accomplishments attributed to Ben Franklin, including invention of the bi-focals and the central heating stove, should actually be credited to his secret mouse friend, Amos.

Amos even writes the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson gets writers block.

We'll see brief vignettes of the civil unrest that leads to the Boston Tea Party and the war.


The 1975 made-for-TV Chuck Jones animated "Yankee Doodle Cricket" follows a similar theme as Ben and Me. In this case, its not just a mouse, but also cat and cricket who have secretly participated in significant moments of America's founding.

The mouse Tucker not only helps author the Declaration of Independence, but also comes up with the design for the Gadsden Flag, inspired by a slithering associate.

We'll see yet another depiction of the ride of Paul Revere (the cat, Harry, helps launch Paul's horse with a sharp-clawed swipe to its rear).

This bird's eye view of Paul Revere's ride looks suspiciously familiar...

Here it is alongside the same scene from the earlier Uncle Sam Magoo. IMDB shows both toons shared at least a few of the same artists, which might explain the similarity(?)

UPDATE: Mystery solved! Thanks to reader Philip Davis for pointing out the layout is based on a historic painting by Grant Wood titled "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" (although I still wish there was some animators' conspiracy afoot!)

The cricket Chester is credited with writing the song Yankee Doodle Dandy, which rouses and inspires the Patriot soldiers.


My introduction to the character Popeye was the early-60s color shorts produced by King Features (I used to catch them on Phoenix's local kiddie cartoon rerun show, Wallace and Ladmo). This era of Popeye is kind of dismissed by Popeye purists (in much the same way that the Rembrandt Films/Gene Deitch era Tom and Jerry's are), but guess what? I loved 'em! Popeye visited the Revolutionary period at least twice...

In Popeye's Tea Party, Popeye travels back in time to Boston, where Tory Brutus is declaring one unbearable tax after another...

Popeye, Olive Oil, Swee'pea and Whimpy dress as Indians to carry out the Boston Tea Party.

In another episode, we learn that Popeye's grandad, Granpappy Poop Deck, not Paul Revere, was responsible for warning that the British are coming on that famous midnight ride.

A staple of every episode of Popeye was the sailor finding his strength at the last moment by eating some spinach, but in this episode, Granpappy consumes some "spinach snuff" instead!

THIS IS AMERICA, CHARLIE BROWN (Birth of the Constitution) (1988)

In 1988 and 1989, the Peanuts gang appeared in an 8-part miniseries called "This is America, Charlie Brown", which found Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang participating in and exploring various significant moments in United States history (the first pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower in The Mayflower Voyagers, the Wright Brothers first flight in Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.)

The series skips over the American Revolution itself, instead choosing to focus on the adoption of the U.S. Constitution at the First Continental Congress, 1787 (Birth of the Constitution).

No rationalization is provided to explain how the Peanuts gang are able to jaunt through time and space to arrive at these significant moments in history. In fact, the characters are depicted as belonging to the specific time period for each episode, as if history was littered with multiple batches of Peanuts clones, each unaware of the other's existence. Anyway, just go with it.

Since the Continental Congress was basically an ongoing series of oral arguments occurring in one room, this episode tends to be more "edu-" than "-taining", as we got LOTS and LOTS of scenes of... people talking...

...and talking...

...and talking some more.

Charlie Brown and company are reduced to being supporting characters, mopping the floors of Independence Hall and tending to the delegates horses. But there are some fun moments here and there, such as Snoopy trying on Revolution-era wigs...

...and Charlie Brown inventing the game that would come to define him, baseball.


I would be remiss not to mention Peter Cottontail's detour to "Fourth of July land" in the Rankin Bass Easter special, Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) (I previously posted on his stoppover at a Halloween-themed land.)

Peter dresses up like Uncle Sam and decorates his eggs with red, white and blue designs.

There's even a fireworks show!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Haunted Houses Ghosts & Spectres (Usborne Supernatural Guides, 1979)

One of the more popular posts on this blog is my coverage of 1977's All About Ghosts from Usborne Publishing's World of the Unknown series. I guess there are a lot of folks out there like me who were captivated by this series as a kid after having checked it our repeatedly from the school library.

Usborne followed that up in 1979 with Haunted Houses, Ghosts & Spectres, part of a new series of Supernatural Guides (the other titles were Vampires, Werewolves & Demons and Mysterious Powers & Strange Forces. All three volumes were compiled in a fourth book, Usborne Guide to the Supernatural World, and like the World of the Unknown series, they were all reprinted in the early 90s with new cover art but identical content.)

This is a much smaller sized publication than the World of the Unknown books, and is labeled an "Usborne Pocketbook", because it is tiny enough to fit in your pocket... well, that is if you wear clothes with freakishly large 7" x 4.5" pockets!

And don't assume as I did that this book is merely a Cliff Notes digest version of All About Ghosts . Its actually all new material, illustrations and all. Here are some samples of what you'll find within.

Before we can delve into the world of supernatural hauntings we need to agree on terms. What exactly is a haunted house, anyway?

Don't leave out the haunted castles!

Different types of ghosts are described and defined.

Everyone knows the best ghosts are missing their heads, and this book has a whole spread devoted to them!

In a story reminiscent of The Golden Arm, a ghost returns to retrieve a ring that was stolen from her corpse.

The Lord Dufferin story, in which a ghostly premonition warns "Room for one more!" is covered here but for some reason the author chose to leave out the signature quote from this telling. (This famous ghost story was also covered in the Scholastic classic Strangely Enough by C.B. Colby!)

Did somebody say poltergeist?

The Usborne Supernatural Guides are out of print, but can be found on the second-hand market for reasonable prices.