Agon, the Atomic Dragon (1968)

Agon, the Atomic Dragon (1968)
Article 5500 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-19-2017
Directed by Noria Mine and Fuminori Ohashi
Featuring Shinji Hirota, Asao Matsumoto, Nobuhiko Shima
Country: Japan
What it is: Small screen kaiju

A dinosaur mutated by radiation emerges from the sea around Japan and terrorizes the country.

From what I gather, this was filmed in 1964, but finally popped up as a TV miniseries of four episodes in 1968, and was eventually edited into a movie during the 1990s; I have no exact year for the latter. Granted, the movie looks pretty much like they did little more than edit the episodes together and remove some credit sequences. As a TV series, it must have looked a bit like “Ultra Q” with the same monster every time. The monster resembled Godzilla just enough that Japan Radio Pictures was almost sued by Toho until it came to light that the designer of the Agon suit was one of the designers of the original Godzilla suit, so they let it go. There’s very little in the first half of the movie (or the first two episodes, if you parse it that way) to set it apart from your average kaiju, but the last half (or two episodes) weave it into a subplot about two criminals holding a boy hostage to make a diver retrieve for them a suitcase that has fallen to the bottom of the sea. This complication leads to some of the sillier moments here, such as having the monster walk around for about thirty minutes with a boat in his mouth as well as a truly bizarre plan to kill the monster. It’s enjoyable enough for kaiju fans, but it’s hardly one of the better ones out there.

Gojira (1984)

Gojira (1984)
aka The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla 1985
Article 5499 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2017
Directed by Koji Hashimoto
Featuring Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yasuko Natsuke
Country: Japan
What it is: Godzilla movie

Godzilla reappears and begins terrorizing Japan.

This was Toho’s resurrection of the Godzilla franchise after letting it founder in the late seventies. It was an attempt to return to the scarier, nastier non-heroic version of the monster. When it was released in America, the powers that be decided to emulate what had been done for GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS in the fifties by bringing back Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin and editing him into the movie along with a few other American actors. Unlike the earlier adaptation, though, this one seemed to be playing for camp and featured heavy product placement for Dr. Pepper, touches I found so annoying that I decided to wait until I could see the original Japanese cut instead of that one.

Sadly, the Japanese version isn’t really the vast improvement I was hoping it would be. It’s certainly less campy and more serious, but it also has some major problems. There’s a couple of scenes that are strong; the opening ten minutes are effective, and Godzilla’s first appearance is memorable. However, the movie gets muddled in a variety of uninteresting subplots, and it’s all too self-conscious about its Godzilla/Nuclear Warfare theme; the scene where both the Americans and Russians wish to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla when it comes ashore in Japan is drawn out way too long. But the biggest problem to me is Godzilla himself; though they no doubt improved the special effects of his presentation, he’s never felt more mechanical and characterless than he does here. Despite the fact that the movie is trying to recapture the magic of the 1954 original, it fails to do so. However, it would yield a few sequels, and some of those are improvements over this one.

Sport Chumpions (1941)

Sport Chumpions (1941)
Article 5498 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-12-2017
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Jim Bannon, Mel Blanc, Robert C. Bruce
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

A series of blackout gags are made about sports.

This is pretty much the same thing as the previously reviewed FONEY FABLES except that sports is the theme rather than fairy tales, and though that doesn’t lend itself to fantastic content as well as the earlier one did, it gets by because one of the gags involves a mermaid. It’s also even less involving than FONEY FABLES; the only gag that worked for me involved the types of popular dives used in swimming. There isn’t even a running gag to add to the fun. Granted, I’m not a sports fan, and it might be funnier to someone who was, but I found this one dull. However, there is one point of interest; some of the animation is particularly convincing, especially during the swimming events. This does leave me wondering if a certain amount of rotoscoping was used to make this one.

Foney Fables (1942)

Foney Fables (1942)
Article 5497 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-11-2017
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Sara Berner, Mel Blanc, Frank Graham
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

A series of gags are made about fairy tales.

One common type of cartoon Warner Brothers churned out was the “blackout gag” cartoon. These consisted of a set of blackout gags on a specific subject, and usually featured one running gag in the mix. In this case, the theme was fairy tales, so it offers at least some fantastic content in the form of a genie and a two-headed giant. However, the gags aren’t particularly memorable, and many of them haven’t aged well because of the topicality of the many WWII gags would need explanation. I remember seeing this one as a kid, but the only thing I remembered about it was the running gag, which had to do with the Boy who Cried Wolf, and I’m guessing if you saw it as a kid, you might remember it as well. This is not Warner’s at its best.

Porky’s Garden (1937)

Porky’s Garden (1937)
Article 5496 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2017
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Earl Hodgins, Charles Judels
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky gets into a competition with his Italian neighbor as to who is going to win first prize at the county fair for the largest product.

This one is pretty marginal when it comes to the fantastic content, but when the cartoon came up with three moments that pushed the envelope a bit, I went ahead and decided to review it. The first moment has Porky using hair tonic to make his garden grow huge vegetables. The second moment has a baby chick eating spinach and getting super-strength; yes, I know that I rejected that in the Popeye cartoons themselves, but I was amused enough by the fact that the chick turns into a miniature version of Popeye (thereby having the cartoon parody a character from another studio) to let it pass in this case. The third item is when a huckster hawks weight loss pills that are powerful enough to turn an elephant into a mouse. On a side note, I can’t help but notice how the neighbor looks like a big version of Mario. It’s nice to see one of Tex Avery’s earlier works here, but he didn’t really hit his stride until he moved to MGM. All in all, this is an okay Porky Pig cartoon.

The Wacky Wabbit (1942)

The Wacky Wabbit (1942)
Article 5495 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan
Country: USA
What it is: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Bugs torments Elmer Fudd, who is out prospecting for gold in the desert.

The fantastic content that made this cartoon qualify is a bit marginal, but it’s there nonetheless; in his initial encounter with Elmer, Bugs is wearing the skull of some sort of horned animal that must have died in the desert. The fact that Bugs calls out “Boo!” while wearing the skull does indicate that a slight touch of horror is intended, though in all honesty, the only one getting scared is Elmer. This is one of the better early Bugs Bunny cartoons; in particular, I like the fact that Elmer is consistently given songs that emphasize his speech impediment – a modified version of “Oh Susannah” (with the line “I’m a rough and rugged rebel from the wild and woolly west”) and, of course, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. It is one of those, though, in which Bugs starts pestering Elmer before the latter has done anything to deserve it; it works a little better when Bugs is taking revenge on those who deserve it rather than just tormenting someone for fun.

Porky’s Cafe (1942)

Porky’s Cafe (1942)
Article 5494 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2017
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

At Porky’s cafe, Porky has to cater to the dining needs of a hungry little man, and his cook has to deal with an ant that has gotten loose in the pancake batter.

For the record, the sequence which qualified this one for review is a scene where Porky prepares eggs and toast for his customer by using an elaborate machine that performs all the necessary functions, which throws the cartoon at least partially into the realm of science fiction. That being said, I’m glad to be dealing with a Chuck Jones cartoon here; I’ve seen several early ones recently, and I’ve noticed a certain pattern that sets him apart from some of the other animators, and that is that he seems to feel very comfortable with scenes with little or no dialogue. Most of the ones I’ve seen recently have featured long scenes in which characters interact without saying a word; most of the scenes with the cook and the ant in this one have no dialogue. Which is not to say that he’s not comfortable with dialogue; there’s plenty of talk in the scenes with Porky and the customer. At any rate, this trend would continue with Jones throughout the years; after all, the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons were almost wordless. It took years for Jones to really master his craft, and some of the gags in this cartoon fall flat. There are a few good moments, though; my favorite is the scene with the aforementioned toast and egg machine.

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)
Article 5493 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Earle Hodgins, Cal Howard
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig short

Porky Pig and his friend Gabby the Goat are bilked by a con man who sells them a vacant lot that is supposedly full of oil.

For the most part, this cartoon has no fantastic content other than the anthropomorphic animals and the comic exaggeration, but one small element emerges. A subplot of the cartoon involves the appearance of a dog who claims a bone that Porky digs up, and tries to find a place to bury it. He then encounters a gopher magician who performs magic tricks with the bone, and it’s the gopher magician who provides the fantastic content; the character appears again at the end of the cartoon to take part in the main plot. It’s a pretty standard Porky Pig cartoon of the era, but it’s marred by an appearance of the annoying but short-lived character of Gabby the Goat. For me, the best moments involve the dog and the gopher.

Fifth Column Mouse (1943)

Fifth Column Mouse (1943)
Article 5492 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2017
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Michael Maltese and the Sportsmen’s Quartet
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

A mouse is bribed by a cat to convince his brothers that the cat has friendly intentions and means to protect him, but really…

Since anthropomorphic animals alone are not used by me as fantastic criteria for cartoons anymore, I wasn’t quite sure at first whether to review this one or not; the plot ends up having the mice build a dog-shaped tank with which to attack the cat. In an ordinary movie, I’d consider this as possible marginal science fiction content; whether it deserved inclusion would hinge on whether we were dealing with an invention that actually existed at the time. When you start debating on whether animated mice had dog-shaped tanks in 1943, you’re in “seriously divorced from reality” mode, and so I thought I’d go ahead and review.

This is obviously a topical cartoon about the war, a concept that is underlined by the fact that the cat at one moment gives a big “Japanese stereotype” grin and the betraying mouse gives a “Seig Heil” salute. The highlight of the cartoon is a musical number; the mice sing “We Did It Before (and We Can Do It Again)” while preparing for war with the cat. It’s not one of Warner’s best, but it is an entertaining wartime curio for all that. It’s interesting to see that writer Michael Maltese contributed to the voice acting as well as writing the script for this one.

Assault and Flattery (1956)

Assault and Flattery (1956)
Article 5491 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-4-2017
Directed by Izzy Sparber
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Jackson Beck, Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Conservation-minded Popeye cartoon … as in recycling

Bluto brings a charge of assault and battery against Popeye in court.

One of the easiest ways to make a cartoon in a hurry is to come up with an idea that allows you to use footage from other cartoons to fill out the running time, and that’s just what happened here. With the format of this episode, it was easy to do; when one of the characters gives testimony, fill it out with footage from another cartoon. This movie borrows from three cartoons, but the lion’s share of the footage is from A BALMY SWAMI from 1949, in which Bluto plays a hypnotist/magician who makes a fool of Popeye and then hypnotizes Olive Oyl. This provides the fantastic content of the cartoon, as Bluto’s magic powers seem to be real; he even hypnotizes a pile of bricks to form into a wall. Maybe someday I’ll review the original cartoon, but unlike this one, that one isn’t in public domain and is a little difficult to find. For the record, I also suspect that GREEK MIRTHOLOGY borrowed its Hercules footage from another Popeye cartoon as well. At any rate, the best laughs here are from the older footage.