TINY TOON ADVENTURES (1990-1995) – A cartoon work of art


The following is my second of two entries in my ‘One’ of My-All Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon, being held at this blog on Nov. 6-8, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read entries about terrific ‘toons that these bloggers just can’t resist!


Steven Spielberg is already immortalized in Hollywood for far more noble ventures — but for me, if he’d never been responsible for anything but Tiny Toon Adventures, he’d have a huge place in my heart.


When this TV cartoon was first publicized in 1990 (the 60th anniversary of Warner Bros. first talking cartoon, and the 50th anniversary of the “birth” of Bugs Bunny), I cringed. I felt a little comforted when veteran Warners cartoon director Friz Freleng said he saw a preview of the series and thought it looked as good as any theatrical cartoon. When the cartoon finally debuted, I thought I’d died and gone to animation heaven.


The characterizations are obviously a nod to the “classic” Looney Tunes characters. Buster Bunny is obviously patterned after Bugs, Plucky Duck is a distant relative to daffy Daffy, and so on. The connection is even more obvious because the Tiny Toons attend Acme Looniversity, where the Looney Tunes veterans tutor them in the art of getting laughs. Well, the Toons have obviously earned their diplomas, because they do the job quite well on their own.

The gags and pacing are top-notch, and the pop-culture level is easily up to that of “The Simpsons.” (How many kids’ cartoons would even attempt a parody of Citizen Kane, let alone pull it off?) Production of the TV series has long ceased, but happily, most of the best of the series is available on home video.

A good intro to the style is the direct-to-video feature “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” worth the price of the rental just for its caricatures of Hollywood stars. But the acme (so to speak) is the tape “Tiny Toons Music Television,” with a number of MTV-style videos of classic and obscure hits performed by the Tiny Toons.

(I’ve posted a clip from that episode below. It’s probably my favorite “Tiny Toons” segment, their hilarious interpretation of They Might Be Giants’ song “Particle Man.” In another nod to Looney Tunes history, that boxer/wrestler who always came up a cropper in Chuck Jones’ Bugs Bunny cartoons such as Rabbit Punch finally holds his own with Plucky Duck here.)

As critic Manny Farber once said about the original Looney Tunes cartoons, the great ones are masterpieces and the bad ones aren’t a total loss.

(If you’ve enjoyed reading this blogathon entry, please click here to read my first entry on the 1935 Popeye cartoon The Spinach Overture.)

THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) – A swashbuckler that shows they *can* make them like they used to


This post is dedicated to Fritzi at the blog Movies Silently, who recently announced her Swashathon!, a blogathon taking place on Nov. 7-9, 2015 that is devoted to swashbuckling movies past and present. Click on the above banner to find out more about the ‘thon and how to enter it!

As Fritzi’s blogathon is devoted to movies released up to only 1970, I thought I’d share my review of a delightful swashbuckler from the 1990’s.


These days, when filmmakers do ironic takes on old movies, you get the feeling they’re serving up spoofs because they don’t have the energy or nerve to do the real thing. But The Mask of Zorro is sincere about updating the old Saturday-matinee hero and, happily, does a darned good job of it.


At first, the storyline makes you fear the worst. The original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins), having been stripped of his wife and daughter by his evil adversary (Stuart Wilson, looking and acting like Mel Brooks on a tear), pulls a “Lethal Weapon” and decides he’s too old for this stuff. Twenty years later, Zorro Sr. recruits a down-on-his-luck bandito (Antonio Banderas) to revive the black-mask-superhero franchise.

But as this is a Steven Spielberg production, what The Mask of Zorro is really about is the art of filmmaking, and it shows what some imaginative people (director Martin Campbell among them) can do with a movie camera. There are some old-fashioned stunts and physical comedy that are carried off just about perfectly herre. And usually, these shoot-the-works movies peter out just before the end credits, but this one has the most satisfying adventure-movie wrap-up I’ve seen in a long time.

I wouldn’t have guessed that Hopkins (as Zorro?!) or Banderas had this in them, but they play the most outrageous situations with perfectly straight faces, and it seems to invigorate them. (My only complaint with this gloriously fun movie is the unconvincing youthful look given to Hopkins at the movie’s start. I guess the filmmakers’ love of old-movie conventions extends to bad hair-dye jobs.)


And Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the love interest, might just have you swooning with delight (especially with a beaut of a sight gag in which Zeta-Jones is undressed by Banderas in a most unique way).

It’s hard to say how modern-day movie viewers jaded by toy soldiers and destructo-epics will respond to swashbucklers who are presented without a trace of irony. But The Mask of Zorro proves that heroes can still be served up straight, if it’s done with some wit and panache.

THE TERMINAL (2004) – One of Steven Spielberg’s and Tom Hanks’ finest hours


If Charlie Chaplin was still alive and creating, it’s easy to imagine him making a light comedy as richly satisfying as The Terminal. Just as Chaplin used to take a prop and wring every possible gag out of it, Steven Spielberg’s prop is a New York airport terminal from which he extracts every story possibility. And Spielberg’s Chaplin is Tom Hanks, who takes a potentially show-offy, Meryl Streep-type role and turns it into a movie character for the ages.

Hanks’ role is Viktor Navorski, a European immigrant who becomes a modern-day “man without a country” when his native land gets embroiled in a revolution. Viktor can’t return home because his country is under siege, and he can’t legally enter New York until his country’s new leadership is recognized by the U.S. So Viktor has no choice but to live in the terminal — much to the consternation of Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), whose chances of becoming the terminal’s top dog are jeopardized by Viktor’s constantly being under foot.

The movie’s premise is laid out pretty flatly in the first ten minutes, which begins to sink one’s hopes. But it’s as though Spielberg wants to get the mandatory stuff out of the way quickly so he can explore all of the possibilities in his huge playtoy. And he spins Viktor through every facet of the terminal like a colorful top, involving the terminal’s quirky workers in his meager existence.

In that sense, The Terminal is a lot like Being There (1979), where Peter Sellers played an illiterate simpleton on whom politicians projected their needs and desires. But Hanks is far from a blank slate. His body language, physical comedy, and deceptively simple dialogue speak volumes. Chaplin regretted having to give up silent movies because he felt that his “Little Tramp” could not express himself uniquely with sound. I think something like The Terminal would have been an effective solution.

That’s not to belittle Hanks’ winning co-stars, especially Catherine Zeta-Jones as Viktor’s potential love interest and Chi McBride as one of Viktor’s many supporters. They all give Spielberg’s work the sheen of a big, beautiful dream.

JAWS (1975) – Four decades later, it still has bite

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Three moronic sequels have not dimmed the power of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. In fact, the sequels have only made the extraordinary qualities of the original more pointed. The shark was never the point; the characters were.

The movie’s plot sounds quite similar to the many rip-offs which followed. A beach is terrorized by a shark; the police chief (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beach down; but the tourist-conscious mayor (Murray Hamilton) won’t have it; tourists become so much appetizer while the mayor wallows in guilt; and finally, someone kills the sucker.

But again, it’s the way in which the shark is built up as a movie villain that had contemporary critics comparing Spielberg to Alfred Hitchcock. We never see the shark in full until movie’s end. More often, we get simply the shark’s actions. And they’re scary enough, as when the shark tears off the end of a pier where some bounty hunters were waiting to catch him.

Conflicting legends have grown up around the movie. One story has it that Spielberg, on the verge of establishing himself as a movie maverick, agreed to direct the movie only on the condition that the shark not been seen until the movie’s second half. The other story is that Spielberg intended to show the shark all along but had continual mechanical problems; as a result, the actors had plenty of time to improvise and get “into” their characters. Whatever the reason, the movie builds up as a model of suspense.

downloadAnd as a result, we get to know what makes the three primary shark-hunters tick. There’s Police Chief Brody, whose first view of the shark inspires the classic understatement, “I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” There’s macho Captain Quint (Robert Shaw), whose hardening was partially the result of his being on-board a ship that sunk into shark-infested waters (which he describes in the movie’s famous monologue). And there’s oceanographer Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who quickly throws in the towel on Quint’s machismo contest by parodying it (when Quint crushes a steel can with his bare hand, Hooper crushes a styrofoam cup).

Ever since Spielberg hit it big 40 years (!) ago, Hollywood has gone mad with special-effects follies. But as moviegoers (and Spielberg) have always known, special effects are a success only if you care about the characters first. Jaws still serves a textbook example of special effects giving payoffs to well-developed characters.

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Spielberg!

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Spielberg!