Monday, February 18, 2008

Don’t ever watch this cartoon. It’s dismal.

Having caught Little Lulu fever after finally giving Dark Horse’s winning collections of the series a try (something I’d put off doing for pretty much ever), I hit up all my local libraries to find as many Little Lulus as I could.

While searching their catalogs, I came across something odd, the DVD at the right.

It collects an HBO/Cinar-produced Little Lulu cartoon from 1995. I was highly suspicious of such an endeavor, based on the image on the cover alone—Tubby and Lulu were wearing their 1950s gear, but were striking odd, unnatural, more current poses that seemed somehow…off.

But what the hell, I thought, there’s no risk in borrowing it from a library, and I was curious how they would have modernized the world of Little Lulu and what the various characters would sound like and so forth.

Well, as it turns out, it’s awful. Just awful. And a pretty unusual project all around. But mostly just awful. Unusually awful, even.

Here’s the opening theme:



As you can see, they’ve got the John Stanley/Irving Tripp version of the character designs down pat. The expressions, the costumes, the movements, the shapes of the characters faces and hands—it was a little disconcerting how perfectly they managed to replicate the characters (Lulu actually has a pretty long history of animated adaptations, and this version hews closest to the designs seen in the Dark Horse reprints).

That theme song may sound a little old fashioned, and there’s a good reason for it—it is. It’s almost the exact same song that used to play before the old Famous Studios Little Lulu shorts from the 1940s. The one change? “Though you’re wild as any Zulu and you’re just as hard to tame” becomes “Though you’re wild you know it’s true, Lu, and you’re very hard to tame.”

The episodes collected on the DVD were divided into about three short stories, each of which was a scene-for-scene adaptation of one of the stories from the old Dell comics that Dark Horse is collecting. Even short gag skits between the stories—called “Lulu Bites”—were in some cases lifted directly from the comics. There were some minor changes here and there to fudge the fact that it wasn’t the mid-50’s any more, but the fidelity to the source material was remarkable.

Now, I don’t know if that’s exactly a good thing. It’s certainly something I’m not used to seeing in American animation. I have this problem with anime based on manga and manga based on anime, or any property that exists in both formats really—whichever version I experience first tends to taint the version I experience second, so that I hate the one I experience second, no matter how much I might love the one I experienced firest. At least with television anime; film versions tend to differ more dramatically.

So many anime series are so closely based on the manga, that, if I’ve seen the anime first, then I find the manga stories insufferably boring (and can sometimes have difficulty not hearing the voice actors’ voice in my head while reading their dialogue). Or if I’ve read the manga first, then the anime seems horribly boring, as a story I’ve already read at my own pace is slowly played out to fill a particular time slot (Dragon Ball Z is probably the worst offender of this ever created; it takes, what, two hours to read Goku and Gohan’s adventures on Namek, but some 98 days to watch the goddam cartoon version of the sequence?)

Anyway, that’s what watching Little Lulu was like. In most cases, I had already read the stories the cartoons were so rigorously replicating, so there were no surprises, beyond the changes in minor things to disguise the setting.

What I found most odd about the whole thing was the Seinfeld influence, which is about as random an influence for a Little Lulu show as I can imagine.

Each episode opens with Lulu on a stage, performing incredibly unfunny stand-up before a “live” audience providing canned laughter, laughter that always swells to cheering applause as her routine reaches its climax. The jokes are all incredibly weak—I felt sad seeing how many writers were involved with creating these sequences while watching the credits of Stanley and Tripp—the kind of jokes little kids might tell, only too polished for the insane non sequitirs that real little kids seem to delight in passing off as jokes. The audience seems to consist of adults though.

Sometimes the jokes will refer thematically to the story elements in the episode, a la Seinfeld, but just as often they won’t. It’s been about a week since I watched it, and I still haven’t come up with a rationale for why the producers decided a few Seinfeld homages/rip-offs per episode would be the best way to re-package these 40-year-old stories.

I mean, I know Seinfeld was pretty popular back in the '90s, but did kids love it too? What the hell?

Here's one of those awful sequences:



Ugh.

It did sate my curiosity regarding how Little Lulu would play as a cartoon though, I guess. Tracey Ullman provided her voice at one point, later replaced by Jane Woods (I believe all the episodes I saw were voiced by Woods, but I’m not sure). Lulu’s voice is pretty grown-up and irritatingly sassy throughout, kind of like Babs Bunny from Tiny Toons (Ooohhh how I hate that Babs Bunny!)

I’m not terribly fond of Tubby’s voice either, but it does sound nice and…well, fat, I guess. (If that makes sense; you can, like, hear the fat in his voice).

I think I preferred the 1940’s cartoon Lulu voice better though:




And, speaking of old-school Lulu cartoons, here’s one with some sweet Tubby action in it:



Lulu’s voice sounds younger and cuter, and Tubby sounds less fat, yet more obnoxious. Both of them sure are full of jokes at the expense of Native Americans though…sheesh. (And, as an Italian-American, I suppose I should maybe be offended by the portrayal of Christopher-a Columbus, “America, we-a discover-a you!”).

1 comment:

Jeff said...

IF you think this version is painful, you should see the early 1980s, anime-styled Japanese retread that the aptly-named DiC put out.

I was living overseas when I was first exposed to it on a VHS tape my uncle sent our family.

We were living in a German pig-farming village of about 300 people who hadn't left their valley since World War II and could barely get a snow-dominated signal from AFN, which consisted of one channel airing the original, 1950s "Kids Say the Darnedest Things" and a "local interest" news magazine put out by the Army with a hair-lip anchor person (no, I am not making this up).

Anyway, Lulu was *so* bad that my younger brother and sister - all of 7 and 4 at the time - actually preferred to watch the AFN newscast.