Tag Archives: frank welker

Dec. 14 – Bonkers: Miracle at the 34th Precinct

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Original Air Date November 27, 1993

Bonkers was a late inclusion in the Disney Afternoon, a post DuckTales/TailSpin/Rescue Rangers program and contemporary to Goof Troop and Gargoyles. It’s a show about a bobcat named Bonkers who serves in the Toon Police alongside his partner Lucky Piquel (pronounced Pickle by most characters, but it’s supposed to be Pee-kell, making it a running joke). Bonkers exists in a world where people and toons live together, making it sort of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? except the entire show is animated. It’s a cartoon I never really gave a chance because by the time 1993 rolled around I was invested heavily in Batman and X-Men and I really had no appetite for a more traditional cartoon. I watched some Animaniacs and Ren & Stimpy and that was kind of it. Plus Bonkers, who has an over-the-top “toon” aesthetic like Roger Rabbit just kind of annoyed me from what little I saw. The show’s intro is obnoxious and I honestly can’t remember if I ever sat down and watched an entire episode. As an adult, I appreciate the show’s premise much more. After all, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a personal top 10 film for me and one I adore so a cartoon that piggy-backs off of it sounds really appealing to me now.

Bonkers did have a Christmas special, and when I set out to do this it was one I looked forward to checking out. The title of the episode, “Miracle at the 34th Precinct,” implies a parody or adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street which also sounds appealing since it’s a classic Christmas story that’s rarely adapted by cartoons and sitcoms. Where as the contemporary show Darkwing Duck chose to do an It’s a Wonderful Life adaptation, which is so disappointing.

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A haggard looking Blitzen has to inform the elves he lost Santa.

The episode opens with Santa trying to navigate a pretty treacherous looking snow storm. He’s being tossed around and we’re soon taken to a a work shop where a pair of elves are wondering where Santa could be. We learn, through their dialogue, that Santa was off testing a new sleigh with only one reindeer, Blitzen, to guide him. The female elf of this duo immediately reacts with worry that Santa didn’t take Rudolf given the conditions outside (score one Christmas point for this one, it actually acknowledges the existence of the 9th reindeer) and immediately starts to panic. A tired Blitzen enters the shop with only pieces of the sleigh remaining. Santa apparently fell out somewhere over Hollywood. With only two days to go until Christmas, this is a pretty alarming development.

In Hollywood, unseasonable conditions are striking the locals. It’s snowing. Why? I don’t know. The camera pans to a building with a hole in the ceiling. Inside we find a mangey looking rabbit apparently named Fall-Apart and a large pile of snow. The pile shakes and out pops Santa, only he doesn’t know he’s Santa. Amnesia! The bane of all television personalities! Fall-Apart doesn’t seem to recognize him, but seems happy to have him around. Meanwhile, Lucky Piquel is being roused by his wife Dill (Dill Piquel, get it? I can’t believe Rugrats would repeat this joke later) for breakfast. He seems grumpy and his wife tells him not to be a Scrooge, which makes me think he’s going to be a Christmas curmudgeon – he certainly seems like he could play the part. He’s unmistakably voiced by Jim Cummings, which is interesting because Cummings also voices Bonkers so he has both leads in this show. Anyways, Lucky’s daughter is waiting for him at the breakfast table, with a toon pencil casually tucked behind her ear which is awesome as it shows how casually the humans and toons co-exist. She’s heard that Santa isn’t real, and Lucky and his wife seem unsure of how to handle this, only to assure her that lots of people believe in Santa.

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Fall-Apart meets Santa, I mean, Jim.

In comes Bonkers! He’s playfully tossing snow around and of course he hits Lucky in the face. My guess is these two are unlikely partners, just as Roger and Eddie were, with Lucky not exactly enjoying the relationship. Bonkers is there to assure the youngest Piquel that Santa does indeed exist, and he and Lucky head off to the precinct. Meanwhile, Fall-Apart (voiced by Frank Welker using a more intelligible version of his Slimer voice with a touch of Dustin Hoffman from Rainman) decides to take Santa (after dubbing him Jim since he can’t remember his name) for a little spin around Hollywood and loads him into his cab. He immediately becomes more of a tour guide and I’m wondering if he’s good-natured or if he intends to rob this Santa of all of his money by keeping the meter running. We shall see.

At the police station, the two elves from earlier are there to report a missing person – Santa. When Bonkers and Lucky stroll in they immediately suggest that Lucky could be a good stand-in, since he’s fat. Lucky’s boss thinks it’s a good idea, why he’s willing to give up a cop for this I don’t know, but Lucky wants no part of it. He regards the elves as being kind of crazy, suggesting adults in this world probably don’t believe in Santa (I wasn’t sure based on Lucky and his wife’s reaction to their daughters declaration). The elves toss some Christmas magic dust on him to make him envision his daughter waking up disappointed on Christmas since no Santa brought her presents. It’s enough to make Lucky openly cry and agree to put on the red suit.

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At least Lucky looks the part.

Next comes Lucky’s Santa training. He seems to be having a hard time, but at least looks the part, while the elves are getting frustrated with him. Nearby at the beach, Fall-Apart is taking Santa water skiing because it’s snowing, so you’re supposed to ski. A fisherman somehow manages to hook Santa by the ass and reveals his underwear – classic. We then jump back to Lucky’s Santa training in the flight simulator. He makes a crack about the lack of an in-flight movie while he’s jostled around in a mechanical sleigh with a giant fan in his face, so the male elf activates a screen on the sleigh to give Lucky the rundown on what every kid wants for Christmas. Back at the beach, Fall-Apart crashes his boat and we see why he’s called Fall-Apart. Bonkers is there to help piece him back together, mistakenly putting Fall-Apart’s tail where his nose should be and his nose where his tail should be, which can’t smell great. Santa is out of the picture following the wreck, so Bonkers doesn’t see him. When he asks Fall-Apart if he’s seen Santa, he teases the viewer that he might say yes, but says he hasn’t seen him. I don’t think he’s doing that for nefarious reasons, he’s just stupid. He sees his frozen buddy, Jim, after Bonkers leaves and tells him they should go on a picnic, which just further confuses Santa-Jim.

Lucky’s Santa training has moved on from sleigh-piloting to breaking and entering, or rather chimney training. The male elf has whipped up a house of sorts for Lucky to practice on, though he expresses some concern with fitting down the chimney. We also find out that Lucky is actually fatter than Santa. Bonkers, basically frozen, returns to the Piquel residence to get warmed up. Lucky’s daughter hopes her dad can make it home for Santa and lets us know it’s Christmas Eve (I might have missed that morsel of info in the precinct scene earlier) while Bonkers withholds info on Lucky playing Santa. Bonkers tells the girl she’s not supposed to wait up for Santa, and manages to catch his tail on fire at the fireplace. Good thing there’s ample amounts of snow outside to put it out and he returns to his Santa hunt. Lucky, on the other hand, is not making any progress in his Santa training because he’s become lodged in the chimney. He manages to fall through and makes a kind of dark observation that having your life flash before your eyes can put you in the Christmas spirit. Whether he’s ready for it or not, they need to get moving if they want any hope of delivering the presents, and Lucky is still gung-ho to help out.

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This guy should probably never be let near an open flame.

Back at Fall-Apart’s apartment, the duo of Santa and the rabbit return with Fall-Apart remarking their picnic would have been better if Santa didn’t give away all of the food. It’s like he’s some gift-giving guy or something. When Santa sits on a toon lounge-chair he gets ejected out of the apartment. When Fall-Apart asks the chair why he did that he replies, “Because it was funny,” which makes a surprising amount of sense for a toon. Just then, a despondent Bonkers pops in. He’s afraid he won’t find Santa in time. Fall-Apart expresses some sympathy, then remarks he has to go help his friend Jim off the roof and describes him as a big guy in a red suit with a white beard. Bonkers realizes that Jim must be Santa, and when they find him on the roof his memory has returned thanks to the second bump on the head. With only an hour until Christmas, he needs to get to his elves Jingle and Belle (so they have names), but Bonkers first wants to bring him by the Piquel residence.

We cut to the Piquel house and the sleigh and reindeer are arriving. There are only six reindeer, which is bullshit. It’s Lucky and the elves. The elves felt that Lucky’s first house should be a familiar one. He expresses some hurt feelings over it while struggling to stand on the snow covered roof, before eventually falling off, which just justifies the concern the elves have in him. They get a call on their sleigh-phone from Bonkers to let them know Santa is all right and they’re relieved to hear it, naturally. Of course, Lucky is already on the job and fallen off the roof to boot, so they can’t tell him the good news.

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Santa and Bonkers arrive on the scene.

Since he’s at ground level, and it is his house, Lucky decides to enter the conventional way even though it’s not the entrance he wants to make. Just as he enters the front door, Bonkers arrives with Santa. They shoot up to the roof where the elves give Santa the update on what’s going on. He grabs his sack and jumps down the chimney. Inside, Lucky’s daughter is already in tears about there being no Santa and left the room. As Lucky heads in further Santa drops in. Lucky doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, even though he has the Social Security card to prove it, and the two start bickering. Bonkers pops out of the chimney to admonish them when Lucky’s daughter comes in. At first she’s confused about there being two Santas, but not as confused as I would have expected. The real Santa gives her a gift, one she didn’t even tell her dad about, and Lucky finally believes Santa is the real deal when he pronounces his last name properly and gives him a gift to top it off. After Santa leaves, Lucky’s daughter gives her father a warm hug and Bonkers somehow gains the ability to float up the chimney like Santa just in time to see the big guy take off and wish him a merry Christmas.

“Miracle at the 34th Precinct” is not what I expected, since it isn’t really a take on the classic story at all. It also isn’t what I expected in that the plot is pretty straight-forward and it seems to take itself seriously. There’s very little “wacky” elements present for a cartoon world. The Fall-Apart and Santa scenes possessed some physical comedy, but for the most part I found the whole thing kind of subdued. I was expecting more parody, and maybe some satire, but instead this show was more earnest and genuine in its approach. I’m not about to judge the whole series based on one episode, but I don’t think I like this. It was kind of boring and the characters are just the sort of standard archetypes we’re used to seeing. I suppose there is some humor to be found in a world that looks at the toon elements as ordinary, but I feel like Tiny Toon Adventures already did that, and better. This does feel like Disney trying to do a Warner-type show, and maybe they just don’t have the ability to produce that kind of show. The animation, for the most part, is still well done though it’s not as crisp as something like DuckTales or Darkwing Duck. My guess is that’s intentional as they want the characters to have less definition and thus appear more “toon” in appearance. There’s an artful sloppiness in how the characters move and animate, in particular Lucky, which is kind of odd since he’s supposed to be the human. At any rate, at least it’s not A Christmas Carol parody though!

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My Neighbor Totoro

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My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

I am the father of an all most two year old boy who loves watching The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Jr. I’m constantly trying to find new things for him to watch and get excited about just so I don’t have to watch more Mickey Mouse. And it’s not as if that show is particularly bad or anything, it’s just made for young kids and isn’t supposed to be stimulating for adult viewers. I’ve had some success getting him to watch Looney Tunes and even The Simpsons. He’ll rarely ask for either like he will with Mickey, but he’ll let me have them on the television with minimal fuss. The only show he really, actively, watches though is still Mickey, and that’s probably because of his enthusiasm for it and because the show is interactive with the characters constantly addressing the viewer. When he watches something like The Simpsons with me, it’s mostly in silence and he’ll occasionally point at an object in the show and tell me what it is.

For the first time in his short life, my son actively watched a movie. Often to get him to watch something non-Mickey, I’ll get it started on the TV before getting him up from his nap, which is what I did this past weekend with My Neighbor Totoro. I have been somewhat excitedly waiting for a time to introduce my son to this movie because it’s one I have a lot of affection for. A stuffed Totoro was even the first toy I ever bought for him before he was born. I’ve always been pretty certain that he would like Totoro, to a point, but I honestly felt like we were still a few years away from that day. To my surprise, I got him up from his nap and put him in our big recliner with a cup of juice without him even mentioning Mickey. He hadn’t been feeling well so I wasn’t sure what version of my son I would get, but he didn’t object to what was on the television and I went into the kitchen to finish up some dishes I had started before his nap ended. As I was busying myself, I could hear him laughing. I stopped and watched and he was smiling at the television. He would giggle when he was supposed to, he’d point to things on the screen, and bob his head to the music. What seems like a small, insignificant, moment is amazing through the eyes of a parent who is observing their child do something for the first time. He was engaging with a film, and it was beautiful. I chalk it up to the magic of Studio Ghibli and it’s extremely talented director and co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki.

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No wonder why my kid liked this one, who wouldn’t want friends like these?

My Neighbor Totoro is a charming tale about two young girls, Satsuki and Mei. They have just recently moved to an old home in the countryside with their father while their mother is recovering from an illness at a nearby hospital. The precocious youngsters are intensely curious about their surroundings and new home and take to the country with intense optimism. This is a film devoid of any kind of cynicism. Satsuki is the older sister and helps out her dad around the house and also by looking after Mei, who I would guess is around 3 or 4. When Satsuki is in school and her father at work, a local old woman affectionately called Grannie looks after Mei.

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A little house in the country side.

Very early in the film the girls take-note of strange creatures in their new home. These soot spirits and their existence are not challenged by the adults in the story, and we see their father encourages his girls to think like children by doing so himself. The girls seem a little afraid at first, but their dad tells them laughter is the best cure for fear, and their laughter drives the little soot spirits away. When Satsuki is away at school though, Mei happens upon the dwellers of the forrest and the massive, cuddly, Totoro who resides there. When she tells her sister about the Totoro, Satsuki is skeptical, but once again their dad is encouraging and has the girls thank the forrest for allowing them to live with it. It’s hard not to imagine that Miyazaki, a noted environmentalist, didn’t see himself in the father character present here.

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Mei in hot pursuit of two little forrest spirits.

The film follows the two girls closely and unfolds at a brisk pace. It’s an interesting tale in that there is very little conflict, danger, or suspense. There’s some implied with the film’s climax, but it’s never deceptive. My Neighbor Totoro takes your hand from the start to guide you through its story and we trust it implicitly. Perhaps more interesting, is that it all works so well. Someone who has never seen the picture would probably interpret my description of it as dull, but the film is so charming and positive that watching it is like a relaxing soak in a hot tub; it’s simple, obvious, but oh so good.

The art direction is wonderful, and the character designs for the forrest spirits are delightfully simple. Totoro and his little buddies are a bit rabbit-like in appearance, though cat-like in behavior. They’re cute, and it’s obvious why stuffed dolls of them exist in the first place. The Catbus, which appeared about halfway through the film, is pretty wild to take-in, but so much fun. It adds a little absurdity to the film that fits right in with the sometimes silly tone. That tone is mostly captured through Mei, who is perhaps the most authentic young person I’ve ever seen brought to life in an animated movie. Her movements, facial expressions, and behavior feel so spot-on and really add life to her character. I’m honestly a little sad whenever she’s absent from a scene, and it’s her character that lead to the biggest reactions from my own little guy as we watched.

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Just two kids riding in a cat bus.

The forrest scenery is lush and dominated by shades of green. I love this countryside as presented here because there’s just so much nature. This is the kind of film that makes me think I’d be okay with a more relaxed lifestyle that isn’t so plugged-in. My copy of the film is on DVD, and Disney finally released a high definition version a couple of years ago, but I haven’t upgraded yet. The film is gorgeous, though I notice a little grain at times and I wonder if that would be present on the Blu Ray. Normally, I enjoy a little film grain and would prefer to watch a movie on actual film than digital, but this picture is so vibrant that I find myself longing for as clean and pristine an image as possible. The film’s score is done by Joe Hisaishi, and it’s effectively whimsical and beautifully composed. Hisaishi and Miyazaki have such an amazing ability to complement one another with music and picture and this rather simple score might be my favorite of the Ghibli movies. The closing title song is adorably sweet and poppy. It probably will appeal to children more than adults, but I find it undeniably charming.

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Mei’s first encounter with Totoro.

This being a Walt Disney localized release, the english dub is of high quality and well done. Sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning play Satsuki and Mei. Tim Daly and Lea Solonga play the parents, and Hollywood’s go-to man for animal sounds, Frank Welker, plays Totoro. The cast is probably light on star power in comparison with other dubs of Ghibli films, but the actors are more than capable and make watching the english version of the film a real delight.

The film, at its heart, is also probably one that appeals more to children than adults, which makes it unique among Studio Ghibli films which don’t obviously focus on children the way Disney does. At least, my head tells me that My Neighbor Totoro is indeed a children’s movie, but I am so moved and delighted by it every time I view it that my heart has all but convinced me that this is a film anyone can enjoy and fall in love with. That doesn’t mean it’s a film for everybody, my own wife finds it criminally boring and weird, but it’s not a film confined by demographic. My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderfully charming story beautifully accented by gorgeous visuals and a moving score. It’s fantasy, but understated fantasy, and the movie effortlessly compels the viewer to buy into everything that’s on screen. It’s in some ways a perfect film, without obvious flaws, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.