Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Some Thoughts After Watching All Thirteen Episodes of "The Wuzzles"

Attic Treasures - Wuzzles!

It's been a while since I shared something from my "Watch Later" YouTube queue, hasn't it?  Well, strap yourselves in, kids, cause this one is a doozie.  It's a playlist that preserves the complete series of Disney Television Animation's very first effort, "The Wuzzles".

Watching "The Wuzzles" for the very first time since 1985 was an experience, let me tell you.

Okay, it honestly stuns me that I haven't written anything at length about "The Wuzzles" since way, way back in 2006.  (That essay is reposted here.  Forgive the early blog format.)  This wasn't my favorite show from when I was a child, but it's the first show I ever remember really liking and watching -- or, rather, the first show I remember making a conscious choice to watch.

You see, back in the early 80's, the landscape of children's cartoons was really f-ing bleak.  If you want a good idea of just how really f-ing bleak it was, take a look at these two recent AV Club Inventories.  Have a strong drink at the ready.

Into this (I can't emphasize this enough) really f-ing bleak environment came two Saturday morning cartoons from what was then considered an unlikely source: Disney.  In those days, and this is totally understandable (read those Inventories again), television cartoons were considered the lowest rung on the animated ladder.  That Disney would wish to enter that arena was shocking.  However, as stated in this article from the time, Disney Television Animation wished to bring some sophistication to Saturday morning.  So, we have to thank Michael Eisner for making television a safe place for quality animation, at least indirectly.

Now here's where things get strange.  Disney produced two series for the autumn of 1985, "The Wuzzles" and "Adventures of the Gummi Bears".  And this would be absolutely unthinkable today, but these two first experiments in television animation from Disney aired on different networks in America.  At the same time.  Like literally they aired on different channels in the same time slot.  "Gummi Bears" was much more successful and went on to become one of Disney's longest-running animated television series ever, surviving even into the early '90s.  Meanwhile "Wuzzles" lasted for just one season of -and this blew my mind to smithereens when I found out- only thirteen episodes.

Thirteen episodes!  Sweet unlikely hybrids with inexplicable fairy wings, thirteen episodes!  How is that even possible?  As I said, this was the first Saturday morning cartoon I ever really liked, and it's shadow looms absurdly large over my childhood; the way I drew, the stories I wrote, the characters I invented.  Hell, who am I kidding?  You can still see some influence from the show on me to this day!  "The Wuzzles" meant an awful lot to me for a very long time, and it did it with only thirteen episodes.  It's like the "Firefly" of Disney animation, though I hasten to clarify after refreshing my memory that I mean that in a ratio of "amount of nostalgia" to "actual shockingly low number of episodes" sense, nothing more.

Before we get into that, let's talk about what I liked about "The Wuzzles" while watching it for the first time since childhood.  This show is, especially for it's time, lush.  The animation is stellar for a television cartoon from the 80's; roughly on-par with the much later "Animaniacs" (both series as well as "Gummi Bears" featured the work of the studio TMS Entertainment).  The characters are always on-model, the backgrounds are gorgeous, and the voice acting is generally very good.  I wasn't really sold on Stan Frieberg's narration at first, but then I realized that it was starting to feel like he was struggling to describe a vivid fever dream, which made the proceedings much more entertaining as an adult.

I'm especially fond of two things that, happily, turned out to be just as good as I remembered from childhood: the score and the set design.  The synth-heavy score is very definitely of its time, but is pretty sophisticated for electronic background music in an 80's cartoon.  By the set design, I mean take a look at the houses in the neighborhood where the main characters live.  Each one is distinct, tells you everything you need to know about its resident, and sports a crazy amount of detail even objectively better cartoons don't bother with.

So there's the good thing about revisiting "The Wuzzles" as an adult; it is at least pleasant to look at and to listen to.  Now here comes the upsetting part: other than that, "The Wuzzles" is not as good as I remembered.  This is almost maddening because, see, I remembered almost every key moment from every episode.  But watching these episodes as an adult... they weren't *horrible*, mind you, they just didn't seem to deserve the huge place they occupy in my earliest animation-related memories.  That's pretty heavy stuff, if you think about it.

And speaking of heavy, I have to warn people who are going to be watching this 1985 cartoon for children by Disney for the first time ever in the year 2013 about the one thing that surprised and honestly really upset me the most about "The Wuzzles": this show just straight-up HATES overweight women.  It really does.  Take a drink whenever poor Hoppopotamus is the victim of a fat joke.  Ugh.

Speaking of the characters, it was also a pretty big blow to see my favorite character, Moosel, for the first time in forever.  Yes, this was my favorite character as a child.  For the life of me I could not tell you why.  With all due respect to the late Bill Scott, Moosel's voice is very obnoxious.  He's also the most boring character of the lot, personality-wise.  But what made me cringe most of all is his character design and animation.  He's just unpleasant to look at now, especially with those weird floppy walk-cycles they gave him.  What kills me is that I loved this character enough to base some of my early character designs on him!  I don't know anything about anything anymore!?!

Overall, what disappointed me the most about "The Wuzzles" is the writing.  The stories told in these thirteen episodes aren't all that interesting to be honest.  The best episodes take a boring plot and put a weirder spin on it, and they're the ones most worth watching.  (My favorites are "The Terrified Forest" and "Class Dismissed."  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Ghostrustlers" because it manages to be insane even by the standards of both "The Wuzzles" and Required-By-Law 80's Cartoon Episodes Set in the Old West.)  What surprised me this time out was that this is a series that in the course of only thirteen episodes manages to have THREE episodes ("In The Money", "Elaroo's Wishday", and "What's Up, Stox?") where the lesson is, "be careful what you wish for".  And it hit me like a brick as an adult that each and every one of those episodes might as well have sat their young audience down and said, "Those grapes are SO sour, kids, you wouldn't believe it."

So here I am, wiser, disillusioned, with fresher, less rose-tinted memories of a very important part of my early childhood dancing in my head and haunting my dreams.  I do plan on watching and reviewing "Gummi Bears" next week, having already tackled other early efforts from Walt Disney Television Animation like this one.  But I also hope to quickly wash this one off with something else that I thankfully already know holds up...


Sketch of the Day!  Ooh, they got originality...

8.14.13 - Ooh, They Got Originality!


Unknown said...

Hi there, long time reader, first time commentor.
I have to agree with you and also ease your mind about Moosel. He was my favorite chatter as kid too, and I think the main thing there is that he was just drawn so cute in all of the Wuzzles books (yes, those we're a thing) that I remember better than the show. Also, he didn't get as much screen time as the others, I don't think, making him kind of tantalizingly unknowable. I recall having similar feelings about Bedtime Bear.
Speaking of the Care Bears, I know from having your childhood nostalgia dashed with a healthy dose of adult cynicism, since I recently bought my little girl a DVD collection of the earliest Care Bears episodes. There was one episode, called Drab City, that scared the bejesus out of me and, I honestly believe, set me up four a lifelong love of apocalyptic horror. Revisiting it, I was surprised to find that it was... Pretty dull. Totally turned me off of revisiting other nostalgic favorites. I'd rather the version in my memories.

Trish said...

Funny you should mention the "Care Bears", because rewatching these old Disney series made me think of them.

I've got tons of projects on my plate, and I don't have the most nostalgia for these characters anyway. But I was thinking that if anyone wanted to do it, a survey of all the various animated incarnations of the Care Bears would be absolutely fascinating. It would have to cover the two "pilots", the Nelvana movies, the weird DIC series you mentioned, the Nelvana series (including a season that was given over to a straight "Star Trek TNG" parody and another that was set in "Flintstones"-esque "prehistoric" times for reasons that are unclear), and I guess the recent movies and current series. Now who'd like to do this so I don't feel like I have to now?

Unknown said...

My God, there's... There's just too much! Just a look at the various villains over the years could be a dissertation.

Incidentally, do you have any thoughts about the current tend in kids' cartoons to do away with the villains? In the 80s, every show had a bad guy trying to "get"the heroes. Now, not so much.

And one last thing: have you looked at My Pet Monster recently? I just realized that show was just about three kids persecuting a middle aged gay man.

Trish said...

"Incidentally, do you have any thoughts about the current tend in kids' cartoons to do away with the villains? In the 80s, every show had a bad guy trying to "get"the heroes. Now, not so much."

Well, seeing as the only current cartoons appropriate for children I watch are "Adventure Time", "Gravity Falls", and "My Little Pony" - all shows with good-to-awesome antagonists, uhhh... I was not even aware that the "no more villains" trend was a thing.

(And I may need to watch an episode of "My Pet Monster" now because what?)

raptor_044 said...

"But I also hope to quickly wash this one off with something else that I thankfully already know holds up..."

Gummiberry juice? ;)

"Sketch of the Day! Ooh, they got originality..."

I saw that coming & I still love it!

"Well, seeing as the only current cartoons appropriate for children I watch are "Adventure Time", "Gravity Falls", and "My Little Pony" - all shows with good-to-awesome antagonists"

I'd recommend adding a few PBS shows to that list. Specifically, Wordgirl & Wild Kratts. I actually plan on reviewing the latter in the near future AWA a nostalgic cartoon which, quite coincidentally, made me feel similar to you in this post upon re-watching it.


kjohnson1585 said...

Are you... me?

I too have watched and reviewed Wuzzles here: and I pretty much agree with every single assessment here - except I thought the music wasn't that great (it seems so sparse and unrelated to what was happening on screen). I was more of a Bumblelion fan as a kid, but I actually quite like Butterbear on the rewatch, because she quietly kinda hated everyone.

The Hoppo-fat jokes are egregiously awful yes, but Rhinokey was the killer for me, considering that some of his practical jokes were thinly-veiled attempts AT MURDER. Yeesh.

But even all the issues, I still liked it, Class Dismissed is definitely the best, and that animation is SO SO good.

Trish said...

Aw, I'm sorry I missed that review. And you're right - this is a series that's asking us to root for some pretty sh*tty people! I forgot to mention it, but by the end of the series, I was sympathizing with Crock and company more often than I was with the "heroes".