348. About Storytelling: Getting Drunk on Milk

In fiction, as in real life, bad things happen. When tragedy strikes, fictional characters sometimes try to drown their grief in alcohol.

We’ve all seen this in the movies. In one scene, a man loses his job or girlfriend; in the next, we find him drinking or drunk. It’s an age-old trope of storytelling. Heck, even I’ve used it. Lance Eliot, the protagonist in my novel, is quite a drinker.

What about stories for children? Here we have a problem. A story may need its characters to drink away their sorrows, but that sure ain’t appropriate for the kiddos! Storytellers, crafty creatures that they are, have discovered a family-friendly alternative to getting drunk on alcohol: getting drunk on nonalcoholic things, of course!

(In writing this blog post, I discovered this trope actually has a name: drunk on milk. Thanks, TV Tropes.)

Here are some examples of characters in family-friendly media drowning their sorrows in things that aren’t alcohol.

Tea (Toy Story)

Tea drunkI’ve drunk Darjeeling tea before, and let me tell you: the stuff Buzz Lightyear drinks (or pretends to drink) in Toy Story is like no Darjeeling I’ve ever tasted. Whatever is in those teacups, Buzz gets buzzed. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry. By the way, in case one bad pun isn’t enough for you, “Buzz” is pronounced “booze” in a Hispanic accent.) Buzz’s, um, tea is strong enough that he doesn’t seem to mind being called “Mrs. Nesbitt,” which must be humiliating for an intergalactic hero. Darned Darjeeling!

Doughnuts (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)

Drunk 'n' donutsA happy cartoon about magical rainbow ponies can’t show its characters consuming alcohol, despite the fact that one of its protagonists is apparently named after a hard liquor. The alternative? Doughnuts. When Spike the dragon is left behind by his pony pals, he hits the local doughnut shop—the name of which, I can only presume, is Drunk ’n’ Donuts. (Pun intended, but I’m not sorry for this one!) Spike may not get a hangover from his excesses, but I don’t envy him the inevitable sugar crash.

Ramen noodles (The Legend of Korra)

Bowls and BolinBolin—the young man passed out on the table in the picture above—deals with romantic rejection as heartbroken men do: by heading to the local ramen joint and eating too many bowls of noodles. This early scene from The Legend of Korra makes me chuckle; I’m especially amused by Bolin’s pet ferret lounging in an empty bowl. The Legend of Korra is a good show… I should catch up with it someday.

Milk (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)

Milk drunkThe Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is, without question, one of the greatest games I have ever played. It’s also one of the few to feature a milk bar. (Yes, I’ve seen a milk bar in more games than this one!) Open late at night, the milk bar caters exclusively to adults and offers both live entertainment and a variety of dairy drinks. I think the Shakespearean-looking gent in the picture above says it best: “Milk… It’s miiiilk… Can you get tipsy from something like milk?!? Hic!”

Ice cream (VeggieTales)

Ice cream drunkI’m digging deep into my childhood memories for this one. At one point, Larry the woebegone cucumber responds to bad news by eating too much ice cream at a diner. (VeggieTales is not just a kids’ show, but a Christian kids’ show, so they really had to keep it family-friendly!) In the picture above, Larry recovers with a warming cup of tea. Let’s hope it’s not Darjeeling.

Juice boxes (Jan Animation Studios)

Bar buddiesAll right, I’m kinda reaching here, but I suppose this short video counts. Bar Buddies, a brief animation from the brony community, has a kid getting wasted on juice boxes. Apple juice, apple cider, applejack—what’s the difference? They’re all made of apples, right? This one makes me laugh because of the disparity between the well-dressed, hard-drinking guy on the left and the silly kid on the right.

What’s drunk-on-milk scenarios did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

Cartoon Anatomy Is Weird

Cartoon anatomyI’m no expert on human anatomy, but I’m pretty sure Charlie Brown’s neck wouldn’t support his head. He’s always seemed a bit… top-heavy.

The same is true for Mabel Pines, and her neck isn’t the only problem—I’m pretty sure those legs wouldn’t carry her weight. Speaking of which, I consider it a miracle that Doctor Eggman can stand at all. His slender needle-legs wouldn’t hold up his mustache, let alone his, um, bulbous physique.

Yes, I’m overthinking things. Cartoons aren’t supposed to be realistic. Character designs are highly stylized. I get that, and I like cartoony proportions. (Would Snoopy from Peanuts be one-half as adorable with a proportionately-sized head? I didn’t think so.) All the same, I find myself occasionally scrutinizing cartoon characters and wondering which bones would be the first to break.

Consider the following image of Charlie Brown, courtesy of Michael Paulus.

Charlie Brown's skeletonFor someone frequently addressed as “blockhead,” Charlie Brown’s gargantuan dome is quite spherical. No way on God’s green earth would a few spindly vertebra hold up a skull like that.

I suppose cartoon anatomy joins the ability to pull stuff from nowhere as one of animation’s greatest mysteries.


This post was originally published on October 8, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on January 19, 2015!

I Really Don’t Hate Christmas

I can be a bit of a grump when it comes to Christmas, but I can’t find it in the darkest corners of my cynical heart to resist the joys of the season for long. The hope and beauty of Christmas outweigh the frivolous nonsense of the holiday it has become. Not even Ebenezer Scrooge or the misanthropic Dr. Doofenshmirtz can really hate Christmas.

Yes, the good Doctor—well, the bad Doctor—from Disney’s Phineas and Ferb is back, this time lamenting the fact he can’t seem to work up a nice, healthy hatred for America’s favorite holiday. Doofenshmirtz is one my favorite television characters, and I applaud him for flinging about words like ambivalenceinvective, and animosity in a kid’s cartoon. A large vocabulary is most admirable… even if it’s mostly spent griping about the holidays.

Three Minutes of Charm

The animation above, produced by Mechanical Apple and presented by Disney, is basically three minutes of heartwarming charm. Like many of my favorite short animations, Motorbike doesn’t need words to tell its story, just soft music and softer colors.

The first time I watched the video, I was struck by its similarities to the Professor Layton games: the music, pastel colors, and comic-strip character designs seem familiar. My impression of the video the second time around was that reminds me strongly of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Studio Ghibli’s other films.

Either way, Motorbike is ridiculously charming.

I encourage you, dear reader, to set aside the woes, worries, trials, troubles, and problems of your life for three minutes, and spend those minutes on a motorbike in the sunshine.

Moon Music

The phrase moon music suggests compositions like Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” For the geeks out there, however, it may call to mind a miserly cartoon duck and his adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The DuckTales video game should have been a disaster. More often than not, licensed games (i.e. games based on an existing intellectual property) are poorly-designed attempts to squeeze more money out of a media franchise. Seeing as DuckTales was never more than a decent cartoon in the first place, its game should have been an abject failure.

DuckTales turned out to be a masterpiece of the 8-bit era, and a resounding commercial success. I suppose Scrooge McDuck of all people (or poultry) really knows how to rake in the cash.

One of the game’s most enduring legacies is its moon music. “The Moon Theme” is among the most widely recognized game melodies of its time. Although the original version is a bit shrill, it’s quite complex for a song using the NES’s primitive sound chip. It makes me think of Schroeder from the Peanuts comics plinking out Beethoven’s masterpieces on a toy piano. The song also reminds me of the soundtracks to the old Mega Man games, which were made by the same developer.

When DuckTales was remade recently as DuckTales: Remastered, “The Moon Theme” was all over the game, not just in the Moon stage; I counted two or three arrangements of the song in the game’s end credits alone. One might even say… it eclipses the other songs in the soundtrack. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.)

Cartoon Anatomy Is Weird

Cartoon anatomyI’m no expert on human anatomy, but I’m pretty sure Charlie Brown’s neck wouldn’t support his head. He’s always seemed a bit… top-heavy.

The same is true for Mabel Pines, and her neck isn’t the only problem—I’m pretty sure those legs wouldn’t carry her weight. Speaking of which, I consider it a miracle that Doctor Eggman can stand at all. His slender needle-legs wouldn’t hold up his mustache, let alone his, um, bulbous physique.

Yes, I’m overthinking things. Cartoons aren’t supposed to be realistic. Character designs are highly stylized. I get that, and I like cartoony proportions. (Would Snoopy from Peanuts be one-half as adorable with a proportionately-sized head? I didn’t think so.) All the same, I find myself occasionally scrutinizing cartoon characters and wondering which bones would be the first to break.

Consider the following image of Charlie Brown, courtesy of Michael Paulus.

Charlie Brown's skeletonFor someone frequently addressed as “blockhead,” Charlie Brown’s gargantuan dome is quite spherical. No way on God’s green earth would a few spindly vertebra hold up a skull like that.

I suppose cartoon anatomy joins the ability to pull stuff from nowhere as one of animation’s greatest mysteries.

 

298. TMTF’s Top Ten Cartoons You Should Watch

I spend more time watching cartoons than any grown man should. Needless to say, I regret nothing.

The fact is that cartoons can be innocent, bright, smart, and funny. While the media is often jaded or cynical, cartoons are pleasant, and unapologetic about it. I appreciate them.

That said, some cartoons are much better than others. Today we’re listing ten of the best, because making top ten lists is what we do.

This is a list for Western animation. Anime (Japanese animation) is in a category by itself and deserves a list of its own. Someday, perhaps!

Discerning readers may notice that nearly all of the shows on this list are pretty recent, airing within the past decade or so. This is because I avoided cartoons until a few years ago. Growing up in Ecuador, I watched only the few shows my family had on tape. I mostly rejected cartoons in middle and high school, dismissing them as “too childish,” and only rediscovered them as an adult. (The irony has not escaped me.) Most of the cartoons I’ve watched are recent ones, which is why this list lacks any really old classics.

Let’s take a look, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Cartoons You Should Watch!

10. The Powerpuff Girls

The Powerpuff Girls

When an absent-minded scientist blends “suger, spice, and everything nice” to create perfect little girls, he spills an untested chemical into the mixture and produces the Powerpuff Girls: a trio of young superheroines who protect the innocent, defend their city from all evil, and attend kindergarten every weekday.

The show pokes fun at superheroes, monster movies, campy science fiction, and pop culture in general. Its playful tone and subversive humor are a blast. The Powerpuff Girls is full of charming little touches, from its hilariously incompetent mayor to the fact its greatest villain is a chimpanzee with an exaggerated Japanese accent.

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Beneath New York City, in some dark, forgotten sewer tunnel, dwell four fearless fighters. They emerge at night to patrol the streets and protect the innocent. So what if these heroes happen to be turtles?

Nickelodeon’s recent take on the Turtles is refreshingly lighthearted and self-aware. It mixes the whiz-bang style of comic books with the stylish action of old kung fu films, holding it all together with some really good writing. The show never takes itself or its story very seriously… but then its protagonists are nerdy mutant turtles, so that may not be such a bad thing.

8. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

In Crystal Cove, a touristy town that proclaims itself the “Most Hauntedest Place on Earth,” four teenagers and their dog solve mysteries. These kids, who call themselves Mystery Incorporated, debunk the town’s “supernatural” phenomena as the tricks of frauds and criminals… much to the chagrin of Crystal Cove’s mayor, who wants the town to keep its spooky reputation. When Mystery Inc. is contacted by someone called Mr. E, they find themselves caught up in a bigger mystery than they can imagine.

I saw one or two older Scooby-Doo cartoons as a kid, and they were kind of terrible. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated astonished me with its excellence. It has character development, a story arc that stretches across the entire series, and an entire episode spoofing the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Best of all, Fred Jones—who was a bland stereotype in every version of Scooby-Doo up to this point—is reimagined as someone cheerful, well-meaning, slightly neurotic, and endearingly inept. I honestly don’t think Scooby-Doo will ever manage to be any better than this show.

7. The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra

In a world divided among four nations, a messianic figure called the Avatar arises in each new generation to maintain peace and balance. Each nation represents a classical element—water, earth, fire, or air—and certain people can control or “bend” one of these elements. The Avatar is the only person who can bend all four. This time around, the Avatar is a short-tempered young woman named Korra. She must master her abilities and navigate the political complexities of her world to keep things from falling part.

I’m bending the rules with this one. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) The Legend of Korra is neither Western animation nor anime, but something in between. Its characters are nuanced and compelling. The action scenes are wonderful, and the animation is some of the best on television. Best of all, the world of The Legend of Korra is a magical mix of Asian culture, steampunk technology, and beautiful scenery. Korra would be much higher on this list, but it never quite achieves its full potential, and an even better show steals its lofty place… but more on that later!

6. Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack

When a young samurai from feudal Japan is flung by a demon into a post-apocalyptic future, he sets off on a surreal journey to return to his own time. The samurai’s travels take him from futuristic cities to lonely jungles, and he meets everything from aliens to crazy Scotsmen. Wherever he goes, the legend spreads of a brave, kind, noble warrior: the samurai known only as “Jack.”

This show is probably the most artsy on this list, and also the most cartoony. It brings together the zany humor of The Powerpuff Girls with elegant action scenes and measured pacing. Samurai Jack uses dialogue sparingly; sometimes whole minutes go by without anyone speaking. The visuals tell the story. The show is strange, stylish, and thoroughly enjoyable.

5. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic

In a fairy-tale world populated by candy-colored ponies, a bookish unicorn named Twilight is sent to a small town to “make some friends.” After settling in and meeting the town’s eccentric residents, Twilight begins to understand the importance of friendship. She and her friends live, learn, and occasionally save the world together.

This is a show for little girls, and it’s kind of awesome. (Its fans are also pretty neat.) It has all the sentimental, sappy, twee nonsense one would expect from a show about magical rainbow ponies. It also has some great writing, solid characterization, strong moral values, upbeat humor, and charming innocence. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a much, much better show than it has any right to be.

4. Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb

It’s a beautiful summer day, and stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb know exactly how to spend it: building some outlandish, impossible contraption in the backyard. Their older sister, refusing to allow such reckless behavior, tries vainly to get them in trouble with their mum. Meanwhile, in another part of town, an evil scientist tries to conquer the world—well, that might be overambitious. He’ll settle for the tri-state area. All that stands between him and its innocent residents is an elite secret agent… who happens to be Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus.

Phineas and Ferb has been around for years, and it’s still finding ways to subvert its simple formula for each episode. It’s the most self-aware show I’ve ever seen, peppered with droll dialogue, clever gags, and catchy music. Among other things, the show’s evil scientist, the lonely and forgetful Dr. Doofenshmirtz, is probably the funniest character I’ve seen on television.

3. Dan Vs.

Dan Vs.

Dan is convinced that everything and everyone in the universe, from his neighbors to modern art, is out to get him. He won’t take it lying down! This jobless misanthrope will go to any lengths to get back at whatever or whoever he thinks has wronged him. Chris and his wife Elise, Dan’s only friends, are often dragged along on his madcap schemes for vengeance.

Dan Vs. manages to be sharp and satirical without ever resorting to vulgarity or profanity. Dan is hilariously unhinged. I wouldn’t want him as a friend, but from a safe distance his schemes are great fun to watch. One of the show’s creators compared him to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, saying “I think of the Dan character as Calvin as a grownup, if his life had gone horribly wrong somewhere.” Dan shares Calvin’s paranoia, intelligence, ill temper, and absolute lack of common sense. Dan Vs. is smart, biting, and a joy to watch.

2. Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls

Mabel and Dipper Pines, twelve-year-old twins, have been sent by their parents to spend the summer in Gravity Falls, Oregon. They stay with their Great Uncle (or “Grunkle”) Stan, who runs a shady tourist attraction called the Mystery Shack. Although Dipper is disappointed to be stuck in a small town, he soon finds a journal detailing the supernatural monsters and mysteries of Gravity Falls. As Mabel and Dipper begin unraveling the riddles of this sleepy little town, Grunkle Stan, a gruff skeptic and shameless shyster, does his best to swindle the tourists who visit the Mystery Shack.

Gravity Falls has been called “gently twisted,” and I think that’s a good description. The show is equal parts funny, intriguing, heartwarming, outrageous, and weird. I would call it just a good comedy, except that it’s also packed with riddles and ciphers for fans to solve, and held together by a really compelling mystery. I’m not sure what exactly is going on in Gravity Falls, but I can’t wait to find out.

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar - The Last Airbender

Before The Legend of Korra, there was an Avatar named Aang. When one of the four nations, the Fire Nation, wars against the others, Aang and his friends must stop it and restore peace before the world burns.

It takes a few episodes to hit its stride, but once it does this show never falters. This not-quite-anime predecessor to The Legend of Korra creates a world as beautiful and fully realized as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and populates that world with a ridiculous number of memorable characters. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t merely a kid’s cartoon. It transcends its medium to become as deep and gripping a story as any I’ve seen… while never losing the gleams of humor and silliness that made it fun in the first place.

O people of the Internet, what cartoons have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

The Ability to Pull Stuff from Nowhere

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. As you watch a movie or play a video game, a character pulls out something from nowhere. Bugs Bunny and Wakko Warner reach behind their backs and bring out anvils or sledgehammers. Solid Snake and Link produce an endless assortment of gear and weapons from thin air. As Link demonstrates in the clever picture above, actually carrying around all that stuff is a physical impossibility.

The ability to pull stuff from nowhere is sometimes called the back pocket, a wry suggestion that the things characters pull from behind their backs were in their pants pockets the whole time. (This concept is particularly amusing in the case of characters that don’t wear pants.) In anime, the concept is called hammerspace. A comedic trope in Japanese animation is for characters to express anger by hitting something (or someone) with a large hammer produced from nowhere, making hammerspace the hypothetical place where all those hammers are kept.

The back pocket concept is usually played for comic effect in animation. Pinkie Pie, an exuberant character from a surprisingly awesome show about ponies, produces a wide assortment of items (including freaking cannons) from nowhere. Other characters know better than to question Pinkie’s defiance of physics.

In fact, when back pockets are used in any show or film, no one ever seems surprised.

In video games, back pockets are utilitarian rather than comedic in nature. The fact of the matter is that Link from the Legend of Zelda games needs his gear—all of it. Limiting his inventory would be a hindrance to the player, who would have to backtrack every time she needed something Link didn’t happen to be carrying at the moment. Constantly retrieving items, or plodding slowly under their weight, would be horribly annoying.

Thus Link carts around enormous shields and heavy explosives and iron-shod boots without any trouble. (Humorously enough, the iron boots only weigh down Link when he’s actually wearing them.) Solid Snake somehow sneaks through enemy territory burdened with cardboard boxes, sensor equipment and an entire arsenal of weapons (including massive rocket launchers). Every Final Fantasy character carries up to ninety-nine of every kind of weapon, armor and potion.

Where is all that stuff kept? Where does it come from?

Some questions, dear reader, are simply beyond answering.

The Appalling Scandal of a Cross-Eyed Pony

Derpy Hooves

Offensive?

I work in a group home for gentlemen with mental and physical disabilities. I am also a fan of a pleasant, cheerful cartoon called My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Mental disabilities and rainbow ponies are hardly subjects I expected to overlap, and I was right. They didn’t overlap.

They collided.

These subjects crashed together in a train wreck of censure and indignation, a firestorm ignited by a few innocent words from a cross-eyed pony. This strange controversy set me thinking generally about scandal, censorship and the absolute impossibility of pleasing everybody.

In an early episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a character in the background—an unassuming gray mare nearly lost in a crowd of brighter ponies—had unfocused eyes. Her derpy expression was a mistake, which the supervising director thought was funny and kept in the episode.

Well, the show’s fan base, which is equal parts ridiculous and awesome, immediately fell in love with this mysterious, cross-eyed stranger, whom they christened Derpy Hooves.

Derpy and the Monkeys

Derpy even made an appearance on this blog! Her visit was… memorable.

The show’s creators, amused by the incredible popularity of this incidental character, began drawing her with crossed eyes as a tip of the hat to fans.

Over time, those fans developed persona for Derpy. This mute background pony became a bumbling, cheerful, well-intentioned mail carrier with a passion for muffins. Derpy became a mascot for fans of the show. Without them, Derpy Hooves would not have existed. The cross-eyed gray mare would have been just another silent, cardboard-cutout character in the background.

Then—wonder of wonders!—Derpy Hooves spoke.

Derpy was given a minute or two of screen time and some dialogue alongside a major character, who very clearly addressed her as “Derpy.” In this brief scene, everyone’s favorite background pony was established to be friendly and klutzy and eager to help. “I just don’t know what went wrong,” she admitted sheepishly, having nearly demolished town hall in her attempts to be useful.

Fans were wild with excitement. This was their character. Derpy had a voice!

Then, shortly after the episode’s release, the scene was changed—censored, according to some fans. Derpy’s voice was less… well… derpy. Her eyes were not so acutely crossed, and her name was no longer mentioned.

The scene was altered due to complaints that the character and her name were offensive to persons with disabilities.

A few fans commended the show’s creators for their sensitivity. Many responded with indignation, and several went out of their way to insult the people who submitted complaints. Some claimed the “censorship” of Derpy Hooves was a slap in the face to fans: a misguided attempt to “fix” the quirks of a character beloved for her quirkiness.

In the end, the show’s creators kept the alterations to the scene. The controversy faded away. Derpy has stayed out of the spotlight, resuming her modest appearances in the background and retaining her immense popularity among fans.

Looking back at that strange, messy incident, I can only echo Ms. Hooves and admit sadly, “I just don’t know what went wrong.”

Personally, I wish the scene had not been altered. Even if Derpy were interpreted as a pony with disabilities, she was cheerful and kind. She wanted to help, and other characters obviously respected her enough to let her try.

At the same time, I think the show’s creators did the right thing by altering the scene. It was edited, not censored, to show respect for a group of people who are often disrespected.

The whole business reminds me that some controversies have no easy answer, and many concern things infinitely more important than rainbow ponies. How do we settle political differences? What about conflicts within churches? If so much strife can be provoked by a silly cartoon, how do we resolve really significant controversies?