Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CARTOON REVIEW: Fraidy Cat (1975)

(DLA's Note: My guest's comments will be in red.)

I've gone over some cartoon series in the past, and I plan to do some more in the future if I get a chance. Keep in mind, though: this can get a little off the beaten path. Today, we get to take a little trip back to the 1970's: a period in time not too removed from the sociopolitical culture of today (sans the disco music). In terms of Western animation, we are midway through the Dark Age.

For those who aren't aware, the Dark Age of Animation began when television became commonplace. By that time, people began thinking "Animation could work in this new medium! It's real expensive, though. Is there a way we can lower the costs so we can produce more stuff?" Thus people were subjected to the trainwreck that was Syncro-Vox, pencil tests that were passed off as finalized shorts, monotonous exercise programs, and even educational shorts where movement was next to non-existent! By the Seventies, most of the bizarre experimentation ceased... and everything became an ocean of Scooby-Doo clones. TV animation wouldn't rebound until the 80's-90's Transitional Period with the advent of shows like Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toon Adventures, Duck Tales, and Animaniacs.

One of the main studios of this era was Filmation. But I won't tell you its history myself, I have a friend with me, who has agreed to give his insights for this entry: maniacaldude. Take it away, man.

Geez, it's like Seth Green's fever dream!
Ah, Filmation. Just the mention of this name can send animation fans into a rage. Founded in 1963 by the recently-departed Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott, they, along with Hanna-Barbera, were the dominators of the American Saturday morning cartoon line-up during the Dark Age of the 60's, 70's, and 80's. To say these guys were low-budget was an understatement. While they didn’t outsource jobs to overseas animation studios, they did rely on cost-cutting techniques like limited animation, re-used footage, and an overall shoddy workload. Some of the creations from this company included The Archie Show, Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids, The Ghostbusters (no, not the 1984 comedy of the same name), Sabrina And The Groovie Goolies, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Blackstar, and -- most notably -- He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, one of the more noteworthy “30-minute toy commercials” that TV cartoons at the time were dubbed. However, in 1987, the L’Oreal Corporation bought and shut down the animation sweatshop, possibly for tax purposes. Their last two major works were unofficial sequels to Disney films, specifically Pinocchio And The Emperor Of The Night for (obviously) Pinocchio, and Happily Ever After for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, the latter of which was released six years after the studio bit the dust. They were both misfires, but ambitious misfires, to say the least. Lou Scheimer made attempts to restart the studio, but to no avail. As of now, Filmation’s library is currently owned by Dreamworks.

So basically... it was the poor man's Hanna-Barbera?

Yeah. To say the least.

Thanks, but here's something the readers probably didn't guess. Remember when Cartoon Network flooded its time-slots with live-action shows near the end of the last decade?

Oh GOD, don’t remind me about THAT wretched period.


Would you believe me if I said Filmation did it first?

Really?


Ghostbusters '75: starring Agarn and O'Rourke.



Didn’t this come out BEFORE the cartoon?

Yes. And nine before the movie that Bill Murray and company starred in.

So?

Here's the thing: during this stint with live-action, they tried their hands at a kiddie variety show called Uncle Croc's Block, starring Charles Nelson Reilly (who won the Tour de France with two flat tires and a missing chain) and Johnathan "Dr. Smith" Harris. In addition to ludicrous special guests like the $6.95 Man (if you don't know what he's spoofing, go out and get some culture), there were also animated shorts:


We have Wacky and Packy, where a caveman and his mammoth buddy somehow wind up in the present 1975. Not much to say.



There was also M*U*S*H. It was M*A*S*H... with dogs... and they're in some fictional northern country as opposed to Korea. Good luck finding clips of this one!

You'll need it.


Finally, there was today's topic: Fraidy Cat. It also happens to be the best-preserved UCB cartoon.

Fraidy Cat is about a homeless cat who is on his last life and anytime he says any number between one and eight (or a homophone to any of those numbers, like "too" or "won"), the ghost of a previous life appears to screw with him; if he says "nine", a nine will appear and chase him with lightning. All he wants is to avoid death, but keeps running into trouble (trouble occasionally caused by the ghosts).

The 70's were a weird friggin’ time, weren’t they?



Let's go over the cast:


CENTER:  Fraidy, Life 9. Ghost victim.
FIRST ROW, LEFT: Kitty Wizard, Life 2. Exactly what it says on the tin.
FIRST ROW, MIDDLE: Billy the Kit, Life 5. Pint-sized cowboy.
FIRST ROW. RIGHT: Capt. Eddie Cattenbakker, Life 7. A ditzy pilot.
SECOND ROW, LEFT: Jasper Caydaver, Life 6. A mortician obsessed with Fraidy getting killed.
SECOND ROW, RIGHT: Elefunt, Life 1. A prehistoric cat with a pet apatosaurus.
THIRD ROW, LEFT: Captain Kitt, Life 3. A pirate.
THIRD ROW, MIDDLE: Hep Cat, Life 8. A gambler.
THIRD ROW, RIGHT: Sir Walter Cat, Life 4. Shakespeare according to the 2,000-year-old Man.

The concept itself isn't that bad, but when you think about the premise, it just raises questions.
How did Fraidy get the ability to summon the ghosts of his earlier lives? Did he cough a hairball into a gypsy woman's face and get cursed by her?

Think of how hard it would be to order a meal from a restaurant or to give somebody directions! Providing a phone number orally would be out of the question, so Heaven help him if there were no paper or pens around!


Did his past lives have that same problem? I can only imagine:



1681. The pirate ship Lolly is sailing across the Gulf of Mexico, due east.

CAPTAIN KITT: "Argg! Things 'ave been slow in these waters!"
LOOKOUT: "Cap'n! I've spotted a ship off the port stern!"
CAPTAIN KITT: "Aha! Boys, hoist false colors and turn the ship around! Time for a little fun!"
CREW: "Aye-aye, sir!"
CAPTAIN KITT: "Haha. Not a one of them limey swabs will know what hit 'em!

A loud rumble is heard from above. A large, ghostly Arabic numeral one materializes in the air above the masts.

CAPTAIN KITT: "Oh, blimey. I said 'one'."

Captain Kitt's crew watches, helplessly, as the number morphs into an apatosaurus and falls toward the deck inexorably. For some reason, the apparition is solid -- it smashes through the deck and penetrates the keel. 

The good ship Lolly popped. There were no survivors.



You might be wondering how in this scenario that the ghost of a dinosaur can sink a pirate ship. In this cartoon, the ghosts can interact with tangible objects.

As for the show itself, as per Filmation's tradition, the crew cut every corner they could. Close-ups of characters when they're talking, recycled animation (like Fraidy running away), and just plain not showing characters moving. I'll give you three examples, all broken down by movement:


video

But to truly have the Fraidy Cat experience, we'll have to show you an episode in context:


EXHIBIT: "Choo Choo"

video

0:22 - 0:28 

Fraidy takes a nap... at a train yard.

If this is his idea of peace and quiet, I’d hate to think about what he’d consider noise and agitation.

0:30

"Fraidy Cat was not filmed in front of a live studio audience... but we like to pretend it was, so here's a laugh track!"

1:00 - 1:05 

Please tell me that WASN’T the source for that “million acre cat-box” line from An American Tail: Fievel Goes West...

1:17

Richard Haydn?

Nope. Lennie Weinrib. Only two men did the voices; the other was Alan "Skeletor" Oppenheimer.

H.R. Pufnstuf and Falkor? Seriously?

Mm-hmm.

1:22 - 1:40

Are all the past lives this dickish?

Life 6 is aroused by the thought of Fraidy as mangled corpse. But we'll get to the others when he says their numbers.

1:50

Hairstylist: Carrot Top!

2:20 -2:25

SUBTLE!

2:31 - 2:35

I never thought I’d live to see a coyote making a buzzard fall in the most questionable way possible...

2:39 - 2:40

Whoa! He floated up to Fraidy! Either that or he's on a dolly.

Wait, did he say his name was "Smiley Coyote"? Are we going to spoof Chuck Jones' cartoons?

2:48 - 2:58

..well, if you can call it a spoof.

3:00

Did you know that this desert is made of plywood?

3:08

You missed a whole pond directly ahead of you?

3:17 - 3:35

Why would a ghost need water if it's dead?

So the only purpose for these eight lives is to make Fraidy’s life a living hell, I guess. Screw them all.

Well, this one at least is trying to make amends by making rain clouds. I'll give him a pass for now.

3:39 - 3:45

Um... why did the cacti move? We never had any indication that they could.

I know that back in the experimental days of the Twenties and Thirties, inanimate objects randomly sprung to life all the time. By this time, you need to establish rules and such (like Looney Tunes ammunition only being able to blacken and distort your face rather than kill). It's...

*Imitates my mind exploding*

4:11

*Gasp* The White Paw of Saruman!

Did no one notice this mistake before it was put on the air? They really didn’t care, did they?

Yeah, that mindset pretty much isn't limited to modern times.

5:05

Aaaaand the cougar runs away offscreen!


5:31

So Fraidy's been arrested by Life 5 and sent to the circus. I wonder how the conversation went when he was handed over. 

BILLY THE KIT: "I'm this low-down sidewinder's fifth life. I died years ago and I want to turn 'im in for gopher rustlin'!"
CIRCUS WORKER: "Oh, okay. Put him in that empty cage. Want some funnel cake?"

5:55


WHERE DID THAT LION COME FROM!? Continuity, people! Look into it!


6:05 - End


The bars were made of rubber all along. Fraidy runs off into the desert again; he doesn't shrink into the distance or anything. He runs from screen left to screen right. Better than just saying "I'm outta here!" during the close-up on the magic circus lion. THE END!


And that was our sample episode; for me, it felt like a rough draft turned in at 8:15 in the morning after the writer spent an hour the previous night winging it. Any final thoughts on Fraidy Cat?

Hmm... Pretty damn crappy. Below mediocre animation, bizarre premise, stupid stories, and an overall sense of “What-The-Hell?”


Some people say TV these days are an insult to our intelligence. This nearly-forty-year-old lump of coal wouldn't feel out of place.

The concept, again, wasn't bad; the execution, though, is bottom of the barrel. All and all, this comes off as a pretty depressing cartoon. You have a traumatized cat constantly terrorized by the ghosts of his earlier lives and they torment him whenever he says a single-digit number. If he died, what would the ghosts do? Strike up cigars and say "Job well done!"?


Uncle Croc's Block only lasted half a season before finally went under from poor ratings that caused then-ABC president Fred Silverman to sever all ties to Filmation. 
With the end of the show, I'd like to think that Fraidy eventually met up with these guys to solve his little past lives problem.

To this day, the episodes never saw a DVD release of their own. They've just been packaged with compilations of other obscure cartoons. Kinda fitting. I want to thank maniacaldude for giving his insight into this relic of the Seventies. Thank you.

No prob.

We haven't seen the last of stuff from this period and I will engage Filmation again in the future. But until then...


I'm DLAbaoaqu. Full-on!



Fraidy Cat, Wacky & Packy, Ghostbusters '75, Uncle Croc's Block, and M*U*S*H are owned by Dreamworks.
"2,000 Year Old Man" by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

4 comments:

  1. @KaylaAmri here. Your blog post is really interesting and I enjoyed reading.

    Fraidy Cat (1975) is a very strange cartoon. The idea was not bad (and pretty dang bold for that time), but the execution was piss-poor and it left a lot holes. I've been researching this cartoon since I first heard about it in 2010. Even I cringed a little bit. With the effort that was put into other cartoons of the same decade, I was actually disappointed with how this turned out. My other gripe about the show is how flat the ghosts were. They were supposed to have "personalities." Elefunt (number 1) and Kitty Wizard (number 2) showed up constantly! And yet, Jasper (number six) and Sir Walter (number 4) seldom showed up --- and those two were definitely interesting!

    Especially Sir Walter.

    In the episode, "Lollipop Burglar" (STUPID name for an episode!), Fraidy was looking for food -- again -- when he found some bad-tasting lollipops. A cop in the form of a horse -- I forgot his name -- wanted to arrest him. Fraidy runs for most of the episode and at one point he says "four" when he's stuck in a tree. When the horse-cop showed found them (mind you, they didn't show the two getting down from the tree), he said words and ended with "and like that." Sir Walter defended Fraidy, calling him a "close friend" of his.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HQbqrbtXXg <--- Episode here.

    My question: Are the ghosts not related?
    With reincarnations, lives are not related ... usually. Say, when a cat gets injured (aka loses a life out of nine), this would mean the cat would be completely unlike its previous life. That would make sense to me --- especially with the span from prehistoric to modern day. Relation to Fraidy would not even matter. It's cartoons.

    If Fraidy Cat were to reboot, I'd like to see how and why the ghosts are the way they are with Fraidy --- BESIDES just to kill him. Unless they were being ordered around by nine (whom we seldom saw), there'd be little reason. The ghosts also seemed to help Fraidy with whatever flaws they had. Maybe --- just MAYBE --- the show would have been better as an action cartoon than a satirical, depressing children's spot.

    If Fraidy Cat was rebooted into today's cartoons, what would you want to see out of it? Fighting? Storylines relating to the ghosts? Fraidy being possessed? Those are just some of my ideas, though,

    I mentioned my Twitter at the top. You can find my posts (and some Fraidy Cat fan/concept works I've done) there.
    I'll be happy to hear from you, soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kayla. I appreciate it when people actually take the time to read what I have to say about this stuff.

      I almost used "Lollipop Burglar" as the episode to break down in this review, but decided against it. I distinctly recall Not-Kojak (the horse) magically turning on the lights in the stable on and reusing the same running silhouette at least five or six times in the short.

      In terms of the ghosts, most of them (excluding Life 6, who was pretty much a pompous jerkweed) were pretty much the same buffoons; the only difference being era and number.

      If there were a reboot, I would like to see three things above all else:

      1) Fraidy not getting the short end of the stick all the time.
      2) Some more diversity in terms of the ghosts' personalities.
      3) Better writing and continuity. Filmation seemed to have tried its hand at dark comedy here, but forgot the "comedy" part.

      Those are just my suggestions.


      If you like this blog, please follow. I have more stuff coming ahead.


      PS: Saw some of your work on DeviantArt, but didn't realize it was you

      Delete
  2. If this wasn't the bottom of the barrel, I wouldn't want to know what is.

    Reboot : 13 eps in which Fraidy's goal is to gain insights that banish each of the ghosts. After Nine vanishes, he says "Guess I've Got Zero Problems Now!", and then the sky darkens as he faces whatever Zero Life is. After, Fraidy becomes a guardian cat spirit to cats who are on that last life.

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  3. And let me just say, after reading Fraidy Cat (and seeing clips), this looks like something Raymond Gallant should've inducted for the Tooncrap Hall of Shame.

    ReplyDelete