1991: Claymation Comedy of Horrors

(newly rewritten for 2012)

Of all the people you've probably never heard of, Will Vinton may have had the biggest impact on your childhood if you grew up in the 1980s. Vinton is the guy who coined the phrase "Claymation," and was the man behind The Noid and the California Raisins. His Claymation Christmas special from 1987 is still fondly remembered.

In 1991, he followed it up with Claymation Comedy of Horrors, a thirty-minute piece starring Wilshire Pig and Sheldon Snail, a couple of original creations the studio developed (perhaps in order to launch a multi-media property of their own to go with their successful avertising characters). Wilshire was conceived as a a gruff, hustling pig not unlike a swine version of Rotten, the trashy guy from Witch's Night Out.  In this special, he and Sheldon find a map to Dr. Frankenswine's lab and spend half an hour poking around the castle, building to a climax in which a giant monster goes stomping around the countryside smashing sheep to the strains of "Climb Every Mountain." Though it was obviously conceived as a Halloween special, it was originally aired in May, 1991.

Visually, it's pretty nifty, and a couple of the jokes are pretty funny. But Wilshire Pig never quite took off as a hit character, and the special seems to have failed to work its way into my generation's psyche the way the Raisins Christmas special did. I don't get emails about this like I do for Witch's Night Out, Mr. Boogedy, or the other "hits,"  and I can't imagine anyone getting the reference if I quoted a line from it on one of my ghost tours, like I sometimes do with Garfield's Halloween Adventure. A line from that one will always get a few chuckles of recognition, at the very least.

So, where did this one go wrong? Why didn't this one become even a cult hit? The most obvious answer is that they didn't air it as much as some of the others, but that's not really accurate - the Disney channel aired it as a Halloween special throughout the 1990s. The biggest problem is the script - while there are some terrific sequences here, it suffers from a less-than-engaging plot and a general sense that they're just not getting the timing or the pacing right for the jokes to work.  Perhaps they should have followed the template of the beloved Christmas special and just done a series of Halloweenish musical numbers, but I get the idea not only that they wanted to try to get Wilshire and Sheldon off the ground, and that they wanted to use some ideas they'd been sitting on; on the Will Vinton web page there's some animation art for an aborted Frankenswine project that was in development from 1979-82. Well do I know the feeling of wanting to get some of the good ideas from late, lamented aborted projects worked into new projects when the chance comes up.

This gets removed from youtube when it's posted, prompting the usual whining from people who think that putting up an "I don't own this note" should somehow trump copyright protection (I'm always amazed at how many people think I should be fighting the evil studios for the right to put up free download links to the cartoons they make). It's available on DVD in a collection with the Christmas and easter specials. The glowing reviews on amazon almost universally cover only the Christmas entry.


Unknown said...

Own it! Love it! Kids watch it all year long! Amazing Halloween Special!!!

C-Man said...

Poor Wilshire

tymime said...

At last I've found this! This is one of those extremely dim memories from childhood, and I've been wondering what the heck it was for many, many years. You know what I mean?
I remember seeing it at elementary school. For some reason I only remember the ending, and no dialogue- I remember the characters being mute. I suspect the tape hadn't been rewound.
I thought I'd never figure out what it was, because it could very well have been anything... I never would've guessed it'd be something by Will Vinton.

Steven McFly Jr said...

Haha! I have the entire collection that was ever created by Will Vinton1 This is at the top of the list for me! :-)


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