1994: Tiny Toons - Night Ghoulery

nightghoulery1"It was said that Daniel Webfoot was such a great speaker that he could win a case against the devil himself. Me? I'll take my chances with Jacoby and Meyer." - Babs Bunny in the intro to "The Devil and Daniel Webfoot" segment.
Something happened to TV animation in the early 1990s - maybe it was the success of The Simpsons or the Disney renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid, but studios suddenly seemed to realize that cartoons could be smart, funny, and of higher quality than most of them were in the '80s.  Suddenly, cartoons were awash with more sophisticated humor, meta-references, jokes about network executives, and parodies of books and movies that the writers knew full well that kids wouldn't get. It's as though the writers had been set loose to do as they wished after years of working under Draconian constraints of network execs telling them to dumb it down (believe me, most people in high places in the entertainment biz REALLY don't think kids deserve much credit).

In fact, that's pretty much exactly had had happened. While there were plenty of quality cartoons before 1990, quality was not the order of the day. Writer Paul Dini makes no apologies; when asked what he says to people who claim He-Man, on which he was a writer, was a half hour toy commercial, he simply says "He-man WAS a half hour toy commercial. Selling the product was the sole reason…though occasionally we could slip in a good story."

Some years after He-Man, Dini was one of the main writers on Tiny Toon Adventures, a series that, to me, seemed to have been sent down from the comedy gods. This was FAR more intelligent humor than we'd been getting in most of our after-school cartoons. Looking back on it today, though, it hasn't aged nearly as well as Animaniacs, its successor. By comparison, Tiny Toons seems like Warners Brothers (which hadn't run an animation studio at all for a decade when the show launched) is dipping its toe in the pool into which it would jump headlong for Animaniacs, just to test the waters. I don't watch old episodes today and sit in awe, like I often do with Animaniacs. That said, I still find myself quoting Plucky Duck all the time - like, every time I get on a "elelator." Or when something underwhelming happens and I can't resist saying "Oh rapture! Oh pure joy! Oh for the love of Norman Rockwell and the Lettermen!" (as Plucky does in the wonderful How I Spent My Summer Vacation, which holds up MUCH better than many of the episodes).

Anyway, production on Tiny Toons ended in 1992 to allow the studio to focus on Animaniacs, but the show stayed on the air in re-runs, and in October 1994, a new Halloween special, Night Ghoulery, was aired in two parts, featuring several short vignettes, including "The Tell-Tale Vacuum," "The Devil and Daniel Webfoot," and a Hound of the Baskervilles parody. Some of them are more successful than others, but this is a high-quality special, with great, stylish animation, a specially-rewritten theme song, and sharp writing. It was eventually released on VHS, but there's no DVD release.

I don't remember seeing the special at all in the 1990s, but watching it now it seems much better than most of the other Tiny Toons episodes I've rewatched in recent years (which, again, aren't BAD, they just haven't aged quite as well as I might have thought they would, especially compared to Animaniacs.). By the time this special went into production, the writers would have been working on Animaniacs for some time. Maybe a bit of the spirit carried over?  I particularly enjoyed "Devil and Daniel Webfoot" and "Night of the Living Dull," as well as Babs Bunny's introductions to each clip, while the Elmyra segment wasn't any more watchable to me than any other Elmira segment ever was (though the cameo by The Brain was a nice touch). I know Elmira is SUPPOSED to be annoying, but man, her segments are always grating. And the "Elmiras Round the World" song WILL get stuck in your head. Seek out old episodes of this program at your own risk!

No DVD release is planned, but there's always youtube:

Part 3 opens with "Devil and Daniel Webfoot."


Krepta said...

Did you ever see the Ren & Stimpy episode "Haunted House"? That was reworked from a scripted storyboard originally submitted as a Tiny Toons story, with Plucky and Hamton in the Ren & Stimpy roles. In the original version, they're trying to earn Pig Scout merit badges for staying overnight in a spooky place. The Ren & Stimpy version is much more direct: "Look, Ren! This looks like a great place to kill twelve minutes!"

Adam Selzer said...

Is that the one where the kill the ghost and he turns alive? I remember that! I'm not up on the particulars offhand, but it seems to me that the guy behind Ren and Stimpy is on the record is really hating Tiny Toons! I can imagine him having fun going through a script and changing things around...

C-Man said...

Daniel Webster Or Webfoot


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