Though I thought I was going to be able to knock out the Cartoon Commentary! columns with the 31 days of Halloween with no problem, it looks like I was basing that assumption on the idea that there were about four more hours in the day than there really are. So for the next couple of weeks there frequency might be off a little. I did manage to knock out a lot of the legwork on the next week’s (or two) worth of Halloween posts so I might be able to get to two of these CC! columns a week, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a little deeper into the series and a lot of the conventions that had been bothering me (loud color scheme, wacky pacing, insane amount action going on all the time) are becoming a little easier to swallow, or if my mind has finally been able to shift gears from a show like Dungeons and Dragons to this one, but I’m starting to enjoy the experience a little more. There are still a few aspects that I don’t love, but the show certainly has it’s place in 80s cartoon history. Today’s episode, titled The Beef Who Would be King, is chronologically (I believe) supposed to come after last week’s Pizza’s Honor airing on September 27th, 1986, though it’s listed as the second episode on the DVD release (which lists the cartoons in production order.) The episode was penned by the script-writing duo of David Wiemers and Ken Koonce who worked together on a few 80s cartoons including Muppet Babies, DuckTales and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

This episode basically revolves around the rivalry between Beef Bonk and Doyle as a diplomatic committee from the planet Cholesterol comes to Galaxy High looking for a new king. Their interest in Beef makes Doyle and his friends a little jealous, so the two decide to put the kingship on the line in a winner takes all race…

The episode starts off with an answer to a question I had about the concept of exchange students in space, which is, where are Aimee and Doyle staying? Typically in the exchange student comedy situation there is a wacky fish out of water scenario involving the student shacking up with a family that is the polar opposite of them (ala Long Dock Dong from Sixteen Candles or Monique from Better Off Dead), but in this cartoon the producers and writers decided instead on a college dorm type of situation. The dorms are connected via a woosher pneumatic tube to the high school just like Luigi’s Pizzeria and the galleria are.

What’s kind of interesting about this opening scene is that the writers do a decent job of working in the concept of gravity in space (or a lack there of) with the gag of having had Beef put an anti-gravity pill in Doyle’s breakfast. A little later on in the episode though, this is all thrown out the window with a different gag that makes it seem like there is gravity in space, which is kind of weird.

There’s a small continuity error in the next segment involving Beef’s woosher patrol sash/belt, which disappears on the monitor screen when the Cholesterolians are spying on him and Doyle.

Though this is a little error, it’s interesting to note that this points to a choice that directors and animators face when using the picture within a picture gag in cartoons. Basically it raises the question of whether or not to simply reuse the existing animation, though shrunk down and cut to fit the screen in the new sequence, or to re-draw and paint the scene taking place on the screen with the reset of the animation in this sequence. You also see this in comic books when panels are repeated for effect with either slightly different art or different speech bubbles, and it’s up to the artist as to whether they re-draw the same panel over and over again, or to photocopy it (or digitally copy them nowadays.) The sash/belt error came about because the director had the animators re-draw the scenes in the monitors instead of recycling the previous animation. What’s also kind of interesting is that neither choice is easier or safe, and both pose possible continuity errors. For instance, in the opening sequences of Transformers the movie, Laserbeak is spying on the Autobots on their moon base orbiting Cybertron. Laserbeak then returns to Megatron and plays back his video, which director Nelson Shin decided to show by recycling the animation from the opening on a monitor. Because of this, and because there were many dynamic p.o.v.’s in those scenes, the whole effect is thrown off a bit because it would have been impossible for Laserbeak to get the shots that are displaying on the monitor (at least without finding a way into the room he was video taping.)

This is a little long winded, but it goes to show that there is a lot of thought and artistry that goes into all aspects of animation, comics and filmmaking that get overlooked by the audience a lot.

On a lighter note, I though the character design work on the Cholesterolians was fun (and sufficiently bulbous and soft for their eating habits), though it reminded me a lot of the Michelin Man (who apparently has a name, Bibendum)…

Though I’ve complained in the past about how busy the backgrounds are in this show (what with the myriad of aliens cramming every scene), I’m really starting to get to like the ‘Where’s Waldo’ aspect to freezing the action and looking through all the different characters. Some of the designs are just sort of weird shapes or almost Seussian aliens, but then again a lot are also anthropomorphic Earthy items. For instance in the three screen shots below we have a hamburger alien, a ‘peas in a pod’ alien, a walking cigarette lighter (that’s an odd one for a cartoon, not to mention a missed opportunity visually), and, well, Mr. Penis man (again.) When, oh when, will the penis gags stop on this show. Heck, by this point I’m almost coming to expect it, like the Dragons in the D&D cartoon.

Another odd subject that’s broached in this episode (for a comedy series that is) is the death of a student. I realize that by pointing this out I’m sort of upping the drama of the situation as it really was meant to be a one-off gag, but it’s still a little weird. Doyle, having just come back from the garbage bin where Beef had wooshed him off to, is supposed to be dirty and smelly as he’s walking down the hall. It’s so bad he’s attracting flies, one of which he takes a moment to smash, only to find out that it wasn’t just a fly, but a student, Harold Horsefly.

Granted, it’s just a cartoon, but I thought it was a little weird, maybe even a little inappropriate, to illustrate Doyle’s problems with integrating into the school by having him mistakenly kill another student, no matter how silly it is. I don’t know. Death is such an odd subject to broach in cartoons..

One thing I noticed that I really respected is that the show had been thought out past the gags they incorporate into it. For instance, the weird notion that everything is alive, like the ships and chalkboards and stuff.  Well we haven’t seen the chalkboard in action since the first episode, yet in the background paintings of the classrooms the board is depicted with robot arms and stuff. I think that this would be an easy detail to overlook, especially in a BG painting, so I’m really happy to see it here.

As far as the plot of this episode goes, I thought it was a little weird that Aimee and Doyle were jealous of the Cholesterolians choice of Beef Bonk as their new king. I guess since Doyle seems to be on his last leg as far as school is concerned, maybe Aimee thought it was a chance for him to make something out of his life, though idea of the characters wanting to leave school this early on into the show is kind of jarring. Heck, you’d think they’d want to be rid of Beef Bonk instead.

Also, the design on the alien’s ship (a sort of flying waffle with a cherry on top and fork satellite dishes) reminds me a lot of a similar design in a Garfield coloring book I had as a kid. I guess the idea of food-centric aliens isn’t a new one (Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs for instance.)

According to a Galaxy High fansite, this cartoon, like many others that made it into re-run syndication after their initial airings, was also subject to the editors knife to make room for additional commercial time. Because of this, about two minutes of footage was cut from each episode, which typically consisted of material that was considered non-essential to the plot like one-off gags. One of these gags was probably the Creep serenading Aimee from time to time in each episode. The website alludes to the fact that this joke was done multiple times in a given episode, so it would make prime material for cutting.

So, in getting back to Harold Horsefly for a second (and to illustrate how silly the whole idea is) there is a scene at the start of the big race in which Coach Frogface eats a fly as he’s announcing the race. Beef even made a joke about Frogface eating Harold earlier when Ms. Mcbrain called on him during roll call. Again, it’s a cartoon and just silly, but why would you, as a writer, use a common horsefly as a student to illustrate the idea that the environment is alien and that you have to respect it, and then include a gag with the coach eating a fly just minutes later? As far as morality in cartoons goes, this is very conflicting. Oh crap, now I’m starting to sound like a member of ACT or something. In my defense, I simply think it’s interesting, not something that needs to be changed. There, I feel a little better (maybe I am looking too deeply at these episodes…)

To illustrate the wacky Tex Avery quality to the show, there is a gag at the start of the race where Doyle and Beef fly though a time warp (represented by a giant clock floating in space, a gag that I think the first Starfox video game also used) and are intermittently switched from being babies to rickety old geezers as they’re driving…

Specking of moral content in this episode, I thought it was fun that the writers decided to make the morals a little ambiguous. For instance, at a point in the race when Doyle realizes that Beef is cheating, he makes a pit stop and tells Aimee that the only way he can win is if he also cheats. Aimee gives the obvious speech about cheaters never winning, and sends Doyle off with a clear head to win the race…

…which he does, reinforcing the moral lesson and all. (By the way, like Penis man, there has been a confetti-throwing scene in every episode so far. What is up with this penis-confetti obsession?)

Now to muddy up the waters a bit, we find out that the Cholesterolians actually celebrate cheating, and therefore Beef Bonk is still crowned King. I thought that this made for a nice spin on the whole idea of morality in cartoons, and it’s used a bit later to illustrate yet another moral lesson, so in the end it all works out.

Now this seems a lot like Kricfalusi design, though again, I’m not sure on what aspects of the show he worked. It just reminds me a lot of the inserted paintings in the Ren & Stimpy cartoon, not to mention the zaniness of a planet made out of bologna, eggs, head cheese and salami.

Also, we get a clearer view of the spaceship and it’s possibly waffle influenced. It’s either that or it’s supposed to be one big pie, which probably makes more sense now that I think about it…

In the vein of getting a little more mileage out of the conceptual aspects of the cartoon (like the muddied morality), I was impressed out how naturally the gag of why Beef was chosen king plays out. First off, the Cholesterolians plan on eating him. There, I’ve ruined the surprise. What I love is that in what should have been some pretty by the numbers joke writing (ala giving Beef a bath that’s actually in a stew, ala Looney Tunes), the writers (or whoever worked on the gag) instead decided to have Beef be given a ‘beef’ tenderizer shower. I don’t know, I just found that really witty and clever.

Similarly, in a segment on the planet, there is a crowd gathered to greet Beef, and there’s a gag concerning two kids spoiling their supper (their Beef Bonk supper). I thought it was a nice extra detail to have their chocolate on a stick be in the shape of Beef’s head. Again, a detail that could have easily been more ordinary and less in on the joke, so it seems a little more thought out.

Now how the candy making denizens of the planet managed to know ahead of time what Beef looked like in order to mold chocolate in his visage is beyond me…

So finally getting back to the whole gravity and morality issues, there is a scene when the students figure out why Beef was chosen as king of Cholesterol and decide to go help him. First off, this plays into the ‘doing the right thing’ lesson, even though Doyle did the right thing before and was still stomped on because of it (Beef winning the race by default because he cheated.) This moral plays out very straightforward but is made a little more powerful by Doyle overcoming his feelings about Beef, and helping him anyway. Second, we’re brought back to the idea of gravity in space as Aimee’s car conks out mid flight and it starts to fall downward (only being saved by a balloon that pops out of the trunk) instead of say drifting forward as they would in reality. Now, I get that the whole falling thing is a funny gag, but I don’t think it’s really funny for the most artistic of reasons. I think it was intended in a very straightforward manner; ship takes off, flies, conks out, and then falls. Ha ha, funny. Now think about a similar gag in say Spongebob Squarepants where it’s raining under the sea. Sure there are your normal rain jokes thrown in, but it’s all encapsulated in the irony of rain under the sea, and it’s obviously written to be that way. I’m not convinced Galaxy High was written this way, it just doesn’t feel intentionally ironic. This is of course, just my opinion…

Okay, I keep invoking his name, but this seems so Kricfalusi inspired…

The idea of milking a giant chicken (who bears a striking resemblance to Beef Bonk for anyone who didn’t think that he was chicken inspired; which also sort of makes this scene weirdly Beef Bonk inspired as his name could be considered ironic considering his appearance, and the cows and chicken here are switched as well), and having to collect the eggs from a bunch of nesting cows seems like something that would fit perfectly into the Ren & Stimpy universe.

For once I was so glad when I heard a very obvious joke in this show as the Cholesterolinas are chasing Beef and his savior Doyle and someone shouted "Where’s the Beef?" I sat through the whole episode hoping to hear that silly Wendy’s slogan from the eighties, as it seemed like it would be a crime if it weren’t used.

Now getting back to the whole idea of these American created and written cartoons being animated overseas.  There is a moment at the end when we can see that the Asian animators added one of their cultural touches to the cartoon. In a pile-up of aliens, there is a pink Cholesterolian on top who is either out-cold or sleeping from the strenuous chase, and he has what can only be described as a snot bubble coming out of his nose. This is a convention in anime and manga that is used to illustrate deep sleep or unconsciousness. Why a snot bubble you ask? Well, why do we use a series of floating Z’s or a pictogram of a log being cut by a saw to illustrate the same point?

I thought it was really cool to see something like this make it’s way into an American cartoon, and it makes me wonder how many other little instances our cultures have crossed in 80s animation.

Well, hopefully later this week, but probably not until next week I’ll get to episode four of Galaxy High, Where’s Milo.