Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cartoons (and other films) That Re-Set to Square One?

Just thinking aloud here: obviously most series of cartoons, and series of comedy films in general, don't have much continuity. But some film series go further and have the same characters, under the same names, who not only don't remember anything that happened in the previous instalment, but don't even remember each other -- that is, they literally meet for the first time in every film.

The Warner Brothers cartoons did this a lot, especially after the war when there were more series with more than one continuing character. In the Warner Brothers universe, every cartoon is the first time Yosemite Sam meets Bugs Bunny, the first time Sylvester sees a baby kangaroo and mistakes it for a giant mouse, the first time Pepe Le Pew sees une belle femme skunk. Sometimes Sylvester knows Tweety and Speedy already, but sometimes he doesn't. Same with Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny; there are a few cartoons that kind of imply that they've been through this before (like "Easter Yeggs" where Bugs clearly recognizes Elmer the first time he sees him), but more often they're just meeting for the first time.

I don't think other studios went quite as far in wiping the slate clean, but I seem to recall some Tom and Jerrys where they don't know each other, some Woody Woodpeckers where someone from a previous cartoon is a complete stranger to him. And in general, most cartoons would not have characters talk about meeting each other in a previous instalment or act like they have any kind of "continuing" history with each other. A possible exception would be some shorts from Disney, who wanted Mickey, Donald et al to have friends and family. Hence cartoons like "Mickey's Birthday."

Television cartoons don't do this as a rule. Maybe some of the early ones did, but usually you get two or more characters who have been together before the episode started, fighting villains who are already more or less known to them (like Boris and Natasha). Even shows where the characters can appear at any point in history will still not go as far as to show them not remembering people they've already met; it just isn't done. (Unless this is something like Mr. Burns not remembering Homer, which is different.) So Animaniacs characters could have stories that took place any time since the dawn of time, but once they met Dr. Scratchansniff, they knew him and didn't keep on meeting him in subsequent cartoons. Ren and Stimpy usually knew each other. The closest thing to an old-school cartoon device on TV is killing Kenny on South Park, and they've mostly dropped that.

So: what are some other cartoon series, or other film series, that re-set to zero like that, where not only are there no carry-overs from instalment to instalment, but the characters actually meet each other again for the first time, over and over again, for eternity? Which is kind of depressing if you think about it too much.

15 comments:

Thad said...

The Warner guys seemed to want to establish that Bugs and Daffy were always acquaintances. Same at Fleischer/Famous with Popeye, Bluto, and Olive.

All of the Famous Studios series (Casper, Baby Huey, Buzzy the Crow) seem to re-set to square one, except for Herman & Katnip. The mice always seem to lament, "That cat's/Katnip's at it again!"

Anonymous said...

For many years, Abbott and Costello seemed to have new names in each film they made. Costello was Herbie and Abbott was Slicker in "Buck Privates." Lou was Wilbur and Bud was Chick in "A&C Meet Frankenstein." But the slate was never clean, they usually played the same duo each time, except for "The Time of Their Lives," where Bud and Lou truly did not know each other -- they lived in different centuries.

Tom Ruegger

moopot said...

I always felt that Dexter's Lab sort of reset to square one after each epsiode: not because the characters didn't know each other from episode to episode, but because many episodes end with either the end of the world, the complete destruction of Dexter's Lab, Dexter and/or Deedee's probable death. Or Dexter and/or Deedee being turned into some sort of giant monster that it is impossible to change back from. Or thousands of clones running around. That show never ended properly, and as such I always just sort of assumed that Dexter had a reset button sevreted somewhere upon his person, that he pressed whenever something bad beyond repair had occurred, and this was just never shown.

moopot said...

For 'sevreted' read 'secreted'.

Russell H said...

In the Marx Brothers movies, Chico and Harpo are usually portrayed at first as being unknown to Groucho, and vice versa, although they are usually known to each other. Zeppo shows up as Groucho's secretary or assistant in COCONUTS, ANIMAL CRACKERS and DUCK SOUP, and as Groucho's son in HORSE FEATHERS.

I think the only film where they all four seem to know each other from the first scene is MONKEY BUSINESS.

The Spectre said...

The Warners cartoons which I feel are the best examples of this trend are those featuring Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk - which all begin with Henery having "never seen a chicken before" and end with Foghorn being dragged away to be *eaten*!

Mr. Semaj said...

WB had occasional clip shows where Bugs knew Elmer or Sam from previous encounters.

Disney's Donald and Pluto cartoons had it where neither the main character or the co-starring vermin knew each other.
When Pete was involved, Mickey and Donald didn't recognize Pete beyond his bully demeanor, nor did Pete recognize Mickey or Donald beyond potential victims.

Kevin W. Martinez said...

The Cecil Turtle sequels are interesting to watch in this regards. Clampett's Tortoise Wins By a Hare is a direct sequel to the original Avery short and there, Bugs fully knows Cecil at the beginning. In
Freleng's Rabbit Transit, Bugs hasn't met Cecil before for the purposes of the cartoon.

Plus the Tex Avery MGM cartoons where Droopy is sent to apprehend the Wolf go thorugh similar resetting. Northwest Hounded Police suggest that the Wolf has never met Droopy (or Sgt. McPoodle) before, despite the fact that they were in the same situation in Dumb-Hounded from three years eariler

Mattieshoe said...

Hey, Jaime.

I found an interesting cartoon from 1997.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=j512LoqVYIU

It's from the TV cartoon "The Mask" and it both spoofs and honors Animaniacs at the same time.


it's interesting to see how the character's popularity was shown here.
I had thought Animaniacs had disappeared into near-obscurity at this point.

PCUnfunny said...

Chuck Jones wanted Bugs and Daffy to always know each other as rivals. Also Bob Clampett sometimes wanted Bugs and Elmer to know each other. And speaking of Tex Avery, Droopy and Spike seemed to know each other almost all the time.

PCUnfunny said...

Oh and in Cow and Chicken, very rarely do either of them recognize the red guy.

Mattieshoe said...

It's hard to think of a warner brother's character as a single character in the grand scheme of Golden Age Warner Brothers Animation.

Clampett Bugs is more playful and is more of a Heckler.


Jones Bugs is usually simply sarcastic and smug.

and Don't get me started on Daffy.

His 40s incarnation and his 50s incarnation couldn't have been on more opposite sides of the spectrum.


Sure he has the same Color scheme and similar construction, but Jones completely altered both his role and Personality, To the point where I refer to ether as "Bob Daffy" and "Chuck Daffy".

The warners characters were constantly changing and Evolving. from Humble beginnings to the 40's, and finally, the less fun characters of the 50's.

I like to think of each cartoon individually.

As long as they've developed their star personalities, why limit what they can do with them by adding in things like continuity that distract from the film at hand?

buzz said...

=sigh= I blame Stan Lee for this. Stan's use of cliff hanging continuity and repeated crossovers was a great marketing tool to get and keep loyal readers to Marvel comics, but it has created an unreasonable-bordering-on-insane desire among some audience segments to make EVERYTHING into one big seamless meta-narrative.

Let's get it straight: Theatrical cartoons, the Warner Brothers cartoons in particular, are NOT a single meta-narrative but instead hundres of smaller discrete narratives. The characters are NOT characters so much as they are MOVIE STARS PLAYING THEMSELVES in a variety of different films.

The Warner Bros. cartoons SPECIFICALLY reference this again and again: In "Tortoise Beats Hare" Bugs Bunny rages at Schlesinger and Avery, saying they're "a buncha jerks! And I oughta know, I work for 'em." There's a black and white Porky Pig cartoon where he resigns from the studio and discusses his decision with a live action Leon Schlesinger, in a BUgs Bunny cartoon Elmer tears up his contract and refuses to continue performing, Daffy pitches a script in a 1950s 'toon, and of course in the famous "Duck Amuck" he is actively engaged in a battle of wills with the off camera director. Bugs was interviewed as a movie star in at least one cartoon, there's a clip 'toon built around the gag of Bugs thinking he's going to get an oscar, and finally in a spoof on Robin Hood Bugs meets a live action Errol Flynn (not to mention at least two cartoons where he interacted with a cartoon version of Bogart!).

Stop thinking of the Warner Bros. stable as characters ala the Avengers, et al. but rather as Bogie, Bacall, Cagney, Flynn, deHaviland, Davis, Crawford, etc. The same actors may appear in dozen of movies together, often playing very similar characters, but they're not part of a vast meta-fiction. The linking factor is the charisma of the star playing the character, not the character itself.

Anonymous said...

That last comment was...an oddly misplaced rant. The original post only pointed out how the "every meeting is the first" device had been used, something I had never thought about or even noticed before. It didn't complain about the continuity conflicts between "Robot Rabbit" and "Space Jam." (Although, it might make for an amusing list if someone did go back and catalog all such "mistakes" throughout the Looney Tunes canon.)

I'm also fairly certain that Stan Lee didn't create continuity while writing the Avengers. Someone likely thought of it before him. Probably Jack Kirby.

Anonymous said...

Good work, anonymous. From, a different anonymous. Honest.