Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Meet Minerva"

One of the great lost opportunities of TV cartoons is the character of Minerva Mink from "Animaniacs." They could have done a lot with the concept of a sexy female mink (voiced by Julie Brown) who defeats her antagonists through her sex appeal; it was sort of like a Tex Avery "Red" cartoon except with the female character as the star. But the network and studio executives, fearing that the humour was too openly sexual for what was supposed to be kids' TV, put an end to the idea of giving Minerva her own series of cartoons on the show; after making only two solo cartoons, she was relegated to cameos for the rest of the series.

YouTube has her "pilot" cartoon, "Meet Minerva," written by "Animaniacs'" splendid writer-producer Sherri Stoner. (Stoner worked out the idea of the charcter with Paul Dini, and Dan Haskett is said to have designed Minerva.) The cartoon was co-directed and storyboard by probably the best storyboardist on the "Animaniacs" crew, Barry Caldwell, and animated by Jon McClenahan's crew at StarToons in Chicago; Kirk Tingblad was the director at the StarToons end, and contributors to the animation included McClenahan, Ron Fleischer and James Tucker. I wish I could point out individual animators' work -- StarToons, along with Tokyo Movie Shinsha, had some of the best animators working in TV -- but I do know there's a lot of excellent animation and timing here, and some of the biggest laughs come not from the broad wild takes but from subtler moments: the funniest scene in the cartoon is the scene near the end where Minerva's antagonist holds a conversation with himself, moving his head from one position to another each time he changes "sides" in the conversation.

But of course, it's mostly about the wild takes, crazy gags (turning into the Big Bopper? twice?) and phallic jokes. Hard to believe this ever got onto kids' afternoon TV, but I'm glad it did.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jaime,

One little note: Ron Fleischer wasn't an animator, he was our technical director at StarToons - did some camera work, some track-reading, occasionally some slugging and we even let him direct one or two cartoons (e.g. Brain's Apprentice), but mostly he was cutting film together or (later) compositing digital footage.

I showed this video to my youngest son last night - my youngest son is now 20 (he would've been about 8 or 9 I guess when we made that).

He was like, holy cow, Dad! I was a little red-faced, having always tried to raise my boys right and keep them on the straight and narrow ... so this probably seemed a little hypocritical, but I said to him, hey, based on the script, we just tried to make it the best cartoon we could - and you should always do your best when trusted with a task.

How's that for a "Father Knows Best" response?

I personally only animated about 5 shots in that cartoon ... BOTH of the Big Bopper shots, and also the frog sequence. I knew Kirk Tingblad was the right man for the job on this one. He took it to the limit. He did a lot of the scenes himself.

James Tucker may have a few shots but he was pretty green then. Chris "Spike" Brandt probably did a lot - he was director on another unit (as was I) but Kirk wanted to be sure this cartoon had input from all of our best guys.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear you still respond to these comments about Minerva & the work your guys at STARTOONS did on Miss Mink, Jon:)

Still your fan,

John B.