When I was young, as a filler between longer shows one of the stations would play short animated shows, with episodes usually five to ten minutes in length. There were some absolute classics to be found in this way. These shows were extremely funny, and I would recommend them highly.
The Red and the Blue
This Italian production was first released in 1976, and each episode had a run time of five minutes. A form of stop motion animation, each story involved the interactions between a red blob of clay and a blue blob of clay. Each ‘character’ would transform itself into a multitude of different shapes in each episode, so can’t really be said to have a face or form. There is no dialogue, so no subtitles are needed. Red likes to have fun. It likes fast cars, parties, food and drink, basically to please itself. Blue is smaller than Red. It is cleverer than Red. it’s purpose in life is to mess with Red. ‘The Red and the Blue’ is hilarious, bizarre, and definitely worth watching. You can find a few episodes on Youtube.
‘La Linea’, another Italian production, ran for many years between 1971 and 1986. Its metafictional premise is a single line that incorporates the silhouette of the main character, who walks along the line and encounters various obstacles. He breaks the fourth wall by engaging in conversation with the cartoonist, who is only seen as a hand and pencil, as he erases and draws in various items at the demand of the character. While his speech is based on Milanese dialect, it is mostly nonsense, thus removing the need for dubbing or subtitles when being viewed in other countries. It has been shown in over forty countries around the world, usually as a filler between other programs. Its humour mainly comes from the fact that Mr Linea, the character, has a bad temper and is prone to tantrums. This gets him into trouble, and the story often ends with the line breaking and him falling after he’s been jumping up and down. Another notable point is that the screen will change colour in accordance with the character’s moods. The darker it gets, the angrier he is. This isn’t particularly sophisticated humour, admittedly, but still I find it very funny. This series is available on DVD, and you will find many episodes on Youtube.
To Britain now for ‘The Trapdoor’, which was first released in 1986. This is about a group of monsters that live in a castle. Berk is the main character, a round blue creature who is the servant of the castle’s owner, the ‘thing upstairs’, who is often heard but never seen. Berk is mostly seen in his kichen, which is where the titulat trapdoor is located. It’s important not to open the trapdoor, because (as the rather catchy title song tells us) ‘there’s something down there’. There certainly is. Each episode deals with an assortment of creepy critters that come from the trapdoor, mostly to attack Berk and his companions, though occasionally they can be quite friendly. A recurring character called Rog is a rather daft creature that comes from the trapdoor, but turns out to be quite benign and just wants to be friends. Berk has a friend called Bony, who is a disembodied human skull, and a pet spider called Drutt. Despite it’s horror movie trappings, ‘The Trapdoor’ is funny and harmless (it is hard to be too worried about the well-being of a character whose exclamation when being confronted with something big and threatening is ‘oh globbits!’). It was marketed for children and has become something of a cult favourite over the years. Again, you can find episodes of ‘The Trapdoor’ on Youtube.
This is an American show which was first shown in 1965. It ran for five seasons and each episode is approximately five minutes. A spoof on superheroes, Roger Ramjet is a hero who saves the world with the aid of his ‘proton energy pills’, which give him ‘the strength of twenty atom bombs for a period of twenty seconds’. He has a group called the American Eagles, Yank, Doodle, Dan, and Dee. Despite being children, the sidekicks do most of the thinking, as Roger is not known for his intellect. Other characters include Roger’s superior, General GI Brassbottom, his girlfriend Lotta Love, and his rival Lance Crossfire. The regular bad guys include Noodles Romanoff and his evil organization NASTY (nATIONAL Association of Spies, Trairors and Yahoos). Noodles’ henchmen hilariously move about en masse and talk all at the same time so they cannot be understood. Other criminals are Red Dog the pirate (complete with a pegleg and a parrot with a smart mouth), femme fatale Jacqueline Hyde, and the Solenoid robots (who intersperse their conversation with ‘buzz, click’). It pokes fun at all the cliches surrounding adventure and spy stories. Roger takes himself very seriously and everything is very over the top. The animation is not good, but somehow that just adds to the appeal. It’s very funny, and can also be found on Youtube.
I’ve saved the best for last. ‘Danger Mouse’is a British cartoon that first aired in 1981, and ran for ten seasons. It’s a parody of British secret agent fiction such as James Bond. Danger Mouse is ‘the greatest secret agent in the world’ (so the title song tells us.) The run-time for each episode varied widely over the years as the creators tried different formats. The main character is a mouse in a white outfit, with an eyepatch, who was based on the main character from an old British spy series called ‘Danger Man’. Danger Mouse, as befits a super secret agent, is supposedly able to do many amazing things, such as speaking 34 languages fluently, can shatter metal with his voice, call elephants with a Tarzan-like yodel, and is a martial arts master. His sidekick is a timid hamster called Penfold who is terrified of everything, constantly needing to be rescued, and also makes some rather pointed jokes, showing that he’s smarter than given credit for. Danger Mouse’s main nemesis is Baron Silas Greenback, a toad whose depiction is based on the actor Sydney Greenstreet, who appeared as a villain in many classic films such as ‘The Maltese Falcon’. Assisting Greenback is Stiletto, a crow who speaks with an Italian accent. Then there is the narrator, Isembard, who spends a lot of time complaining about his job and occasionally interacts with the characters in a hilariously metafictional way. The show has been rebooted in recent years, but I am referring to the original (and still the best). This is a hilarious show that has been a favourite of mine for a long time. Again, you can find episodes on Youtube.
I have enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I hope you find something here to entertain you. Please comment to let me know what you think.