Wild World of Shows: The Hilarious House of Frightenstein

Let me start by mentioning that I’m not a huge fan of horror-related stuff: monsters, ghouls, goblins, creatures and creepies.

Universal_Monsters

I don’t hate horror, it’s just personally not my jam. I’ve always been more into science fiction (aliens, robots, super powers and high-tech) than Gothic monster lore…

Stellosphere 2

…And I’m generally not into dark stuff. I like positive things.

Rainbow_Randolph__the_Krinkle_Kids

I’m more of a smiles, stars and rainbows kind of guy.

However, I do love to laugh. I like humor, especially zany, silly humor. As such, while I’m not a big horror fan, I’ve always enjoyed bad, campy, stupid, ridiculous horror/sci-fi. Stuff like Hillbillys in a Haunted House

Hillbillys in a Haunted House

…And The Horror of Party Beach.

horror_of_party_beach

You know, the kinds of things that get goofed on by the likes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This fondness for dopey, cheesy, late night sci-fi/monster shtick probably explains why 3 of my favorite bands (at the moment) are The Aquabats…

The Aquabats

…The Ghastly Ones…

The Ghastly Ones

…And Los Straitjackets.

Los Straitjackets

They’re an instrumental surf-rock/garage band who do rock songs about space aliens, mutants and mad scientists, all the while wearing Luchador masks. What’s not to like?

So wouldn’t it be great if someone made a family-friendly sketch comedy about kooky, cheesy late-night movie monsters, puppets and weirdos in campy costumes? Thankfully, someone did. This (finally) brings us to the subject of today’s Wild World of Shows, courtesy of or neighbor to the North, Canada…

Canada-Flag_16b991e7512_large

Canada. North America’s hat.

The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

HHOF 1

Before we begin, I think I can sense what you’re thinking (assuming you’ve been following us for a while now)…”Wha? ‘Wild World of Shows’? Didn’t you change the name of this segment??”

-Yes, a couple of years ago this segment was indeed originally called the Wild World of Shows, but we changed it to The Cartoon Couch ’cause that name sounded similar to its’ older brother segment The Retro Bin and we like things that are related to have a unified branding. However, given that this show isn’t animated* (not in its’ final form, anyway, but we’ll get to that), it seemed incorrect to categorize this as a Cartoon Couch, so from here on in, whenever we cover a show that otherwise fits the requirements of a Cartoon Couch but isn’t a cartoon, we’ll be classifying it under Wild World of Shows. Got it? Good.

For the uninformed, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a Canadian children’s television series, which was produced by Hamilton, Ontario’s independent station CHCH-TV in 1971. It was syndicated both in Canada and internationally (though not in Maryland where I grew up; I’ve only recently discovered this show–late to the party as usual!) and occasionally still appears in some television markets. In Canada, the series has not aired on broadcast TV for several years, but is available on streaming service Crave.

Frightenstein Title Card

The show is a quirky sketch comedy series that included some educational content amid its zany humour, the show’s cast included Billy Van, Fishka Rais, Guy Big, Mitch Markowitz, Vincent Price, and Julius Sumner Miller.

Billy Van

Van played most of the characters on the show. The guy wore a lot of hats, and thrice as many costumes.

Fun Facts:

  • All 130 episodes were made in a nine-month span starting in 1971; the scenes with Price and Miller were all filmed within one summer.
  • The show was originally going to be a cartoon. The production started with Riff Markowitz envisioning the concept and then inviting a room full of creative friends to a spaghetti and champagne ‘brainstorming’ dinner party in his double suite at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. Markowitz directed the brainstorming session while his assistant Roger John Greco made notes of everything said.
  • CHCH had broadcast two other Markowitz shows: The Randy Dandy Show for children, starring Rafael Markowitz as Randy Dandy; and The Ed Allen Show, an exercise program. CHCH approved the production of Frightenstein to take advantage of the station’s new ability to reach into the Toronto market for advertising money.
  • Randy Dandy’s soda pop venture was later taken up by the Count when he promoted Dracola from the castle to raise money for his Brucie project.
  • Sid Biby led the station at this time. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein was one of the most ambitious shows attempted by Canadian producers during this era.
  • Markowitz later began production of an animated cartoon version of the show with animator Al Guest that never got on the air. It wasn’t until Vincent Price, Billy Van and other Canadian comics of the day got on board that broadcasters began to take interest.
  • Horror icon Vincent Price starred in introductions for the show’s various segments. Price, who was attracted to the project because he wanted to do something for kids, filmed all of his nearly 400 segments in four days for a fee of $13,000. Julius Sumner Miller, an American scientist and TV personality, appeared in every episode; although he put on a “mad scientist” persona, his segments featured straightforward science lessons and experiments.
  • On Canadian television stations, the show generally aired as a children’s show in an after-school or weekend morning time slot. In the United States, however, many stations aired it in a late night slot aimed primarily at college students. In an interview with film critic Richard Crouse on CFRB in the 2010s, Markowitz’s brother Mitch Markowitz — also an associate producer and bit-part performer on the show — acknowledged that while he and his brother always recognized the show had kid appeal because of the zany monster characters and lowbrow humor, it was always intended to also appeal to a young adult audience of alternative comedy fans. In some American markets, the show drew higher ratings than The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson among that demographic.

Let’s hit that opening!

BTW, the show’s opening and closing credits were accompanied by a musical composition played entirely on a Moog synthesizer and written by Harry Breuer, Gary Carol, Jean Jacques Perrey and Pat Prilly. Its title is “March of the Martians”. The original recording can be found on an out-of-print Pickwick vinyl album called The Happy Moog.

As previously stated, the show was basically a sketch comedy. Although each episode was nominally structured around the basic narrative premise of Count Frightenstein’s efforts to revive Brucie J. Monster, a Frankenstein-like monster, only some sketches (including the first sketch of each episode) directly addressed the premise itself, while most sketches depicted unrelated goings-on around the castle. Only the two main characters appeared in the “plot” sketches, although they could also appear in other sketches as well, while the supplementary characters generally only appeared in their own standalone sketches and were not part of the core “plot” sketches.

Now, onto the screwy cast. (NOTE: All of the characters are played by Billy Van unless otherwise specified.)

MAIN CHARACTERS

Frightenstein

Count Frightenstein himself,  the main character, was the 13th son of Count Dracula. Exiled to Castle Frightenstein in Frankenstone for his failure to revive Brucie, the core premise of the show was that he would be allowed to return to Transylvania only when (and if) he succeeded in his quest. Count Frightenstein was also a “black sheep” vampire in other ways, including his strong preference for eating pizza rather than drinking human blood. He also fancies himself an inventor, although his inventions generally have one of three faults: they are either dangerous, useless, or already a common household object upon which his version is not an improvement.

Igor

Igor (Fishka Rais) was Frightenstein’s incompetent assistant. (So what else?)

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

The Wolfman 2

  • The Wolfman – A werewolf disk jockey at radio station EECH (get it?) who spun rock and roll records while doing a Wolfman Jack impression. The Wolfman’s theme song was Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher”. (One of my favorite Sly songs. No wonder this is one of my favorite segments on the show.) The segment featured then-current hit singles by The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Three Dog Night (the song for that particular show was “Mama Told Me Not to Come”–any show that manages to get a song about an out-of-control pot party on a kid-vid show gets props in my book) or other Top 40 radio stars of the time (which were referred to as ‘golden oldies’ in order to avoid dating the program), with the Wolfman and Igor dancing in silhouette against a psychedelic background.
Wolfman and Igor

For some reason, Igor sported a big letter ‘I’ on his chest during these segments, though this initial wasn’t present anywhere else. It’s not like people would have trouble figuring out who he was.

For licensing reasons, the musical numbers are no longer shown on some reruns, although broadcasts on YTV in the early 2000s included the segments.

Grammar Slammer

  • The Grammar Slammer – The Grammar Slammer was a disembodied voice who challenged Igor to correct grammatical errors, accompanied by an eight-foot purple monster named Bammer who threatened to give Igor a royal-ass beatdown if he failed.

HHOF 3

  • Bwana Clyde Batty – A British explorer who teaches about wild animals on Zany Zoo. His name is a spoof of animal trainer Clyde Beatty. His catchphrase is “ooga booga!”

Professor

  • The Professor (Julius Sumner Miller) – A professor who provided science lessons on such things as thermal expansion and the cartesian diver.

HHOF 2

  • Dr. Pet Vet – A veterinarian who teaches about domestic animals (whereas Zany Zoo was about wild fauna). He always offers the day’s animal to Igor as a pet, but the Sloth in the basement invariably refuses to allow Igor to keep the animal.

Grizelda the Ghastly Gourmet

  • Grizelda, the Ghastly Gourmet – A witch voiced as a parody of Julia Child, who provides a version of a television cooking show as she cooks suitably ghastly recipes in her cauldron. In every one of her segments, she bangs her head on the pot above her cauldron, and invariably declares the recipe a failure after it causes a small explosion.

The Librarian

  • The Librarian – An elderly curmudgeon who unsuccessfully tries to scare the viewers by reading children’s stories, such as “Humpty Dumpty” and “Henny Penny”, which he thinks are horror stories. He also sometimes reads fables with unpleasant endings. He eventually admits to not being any more frightened than the viewers, but considers reading important nonetheless.

Maharishi

  • The Maharishi – A Hindu guru who shares bits of mystically inscrutable wisdom (e.g. “It is written, that he who kicks the blind beggar, in the marketplace, during an eclipse, can only curse the camel, for its lack of discipline.”) A large bag of flowers (dyed carnations) would then fall on top of his head afterward.

TheOracle_zpsqzzwxjnb

  • The Oracle – A mystic who reads out horoscopes in a Peter Lorre voice, invariably knocking over and breaking his crystal ball in the process. He also would often get his hand temporarily stuck inside his replacement crystal ball. He then answers questions supposedly sent in from viewers.

big-guy

  • The Mini-Count (Guy Big) is a three-foot tall clone of the Count, who appears in brief sketches where he tells a joke. Incidentally, Big was originally slated to play the main role as the Count, as the original character concept was based in part on the sight gag of a diminutive Count contrasted against Igor’s imposing height and weight. However, Big was not experienced enough as an actor to properly maintain Count Frightenstein’s desired accent, so the role was recast to star Van while a new smaller role was written for Big.

PUPPETS

Grizelda 2

  • Harvey Wallbanger – The postmaster of Castle Frightenstein’s “dead letter office”, he would appear in sketches with the Count or Grizelda in which they answer letters.

Kronk

  • Gronk – A purple sea serpent who interacts with the Count or the Wolfman. Gronk would announce his presence with a loud call of “Gronk!” Gronk’s segments usually had the Count reading a book; the Count would then start explaining what the book was about, with Gronk interrupting him, usually mid-sentence, with a completely incorrect conclusion to what the Count had been reading. This would happen several times, leading to greater and greater frustration on the part of the Count. Segments with the Wolfman were generally one-line or two-line jokes.

Grammar Slammer

  • Bammer – A large purple monster who assisted the Grammar Slammer in correcting Igor’s poor grammar.

MINOR/INTERSTITIAL CHARACTERS

Super Hippie

Super Hippy (Mitch Markowitz) — A hippie in a superhero costume who appears leading in and out of commercials, sitting or flying in varying locations as he delivers some variation on “Don’t change the channel; we’ll be right back after these commercials.” I’m not sure what a hippie superhero has to do with monsters in a castle, but Rule of Funny, I guess.

Pinkie Pie

“So random!”

  • The Singing Soldier — A light-operetta styled palace guard who gets a cream pie thrown in his face whenever he starts to sing “Indian Love Call” from Rose-Marie.
  • The Mosquito (Mitch Markowitz) – A mosquito who tells a bad joke about insects before biting a human foot.
  • The Gorilla (Van or Paul Schultz) – A gorilla who would walk out of the jungle and invariably try to scare whomever he was looking at. In every segment, however, he would be thwarted by a ping-pong ball that would hit him square in the head, causing him to keel over. He often tried to avoid the ping-pong balls, in one instance by holding up a parasol.

Like an earlier honoree of The Cartoon Couch, The Funny Company, my biggest regret concerning this hidden gem was that I wasn’t exposed to it sooner. If The Hub had lasted beyond just four years, I could’ve easily seen The Hilarious House of Frightenstein airing on that channel. It would have fit in on The Hub’s afternoon lineup, or even at night, if they had followed our advice and went with an alternative comedy format instead of just running old sitcoms and movies.

So hats off to The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. This show hits just the right level of absurd and imaginative for me. It reminds me of afternoon blocks like Wake, Rattle & Roll or local late-night cheesy monster movie fests like Ghost Host, Creature Feature, Svengoolie (or various other titles, depending on where you live/d)…or TNT’s 100% Weird

100 Weird

…Later MonsterVision

Monster Vision

…Just without the movie parts.

The show’s like Cartoon Planet with monsters, and frankly, I…

The Wolfman

The Cartoon Couch: Cartoon Planet

On today’s Cartoon Couch, we look back at the forgotten series from the old days of Cartoon Network.  A little gem known as Cartoon Planet.

 

cartoonplanetlogo

If anyone had told me fifteen years ago that I’d be remembering this show fondly, I’d have told them that they were crazy. The thing is, much like The Banana Splits (which Damon already wrote about in an earlier post), I have a greater appreciation for this show now than I did when it was in production. When Cartoon Planet was on the air, I dismissed the show because it was goofy and ridiculous, but now I enjoy it…because it’s goofy and ridiculous.

Cartoon Planet began as an hour-long block of cartoons hosted by Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak. They would introduce full cartoons from the Turner Entertainment library, such as old theatrical shorts and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including the original 1960s Space Ghost episodes. The host segments were often original songs and ad-libbed skits. New material ceased being made in 1997, and most of the songs and skits were re-packaged into 22 half-hour episodes without classic cartoon clips.

There’s no need to go into detail about the cartoons themselves, since they were the same shorts that from the Turner library that were airing on Cartoon Network the other 23 hours of the day. The cartoons weren’t bad, but since there were no original cartoons shorts made for the show, we don’t need to discuss them here. The real attraction was the host segments.  Here’s a taste of the intro:

 

If you’re like me, you were probably wondering “Why Brak and not Moltar?” It’s likely because Andy Merril (the voice of Brak) was one of the show’s producers, so it’s no surprise that he’d want to voice his character from Space Ghost: Coast To Coast on the show. Also, Moltar already had a gig as the original host of CN’s Toonami program block. However, this fact was joked about on an episode of Space Ghost: Coast To Coast; Moltar is flipping through channels in the studio’s control room. He comes across Cartoon Planet and says:

Moltar

“What’s this garbage? And why am I not in it?”

Each episode included segments such as “Brak’s School Daze,” “Zorak’s Horror Scopes,” “Poets’ Corner,” “Brak’s Monday Ratings Report,” “The Top 5 Cartoon Countdown” (discontinued in 1997 after the show’s Saturday-morning slot was shortened to a half-hour), “Vacation Spots Around the Universe” (pieced together from clips of Ultra 7 episodes), “Messages from Outer Space” (also from Ultra 7, featuring the Hot Dog Men), “Mailbag Day”, readings from “The Cartoon Planet Storybook,” messages from Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty’s local public-access television cable TV horror movie host from SCTV; the segments were originally shown on Hanna-Barbera’s The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley), “Learning to Talk Italian,” Nuggets of Joy from Zorak,” “Zorak’s Helpful Hints,” and “Cooking with Brak.”

The show also had short live-action segments featuring producer Andy Merrill wearing an ill-fitting Space Ghost costume doing various things like visiting a petting zoo, getting a haircut (although he kept his mask on), playing tennis, or visiting a gift shop. Intros of the show during the early years featured Merrill in the costume dancing (rather badly) to the mambo-style theme music, or sitting in a chair reading a newspaper, falling asleep to lullaby music.

You know that you’ve got good stuff when more people are tuning in more for the host segments and wraparounds than they are for cartoons that they’re hosting. You can tell that George Lowe, Clay Martin Croker and Andy Merrill were having a good time on the set. I can imagine them cracking each other up in the table reads. It’s nice having a job that you enjoy.

At the time, head writer/producer Pete Smith described Cartoon Planet “as a cross between The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Electric Company, and recess at the Richard M. Nixon School for Wayward Boys. …Cartoon Planet skillfully steers clear of any semblance of sophisticated humor. Forced by network muckity-mucks to air his dirty spandex in front of millions of impressionable young minds, Space Ghost dragged a reluctant Zorak and a confused Brak into the treacherous waters of sketch comedy.”

Unfortunately, due to licensing issues involving the clips used on the show, Cartoon Planet has yet get a DVD release.

Incidentally, Cartoon Planet was one of several names that we considered for this very website. We didn’t go with that because Cartoon Network legally owns the name.

In 2012, Cartoon Network attempted to revive Cartoon Planet (originally to commemorate CN’s 29th anniversary and was called “Best of CN”).

Cartoonplanet_2012_logo

 

However, this new version wasn’t as good as the original. For one thing, George Lowe was semi-retired from voice over work by this time and didn’t participate, leaving Brak and Zorak to host the show by themselves. It was like having a reunion tour with only 3 Beatles; you need all of the parts or it’s a different thing entirely. While it was good to see Brak and Zorak again, I missed Space Ghost. Without the show’s anchor, something was missing.

For another, soon afterwards Cartoon Network said “Screw tradition” and turned the show from a celebration of the network’s past into a dumping ground for the network’s then current shows such as Johnny Test, The Amazing World of Gumball, MAD and worst of all, The Annoying Orange.

emoticons_disgust-512

“In a word, Yuck!”

I already discussed this boneheaded decision made by CN’s execs in a post from a couple of years earlier titled Cartoon Planet In Crisis, so there’s no need to repeat myself here. This version quietly went away shortly afterward. No one misses it much.

Tragically, Clay Martin Croker (the voice of Zorak) unexpectedly passed away in 2015, so a revival of Cartoon Planet seems unlikely. Even if George Lowe were to come out of retirement to do it, they’d still be a man short. Sure, the producers could conceivably hire someone else to voice Zorak, but that should only happen if said replacement were someone who has a natural rapport with the other cast members and writers.

At least some of the skits and wraparounds are available for viewing on sites like YouTube and Dailymotion. I say we should just watch those and remember what we once had.

Mug of beer

Pourin’ one out for Cartoon Planet and for Clay Martin Croker. We miss ya, man!

So let’s end this on a high note. I give you one of the greatest things to come from Cartoon Network. Period. Kick it!

Videots/The Cartoon Couch: Viva Pinata

Hey! Y’all remember Viva Pinata?

VivaPinata-Logo

For those who don’t, Viva Pinata was a 2006 life simulation game developed by Rare and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. The game inspired a Saturday morning TV series of the same name, which was produced by an American company, 4Kids Productions and Bardel Entertainment, a children’s animation company in Canada. Since today we’ll be looking at both the game and the cartoon show, this article is a hybrid: part Videots, part Cartoon Couch.

Certs

It’s 2…2…2 entries in one!

Here’s the show/game intro:

Viva Pinata the video game revolves around the player tending to a neglected garden in Piñata Island, in which different variations of piñatas must be bred whilst fending off disruptive interlopers. The player uses gardening tools, such as shovels and watering cans, to plough their garden, sow seeds, create ponds, and sculpt the garden to their liking. When certain requirements are fulfilled, the garden will attract a black-and-white outline of a given piñata species. After fulfilling additional requirements, the piñata will become a resident, changing into a full-color version. Once two piñatas of the same species are residents and their mating requirements are met, they can perform a “romance” dance. If the player successfully completes a maze minigame, the romance results in a baby piñata egg, which is delivered by a stork. The piñatas are not gendered, and hence any two piñatas of the same species can mate.

Pinata Species

OK, OK! Par-tay, Par-tay!

All of the various pinata species names are a portmanteau of some animal species and a type of confectionery/dessert. They were:

DOMESTIC

  • Barkbark
  • Goobaa
  • Kittyfloss
  • Moozipan
  • Ponocky
  • Pudgeon
  • Pigxie
  • Rashberry

JUNGLE

  • Badgescile
  • Cinnamonkey
  • Dragumfly
  • Ellaphanilla
  • Fudgehog
  • Galagoogoo
  • Hortsachio
  • Profitamole
  • Pretztail
  • Tigermisu
  • Twingersnap
Fat_Albert

“Hey hey hey, pass those candies my way!”

 

The game’s antagonists include the “Ruffians” led by Professor Pester and “sour piñatas” who occasionally enter the player’s garden with the sole intent of wreaking havoc: eating seeds, dropping poisonous piñata candies, and destroying objects. The player may tame sour piñatas by constructing fences around them. Weeds may occasionally sprout in the player’s garden and will quickly spread to destroy vegetable rows if the player does not kill them in time.

The game also boasted a unique cast of characters:

  • Seedos: Originally named Sidos, he is the youngest child of Jardinero. Even when he was small, he had a natural knack for raising Pinata, displayed by his sucess in raising a family of Shellybeans. After Lester lured Stardos into the jungle, Ruffians swarmed on Jardinero’s garden, destroyed it and stole the Pinata. Sidos ran and hid in the swamp with his Shellybeans. Until Jardinero returned, Sidos lived there with the Shellybeans and the time greatly changed him. From then on, he loved seeds (as all Shellybeans do) and changed his name to Seedos. He wanders your garden and gives you seeds when you talk to him. He is the only one you can get brand new seeds from when you cannot buy them at Costolots.
  • Leafos: Jardinero’s oldest daughter and second child; she proclaims herself the ‘brains of the family’ and is the creator of the Journal. When the Ruffians attacked, she hid in the house. She occasionally gives advice and gossip, both true and false, when spoken to.
  • Dastardos: A witch doctor who lives in the gnarled tree on the outskirts of Jardinaro’s garden. It is heavily implied that he is Stardos, since he was first noticed sometime after Stardos went missing and Jardinaro comments that “he reminds [him] of someone he used to know”. Whenever a Pinata gets sick and Doc Patch does not arrive soon enough, Dastardos will float out of his tree and destroy the Pinata.
  • Willy Builder: Builds pinata home so the pinatas can romance. He also can build any other building. He is married to Lottie.
  • Costolot’s: The store run by Lottie. Most items can be found in this store. She is married to Willy Builder.
  • Gretchum Fetchum: A Pinata hunter. She finds Pinata’s for people who pay her.
  • Doc Patchingo: A recent graduated doctor that comes to the rescue when pinatas are sick. He is always nervous when you talk to him.
  • Ms. Petula: She sells some pinatas and clothing for pinata. She claims that her parents are the real owners and she is there while they are out. She has a fishbowl with a living golden fish on her head.
  • Bart: He is a “Tuner-upper”, and, for a price, he will modify your things to some better by three ranks bronze (the cheapest and with less probabilities to have success), silver (the middle point) and gold (the most expessinve and with better results than the other two).
  • Arthur: He is the owner of Arthur’s Inn where he hires helpers to help you.
  • Ivor: He is an apparent begger and owner of Ivor Bargain once you give him 1000-2000 chocolate coins.
  • Jardinero: He is the elderly father of Dastardos, Leafos, Storkos and Seedos and former owner of the garden. He moves around on a motorized wheel chair.
  • Mother: Jardinero’s seafaring wife. Went off to sea in search of how to obtain a rare Dragonache.
  • Storkos: She is the third child of Jardinaro. She brings eggs, from Egg Mountain, to pinatas that have romanced.
  • Frannie: She is the lovely and sweet postmistress of Piñata Island that sends all packages to xbox live. According Leafos, she opens love letters with steam for a novel that she is writing.
  • Professor Pester: He is the main villian in the game. He kidnapped Stardos when he was younger and transformed him into Dastardos. He is the leader of the ruffians, and the former assistant of Jardinaro (Pester was then called Lester). He is the man who destroyed the garden.
Leafos

Leafos, the first character you meet in the game. Keen-eyed viewers will spot Leafos briefly in the opening titles of the TV show, though she made no actual appearances in the series.

viva_cosquilla_by_varikki44-d4oe11q

There is, however, an ‘art-house’ film generating through the video game underground in which Leafos “has some fun” with a Pretztail.

Emmet Nervind

“Feet…heh…heh…heh…heh…feet…yeah…yeah…heh…heh..heh….”

Viva Pinata the TV series originally aired on 4KidsTV from August 26, 2006 to January 18, 2009.  4Kids TV and The CW4Kids in the United States stopped airing the show on August 2, 2008 and October 25, 2008 respectively, but it continued to air in Canada on YTV until June 24, 2011. The TV series had a somewhat different premise from the game, and featured Looney Tunes-style slapsticky situations and gags. Not all of the jokes landed, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for zany, and since Viva Pinata was one of the few comedy cartoons on a lineup that was dominated by action shows, I could give it a pass.

TV Synopsis: In a garden on Piñata Island, a multitude of happy, colorful Piñata species live, frolic, dance, and grow. The goal of the piñatas is to fill themselves with candy, so they can be chosen by Piñata Central to entertain at birthday parties or retirement parties and other special celebrations. The piñatas have their own gardens and love to party. Each species is a portmanteau of an animal and a sweet type of food.

It is here in the garden, among the burrowing Profitamole, the bovine Moozipan and the tree-swinging Cinnamonkey that we will find a small band of Piñata friends that have known one another since they were children when they first came to the garden.

Being a piñata means something different for piñatas. Some Piñatas can’t wait to reach their maximum candy level so they can leave the Piñata Factory over and over again, bringing joy to children and partygoers all over the world. Others are not happy about the prospect of being shipped off to a strange place where happy children in festive hats hang them from a tree, bludgeon them until their limbs fall off, and devour their innards. Still others physically train for the parties as if they were off to the Olympic Games—hardening their bodies to create a challenge for the children clamoring to get at their candy.

Why is it that Piñata Island is the only place in the world Piñatas can be found? Even the Piñatas don’t really know—but with so much happening in the garden, what with weird new Piñatas arriving all the time, crazed black-market Piñata poachers trying to muscle in on Piñata Central action, mysteries to solve, violent garden pests known as sours to contend with, and constant opportunities to dance—who has time to worry about it?

The only thing upon which these Piñatas can agree is that on Piñata Island, anything can happen.

On the show, the pinatas themselves each boasted distinct names and personalities, and there were no human characters anywhere to be seen on the island.

Viva Pinata Title Card 1

MAIN CAST:

  • Hudson Horstachio: (voiced by Dan Green) A horse piñata with a green teal body like a pistachio, Hudson is one of the most popular piñatas in the business. As a celebrity he sometimes has to disguise himself when in public. His friends often have to keep his ego in check. He enjoys dancing and making extravagant statements about himself.
  • Franklin Fizzlybear: (voiced by Marc Thompson) A brown grizzly bear with purple and yellow stripes. He enjoys surfing, and typically speaks with a surfer accent and related expressions. He is fairly laid back and occasionally has moments of intellectualism. He is not good at lying. He also draws portraits of the other pinatas. In the video game, his surfboard is an item that the player can purchase.
  • Paulie Pretztail: (voiced by Brian Maillard) A cross between a pretzel and a red-tailed fox, Paulie is a no-nonsense kind of pinata who is easily considered to be “the clever-cloggs” of the main cast (besides Les) and Fergy’s best friend. He shares Fergy’s aversion of being sent to parties, though it seems more of an annoyance to him, rather than Fergy’s idea of thinking of going to a party as frightening, and frequently avoids them. He seems to be good at cooking as shown from the episode ‘ Recipe for Disaster’.
  • Fergy Fudgehog: (voiced by David Wills) A cross between fudge and a hedgehog, Fergy loves candy, but fears parties and Paulie’s best friend. He is frequently sought out by Langston to attend parties but always manages to escape his bugcatcher’s net. His catchphrase is “Oh, fudge!”
  • Ella Elephanilla: (voiced by Rebecca Soler) A cross between an elephant and vanilla, Ella suffers from short-term memory loss, thus contradicting the saying that an elephant never forgets.
  • Courtly_Jester_is_here!

    “Comedy!!”

Ella enjoys ballet. Because of her elegant moves, this caused Paulie and Fergy to both get huge, temporary crushes on her. They even asked her to a dance, but she forgot they had both asked her. No evidence has been shown that both Fergy and Paulie still have a crush on her, if they do, they are very subtle about it.

  • Les Galagoogoo: (voiced by Eric Stuart) A cross between a Galago and GooGoo, Les is smart and dextrous, however, when he speaks, it comes out as high-pitched gibberish. Les ranked second place in the 4Kids Viva Piñata character poll. It appears that the main cast may be able to understand him, but simply ignore him. In one episode, he was able to speak, but he was ignored as he always had been.
  • Tina & Teddington Twingersnap: (voiced by Kathleen Delaney and Jamie McGonnigal) A two-headed serpent crossed with gingersnap. They share a body, but argue a lot. They have both been shown to have sub-par gardening skills. Despite the fact that they appear to hate each other (after all, they are Brother and Sister), in one episode when they are accidentally separated, they end up greatly missing their other half. Teddington is the worst singer on Pinata Island and for some reason has a refined British accent.
  • Langston Lickatoad: (voiced by Mike Pollock) A cross between a licorice and a toad, Langston operates the Cannoñata. He regularly tries to catch the stealthy duo Fergy and Paulie in order to send them to parties.
  • Professor Pester: (voiced by Michael Alston Baley) The main villain of the series. In all the episodes he appears in, he and his Ruffians try to capture and destroy a piñata, (usually Hudson) if not all of them, to obtain their candy. Note that he does not appear to be a piñata. When he had his personality reversed and happily gobbled up all of Fergy’s candy, he was scanned on the way to the Cannoñata and found to have no candy. Nor do any of his ruffians appear to be piñatas; an episode shows that they were the result of a disastrous Sours experiment. His catchphrase is “I have no regrets”, and he always says it when his plans backfire and he ends up losing. He and the Ruffians are the only non-pinatas from the games to have made it to the show, though to be noted Leafos makes a split second cameo in the theme song right when the announcer states “Welcome to Pinata Island” as the screen is panning over a field..

RECURRING CHARACTERS:

  • Beverly Badgesicle: Hudson’s biggest, very obsessive fan.
  • Cecil Cocoadile: Cecil is the only piñata on the island who thinks Chortles’ jokes are funny, causing him to burst into tears laughing. In the piñata world, cocoadile tears make excellent fertilizer, so while laughing and crying at his bad jokes, he is also helping Chortles with his garden.
  • Chortles Chippopotamus: (voiced by Sean Schemmel) Chortles has a horrible sense of humor, but fantastic gardening skills. Only Cecil Cocoadile thinks his jokes are funny, and Chortles uses Cecil’s tears to help his garden grow.
  • Dr. Quincy Quackberry: A doctor and psychiatrist with a Groucho Marx-like personality. He wears glasses and a tie, and he customarily tells groan-inducngly bad jokes and puns.
  • The Great Bonboon (or just “The Bonboon”): A creature who pretends to be an all-knowing guru to steal candy from gullible piñatas like Professor Pester. He is usually meditating, but when no one is present, he talks to his friend Sid Sarsgorilla on the phone in his normal voice. Paulie is the only pinata who sees through his ruse.
  • Hamilton Horstachio: (voiced by Sean Schemmel) Hudson’s rival, who later on turns into a zumbug.
  • King Roario: (voiced by Dan Green) The King of Pinata Island.
  • Mabel Moozipan: She owns a well-kept vegetable garden and despises trespassers. She is friends with Florence Fizzlybear.
  • Pecky Pudgeon: (voiced by Eric Stuart) Pecky takes photos for the local newspaper of Piñata Island, the Pinata Yada Yada. He loves gossiping about everyone and will go to great lengths to bring in a juicy scoop for the paper. (He makes a cameo in the game taking a photo of Gretchen when she first appears.)
  • Pierre Parrybo: (voiced by Pete Zarustica) Pierre organizes various activities on Piñata Island. He’s also the DJ for a call-in radio show.
  • Ruffians: Professor Pester’s bumbling henchmen who usually ruin his plans, since they don’t comprehend orders well. They waddle from side to side in their walk, and they love to prank one another. According to Pester, three are boys and one is a girl.
  • Petunia Pretztail: (voiced by Sieko Shih) A kung-fu warrior who is friends with Florence Fizzlybear, Francine Fudgehog, and especially Haily Hostachio, and teaches Fergy and Paulie how to find their own “fu”.
  • Prewitt Profitamole: (voiced by Mike MacRae) A brilliant animal who seems to be the only mechanic on the island and he is a wonder at inventing. He also has a love for soaps, and watches them avidly.
  • Shirley Shellybean: Shirly is optimistic and always is ready to start a new adventure.
  • Simone Cinnamonkey: (voiced by Rebecca Soler) Hudson’s brisk and resourceful agent. She speaks very quickly, rapidly counting off Hudson’s schedule. Sometimes, she seems to want her pay more than Hudson’s fame, but she is occasionally shown to care for him in both stern and encouraging ways.

As with another animated series based on a Rare video game franchise, Donkey Kong Country, I find it kind of odd that the producers opted to not just make the series the game in TV show form; perhaps they felt the premise of raising, keeping and breeding pinatas was too close to Pokemon, who knows? While I didn’t necessarily have a problem with Viva Pinata: The Series, my personal take on the show would have been a mix of both the game and the show; I’d keep Fergy, Paulie, Hudson et al, but I’d also add Leafos and her family and the other locals as well (sort of a Harvest Moon meets Animal Crossing kind of deal, but with a tropical island makeover), allowing me to potentially get chafed by straddling the fence.

DrQuackberry

“Now that’s the wackiest proposal I ever hoid!”

 

The Cartoon Couch: Sparkles & Gloom

Today the Cartoon Couch looks at a forgotten cartoon which never actually became a show.

Let’s go back to 2006. During this time, Nickelodeon/Nicktoons Network was airing an anthology series entitled Random! Cartoons. Much like the earlier Oh, Yeah! Cartoons,  R!C showcased pilots for potential new Nickelodeon animated series in the form of one-shot shorts. While OY!C launched no less than 3 ongoing series for Nick (The Fairly OddParents, ChalkZone and My Life as a Teenage Robot), only 2 shorts from Random! Cartoons went on to become shows: Fanboy & Chum-Chum and Adventure Time (yes, that Adventure Time), the latter of which switched networks before getting greenlit (evidently Nick wanted to change too much of Pendleton Ward’s original vision, so he ended up taking his act to Cartoon Network instead. That’s right, Adventure Time was almost a Nickelodeon show). One of the many R!C shorts which didn’t receive the call was an overlooked (in my opinion) little gem which is the focus of today’s Cartoon Couch: Melissa Wolfe and Anne Walker Farrell’s Sparkles & Gloom.

Sparkles & Gloom

For the uninformed, here’s the skinny: Sparkles and Gloom are the twin daughters of a wicked witch and Prince Charming; the former is a perky, bubbly, relentlessly cheery Strawberry Shortcake/Rainbow Brite type, the latter is a pragmatic, Goth-dressing sourpuss. Each girl posesses magical powers, while Sparkles’ abilities involve conjuring things like “happy rainbows”, Gloom deals mainly in curses, black smoke, skulls and poison mushrooms. Their opposing ideologies cause them to elevate sibling rivalry to a whole new level.

S&G 1

Some character design sketches from co-creator Anne Walker. I have no idea who the princess character on the far left is, she doesn’t appear in the final short.

It’s a bizarre world that our titular duo inhabits, one where shiny, happy, toyetic goodniks and creeps and monsters cohabitate in PC togetherness. This movement is culminated in the academy the girls attend, the Geevil School, “Where Good and Evil are Best Friends”, in which fairies, Royals and cute little teddy bears, bunnies and unicorns rub elbows with green skinned witches and big purple monsters. The rest of this world is OK with this co-existence, however, our title pair just can’t seem to get on the same page.

geevilschool

Here now is the 1st (and only) episode of Sparkles & Gloom. (NOTE: since this is only a one-shot short and not an ongoing series, I won’t be giving it the full series assessment treatment. I’ll instead just list what I both liked about the short and didn’t like quite so much, or at least felt could have been improved.)

THE GOOD:

  • The premise was definitely unique. There certainly wasn’t anything else like this on TV at the time, nor is there now. the only show which comes close IMO is Disney’s The 7D.
  • I liked how the 2 main characters were girls, yet the producers and writers didn’t try to water down the zany factor. The whole “girls can’t be funny” idiom is one which I’ve been on a mission to bury for years now. Apart from this and The Mighty B!, for a while there was a serious movement to make a girl-centric comedy cartoon at Nick.
  • In a word, Sparkles. She was hands-down my favorite character in this, she was freaking adorable. Upon revisiting this cartoon, Sparkles kind of physically resembles a mutant version of Shrinkin’ Violette from The Funny Company. Not that Gloom was bad or anything, just that as the more level-headed sister she at times came off like the straight kid, sort of Leonard to Sparkles’ Sheldon. (Incidentally, Gloom was voiced Jessica DiCiccio, who also voiced Erin in Cartoon Network’s Miguzi wraparounds and Lexi Bunny on Kids’ WB!’s Loonatics Unleashed.)
  • Speaking of voices, this short employed the talents of Kevin Michael Richardson, who voiced Prince Charming and the judge fish. Any cartoon which employs KVM is OK in my book.
  • I loved the idea of a world inhabited by fairies and cutesy mascots. Some of the background character designs (such as Sunny Honey Bear, the blue-winged fairy girl and the lavender unicorn girl) looked like they came straight out of a greeting card line. Honestly, I could’ve watched a cartoon about just Sparkles and the other Fairies.

S&G 2

THE NOT-SO-GOOD:

  • It might not have been the best idea to have the characters switch powers and have to deal with that in the pilot short. After all, you first have to establish a status quo before you can shake it up.
  • The artists and writers weren’t nearly as creative with the ‘evil’ characters as they were with the ‘good’ ones, as a result I didn’t find them quite as interesting. Aside from Gloom, a green-skinned witch and the big purple monster, the badniks consisted mainly of generic looking guys with pointy ears.
  • While I liked both the leads, I kind of grew tired of them constantly butting heads. I’d have rather seen them partnering up a little more often. These days I prefer fictional siblings who aren’t always fighting like cats and dogs.
  • Hopefully if this had become a series, they wouldn’t have focused all of the stories on the school. I’d like to see more of this world and the characters doing other stuff, hopefully together as a team.

-My overall rating for this short:

OK

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give Sparkles & Gloom a solid 3. Not perfect, but still pretty good. Maybe these creators could pitch this series somewhere else, or give us something similar. It was definitely more deserving of a series than Fanboy & Chum-Chum. If you can find it floating around on the internet, get your magic on and give it a watch.

The Cartoon Couch: The Funny Company

On this edition of The Cartoon Couch, we’ll be looking back at a cartoon that specialized in “edutainment”, that is, combining education with entertainment.

Schoolhouse Rock

Hail to the king, baby!

No, that’s Schoolhouse Rock, which is (arguably) one of THE greatest edutainment cartoons of all time, but it’s far too well known to be discussed here. I’m talking about a cartoon with skits that aired in the 1960s and had the word “Company” in it’s title…

The Electric Company

“Hey, you GUYS!!!!!”

No, that’s The Electric Company, which was great, but that show premiered in 1971. And again, The Electric Company is far too popular to be mentioned here. I’m talking about a cartoon about a kids’ club that taught lessons…

dumb-donald

“Duh………”

You know what, I’m just going to flip all of the cards. Today’s Cartoon Couch looks back at a series titled The Funny Company.

funny company logo

Calling it The Funny Club would have made more sense, honestly, but The Funny Company has a nicer ring to it.

Freakazoid

“The name makes me happy!”

For those who don’t know, The Funny Company was an American animated cartoon produced in 1963 and seen in syndication. Ken Snyder and Charles Koren produced 260 six-minute-long episodes (they later would create the cult favorite Roger Ramjet). The Mattel Corporation provided financial backing. Snyder conceived the program in response to then-Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Newton N. Minow’s call for more educational children’s programs. As previously stated, two years later, Ken Snyder and Charles Koren would go on to produce Roger Ramjet.

dumb-donald

“Roger Ramjet? Duh…….”

Look it up.

The Funny Company only ran for a single season (1963) and I have to admit that I’ve only recently discovered it myself. I don’t know how exactly this happened, but I’ve honestly never seen, heard or read anything about this cartoon until I read about it in Hobbyfan’s blog Saturday Morning Archives. I even know about Milton the Monster, and nobody remembers Milton the Monster! Since the show only ran for one season, there’s no home video release of it, but several episodes are on YouTube, and since I’ve been stuck inside the house after a monster blizzard, I watched a bunch of them. Here’s a brief run down of the series:

The Funny Company group resembled a club not unlike a Junior Achievement organization, and most of the time, the stories would revolve around the Company being hired for various jobs to make a little money (doing yard work, house cleaning, baby sitting, etc.) or doing something for charity (such as putting on shows). As time went on, the Company decided to make Shrinkin’ Violette a movie star and were on their way to Hollywood.

Members included leader Buzzer Bell (rarely seen without his Funny Company visor), inventor Jasper N (for National) Park, club secretary Polly Plum, rotund Merry Twitter (the giggly Betty Boop-soundalike club treasurer), club mascot Terry Dactyl (an actual pterodactyl), shy Shrinkin’ Violette (who could literally become smaller if she became embarrassed), and two Native American adults–Super Chief (named after the Santa Fe Railroad’s crack passenger train) whose voice was an air horn of a single-chime railroad locomotive, and his translator Broken Feather. Another adult lending a hand was Professor Todd Goodheart with his supercomputer, the Weisenheimer.

Villainous Belly Laguna (who was modeled after Bela Lugosi in his Dracula role) always tried to thwart the Funny Company’s plans (for his own profit), but never with any success. Another, less frequently seen adversary was a German-accented mad scientist type, Professor Werner Von Upp.

Each segment included a two-minute live-action short educational film, reinforcing the topic being discussed. Initially produced in black and white, the series switched after one season to full color.

In fact, here’s a video that introduces all of the main characters so I don’t have to:

Cheech & Chong

What were these guys smokin’?

One thing that I like about this show is how accepting the characters are to all the weirdness surrounding them. OK, talking Pterodactyls exist. Why not? One of the club members has the power to shrink. Sure. One of the girls sounds like Betty Boop. She just does, that’s why!

Another interesting point concerning The Funny Company (and this is particularly interesting considering the decade that the show was produced) is that the show boasted no less than three girl characters in the main cast, during a time where many kids’ shows would have been content with having just one. Also, I love how one of the girls is named Polly Plum, but it’s not the fat girl!

Huey Freeman.png

“So where are the BLACK kids?”

I think that the bigger question would be that after seeing how this show depicted native Americans, would we even want to see any Blacks depicted here? Also, why are a couple Native American adults hanging out with a bunch of suburban kids? Keep in mind that this was 1963 and Political Correctness wouldn’t exist until decades later.

For the reasons stated previously, I can’t go into much detail about The Funny Company‘s history, so instead, I’ll just offer a sample of what the series was like:

“Eek! Indians!”, huh? Now that’s some good ol’ fashioned racism.

Here’s another one:

You know, I don’t know what about Belly Laguna is sadder; the fact the has nothing better to do than bug the neighborhood kids, or the fact that he routinely loses to them. He’s like Gargamel, only without the dignity.

OK, here’s another one (are you sick of that theme song yet?):

So this dude really has nothing better to do than hassle a bunch of suburban kids in a clubhouse? He wouldn’t rather be out robbing banks or engaging in some international espionage? Way to dream big, guy.

All right, one more. This one’s in living black and white.

Well, isn’t that Shrinking Violet just “doll-ling” (which is a little more than darling)? I wonder why Charles Xavier hasn’t scooped this kid up yet.

OK, at this point you’re probably wishing that you had some crackers so all of this cheese wouldn’t be going to waste. Sure, The Funny Company was educational and it was more than just a little cornball, but there were some elements that were actually kind of interesting. Not only do I find this show to not be bad, but with a little tweaking here and there, it could be a potentially entertaining program. Yeah, it would need to be updated for the 21st century. There would definitely need to be some ethnic diversity among the main cast. The 2 Native American guys would definitely need to go (those sort of broad ethnic stereotypes would never fly now), and I’d give Gargamel’s loser brother his walking papers as well.

Here’s how I see it; these kooky but likable kids are in this clubhouse (like with Shrinking Violet, some of the kids could have odd quirks and/or special powers which are never explained), but it’s a TARDIS type of deal where it’s much bigger and roomier on the inside than it appears to be on the outside. It’s full of extra rooms, a science lab and other nifty things. You’d still have the occasional educational moments, but be more subtle about it. Have the kids and others doing some comedy skits, throw in the odd musical number here and there, that could be an almost entirely entertaining program. I see it as a cross between The Banana Splits and Zoom. What do you think?

Gonzocaper

“Eh, it’s a little weird.”