Cartoon Commantary #17, Spookiness in Space…


By Shawn Robare



I was re-reading over the first Galaxy High commentary and I think that I came off a little cold regarding the main characters and how I was viewing their archetypes. I think part of this comes from my mindset after watching 27 episodes of Dungeons and Dragons where all the characters are painted in very broad strokes for the most part. Venger is evil, Dungeon Master and the kids are good, and that’’s just how it was. There are episodes later in the series where the characters are put into some more dynamic situations and end up growing a little bit, but there aren’t that many shades of gray in the show (except for Dungeon Master who can come off kind of suspicious at times.)

With the first episode of Galaxy High, Chris Columbus shook the conventions of the good/bad characters up a bit, for instance by painting Doyle Cleverlobe as an ass in the beginning (in particular in the credits where he not only hogs most of the scenes and song cues, but also ends up treating Aimee like crap)…



Going into the episode I was sort of hoping he’d get his yet at the same time I also immediately felt for him, as he and Aimee were exposed to the weirdness of 80s animated space. I guess at the end of the day Doyle isn’t all that much different from a character like Eric on D&D. Hell, when you get right down to it, Beef Bonk and his stooges aren’t all that different either. I think there’s a part of me (a subconscious part) that really took it to heart when I was a kid that being evil was wrong, and therefore I shouldn’t get behind evil characters. This is kind of crazy though as I feel villains tend to make the much more interesting characters. Take Cobra Commander and his crazy ranting, or the mysterious Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, both are pretty damn entertaining. Hell most of my favorite characters from childhood fall under the umbrella of evil in one shape or another. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking too hard at these cartoons and finding stuff that isn’t there (well except for that giant penis man in the end sequence, he was definitely there…)

Anyway, just a thought. On to the next thrilling chapter of Galaxy High, an episode that I ended up really liking (though it’s probably because of the season we’re about to jump into; more on that in a bit.) Today’s episode, titled Pizza’s Honor, originally aired on September 20th, 1986 and was written by Larry DiTillio (of He-Man and Beast Wars fame.) DiTillio also served as story editor for the series’ 13 episodes.



I’m not positive, but the title might be a reference to the film Prizzi’s Honor (starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner) which came out the year before this episode aired, though that film’s themes aren’t really visited upon in this episode.

Out of all the characters on the show, I think my favorite in terms of design and concept is Booey Bubblehead, the girl with the impaired short term memory. I think part of what I like are the clean lines on her bubble head, not to mention that fact that it’s made of glass which gives her color scheme more depth than the average character as there will usually be two shades of the pink used to color her (to illustrate where her collar is behind the glass neck for instance), as well as a shine. This is something that I like about cartoons that are painted with using flat colors; whenever there is any shading needed the animators typically add another layer (possibly on another cel) with a darker shade of the same color already in use, which adds a world of dimension to what amounts to a very flat painting. It’s something that I’ve found in the style I’ve chosen to color my own artwork with. So with Booey this concept is always used to one extent or another simply because of her design…



Something else that I brought up in the first episode commentary is the sense of claustrophobia that the writers, storyboard artists and animators have in many of the scenes as there are at time up to ten to twenty characters on screen. So far in the establishing shots of Luigi’s Pizza there has been a recycled animation scene featuring a bunch of background characters dancing to a band playing up on an elevated stage. The creators chose to animate the point of view of this scene looking up from about waist level and to give both depth and a sense of how crowded the place is they placed out of focus figures close to the camera.



I find this very interesting because it’s a very cinematic move, which is rare in cartoons. Actually this is the opposite of something that tends to give me a headache when watching most animated movies, the fact that every single part of a scene is drawn in perfect focus; there’s just too much information going on and my eyes strain to take it all in. So a subtle focus adjustment on one of the levels of animation actually makes the scene a little easier on the eyes, though it still puts me in a very confined space.

Another thing I’d like to revisit for a second is the odd convention of having Beef Bonk turn blue when he’s angry. I got to thinking about this as well, and I completely forgot about the Hulk, whose thick angry green skin doesn’t bother me in the least. In fact, back when I took a look at the TV pilot movie I mentioned that the show/film’s writer/director Kenneth Johnson had wanted the character to switch from his classic green to a more logical red, which I thought was ridiculous. So why does the switch to blue bug me so much? I think it has something to do with the character’s color scheme to begin with. I’m not fond of the clashing, loud red, yellow, pink, green and flesh colors he sports, and when you replace the red with blue and the green eyes with magenta, it’s just as loud and clashing, so the change doesn’t really grab me the way I think it’s supposed to.



The basic gist of this episode involves a phantom spaceman arriving at the pizza parlor to order 100 pizzas for his master who resides on the supposedly haunted planet Tingler in a manor called Tremble Hall. Doyle, Luigi’s newest delivery boy gets the job of delivering the pizza’s, who unbeknownst to him is being followed by Beef Bonk and his cronies who hope to scare the living crap out of him…



When the phantom shows up in the pizza joint, there’s something odd about him, something I couldn’t pinpoint at first, as there’s a static-y like effect that shivers through him every so often. Eventually he reveals that he’s a hologram sent by his master, which normally would have been just hunky dory, but then I remembered that as he entered the pizza joint he was doing things, turning off lights, freezing the band, etc., things that a hologram shouldn’t be able to do. This is another pet peeve of mine, the idea of introducing technology and then writing it incorrectly. It’s funny because, if there was another explanation, even a made up technology, like solid holograms, then I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but when you go so far to invoke something in particular I think it would be best served to treat it like it actually works. We’ll see this again in this episode…

So, last episode we stumbled upon a little adult themed in-joke between either the storyboard artists or the animators in the form of a giant penis man in a crowd scene. Not that I’ve got my eyes peeled for more penis references, but I think I found another one, though this time a little more veiled. When the phantom stranger revels that he’d like the pizzas delivered to planet Tingler, the supposed haunted planet, the crowd inside Luigi’s goes nuts running in panic. In the craziness there is a character running across the screen that has a very phallic shape to his body (I say his for obvious reasons, though maybe in space there are female penis people, who knows.) In a scene just a few seconds later, the character pops up again, though this time colored more normally (he was tan and flesh colored in the first scene, and now he’s purplish-blue and green and wearing a T-shirt…)



Though in his purplish-blue hue he looks more like a lizard alien, his distinctly phallic shape is hard to ignore (or maybe I’m just seeing this.) What sort of seals the deal for me in terms of this being another veiled sexual reference is the T-Shirt depicting an arrow pointing downtown, if you know what I mean. Granted, I could so see this as being in my own head, if it weren’t for the appearance of the other such ‘alien’ in the first episode. Here’s to hoping giant penis men aren’t to Galaxy High what Dragons are to Dungeons and Dragons…

I do have to say that I really like the design on Beef Bonk’s ride. I’m not a huge fan of the idea that everything futuristic has to be rounded or saucer shaped, ala the Jetson’s. This is something that made the design work stand out for me in flicks like Star Wars and Alien, that the ships were a nice mixture of boxy and a bit futuristically rounded (or in Alien’s case, a floating city mining compound that looks much like what it would probably look like if it were just a compound on Earth.) The squared jets with the soft rounded corners on the back of Beef’s cruiser are nice, along with a subtle nod of the hat to the fined card designs of the 50s. It just really works for me.


Of course it is weird that this is a vehicle that’s proposed to be ready for space travel and yet there is not sort of canopy, not even a rag top hanging on the back. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a fun cartoon that’s not really taking the space setting seriously, but it still bugs me a bit. I think Futurama did a much better job of dealing with the balance between fun comedy and factual environments…

It begs the question why in the next scene Doyle is stepping aboard the Luigi delivery ship with does have a handy dandy glass canopy. Is this more of a visually pleasing design element or is it because Doyle is human and can’t survive out in space?



I’d like to point out again how weird it is that so many things in this show are anthropomorphic in design. There’s a scene later when the ‘face’ on this ship makes a weird, almost surprised expression when it’s rear-ended by Beef’s ship. I get why it’s done, but I still struggle with the idea if it’s a good idea or not. I think the show feels like it has got one foot firmly planted in a pseudo-reality that makes these weird design aspects too foreign for me. Maybe I just need to let go of that notion and sit back and enjoy the ride more…

Like I mentioned earlier, this is basically a Halloween episode with out all of the trappings of the traditional Halloween celebrations. You know the planet is spooky because of its giant foggy cloud that surrounds it…



So, in dealing with holograms weirdly again, there is a sequence where Beef Bonk, who hopes to scare the crap out of Doyle by using a hologram gun to disguise his car as a monster. The thing that bugs me is that the hologram that Beef has Roland make takes on a corporal aspect, so much so that the car’s new monster jaws can bite at Doyle’s delivery truck, get stuck on the back and force both of them to crash land on the planet. Though I can see where DiTillio was going with this, it doesn’t work for me because of the idea of using a hologram…



It is a fun moment though, and it does get the job done as far as having both parties stranded on the planet.

The two parties end up separated in the crash, and Doyle ends up running into the first inhabitant of Tingler, Mutie (the stereotypical New York auto mechanic.) What’s kind of cool is that Mutie is a reference both visually in titularly to the Mutant creature from the flick This Island Earth (a fact that I only realized because I have a little toy of that character that I got with a set of Little Big Head monster figures a few years back.) It makes me wonder how many of the other characters are similarly referenced from other 50s and 60s B movies…



Now something else that was kind of weird to me in a ‘this doesn’t really jive sort of way’ is the fact that when Beef and his cronies run into some of the other indigenous life forms on the planet that are scarred out of their minds…



The reason that this bugs me is that the character design on the students from Galaxy High leaves little room for scariness. I mean if some of the inhabitants of GH aren’t already scary to Beef, then why would a big tree with goofy eyes be scary? Again, I realize that it’s an aspect to this world that I’m supposed to take for granted, but as a viewer who is trying to get acclimated to the craziness he’s seeing under normal circumstances, this seems a little silly. It ends up working a little better for me later on when the penguins show up…

Another main-ish character that’s introduced in this episode is Ollie Oilslick the resident taxi driver extraordinaire. His amoeba-like design is practically burnt into my psyche and is one of the things I remember most about this show from watching it as a kid.



To reinforce that this is basically a Halloween episode, we get a lot of creepy background design which actually plays really well into the overall color scheme of the show. I really liked the jack-o-lantern rocks surrounding the very creepy grounds of Tremble Hall, which is a very Castle Duckula-esque mansion…



So I mentioned penguins a little earlier. There’s a sequence when Beef, Roland and Earl split up looking for Tremble Hall and each of them comes across a different crazy monster, my favorite of which is vampire penguins. I don’t know why this concept hasn’t been broached a million times before as it seems perfect to me, what with the cold environments and the fact that penguins are basically already dressed for the part. Comparing them to Count Duckula, I almost sort of wish he was a penguin now…



The giant man-eating mushrooms are pretty neat as well, and it was a nice touch by DiTillio to have the two creatures fight as Beef and Roland crossed paths…

As Doyle enters Tremble Hall there are some pretty heavy Rocky Horror vibes coming from the place with the phantom spaceman in the place of Riff Raff, and the Master as Frankenfurter. I though this was a nice touch, though Rocky Horror itself is playing off of countless old horror movies itself, so it might all just be paying homage to the same material.



Though the idea of weird monster aliens doesn’t work all that well for me, I did like the design work on the various creatures hanging around Tremble Hall, in particular the light brown insect looking alien with the nail stuck through its head. Honestly, when I think about it, the whole moral of this story sort of works because the monsters don’t look all that different from the denizens of Galaxy High. Because of this Doyle isn’t really scared of them, so maybe there was sort of a point to this after all. Yay DiTillio for bringing a deeper layer of meaning to something that actually came off as silly, and in a nutshell, this makes a great argument for the artistic validity of cartoons…



By the way, though this episode was the second aired, I think it’s actually chronologically (or possible production order-wise) supposed to be after the third episode which I’ll talk about next, The Beef Who Would Be King.

  • Jay

    The ’80s had the best scary animated castles…The ones in D&D and now Tremble Hall…very cool. I like the purple and black colors.

  • Scott

    I think the name of the “”Spooky”" planet (Tingler) and the vaguely insect like design of the alien who orders the 100 pizzas in the first place are both slight nods to a famous 1950′s monster movie “”The Tingler.”" Isn’t that the famous movie that had a theater owner install electric shock devices in his theater seats to further scare the bejezzus out of movie patrons? Upon further research, the electric shock thing wasn’t correct, it was only surplus “”virbrators”" from World War II. Here’s the link to the article on Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tingler GREAT SITE! As a fellow “”Child of the 1980′s”" I love reading this stuff.

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