What the fuck.
What the fuck.
That’s a common reaction to have to television programming, that is, ‘what the fuck’. Sometimes it can be meant in a good way; ie. the programme has left you with a bewildering mystery, and you say ‘what the fuck just happened’ in amazement, knowing it’ll be explained later. We all said ‘what the fuck’ when the submerged teddy bear appeared in Breaking Bad, but that got a satisfying explanation and we knew it would. Most of the time, though, ‘what the fuck’ is meant in a bad way. The programme has left you with a bewildering mystery without knowing it has left you a mystery, and you say ‘what the fuck just happened’ in confused contempt, knowing the mystery (otherwise known as a “plot hole”) will never be solved or answered for.
That was the feeling I got with Filmation’s New Adventures of Batman cartoon, which had many strange things that never went explained. What was the deal with the little elf Batman hung around with? Why did a villain have hypno-beams coming out of his eyes all of a sudden? How could the Penguin invent a magical spray that turns people into criminals?
But did you know that Filmation made other things too? They made the He-Man cartoon and cartoons for other DC heroes but they are also no stranger to horror-themed cartoons. They made The Groovie Goolies, a variety show featuring goofy versions of the Universal guys, which actually boasted some fun musical numbers. They also did a Ghostbusters cartoon…
The one with the monkey.
Yes, that’s actually why they called that other show The Real Ghostbusters.
They also did a cartoon – a segment for a kids’ show called Uncle Croc’s Block – called Fraidy Cat. And like Batman before it, it makes me say ‘What the fuck.’ A ‘what the fuck’ of bewilderment. A ‘what the fuck’ of anger. A ‘what the fuck’ of ironic laughter. And even a ‘what the fuck’ of disappointment.
Now, I love me some horror-themed cartoons, and I think it’s pretty ballsy and admirable to make a kids’ TV based around death. Remember in Tom and Jerry or Sylvester cartoons where the cat would get beat up and there’d be little angel ghosts floating out of the cat with numbers 1 to 9 on their robes? Fraidy Cat bases its whole premise off of that old joke. Fraidy is on his final life, and is constantly haunted by the ghosts of his past lives. Every time he says a number between one and eight, one of his past lives appear – he says ‘one’, his first life appears, he says ‘two’, his second life appears etc.
It’s actually a pretty good premise, really. A cat constantly being reminded of his own mortality, that’s much better than Hanna Barbera’s usual ‘animal in a tie walks around doing shit’. Then again, there are a few holes in it. For example, when we think of cats having nine lives, we either think of them being killed nine times before fully dying (Catwoman in Batman Returns and that one episode of Tales From the Crypt) or reincarnation (the utterly fucked-up Garfield: His 9 Lives), and this show seems to be a fusion of the two. Putting reincarnation and the undead in the same story was confusing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Haunted Mansion movie, and it’s confusing here. The ghost of who he was in a past life? Isn’t the point of a past life is that you were the person back then but just forgot? How can the ghosts be haunting Fraidy if they’re all the same guy?
None of the past lives even look or act like Fraidy really. We have Cave Cat, complete with his own Dino-esque dinosaur sidekick, the magical –or magickal, I guess – Kitty Wizard, pirate Captain Kitt, Sir Walter Kitt – who is Shakespearean in that he says ‘I say’ a lot – Yosemite Sam-esque Billy the Kit, undertaker Jasper Catdaver and a pilot and a scat cat.
I can’t really say that these characters are utilised very well. For example, Cave Cat and Kitty Wizard appear the most out of all the lives and are the most annoying. Cave Cat has the most obnoxious ‘duuuh’ moron voice ever and Kitty Wizard is the typical Orko-esque bumbling magician. The most tolerable of the lives is Jasper Catdaver – a creepy guy who is eager for Fraidy to kick the bucket – and he seldom appears. He is Fraidy’s sixth life and people don’t say six as much as they say one, two and words that sound like one or two. If used enough, he could have made for a decent villain, but obviously the big dopey caveman and the wacky wizard are more interesting characters.
Speaking of villains, when Fraidy says ‘Nine’ a giant cloud shaped like a 9 (ha ha, Cloud Nine) chases Fraidy about and tries to zap him with lightning. In fact, if I had to choose a favourite episode of the show, it would be “Magic Numbers” where Fraidy tries to escape the vengeful Nine, which involves a strange sequence of him travelling through a telephone line.
My, all this talk about his lives and I haven’t mentioned Fraidy yet. I dunno, he’s nowhere near as annoying as Bat-mite and is actually sorta likeable and sympathetic in a ‘wouldn’t wanna be him’ way. A good comedy needs a long-suffering protagonist – there is no humour in Heaven, after all – and who suffers more than someone who can’t sing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ without summoning beings from beyond?
There are some elements about him that are confusing too. He’s an alleycat- a good choice as that means he’s more vulnerable and likely to be killed – yet in one episode he returns stolen bank money, receives a reward for it and daydreams about receiving a holiday. It’s not as bad as the whole deal with The Wind in the Willows, but still. Fraidy’s voice actor –Allen Oppenheimer – isn’t bad, but Fraidy is a little too chatty, constantly yapping to no-one in particular just so the ghosts would come. The ghosts can’t come unless Fraidy says their number, and since Fraidy doesn’t seem to be very social, he says the numbers while narrating his actions. Then again, it’s nothing compared to a greater problem, mainly Fraidy’s animation.
These are from three different episodes. When Fraidy does the aforementioned self-narrating, this is the default shot the cartoon uses, aside from a full body shot of him holding his head. There is a great deal more cutting corners, with Fraidy having only one walk cycle and one run cycle, which gives the show a very stale and lifeless to it. There seems to be an attempt at creating a dark feel for the show given its subject matter – there isn’t a single scene set during the day – but that feel is subsided by how wooden the characters and world feel.
And sometimes the animation is downright bizarre. In one episode, Fraidy steals dog food intended for some dog show contestants. He ends up getting paint all over him that makes him look like a Dalmatian and thus he enters the dog show himself. He wins, but we don’t ever see him actually winning. He enters the dog show – transistion – the announcer declares Fraidy the winner. And the other dogs:
Look at how ugly their designs are.
Some of the stories for this show are downright bizarre too. Another episode involves a hungry Fraidy stealing lollipops from a barn. Since this cartoon was made in the 70’s, I bet even the kids saw a Kojak parody a-coming. It’s good to see kids’ shows trying to throw the parents a bone once in a while, but having a badly-voiced horse called ‘Kojackie’ is not the right way to go about it. Kojackie chases Fraidy into a graveyard, where Fraidy falls off a tree and seems to be dead. When Fraidy is revealed to be alive, Kojackie is so happy he’s not dead that he forgives Fraidy and gives Fraidy all his lollipops. Remember kids, if the law is after you, just pretend to be dead, then reveal yourself not to be dead, and you’ll get sweeties! At least we got more Jasper Catdaver out of it; I like how happy he is when he thinks Fraidy is dead, and how he says ‘Oh fuddy-duddy’ when Fraidy is alive.
Another ridiculous episode was one where Fraidy is running from a dog and ends up in a bird store, where the birds apparently want to fuck him.
So we have an idea with potential that is ruined by stupid stories and terrible animation. Fraidy himself is not a bad character and I guess you can feel for him – no one deserves his condition, even someone as badly-animated as he – but most of the other cast are annoying or boring. The most interesting side-characters- the Nine and Jasper – only seldom appear. The interesting concept is ignored in favour of bad pop culture references and animals acting stupid (the more things change, eh).
Remember when He-Man got a new cartoon back in 2002, and it was “darker and grittier” than Filmation’s, exploing the characters more? Imagine if Fraidy got a similar reboot, something more Fritz the Cat than Wally Gator. If you’re gonna make a cartoon about a cat worrying over his mortality, then make a cartoon about a cat worrying over his mortality. If you have a dark concept, do that dark concept justice. Tell us more about the afterlife, how this nine lives thing works. You can still market it to kids; hell, kids love that kind of stuff!
Until that reboot happens, you’d be better off watching this parody of Breaking Bad done in the style of Filmation’s toons (spoilers for that show). As for Fraidy Cat, what more can I say than ‘What the fuck?’