There are all kinds of scurvy creatures lurking in the ocean. The bottom of the sea is the home of squids the size of Krakens, spider-like creatures that would give you the willies and truly bizarre creatures called tubeworms. Some might call them the train wrecks of nature. Others will find them fascinating. I get the feeling there will be those who will say the same thing about The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
Flapjack is the creation of Mark “Thurop” van Orman, another graduate of the Max Atoms school of animation. I don’t know exactly what Atoms fed his young troops, but I might like to try some. He also worked with Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, a man who can alternately be brilliant and annoying as all get out in the same 11-minute short.
One can see these influences rather plainly when it comes to Orman’s creation. It tells the tale of an orphaned sea waif, the title character Flapjack (voiced by his creator). He’s lovingly raised by a giant blue whale with an attitude, Bubbie. Life was going as well as one could imagine in this imaginary land of Stormalong, which seems like a clashing patchwork of the works of Segar, Winsor McKay, 19th Century yellow journalistic comic art and Tony Millionaire. Then Flapjack and Bubbie rescue the itinerant ne’er-do-well pirate Captain K’nuckles (pronounced cuh-KNUCKLES, and voiced by Brian Doyle-Murray).
K’nuckles is a braggart, coward, liar, the kind of loser Bubbie isn’t, and rightfully, wanting her little charge to be associated with. Then again, Flapjack isn’t exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. The Captain convinces the young’un that the greatest thing to be is an adventurer, and his Munchausen-like tales is giving the boy a lot of ideas. From there, we enter a world that truly is pretty imaginative, but at the same time strangely creepy.
Maybe it’s the way Flapjack invites us to have “adventures.” The way van Orman says it sounds almost like he’s inviting us to a secret stash of National Geographic. You know the ones, the type that used to bring dirty smirks on Richie Cunningham and the rest of the teenaged characters of Happy Days. Yeah, the photos are of naked aboriginals, but they are as much ugly as they are salacious, no matter what, they really aren’t that “dirty.”
This leads to probably the most interesting, and unnerving, character in the series, Peppermint Larry (Jeff Bennett).
Apparently, Stormalong Harbor lives, drinks, eats just about nothing but (and maybe even breathes) candy. Peppermint Larry runs a candy store. He’s also married to a wife made of nothing but candy. Flapjack and K’nuckles are two of his most ardent customers, and he treats them with what feels like a drug dealer to two of his marks. In one episode, he pays them with pieces of candy for every empty wrapper they find, the point being when put together those wrappers will assemble into a map of the legendary Candied Islands. His alternate ruthless using of the duo and his bizarre thoughts and comments about his wife makes him probably the most unnerving character since Family Guy’s Herbie.
And, apparently, van Orman loves this disturbing edginess. “If a cartoon can make me uncomfortable, then I’ll be tuning in again. If it can make me uncomfortable while I’m laughing my ass off then I’ll never miss it. If I get misty eyed, because it’s so sweet or heartfelt, I get uncomfortable. Because it’s a cartoon. If while I’m uncomfortable about the irony of crying during a cartoon, they hit me with the hilarious kind of irony, well I reckon that’s Hollywood gold,” he once told the Frederator Blogs. http://frederatorblogs.com/channel_frederator/2007/01/30/flippin-flapjacks-the-thurop-van-orman-inte/
The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack certainly fits that criteria. As I said before, there’s something just plain wrong about the way Flapjack asks us if we want to have an adventure. It’s part an innocent kid just asking us to play with him. The other part makes one feel like you’re being solicited by a young kid from one of the seedier sections of a Southeast red light district.
At the same time, one must give van Orman his props as a craftsman. Like another Max Atoms former protégé, CH Greenblatt, he mixes media to come up with his own very striking visual milieu. Backgrounds are a mix of watercolors, scraps of found objects and other bits of clashing strangeness. K’nuckles design reminds one a bit of another classic seafaring swabbie, Popeye. In animated form, both sailor men appear appropriately cartoonish. On the other hand, if such people existed in real life they would permanently damage the psyches of babies.
Flapjack is apparently based on van Orman’s son Leif, and was given the round-faced innocence and enthusiasm of an infant. His problem is, like such waifs, he hasn’t quite gotten the idea that he could get seriously hurt when walking off a cliff. Bubbie, and even K’nuckles, are constantly saving the poor boy from eminent disaster.
As for Bubbie? I honestly like her. Roz Ryan plays her big, a cross between Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy and Queen Latifah in one of her more kid-friendly roles. She can get cross, but let’s her love of her charge override her common sense. Her good nature actually is a solid counterpoint to everything her.
Final opinion? The show has potential, especially when you consider van Orman’s own ideas about what makes him laugh. It has a heck of a lead-in in the form of Greenblatt’s Chowder. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if people find the two shows fairly similar, maybe too similar for comfort. On the other hand, there’s a much darker cynicism to Flapjack to the more whimsical tale of Mung Daal’s apprentice in the land of Marzipan.
As said before, there are lots of strange and bizarre creatures in the sea. Flapjack fits in with them perfectly. See for yourself if that’s your kettle of fish.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN I ENDS IN TWO WEEKS
The first season of Spectacular Spider-Man will be ending in two weeks. Here are the final episodes titles. The series is being replaced by Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles Fast Forward on Saturday, June 21.
Saturday, June 7
9:30 a.m. -- The Uncertainty Principle (repeat featuring Green Goblin, Hammerhead & Tombstone)
10:00 -- Intervention (premiere)
Saturday, June 14
9:30 a.m. -- Persona (repeat w/Black Cat, Chameleon & Spider-Man's symbiote-enhanced black suit)
10:00 -- Nature vs. Nurture (premiere, season finale)
Don’t be surprised if Spidey’s new network home is announced very, very soon.
DISNEY RELEASING TINKERBELL AS HALLOWEEN TREAT
Disney’s other logo, Tinker Bell, will speak in an all-new original film this Halloween season. From two-time Academy Award winner John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, Tinker Bell takes flight on October 28.
Tinker Bell includes a voice cast widely acclaimed for performances on stage and screen. Mae Whitman (Independence Day, One Fine Day) gives Tinker Bell her first true voice, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) provides the voice of the mischievous Fawn, an animal fairy. Raven-Symoné is Iridessa, a light fairy; Kristin Chenoweth is Rosetta, a garden fairy; and Lucy Liu plays Silvermist, a water fairy. In addition, singer-songwriter Jesse McCartney lends his voice to Terence, keeper of the pixie dust, and Anjelica Huston reigns over Pixie Hollow as the voice of Queen Clarion.
Tinker Bell is the first in a series of films featuring the Disney Fairies. The Disney Fairies represent a major initiative across The Walt Disney Company being incorporated into divisions such as Disney Consumer Products, Disney Publishing, Disney Interactive Studios, Disney on Ice, Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Online and more.NEXT COLUMN: Also in the works: Richard Epcar and Ellyn Stern.