Judge Erich Asperschlager is a cartoon maroon.
"Ready, set, cereal"
As anyone who grew up in the '70s or '80s will tell you, there was something special about Saturday morning TV. Sitting down for many hours, too close to the tube, munching on sugary cereal in front of a flashing parade of primary colors and toy commercials. Looking back, it was a gateway for attention-deficit disorder and early onset diabetes. As a kid, it was the best.
A love of that Saturday morning ritual is at the core of Captain Cornelius Cartoon's Cartoon Lagoon, a comedy puppet show that will feel instantly familiar to adults of a certain age. Perhaps too familiar.
More on that after these messages.
Somewhere in the vast television oceans is Cartoon Lagoon, dumping ground for all of the unwanted cartoons of yesteryear. There they would remain, forgotten, if it weren't for Captain Cornelius (Chris Phillips) and the crew of the mighty Manta Ray, the world's only cartoon retrieval sub. Along with Wet Willy Jones (show creator Manny Galán), Axel Rodd McGee (Frankie Cordero), and anthropomorphic two-by-four Franky Planky, the Captain braves the deep, fishing for the most obscure, overlooked, and often terrible, cartoons of all time. They catch 'em, watch 'em, and make fun of 'em in the ship's on-board movie theater.
Captain Cornelius Cartoon's Cartoon Lagoon wears its influences proudly—which is a nice way of saying it mostly rips off Mystery Science Theater 3000. The bulk of Volume 1's debut episode ("Unhappy Birthday") features the puppet crew (they have animated faces) riffing on Casper the Friendly Ghost, The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo, and Popeye. I'll give credit to Manny Galán. In the included audio commentary, he cops to his fanboy love of MST3K, calling Cartoon Lagoon an "homage." Other MSTies may not be so generous.
The similarities are hard to ignore: the puppets, the ship (underwater instead of outer space), the silhouettes (on the left here, instead of the right), the circular hatch that closes as the crew leaves the theater. On the surface, it's pretty shameless. Push down those icky feelings, though, and you'll find a well-made show with a distinctive look—from the clever approach of superimposing animated faces on the puppets' faces, to the slick retro-modern design. You can accuse Cartoon Lagoon's creators of many things, but you can't accuse them of being lazy. The show is a clear labor of love. So is this DVD.
Cartoon Lagoon: Volume 1 would be a tough sell if all it included was the show's first, and only, half-hour episode. But it is extended to feature length with the bonus "Cartoon Lagoon Cartoon Crew All-Star Cartoon Revue"—a whopping hour and a half of vintage and modern cartoons, Saturday morning commercial parodies, hijinks aboard the Manta Ray, musical performances by The Gregory Brothers, and an "interview" with Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman.
There's no riffing in the "Revue," but that's okay. As amusing as the standard Cartoon Lagoon episode is, this long-format program is more in line with the Saturday morning TV experience that inspired the show. The old cartoons are a mixed bag, with appearances from Gumby, Popeye, Little Lulu, Woody Woodpecker, Felix the Cat, and Superman. The biggest surprise is "The Story of King Midas," a stop-motion short produced by the visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen. The film may be in rough shape, but the animation is as evocative as the films that made Harryhausen famous. The revue also includes several entries from animator Gabe Swarr's "Life in the Analog Age" web series, focusing on '80s childhood experiences like Atari ownership and intense battle scene doodling.
Cartoon Lagoon: Volume 1's 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is suitably peppy. The puppets look great, even in standard def, with strong stitching detail and bright colors. The cartoons don't look as good, marred with scratches and dirty colors to match their age. The 2.0 audio mix is clean and clear—better, at least, than the tinny speakers on our 13-inch color set could manage.
The "All-Star Cartoon Revue" might be the best bonus feature, but that's not all this DVD has to offer:
• Audio Commentary: Manny Galán talks about his past as a writer and artist, how this first episode was made, and the future of the series he calls "a soup of many tributes." It's clear from listening to him talk that the man loves cartoons. Whatever you think of the show's originality, it's hard to argue with his passion for sharing old-time Saturday mornings with today's kids.
• "Early Tests" (1:03): A quick look at the face-mapping tech that gives the show its distinctive look.
• "Behind the Scenes" (2:19): Less a traditional making-of featurette than a rapid-fire promo video.
• "Trailer 1" (1:00) "Trailer 2" (0:30)
• "Animatic Comparison" (0:52) of the opening credits sequence.
• "Table Read Excerpts" (3:45): A handheld video of the actors and director reading through the episode's host segments, shot at "The Puppet Kitchen."
• "Image Gallery" (0:41)
• "Bloopers!" (2:04)
• "Full Interview with Butch Hartman" (7:51): As it appears in the revue, Wet Willy's interview with Hartman is a gag about awkward silence. This real interview gives Hartman a chance to talk about his career and influences.
There's a lot to appreciate about Captain Cornelius Cartoon's Cartoon Lagoon: Volume 1, and reason to look forward to Volumes 2 and beyond. As a tribute to the junk food TV landscape that inspired people like me to wake up early on Saturday mornings, it shines. As a tribute to the movie-riffing masters at Mystery Science Theater 3000, it doesn't fare as well. Manny Galán and his co-writers come up with some decent one-liners, but their skewering of subpar cartoons falls one too many dated pop culture references short of comedy greatness.
Remember the forgotten cartoons. Not guilty!
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