Monday, July 25, 2011

Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats - Iron Cats

I've been covering a lot of 90's stuff, so I figure now's a good time to cover something a little more ancient. The 80's! That's like ten years older than the 90's!

More importantly, Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats.

Heathcliff has a strange history. The comic came before the Garfield comic strip, but Heathcliff is usually passed off as the rip-off. The Heathcliff cartoon (or cartoons, a fact not many people even know about), came out before Garfield and Friends, but I've seen a disturbing amount of people say the Heathcliff cartoon ripped off Garfield. Heathcliff is like the Time Lord of ripping stuff off.

I went with this show for a couple reasons.

1. The Heathcliff: The Movie phenomenon, where they basically packaged a couple Heathcliff cartoons already made and put it in theaters. That's right, they actually put episodes that were rerunning on television and made parents charge for it. Wow. That level of just not giving a damn from a big name animation studio is pretty amazing and means I have to touch upon this show at least once.

2. The Catillac Cats, DIC creations, managed to outstage Heathcliff in his own show. I guess it was because there was more of them to bounce their personalities off of each other and therefore were more entertaining than the trickster motif Heathcliff's cartoons had, or I could address the elephant in the room and point out that Cleo, with her really humanoid body and curves, probably created her fair share of furries in the 1980's.

It's pretty easy to spot Cleo because she's the only cat with cleavage.
3. The intro was the best part of the series. Don't believe me? I guarantee that if you asked someone what they remembered from the Heathcliff show, they'll probably chime in with "Heathcliff Heathcliff, no one should, terrify the neighborhood!" or recite the part where the singers go "Oh a ohhhh a ooooohhhh oh ohhh a ohhhhh!!" It's one of those classic theme songs that will never leave your head the moment you hear it.

Since this show was split into unrelated 11 minute segments, I'll just cover an 11 minute segment and treat it like it's own episode. That means this blog will either be half the length of a traditional "holy crap that's long" blog post I normally do or nothing about the length changes.

So with that, let's watch Heathcliff! Or rather, a group of cats that has nothing to do with Heathcliff. That's right, Heathcliff won't even appear in this analysis. Not one bit.

Iron Cats

Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Airdate: 1984.

On DVD...sort of. (the whole thing's on DVD in France, not USA)

We open our episode on a nice urban park setting, full of cats in various states of undress playing either croquet or soccer, and already I'm calling into question this strange world in which they live in. If you watch this unassociated with the rest of the cartoon, you would assume that these cats live in some sort of weird cat society where there are cats instead of humans (like Swat Kats), but it's been previously established in the intro that there are people and the cats are just...well, cats. Do the humans see these cats with clothes and croquet balls, calling into question the ethnics of keeping sentient beings with human intelligence as pets, or does the human eye just see ordinary house pets? Is this an alternate dimension where we genetically engineered cats to have humanoid limbs, or is mankind slowly dying out and being replaced with cats (no humans are in this episode despite it being near a city)?

...or, you know, maybe I could talk about the actual cartoon.

Anyways, we pan past some snappily dressed cats playing croquet and get to the Catillac Cats playing soccer. At least, I think they're playing soccer. There's only three of them so basically they're just fooling around with a ball and taking turns hitting it into a goal. If you're a first time watcher, you can immediately pick out the group dynamic just from this scene. There's a fat, dumb, purple cat that resembles a Sonic Adventure character, a sort of head strong (literally) Siamese, and a rhyming white cat that sounds like Snagglepuss and is at that awkward stage in his life where he hasn't yet figured out his sexuality.

Looks just like my high school football field. All it's missing is the hobo.
I will say it's kind of odd going from 90's shows with mid to high production values to something DIC outsourced to Japan in the 80's, because then you sometimes get scenes where the poses make absolutely no sense and no real sense of elasticity. I'm not going to rag on the show's animation too much but I just want to point this out before anyone expects like Darkwing Duck-level poses and pose readability.

"We're just going to stand here and dance The Robot while you lose your three-dimensionality!"
And then we get to Riff Raff and Cleo and...good lord, Cleo. It's kind of disturbing how they obviously made Cleo to be the sex appeal for this show. It's like the animators decided to get drunk and go "Hey, you know furries? Let's appeal to that demographic." Just look at her compared to her poor boyfriend Riff Raff here.

So how do know, I'm not even going to ask that question.
Also, Riff Raff's voice sounds like he's reeeally phoning it in. He's supposed to be the leader but he never sounds interested about anything. It's a real shame because he's voiced by a really good actor, but his voice has a feeling of "I don't want to be here recording for this stupid cat show, for the love of god someone give me a drink". Also, his hat kind of floats behind his head during this scene instead of actually behaving like a hat.

However, we can't just have these cats behave nicely and continue playing their separate games. Not when we need some conflict and some randomly generated bad guys. As it turns out, the dapper gentlemen stuffy British cats (who of course are British, because all the best kind of rich bad guys are British rich bad guys) are classist and can't abide the lower class on their field, breathing their air when they're too poor to pay for it. It probably doesn't help that one of the alley cats actually IS named "riff raff".

The leader of the gentlemen cats (you can tell he's the leader because he's the only one with a different outfit, the only one with a monocle, and the only one with dialogue) says they're a disgrace to catdom, which is ironic, because Riff Raff and his gang look a lot more like cats than they do.
"What are we, gentlemen? Ferrets? Dogs? I honestly have no clue."
What sets off these upper crust mammals? A soccer ball bouncing over a line that looked like a road in the previous shots, of course! This just sets off the prissy little moneybags and we learn that he and Riff Raff had previously set up an agreement that they'd stay on their respective sides in the park. I kind of want to know what conflict caused them to set up the line in the first place or how they even decided on which area's which and how much paperwork they had to file. When Stuffy McBritish brings this up, Riff Raff's only response is a very generic "Now hold on!". That'll show him!

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."
Snooty VonMoney's (I'm going to keep on coming up with names for this guy until they give him a name) proposition is either they leave or he's going to take it from them by force. This prompts his three minions to wield their croquet mallets like war hammers and...toss them at some bottles of milk sitting on someone's doorstop. Way to go, guys. Now you don't have any weapons to fight the alley cats that outnumber you.

They're aiming their hammers at the person responsible for reviving Spy Kids.
The Catillac Cats fittingly laugh at the morons for throwing away their weapons, and Cleo and her furry-creating body tells the alley cats to show the snobs their stuff. And how does the Catillac Cats show off how strong they are? They...I have no idea what the hell they do actually. It involves grabbing each other and jumping around before the fat one tries and fails to bodyslam his friends. Whatever it is, it's actually pretty unconvincing and makes me wonder how those Japanese felt when they had to inbetween this scene.

Pictured: The beginnings of furry yaoi.
Despite the fact that their display of strength was even lamer than the croquet mallet toss, the alley cats feel totally pleased with themselves. Wordsworth (that's the white one) even says "We're bad and we're mad!" before getting uncomfortably close to Hector (the Siamese). Geez, Wordsworth, just come out of the closet already. We all saw what you were doing with Riff Raff.

After that, the scene just kind of...putters to a stop. They don't actually start fighting after showing off their strength; Riff Raff just says he wants to talk and then the negotiations just sort of start off-screen.

In the junkyard, the three boy cats are wondering where their boss is at. Uh, guys, you were just at the park. Don't tell me you just walked off in mid-discussion before you could find out the result. How far is the junkyard from the park anyways? How come they didn't show Riff Raff instructing them to leave while he speaks with the leader? This turn of events just makes no sense and I expect a little more sense from a cartoon that has talking cats in rollerskates.

"I'm just waiting for the Game Boy to be invented."
But then Riff Raff shows up and says one of the most bizarre unexplained lines ever: "Would you guys stop looking like a sandwich and get over here?" In what universe would that make sense? Sandwich? None of them were even on top of each other. Geez, Riff Raff. If you're going to not have any emotion whatsoever in your voice, the least you can do is make sure your lines have some sort of meaning.

Actually, this does look a little suspicious...
Ah yeah, here comes the episode's plot. The reason the negotiations took so long is because if the alley cats win an Iron Cat tag team competition, they win the whole park. So, if the discussion between him and the British McBritish Brit took hours, then was this the only idea they could come up with or were other competitions rejected? I wonder if most of the time was spent sending the "Iron Cat" title to the patent office to get it trademarked.

"Okay, we place the explosives here, and threaten to blow up the Hoover Dam
if we don't get the ransom money."
The moment the other cats hear that they're going to race for the park, they default to good old-fashioned cheating. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately, Riff Raff won't hear of any of it. He wants his men to race fair and square to protect their reputation. After all, if a homeless cat that lives in a junkyard, is covered head to toe in vermin, and eats the rotten leftovers of the populace doesn't have his reputation, than what does he have? He even throws in the money words "hard work" and "concentration", possibly to appeal to the parents who want their snot-nosed brats to learn something from the idiot tube.

Why is Cleo's body being censored out by the hammock?
...on second thought, I don't want to know.
Back at rich asshole manor, Richy McShallowvillain and his homies are marching around in their backyard. The rich cat figures that since the alley cats are going to cheat, they must cheat as well. I have to wonder why he doesn't just play croquet in his own backyard, considering the size of the place and how there's an actual swimming pool. Let the stinking feral cats have their park. At least in their manor's backyard, they won't run the risk of catching Feline Leukemia from Riff Raff.

So are they household pets or do they own that manor...?
In order for Snotty McScrooge to learn how to cheat, he actually starts reading a book that will supposedly teach him how to cheat, which is apparently so secretive it doesn't even have a title. There's some comedy hijinks involving the snob leader being so engrossed in his book that he fails to notice changes in his environment and ends up falling in his pool, but then the hijinks change to downright bizarre when a storm cloud just forms out of nowhere and the cat narrowly avoids getting smoted by a lightning bolt. Holy crap, man.

God's aim is a little off today.
After watching God's wrath in action, we cut to the alley cats exercising for the big race. Here is when I really start to worry about poor sexually repressed Wordsworth, because he sneaks behind Hector, chuckles like Snagglepuss (aka the gayest Hannah Barbara character ever), and reaches out in an attempt to grab him. Seriously, Wordsworth. Stop hiding your feelings. I'm sure Hector would understand if you told him how you really feel.

But instead, the white cat is flung through the air and lands safely near Mungo (aka Big in a beanie), miraculously avoiding getting squashed by horrible purple-furred flab. Wordsworth, feeling cheated that he didn't go with the obvious physical humor gag, decides to correct this by actually pushing the trampoline out of the way just so Mungo will land on him. I guess Wordsworth likes being sat on. He's just full of little secret fetishes that he keeps locked inside of him.

Oh yeah, this makes total sense.
We then hear Riff Raff say "Let's get in shape" in the single most bored tone ever. Geez, Riff Raff, does nothing excite you? Say your lines with a little more feeling, for crying out loud or else I'm going to start campaigning for one of the other cats to take leadership instead. What follows next is the other three cats being worked to the bone while Riff Raff hangs out in his hammock and sips soda like the uncaring jerkhole that he is. I kind of wish they used an 80's sports montage during this scene, just because this was made in the actual era of said montages.

You're a spineless, pale, pathetic lot,
And you haven't got a clue...
With everyone tired, Mungo suddenly decides that it's ice cream time in his generic simpleton voice and runs out of the junkyard, unaware that the snobs are spying on them. How long have they been there? You'd think they'd be rich enough to afford something that can really sabotage the alley cats. Like carpet bombs or some form of chemical warfare.

"Hey, I like Rolling Stones too! Happening!"
Mungo is all by himself in the city at night on a deserted street even though we see no transition between sunny midday to pitch black darkness. I'm going to assume that Mungo is just so absolutely stupid that even mundane tasks like the purchase of frozen goods (not even asking how cats would use currency) take him several hours to perform. Right before the audience can question how Mungo's going to even pay for his ice cream when he both lives in a junkyard and is a cat, something rolls out of the shadows. Why, it's what the rich cats have been planning for Mungo! What is it? An ice cream cart.

Those villainous slimeballs!
What's sinister about it? Absolutely nothing, other than it's full of ice cream. I'm jealous now. I wish my enemies would punish me by giving me obscene amounts of free food. I know supposedly it's supposed to undo all of the exercising Mungo has done to make him unfit to race tomorrow, but come on. All they have to do is look at Mungo and realize that it's a wasted effort. The poor fattie probably had a series of heart attacks just by walking from the junkyard to the city.

And then Mungo's arteries fossilized.
But then, the day of the Big Race! A crowd of cheering felines fill the area, a lot of them carrying balloons and pennants and a lot of them wearing some form of clothing. I want to question the whole "are there even humans in this universe" thing again, but I know worrying about it will make my brain melt out of my ears. And besides, my brain was instantly distracted by the yellow thing that wheels in the cake. It looks like a mix between like six different mammal species and I have no idea why the cats so readily accept it into their society.

What IS that thing?
With that, we cut to the Catillac Cats and we hear Riff Raff say "Where is Mungo?" in a tone of voice that sounds like he really wouldn't give a crap one way or another as to whether or not Mungo did show up. Riff Raff's a twit like that. The cats look for Mungo by...turning their heads, when Wordsworth spots him and reacts in horror to whatever happened to Mungo.

Could you two both stop touching Hector? He looks pretty uncomfortable.
Sweet merciful God, he looks exactly the same!

The footsteps, the music, and the vastly overplayed expressions of fear should indicate that Mungo had gained so much weight that he's now a morbidly obese mockery of nature, but nope. The animators decided that such a beast would be too terrifying for the children to witness on their TV so they just adjusted Mungo's height in maybe one or two scenes so he's like an inch taller than he was before. Really, the amount of laziness in this subplot's conclusion is almost phenomenal. Just one scene of "Wow, Mungo's huge!" and it's instantly dropped.

To sum it up, the Stuffy Brit cats' form of sabotage was to give a very fat cat a lot of free ice cream and the free ice cream doesn't affect him physically in any way. Brilliant!

When the three male cats recover from the fact that Mungo hasn't changed one bit, Riff Raff details who does what. First, it's Wordsworth in the bike race. I guess Riff Raff figured that since Wordsworth is always wearing roller skates, he's smart in all forms of wheel-based transportation. At least until Wordsworth managed to wrap a Volkswagen Beetle around a streetlight. Also, apparently cats can bike and they manufacture bikes that are cat-sized.

How big is this park!?
But then, we run into our first form of cheating; a camera! Wordsworth response immediately earns my ire because he happens to spew out a really, really terrible rhyme. "Hey, what a laugh, a fab photograph!" White cats are dead to me now.

And the rich cat didn't lose control of his bike because...?
As you would expect, the camera was meant to blind Wordsworth, and he temporarily goes out of control and hits a bush. However, despite the fact he's blind, covered in foliage, and has no way to tell what direction he's going, he maintains a really steady pace and manages to catch up with Mungo with the rich cats not even having much of a lead. Why? Because he's the hero, I guess. If Wordsworth wasn't blessed with that kind of televised immunity, he would've broken his neck colliding into that giant bush at that speed.

But first Wordsworth, being Wordsworth, decides to tag his good friend Mungo in a rather inappropriate way.

Wordsworth, you sick person, you.
Mungo shoots off at a pretty impressive speed thanks to Wordsworth colliding with him. And while watching Mungo struggle with the skates, I can't help but wonder why Riff Raff didn't assign Wordsworth, the cat that has roller skates permanently attached to his feet as a part of his character design, to do the roller skate race. It just seems like common sense. What's the second form of cheating for our rich villains? An oil slick.

Anyone who's played Diddy Kong Racing knows how dangerous
oil slicks are.
Course, like the ice cream, the oil slick only helps Mungo. Only this time, the obstacle helps him by making him shoot down the road at an even faster speed. The oil makes him fly so fast that when he hits a hill, he soars into the air. And then Mungo, realizing he's in the air, starts flapping his wings and he actually starts to fly just like a rotund bird. Uh, what?

Pictured: The part in the cartoon where the writers said "To hell with it all".
I can't believe I'm writing this, but the giant purple cat flaps his wings and glides gracefully through the air until he catches up with the cat wearing a business suit and then skates his way into the lead. At some point I'm questioning whether I'm writing about an actual cartoon or about the dream I had when I drank expired cough syrup while suffering from a very bad headcold.

Anyways, Hector is tagged by Mungo while Mungo is talking to himself in amazement about how he just flew. The cats run until we see our third attempt at sabotaging the race; a jar full of bees that manages to make Hector run even faster than he was running before. Way to go, snappily dressed British villain cat. I'm just wondering, but isn't the whole point of "cheating" supposed to be to make sure your opponent loses? Two of their three traps made their enemies go faster. They need to return that book because it's obviously not helping at all.
I'd like to know how those cats managed to get those bees in the can.
Hector manages to fight off the swarm of bees (which magically grew in size inbetween shots) by throwing up sneezing powder and imitating Wordsworth. I guess their relationship isn't so one-sided after all if Hector's thinking in terms of how Wordsworth would react. Of course the sneezing powder works on the entire swarm of bees instead of, you know, not working on animals with a vastly different respiratory system to mammals.

What have they done to Maya the Bee?
Now we have Riff Raff's part of the race. When Hector tags Riff Raff, Riff Raff decides to start warming up for the race, agonizingly delaying himself. There are two possible reasons as to why he does this, and both of them are bad. Either he's warming up because he forgot to, meaning that he wasted all that downtime while the other three raced, or he's delaying himself on purpose because he knows he can win even with the head start, meaning that he's an egotistical jackass.

Riff Raff, when he finally decides to stop showboating, notices that the other cats are cheating. So what does Riff Raff do? He decides to cheat even harder than the snobs by using his magical Catillac that can transform into a high-speed boat. Wait a second. Wasn't Riff Raff the one that said they weren't going to cheat in this race in order to protect their reputation? Are you just going to throw all that phoned in utterings of concentration and hard work and exercise out the window?

Answer: Yes, Riff Raff cheated at swimming. it too late to pretend that Hector's the leader of these cats and not Riff Raff? He's doing a pretty inferior job of "keeping his reputation". Plus at least Hector's voice acting sounds like he has at least some modicum of giving a crap.

Also, somewhere along the line, Cleo's legs turn into Barbie doll limbs.
So, I hate to say this, but the Catillac Cats win the race through Riff Raff cheating every inch of the way in his portion of the race. Way to lose track of the moral you spent a couple minutes ramming down the children's throats. Soon the young populace will question whether the other morals given by their television shows are full of lies too, and before you know it, fire will be raining down from the heavens and civilization will collapse into a bloody whirlwind of chaos and anarchy. Thanks, Riff Raff.

With the race over and a lot of the crowd already gone, the two teams are all lined up and ready to receive the sportsmanship-like handshake at the end of a competition. After all, it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you had fun know, forget it. You know all these cats cared about was beating the other team. That's why the first thought on both teams was "Gee, I wonder how I can inflict massive amounts of agony on the opposing team?". Anyone who's played World of Warcraft should know the level of sportsmanship going on here. Just pretend the Iron Cat tag team race was Alterac Valley.

And to seal the deal, the Catillac Cats decide to throw all illusions that they even cared about winning "fair and square" out the window by kicking the losers while they're down and throwing them into the cake.

Man, I hate it when cat hair gets into my food.
After they do that, the Catillac Cats have a good hearty laugh at the fact that some people of higher class than them are probably choking to death right next to them. They then engage in some dialogue that sounds like the writers hastily tried to work in the whole "work hard to win instead of cheating" moral presented earlier even though Riff Raff shattered the moral beyond repair with his actions.

"Why cheat when you can't be beat?"

"Cause there's no contest when you're the best!"

But you had to win by using a motorboat in a swimming competition...

And then the episode ends by fading to black on Riff Raff's smug little face. He smiles because he knows that HE doesn't have to work hard to achieve his goals. All he has to do is have enough muscle power and the right vehicles and he can totally win any competition.

Cue the credits that will no doubt never leave your head on account they put the Heathcliff theme song right in them. HEATHCLIFF, HEATHCLIFF, NO ONE SHOULD...

The Moral of this Cartoon
Remember kids, reputation doesn't matter as long as you can crush and utterly humiliate your enemies to the point where they wish they were dead.
Because who needs reputation when you have power?

Final Verdict
There are things that I like and things that I don't like about this episode.

On the plus side, compared to the other 80's shows released around this time frame (obviously this was before The Real Ghostbusters and Duck Tales kicked off the Rennaissance of TV animation), the animation manages to look pretty good most of the time. It obviously looks like it had at least some money put into the production because there are some parts of this cartoon where the animation is a lot smoother than, say, He-Man. (example, the scene in the water has some really great effects) Plus this episode never once gave me a feeling of "oh geez, why am I watching this?" so that's always a good sign. As my final compliment, Wordsworth and Hector and sometimes even Mungo were pretty likeable.

On the other hand, there's Riff Raff. Maybe it's just the way this episode is set up, but Riff Raff is probably the least interesting cat out of the bunch and he's supposed to be the leader. His voice-acting sounds really phoned in and when he takes time out of the episode to give some sort of weekday afternoon children's show moral, he later goes back on that exact same moral later on. You can argue that it's a subversion and therefore really clever that Riff Raff actually cheats to beat the cheaters, but it wasn't presented as skillfully as it should've been and therefore just looks like someone changed the script at the last minute.

So in other words, this episode was neither here nor there. I think part of it is because this show, or at least this episode, really is a product of its time, and doesn't really have the "timeless feel" that people attribute to cartoons that can be enjoyed past their given decade. It's okay, but I can't expect anyone to turn into a big-time Heathcliff fan just by watching this. I had fun watching it, but most of my fun came from watching the animation itself and it's kind of antique style rather than actually rooting for the characters.

I say at least give the Heathcliff a look to look at the animation, because I swear it has a sort of Anime/Western Animation hybrid feel to it due to the out-of-country studio that did most of the inbetweening.