posted by Paul on 10/18/01
"He's The Best
He's The Greatest
He's The Greatest Secret Agent In The World!
He's The Ace - He's Amazing...
He's the Strongest... He's The Quickest.... He's The Best!"
And so it began.
If you were lucky enough to view cheesy eighties' cartoons, it's likely that "Dangermouse" will hold a special place in your heart. It was incredibly silly, poorly animated but was still entertainining in its own quirky right. Come to think of it, that encapsulates about 90% of eighties pop culture output. When I was young, I'd watch pretty much anything that was drawn - and often that would mean cartoons. What was different in those days was that they seemed to create shows that had consistent characters and interesting plots. Nowadays there are no real iconic anuimation shows for kids, since "The Simpsons" is for all demographics and everything else serves as the retarded cousin to Matt Groening's greatest offspring.
For my money, "Dangermouse" wasn't quite up there with "Inspector Gadget" or "Willie Fog:" Gadget had nifty gadgets, a know-it-all niece and a nemesis whose face was always veiled; Fog, well he was a lion who liked to travel around the world in increasingly exciting and varied adventures. All very plausible, of course. What distinguished these shows was the simple formulae at play. Just like the ridiculously campy "Batman" TV show of the sixties, you always knew that the "heroes" would luck their way out and somehow save the day. In "Batman", for instance, they'd leave the first episode hanging on the cliffhanger with Bats and his homo sidekick tied together (BOOYA!) and hovering over some molten lava. The next episode would begin with Bats limp-wristing his way to safety - POWING!, SPLATTING! and other horrendous analogies for homoerotic jousting (no pun intended) their poorly dressed enemies. The danger was shown to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
"Batman," at the time at least, was actually a very fun show, and since I was never ingrained in the comic book culture, I was disappointed when the big-screen version was so downbeat and dark. Of course, I wasn't to know that that was truer to the original vision. The vision of "Dangermouse" was as a cartoon spoof of James Bond with cheesy jokes aplenty and nods to other treasures of popular culture. Obviously it was more innocent and strait-laced than a lot of these newer animations, which contain the obligatory inside jokes to keep the adults from nodding off.
Not about masturbation. I swear. Come here, Master Mate!
Animators have always been the sly sort and as shows like "Captain Pugwash" have subsequently proven, most of the time the joke is on us - or, if we're old enough, we can laugh at the impudence of these guys, who more often than not got away with the sly nods and crude innuendo.
"Dangermouse" first began broadcasting way back in 1981, and stayed true to the formula of kids' TV of the era - easy on the eyes and suitably light-toned. It was, I suppose, something of a cross between the goofiness of "Airplane" and the campiness of "Batman" - Dangermouse, a white mouse and world famous secret agent, always triumphed in the end. The funny thing about Dangermouse, besides being a talking mouse, was that he had an eye patch, an immaculate English accent and could walk. I'm not sure what the animators were going for here, but any mouse I've ever seen usually ends up in glue or a conveniently placed trap.
I could never understand why they consistently made shows like this with vermin (although less vermin by design than Christina Aguilera) as their titular characters - why not have more rabbits, cats or dogs? At least they are cuddly in real life, and less likely to get walloped by a frying pan. It's a small gripe though, because when you're six years old you genuinely accept these things. So much so, in fact, that I once dropped a coin into a wishing well and wished that I could be transformed into Dogtanian - and that was just last week, and I still haven't noticed the excess hair growth or slobbering. Well, no more so than usual.
Seriously, though, "Dangermouse" was definitely slight fun. It was neither groundbreaking nor has it dated too badly. There's no doubt that it was, however, a little before its time. Sure, the animation might not hold up too well today, but the ironic scripts and slapstick humor was perfectly balanced - and if "Beavis and Butthead" showed anything (besides the horrors of Frog Baseball), it's that bad animation doesn't negate eventual cult status. This was a good thing and a bad thing, since you couldn't really suspend belief in the show but it did guarantee that as your sense of irony improved, the jokes still endured. Not that the jokes were sure-fire classics, because they were more childish wordplay and odd quips in nature. No way was this show more clever than "The Simpsons", which can be enjoyed on so many levels with a guaranteed twenty priceless lines (at least) per episode.
The show's plots were very simple, but it made it very easy to follow. Dangermouse was the hero of the piece and aided by his inept sidekick, Penfold, tried to save the world or rescue the bumbling Penfold from certain death. Penfold was definitely a cool character. A friend of my cousin, bespectacled and more than a little odd, was dubbed Penfold. In fact, anyone with over-sized government-funded glasses and a geeky attitude at that time was called Penfold. It was like that line in "Can't Hardly Wait" where Mike Dexter calls William Lichter an "Urkel". It was taking a popular representative of nerdishness to poke fun. Penfold was a hamster though, and not a high-pitched black guy with slacks. Getting compared to a cartoon hamster who lived in a mailbox wasn't in the least bit complimentary.
Yes, that's the other odd thing about the show. Not only did the characters have a great camaraderie (DM was always berating his hapless sidekick, then the two would kiss and make up - figuratively), they also shared a mailbox for a home. This ensured that the show was as surreal as possible, just as a grown man and a lackey boy dressed as birds sharing a "batcave" guaranteed cult infamy. Penfold, strangely dressed in a suit and with a bald head, was prone to saying "crumbs!", a catchphrase later altered to "yippee kay yay motherfucker!". It looks as though the creators spend ten minutes on character arcs, three on animation and one second on concocting memorable catchphrases.
Dangermouse and Penfold were commanded by a walrus (I kid you not) called Colonel K, who would send the duo on far-off missions to fight off terrorist attacks and put an end to ridiculous villains. One such villain was Count Duckula, who was actually a vampire duck. He was, par for the course, an imbecile as only inoffensive cartoon villains could be. I enjoyed Count Duckula, who was the Shredder of his time (sans deep voice and inept sidekicks). He spoke with a campy English accent and was a vegetarian, so it was only natural that he'd used for comedic effect. EVERY show with a hint of comedy (or a studio audience that nearly chokes to death when Chandler is cracking one of his famous one-liners) introduces the well-spoken Brit for cheap laughter.
"Dangermouse" ran for six years, which is a very long time in cartoon terms. Like most of these shows, it has a slew of fans begging for its comeback and more than a few devotees. But, in my opinion, nostalgia will always triumph over renewals. It was fun then, but would probably seem dire now - how well will shows like "Will and Grace" age? If you ever get the opportunity to watch the show, you'll be amazed at how old it seems. But you might also be surprised by how much sharper it is than many of your
generation's shows. Try it and see.
And if you don't like it, all I can say is "crumbs!"
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