Monday, April 20, 2009
Co-written and co-directed by John Hubley, Faith Hubley, and Garry Trudeu, A Doonesbury Special aired on NBC in 1977, and was subsequently shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize. I'd always heard about the special, and was delighted to find it available on YouTube.
Looking back more than 30 years after it aired, it feels like a splice of Bill Melendez's work on the Peanuts specials, and Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of Fritz The Cat (it has the sharp voice characterizations of the former, and cleverly abstracted animation of the latter, as well as Fritz's conflicted nostalgia for a lost '60s idealism). It's fascinating to see how the cartoon opens up the visual spaces of Trudeau's strip: movement of camera and animation of the figures necessarily gives us a wider view of the house and grounds of Walden commune than we got in the 1970s comic, and the Thudpucker concert sequence's inventive angles and reflections point the way to the more baroque visuals Trudeau would begin using in the mid-1980s. Much of the script is based on older Doonesbury strips, and the best sequences are those that find a way to animate the absurdities of Trudeau's situations without losing the sardonic pitch of his phrasing (the best example is the scene with the hilariously inept Yale football team).
More than anything, though, it's the voices that make the difference. Hearing Mike, B.D., Zonker and the gang "speak" for the first time, I felt like a silent film audience hearing Garbo or Gilbert in their first talkies-- that's what they sound like? I liked Zonker's almost Dude-like lazy drawl, and the preppy midwestern flatness of Mike's voice, but I wasn't expecting Mark's New Yawk phrasing, or the pinched timbre of B.D.'s whining (I'd always heard him as more of a bass, actually, maybe because of his omnipresent helmet-- it's interesting how much cartoons play on those kinds of stereotypes).