Monday, August 29, 2011

Totally Super Galactic...its, like, ORBITAL!

Ok, there are many films and television shows from my childhood that had not successfully stood the test of time.  Mighty Morphin Power Rangers makes my head hurt (though on a dull summer day and you might catch me playing with my old Zords...and then I'll deny it and say I was dusting), "New Kids on the Block" are more campy than cool, and the non-Disney renaissance films from other companies all have the tangy odor of aged cheese.  Does that mean I can't enjoy these elements due to nostalgia?  Certainly not...rather, I embrace the slightly embarrassed "Oh my god, did I watch this?" feelings when I go back to revisit something I thought was amazing as a child.  It is this 'duel-mindedness' that I think helps me to still appreciate my inner-child's memories while also indulging my palate in new experiences.  However, this blog isn't about philosophy...its about movies and I have a humdinger of a film for you today.  It seems caught in a sort of time warp where the 80s bled into the 90s and at the same time, revived the 50s.  Its an odd amalgum, one made even more strange by the pairing of classic animation styles with brand-new computer animated elements.  Even today, it remains a curiosity of the time and one wonders why the movie was even made...still, it was a modest success (mainly on video) and certainly lit up my Saturday afternoons a time or two.  So lets go back into the past...and through doing so...zoom into the future as we visit that Furture-iffic family in Jetsons: The Movie.

The film opens in a darkened industrial plant and sinister music plays as unseen creatures skitter around in the dark and sabotage the complex equipment held within.  Then, with enough enthusiasm to erase memories of the dark opening, we are greeted to a widescreen and stereo sound version of the famed "Meet the Jetsons" opening from yesteryear.  We meet George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, Rosie the Robot, and Astro the Dog and in the space of 30 seconds, we know everything we need to know about our protagonists (well, everything that will matter over the course of the film anyway).  George heads to work for what seems like will be a normal day, but his life is suddenly changed when his boss, Mr. Spacely, promotes George to Vice-President and overseer of the Spacely Orbiting Ore Asteroid.  Little does George know that Spacely is merely hoping for George to be a proxy, a figurehead who pushes a button at the plant and takes the blame for the continual problems it seems to keep having.  After limited protest from his family, George moves them all to the plant to take over the operations.  Of course, soon everything begins falling apart and it is up to the Jetsons to discover what is causing the glitches at the Plant and fix them.

I have to preface this paragraph with the statement that I am about to ask a serious question and intend no snide, rude, or ironic tone....I wonder what the producers were thinking when they decided to make this film?  I can assume that, the suits at Universal who had had decent success with An American Tail and The Land Before Time, saw the onslaught of animated fare flooding the cinemas and saw that their slate was rather light in terms of recognizable animated fare.  Having recently established a partnership with Hanna Barbara that extended even to the Universal Studios theme parks (Elroy Jetson starred in an interactive show at the park for quite some time), it probably seemed like good business to dip into their wide well of source material to make a feature.  Add to that that the late 80s had seemed to embrace some of the more wild elements of the 1950s and absorbed them into its own culture soup, and the fact that The Jetsons were a decidedly retro vision of the future that fit right in to that 50s asthetic, and I suppose it must have seemed like a great idea.  Indeed, the colorful images in the trailers and the promise of the exploits of a rather famous cartoon family in a big feature certainly worked on me enough to convince my mother to take me and see the film.  However, there was perhaps too much 80s in the film and not enough of a homogenous and timeless mixture.  Universal did in fact replace the voice of the original Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo, with that of pop-star Tiffany and inserted a number of songs in the film that Tiffany would perform (pushing the 80s meter up even higher) and filmed at least one music video for one of those songs, "You and Me", that played during the film and featured imagry that looked like it had exploded from the mind of A-ha.  Reviews of the film equated it to nothing but a hour-long television special that had been expanded to film and it dropped off 43% in box office revene after its first weekend and the Jetsons movie was largely forgotten until video where it was indeed successful.  What had looked like a perfect storm, creatively, for Universal backfired and the studio shyed away from animation for a long while (with rare releases like We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story becoming equally forgotten at the box office) and wouldn't have the success of their 80s efforts until Shrek in 2001.  Is Jetsons: The Movie better forgotten?  Maybe...it certainly doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before and adds nothing new or revolutionary to the realm of animated film.  At the same time, it certainly isn't the death of animation either...its merely an average performer among greater brothers and sisters.  If you're babysitting a 4 year old, you could do a lot worse than the late 80s and early 90s charms of Jetsons...but its not for grown-ups unless grew up on it.

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