Brad Bird's Family Dog

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Scouring around YouTube, I found this little gem. Back in the '80s, Steven Spielberg started a popular weekly anthology series on NBC called "Amazing Stories." Some shows were good, some were not-so-good. In 1987, this Tim Burton-produced cartoon aired. It's a half-hour cartoon called Family Dog, and it was written and directed by one Brad Bird.

It's important to remind ourselves that something like Family Dog was pretty cutting edge for tv animation 20 years ago. The Simpsons were still just short clips on Tracy Ullman. There was no Ren and Stimpy. Was Beavis and Butthead on MTV yet? Don't think so. Oh, and you're still years away from Animaniacs.

So while a cartoon that takes a satirical swipe at the surburban family, and with a slightly grown-up appeal, has become a horribly tired cliche in 2007, in 1987 it was exciting, daring, and in the hands of Brad Bird, endlessly entertaining. All of his traits as a movie director are here in abundance, from his love of classic cartoon chases, to a nuanced and humane view of family life. In fact, there's probably bits in here that feel as though they were lifted right out of The Incredibles or Ratatouille.

So, anyway, here's the 1987 Family Dog. The short was later revived several years later, again with Tim Burton's input and Spielberg's drive, but no Brad Bird in sight. Predictibly, the new tv series tanked almost immediately.

Oh, and I caught Ratatouille at the Megamall Saturday night. It was a fantastic movie; transcendent and wonderful. It's an American animation classic, and Pixar's best film. I'll probably go see it again before the weekend's out. Full-length review to come later; hopefully, it won't prove too long-winded.


Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I'm still waiting for the full Howl review too! ;-)

Ratatouille is still a month from being released here, though. Too bad.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I loved this episode dearly the FIRST time I saw it 20 years ago. At that time, seeing anything animated on prime-time was a luxury to say the least, and this episode in particular was pretty well ahead of it's time and gave me a sense of the window nearly being opened ahead with all the interesting stuff that would show up down the road. Of course now the window pretty much got broken in recent years and it's hard to find a way to shut it! How that for a allegory!

Being reminded Brad Bird also had a hand in writing the 1986 film "*batteries no included", which I really liked when I saw it in the theaters not knowing about him at all. Bird is a rare talent that shouldn't be overlooked.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Just reminded myself of the "can pouring" seen in the first act and how Bird really loved what he did on that, and everything it stood for why he felt people need to take their time on stretching a scene out than to have a lot of quick takes or burst of action happen. It's a type of comedy that seems to be obsolete by the thinking of producers and filmmakers in the attempt to keep audiences from looking the other way.

The use of gestures is another device Bird dives into as well, and often expresses the need to broaden the understanding of how not everyone makes the same gesture as it might be brought down to a science in most animation training courses, but rather, you have to draw from your own experiences and the people around you to get a sense of how they might react in a situation. The scene with one of the robbers moving his hands frantically in the third part of Family Dog is said to been based on a kid Brad knew once he did that when he was excited.

Thinking about interesting things these guys worked on before hitting it big, one feature Brad was involved with was Martin Rosen's adaptation of Richard Adams' novel "The Plague Dogs". That one in particular is a very dark, sad tale of two dogs who escape from a laboratory and was thought to be carrying a strain of the bubonic plague in them. Kinda wonder what character or scene did Bird worked on in that film, since the dogs were drawn a lot more anatomically correct yet still able to talk like humans (much like the earlier Watership Down). Still quite interesting he worked on that film prior to doing Family Dog and the Simpsons later in the decade.

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