|OPUS 'n BILL in A WISH FOR WINGS THAT WORK (cbs, 1991)|
|Why was it such a
Bloom County was my favorite comic strip as a kid and it still is now. Having Garfield, Snoopy and Grimm on TV was nice, but the true star I was waiting for was Opus. So when CBS finally announced an Opus Christmas special, I was ecstatic. There was no way I was missing this!
...Except I did. Because my mom wouldn't let me watch it. And that was because a newspaper article about the special printed the following song lyrics: "I've got those Flightless Earthbound Blues, my butt digging down to my shoes." I still don't know what that means, but it sounded vulgar enough for my mother to forbid it. If that article hadn't been printed, there would have been no problem -- the lyric goes by extremely fast and is nearly impossible to catch. But I had to miss it, and for the next 16 years I didn't see a single cel until YouTube was invented. Thaaaaaanks, Mom.
Breathed's single animated cartoon to date starts with a voice-over dictating his own letter to Santa Claus. The camera pans around the room to give us a good look at the stuff he owns, and then reveals the voice is coming from Opus himself.
Opus is voiced by Michael Bell. The Opus in my head was more nasally-voiced than this, but Berke Breathed was aware of this possibility before he started. He commented in an interview around that time that the intimidation in picking a voice for Opus lied in the fact that everybody had a different idea of what the character they'd been reading in papers for years sounded like. It didn't take long for Garfield to become animated, and I can't imagine him not sounding like Lorenzo Music, or an impersonated facsimile. But Opus wasn't a cartoon until after Bloom County had already ended and he was starring in the rocky road that was Outland.
Breathed said his dream voice for Opus would have been Sterling Holloway. I really can't imagine Opus sounding like Winnie the Pooh, and I'm glad nobody told him about Jim Cummings, but I can sympathize with him. Until now, my dream voice for Aerynn was Brittany Murphy.
We head into a flashback as Opus reads his letter, describing the events of that morning. He was following a duck and attempting to fly again, but having as much luck as Freakazoid. He passes some nameless carolers who show up now and then through the cartoon. It would have been nice if Berke hadn't "retired" his adult human characters and put them there instead.
When this was made, Breathed was still suffering under the delusion that Outland was NOT a Sunday-exclusive version of Bloom County, but an entity unto itself. So while Opus and Bill are still around, he still hadn't brought back Oliver, Binkley or Steve Dallas. Instead, this cartoon has a lot of the weaker characters Breathed put in their place, such as Truffles the Pig.
Truffles is having a similar identity crisis, only more severe: he thinks he's a rhinoceros. Because a truffle is a French delicacy, they've given Truffles a French accent, despite that he wasn't French in the strip, or a delusional fake rhino for that matter. Truffles was sometimes used when a strip called for a deadpan character to react to Opus and Oliver wasn't around.
"What use are wings if they can't make you fly? I might as well be a dung beetle! Or a fly-infested worm-infused molded mildewed scrap of ROTTEN BANANA!! ....Or a network executive."
To make life worse, a trio of ducks mock him for his lack of flight just about every day, one of which has Plucky Duck's exact voice.
If finding a voice for Opus was difficult, matching Bill the Cat must have been even harder. You don't want a voice so much as you want someone good at sickly cat noises, and performing "Ack!" with convincing sincerity. Now this I really don't understand: Frank Welker is in the credits, but he didn't voice Bill. Whoever they have doing it isn't all that great. I'm certain Welker, master of unearthly animal noises, could have pulled it off.
The special claims Bill originated in a university science lab. I don't consider that canon -- they needed something to explain his presence, and the fact that he was introduced by Bloom County Inc. as a gag character to mock Garfield's commercialism doesn't work storywise. There's no fourth wall this time.
A lot of comic strip-based cartoon specials steal material from strips. Thankfully, there's not much of that here, except for the next scene, which was lifted almost shot-for-shot from this Outland strip:
Robin Williams doesn't want you to know this, but the Kiwi is voiced by Robin Williams. This special was being produced at the same time as Hook, and Steven Spielberg managed to convince both Williams and Dustin Hoffman to take a brief detour into a recording studio to play animals in a cartoon his production company was making. If you imagine they did this in costume as Captain Hook and Peter Pan, their lines become far better.
Williams is credited as "Sudy Nim," Hoffman isn't credited at all. Not even as "Sam Etic."
If you aren't familiar with the strip it's based on, seeing this scene is kind of confusing. George only briefly points out he's a kiwi and it's hard to tell otherwise. All he does is yell "AAAALBATROSS!!" and the chicken just screams and runs around.
Another major difference is that in the cartoon, Ronald-Ann is heading the support group, not Opus. Seeing Ronald-Animation is nice, but I'm depressed that I'll never see an animated Binkley. Hoffman plays the role of Milquetoast in the scene.
If his wings aren't going to evolve themselves, Opus is just going to take matters into his own hands. He takes a trip to the wackiest-looking balloon shop ever, and emerges as a self-described "aeronautic vigilante." Let's see gravity stop him now!
Bill helps attach the balloons, but he gets his tongue stuck to the girdle, which ruins the aeronautic factor of Opus's newfound vigilantism. Several midair catastrophes later, Opus has had it with Bill. "YOU RUIN EVERYTHING!! YOU'RE ABOUT AS HELPFUL AS BUTT IMPLANTS!!" Even though Bill's brain was "replaced with tater tots," this remark hits him hard.
That wraps up all previous events, and we cut back to Opus writing the letter. "And so this is my one and only wish.....TO BE A POWERPUFF GIRL!! ...I mean, for a pair of wings that work." Opus begins stuffing the letter into an envelope, but after checking the calendar and seeing how close it is to Christmas, he faxes the letter instead. Then he heads to bed....and the camera pans up into the clouds to show....
...Santa Claus? Can't we have one Christmas special without YOU showing up?
Unfortunately, as Santa circles Bloom County, the coupling pin connecting his sleigh to the reindeer comes loose and falls out. Santa tumbles to the ground...is this the end of him? What do YOU think?
This is interesting. At the start of the third act, Opus has been inserted into the black-and-white film "Lost Horizon." He's the pilot, but has no idea how to fly a plane. As the crew gets hysterical, Opus frantically looks for the "starboard ailertooter," wherever that is. The plane crashes -- and he wakes up.
One of the more bizarre running jokes in Outland was that Opus's bum had a tendency of detatching itself and falling off with a loud "CLANG!" It happens here too, and it's no more amusing than it was in print. There's a loud knocking at the door...
It's those same smart-aleck ducks; what do they want? They've actually come declaring an emergency. Some fat guy in a fur coat (must be fake fur, this IS a Breathed Picture) is floating in the middle of their pond, stranded. They'd pull him out, but the water is freezing. They need someone who's accustomed to swimming in frigid weather!
So you can add Opus to the long list of licensed characters that have saved Santa. As a reward, Opus gets Santa's neat hat to wear. Wait....that's it? No wings? What a rip!
The next morning, Christmas Day, Opus gets out of bed. He yawns, and all the posters on his wall yawn with him, which is another weird gag. He's feeling let down over his lack of flight, but there's a knock on the door similar to last night's.....
It's hundreds of ducks wearing bow ties! Word has spread throughout the duck community of Opus's valiant rescue, and they've gained respect for him now. Their reward is better than Santa's -- they're going to take him into the sky!
Opus is overjoyed. "Whose idea was this?" he says as he rises into the air. A duck points to the ground, and Bill is standing there waving. It's a present much better than the hat, so Opus throws it down to Bill....who immediately crashes into a stack of garbage cans.
There's a short scene after the credits where Truffles yells into the sky at Opus, "DON'T GET COCKY!" Then Opus's rear end lands next to him. Uh......okay, whatever.
Why didn't it fit in?
Just seeing them move is enough for me, but probably not for everyone.