|Check that out! At long last, a DVD
set for the first 13 episodes of Taz-Mania is on the
retail horizon, mostly because WB Animation has exhausted
their archive and are now scraping around for whatever
else they haven't put out yet. Taz-Mania didn't deserve
to be overlooked for so long, though. It was just as good
as any Tiny Toons or Animaniacs episode, and I'd really
like WB to follow through and release all 65
Unfortunately the show took a few episodes to get going and some of the cartoons published here are among their worst (you can skip "Like Father, Like Son," it's the most boring one they ever made). I would really appreciate it if those who bought this didn't get a false impression and did not support any future releases, because Taz-Mania was a very witty, clever series when it found its groove, and I'd like to see those later episodes become available.
So it seems like a good time to compile and list my favorite Taz-Mania cartoons that ever were. In the process, I'll be spoiling these episodes completely, so fair warning.
ROAD TO TAZ-MANIA
Another reason you need to support these DVDs is so I can make better-looking screenshots than what my old rabbit-ears tapings from the 90's look like.
Taz's dad on the show (Hugh Tasmanian Devil) was an obvious Bing Crosby caricature, so it was inevitable that at some point, he'd meet a Bob Hope caricature and go on road trip adventures. When Taz's Uncle Drew visits, that's exactly what takes place. Imagine my confusion as a kid not of the Crosby/Hope generation who had no idea why the episode was titled "Road To Taz-Mania" ....when that's where they already are.
The family is out of orange juice, and nothing is more important to Drew than OJ. Hugh, Drew and Taz's road trip takes them to a mini-mart that is strangely staffed by trenchcoated spies. At the counter Drew asks for a carton of "fresh-squeezed orange juice," which turns out to be the coincidental correct code word for a macguffin the spies are transporting. We never find out what's in the carton, but now the spies want it back and Taz must constantly protect Hugh and Drew throughout the rest of the trip, who remain oblivious.
"Road To Taz-Mania" had two sequels, but neither were as good as the first. "Return of the Road To Taz-Mania Strikes Back" aired a couple weeks after "Road To Taz-Mania" and was about Hugh and Drew competing in a golf tournament against two crooked competitors. It was dull subject matter when compared to the original, so "Yet Another Road To Taz-Mania" was a more blatant copy -- another spy adventure, only instead of an OJ carton it was a bowling ball. I do, however, have to give it points for this scene:
TAZ IN KEEWEELAND
There were a few shorts where Taz tried to eat a small yellow bird called The Keewee. They were boilerplate predator-prey cartoons and nothing much to write about. But then there was this one, where Taz is chasing Keewee and the latter creature suddenly runs super-fast and warps into another dimension, dragging Taz along through physical force. Taz winds up in Keeweeland, the previously unforeseen topsy-turvy world of Keewees. Surreal, inventive Wonderland-style escapades follow. It was a cool change of pace and scenery for the show, and one of their best ideas....or at least the best thing they ever did with Keewee.
Francis X. Bushlad was a tribal bushman whose task to achieve manhood status was to successfully trap Taz and bring him to his father. Since every cliche is subverted on this show, Francis's tribe is made up of wealthy businessmen and capturing Taz was one of several choices to activate Francis's manhood, among tasks like "perform a hostile takeover of a Fortune 500 company."
Of course, Francis is never going to capture Taz for long, and not only does the viewer know this, so does the writer. The concept is taken to its logical conclusion in "Bushlad's Lament," where Francis and Taz are now really, really old and still playing the hunt-and-chase game.
This subversion is great and provides a lot of old-fogey comedy. Throughout the cartoon Francis sets up traps, forgets they're there, then sets up the same traps again. One of his major schemes is a 16-ton-weight suspended over a television, held by a flimsy rope. There are multiple scenes where either Francis or Taz is under the weight and it looks like it could give at any second.
The cartoon ends with Young Francis waking up in his bed. He calls the writers hacks for resorting to the "dream" ending, then complains that they never dropped the 16-ton-weight they introduced. The weight slams on him out of nowhere. Then he wakes up again and the weight hits him again; then he wakes up THEN (visibly more injured) and the weight hits him AGAIN....on and on until fade-out, as some kind of writers' revenge.
This cartoon is followed by a "behind-the-scenes" visit to a cartoon research facility, to explain why a 16-ton weight is the perfectly researched and scientifically calculated form of physical comedy. We're shown rats watching a stuffed dummy get hit by 2-ton, 6-ton and 12-ton weights, with no reaction. Then they drop a 15.99999999-ton weight, and "the rats almost crack smiles, but collapse into a deep deep depression." Classic.
WILLY WOMBAT'S LAST STAND
Taz-Mania is one of the most meta shows I've ever seen, and Willy Wombat was the most meta character it had. (Or at least one of the most.) He only appeared in a deliberate trilogy of cartoons, beginning with "Wacky Wombat." Willy was described in the writers' bible as a copy of Bugs Bunny who was supposed to antagonize Taz in a similar manner, but Willy considered himself a nice guy and took issue with the role he was intended to play. In the follow-up, "Willy Wombat's Deja Boo-Boo," Willy complained to the directors that he was nothing but a Bugs Bunny ripoff and demanded a rewrite of himself. The writers, in response, just kept sticking him into other WB ripoff roles -- as a hound dog tormented by Taz wearing a beak; as a lisping cat ordered to chase Taz in a giant canary costume. Willy didn't take all this very well.
It came to a head in the third and final cartoon, "Willy Wombat's Last Stand," where Willy stopped the cartoon seconds after it began and said he was going directly to the Warner Bros. CEO's office to straighten this out once and for all.
The rest of the cartoon is just Willy and Taz sitting in a waiting room. Every time Willy is told the boss is ready to see him, or every time he sees a second of an opening between meetings, he rushes for the door -- only to be tackled by another cartoon director experiencing a creative crisis. This happens over and over, and with each passing minute, Willy's cheery expression disappears further from his face. There's a great moment when a character who hadn't been seen in a while (Taz's "friend" Buddy Boar) rushes in as one of the directors. The secretary explains that "no one liked him, so he quit and became a director."
Part of the reason I love this cartoon is because it works on a psychological level. There had only been one commercial break before "Willy Wombat's Last Stand" began, and as a viewer, you know they have two more to burn and you're expecting a break from this at any second. But it doesn't come, not even after the show passes the 20 minute mark. It's Willy in the waiting room, on and on, without relief. I don't know if this element was intentional, but this cartoon is about the frustration of waiting for something, and the surprise repetition forced on the viewer adds a lot to the target satire. (They pull this off by making Act 3 about a minute long and creating a fake "Taz Sings The Classics" ad between the two real breaks.)
Finally, the boss asks to see Willy
specifically -- but he'd like to see Taz first. Willy SNAPS,
breaks the gentle demeanor he'd become known for, and rushes into
the office, screaming his head off at the CEO. "Well,
Willy," starts the boss, "I invited you here to say
we'd like to start a new series based around you. A kinder,
gentler series, where you can be as polite and sweet as you want
"BUUUUUT....until this moment, I never realized the kind of anger issues you really had! I'm sorry, but maybe this isn't the best project for you. I think it'd be better if you resumed your original role."
Some are going to feel I have avant-garde, hipster-y reasons for picking this one. To them I'll say, find the cartoon and watch it. It really works. This is anti-humor done right.
Maybe the reason Buddy Boar failed as a character was because there wasn't much that made him stand out. Didgeri Dingo is Taz's other "friend" and had multiple cartoons because his setup is funnier: he's a manipulative, selfish jerkass constantly using Taz as a prop to achieve his own get-rich-quick desires. Taz, being dim and naive, never realizes this. "Doubting Dingo" was the most outrageous Didgeri cartoon ever made, where the setup was taken to its extreme end. There's no way to tell which order these cartoons were written in, but "Doubting Dingo" would make a great finale to the Didgeri saga.
Didgeri, as hinted by the title, is suspicious of Taz today for some reason and believes he could turn against him at any second. So when Taz approaches claiming he found a treasure map, Didgeri suspects it's a scheme to get rid of him. As they're following the map's directions, Didgeri constantly trips up Taz on purpose, usually resulting in painful injuries for Taz. At one point they must climb down a mountain and Didgeri notices a sign that warns of loose rocks. Complaining it's clear evidence that Taz (who's already gone ahead) is backstabbing him, he loosens a giant boulder, causing a chain reaction that makes Taz plummet into the river, followed by about twenty large boulders.
But it's not over yet. Taz then falls down about fifteen waterfalls, then unbelievably drifts onto a conveyor belt into several factories that serve no purpose but to pummel him (the last one, "Warner Bros. Senseless Pummeling Factory," outright lampshading this). Bruised, injured and fur-matted, he floats back into the river and washes ashore -- where the rocks from the beginning follow him and crush him.
As luck would have it his hand is right on the X where the treasure is buried, and as Didgeri arrives, he accuses Taz (still underneath the boulders) of going ahead and taking the treasure for himself. Didgeri digs at the X, unearths a large chest and opens it to FIND -- a birthday cake with "HAPPY BIRTHDAY DINGGO" crudely written in frosting.
Didgeri looks at poor abused Taz at that point....and complains that his name is misspelled. THEN HE SITS ON TAZ AND EATS THE CAKE ON TOP OF HIM. It's all so disgraceful, I can't help but love it.
HERE KITTY KITTY KITTY PART II
An early Taz-Mania cartoon involved Taz's sister Molly bringing home an adorable cat who turned nasty and monstrous every time Molly's back was turned. Normally Taz is the threat to a small furry animal, but this time Taz was the one in real trouble. Molly didn't believe anything Taz claimed about the cat and was constantly suspicious that Taz wanted to eat it. Finally Taz defeats the cat, but it swears it'll return at the end scene.
The cat did indeed come back, and when Molly left the house a minute later, Taz was in for the fight of his life. I love how drastically this short shifts gears. Instead of a comedy show, Taz-Mania is suddenly a horror movie for ten minutes. It's not really THAT scary, but every slasher cliche is played straight: the cat cuts the power and leaves the house in darkness. There are jump scares aplenty. Taz is defenseless and timidly peeking around every dark corner. It's a great improvement over Part 1 and the lack of a Part 3 is a disappointment. Never let it be said they didn't cover every genre.
A frequent setting for the series was Taz's job as bellhop/janitor at the Hotel Taz-Mania, run by Bushwhacker Bob. Bob has no empathy or compassion for Taz whatsoever and puts him through ridiculous degrading hoops, like most employers out there. This week Taz is incapacitated due to injuries and cannot make it, but Bob doesn't care. Either Taz shows up in his plaster casts or he's fired. Taz's kindly mother, Jean, is convinced that if she just walked over to the hotel and explained the situation to Bob, he'd understand. Of course, she knows nothing about Bob yet, and when she catches a glimpse of the man, she switches her plan and dresses in Taz's uniform. It's enough to pass as Taz through Bob's thick glasses, and he unknowingly puts her through the same paces.
Meanwhile, Taz is stuck at home watching the afternoon matinee. The program calls one random person between breaks and gives them a million dollars, and this time, they called Taz's house! Yet the phone is at the other end of the room, and Taz is kind of tied up. He struggles to reach it, but is too late. Then, later on, the program calls the same number again by random chance, and everything repeats itself. Taz is called an unbelievable five times in a row, each time getting closer to the phone, but still not making it.
While this is going on, Jean turns out to be so perfect at Taz's job that she can handle anything Bob throws at her in seconds, even when the demands are nearly impossible. This leads to the ultimate Bushwhacker Bob moment: he breaks down and cries on her shoulder, sobbing that he's never been good at anything and Taz was the one person who was worse, and that finally having someone to belittle gave him hope. Now that hope was gone. To make him feel better, Jean flubs her last assignment.
With a teriffic plot and some hilarious character moments for Taz, Jean and Bob, this is one of the best episodes of the series. But it's not as good as my #1....
RETAKES NOT INCLUDED
This is the funniest Taz-Mania cartoon of them all.
Incompetent trappers Bullgator and Axl are trying to capture Taz, as they usually are, when the background drawings suddenly disappear. Demanding to know what's going on, none other than Buddy Boar -- now a director -- steps onto the scene and reveals he is the one in charge of the cartoon. What follows are bad-on-purpose camera angles, objects disappearing for no reason, and a sound effect delay that causes Bull and Axl to miss Taz charging at them until it's too late. In one scene the camera repeatedly zooms in and out about seventy-five times until both the cast members and the viewer are nauseous. And Axl captures Taz on his first try, which Bull remarks is another error. Through all this, Buddy Boar ignores their complaints and insists they'll take back every gripe once they see the great Final Chase Scene he's got in the works. What's that like...well, for once I won't spoil it.
If this wasn't hilarious enough, it was paired with "Pledge Dredge," a phony Taz-Mania telethon featuring characters that had appeared throughout the series. It would have made a great final episode, but that was not the case in either airdate or production order.
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