Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation (1992) | Animated and Underrated
Check it, my fellow 90s kids! Cause you ain’t seen nothin’… till you’ve seen this.
Welcome to the first part of my two part retrospective, where we’ll be taking a look at the Steven Spielberg animated series direct-to-video films: Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation and Animaniacs: Wakko’s Wish. (sadly, there were no Pinky & The Brain or Freakazoid films. sorry.)
Without a doubt, this is one of the single greatest things I have ever seen in my entire life. Not because of who made it, not because of the animation, not because of the story, and not because of the voice acting (all of which are amazing); but because of the simple fact that THIS MOVIE GETS ME. It understands that I love snappy dialogue, so it has snappy dialogue. It understands that I love extreme physical comedy and action, and so it gives me an ample dose of both. It understands the subtle art of weaving sexual innuendo and suggestive imagery into a film that is filled with juvenile humor meant for younger kids; and therefore it ages with me. And best of all, this movie doesn’t talk down to me, nor does it treat me like a kid. It is truly an animated epic best suited to the pre-teen (9-12) and early teen (13-15) market. And back in the 1990s, films geared towards those demographics were some of the best entertainment you ever got. It’s a shame, though, that pre-teen films suck so hard these days. (I’m lookin’ at you, Twilight, Highschool Musical, Jonas Brothers)
So what’s the story of this amazing Looney adventure?
It’s five minutes to Summer Vacation, and the Tiny Toons bunch are anxiously awaiting the school bell to ring. So much so that they burst into song all about their anxiety and their many varied summer plans: some of which we’ll see during the course of the story.
But once the school bell rings, all of the plans these characters had start to go awry. Plucky’s plans to go to Happy World Land (their equivalent of Disney World) with his best friend Hampton almost don’t happen, and when they do happen, the road trip takes forever and a half to be over.
Fifi’s plans to meet her super-star crush, Johnny Pew, don’t go well, as she is constantly thrown out of his hotel upon her many attempts to see him. Shirley gets a dose of bad luck when Fowlmouth asks her to go to the Dag’gum movies with him.
And Buster and Babs get into a water-gun fight that escalates to the point that Babs nearly destroys Acme Acres by opening up the Acme dam, which sends them both down river on a New Orleans style adventure (this movie came out way before the levis ever broke, so this is just an awkward coincidence). The only person whose plans don’t go wrong is Elmira, of course, who proceeds to wreak havoc amongst the poor little animals of a zoo that her parents take her to.
Each story in this cavalcade of madness begins in succession, one after another, and periodically we return to those same stories in just about the reverse order, completing each story in turn until we tie up the loose ends on the biggest and most complex one.
The two largest plots in this story end up being the most entertaining, which are Plucky’s sheer torturous road-trip through the American desert on his way to Happy World Land, and Buster and Babs’ bizarre, romantically tinged boat-trip through the back country of the south.
In terms of humor, this film has constant laughs all day, all the time. The visual gags are stunningly exaggerated and unapologetic. The word play is often witty. And the relatable bad-luck or ironic situations will have you rolling on the floor. But in terms of other emotions to be had, this film has an interesting dose of romantic tension going on between Buster and Babs.
Buster and Babs have always had a strong and good-natured working relationship. And at times they seem more like they really are siblings rather than neighbors, despite the fact they often say in their catch-phrase, they are unrelated. And yet despite their good rapport, and their childish feuding, there is always this hint of romantic interest between them. And I would say despite Buster’s instinctual male reaction to Babs in a sexy outfit, or Babs’ usual disinterest in Buster in favor of other guys: their attraction for each other is about equal. They both even play off this almost subconscious interest they have with each other and use it to prank the other person.
Buster will give Babs a beautiful compliment, and then turn it on its head and make it an insult. Or Babs will quick-change into Madonna, and then turn right around and turn into Fran Drescher and annoy Buster with her irritating voice. (but seriously though, I like Fran Drescher).
Simply put, this direct-to-video film does a great job at balancing the humor with doses of other emotional satisfaction or even anxious tension. Because you really don’t know if Buster and Babs are going to hook up by the end, and you don’t know if Fifi is going to get what she hoped for from finally meeting Johnny. Heck, you don’t even know if Fowlmouth is going to turn out to be a decent fellah for once when Shirley goes out with him.
It’s sort of like, instead of comic relief, we have romantic relief, because the entire film is full of comedy. And sometimes, you really need something other than comedy to balance things out a bit, or at least give things a bit of a breather. Constant side-splitting comedy is good for an hour and a half stand-up routine, but not really for a narrative film. It just doesn’t work the same way.
I figure it’s best not to give too much else away in terms of what happens in the film, because thankfully you can now buy this movie on DVD, when you previously could only find it on old VHSs. Wakko’s Wish is now also finally on DVD as well, which is why I’ll be looking at that next. So let’s go into some other areas.
I have to say that the animation, as always, is superb: as it comes to us from our good friends TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha). They are the masters of Tex Avery look-alike animation, and perhaps the only company capable (at least in the past) of imitating Tex’s unique style after his death.
The extreme stretching and squashing that goes on here is amazing, and the facial expressions characters have is also startling, especially with how three-dimensional it can sometimes appear. TMS’s sense of space and volume is always a delight to watch. Not much else to really say but to just see it for yourself.
The voice acting is some of the best and most energetic you will hear from the Tiny Toons or Animaniacs Team, as every actor except for Jess Harnell, Charles (Charlie) Adler, and Joe Alaskey carries over between both.
Comedian and Voice-actor, Joe Alaskey, was cast as Yosemite Sam in Who Framed Roger Rabbit way before landing his signature role as Daffy Duck. But he was actually cast as Plucky Duck first, in 1990, before becoming one of the official voices of Daffy in 1998. Funny enough, he only performed as Daffy for about 8 years before all Looney Tunes projects started to wind down in 2006. But it appears that he will be back in the black feathers and signature duck bill for the upcoming Looney Tunes film, supposedly starring Steve Carell.
I likely won’t get another chance to speak on the work of the following voice actors in the following terms, so I feel now is as good of a time as any to speak more in-depth about them.
I think out of all of Charlie Adler’s work, Buster Bunny is by far his best character, because it’s his most subtle and relatable. Most of you out there may look to his nearly solo work on Cow And Chicken to be his best character work, because it shows his broad range and the extreme reach of his queaky and deep throaty sound. But if you remember, Billy West also had a series of very similar style where he was the solo actor, called Ren And Stimpy. And Billy was known for a while as the guy who did that show, until he was able to show a much fuller range with his vast cast of characters on Futurama, where he was finally able to play a subtle and heart-felt character in the form of Phillip J. Fry. Now some of you might not remember it, but Mr. Adler actually played another rabbit named Mr. Whiskers on a Disney Channel show called Brandy & Mr. Whiskers. This time around it wasn’t a very subtle or even likable character at all. He was a lot like Bonkers in that way. He just got on your nerves despite the writers’ attempts to make him sympathetic: kind of like Spongebob in his later years. But anyways.
In terms of subtlety, honesty, relatability, and likability, I’d have to say that Buster Bunny is Charlie’s Phillip J. Fry, and is indeed one of his single best performances as a voice-actor.
I would also have to say that Tress MacNeille’s turn as Babs Bunny is one of her best roles as well, because of its almost neutral position in her vocal spectrum. It’s a character that lies more in the inflection and the personality rather than in the tone or pitch or twist of the voice. It’s a high pitched youthful sound, to be sure. But it also has an air of maturity and charm. Something that Dot Warner either tries to put on falsely or too strongly, and just comes off as putting on an act, which she is. But Babs is a genuine performer, a game-show/talk-show host or ring-leader kind of character. She has that type of gravitas built up inside her. And on top of that, Babs has a broad range of impressions, characters, and voices that she puts on every once in a while in order to make an audience laugh, or just to drive a point home to the (non-existent or invisible) viewing audience. But when Babs isn’t doing any of those things, she’s a very honest, level, charming, and relatable personality: much like the real Tress MacNeille I imagine. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Babs Bunny is the closest Tress has to an on-screen counterpart. They are very much the same kind of person. Except when Babs goes off the deep end, of course.
Now for this TV special in particular, we do have the pleasure of one well-known celebrity voice joining the cast. Legendary comedian, Jonathan Winters, as Wade Pig: Hampton’s father. And he is certainly a welcome and highly enjoyable addition. Unlike some celebrity voices in other animated productions, he doesn’t seem out of place, nor does he seem like a character that was designed to be an out-and-out surrogate for the actor in cartoon form. Because in some celebrity-based gags in other Warner Brothers productions, celebrities or celebrity impersonators would just pop in to be a joke at the expense of that celebrity. And the actor would look like themselves. Animaniacs did this with Clint Eastwood, Jack Nickolson, Michael Keaton, Mel Gibson, the cast of Star Trek, Madonna, and even Bill Clinton in the opening title sequence.
However, Animaniacs also had Mr. Director, which was a spoof on the dual-personality and over-the-top antics of Jerry Lewis. And they also had Francis Pip Pumphandle, which was a character entirely built on the stereotypical public opinion of economist, lawyer, writer, and actor Ben Stein, and was performed by Mr. Stein as well. Both of those characters were slightly more subtle caricatures of real people (one of which was played by the real person) rather than a gag built around the actor as themselves.
So now in Jonathan Winters’ case, I would have never guessed it was him until I started seeing more of him in other roles, because his voice is indeed familiar, it’s just for the longest time I never knew what he sounded like. But it is a great pleasure and surprise for me, because, like I started saying, Jonathan does not feel like he’s out of touch here. He feels natural in the voice actor’s booth, unlike a lot of other screen actors. He gets the humor of this character, he gets the personality of this character and his relationship to his loving pig family. And he ends up becoming one of the bigger highlights of the film, in my opinion.
As one more element to discuss, this special has a curiously broad range of scene wipes and transitions, all traditionally animated. Wipe transition like this were likely created by animated black shapes to create mattes that would then be laid over each half of the footage being switched between. And then after re-photographing each section with areas blacked out by the animated shapes, the new footage was mixed together, resulting in the A-to-B transitions that you might get in your current everyday editing software. They are varied in that they do window blinds, vertical or horizontal wipes, diamonds, central circles, spiral-outs and spiral-ins, and a few others.
Thankfully, because they are traditionally animated rather than done with a retro-styled video toaster or computer program, they add an extra level of charm and light-heartedness that doesn’t feel out of place. And it feels more fitting than if the film had decided to use camera pans from once scene to another, using a dissolve, turning pages in a book, or maybe using some pop-culture gimmick like having a fake VCR signal pass across the screen as the movie fast-forwards to the next point in the plot, while fake scenes we’re not supposed to see pass by beyond the static flickering lines of the tape tracking. And you just know that they could have easily gone with that gimmick too. But thankfully, we were not subjected to that.
I know my reviews often go into the technical side of things, and I will try to work in a better structure for my reviews so that the narrative and technical structures can have their own discussion time without getting in the way of each other for the sake of my readers.
But in order to sum things up from before, this movie is totally worth your time and money.
Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation is a wonderful trip into my nostalgic past. It is a really fun ride with lovable characters, great gags, an intriguing romance, and some of the best television animation you will ever see, all packed into a swift hour and thirteen minutes (1:13).
You can pick up a copy of your own at this amazon link: Tiny Toons – How I Spent My Vacation DVD
Tune in again soon, as I’ll be taking a closer look at the other TMS animated Spielberg/Warner Brothers collaboration, Animaniacs: Wakko’s Wish.