Sunday, March 25, 2012

Un-Animated Cartoons

Doncha just hate it when there's a commercial on TV featuring your old favorite animated cartoon characters, only they aren't really animated? Oh, they're moving alright, complete with fluid motion and shading and shadows in places where there shouldn't even be any shading or shadows; I guess it's that air brushed Roger Rabbit look some people think all cartoon characters need nowadays. The characters move, but there's something... dead about them. They're sort of "unanimated," going through the motions while the voice over babbles something about anyone being able to handle our finances. In a current Met Life spot see the Peanuts gang walking through a field smiling. Just smiling. Just walking and smiling. Walking and smiling. Weird. Where's the dialog? Why isn't Lucy crabby? Why isn't Snoopy fighting the Red Baron? And Charlie Brown does not smile! These characters are not alive. Maybe the animators have been watching too many episodes of "The Walking Dead."

And then He Man rides by. What?! And then the Jetsons show up. They can't be here; they're in the future. And how did Mr. Magoo get in this? Fat Albert? And we all know Speedy Gonzales wouldn't hang out with this bunch. And why are Yosemite Sam and Quick Draw McGraw walking arm-in-arm as if they're about to exchange vows and light a unity candle? What's going on here? Who came up with this? The whole thing is kinda like the way your drunken uncle tries to tell a bedtime story?

And so the evil queen put a spell on Cinderella that she would fall asleep and never wake up until the beast came to kiss her before Frodo threw the ring down the toilet. But then, Darth Vader showed up and took her to the Death Star... and then Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones came and blew it up... but they got her out first... and then Rudolph pushed Chewbacca over the cliff and saved Christmas. Uncle Bob's gotta see a man about a horse now, so go to sleep, kid.

What? That never happened to you? Oh...

Well, anyway, this Met Life spot is supposed to be heart warming, I guess, in that all these cartoon characters are coexisting in a sunlit live action world of peace and harmony, which is supposed to make you feel all gooshy inside when it comes time to pay your premium. But for me it comes across like that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where everybody's happy... because they have to be. It's as if the characters are all on Prozac and at any moment they'll start playing hopscotch off a cliff. Their soul is dead.

I've seen this sort of thing before in other commercials. General Mills... sorry, I guess they prefer to be called "Big G" now. Anyway, Big G ran this spot - you know there's an ad agency middle manager somewhere bragging about having produced a Big G Spot - that has all the cartoon icons representing their breakfast cereals just sorta standing around, smiling. Sonny doesn't go cookoo anymore, the rabbit (Does he have a name?) doesn't try to trick anybody, and the lephrican is as sedate as the Escape channel on my satellite radio. They all look at each other as if they share the love that dare not speak its name.

It's not that I think having cartoon characters in commercials is bad. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of cartoon commercials.

This spot could still work today, even if it is a little anti-feminist. It has a story, action, music, and it's pretty hard to watch it and forget the name of the product and what benefits it supposedly had. When you watch "Superman: The Movie" a generation of kids got a moment of comedy relief from the Cheerios box on Clark Kent's breakfast table. This commercial shows you why. Even years after these Kid Cheerio spots stopped running they were well remembered. But these days, Cheerios is marketed at the same generation as a way to keep our cholesterol down and not have a heart attack. Breakfast used to be fun; now it's another medicinal marketing opportunity. For kids today, there's no winking in joke during "Superman;" the cereal box on Clark Kent's table just looks like another product placement.

And I seriously doubt any of today's breakfast cereal commercials will ever become pop culture references. Tony the Tiger is still around, but these days he's confined to tossing a ball in a live action world. He still gets to say his signature line, but beyond that he gets treated like Richie Cunningham did after the Fonz took over the show: just stay in the background, buddy.

I'm not sure who Met Life is aiming at with their commercials: kids might be lured by the animation and color, but most of these characters were created long before their birth and have nothing to do with Japanese video games. And besides, the message of financial security goes a little over their heads. But if the advertiser is aiming at people my age, we're too busy wondering why all these characters are together out in a field somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Maybe these characters just don't work for this kind of product. On the other hand, maybe if instead of crowding in every character an ad agency can manage to proudly put on display in one spot, they could show Woodstock (Snoopy's little yellow bird friend) building a nest only to have a storm blow it away and then Met Life helping rebuild it. It should be kept simple. It should be produced in the style of the classic Peanuts cartoons. But most important, it should be produced by someone who has actually read the Peanuts comic strips.

And let Lucy be crabby. If you're going to use animation in a commercial, let the characters be animated.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Desperate, But Not Dangerous

I haven't been posting much lately because I was busy selling my house. We moved last year, and our old house sat through the winter while I prayed to the great and powerful Realtor (registered trademark) god to protect it from each week's tornado warning. In case you haven't noticed, Ohio has four seasons: starting in the March we enter the "prime season" for tornadoes, followed by the "wait for it, it's coming" tornado season peaking in August, followed by the "not quite so likely, no wait, here comes another one" tornado season, which takes us into December when Ohioans huddle around the Christmas tree in the basement singing carols along with the sirens during "you gotta be @*$% kidding me!" tornado season. Who says the weather in Ohio is boring?

This made the move to the new house something of an adventure due to the fact that scheduling movers and renting trucks between tornado warnings is not an exact science. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I was loading furniture while the tornado sirens were wailing. An interesting phenomenon occurs under these circumstances. Numbed by an a average of three tornado warnings a day, the typical homeowner will, upon hearing the warning being issued, walk out on the front porch, sit down, and watch the weather do absolutely nothing.

"Is that a funnel cloud?" someone will say, his voice rising in anticipation.

"No, that's a rain shaft," his wife will answer. "I don't see any rotation."

"You didn't see any rotation yesterday when my lawn mower ended up in Lake Erie," he says.

"According to The Weather Channel, that was a microburst," she says. "And you should've had your mower put away."

"Silly me. I thought I might get the backyard done after Severe Thunderstorm Warning Number Six," he says. "I forgot we were still under a Bend Over And Kiss Your Tuckus Goodbye Warning for another 27 hours."

It's at this time we hear the radio announce our county is now under a Zombie Invasion Alert. Not again.

So, somewhere in the middle of all this my wife and I managed to move and start the process of selling our old house. Step one: contact a Realtor (registered trademark) and watch her post a "For Sale" sign in the yard.

Step two: establish the home's actual value, then deduct about 10% based on the current economy, housing market trends, and how many protesters were occupying Wall Street on that particular day. Then deduct the commission, various other ancillary costs, and divide that number by the number of seconds Kim Kardashian was married. Simplicity itself.

Step three: replace the "For Sale" sign that was blown away during yesterday's tornado. To the usual message, the agent adds an additional message to the top of the sign to entice lookers. "No Radon."

Step four: hold an Open House, an event where your former neighbors go through your house and make no offers.

Step five: the Realtor (registered trademark) takes a prospect through the house. After the tour, he announces he loves the house and would like to make an offer. But since his small business - a sports card shop - went bankrupt, fell over, caught on fire, and then sank into the swamp, and the banks only point and laugh whenever he walks in, and the IRS wants his fillings, and his car was repo'd during the house tour, he would like to know if you would accept a six-pack of Natural Light and a yo-yo for a down payment.

Step six: after careful consideration, you decline the offer. Damn this economy; you're holding out for Yuengling.

Step seven: the agent replaces the "For Sale" sign after the last one was stolen by a zombie. This one adds "Aw, c'mon. The inside isn't that bad."

Step eight: wait three months for anyone to even look at the place, then lower the price. Agent adds to the sign, "Desperate, but not Dangerous."

Step nine: Another prospect goes through the house. After the tour, he announces he loves the house and would like to make an offer. But since his small business - a Saturn dealership - went bankrupt, and the banks told their security to shoot to kill if he tries to enter the building, and the IRS wants his left testicle, he would like to know if you would accept his Nancy Sinatra record collection and a ball of lint for a down.

Step ten: You decline while duct taping the "For Sale" sign to a trash can filled with cement.

Step eleven: Out of the blue, somebody tours and makes an offer in REAL AMERICAN MONEY! After some back and forth, you reach an agreement, and it's over. After 11 months of agony, the transaction takes about 72 hours. You're done. You're free.

Well... almost. The new owner asks if you can get that trash can filled with cement down off the roof.