Nothing lasts forever.
Not the kidís shoes, not clean air, not even the contents of the universe. Childhood memories do last forever, but when called into question, how often they become hideously distorted and false.
Iím referring to Batfink, the 1966 quick cartoon series featuring the titular hero and his politically incorrect, ill-defined Asian sidekick Karate. When I was a kid I loved Batfink. He had these cool wings of steel and supersonic sonar-radar and he kicked serious arse! In watching this now, some 30 odd years later, Batfink himself seems so much more tired, the animation decidedly lacklustre and the humour, well, the less said about that the better Iím afraid.
Still, I found myself kinda mesmerised by seeing him again. This is a series that comes from a severely politically incorrect age and yet the majority of us growing up watching him (and others just like him) seem to have turned out okay. Weíre the generation thatís turning everything around, arenít we? Rebelling against the squares and suits and all thatÖ or are we just doing what everyone else has done from generation to generation? Carrying the passed torch until we too can hand it on?
So what am I saying? In truth, Iím not sure. Maybe something, maybe nothing. Maybe it doesnít matter what we watch, life will just change regardless. At any rate, Batfink changed for me. In my head over the years he had become this super-superhero of cartoon logic, a God among the regular cartoon dross. Here some parts of his schtick remained that way (he still kicks arse) while others were cast down (all the car shots are from a very 2D side-on). Batfink is still up there for me, but the artwork is obviously fast and lean-budgeted. You can see the efforts of individual animatorís talents in trying to inject a bit of extra oomph into the show, but for the most part this is a very minimal approach to filler animation (but hey, most of it is anyway).
Perhaps with this modern animatorís mind Iím looking too closely and I should just shut up and stop wrecking my own childhood memories by analysing them and comparing them so often. Itís a nice dream, but even as I type this I know it wonít happen. Iím forever destined to look closer, to demand more, to expect better.
What a life. My best memories behind me and all false.
Batfink is a hand-painted cel animation series from 1966, produced using the same background artist for all episodes (yes, just the one!) and a different animator for each five-ish minute episode. No inbetweeners in this series, the animators do it all. For its age it looks okay, although there are a few film artefacts popping up throughout and cel artefacts too (the ones on the original film stock from the shoot and practically impossible to removeÖ and definitely so on a limited budget DVD release). Occasional cel jitter is here as well (when the peg holes in the cels have been stretched and the cels donít fit nice and snug for the camera as they are constantly manhandled back and forth) and the colours are slightly faded by time. There are even some soft edges at times and the character models do slightly differ per episode (thought to be honest, youíll have to know what youíre looking for there). This isnít so much a problem when one animator draws an entire episode, only when multiple animators draw multiple scenes and a characterís appearance fluctuates.
The series starts out nervously, but finds its feet and gains confidence by episode three with better scripts and faster pacing. I have forgotten to include an episode list so here goes with that:
- The Pink Pearl of Persia
- The Short Circuit Case
- Ebenezer the Freezer
- The Sonic Boomer
- Big Ears Ernie
- Batfink on the Rocks
- Manhole Manny
- The Mad Movie Maker
- Nuts of the Round Table
- Skinny Minnie
And just in case you have a brain the size of a flea, itís a not so subtle parody on the Batman TV series of the Ď60s. Thereís a commissioner and a red phone and all that. Plus Batfink drives the Batillac (well, Karate drives it. Whatís cool is itís a pink VW bug with fins).
The audio is a Dolby Digital stereo affair that is a little decayed by time with plenty of tinniness going on and some static behind the period dialogue. Music has a distinct 1966 jazzy swing sound that is full of brass and this is kinda cool actually. Sound effects are naturally very repetitive and stock catalogue.
We get no extras here, which is such a shame. Original animator interviews or whatever would have been so awesome, or original model sheets. I guess theyíre strictly aiming this at kids who wouldnít care about the extras.
I still love Batfink, heís a pretty cool dude. Unfortunately the vehicle that has carried him so long has become fairly obsolete over the years and the series lacks the verve I had built up in my head. This is my problem though, not necessarily yours. If you loved it as a kid then Iím sure youíll enjoy passing it on to your kids today, just donít be surprised if they demand a little more than we cowboy-hat-wearing-Saturday-morning-6am-junkies of the Ď60s and Ď70s accepted back then.