The Pogo Special Birthday Special

Speaking of Chuck Jones, as we were yesterday, here is his infamous 1969 TV special based on Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip Pogo. Kelly, who wrote the special, allegedly hated the final results and felt that too much of his personal vision had been subverted into that of Jones’s. Both artists voice characters in the film: Jones is the voice of Porkypine, Bun Rabbit and Basil the Butterfly; Kelly is Albert, P.T. Bridgeport and Howland Owl.

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  • ted

    I absolutely loved it…until Pogo started talking. Ugh.

  • http://andynortonuk.spaces.live.com/ Andy Norton

    Interesting to note how Jones was adapting to various works throughout the mid-1960s and early 1970s, such as Dr Seuss (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Horton Hears a Who) and Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth.) However, when watching this, this was probably his weakest approach to someone else’s work (Walt Kelly’s Pogo strip.) The animation just doesn’t bring the script alive, even thou Kelly’s script, packed with verbal-based dialogue, and could have done with animation that wasn’t ‘talking radio’.

    The voice acting is interesting, especially for someone who was not aware of Jones’ voice work. His voice talents worked well for the dry, miserable approach to Porkypine, whilst for Basil seemed like he was trying too hard to sound like Yosemite Sam.

    It was worth a look, but I wouldn’t want to revisit again, knowing that I maybe in for a disappointment, as far as Jones-directed specials go.

    • Steve Carras

      Andy, as far as Norton Juster is concerned, don’t forget “The Dot and the Line” in 1965, his only non-WB Oscar, at MGM. THAT one followed the illustrations (by ??) entirely, a la Peanuts!!

  • Gummo

    I was a big Pogo fan as a kid and remember looking forward to this (I must have been 13 when it aired).

    I was disappointed even then — the drawings were good but the characters and especially the voices were off — if there’s one thing Pogo is, it’s Southern, through and through. And the whole thing was just too “cute” to be Pogo.

  • http://thelink.concordia.ca Christopher Olson

    Do not watch the introduction high, since I narrowly busted a gut watching it with all my senses intact.

    For me, it came around the point when the narrator introduced “Howland Owl: A Hot Firecracker Salesman,” although “Churchy LaFemme” was a pretty funny sounding name.

  • http://okgrillo.blogspot.com Oscar Grillo

    Not good but could be worse…

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    I really have only one fond memory of it: a moment of dialog that was closer to Kelly than Jones:

    Owl: “What holiday could be more patriotic than the 4th of July?”
    Churchy: “Depends; which country?”

  • Artisticulated

    Couldn’t watch more than 4 minutes. I LOVE so many of Chuck’s films. This is even worse than Phantom Tollbooth. Now I have to go and brush my eyes with Crest!

  • Diana Green

    There were two other attempts to animate Pogo that I know. Of course, there was the claymation Pogo for President. And there was one begun by Kelly himself, titled We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. Walt and Selby were both animators in their salad days. This film exists in two versions. There’s a short tryout film from 1972, and a slightly longer (about a half hour) version from a year later. It’s not fully realized animation, somewhere between an animatic and a final product. obvoiusly, it deals with ecology issues.
    the Pogo TV specials are readily available as convention boots on DVD. I have the Kelly film on VHS through a local Pogo dealer/archivist.

  • http://www.commanderkitty.com Scotty A

    I remember the claymation Pogo special, and I liked that one better. Arnold Stang made a much better voice for Churchy… And I remember Vincent Price was Deacon Mushrat… I don’t remember the other voices!

  • Bill

    Did anyone ever see the Pogo short Kelly animated himself? His widow showed it at a convention I attended in the 70′s. She said it was never released because the sound quality was poor, although Kelly did all the voices himself. Later, when I was in art school, she taught one of my classes and showed us his originals animation drawings. Beautiful stuff. If anyone has a copy, post it on YouTube right now please!

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Thanks for posting this puppy–I have an old Betamax of it somewhere but my Beta-behemoth is long, long gone.

    Kelly fans should look on eBay for an old JACK & JILL kid’s magazine that featured a cover story with copious original Walt Kelly art that came out around the same time of the show. The vinyl figures you see at garage sale were also tie-ins for it, attached to OXYDOL and other soap products. The models were hand-sculpted by Kelly himself.

  • http://www.microfurry.com anthrocoon

    I never saw it until last year when I found it on youtube but I didn’t
    think it was too bad. It was good just to see the characters brought to life (didn’t see the claymation one). I would have been seven when
    this first aired.

    Good to see Carolyn Kelly and Mark Evanier at the Pogo panel
    at last year’s Anthrocon.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    I never could get past the first 5 minutes of this film. MY vote, however, is that gorgeous (1980) film, “I Go Pogo!” (Claymation!)

  • Lance G.

    “ANTHROcon?”

    omg

  • http://doubleben.blogspot.com Emmett Goodman

    It’s not that bad. I admit I don’t like Pogo being voiced by June Foray, as Pogo sounds too much like a kid. I also imagined Albert the Alligator sounding different too, not like Muddy Waters. Otherwise, I like several parts of this special.

  • alex kirwan

    Huge Jones fan, huge Pogo fan, the backgrounds are lovely, character drawings look pretty goo- WHY IS THIS SO UNWATCHABLE? Certainly there’s a phenomena that occurs the first time you hear long familiar comic characters speak, when the voices don’t match those that pre-existed in your head it’s an automatic turn-off. But it sounds as though those less familiar with the source material aren’t impressed either. Certainly there’s some pacing issues.
    Will- Thanks for the info on the vinyl figures, I had heard a rumor Kelly sculpted them himself years ago, but had never heard it confirmed. They’re sort of mushy, but full of personality. Some of my absolute favorites.

  • Mike Johnson

    I read POGO pretty regularly as a kid, but seem to have missed this when it originally aired. All-in-all, not a bad effort really…POGO is one of those strips that I feel shouldn’t be made into any kind of film at all. It’s just too good, too…well, SACRED, to bother with. It seems that Hollywood would have learned it’s lesson with films like “Shinbone Alley” and “Little Nemo In Wonderland” which were fairly underwhelming to say the least, given the classic source material.

    Still, I enjoyed this version of POGO for what it attempted, even if what it accomplished wasn’t as good as anyone could have hoped for.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I think it’s courting disappointment to take a well-known comic strip and enact it with real voices. It will always be a jarring disconnect with what the loyal readers had been imagining. Peanuts is the only success I can think of.

    I remember mornings at the breakfast table watching my dad just about fall out of his chair laughing at Pogo in the comic section. I tried following it myself. It had attractive drawing that made me want it to be interesting but it seemed very busily verbose and the same jokes, like “Friday the 13th falls on a Tuesday this month!” kept coming back too often.

    My reaction to the special is that the same old jokes are being trotted out again almost as a ritual rather than entertainment.

    Nice animation though.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I remember it when it originally aired…..for some reason I think around Valentine’s Day. I have it on commercial VHS, too. I really like it but then again I am a bigger fan of Kelly yet really never followed Pogo and its compilations (Like my bro-in law who has every book.)
    I don’t know how Kelly could have so much particiaption yet be disappointed. Someone once told me he was a perfectionist, reading about him breaking the head off Pogo figurines to assure their quality.

    I found an ALbert figurine a couple weeks ago to finally go with a pogo one that was given to me over 20 years ago and discovered Pogo’s head can turn…didn’t know that all this time. They look like they were sculpted in plastisciene. Kelly sculpted them? Now they are exceptionally special. Speaking of plastisciene….Pogo For President? Yeeeesh. That was terrible IMO; name voices or not. I think June Foray does a fine job on the ‘possum.
    Although a real southern voice cast would be great.

    My only dissapointment was leaving the stripes off his shirt. But that may have been a budget consideration for pencil mileage and managing opaquing.

  • Melvin Toast

    Jones and Kelly had a major falling out during the production of this thing and the ugly atmosphere between the two collaborators affected how it ultimately failed to congeal. “Pogo’s Special Birthday Special” remains less than the sum of its parts, but it would’ve been far worse had Jones undertaken it, say, a decade later.

  • http://www.microfurry.com anthrocoon

    Anthrocon is the largest furry/anthropomorphics convention in the world, with about 2,400 attendees every year. Floyd Norman is this year’s
    guest of honor. Spotlighting talented individuals, celebrating
    cartoon culture, and raising money for charities. Maybe Jerry could be a guest of honor someday…?

  • gene schiller

    What’s not to like? The visual style and the inimitable Kelly brand of humor are all there. The voices catch you somewhat off-balance at first, but I felt the same way about “Peanuts.”

  • Roberto

    I haven’t watched a lot yet, but I find it interesting. I think it looks beautiful but it’s a little boring. Those are also my thoughts about the comic strip as well, so maybe it’s a good adaptation.

    Ok, maybe the pacing here seems slower than it seems in the strip, but at least the drawings and colors are very nice.

  • Fred Cline

    I would agree with Walt Kelly – except that this thing doesn’t seem to have much of Chuck Jones in it either – where’s the snappy timing? At least the characters don’t have super-long eyelashes.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    The 1980s Pogo collection book PHI BETA POGO contains the definitive account, from firsthand sources, of the falling-out with Jones as experienced by Kelly.
    I don’t have the book immediately at hand, but I recollect business along the lines of Jones expanding the sentimental Porkypine material considerably (after securing the voice for himself); dropping a lot of more comedy-oriented material originated by Kelly, and keeping most of these changes secret from a bedridden Kelly until it was too late to reverse them.
    The basic gist was Kelly essentially perceiving Jones to have hijacked the project and turned it into a sentimental self-portrait.

    Before any Clampett partisans back me up, by the way, as a means of clobbering Jones, please remember that I view Clampett as an equally flawed person. I want no part of a flame war.

  • http://thezoo.comicgenesis.com Nate Birch

    I thought this was pretty good…a lot of the issues seem to be script related more than direction related.

    If I had to pick out a major problem it would be the music. Can you imagine how dull the Peanuts cartoons would be without the jazzy score? That’s what this needed. A good catchy score and everything timed more closely to the music. There was some really beautiful art and animation in here though…

  • sardonicus

    Bill, I had the Kelly short up on youtube for about a week earlier this year. Either some toolbox ratted me out or else a certain representative of the Walt Kelly estate, who would remain nameless if he hadn’t already been mentioned, trolls around youtube over coffee each morning hunting down violators of said estate. Because Pogo comes right after Family Guy as one of the most pirated properties of 2008. I’m still scratching my brain box over that one.

  • http://www.watchmike.ca Mike

    The animation is pretty solid anyways.

  • Gerard de Souza

    Thanks for the back story.
    Again I am more a fan of Kelly than into Pogo. Whatever Kelly reprints I have in my very modest collection are for the artwork.
    I’ll add the BGs are gorgeous, the characters are physically on-model not at all Jonesed-up and who ever animated Mlle. Hepzipah with Porkypine did a wonderful job….And I am never bored when I see this. On the other hand the clay one….
    I would dare say it is very good and look forward to an excellent version.

  • Shmorky

    It’s pretty bad, but not as awful as the movie. It clearly is a labor of love on both Walt and Chuck’s side even though Chuck stepped all over it with his style. If Walt was truely mad though I could understand why. I wouldn’t want my characters turned into stilted late-era unfunny looney tunes. You folks just be glad they aren’t voiced by B-list celebrities with a poppy 80s soundtrack to fill in during montage sequences like in the movie. Thank God Walt was dead before he saw that abortion. He REALLY hated seeing how others made his characters in three dimensions. One time a toy company sent him a prototype model for a Pogo figurine and Walt smashed its nose off.

  • Joseph Nebus

    That’s a curious special. It feels like most of the elements are in place, but they’re somehow not placed together correctly. It’s like listening to a piano where all the keys are a third of a note out of tune.
    I think maybe Chuck Jones just wasn’t the right animator for Walt Kelly — see the other post comparing Jones’s and Bob Clampett’s styles in ones of how much to produce the appearance of lost control. If I were to nominate someone who would be right for Pogo I think I’d pick Jay Ward. Rocky And Bullwinkle And Other Titles had what seems to me a compatible worldview of frequent wordplay, rambling plots, and characters sort-of aware they’re vaudevillian performers and happy with that fact.
    If you hadn’t told me it was Walt Kelly doing P T Bridgeport I would have guessed Alan Reed.

  • Roberto

    I finally watched it, I thought it was actually pretty good. I don’t quite get why everybody is complaining so much. It’s too slow paced and a little dull, also very wordy, but the character expressions are great, the colors are beautiful, the backgrounds are pretty and even the voices are not so bad. Problem is so much of it is about Porkypine and that makes it a little too melancholic even though the sexy skunk has also a long role and she is more entertaining. I have the feeling Albert and Beauregard should have a longer role, they are the funnier characters and their facial expressions are great. Churchy LaFemme is also very well drawn with extremely nice poses.

  • Fidel

    Not horrible, but slightly unwatchable. Jones, buddy, I love your style and I love the Pogo characters, but somehow this did not work too well.

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    I’venever heard of this comic strip. I enjoyed the film, though.
    Jones’ performance as Porky Pine is oddly endearing, the butterfly sounds awkward though.

  • http://twitter.com/SJCarras SJCarras

    I saw THIS when it first aired,too.
    If I wanted to watch something from that period by a former Warner Bros.animator,ile.,either Jones or Freleng, I would take Freleng’s first DFE TV Special, “Goldilocks” with Bing Crosby and introducing Mary Frances Crosby-yes,THE Mary Francers,with Paul Winchell & Avery Schreiber, from early 70, and Kathryn and Nathaniel Crosby,too!

  • Steve Carras

    Walt Kelly’s fight with Chuck Jones over this and in general the attempt to transfer a property to someone else reminds me of the current Walt Disney flick about Pamela L.Travers “Saving Mr.Banks”, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L.Travers, and the whole deal with how to adapt Mary Poppins. Walt Disney on the adapating side, and the other animated Walt who worked for Disney, Walt Kelly on the creating side (though he, as discussed, contributed in adapating and voicing some characters for this 1969 special.)

  • Aaron Handy III

    June Foray voiced Mam’selle Hepzibah and Pogo Possum himself.

    • Steve Carras

      Correct..AH.. She, and Jones and Kelly and Les Tremayne, were the voices.I saw this in 2/14/69, on VALENTINE’S DAY, top topic, when it first aired.