Thursday, May 1, 2008

Welcome to my nightmare

If there's a psychotronic hall of fame for animation, I'd like to nominate this single blackout scene from the sixties TV show MILTON THE MONSTER for the Grand Prix. In a short called THE MOON GOONS, "Jeebie" has tuned into a blurry TV picture to hear a news report that "Milton" has landed on the moon, then this character abruptly pops on and shouts 'Hooray for our side!', scaring Jeebie away. I haven't seen this cartoon in about forty years but upon viewing it the other day I was instantly reminded of the mind-blowing effect it has. For my money, more than any other animated image, it peels back the veil of this mortal coil for a peek into a shrieking land of demented terror that rivals the prose of H.P. Lovecraft.

Not surprisingly, it turns out to have been animated by none other than Jim Tyer, the celebrated savant of Terrytoons fame, whose idiosyncratic and inimitable style has never been rivaled for pure strangeness. Tyer's work on the routine cat-and-mouse antics of Terrytoons is usually surreal and unpredictable enough but here in the macabre setting of Hal Seeger's "MILTON" he simply takes the cake. Not Tim Burton, Bernie Wrightson, Maurice Sendak or Hieronymous Bosch has ever rendered other-dimensional weirdness with the casual confidence that Tyer has here.

Even the backdrop of the 'newsroom' contributes to the oddness on display: the tangential back wall and the clock that seems to ignore perspective suggest an abstracted version of M.C. Escher. Sadly, this is the only "MILTON" short Tyer worked on (he did other titles for Seeger), and the rest of the cartoon, though rich with Tyer wackyness, never quite approaches this particular scene for pure perversity. For that matter nothing else in this or any other series has had quite the same effect on me. The incongruity of the voice, the suit and tie, the leopard paw clutching the pad and pencil, (not to mention the articulation of the lip sync) capture something that the rest of the series never quite manages to. But for all it's shortcomings, I have a soft spot for this old show and recommend the DVD's for aging boomers like me who grew up in the golden age of television monsters.


Marc Deckter said...

Haha great post!

I'll have to re-visit this cartoon.

I enjoy these Milton cartoons, but I bought the set specifically for the AMAZING Stuffy Durma cartoons (all Tyer-animated!).

Will Finn said...

Marc-- Watch out for the tricky menu! On my copy, the "Episodes" screen list calls up 'MOON GOONS' but the actual cartoon comes up with the incorrect title card "FLYING CUP & SAUCER." Ignore the title card--if it opens with Milton fixing the roof, you've got the right cartoon... Be afraid, be very afraid!!!