(originally aired March 17, 1996)
Itchy & Scratchy has always been our segue to animation parodies, and this episode is absolutely no exception. For a cartoon nut like me, this show is a treat, with so many different kinds of animation and allusions to toon history. Some of the most iconic characters of the medium have shaky histories as to who created what. Felix the Cat was conceived by Otto Messmer, but heavily marketed by Pat Sullivan. Ub Iwerks animated most of Walt Disney’s “Steamboat Willie.” And here, we have our own cartoon controversy: Bart comes upon penniless bum Chester Lampwick (voiced by Kirk Douglas), who claims he created the character of Itchy, having the 1919 film to prove it. Upon one viewing, the film burns up in the projector, but upon seeing the proof, Bart vows to get Lampwick the rightful credit (and cash) he deserves. Hope appears lost during the trial until Bart uncovers a message written to Roger Myers, Sr. from Lampwick on an old production drawing, vindicating him. However, the cash settlement results in the shutting down of Itchy & Scratchy Studios.
The animation references in this show are amazing, from the original Itchy cartoon filled with the spirit of old 20s cartoons, to the R. Crumb-styled “Fritz the Cat” crossover. Most astounding is, of course, “Amendment to Be,” the Schoolhouse Rock-inspired segment. It’s absolutely flawless, it couldn’t have captured the source material better. If not for the Simpsons-esque overbites, you could easily place that into rotation with other Schoolhouse segments and no one probably would notice. Getting Jack Sheldon, who voiced the Bill in the parodied segment, is genius, and he does such a phenomenal job. On top of everything else, it even has a great political slant in its ending, as the ratified anti-flag burning amendment opens precedent, allowing all of the crazy and nutty bills to storm Congress. Also fantastic is Roger Meyers, Jr.’s outburst in court, claiming that all animation was built on plagiarism, referencing The Honeymooners predating The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound aping Andy Griffith, and our very own Chief Wiggum being just a riff on Edward G. Robison (in the court room, Wiggum acknowledges this reference with an odd look.) He finishes his rant with a spectacular line, “Your honor, you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from?”
The third act is pretty spectacular, in a bizarre sort of way. After getting his millions, Lampwick becomes a bit of a douche; he’s a man who has artistic integrity and a desire to make cartoons… once. Now after decades of sitting in the gutter, his only ambition was to get the money he had coming to him, and now that he’s got it, his life is complete (“I’m not greedy. As long as I’ve got my health, and my millions of dollars and my gold house and my rocket car, I don’t need anything else.”) He couldn’t be less interested in Bart and Lisa’s pleas to reopen I & S Studios, despite owing everything to them. At this point, we get another edition of Bart and Lisa Detective Agency as the two study up on copyright law and statutes of limitations to see if they can overthrow the ruling. This conceit of pint-sized problem solvers has become so ridiculous by now that the writers acknowledge it, giving us a ridiculous meta ending where the day is saved… by two other crime solving kids Lester and Eliza, modeled after the primitive Ullman short designs of Bart and Lisa. Who are these two? Where did they come from? Are they from some bizarre parallel universe? Who knows, but as Bart attests so well, there’s something very… unsettling about them.
Tidbits and Quotes
– We get Itchy & Scratchy cartoons as bookends in this show, one at the beginning and one at the end. The one at the start is standard fare (love Scratchy’s angry eyes as Itchy stirs them in his glass), but the ending one is amazing. It starts with a chase through the desert a la Road Runner cartoons. Itchy spots a church and stops to pray. Scratchy is then promptly crushed by the foot of God, who is later revealed to be a mouse, and He and Itchy wink at the camera. What a strange conceit. God created Itchy in His image, mice are the chosen ones, and cats are scourges of the earth to be killed in horrible, horrible ways? It’s a real thinker.
– This really is the season of Comic Book Guy, he’s been in almost every episode. Not that I’m complaining of course; I love his contemptuous reading of “toodle-oo.”
– The commentary of the Itchy & Scratchy parade is great, with the wooden, stoic male announcer reading his teleprompted lines as unenthusiastically as possible, played against the peppy Suzanne Sommers.
– Right when the parade enters Bumtown, you’re thinking why exactly did they have the parade go through there… then it’s commented on (“This certainly seems to be a poorly planned parade route.”) I love the quick animation and sped up music as the parade guns it out of the sketchy neighborhood.
– All Chester needs is a ninety-year-old projector to play his old reel. Where can Bart get such an ancient piece of technology? Springfield Elementary of course.
– “Manhattan Madness,” the first Itchy cartoon, is absolutely fabulous; its look and feel is so authentic, as well as the dialogue cards (love the bit where Milhouse slowly reads it, but gives a small groan when he doesn’t finish in time for the next scene.) Itchy’s mischievous nature is so spot-on too, mirroring the early days of Mickey Mouse. People may only know of “Steamboat Willie” from Mickey gleefully whistling at the helm, but go and watch it and you’ll see Mickey was kind of a dick, abusing animals to get them to play music, totally different from the innocuous corporate logo he would become in later years.
– Bart attests to the good nature of Roger Meyers, Jr. (“Every Christmas he goes down to the pound and rescues one cat and one mouse and gives them to a hungry family.”)
– Bart hides Chester in the basement to, at first, no suspicion. Homer walks by the basement door and tosses down some change when asked with no reaction, but Lisa is more observant (“Mom, there’s a weird smell and a lot of cursing coming from the basement and Dad’s upstairs.”)
– Hutz is fabulous as always (“No, money down!”), as are his catalog of surprise witnesses, consisting of a Santa in crutches, John Swartzwelder, and the McCrary twins on their motorbikes.
– Love Grampa and Chester’s feud, the animation of Grampa leaping over the table and the brawl that ensues is pretty great. And great callback later when Krusty and Chester have a similar altercation in court, this time over blintzes, of course a traditional Yiddish dish.
– The blue haired lawyer is at his most contemptuous, which does make sense given that Hutz literally has no evidence at all to support his client’s claims (“Your famous film, the one you destroyed before the trial and haven’t been able to find another copy of! Oh yes, that film.” “Yes. You don’t have a copy, do you?”)
– I love how recklessly Bart opens up the frame on the drawing, busting the frame and the glass, ripping the paper, then callously flinging it up for the judge to catch. Also great that Chester calls him “Brad,” he really has no regard for this kid who’s helping him before or after the trial.
– Another Disney reference in showing that Meyers, Sr. now has to keep his father’s head in an icebox (now thawing and melting), of course alluding to the rumor that ol’ Walt is croygenically frozen somewhere. Alex Rocco’s reading of “You’re comfortable in there, daddy?” is perplexing to me… it’s like half sincere, half sarcastic, all disturbing.
– Love the resolution to Meyers, Jr.’s plight; finding that his father’s pathetic stick figure creation Manic Mailman was “ripped off” by the postal service’s similarly simply designed Mr. Zip. Also great is how in the middle of the press conference, he draws in extra details on Manic Mailman to make it appear more similar to the other one, eliciting no suspicion at all from the crowd.