Home > B, Episode Reviews, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 26 – “Monkey Fun”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 26 – “Monkey Fun”

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Monkey Fun

Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer
Directed by Curt Geda
Original Airdate – September 27th, 1997
DVD: Superman: The Animated Series, Volume Two

Summary: A space rescue mission leads Superman to recover a childhood pet of Lois’ who was sent on a space mission. However, the monkey’s survival has come at a potnetially disastrous cost.

Featured Characters: Lois Lane, Titano

Background:

I was going to do a big bit on how comedy is hard, but comedy involving Monkeys is always easy. But, of course, you knew that.

So let’s go waaaaay back here and talk about the roots of the DCAU, specifically the 1940s Superman cartoon shorts created by Fleischer Cartoon Studios. Fleischer was a company founded and controlled by two brothers, Max and Dave, whose initial claim to animation fame was the invention of the rotoscope, a device which allowed for relatively true-to-life animation of human figures. As a result, the nascent Fleischer studios wound up appreciated more for their work on humans, which made them relatively unique amongst animation studios.

After being fairly successful with making shorts (and after Disney had had a massive success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Paramount commissioned the studio to make a feature film that didn’t live up to expectations. Apparently scared off from feature-length productions, Fleischer returned to working on animated shorts in 1941, this time basing their work around a relatively new and untested property: Superman.

Armed with an incredible budget for a series of shorts (reportedly $50,000 for the first episode, The Mad Scientist – a frankly insane amount of money in 1941; I’d bet that WB didn’t spend the equivalent when they made the feature-length Mask of the Phantasm), Fleisher was the first studio to really define what a superhero story should look like in motion. As opposed to the cut-rate and often questionably accurate live-action serials of that era, the animated Superman holds up remarkably well to this day. In fact, some elements of the cartoons were lost over the years – their version of Clark Kent is more assertive than the shut-in geek he became later in the Silver Age, while their Lois cares far more about getting a story than finding out Superman’s secret identity (or marrying him). The look of the shorts are obviously an influence on the early DCAU look – everything from the character designs to the cinematography looks as though it would fit right in with Batman, if not the more streamlined Superman.

And although they didn’t have many of the classic Superman villains to play around with – some of the later cartoons were typically ugly examples of WWII-era propaganda – they even managed to influence the creation of one of Superman’s more… unusual… villains. Since these are all public domain (thanks to a missed copyright filing… whoops), feast your eyes on the 9th short, Terror on the Midway:

Now, try and tell me that wasn’t cool – it’s like you’re seeing the basis for every superhero cartoon made. In this case, the idea of Superman fighting a monkey was determined to be a good one, and Titano made his comics debut in 1959.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is obviously one of the lighter episodes of Superman – let’s face it, it involves Superman trying to protect Metropolis from a giant monkey, it’s not going to be embued with a lot of gravitas – but it goes a little deeper than the obvious joke premise.

The first scenes, showing Lois’ childhood as a military brat (I think her house is supposed to look like the one from I Dream of Genie), are a good way of fleshing out Lois’ history. It’s a good way of letting the viewer in on a bit of Lois’ background, even if it’s not especially important to her character aside from explaining away some of her more tomboyish tendencies. Lois’ dad being the one who ultimately solves the problem is a brief but welcome guest appearance.

Okay, enough about the character development (only a little deeper). The jokes pretty much all hit in this episode, starting from the smash cut to the terrified Titano in the space capsule and ending with Lois’ great line that I’m stunned made it past the censors. Superhero shows don’t have to be serious all of the time (or even any of the time, as The Tick proved), and while you don’t want to get Superman mixed up in these types of situations all the time, in this case it’s fine. What’s really interesting is watching this and the short back-to-back; the Superman of the 1940s would find a pack of circus animals difficult to deal with, but this one is more concerned with resolving the situation without causing any harm to Titano.

Grade: B. Nothing especially important, but at least the jokes all work.

Other points:

  • Lois doth protest too much about the size of her apartment. Then again, a typical New York single single bedroom apartment wouldn’t exactly look too glamorous.
  • I’m not the only one who thinks Lois’ dad looked a LOT like Superman when he was younger, right? That adds all sorts of uncomfortable wrinkles to the love story.
  • All of the shorts are on YouTube, and I’d highly recommend watching them if you haven’t if you consider yourself a fan of animation in any way.

Line of the Episode: “… shut up and keep squeezing the monkeys!” Lois delivers a quote that I’m stunned made it past the censors.

Next Side Story: A double shot of female-centric episodes, via “Batgirl Returns” and “Girl’s Night Out”

Next Justice League: A bit of Silver Age hilarity updated for the modern age, as Flash and Green Lantern beat off monkeys and explore the downside of internet dating, plus the kickoff of the second ongoing romantic subplot. “Brave and the Bold” is a good one, so be here for that.

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  1. Red Hedgehog
    October 23, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Wow. I had heard of the Fleischer shorts, but never watched one until now. It really is amazing how great the quality of animation was and how close to modern superhero animation it is.

  2. Timmy
    February 15, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Sorry if I have been ignorant, but the video seems to have been changed, or something similar, as the video does not match the article.

    • February 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      The video isn’t of the episode, it’s of the Fleischer short that inspired the episode.

  3. Timmy
    February 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Ok. I see. Thanks!

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