CANNON MONTH 2: I Go Pogo (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for being part of the second Cannon Month. There are so many movies to get to, from the rest of the films Menahem Golan directed to 21st Century’s 70s films that they distributed to the thousands of titles that Cannon owned. Trust me — there will be a third Cannon Month. This is one of the 21st Century-distributed movies and I’m kind of fascinated as to why they would have the rights.

Pogo is the cartoon character who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Sure, it was created for kids, but it had political satire that appealed to adults. Cartoonist Walt Kelly created it and the strip was syndicated to American newspapers from 1948 until 1975, then there was a revival from 1989 to 1993 with writer Larry Doyle and artist Neal Sternecky, who eventually did the whole cartoon himself. Actually, some newspapers carried reprints from 1975 to 1982 because that’s how popular Pogo was.

Chuck Jones had made The Pogo Special Birthday Special for the strip’s 20th anniversary but fans and Kelly disliked it. Walt and his wife Selby wrote and hand-animated We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, which was unfinished due to Walt’s poor health but the storyboards were used for the book of the same name. Finally, in 1980, this stop-motion film was made.

While this was released on VHS and played cable quite often — and Selby Kelly sold DVD on her site before her death — it has never officially been released on DVD. There was a ViewMaster set which makes sense, as the stop motion characters lend themselves well to that format.

Actually, the release of this movie is so weird. There were movie posters and ads in Variety claiming that it was to be released by 20th Century Fox. That never happened. It played once in August 1980 in New York City and its Kennedy Center debut never happened.

The stop-motion animators worked hard to ensure that the movie could be released four months prior to the 1980 election along with a promised a $1 million promotional budget and national Pogo for President write-in campaign.

Instead, 21st Century released it as a video rental through Fotomat huts — yes, this was a thing before digital cameras where you’d drive up and get your film developed but I never knew they had movies — in a plain generic Fotomat box.

On November 2, 1982 — the day of the mid-term elections — HBO premiered a new cut of the film that had narration added by Len Maxwell. This movie is really talky, so now it became even more filled with words. That’s the version that aired on cable through 1992 and that Disney Home Video released in 1984 and United American Video in 1989.

Directed by Marc Paul Chinoy, this film’s claymation characters seem a bit too dimensional when I think of Walt Kelly’s art, yet it’s still an interesting look. The strange thing is that this is based on the strip where Pogo ran for President and that was in 1952 and 1960 so the stories were nearly thirty years old by the time this movie came out, so some of the timely references are no longer so on the mark.

That said, the cast is strong, with Ruth Buzzi as Miz Beaver and Miss Mam’selle Hepzibah; Kelly’s friend journalist Jimmy Bresin as P.T. Bridgeport; Stan Freberg as Albert the Alligator; Jonathan Winters as Porky Pine, Molester Mole and Wiley Catt; Skip Hinnant (the voice of Fritz the Cat) as Pogo and Vincent Price as Deacon Muskrat.

It also has a good soundtrack featuring Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Yet it just feels like something I’m unsure kids would be interested in, as the subtext of political commentary has become the entire story. But hey, Will Vinton has always said that The Adventures of Mark Twain was the first full-length claymation movie and this was at least five years before that.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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