Comedy is born of joy and sorrow, elation and frustration, light and dark. So is Angry Beavers, an all-out comedy cartoon series about two beavers out on their own with only their severely limited wits to get them through.
Think Martin and Lewis (both of which are referenced in the series, including "The Day the Clown Cried"). Daggett is the high-strung, thin-skinned, impulsive maniac; Norbert is the self-important, narcissistic, not-as-smart-as-he-thinks older brother. They bicker almost constantly but there is a clear bond between them. But unlike "Laverne and Shirley," there’s no couch-sitting moment where the two reflect on their adventure. Dag and Norb never seem to reflect much at all.
There are no typical "Angry Beavers" formulas, except that the stories usually explode in chaos by the end, like one-reel comedies of the silver screen. However, there are some episodes that are character driven (Norb and Dag’s personality issues result is wacky hijinks); sly sendups of film and TV shows and genres (like "The Cat in the Hat" or "Starsky and Hutch"); and total fantasies that teeter between funny ("ha-ha"), funny ("yipes") or sometimes funny ("ewwww").
The newly released DVD contains 62 episodes with two cartoons each (the single exception is the spectacular full episode, “"The Day the World Got Really Screwed Up"). The set looks pretty good (though it was probably finished on videotape and, like many shows of its day, has some picture "buzz"). There are no bonus features at all, so in lieu of that, I asked one of the show’s five directors, Gary Conrad (now working on "The Fairly OddParents") to comment on a few shows on which he worked with the creative team.
GREG: How were you selected to direct episodes of "Angry Beavers?"
GARY CONRAD: I was one of three directors who worked on the series. At the start of each season, a production schedule was worked out for a rotation of each of the three directors to handle every third show. Three directors were required because of the production overlap necessary to complete a new episode to air each week.
GREG: How did you get assigned to "The Loogie Hawk?" Did they say, "Hey, let’s give the loogie one to Gary?"
GARY: (laughs) Now that you mention it, I'd be honored if that were how it came about! Actually, we had three directors: Rob Hughes, Patty Shinagawa and me, during my tenure, in addition to others before and after my involvement. The schedule called for each of us to handle every third show. “The Loogie Hawk” was just the luck of the draw for me…and I got a big kick out of working on it.
GREG: This is the one about the bird that deposits viscous pink loogie gack all over everything and the beavers’ efforts to stop him.
GARY: "The Loogie Hawk" was a great example of the unique and often outlandish humor that distinguished the Beavers. It’s one of the things I loved about the series. Let's face it—a bird that deposits loogie gack isn't something you'd see in just ANY show
GREG: By far, the most spectacular episode you worked on is called "The Legend of Kid Friendly." This one is downright disturbing. It would have scared me if I watched it as a kid.
GARY: It scares me a little just thinking about it now!
GREG: That said, it’s a "pure cartoon" because it makes its own rules. Nothing is really explained. It just happens.
GARY: We had a great team of writers, and I loved how the series often veered into the surreal and absurd. The very funny Keith Kaczorek wrote that particular episode. If my memory serves, I think it was inspired by the title character’s name—“kid friendly’ being network-speak for making cartoons that are appropriate for a young audience…
GREG: "The Legend of Kid Friendly" is a spoof of westerns, but it also reminds me not of The Joker, but of a B-movie called "Mr. Sardonicus" about a disfigured man with a face frozen in a horrific smile. In the "Angry Beavers" case, Kid Friendly is a big, toothy Humpty Dumpty who can make someone literally smile to death! Creepy but very funny is that “you had to be there” way.
GARY: I love how the humor in the series could straddle that line. It started with the scripts, which were always funny. The actors gave great vocal performances, the storyboard artists added business and gags and then Mitch would punch up the boards even more .The designers brought style and a great look. Each production was plussed all the way down the line.
GREG: The black and white moments, the title credits and the scratchy film effects in this episode are cool, too. But how did they get Waylon Jennings to sing the ballad?
GARY: I don't know how Waylon Jennings got involved but it was quite a coup! The show always reflected Mitch Schauer's imagination and great sensibility, so I suspect he had a hand in making that happen.
GREG: I love the cow chorus partly because it shows that minimal animation is sometimes just as funny as full animation.
GARY: So true. Often less is more.
GREG: If you’re a classic pop music buff, the music is wildly eclectic. Many of the background melodies, including the theme, are tributes to Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. A few episodes feature lots of music, including "Sang 'Em High." This is the episode in which Laverta Lutz, the Lady of the Pond, grants Daggett his wish of winning arguments with his older brother, Norbert. Under her spell, any argument would be ended "when the fat beaver sings." The catch is that Dag "hulks out" into a giant, singing beaver with voices that sound like Dean Martin, Hank Williams and, the topper, Eydie Gorme singing "I Am No Stupid Poopy Beaver."
GARY: Thanks, Greg! I'm sorry to say I didn't really do that one. It was Patty Shinagawa's show and she did most of the work on it—then for some reason, I don't recall why—it was given to me to finish. It was fun to work on and I thought it turned out great, but I felt bad that I was erroneously given sole credit for it. (I'm happy now to set the record straight!) One fun thing I recall about that episode was the return of Laverta, who had appeared in a previous season. Occasionally if a funny new character was introduced, they would be brought back for a return appearance in a later episode or episodes—Dag's friend "Stump" comes to mind.
GREG: Dag’s transformations in "Sang 'Em High" remind me a little of "The Greedy" in Richard Williams' "Raggedy Ann & Andy" feature. Did you need new model sheets of his new appearance.
GARY: Dag's transformations did require new model sheets. We had a fantastic team of designers on “Angry Beavers.” They had a lot of fun with stuff like that and it shows throughout the series.
GREG: I’m always curious about how animation, especially the comedy shtick, can retain its important timing when you’re sending it overseas. Is it a matter of being thorough in the materials you send?
GARY: We were lucky to have a terrific overseas studio, Rough Draft, handling the animation for “Angry Beavers.” Shipping the animation work to an overseas studio does require meticulous planning on this end. The storyboards were very thorough, all the props, characters, backgrounds were designed here, the colors were chosen and the animation timed and planned to the frame. Everyone tried to be as clear as possible and provide as much information as possible for our overseas team. It's the way almost all TV animation is done, and sometimes it does feel scary shipping the work thousands of miles away, but we were lucky to have a great overseas crew and thankfully the results were always stellar. Every episode is the result of a great group of talent here and abroad. There’s no way that I can claim to do these shows alone.
GREG: In other words, it takes a dam, (Sorry.) Has your Angry Beavers experience resurfaced in your subsequent projects?
GARY: I've always loved funny and character-driven shows like "Angry Beavers." Over the years, I've been lucky to work on a variety of shows on which the stories and humor spring from the ensemble of characters: TUFF Puppy, Robot & Monster, El Tigre and The Fairly OddParents, to name a few.
GREG: How are things going on "The Fairly OddParents?"
GARY: We're nearing the end of our ninth season, and the new episodes are super funny. We have a great crew and it's still a blast to work on the show after all these years. I'm very happy our audience still enjoys watching "The Fairly OddParents" - and for the whole series of "Angry Beavers" to be available for fans like me and people who may have never seen it before.
Voice Talents include: Richard Steven Horvitz, Nick Bakay, Charlie Brissette, Terry Wood, John Garry, Gregg Berger, Edward Winter, Victor Wilson, Beverly Garland, Patti Deutsch, Stuart Pankin, Wally Wingert, Jason Graae, John O'Hurley and Mitch, Stacy & Chelsea Schauer
Created by Mitch Schauer