Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Halloween Specials That Time Forgot: The Devil & Daniel Mouse


There comes a time ever year when the weather begins to decent into chilled madness and all forms of flora and fuana take on their half-year sabbatical. When the only hope one could have until very recently was the new fall schedule of programs at your disposal from any of the Big Three network mills in the country. While while the novelty of seeing something new was still around for a short time, there comes that point near the end of the tenth month we've all come to favor for it's ghastly and devious intentions, Halloween!

And what better way to cash in on a popular holiday than with television specials devoted to such. But this isn't about a poor boy's hopes and dreams dashed in a pumpkin patch, or a fat cat and wiener dog pillaging a neighborhood or even the umpteenth "Treehouse of Horror" episode that dives further into the abyss. These are the specials hardly anyone seems to care of, or make a big deal to pilgrimage to the boob toob once a year since companies either don't see fit to release 'em in a new digital format, or are easily ignored past the flashy new productions produced annually. These are...

THE HALLOWEEN SPECIALS THAT TIME FORGOT!

Our first exhibit for tonight is one of my personal favorites and one that deserves better treatment then it had got some years back on a certain limited 2-Disc release that will be named later.


"The Devil and Daniel Mouse" was the second TV special produced by Nelvana in 1978 and was aired on CBC in Canada and through syndication in the states. The story itself is a rather modern spin on the famous tale, "The Devil and Daniel Webster", where a man's interest in fortune becomes the poison in his life after signing a deal with the Devil, and consults an a famous laywer to argue the case with a "Mr. Scratch" over the matter in a trial. Take that story and give it a musical twist and here you have it!

Dan and Jan are two mice who perform folk music at a bar when they were fired one night for poor attendences. Poor and out of a job, Dan goes out to sell his guitar for some groceries, leaving Jan alone in the woods to ponder her fate and wishes to be a rock star. Just then the earth splits apart and out comes an rather red devilsh brute in a white suit, B.L. Zebubb, president of Devil-May-Care Music Productions. B.L. admires and persuades Jan to become a star by signing with him. With his assistant, Wheez Weasel, a deal was struck on paper with Jan's blood, "It's more permanent!" say B.L., leaving Dan in the dark while Funky Jan was born.

New woredrobe, a band and publicity sets the stage to success for Jan as she rises to the top of the charts and performs at every concert. Sooner or later, it would soon come to pass that B.L. comes to collect on the contract, which Jan did not bargain for. Alone, cold and sad, the last and only true friend she ever knew comes back into her life, Dan. Together again, Dan must defend Jan in a trial with the devil. Will he suceed, just wait and see!

"The Devil and Daniel Mouse" was the second animated TV special produced by a then-new Canadian studio, Nelvana, employing many young and fresh-out-of-art school animators who cut their teeth on specials like this rather than the usual TV commercial spots. This special would also serve as a template for a later Nevlana project, the full-length feature film "Rock & Rule". The songs and music that set the tone and feel for the entire special was composed by John Sebastian, best known for his previous work with the 60's band "Lovin' Spoonful" (or perhaps the theme song to "Welcome Back Kotter").

Aside from the basic message learned by the film's end, one could also take into note a rather amusing knock at the music industry as portrayed by anthropomoric forest critters in the film as well, let alone figure out what band or artist could Jan be referencing in some of her performances.


A home video release was made possible in the early 80's by Warner Home Video under compilation of three other specials under the title "Nelvanamation" and on a separate cassette by it's own. 16mm prints made available for non-theatrical exhibition in schools and other organizations was also made possible. In recent years, Unearthed Films made availalbe a 2-disc limited edition release of Rock & Rule that included "Devil & Daniel Mouse", but was taken from a later TV edition that removed a few minutes of the film's running time to fit more ads time in (sad really).

As for Nelvana, they did other things, like Care Bears, several Star Wars shows, Beetlejuice, Eek! The Cat, Bob & Margaret, screwing up Card Captor Sakura, and laying off many animators by the turn of the century to name a few. Many would point to the failure of Rock & Rule for Nelvana's eventual downfall from grace it had obtained in these specials and the 'house style' they developed.

All in all, I can conclude that "The Devil and Daniel Mouse is one of the more interesting and original Halloween specials made and one that deserves a decent release this day and age in some digital format of the current or near future.

Click HERE to revisit a classic!

BONUS:
Here is a behind-the-scenes documentary to enjoy as well!



Audio from "The Devil and Daniel Mouse" also found it's way onto a song by the English group Bauhaus on their 1982 album "The Sky's Gone Out", entitled "Party of the First Part"...


7 comments:

Tohoscope said...

I think one of the things that really made The Devil & Daniel Mouse stand out at the time was not only the designs but the production values. This was feature quality animation done for a half hour TV special. And it was something of a shock to see after years of cheap limited animation TV specials.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I know what you mean. 1978 was not a big year for anything animation-wise in this country (someone would probably prove me wrong but let 'em, I can take the abuse), and TV animation in general was the pits. What these guys proved was that you didn't need to cut corners if you were doing a TV special such as this with all you got.

I once knew one of the guys who animated on this special in particular that I once e-mailed to a long time ago. Not sure what character or scene he had, but I hoped it was one of the familiar ones I liked, especially with the weasel character.

Tohoscope said...

Also, I've got to give props to the voice actors who did Weeze and B.L. Wonderful performances that still hold up. Sure, Dan and Jan are good, too. But Weeze and B.L. steal the show.

d. merrill said...

I have the LP from "Devil & Daniel Mouse", at some point it's going to go up on Found Sound. It's on a Selectavision with "Rom-e-o and Julie-8."

Our new place is two blocks from Nelvana's offices, actually.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Tohoscope said...
Also, I've got to give props to the voice actors who did Weeze and B.L. Wonderful performances that still hold up. Sure, Dan and Jan are good, too. But Weeze and B.L. steal the show.


Being reminded as children me and my sibs would be playacting those characters out as well. I was usually the devil, my sis was Jan and my brother, probably Dan. My older brother probably got in on the act as well.

d. merrill said...
I have the LP from "Devil & Daniel Mouse", at some point it's going to go up on Found Sound. It's on a Selectavision with "Rom-e-o and Julie-8."


Cool, didn't know there was an LP for that too!

"Romie-0 and Julie-8" is another one of those very cooky yet enjoyable specials from them as well. What other animated special would give you a junk pile with the Millennium Falcon ditched in. ^_^

I mention a while back about having notice these specials were put on 16mm as well, I have prints of "Cosmic Christmas", "Intergalactic Thanksgiving" and "Take Me Up To The Ballgame", but missed out on a chance to have "The Devil and Daniel Mouse" over a decade ago when I found a copy at a public library's book sale (they wanted to charge by the minute, and I didn't have $25 handy or whatever). Love to get 'em all someday.

Our new place is two blocks from Nelvana's offices, actually.

Extremely cool, but I be nowadays the best they could do is a lot of Flash-based stuff just to keep the work in-house than to send it all overseas as usual. You'd think with all those tax incentives from the government they could do better? Course I hardly ever seen anything new lately on the tube to know for sure, but a lot of it just doesn't appeal to me at all.

Tohoscope said...

For a brief second I was surprised to hear that this was on Selectavision, but then I was all, "yeah, it's Selectavision."

A month ago I was going through the tapes at Half Price Books when somebody came in with a box of those Selectravision things. All in really good condition, too. Lots of Disney titles. Too bad I don't have a Selectravision player.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Tohoscope said...
For a brief second I was surprised to hear that this was on Selectavision, but then I was all, "yeah, it's Selectavision."


RCA wasn't going to let us down that easy!

A month ago I was going through the tapes at Half Price Books when somebody came in with a box of those Selectravision things. All in really good condition, too. Lots of Disney titles. Too bad I don't have a Selectravision player.

I remember seeing that stuff at a Goodwill nearly two decades ago (and before that, a video store in the early 80's, when membership wasn't free just yet). I can't think of anything in Selectavision I want to see though (or buy badly).