Imagine taking a season’s worth of South Park episodes, cutting out Kenny’s traditionally gruesome death sequences, and splicing them all together to create a 20-minute cavalcade of burnt corpses and exploding eyeballs.
Now imagine trying to watch it.
This is essentially the idea behind Happy Tree Friends, a series of Flash animated shorts that first appeared on the Internet, chronicling the gory deaths of adorable woodland creatures.
Creators Rhode Montijo and Aubrey Ankrum have created something of a sensation by disemboweling, crushing and otherwise torturing thieving raccoons, a dim-witted moose and a disco-dancing bear, just to name a few.
Mondo Media is releasing Happy Tree Friends Vol.1: First Blood on DVD this month.
The disc includes 14 episodes, as well as commentary and character sketches.
While violence has been a staple of cartoons since their inception, there is one problem with the Happy Tree Friends.
It isn’t funny.
Violence without context tends to become trite rather quickly as the shock value wears off.
Seriously, how many times can someone watch a rabbit or squirrel flung against a tree at high speed and still find it funny?
The dichotomy of cute animals and bloody violence will always have its fans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be funny.
This disc should appeal to those discerning viewers that watch The Simpsons for Itchy & Scratchy, but anyone with a true appreciation for the art of animation will find the pointless destruction of little creatures sophomoric.
Enjoying these shorts is tantamount to giggling as you watch your friend burn an ant with a magnifying glass or rip the wings off a butterfly.
These cartoons are utterly devoid of wit or creativity.
In fact, it would be a surprise if the scripts took longer than five minutes to write.
An example of one tired plot device is the war vet whose flashbacks end in murderous violence.
The cleverly named “Flippy” squirrel – complete with beret and fatigues – is playing hide-and-seek with friends when the jackhammering of a woodpecker sends him into a rage.
He methodically stalks and murders the unsuspecting animals and only snaps back to reality after the fact.
Another example of an uninspired plot is the misadventure of “Nutty” squirrel, whose addiction to candy leads him to, presumably, the only vending machine in the forest.
After the candy is stuck in the machine (is this a Seinfeld sketch?), his arm is ripped off somehow and the machine falls on him.
Cue the collecting pool of blood and … cut.
While any comparison with other adult-oriented cartoons – such as The Simpsons or South Park – would be unfair considering the brevity of Happy Tree Friends, there are certain creators and shows where comparison is appropriate.
Bill Plympton has been creating some of the most demented cartoon shorts available for years.
His work has been showcased on MTV and has gained some commercial appeal in recent years.
His work can be accessed on www.atomfilms.com. Plympton’s body of work can be equally violent, but there is a sense of purpose, a sense of existence beyond the mayhem.
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is yet another example of how to intersperse adult themes into a cohesive, entertaining package that remains fresh.
The program is made up of several vignettes, including the brilliant Sealab 2021, the absurd Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and the off-kilter Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
These are examples of independent cartooning that do not have to pander to the lowest common denominator, but instead use strong comedic writing and social commentary or satire to create a product equal to the best of the genre.
Mike Gainer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org