Five fascinating film and TV facts #87

We take some classic animations right back to the drawing board



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Rick and Morty, the freaking superb, freaking weird cartoon following a superscientist and his grandson, started life as a sexually explicit parody of Back to the Future. The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti was, in animator Justin Roiland’s words…

“A way to poke fun at the idea of getting cease and desist letters. At the time (October 2006) I had nothing to lose and my original intention was to call this “Back to the Future: the new official Universal studios cartoon featuring the new Doc Brown and Marty McFly” and then I’d just sit back and wait for a letter from their lawyers to arrive. That’s actually why it’s so filthy. I was just looking to “troll” a big studio.”

You can still find the first Doc and Mharti short online, but we’re not going to embed it here. Hell, we’re not even going to link to it. We’re the Radio Times. You buy us at Christmas. What would grandma say?

It’s freaking funny though.

South Park started life as a student film made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker at the University of Colorado in 1992. Called The Spirit of Christmas, it was a short, brutal fight between Jesus and Frosty the Snowman, animated using cardboard. It’s recognisably South Park, although Cartman is called Kenny. (Again, you can find it for yourself.)

Brian Graden, an executive at Fox, saw the short and asked them to make another to use as a Christmas card for his friends. This one was a short, brutal fight between Jesus and Santa Claus, which found its way to the nascent internet and became one of the first viral hits. A television series for Comedy Central followed.

The pilot used the same cardboard stop-motion animation as the Christmas shorts, but from then on the series has imitated the jerky style with computers. Using this method entire episodes can be written and produced in less than a week, compared with the months or even years of others shows.

You already know that The Simpsons started life as short gags on the Tracy Ullman Show. But did you know that originally they were going to be rabbits?

Groening was going to pitch an animated version of his wickedly funny, bleak Life in Hell comic strip series, which he wrote from 1977 to 2012. It stars Binky the rabbit, who lives in LA and hates his life.

However the cartoonist decided against it at the last moment, and came up with the dysfunctional family sitcom while sitting outside producer James L Brooks’s office. The names are based on his own family: Homer Groening is his father, while Bart is an anagram of ‘brat’.

The Simpsons and Futurama occasionally reference Life in Hell – Maggie has a cuddly Binky in her crib – but one surreal vestige almost made it to the screen: Marge’s tall hair was supposed to hide a set of long rabbit ears. These are actually glimpsed in The Simpsons arcade game.

Here’s an animated rabbit that did make it to the screen – but was swiftly forgotten when a certain mouse showed up.

Animators Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney came up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit while working at Universal Studios in the 1920s. A slapstick, happy go lucky fellow, he starred in a successful series of shorts between 1927-1928. However, faced with a massive pay cut, Disney decided to leave Universal – and Oswald – behind. Not long afterward, he invented Mickey, who shares a fashion sense and general aesthetic with Oswald.

The ears are different though. The ears are key.

Universal kept making films with Oswald through to the 1940s, but these eventually dried up. A comic book starring the rabbit survived for a few more years, albeit with a radically redesigned Oswald.

Flashforward to 2006 and Disney managed to buy the rights to Oswald. Since then he has starred in archive collections, cartoons, video games and even made appearances in the theme parks. The prodigal son has returned to the Magic Kingdom.

Before Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, and long before John Hurt showed up, there was another Doctor.

Scream of the Shalka was a six part animated series posted on the BBC’s website at the end of 2003. It starred Richard E Grant as a new version of the Doctor. Derek Jacobi played an Android version of the Master who lived in the Doctor’s Tardis. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

It’s not too fondly remembered now – Russell T Davies said Grant was “terrible… I thought he took the money and ran, to be honest” – but at the time the web series was credited as the official continuation of the series. Doctor Who had gone off air in 1989, only returning for the American funded TV movie in 1996.

The return of the main series with Christopher Eccleston rendered the ‘Shalka Doctor’ non-canonical, but there are a lot of ties between the project and nuWho:

• Richard E Grant returned to the Whoniverse as Dr Walter Simeon in The Snowmen (2012) and later as the Great Intelligence in The Name of the Doctor (2013).

• Derek Jacobi would go on to play the (non-robotic) Master in Utopia (2007), before the character regenerated in John Simm.

• Phil Ford wrote the script with Paul Cornell on novelisation duties – both have gone on to be regular Who writers.

• Sophie Okonedo, who played the Doctor’s companion Alison Cheney in Shalka, played Liz 10 in The Beast Below (2010)


• Most intriguingly, David Tennant is uncredited as a caretaker. A massive Doctor Who fan, he was recording a play in a neighbouring studio and managed to talk the director into giving him a part.