>Whenever I wake up and realize we are neck deep in the holiday season, I think back to what this time of year meant to me as a kid. A big part of knowing that the season was upon us was the arrival on TV of the “holiday” cartoons. For Christmas, that meant the classics — shows like Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. When those ads first appeared on our snowy, only-two-channels-TV, I knew things were getting serious.
As years passed I greeted the release of these shows on VHS and DVD with mixed feelings. Being able to watch those shows whenever one wanted seemed as blasphemous as turning Halloween, or Christmas, on at will. For me, it was as much the ritual of knowing I only got one shot at seeing them that made their arrival every year such an event. So I never bought any of those videos. It’s been years now since I’ve even seen any of them.
I broke my purchasing rule for Thanksgiving this year. When I was a kid, they always showed special “Thanksgiving morning” cartoons, at least that is how I remember it, before football took over. It was then that I was first exposed to The Last of the Mohicans, and it has been one of my all time favorite stories since. I went ‘net surfing to see if I could track the cartoon down, and damned if I did. So I ordered it on DVD, then decided to make this past Thanksgiving a Mohicans holiday. I wanted to watch the cartoon — the source of my relationship to the story — then also watch the 1992 film (the movie which I name, when I am forced to pick only one, as my All Time Favorite Movie). I’m happy to say the experiment lived up to my hopes, with some awesome surprises. It started late Thanksgiving night, when I sat down and watched the animated movie on my laptop.
Right out of the gate, what struck me about the cartoon was how the portrayals of the characters clearly set the tone for the casting choices in the ’92 live action film. I thought that was pretty awesome.
There were some concessions to the child audience, of course, like the addition of a yappy little friggin’ dog for comedic relief.
What also amused me about that is the little bastard’s name was “Pip.” My folks have a venerable little Yorkshire Terrier named Pip as well, a little warrior I had done battle with earlier in the day. Of course, the cartoon Pip was nothing but a problem, like in this scene where his yapping foils a sneaky escape attempt by alerting the entire camp.
A couple great tropes from the genre raised their heads early too. Like the old, “Someone’s coming, let’s see who they are!” ear to the ground trick. That gets ’em every time! I used to claim I could do that too (Jesus, I’m realizing what a little nerd I was as a kid; maybe my dad was right all along!).
What killed me were the voice-overs, in particular the voice of Uncas. Can you imagine Casey Kasem — the American Top 40 guy — trying to get his Indian on? Well, that’s totally what it was. Casey friggin’ Kasem as the voice of Uncas.
Kasem has such a recognizable voice (besides the radio show, he was Shaggy in Scooby Doo and Robin in Superfriends), it makes me laugh whenever I hear it in a weird place . . . like in a cartoon. Especially in this profanity-laced tirade that you can listen to RIGHT HERE. Who knew Casey Kasem said the “f” word?!
The cartoon shortens up the entire story quite a bit, but it is still reasonably faithful to the book. I enjoyed it. I was happy to see that, for what it is, it holds up pretty well. I had a great time revisiting it. I’m going to do it every year.
The next night I watched the 1992 movie version of the story while writing. It’s hard for me to believe this thing came out 17 friggin’ years ago. Goddamn, that makes me feel old. I remember the first time I saw the movie poster I about freaked. That was pre-internet, so it’s not like today where images leak years before movies come out, and pretty much every detail is available long before a movie is shown. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and there it was in the “Coming Soon” frame at the theater. I was living in Washington State at the time, and spent a lot of time out among the trails in a woodland behind my house. When I saw the movie, it totally blew me away. I could go on and on about everything I like, and watching it again I realize it has lost none of its impact, at least not for me. Yes, it is essentially a romance, but it is a classic tale of adventure and heroism too. The story is drastically changed from the book, but I think I actually prefer it. At least as a movie, anyway. The soundtrack (by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman) is magnificent; I listen to it all the time when I write. The last ten minutes or so of the movie — where the climactic final act is wrapped up to music, and the tragic events unfold as our hero Uncas fights his way up a cliff face to save the woman he has come to love — never fails to make me tear up, though I’ve seen it many, many times.
Hell, I think this movie inspired me to take up canoing as a hobby/passion as well. Honestly, I don’t think there is anything about it that I don’t love. Much of it was filmed in the state of North Carolina, which is one of several reasons that state holds a special place in my heart. A work trip took me to Asheville several years ago, and I was able to visit Chimney Rock State Park, which is where the climactic final scene takes place. It felt like a pilgrimage.
Writing and thinking about all this stuff makes me a little verklempt. Even though the story isn’t all that historically accurate, it still captures an ideal of things that have been lost — both as it relates to cultures and to landscape, particularly in Michael Mann‘s handling of the material. It inspires me to get out in the wilds around where I live more, simply because I can, and to not do it is a profound waste of an opportunity I have simply because of where I live.
It really shouldn’t surprise me that I love this story so much. It has everything I loved as a kid, and still do: action; wilderness; romance; heroic figures living on the edge of civilization and fighting for what they believe in. Reading Cooper’s actual text, it is very archaic and pretty racist in his views of the “savages.” For whatever reason I am able to see beyond that, much as I look beyond similar sentiments in the words of writers like Howard or Burroughs. The adventure stories of these writers have inspired me my entire life, sans those overtones, thankfully. It makes me happy that as I’ve grown older I haven’t lost those same feelings of wonder I had as a young ‘un when thinking and daydreaming about this stuff. Everyone should be so fortunate.
Great Spirit, and Maker of All Life
A warrior goes to you as straight as an arrow shot into the sun
Welcome him! And let him take his place at the council fire of my people
He is Uncas, my Son
Tell them to be patient, and ask death for speed
For they are all there, but one
I, Chingachgook, Last of the Mohicans