15 Fun Facts About Rocko's Modern Life


Rocko’s Modern Life hasn’t been on the air since 1996, but that doesn’t mean fans aren’t still nostalgic for the residents of O-Town. Here are some facts you might not have known about the classic Nicktoon.

1. The creator had an early altercation with a television.

Show creator Joe Murray had a television fall on his head when he was 5. The cartoonist said there was no physical damage, but it may have explained his "slightly dislodged view" of the world. The end of the show's theme song features a television falling on the cartoon's characters—a possible callback to the real life event. 

2. Rocko’s Modern Life was created at the beginning of Nick’s golden era.

Nickelodeon opened Nickelodeon Studios in 1990, and the following year started producing its own cartoon shows (known as Nicktoons). The fledgling kids' channel was aiming to produce edgier, higher quality content than what other networks were creating for kids. The first three shows in development were Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Rugrats.

At the same time, Murray was creating short animated films and sending  copies to various people in the media. A copy of his film My Dog Zer—about a man with a dim-witted dog—found its way to the desk of Linda Simensky, the head of animation development at Nickelodeon. Simensky and the Nickelodeon team were enthralled by the movie and asked Murray if he would like to develop an original series. The newbie animator was hesitant, because children’s television was not very good quality in the '80s, but reluctantly agreed.

“There were no rules. Nothing held us back," Murray said in the book Not Just Cartoons. "Once we did a four-minute episode. Another one had no dialogue, just pantomime … so Steve Hillenburg, Doug Lawrence, and I were able to do a lot of weird things we couldn’t have done today.”

3. The show was Put together by an all-star team.

When Murray opened his new studio in Los Angeles to start Rocko’s Modern Life, he brought in talented animators from The Simpsons, Cool World, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He also worked with many newcomers, who eventually moved on to other amazing cartoons. Some notable examples are: Steve Hillenberg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants; Nick Jennings, art director for SpongeBob and Adventure Time; and Jeff Marsh and Dan Povenmire, creators of Phineas and Ferb.

The voice acting was also top notch: Carlos Alazraqui (Reno 911) played Rocko; Doug Lawrence (known as Mr. Lawrence by his fans) doubled as director and voice of Filbert; and Tom Kenny (best known for his role as SpongeBob) portrayed Heffer. Prior to the cartoon, neither Alazraqui nor Kenny had any experience voice acting.

4. There’s a funny story of how Mr. Lawrence came to play Filbert.

Originally, Lawrence had only come onto the show to direct one of the storyboard teams. After feeling a kinship with the character Filbert, he decided he wanted to voice the neurotic turtle. The actor snuck his audition tape into the box of submissions. Without knowing whose tape he was listening to, Murray immediately decided the voice was perfect. “After nearly dozing off listening to audition after audition, I put in one more tape of someone voicing Filbert and quite literally jumped up, yelling ‘THAT’S IT!’" Murray recalled in Not Just Cartoons. "I didn’t find out until later that it was Doug Lawrence, so I can’t be accused of playing favorites."

5. Rocko is based off a Wallaby Murray saw at the zoo.

In the original pitch to Nickelodeon, Murray described his character as a 20 year old male scrub wallaby, who was “a young anthromorphic Woody Allen, who has just moved away from home into a surrealistic adult world.” In this sketch, he described the character as somewhat spacy and “naïve to the new chores of life.”

The creator can thank a trip to the zoo for this character outline. The little kangaroo seemed oblivious to the chaos around him; Murray liked the idea of a character “set within the eye of a hurricane called life.” He created a character called Travis, who starred in a comic strip that later went on to inspire Rocko’s Modern Life. Travis’ name was changed to Rocko because he sounded more like a fighter.

6. The theme song is by the B-52’s.

Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from the B-52’s sang the theme song for the show from the second season on. They were actually the second choice: Murray originally wanted Danny Elfman to create the theme, but he was booked.

7. The office was very relaxed.

Often referred to by Murray as the “Wild West,” the cartooning world in the early '90s was a bit of a free-for-all (one crew member once brought an unloaded gun and holster to work for show and tell). Children were often invited into the studio, and Mr. Lawrence could often be found in pajamas, eating cereal on a fold-out couch. Afternoon breaks consisted of headstands, workers posing as bowling pins, or singing Brady Bunch songs. Pranks were also rampant—think gym socks in the coffee filter. Despite the shenanigans, all the cartoons were produced on time.

8. Rocko was originally yellow.

Characters often undergo many changes during production, but the wallaby’s color swap still bugs creator Joe Murray. During the pilot, Rocko was a bright lemon yellow. Nickelodeon approached a toy company to make stuffed animals of the character, but the company said they already had a toy with similar coloring. In order to avoid confusion, Nick was asked to change Rocko’s color. Murray fought to keep the yellow, but eventually had to change it to the beige color we know today. In the end, the switch was for nothing; the toy company pulled out of the agreement.

9. Rocko’s Modern Life is an outline-driven show.

This means that the creation process starts with a premise. Writers laid out the story beats in an outline, and artists fleshed out the story with gags. Dialogue and jokes were written during storyboarding, taking advantage of visual storytelling. After the storyboards were completed, a recording script was typed up, and the voice acting was added.

The other kind of scripting for cartoon is script driven, where everything is written at once right into the script. Dialogue-heavy shows like American Dad and The Simpsons use this method.

10. The characters are designed to be easy to draw.

Murray wanted it to be easy to teach others how to draw his characters because he knew he would have to train a lot of people to recreate them. He needed to teach 200 people in Korea and 50 people in the United States how to draw each character, so they had to be easily replicated. He released several YouTube videos—like the one above—explaining the process for drawing his characters.

Some tips include: Heffer’s body resembled a hamburger, while his mouth is like a hotdog. Rocko’s feet are the same shape and size of his head cut in half. Bev and Ed Bighead share the same shape and outline (they also share the same voice actor, Charlie Adler).

Murray said that by the end of the show, the artists in the crew were drawing the characters even better than him; eventually, the crewmembers even started correcting his versions.

11. "Leap Frogs" was taken off the air.

A lot of inappropriate jokes slipped past the censors (including a scene where Rocko literally spanks a monkey), but one episode pushed it too far. In “Leap Frogs,” a neglected Bev Bighead decided to seduce Rocko. The episode ends with the Bigheads reconciling and breaking plates with their tongues. Angry parents found the episode to be too sexual, and the network pulled it.

12. Rocko almost had a sister.

In the original pitch to Nickelodeon, Rocko had a sister named Magdalane, who had two children. After going into production, the character was dropped because Murray felt the story worked better if Rocko was on his own. Then, in the season 2 episode "Wake Up Maggie," Murray added Magdalane back in. The general premise was that she was a narcoleptic. The network was found the plot a little strange and was on the fence about the character.

During a press conference, one reporter asked Murray why he didn’t have more positive female roles in Rocko. The creator rebutted that the show didn’t have any positive male characters either, and that the show was not made to have role models. Immediately after the event, Nick executives asked Murray to add Magdalane to the show and make her a strong character. Feeling unwanted pressure, the creator dropped the female character entirely.

13. This led to the creation of Dr. Hutchinson.

Nick continued to push for a strong female character on the cartoon even after Murray rejected Magdalane. They wanted a positive female character with a strong hook, so Murray and his team made one who literally had a hook for a hand. The new female “role model” was Dr. Hutchinson, a dentist who lost her hand to a crocodile patient.

14. Some of the characters were inspired by Murray’s childhood.

Rocko’s best friend Heffer was inspired by the creator’s own childhood friend. Like the cartoon cow, Murray’s friend is adopted and enjoys bologna sandwiches.

Ed and Bev Bighead are based off two cankerous neighbors Murray had growing up. “Whenever the baseball fell on their lawn, they would never give it back,” the creator explained. He made the characters cane toads because Australia was having trouble with the animals around the time of the cartoon’s conception (a problem that continues today). Bev’s hair is based on Murray’s mother’s hair in the ‘60s.

15. The "Wacky Delly" episode mirrored real life.

Just like the character Ralph Bighead, Murray wanted to get out of his job. He was nearing the end of his contract and wanted to move on. Someone brought in an old Dole promotional film about putting pineapple on meatloaf. They wanted to use the footage, but could not get permission. Murray made do and created his own pineapple meatloaf that you see in the "Wacky Delly" sequence.

BONUS: You can follow Joe Murray’s latest work on his blog.

Rocko’s Modern Life may be over, but the creator is still working on various projects and animations. You can see what he’s up to by reading his blog here.

Additional sources: Creating Animated Cartoons with Character: A Guide to Developing and Producing Your Own Series for TV, the Web, and Short FilmNot Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!

British Film Institute
Pop Culture
Where to Watch Over 300 British Animated Films for Free Online
British Film Institute
British Film Institute

The history of animation doesn’t begin and end with studios in Japan and the U.S. Artists in the UK have been drawing and sculpting cartoons for over a century, and now some of the best examples of the medium to come out of the country are available to view for free online.

As It’s Nice That reports, the British Film Institute has uploaded over 300 films to the new archive on BFI player. Dubbed "Animated Britain," the expansive collection includes hand-drawn and stop motion animation and many distinct styles in between. Viewers will find ads, documentaries, films for children, and films for adults dating from 1904 to the 21st century. Episodes of classic cartoons like SuperTed and Clangers as well as obscure clips that are hard to find elsewhere are represented.

The archive description reads:

“Through its own weird alchemy, animation can bring our wildest imaginings to life, and yet it can also be a powerful tool for exploring our everyday reality. Silly, surreal, sweet or caustic, this dizzyingly diverse selection showcases British animation's unique contribution to the art form, and offers a history ripe for rediscovery.”

This institution’s project marks their start of a whole year dedicated to animation. UK residents can stream the selected films for free at BFI player, or check out their rental offerings for more British animated classics.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

Pop Culture
Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain

Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]


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