Sunday, June 29, 2008

Horribly good

Jello again. Well, a week long houseguest, re-scheduled doctor's appointments, and other issues, plus the heat, ate most of June. Still planning to finish my thoughts on the Dick Tracy pilot, but had a hard time getting back to it.

So rather than remain in limbo, here's a brief entry on Hagar the Horrible's memorable stint as a commercial spokescharacter in the UK. Hagar's another one of those strips from the 60s or 70s which linger on the funny pages but seem well past their prime. But Dik Browne's original Hagar was quite inventive, with less anachronism than finding amusing ways of applying modern mores to Viking and medieval life (his Viking Handbook is a little gem).

Anyway, around 1986, Hagar was recruited to sell Skol lager. Since even the word "Skol" is Danish, and the company a multi-national firm owned by Swedish, British, Belgian, and Canadian interests, the choice made sense, and of course Hagar's love of liquor is one of his fundamental traits. The spots were expertly adapted by Oscar Grillo's London studio (Grillo had done fine commercial work, and animated the scavengers in Richard Williams' A Christmas Carol), and the likes of future Disney animator Ken Duncan worked on different spots.

Here's a brief first sample:

The cartoons capture Dik Browne's art style, and the amusing hints of shading through multiple lines on a character's nose or back. However, it may be an initial surprise to hear Hagar speak with an English accent. Again, understandable given where the spots were made (and to be literal, I suppose the ads should have been in Scandinavian). Hagar is played by Bill Wallis, a veteran comedian and character actor who voiced the gruff Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz (and Mr. Prosser) in the original BBC radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and he plays Hagar as a working class bloke always eager for a pubcrawl. I have no idea who voiced Lucky Eddie in the above spot, and others, but he sounds very familiar, and I can swear I've heard him somewhere (in some ways, he sounds like a cockney Arnold Stang). Still, the voices, combined with gags in which Hagar visits judo classes, Indian restaurants, and the like, create a certain distance from the original comic. But on the whole, they work (and the only other extended animated version of Hagar to date was a 1980s Hanna-Barbera special, which was pretty much what would one expect, watered down and fairly undistinctive).

Note the cute, pert babes accompanying Hagar and Lucky Eddie. Who knew Vikings went on ghost train/haunted house rides? Again, the scenario doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of the Browne-era comic strip, but it's funny, badly punny, and full of great, appealing drawings and animation.

Here's a more typical scenario, Helga and Hagar talking (or thinking) at cross-purposes. I don't know who voiced Helga either, who I can't help feeling should sound very operatic or at least commanding, not like a beaten down London housewife, but it's still pretty good.

Now here's a nice little "behind the scenes" piece on the ad campaign, mostly in French but very understandable:

Hagar hasn't had a particularly high profile in decades (I once missed nabbing a stuffed Hagar in a movie theater crane machine), so it's nice to remember when he was enough of an international icon to sell booze to the masses. I do wonder if the whole "horribly good lager" tagline was a wise choice, however.

No comments: