As with a lot of comedy,
Rocko's Modern Life is filled with pop-culture references.
Chunks of movies, TV shows and even other cartoons show up. As I
started mentally cataloging such things, I started to notice preferences
for some specific sources. The fact that the writers chose these
sources can perhaps give us a little insight into what goes on in their
slightly warped brains. Anyway, here are what I found to be the favorite
sources of the RML team.
This doesn't come as much
of a surprise. Disney has been saturating the world with animation
for almost seventy years. Many people in the industry have either
been influenced by or worked for Disney. Some enjoyed it, others
came to despise it, but everyone has a least seen it. Here are some
places it shows up in Rocko's Modern Life:
In Sugar Frosted Frights,
Filburt's sugar-frenzy segment is based on the "Night on Bald Mountain"
segment of Fantasia.
Ralph Bighead's ballet
dancing deli meats in Wacky Delly come from the "Nutcracker Suite"
portion of Fantasia.
Rocko's credit card nightmare
in Who Gives a Buck is taken from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", also
The "Hopping Hessian"
segment in Sugar Frosted Frights is based on The Legend of Sleepy
We see a dead Mickey Mouse
in Seymore's attic in Zanzibar (see the pic on the Did You Notice
The Bighead Studios tour
guide (a rhinoceros) has Mickey's voice.
There's nothing like a
little dark humor to keep a show from getting too light-hearted and sappy.
Horror-based humor gets us a little closer to reality. It can also
border on poor taste; but if it's funny who cares? Anyway, here are
some of the references to Hitchcock films to be found:
"Psycho" seems to be the
favorite. we see a dead-mother-in-the-chair image in Rocko's garage in
Keeping Up with the Bigheads, and in the Bigheads' basement in Ed
is Dead, A Thriller. Also, Road Rash features a stop at
the "Bait's Motel".
The opening scene in Bye,
Bye Birdie, with the ominous gathering of blackbirds around Rocko's
car refers to a similar one in "The Birds".
The plot of Ed is Dead,
A Thriller is right out of "Rear Window". The "Alfred Hitchcock
Presents" intro by Heffer should have been a clue that something like that
The Wizard of Oz:
I am speaking here of
the 1939 MGM movie version. Anything that could be shown on American
television for forty years can't help but become imbedded in our collective
pop-culture subconscious. It's hard to believe that anyone could
have missed these; but I'll throw them out anyway:
The skywritten "Surrender
Rocko" message in Junk Junkies corresponding to the "Surrender Dorothy"
message from the Wicked Witch of the West.
Various elements of Short
Story, including the basic plot (getting knocked senseless and waking
up in your own bed surrounded by friends after various adventures).
The scene in I Have
No Son where Rocko and Filburt come to the gates of Bighead Studios
is based on Dorothy's arrival at the Emerald City.
The way the house falls
on the wicked witch in Yarn Benders, and the way her feet curl up
Monty Python's Flying
The influence of this
British comedy team is not as easy to see as some of the examples above,
but it is more pervasive; it is woven into the fabric of the show.
The whole timid-ordinary-guy-gets-into-an-embarrassing-situation concept
behind a lot of Rocko stories is a very British one. Monty Python,
even at the peak of its popularity, was not universally popular.
It was more of a cult thing, but evidently most of the RML writers were
into it. Here are some examples:
The ending scene of Rinse
and Spit has Filburt talking of how he would rather be a chimney sweep
than a dentist, and then starting a musical number. This is based
on "The Lumberjack Song", originally used in Monty Python's TV episode
9, about a homicidal barber (based on "Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of
Fleet Street" - how's that for a reference within a reference) who never
wanted to be a barber but dreamed of being a lumberjack.
The german-accented driving
instructor cat scene in Skid Marks bears a striking resemblance
to the "Hospital run by an RSM" sketch in Monty Python episode 26. In the
Python sketch, a loud forceful "Sergeant Major" type doctor is seen dressing
down a group of bandaged patients. At one point he says
"Now, I know some hospitals
where you get the patients lying around in bed. Sleeping, resting recuperating,
convalescing. WELL, THAT'S NOT THE WAY WE DO THINGS HERE, RIGHT!"
instructor has the corresponding line
"Now, I know some traffic
schools where the students are allowed to take their tests like intelligent
human beings. WELL THAT'S NOT THE WAY WE DO THINGS HERE!".
Similarly, compare this
line from Cruisin' where Heffer thinks his grandpa is dead to the
famous "Dead Parrot Sketch" from Monty Python episode 8. In the Python
episode, a dissatisfied pet shop customer (John Cleese) says
"...This is a late parrot.
It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't
nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung
down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot."
Heffer's line is:
"My grandpa's gone, taken
by the angry sea. He's howling with the angels now. He's...he's...my
Some little details show
a Monty Python influence, like the newspaper story about Eric Halfabee
which appears on the page with Rocko's "Employee of the Month" picture
in Hair Licked. This is a reference to the song "Eric the
Half-a-bee" sung by John Cleese on (I believe) "Monty Python's Previous
A couple of episodes
seem to have borrowed from The Crimson Permanent Assurance, a short
supporting feature seen at the beginning of Monty Python's The Meaning
of Life. The film opens in London in "the bleak days of 1983".
The elderly accountants and secretaries of a long-established British insurance
company, now run by The Very Big Corporation of America are slaving away
at their desks, pulling the cranks of their outdated adding machines like
the galley-slaves in the roman ship in Ben-Hur, while their ruthless
American managers drive them on. Their initial resignation turns to anger,
and finally to violent mutiny. When one of the aging clerks is ruthlessly
fired, the employees spontaneously revolt, killing their new managers in
a violent struggle. Cutlasses made from ceiling fan blades are passed
out and memo spikes are turned into daggers as heroic music swells.
The film is gradually turning into a pirate movie. Now sporting bandanas
and eye-patches, they climb to the roof, weigh the aging buildings anchor
from the sidewalk below and slowly begin sailing down the street.
This image was no-doubt the inspiration for Bev Bighead's trip with the
Conglomo building in She's the Toad. Now loose on the corporate
seas, they begin preying on other buildings, firing broadsides into their
hapless victims using filing cabinets as cannon.
scene in Sailing the Seven Zzz's where Ed Bighead "sinks" Rocko's
house with cannon-fire from his washing machine uses the same imagery.
(Interesting note for fans of the TV show Max Headroom: Matt
Frewer plays the part of the last American executive to be killed.) If
you can find The Meaning of Life anywhere, and you're not easily
offended or squeamish (a scene which features doctors coming to a man's
house to collect his liver after he's filled out an organ-donor card comes
to mind), by all means rent it and watch it.
Finally, there appears
to be some influence on the animation in general. Monty Python included
the Minnesota-born animator and director Terry Gilliam (whose credits include
Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen, The Fisher
King and Twelve Monkeys). Two similarities between RML
and Gilliam's animation come to mind. One is the use of gigantic
hands that reach into the shot and move the characters around - this was
used in the opening titles of both the Monty Python TV episodes and RML.
The other thing that both shows seem to share is the use of "eyeball tricks".
Everyone since Tex Avery (and even before) has been using eyes-jumping-out-of-the-head
tricks. What Gilliam and RML both did that I can't remember seeing
anywhere else, was the use of the "eyes-retreating-into-their-sockets trick",
as in when Dr. MacFropter tell Rocko he needs an eye transplant in Eyes
Capades. Terry Gilliam also coincidentally created a cartoon
wallaby named Walter. "The Adventures of Walter the Wallabee" appeared
as a one page strip-cartoon in The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok.
Walter also has two friends, (not steer and a turtle though) they are
Roger the Rabbit and Isembard the Iguana. Click
HERE to see Walter the Wallabee (A whole page -
about a 300k gif.)
Rocko Zone: www.infinet.com/~otown
Last updated 12/3/97