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mt-in-248Hello, I’m Carson Weakly, your Vee Jay here on MT.IN, your place for Toon Music Videos…

If you were to call the band They Might Be Giants ‘human cartoons’, they might not be insulted. And not just from watching their stuttering dance moves on their early music videos. TMBG has a long tradition of being Animation-Friendly.

One of the songs from their first album in 1986, “(She Was A) Hotel Detective”, had a video that mixed performance and animation.

And they went ‘fully-tooned’ for the official video for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” istanbul1 , which used animated papier-mâché sculptures by Mark Marek (personal site with LOUD homepage music) and hand-drawn animation by J. Otto Seibold (personal site not updated for a while).

Then the producers of Tiny Toon Adventures decided to made short segments with TMBG music as soundtrack. For “Istanbul”istanbul2, they made a short parody of “Topkapi”, an exotic heist movie set in Istanbul. And for “Particle Man”particleman, they had cartoon wrestlers portray each of the ‘characters’ in the song Triangle Man, Universe Man, etc.), all beating the crap out of Tiny Toons regular Plucky Duck while Dizzy Devil plays the accordion.

The ‘two Johns’ were guest stars on an episode of “Home Movies” playing camp counselors and singing singing the ‘Performing Arts Camp’ song.

The official music video for “Doctor Worm” contained a few cartoony bits (mostly animated characters on prescription pads). But once again, a cartoon show made an alternative video, this time Nickelodeon’s “Kablam” (best known as the cartoon anthology the creators of “Pete and Pete” were given as a consolation prize after their classic show was cancelled), that mixed live-action people and a cartoon worm.

Mutual fans with the Brothers Chaps, creators of webtoon “Homestar Runner”, TMBG performed live on Homestar’s “Puppet Jams” (all self-starting Flash: “Bad Jokes”, “Tropical Lazor (sic) Beams”, “Vitamins/Celebrities” and “Mission Control”) while the Chaps made the official video for the song “Experimental Film” featuring the character Strong Sad as ‘The Director’.

And when Cartoon Network recruited rock bands to do cover versions of their cartoon theme songs, TMBG did “Courage the Cowardly Dog”.

During their 2004 tour, TMBG committed to writing and performing one new original song at each place they played. This resulted in a CD of “Venue Songs” with a bonus DVD of 11 of the 31 site-specific performances but not, as one would expect, performance videos, but rather mostly animated videos of various styles, all introduced by a non-animated John Hodgman in his most cartoony persona ‘The Deranged Millionaire’. (Some of these video segments are rather awkwardly cut, surprising since they were uploaded by TMBG’s official account.)
“Trees” (Dallas),
“The Egg” (Albany)
“West Hollywood House of Blues”
“Anaheim House of Blues”
“Mr. Small’s” (Pittsburgh)
“The Orange Peel” (Asheville)
“The Garage” (Glasgow)
“Stone Pony (Asbury Park)
and “Celebrate Brooklyn”

And when they started making educational songs for kids, obviously animated videos came along:
First, “Here Come the ABCs” featuring some letter-based ditties:
“Who Put the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order?” (with the Deeply Felt Puppet Theater)
west-xylophone“Alphabet of Nations” (I’m not sure if geography educators appreciate that they included ‘West Xylophone’ as a nation)
“I C U”
“C is for Conifers” (sneaking in a little elementary botany)
“Go for G”
“The Rolling O” (instrumental!) (instrumental)
“Pictures of Pandas Painting”
and “Flying V”.

Then, “Here Come The 123s”
DARE they try to compete with the original Multiplication Rock songs/toons? Well, Disney, which now owns the original Schoolhouse Rock (along with almost everything else) made a deal with the band to spotlight these videos on the pre-school block of the Disney Channel. So, different demographic targets.
Now let’s hear some numbers about numbers:
“Zeroes”
“Number Two” (with puppets)
“High Five!” (with the intro to 6 at the end again)
secret-six“Secret Life of Six” (which may also be a song for Nine, but Nine already has more songs in the album than any other number)
“Seven(s)”
“Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go To Work)” (only indirectly numerical)
“Figure Eight”
“Nine Bowls of Soup” (with an Ichtyosaur… not to be confused with an Icky-saur, as we’ll see later)
and “One Dozen Monkeys” (with vocals by Hannah Levine)

Then, in their most ambitious effort (at grade-school level) “Here Comes Science”, starting with a kind of ‘declaration of purpose’ that ensured that the collection wouldn’t be sold in any religious bookstores: “Science Is Real” (Directed by David Cowles and Andy Kennedy).
The Scientific Method was demonstrated in “Put It To The Test”.
Basist Danny Weinkauf (or at least some still pics of his head) declared “I Am A Paleontologist” (we’ll see more of him later, in a less scientifically-accurate video).
Biology was covered by “The Bloodmobile” and “Cells”, with some botany in “Photosynthesis”
and serious evolution in “My Brother the Ape”.
They touched on optics, with a song about the classic mnemonic for the color spectrum “Roy G. Biv”.
A little traveling music tried to explain the difference between “Speed and Velocity”.
Their most information-dense piece in this collection had to be elements“Meet the Elements”, in which they covered a couple dozen of the basic elements and a bunch of the possible combinations (including elephants made of elements).

And then there was the ‘Sun Song’. Like “Istanbul” another oddball oldie covered by TMBG, “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas”, was originally recorded a decade earlier (and also ‘re-video-ed’ by the Nickelodeon “Kablam” show). As TMBG’s first ‘Science Song’ they felt they had to include it (with the fresh video above), even though most of the target audience hadn’t been born when it first came out. But the project’s Scientific Advisors told them that some of the science in the original (written in the 1950s) had changed: for example, they leaned that the sun was so hot, it was not made up of ‘incandescent gas, but rather ‘incandescent plasma’. So the CD/DVD shipped with the following addendum (in song): “Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun Is A Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)”.

And just because they weren’t being fact-checked TOO much, they finished with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett (in Outer Space)”.

After this experience working with talented animators, illustrators and puppeteers, it’s no surprise that They Might Be Giants are doing more toon-based videos for their songs for grown-ups these days…

A rollicking tale of vampirism is the visual accompaniment for “Damn Good Times”.

And the video for “Bastard Wants to Hit Me” tells a somewhat different story than the lyric.

But “I’m All You Can Think About” is hauntingly straightforward, even if the haunting figure is kind of cute. (Appended to this song’s video – which was a Bonus Track on “Venue Songs” – are several ‘outro’ segments and a promo by John Hodgman.)

mesopotamians“The Mesopotamians” are about a band that is definitely NOT TMBG (more like a Gorillaz of 3000 years ago).

“I’m Impressed” uses stop-motion cardboard models to mash up robots and the Roman Empire.

“With the Dark” makes excellent use of a model of giant squid.

“The Shadow Government” fits visuals to lyrics to create an atmosphere that I would call “comically Kafkaesque”.

“We Live In A Dump” mixes puppets and animation for a nice ‘junkyard’ style.

Which brings us to the latest TMBG video, for the song titled “Icky”. Like some of their other videos, it’s the contrast between the lyrical message and the visual depiction that makes this interesting. While the song is about a moderately obnoxious character the narrator doesn’t want to deal with on a regular basis, the “Icky Guy” in the video is a full-fledged monster. Using the face of Basist Danny Weinkauf (previously seen as a paleontologist in Here Comes Science), this monstrous dude devours people, even people who have gathered on the street to cheer him on (so he’s a ‘popular people eater’?), growing with each grotesque snack, while a normal-sized John and John observe and call for help. It’s a funny visual trip, and the first time I’ve seen a They Might Be Giants video feature an actual giant.

“Icky”
Icky