A Wish For Wings That Worked (1991)

“I need cats like I need butt implants!”

Kaleb’s Rating: AACK! PLBBT!

Kaleb’s Review: As it turns out, I’ve had a connection with Berkeley Breathed and his odd newsprint progeny for many moons now; since long before I knew who he was, or that he had such an obnoxiously hippie-sounding name.

See, back in the halcyon days of the Neighties, ’twas tradition for I and my immediate family to spend New Year’s at my aunt’s house in Colorado. Oh, the memories. Sleeping on the impossibly fluffy sofa; the ice cold linoleum kitchen floor (this was about an hour outside of Denver, meaning it got down to roughly -8000 at night); and the giant grandfather clock which I am still convinced is haunted.

Then there was the house itself; pretty and nondescript on the outside, on the inside, strangely labyrinthine and Escherian. The basement and the attic were accessed by the same staircase! Figure that one out!

But more importantly than all that — for the sake of this review, anyway — was that my aunt’s house was close enough to a major metro to be inside the cosmopolitan safe zone where politically and culturally-divisive comic strips were allowed to exist. In other words, her Sunday paper — of which there always seemed to be one around, regardless of proximity to Sunday — carried Outland. Wherever I lived at the time, which would’ve either been Smalltown, Kansas, or Smalltown, Oklahoma, we were given Blondie and Family Circus and told to shut up. Although Calvin & Hobbes did slip through somehow. I never have figured that one out.

But I digress. The point is, I was as fascinated with Outland as one can be with something one only reads once a year; vaguely aware in my weeness that a lot of it was over my head, but that did nothing to diminish its weird, inexplicably dark appeal. So, when the characters thereof hit the small screen in the early 90s, I was all up on that all over the place.

A Wish for Wings That Work tells the tale of Opus the penguin, as he deals with life as an earthbound bird — a ridiculous contradiction in terms, in his mind — seeks to overcome his plight with help from the big man up North, and eventually learns that, in his own way, he blah de blah blah.

So, now that the plot summary is out of the way, time for a fatuous statement: This is probably the second or third greatest animated feature ever produced. Now, before you say, “There’s goes Kaleb again, flailin’ ‘is arms about, throwin’ the ‘ole neighbor’ood into a ruckus with ‘is silly claims,” in that cockney old woman voice you have, let me throw a couple of caveats out to let you better realize just how right you are:

1. When I say it’s the greatest animated feature ever, I mean across all divisions; not just Lightweight (it’s only 30 minutes long).

2. Not only does AWFWTW not have any hot robot chicks making out with each other, it doesn’t have any hot robot chicks period. And I still think it’s incredible! Crazy!

But, I stand by my ridiculous assertion. And, just in case you think I’m doing a from-memory review of something that was great fifteen years ago when I was little but is actually crap, note the following: Up until about a month ago, the only copy of AWFWTW I had was the rapidly deteriorating VHS recording of the show’s original airing. Imagine my delight when an Amazon search revealed that some smart guy had decided to release it on Forever Crystal (sometimes referred to as DVD)! Yes! One please!

The point being, I watched it afresh mere days ago, and it has held up beautifully. Even to my grisled and surly present day self, it was as wonderful as the first viewing. Although I still can’t really put my finger on what exactly makes it work so well. A combination of several things, I suppose. First and foremost, Opus and Co. look, sound and animate exactly like they should; there are little sprinklings of absurdist sight gags — Opus’ butt occasionally falling off, for example — to keep you off-balance and perpetually chuckling, and even a couple of laugh out loud moments.

And then there’s the weirder cherry on the already-weird sundae: Bill the Cat. In my opinion, one of the most intriguing cartoon characters ever created, and the first one I ever drew both freehand and well. Bet you didn’t know that.

As to whether or not I recommend AWFWTW; that should be obvious. However, I will caution slightly, in that while I have seen it recently, and did make a game attempt at watching through critical eyes, I’ll allow for the possibility that it sort of has rose tint permanently burned-in for me.

So I guess what I’m saying is, find it, watch it, and if you don’t like it, I never made any recommendation, we’ve never met, and I will flatly deny any allegations to the contrary. Oh, and also, you’re wrong.

And while I’m thinking about it, apologies for not having this done in time for Christmas. I was going to, but then I decided to utilize my tried and true “wait until the second after the second after the last second” method. It’s the same technique that allowed me to sort of come kind of close to almost finishing college. Twice. So far.

One of the greatest minds of our generation.

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