Considering Tennessee Tuxedo and His Friends

The thing that I forgot about Tennessee Tuxedo is that he was supposed to be educational.

Sure, you get distracted by Don Adams’ distinctive voice, the cockeyed hat and his slothful friend Chumley. But whatever the caper that happened in the cartoon show, which ran throughout my childhood from 1963 to 1966, the penguin and walrus would have to escape the zoo and see Phineas J. Whoopie, who seemed to know so much about everything, he was known as Mr. Know It All. His 3-Dimsensional blackboard was nothing so much as an iPad before its time. And there was something ┬áhe was demonstrating on there to illustrate what was otherwise Tennessee’s hare-brained idea to fix or improve something at the zoo. If there was an internet, Whoopie would be through.

The animation was bare-boned in the manner of TV cartoons; the design in a style both modern and angular but also was simple enough to accommodate the punishing schedule for TV cartoons. Without any pretense to entertain adults, it was simple fare for kids, with easy gags and action. Like a lot of modern cartoons, fully half the humor came from the voice characterizations. What’s fascinating about the boxed set “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection” (Shout) are the cartoons that accompanied Tennessee on its half hour show. “The King and Odie” was a complex story of a kingdom, whose story of a king whose brother was plotting his overthrow is essentailly the plot of “The Lion King” decades later. The names from the series are pretty memorable: King Leonardo, the loyal Odie Cologne (a skunk who was the king’s hand), the self-explanitory Biggie Rat and Itchy Brother. The theme to the cartoon was a pip as well.

A third cartoon on the roster, “The Hunter” about a dog detective tracking a fox, leaves no memory, but another, “Tooter Turtle” practically outshines the show’s headliner in its lasting influence. It’s about the turtle who without much consideration plunges into a whole new life and career, gets his wish granted by Wizard the Lizard, who lives in a shoebox in the forest, and then inevitably messes things up to such a degree that he begs to go back to his old life. “Drizzle drazzle druzzle drome,” went his incantation. “Time for this one to come home.”

It was a spell so well regarded it ended up in a Replacements song (“Hold My Life”). In such a cost-cutting field as TV animation, when the same thing happens every episode it makes some crazy sense that they’d use the same piece of film over and over. In the boxed set, the coda to each episode got so well-used it became raggedy and scratched and often looked different than the rest of the cartoon. For a cartoon so well remembered, it actually looks the most tattered and cheaply turned out.

The real surprise for me was the handful fo “Klondike Kat” episodes also included. It’s the second most popular cartoon about a Canadian mountie after Dudley Do-Right, and sands out from the other titles as being somehow very funny. This from the most basic of cartoon themes, from Tom & Jerry to Krazy Kat & Ignatz to Itchy & Scratchy: cat vs. mouse. While the cat gets frustrated, the wily mouse who happens to be named Savoir Faire has a catchphrase that is both both a declaration and a warning: “Savoir faire is everywhere!”

Indeed this may be the final lesson to “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales” — the catch phrases they left behind: “Tennessee Tuxedo will not fail!” “Savoire Faire is everywhere!” “Phineas J. Whoopie, you’re the greatest!” “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, dome, time for this one to come home.”

As the six-disc box

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