First, an admission. Back in the late ’70s, I actually gave Cheech and Chong a joint. It was after one of their performances at the college I was attending. I got to meet them because I had a press pass as a reporter for the college radio station. I admit this now as I’m certain the statute of limitations has long run out and the evidence long consumed.
I offer this confession to make a point. I suspect viewers who’ll most appreciate Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie will, like me, have fond memories of the Grammy winning comedy records on which this feature length cartoon is based. The film is built on bits from their Ode record cannon, particularly their debut album, Cheech and Chong (1971), Big Bambu (1972, the one with the giant rolling paper), Los Cochinos (1973), and Sleeping Beauty (1976). Now, aging hippies popping Lipitor pills and toking on COPD inhalers can hear again all the routines we listened to many, many times back in the day. But now we can see the characters in “Dave’s Not here,” “Sister Mary Elephant,” and see Alice Bowie performing Earache My Eye.”
To fully understand the humor, it certainly helps to have lived through the times. Do you recall pay phones, TV test patterns, and, especially, drive-ins? Did you try to smuggle your friends in to the outdoor movies by hiding them in the car trunk? Would you know a character called “Sore Throat” is a riff on Deep Throat and Hernando Revolver is a take on Geraldo Rivera?
True, the dogs Ralph and Herbie could be sniffing each other’s butts in any decade. Children are still, no doubt, lodging all sorts of objects in their noses. The cops are still using, no doubt, the identical phrases telling “boys and girls” that “Only dopes use dope.” Still, while watching the young version of the pair reacting to what they were seeing on television, I had a weird sense that these were the fathers of Beavis and Butthead a generation before teenagers had access to remote controls.
Among the three commentary tracks, you really got to be a Cheech and Chong fanatic to want to sit through the first by Cheech and Chong tripping, so to speak, down memory lane. Did I say you need to remember the ’70s to enjoy the proceedings? What if you were there and things aren’t as clear now as they were then? Marin and Chong have very different recollections of the inspirations for some bits, where they performed and when, and when the records were made.
A few stories are real nuggets such as the duo learning its “Tortured Old Man” inspired Quentin Tarentino’s Inglorious Bastards. They tell us the character name Leslie Hornwinkle came from Peter Sellers who used it as a code-name whenever he phoned them from an embassy. They share what they’ve learned about their place in popular culture, especially among Vietnam vets who memorized their bits while dealing with the stresses of that war. Did you know people actually pay for seeds now, the stuff we diligently screened out back in the day? These days, Cheech and Chong tell us quite seriously, seeds are for sale now at $30.00.
The well-done and extremely detailed animation for Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie was produced by Chambers Bros. Animation including Branden Chambers and his brother, Eric D. Chambers. Appropriately, former record executive Lou Adler, the man who gave us the original Ode Records, co-produced the film. These three gentlemen give us more revelations about the movie in their own commentary. They tell us it was a five year project begun when the Nevilles animated “Dave’s Not Here” and “Ralph and Herbie” which they took to Adler as a sampler of what they wanted to do. They reveal they used the Buster the Body Crab character as something to use throughout the bits to seamlessly weave the feature together.
Throughout this discussion, we learn 15 animators worked on adding sight gags to the established audio from the albums, and Cheech and Chong contributed many ideas of their own. In particular, the pair kept pushing for “more, more, more” of everything to accentuate the absurd. In preparation, the Nevilles watched recordings of the team’s stage act that inspired many of the actions in the film. They said they saw many opportunities to make the old material fresh and relevant today. For example, a stoned defendant in court saying stupid things isn’t far different from Lindsey Lohan doing likewise.
Of all the stories, easily the best news is that there are Enough routines left for a sequel, apparently already in the planning. In the meantime, Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie is going to deserve repeated viewings to catch all the visual and audio subtleties. You’re especially going to want to watch the backgrounds where scenes are illustrated with inside jokes of every description. But you may or may not want to experience all the padding. There’s what they call a “Low Maintenance Listening Mode,” a Commentary with Tommy Chong and his son Paris, “Medical Marijuana Blues” Blind Mellon’s recording session, and the obligatory photo gallery.
For those needing the technical specs, the widescreen resolution is 1080p, the aspect ratio is 1.85:1, the format AC-3, with Dolby, DTS Surround Sound. The film is rated “R” with good reason—the opening scene, by design, is going to drive the thin-skinned out of the room. For everyone else, happily, you don’t need an oversize doobie to groove on this one. You can even let Dave in.