When a cable channel starts out, it usually doesn’t have much money to produce its own programming and is dependent on buying shows from wherever they’re available. A side effect of this is that kids like me, watching Nickelodeon and/or the Disney Channel back in the late 80s and early 90s, saw some really weird shit. I believe it was the former that broadcast MOON MADNESS (or SECRET OF THE SELENITES) back when I saw it, and for a couple of decades the theme tune and some of the visuals have bounded around in my mind, in the area where nostalgia becomes “What the Hell was that, anyway?” One Youtube search later and here we are.
I am, of course, completely compromised on this. To see this at last in an adult and lucid state is gobsmacking, and though I’m not blind to MOON MADNESS’ flaws, it’s such a bizarre work of art that I don’t think I can give it a fair assessment. Also, since it’s either Youtube or ultra-low-budget DVD that may or may not even be in print, this isn’t so much a review as it is an introduction. However you wish to see this is up to you.
The story takes place in 1753, as the astronomer Sirius tells his cousin and good friend the Baron von Munchausen of a legend about the inhabitants of the moon, and a talisman they possess which gives them eternal life. Sirius wants immortality for himself, and promises to make the Baron his sole heir if he gets it for him. The loophole there is kind of obvious, but the Baron is game and takes his ensemble of superhuman companions on a trip to the South Seas, where a helpful typhoon helps lift their boat into the air, and some hot air balloons do the rest and take the travelers to the moon. Settling into one of the craters, the Baron and company dodge attacks from some bizarre monsters before meeting the Selenites, friendly satyr-like creatures with detached crescent-moon heads and three legs. The Selenites knew the Baron and company were coming, and hope they can help defend their people from an invasion of “Green Means”, tiny green robot-like characters attacking from an orbiting satellite. In the meantime, there’s plenty of time to have an athletic competition, and to watch the young Selenites spring fully-formed from walnuts.
On a couple of key technical points (and the minor theft from YELLOW SUBMARINE notwithstanding), the film has not held up that well. The animation is extremely crude, with a weird tendency for characters to bob in place or undergo strange repetitive movements for no reason other than their being animated. Despite this over-drawing in some parts, the film frequently recycles brief shots, leading to a bizarre pace.
The English voice dub is also far from top-level; the Baron has a thin, vaguely Snidely Whiplashian voice, the Selenite King sounds like Ed Wynn with a bad cold, and nobody really sounds that good. Not that the writing is particularly great, but better delivery would have sustained it a lot more.
And yet, the film has a special atmosphere to it that can’t be written off. The look of the inner moonscape is wonderfully strange and whimsical, bringing 18th century ideas of space travel to life in a way that hasn’t really been matched elsewhere. (Terry Gilliam’s live action ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN has a fun moon segment, but it’s not nearly as detailed.) It’s a lush and colorful hollow world that plays by unusual rules. There’s an insanely catchy theme tune, and a dreamlike tone- the conflict never seems too serious, and everyone is good natured throughout, so the film seems less of a narrative than a short assembly of pleasant images.
Like I said, I’m biased. This is too wired into my subconscious for me to not like it, and whatever flaws it has just seem to wash by in what is, after all, a very short space of time. It’s not half as good as it should be, but it’s also the only film that tries to do what it does, and until someone actually improves on the same story it’s hard to dismiss. You should see this simply because you’d be hard pressed to find anything like it, but be warned, you may never be sane afterwards.
Written by Jean and France Image
Directed by Jean Image