It’s a little sobering to realize that the grandfathers of stoner comedy Cheech and Chong are grandfathers themselves now. (Or at least Tommy Chong is. Cheech Marin probably is, too, but I can’t find a definitive answer to that question and I’m not motivated enough to find out for sure.) But after the pair reunited for a live comedy tour in 2008, they began work on an animated film, now available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox with the appropriately descriptive title Cheech and Chong’s Animated Movie.
The film is drawn from the pair’s earliest comedy routines, honed on stages and released on the albums which made them stars back when comedians released record albums (on actual 33 1/3 RPM vinyl records instead of CDs or YouTube channels). The pair re-recorded everything for the movie and there have been some minor updates and alterations (such as shifting one setting from the Vietnam War to the current war in Afghanistan), but for the most part, it’s the same slightly absurd material mostly about bodily functions and two stoned guys doing stupid things together. I have to admit I’m probably more amused at how material that was transgressive at the time has since become mostly harmless, since I can’t say that I found the film terrifically, screamingly funny. It’s amusing and I got a few laughs out of it, but not as many as I was hoping for (and certainly less than the best bits from their actual films). Then again, I also suspect that a lot of the film will be much, much funnier if you are drunk or stoned, so maybe watching it sober isn’t the best way to experience it.
Not that we’re advocating the use of illegal drugs, of course. That would be illegal.
The movie drifts from skit to skit, with the diminutive Buster the Body Crab providing what little connective tissue there is. This isn’t intended as a criticism as much as a statement of fact, since this is not a movie that wants or needs too much narrative coherence. Cheech and Chong were pretty much walking, talking stoned cartoon characters in their films, so at the very least it’s not much of a stretch to turn them into actual cartoons. However, the medium also allows them the freedom to fully embody characters from their comedy routines that don’t look like them at all, ranging from Sister Mary Elephant to the dogs Ralph and Herbie. In the latter case, I’m not positive the change is an improvement, since I think at least part of the appeal of the original sketch is seeing two grown men prowling around on stage acting like dogs. Seeing them transformed into actual dogs through animation loses that bit of incongruous appeal, though the routine will still be amusing (especially to any dog owners). It was also a little surprising for me to learn that the two provided the voices for all the characters in the movie, with many deviating pretty far from their more familiar on-screen characters. The animation is all done in Flash/After Effects, and it’s a cut above the average TV show that uses the same methods (especially in their Geraldo Rivera parody, whose long cuts and camera movements chewed up several animators on staff before they found animators psychotic enough to pull it off).
Cheech and Chong’s Animated Movie comes on a solo Blu-ray disc — no combo pack or digital download here, unfortunately. Video and audio quality are solid, though not remarkable in terribly good or terribly bad ways. I was a little surprised to see that the movie comes with three feature-length commentary tracks: one by Cheech and Chong; one with producers Lou Adler, Branden Chambers, and Eric Chambers; and one with Tommy Chong and his son Paris. The Cheech and Chong commentary is relaxed and casual, and even if it’s occasionally casual to the point of dead air, it’s also a lot of fun. Truth be told, the two clowning around on the commentary often elicited more laughs from me than the movie itself. Listening to the two outside of a performing context also provides more anecdotal evidence that it takes a lot of smarts to pull off stupid well (other examples being Bill and Ted, Spinal Tap, and more recently The Aquabats Super Show). The producers’ commentary track is more sober and informative, both in providing context about Cheech & Chong’s early career and in behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the production. Tommy Chong dominates the third commentary track, which has surprisingly little overlap with the first commentary with Cheech. If you have the patience, all three tracks are worth listening to, and the Blu-ray helpfully provides a “4.20 Listening Mode” to listen to all 3 in sequence in a butt-numbing, 4+ hour marathon. Cheech and Chong get in front of the camera for the short “‘Medical Marijuana Blues’ Session with Blind Lemon Chitlin”, and the bonuses are rounded out by a Cheech and Chong slideshow.
Personally, I was just a little too young to fully appreciate Cheech and Chong when they first hit it big, and they had broken up by the time I could. These days, I’m more familiar with Cheech as a recurring player in Robert Rodriguez movies and Ramone in Cars, and with Chong as the guy in That 70’s Show. I can certainly understand the appeal of this classic Cheech and Chong material dropped into a new medium, although I think this movie will probably appeal much more to pre-existing fans of the pair and to stoners than it will to general audiences.