The Archies In Jugman

Director: Scott Heming  
Voice Cast:
Chris Lundquist, Andy Rannells, Christy Carlson Romano

I think that in an earlier review, I stated that I was never a great comic collector when I was growing up. I collected comics one summer for about, oh, five minutes. And those comics that I purchased are currently gathering dust in the basement of my father's house, which should tell you how I feel about them now. But even though I did very little collecting of comics while I was growing up, I did read through my pre-teen years to my teenage years plenty of comics on the newsstand. Although I would occasionally read something from Marvel Comics or DC Comics, there was one particular kind of comic that I would read the most, and that happened to be the comics of the various Archie comic book series. Why did I enjoy these comics so much? Well, there were several reasons. I liked the artwork, simple yet expressive enough to state what was needed in each panel. Also, there were always such a selection of these comics to choose from at the newsstand, so I knew that if I happened to pick an unusually lame story, I would be able to quickly find another (and hopefully better) story from another comic. But the main reason why I read the comics were I found them funny. Note that I used the past tense in that last sentence. Nowadays, when I read a new Archie comic, more often than not I am struck by how bland and safe the stories usually are. If you look at an older Archie comic, you will see how better they are. The stories back then were so much better written, with zanier gags and situations. Plus, the writers back then were more honest about teenage life, including things in their stories such as violence, back-stabbing, assorted cruelty, and even downright lust. Now everyone always gets along with everyone else in your modern Archie comic book. No conflict, no tension, and no laughs. Sigh.

Give me the old Archie stories any day. In fact, when the opportunity arises even in my adult years to read an older Archie story, I often find myself reading one. Why am I so attracted to Archie comics to this day? Well, as I indicated, I find a lot of the gags in these older comics funny even as an adult. But another reason why I find myself drawn to these drawn stories is because of the characters. You've got to hand it to those writers - ever since Archie made its debut more than 70 (!) years ago, they have slowly added and built on a number of unique characters that are each entertaining in their own way. You might be surprised to find out that I don't particularly like the character of Archie - I think he's a pretty stupid guy, but I do enjoy seeing him getting punished for his stupidity in many different ways in many different adventures. How stupid is his character? Well, he keeps lusting after the queen rich b*tch known as Veronica, even though her rival Betty has shown time and again she is a sweet, caring, loving (and hot!!!) young woman who would be his love slave if only Archie would make her his. (If you are one of those idiots who prefers Veronica to Betty, I order you to leave this web site and never come back.) Other characters I enjoy seeing include Reggie. Now, he is definitely not a nice guy, but like Archie, I like seeing his unlikable behavior get punished, often from a good pounding by Moose. I also like Dilton Doiley, because he is a smart character who seems to have planned a good and comfortable future for himself. And I admire Chuck Clayton for toughing it out in a school with a 99.9% Caucasian student population and stuck with the fact that the writers didn't give him much of a comic personality (they were probably too afraid of offending African-American readers.)

But there is one character in Archie that I like reading about above all others, and that is the character of Jughead. I suspect that there are many other Archie readers who have placed him on top of their list of favorite characters. Personally, I like him for several reasons. Not only is The Archies In Jugmanhe a non-conformist, he doesn't seem to care if anyone thinks that he acts in an unusual way. He likes food over girls. He is his own man. I often wished I had the guts to follow that philosophy when I was growing up. (Except for the not liking girls part - I like girls a lot, even though most of them have never seem to have liked me.) Anyway, I was in my local discount store the other day, and I found in the bargain bin a copy of the feature-length animated movie The Archies In Jugman. Jughead being the central character in an Archie movie? The discount store quickly had my five bucks. Actually, Jughead himself wasn't really the focus, but let me explain that by telling you the plot description on the back of the DVD box: "Great Wooly Mammoth! The Archies are about to discover excitement, adventure, and a real, live caveman! Everybody acts a little strange now and then - especially Jughead. So, when their prank-prone friend starts running around Riverdale wearing fur-covered shorts and a bone in his hair, Archie and the gang aren't the least bit surprised. The trouble is, it's not Jughead at all! It's his prehistoric ancestor - a club-wielding Neanderthal - who has been thawed back to life! Now the gang will have to pull off their most cunning caper ever: giving their Palaeolithic pal a cool new name, a hip new look and a twenty-first century girlfriend - all before next week's big homecoming dance!"

Yes, I know - this same basic plot was already used eleven years earlier in the live action movie Encino Man. But I'll give the movie a pass concerning that, since it's possible the similarities might be a coincidence. I'll also give the story a pass for dealing with subject matter nowhere near what's found in classic writing such as Proust's Rememberance Of Things Past. After all, don't you remember that many of the Archie stories you loved in your youth dealt with topics ranging from time travel to superheroes? On the other hand, those classic Archie stories you read weren't written by screenwriter Martha Moran, who nine years earlier wrote the abysmal screenplay for No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn. Knowing that she wrote Jugman didn't raise my hopes up when I sat down to watch it. But after watching it, I can report that not everything about the writing for Jugman was bad. As they behave here in this animated movie, the classic Archie characters are right out of how we know them from the comic books. Archie is still a well-meaning though somewhat dimwitted individual, Betty is still a kind and sweet young woman, Veronica is still a b*tch whose first priority is to look out for herself, Reggie is still a conniving bastard who will shove his peers aside to gain fame and fortune, Dilton is still an exceptionally intelligent teenager with a wealth of scientific knowledge, and Jughead is still a voracious eater that hides his craftiness behind a slacker facade. The movie does assume you are familiar with these characters (all six of them appear in the movie's first two minutes), but in the most likely event that you are familiar with the Archie comic books, you will feel comfortable with how these classic characters are portrayed.

So Jugman does have central characters that are ready, willing, and able to deliver the various laughs and adventures these same characters have in the comic books. Unfortunately, what the rest of the screenplay gives these character to work with is often very inadequate. The main problem the screenplay has is with the character of the caveman the Archie gang meets and interacts with. I'll skip over the fact that there were never any Caucasian cavemen in North America. I will mention, however, that the caveman in this movie is surprisingly a very uninteresting character. One perhaps inevitable flaw with this character is that he doesn't speak English, and mostly just hoots and hollers. As a result, we never really get to know what precisely is going on in his mind. Oh, Dilton does pull out an electronic caveman language translator, but that happens late in the game, and I think even then the translator is only used twice, for some unknown reason. It's possible that the caveman could still become a strong character with its actions, but even then the opportunity is blown. The "Jugman" character spends most of the movie eating bugs (ha ha, isn't that funny?), drawing on walls, and smashing things with its wooden club. This isn't the behavior of a character, it's the behavior of a stereotype we have seen countless times before. There's nothing fresh about this character, and that results with the Archie characters not knowing for most of the time as to what things they could do with this character that would interest the audience. The few times they do (like taking "Jugman" to a football game), there are no surprises - it happens exactly as you predict when the scene begins. And while it's hinted (though never proven beyond doubt) that the caveman is a distant ancestor of Jughead, all that Jughead can think to do with this ancestor of his is introduce him to hamburgers. Neither "Jug" can think of ways to learn from each other, or do things together that are funny or interesting.

Jugman's script also often sacrifices logic in order to move things along or try an attempted gag, which explains stuff like how the caveman knows what to do with a doorknob when seeing it for the first time, or knowing the custom of two people shaking hands. But even desperate injections like those throughout don't come close to saving the movie. Although the movie runs only about seventy-five minutes, it feels like much longer. It seems like every scene immediately falls to the floor with a thud, and takes forever to squirm away to make room for the next scene. The fact that the movie is animated instead of live action does not mean, at least with this movie, that there is at least some pleasant eye candy to sooth us during the (many) boring bits. Visually, the movie is, quite frankly, ugly. It probably comes as no surprise that this made-for-Nickelodeon effort has the worst features found in Saturday morning animation of the time. The animation isn't very smooth; in fact, the whole thing looks like it was made with Adobe Flash instead of with more professional animation techniques. Colors are unpleasantly dark and murky at times, with care to color things correctly seemingly not a big concern. ("Jugman" draws a brown mammoth - with white tusks - with a single stick of lipstick, and the character of Pop Tate has suddenly become Hispanic with his orange-brown skin.) There was also a lack of concern with continuity, like how one shot of a frozen mammoth shows no Jugman around, and a few seconds later Jugman is show to be tangled with this same mammoth. With Jugman's lack of concern with so many details, from the writing to the animation, I think even kids in the audience will feel short-changed by the entire enterprise. I certainly did. With the five bucks I wasted with this movie, I would have been better off buying a hamburger or a Jughead double digest.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Local Boys, Luggage Of The Gods, The Rivals