12 Oz. Mouse: A Cartoon You’ve Never Heard Of

“Out of my way, I’m drunk as hell!”

Ok, let’s see if I can persuade you to watch 12 Oz. Mouse. It was a series broadcast between 2005 and 2007 by the American network Adult Swim, who specialise in punchy, surreal animation aimed at grown-ups. It ran to two series of ten minute episodes. Allegedly much of the show was written, drawn and performed drunk. Yet despite this, and its relatively short period of existence, the show has gained a cult following since then.

It follows the adventures of the eponymous hero, a hard-living, gun-toting, bright green mouse, with a fondness for beer, causing mayhem and driving his giant rocket car unsafely. Despite the show’s title, he is generally referred to in the story as simply ‘Mouse’, though he goes by many other names. His partner in crime is Skillet, a chinchilla with rocket feet and laser eyes, who can only communicate through shrill squeaks. Their adventures revolve around attempting to thwart the plans of Mouse’s boss Shark, a sinister creature of low mobility, and his associate, the Rectangular Businessman.

The world in which the show takes place is a strange one. For one thing, its characters are drawn in deliberately clashing styles – Mouse may be close to a coloured-in stick figure, but Skillet is a woodcut photocopied from a book, and Shark is a scaled-up figure stolen from a 70’s children’s cartoon. The show’s producers said of creating another of the characters: “Rhoda was drawn on the back of a… script… and when [we] scanned it in, the type showed through, but it didn’t matter and we went with it.” Though characters are also often brightly coloured, the backgrounds to scenes are generally scrawled in black and white, lacking perspective, and with only the vaguest indicators of where the characters are supposed to be. As someone says at some point, “This whole town’s made of cardboard!”

The action largely takes place within a bleak sinister city, where everything seems oddly frozen and changeless. Supporting characters babble inanely or repeat things over and over. A lot of the time not much happens – a character will spend a whole episode waiting for a lift, or pointlessly musing over a trivial piece of information. The music swings from metal to smooth lounge jazz, to sinister desolate ambient pieces. As the title would suggest, the dialogue is somewhat-stoned; cryptic, slow, and fraught with long pauses. Conversations tend not to go anywhere, and characters don’t seem to understand each other. Then once every so often, there will be a slow-motion gun fight, or a huge explosion, backed with rock music.

Am I selling it so far? Probably not. But 12 Oz. Mouse is definitely worth watching. For one thing, you won’t see much else like it. For another, it may well seduce you. I can remember hating it the first time I tried to watch it. But after a while the stoned dialogue (whether you are or not), becomes kind of soothing and ambiently funny. Rather like The Boosh, there aren’t many flat-out punchlines, just a cumulative build-up of strangeness, and you pick where to laugh. An example I liked on re-watching was:

Shark: I thought you were dead?

Rectangular Businessman: [drawls] I’m too rich to be dead. The magnitude of my wealth goes beyond any wall. Of china.… Say what you say. But money gets you everything. Including happiness. And especially friends.

The show may initially seem to revel in being meaninglessly surreal and fragmentary, but after a while, what seems like a stream of lame-one liners and unconnected sketches begins to draw together into a kind of plot. The strange world of the show pulls you in – everything seems pleasantly self-contained. The various crazy characters introduced all have their own little quirks and abilities. Certain themes keep popping up: corn dogs, lounge jazz, bow ties, pills labelled ‘Asprind’. It gradually emerges that Mouse is a rodent with a past he has forgotten. Everything is caught up in some emerging conspiracy. We want to know whether all the surrealism, cryptic hints and visual inadequacies, will be drawn together under an explanation. Why is there a phone in Mouse’s freezer? What does the severed hand want? Why is everyone talking about the time? The battle lines are drawn, characters take their sides. It all heads toward an apocalyptic end. And there is an explanation. Of sorts.

You’re unlikely to ever see 12 Oz. mouse on UK television, to see it you are advised to download it from Adult Swim’s UK website, or buy the DVD. If you’re not yet persuaded, I leave you with the lyrics to the theme tune. Who could resist a show that begins like this?

Out of my way, I’m drunk as hell!

I’ll blow your ass away like ringin’ a bell.

Foot to the floor and the whiskey’s a-flowin’,

I got a porn shoot, I gotta get goin’.

You don’t understand. He don’t give a damn.

12 oz. Mouse.

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