In the English-speaking world, the reputation of the Mexican comedian-actor Cantinflas is based solely on two films: his rather weak musical 'Pepe' and his brilliant performance as the French manservant Passepartout in 'Around the World in Eighty Days'. Perhaps it's ironic that the latter film's producer Mike Todd originally offered the role of Passepartout to French comedian Fernandel, who turned it down (while accepting a cameo role in the same film) because he lacked confidence in his English. I feel that Cantinflas was a much better (and far more talented) choice for the role, despite being the wrong nationality. Certainly the extended bullfight sequence in 'Around the World in Eighty Days' would never have been made if any other actor had been cast as Passepartout (a name which, by the way, means 'skeleton key').
Anglophone audiences have no idea of how extremely popular Cantinflas was in the rest of the world ... not merely in Spanish-speaking nations, but in practically every film market where English is not the primary language. Cantinflas's dozens of extremely low-budget Mexican comedies, dubbed into the local language, have made him a beloved figure almost everywhere. His simple good-hearted Everyman character is clearly a native of practically every nation and culture.
The animated series 'Cantinflas', televised in several European markets (and dubbed accordingly for the local lingo), is not a very good introduction to this beloved performer ... nor does it offer much for Cantinflas fans. The opening credits depicted a cartoon version of Cantinflas aboard a hot-air balloon: an image surely inspired by his previous performance as Passepartout, who memorably used that mode of transport. Made on an extremely low budget, with extremely poor scripts, this cartoon series tried to emphasise Cantinflas's reputation as an international ambassador of good will -- and also tried to be semi-educational -- by placing a cartoon version of Cantinflas into adventures taking him all over the modern world and (via some undefined form of time travel) into various civilisations of the past. Too bad he never met Mr Peabody and Sherman on any of those trips. Instead, Cantinflas was obsessively followed by the omniscient narration of John Stephenson.
The adventures tended to be very gentle and mild -- none of the violent slapstick humour that made Cantinflas's live-action movies so hilarious -- and tried to teach simple lessons to the young children who were apparently the intended audience for this series. Consequently, the scripts were dead boring and the attempts at humour were dire. For example, an episode about ancient Rome achieved the transition from the present to the past by having Cantinflas and his guide walking into a tunnel in the present day, wearing modern clothing ... then emerging from the other end of the tunnel in ancient Rome, dressed in sandals and togas. This prompts Cantinflas to stare at his garments and remark 'I must have a word with my tailor.' Ha bloody ha! I saw a couple of 'Cantinflas' episodes in English, then watched a couple more in Dutch, on the off chance that maybe the foreign translators were supplying better jokes. Some hope!
One of the scriptwriters for that brilliant animated series 'The Simpsons' once commented in an interview that 'The Simpsons' has an unlimited budget, since a plot line that would be prohibitively expensive to film in live action (an intergalactic space war, say) is no more expensive to draw than a script which just has the characters standing about talking. The producers of the animated 'Cantinflas' should have taken note of that principle and filled this series with exotic (drawn) visuals. As it stands, this series was just insipid and unimaginative, and it does no credit whatever to a uniquely talented performer who made millions of people laugh all over the world: the great Cantinflas.
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