Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn & Twain Himself Meet Satan in the Zany 1985 Claymation The Adventures of Mark Twain

in Animation, K-12, Literature | August 31st, 2015

“But who prays for Satan?” Mark Twain asked in the autobiography left behind as he exited this mortal coil on the tail of Halley’s comet, whose 1835 appearance coincided with his birth.

It’s a good question.

Had he instead asked who claymates Satan, the answer would have been clearcut.

1985 saw the release of The Adventures of Mark Twain, the world’s first all claymation feature film, in which Satan starred alongside Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Becky Thatcher, and Twain himself.

Director Will Vinton, father of the California Raisins and Domino Pizza’s ill-fated mascot, The Noid, drew on some of Twain’s best known work, cobbling together a story in which the fictional kids stowaway aboard an airship Twain plans to pilot into the comet.

The Satan section above comes courtesy of the author’s final, unfinished novel, The Mysterious Stranger. The animation is top notch, but hoo boy, it’s hard to imagine a vision this apocalyptic getting a G-rating today.

Vinton himself resisted the rating, not wanting to be lumped in with more regular kiddie fare. It performed disappointingly at the box office despite great critical response from such lofty realms as The New Republic.

Is it really so surprising that families flocking to the Care Bears Movie steered clear of one featuring a shape-shifting, free-floating mask, who terrorizes the children in the film (and presumably, the audience) by conjuring an enchanting little clay kingdom only to rain misfortune upon it. We’re talking smashed coffins, grief-stricken clay mothers wailing over the bodies of their young, helpless victims being swallowed up by cracks that appear in the earth.

Where’s the Happy Meal tie-in there!?

It’s reassuring to know that the existential horror was indeed deliberate. As Vinton told James Gartler in an interview with Animation World Network:

“… it was just such a bizarre character, to start with.  In fact, I haven’t seen a character quite like that in almost anything else – someone who has this power but no feeling one way or another and just sort-of tells it like it is regarding the future of humanity.  We wanted it to be about metamorphosis, visually, and make that a big part of sequence.  He transforms and grows up and down from the earth and appears out of nothingness. The design of the character came from an early drawing that Barry Bruce did, where a jester was holding his face on a stick.  I thought it was a really interesting way to play it.  I ended up doing the voice of the Stranger with a female performer.  We wanted it to be almost androgynous, so she and I did it together and made a point of not trying to hide it, even.”

I’m not sure the person or persons responsible for the theatrical trailer, below, got the memo…

Related Content:

Norman Rockwell Illustrates Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (1936-1940)

Mark Twain Predicts the Internet in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Story, “From The ‘London Times’ in 1904”

Play Mark Twain’s “Memory-Builder,” His Game for Remembering Historical Facts & Dates

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (2)

  1. Steven Shepard says . . .
    September 1, 2015 / 8:50 pm

    A superior product from Claymation was the a production of The Little Prince. However, Claymation pulled the product from circulation over ten years ago. Not sure why. It was well done.

  2. Emyth says . . .
    September 3, 2015 / 3:02 pm

    Note: At least in the original novella, the character named “Satan” wasn’t the famous one…merely his nephew and namesake… If that isn’t clear in the Claymation (or if they mucked with Twain and changed it…) that’s a shortcoming of the film. Otherwise it’s merely a misunderstanding by the author of this piece…

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