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

“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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  • Steven Shepard says:

    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.

  • Emyth says:

    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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