"I'm not a president," said the candidate. "I'm just a possum who likes to fish." Perhaps his modesty was the candidate's strongest attraction last night on the second floor of the Beowulf bar and restaurant, when the Pogo for President campaign held its victory celebration.
"Find me a candidate who is honest, competent and never makes a false promise, and I will show you a born loser," said the Mole, who was the leader of the opposition. But that was the point. Pogo didn't want to win. The victory celebration -- held before the national election because the candidate's defeat was assured -- was a celebration for a born loser doing what comes naturally.
Highlight of the victory celebration was the world premier of an animated film, "I Go Pogo," which is not showing at your neighborhood theater now, when the timing would be perfect for it. Typical Pogo luck. "It should be playing right now," said Kerry H. Stowell, president of Stowmar Enterprises, a film studio in Crystal City that produced the feature-length picture on a shoestring budget of $2 million. "Let's just say that 'distributor' and 'dirty' start with the same letter. But it will be an election-year standby from now on. Meanwhile, we're looking at the overseas market and television and we'll be going into several film festivals with it."
The room was decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper streamers and posters that urged people to "Vote Pogo -- 1980." Many of the patrons were wearing straw hats labeled "Pogo" or "I go Pogo" buttons and T-shirts, or carrying off "I Go Pogo" bumper stickers to put on their cars. Straw hats filled with buttered popcorn were being passed around -- providing built-in hair dressing for those who would later wear them.
The party -- one of more than 200 that owner Bobby Van Fossan gives each year upstairs at the Beowulf -- celebrated not only the premier of the movie and the candidate's defeat but the success of a voter-registration campaign that has been conducted by Stowmar on campuses across the country. "We began with $750 in seed money for voter registration," said Stowell, "because we like to do good things besides making money -- no kidding. And then, like other political campaigns, we found that it started paying for itself when people began to buy posters and T-shirts and bumper stickers."
"At first the Federal Election Commission offered to help us with volunteers and office space and that sort of thing -- but then they began to get scared. It looked like Pogo might carry every college town in the country."
David Burgess, publicity manager for the Pogo campaign, had a ready explanation for the candidate's popularity. "He's the average American -- a quiet guy who doesn't want to bother anyone -- or be bothered. He's kind, considerate, patriotic and, above all, reluctant -- he is running from the presidency rather than for it, and that's why he can claim a victory two weekends before election day."
Run from the presidency is, in fact, what Pogo does throughout the 82-minute film -- when he isn't running from such villains as the Mole and the Deacon and Wiley Catt, or such well-wishers as Albert the alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland (an owl) and Miz Ma'mselle Hepzibah, the sexiest lady skunk in the Okefenokee Swamp. At the end he finally manages to go off fishing with his good buddy Porkypine, and durned if they don't find themselves running away from the fish, too.
The picture is the first feature-length animation shot with a new technique called "flexiform," which involves the manipulation of three-dimensional plasticine figures rather than drawing and modifying two-dimensional cartoons. The visual effect is strikingly better than it has been recently in most traditional animations, which have run into rising production costs and some cutting of corners. "We shot it at 24 frames per second," said Marc Chinoy, who introduced Stowell to the technique and became her partner in producing educational and industrial films. "We have to manipulate the figures for each shot, and sometimes rebuild them -- in a 82-minute picture, that means setting up more than 110,000 still shots." Remarkably, considering such feverish activity, the picture has the amiably aimless feeling of Walt Kelly's original cartoon stories.
Shooting on the picture took about a year, but planning for it had taken more than a year before that. "Marc and I were having dinner and wondering what we could do with this technique," Stowell recalled. "Then, I said to him, 'Pogo,' and he said, 'Yes, Pogo,' and we were running for the telephone to call our agent. 'Find out who owns the rights to Pogo and how we can get them,' we told him, and 24 hours later we were having dinner with the widow Kelly. We brought her down to our studio and she said, 'I love you' and broke off her negotiations with NBC for film rights to the material."
Although the picture got off to a late start in the United States, Stowmar Enterprises now has established contact with more than 4 million Pogo fans on campuses across the country, and there are still untapped resources overseas. "Did you know there is a Pogo fan club in Japan?" said Stowell, "and he is very big in Italy. We even got two letters from a woman who wanted to be his campaign manager in Singapore."