Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 6) – The Prisoner

Another week, another new episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After time on two desert planets and a forested world, our leading man’s latest journey keeps him out among the stars, but not far enough out of trouble.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) reaches out to a mercenary he knows named Ran (Mark Boone, Jr), looking for work. What he gets is a prison break job, where he’s teamed up with Ran’s assistant Mayfield (Bill Burr), a Devaronian named Burg (Clancy Brown), a crazy Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena), and a droid named Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Burg (Clancy Brown), Xi’an (Natalia Tana), and Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounter a mouse droid.

Mando finds there are added stipulations, but takes the job. However, it just feels like this deal is getting worse all the time.

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After a few minutes with this week’s crew, it feels like Mando has fallen into a combination of Suicide Squad and Rogue One with this episode. This is one of those scenarios where it seems the operatives were chosen for their skills, and if they happen to work well as a team…well, that’s just a bonus.

We get some hints of people having knowledge of Mando in this one. From Ran to Xi’an, there are small bits of information that their paths have crossed, but we’re left in the dark regarding most of those past exploits. There also is a continued mention of Mando’s disliking of droids, and a little more information on his ship, the Razor Crest.

Rick Famuyiwa directs his second episode of the season, taking us from open desert terrain, to the confining hallways of a New Republic prison ship. There’s definitely some flashbacks to the sleek-white interior of the Tantive IV from Episode III & IV, mixed in with some new elements as well (after the fall of the Empire, the New Republic now has the credits to afford droids to guard their prisoners).

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Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounters some deadly droids.

Fortunately, The Prisoner ends up not relying so much on nostalgia like last week’s episode, The Gunslinger. The little shout-outs to certain areas of the Star Wars universe in this episode, are a little more unexpected. We get a minor reference to The Last Jedi, while one of the character’s call-outs to a certain prequel species, shows that racism is still alive and well in the galaxy.

With a crazy crew of characters, I was hoping there would be some faces here that would be more memorable. Alas, the characters are pretty much here to serve their basic purposes of being colorful scum, that feel like we’ve seen them in other popular culture materials. I’d dare anyone to watch this, and not think of Xi’an as a Twi’lek “Harley Quinn,” or Burg as the team’s “Drax.”

The highlight of the episode is seeing how resourceful the Mandalorian can be in a tight spot, and when things really start to go downhill at one point, some of what he does brought a smile to my face. Pity that I couldn’t have enjoyed the rest of the episode as much as one little scene at the end, where Famuyiwa gets a little “house of horrors” in how he stages a tense scene or two.

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Xi’an (Natalia Tena) sees red.

Just like last week, The Child is relegated to a smaller role, as our focus is mainly on Mando. All showings of The Child in this episode, seems mainly to let us know he’s still alive, but that’s about it.

In my humble opinion, The Prisoner is definitely better than The Gunslinger for an overall story that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, but it doesn’t give enough decent characters to really make me care much for plight of most on-screen.

With two episodes left in the season, The Mandalorian started out strong, and seems to have become rather middling with it’s recent stories. With two episodes left in this season, I am hoping the first season will conclude in a way that will make us eager for season 2.

Final Grade: B

 

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 5) – The Gunslinger

Half-way through it’s first season, The Mandalorian has become a runaway hit for the Disney+ streaming service. Each new episode has revealed a little more about the helmeted lead (played by Pedro Pascal), and opened our eyes to the galaxy beyond the live-action feature films.

For the fifth episode, writer/director Dave Feloni, takes us back to a familiar locale.

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After a space battle severely damages his ship, The Mandalorian is forced to seek repairs at the nearest spaceport…which happens to be in Mos Eisley on Tatooine.

Needing to pay for the repairs, Mando accepts a request to help a rookie bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale). The assignment leads them out to the Dune Sea, intent on capturing an assassin named Fennec Shand (Ming Na Wen).

 

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) hitches a ride on Tatooine.

 

While we have seen some locations this season that reminded us of places we knew from the older Star Wars films, this is the first episode that drops us back into a familiar locale…but things have changed since we were last here.

Mos Eisley does not seem to be the bustling spaceport we once knew, with Feloni showing us a place affected by the downfall of the Empire (and most likely the death of local crimelord, Jabba the Hutt!). This could be a sign that while the New Republic may be good for certain areas of the galaxy, it might be hurting newer areas that have opened up in the often-overlooked Outer Rim Territories.

The search for Fennec Shand utilizes a bunch of touchstones we’ve come to associate with the planet over the years. From speeder bikes to dewbacks, the episode is a veritable drinking game of callbacks…pity that the story can’t really overpower the visual moments (or composer Ludwig Göransson’s “south of the border” musical flourishes) .

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Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) relaxes in a familiar locale.

As a new bounty hunter looking to make a name for himself, Toro comes off almost like a mixture of Hayden Christiansen and Shia LeBeouf in tone. Canvalle’s acting reminds me of the way Hayden spoke as Anakin Skywalker, and I do wonder if this was intentional. Like Anakin, Toro is someone who wants to prove himself, and in some cases, is willing to do whatever it takes.

Much of the story between Toro and Mando is focused on the mission. I feel there could have been some moments where Mando could have opened up more and given Toro some deeper life-lessons, but The Gunslinger doesn’t want to slow down and smell the roses. It’s storytelling is pretty straight-forward, and there aren’t a whole lot of surprises to be found here.

Fennec’s role is also much more brief than I had expected. I was hoping we would have gotten more time with her, like with Gina Carano’s introduction in last week’s episode, Sanctuary. Alas, it feels like Ming Na’s role is over before she’s had much time to register with us.

While The Child is involved in the story, it’s role is much smaller this time around. Much of the interaction with him is done through a docking bay mechanic (played by Amy Sedaris), who provides some minor comic relief during the story. Out of all the new characters in this story, Sedaris’ role was the only one that stuck in my mind after it was all over.

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A docking bay mechanic (Amy Sedaris), finds a hidden surprise.

The Gunslinger drops us back into familiar territory, but the storyline just doesn’t feel as engaging as in previous episodes. Toro and Fennec have their moments, but pale next to Sedaris’ docking bay mechanic who steals almost every scene she’s in. Writer/director Dave Feloni does manage to give us a teaser at the end of the story, possibly hinting that the adventure on Tatooine might have future repercussions for The Mandalorian’s journey.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 4) – Sanctuary

Since it’s premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian  has become one of the most surprising things to come out of Disney since the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and showrunner Dave Feloni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), have managed to channel into the gunslinger/samurai mentality that George Lucas often cited in various parts of the Star Wars saga. The episodic nature of the series is one part Saturday afternoon serial, and one part Spaghetti Western, with each week revealing more about our title character, and his place in the world of Star Wars.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child

Following events at the end of episode 3, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his new companion (simply known as The Child) attempt to lay low on the planet Sorgan. However, Mando comes across two unexpected encounters.

The first is a woman named Cara Dune (Gina Carano), A former shocktrooper of the New Republic who has settled down in the area.

The second is a small group of villagers, who request Mando’s help to take care of some marauders that threaten their isolated community.

Given the action-packed pacing of the first three episodes, it stands to reason some will be disappointed with how “simple” Sanctuary is. However, it’s the first real “breather” we’ve had since the show began, and I welcomed the chance to see Mando and the Child interacting with other beings. It’s one thing to see characters in intense situations, but it’s another to learn more about them when they aren’t being fired on from all sides.

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Cara Dune (Gina Carano) teaches the villagers

Cara Dune proves herself to be another worthy addition to the ever-growing cast of supporting characters. Seeing her team up with Mando to assist the villagers, gives us some more insight into her, let alone how her own training can be utilized to help the people. While Cara may have turned her back on the New Republic, that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of helping others in need.

The village doesn’t feel that far removed from a native tribe, intermingled with a Japanese village from the days of the Samurai (those who have seen Akira Kurosawa’s films will surely see some connections!). Our main contacts to this world are a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), along with her daughter, Winta (Isla Ferris).

While Winta happily acclimates The Child into the village’s younger ranks, Omera seems to quickly take an interest in the Mandalorian. Her character isn’t that far removed from the young woman we’ve seen in Westerns, entranced by a strong-but-silent newcomer. In Omera’s case, it almost feels like her type of character is a little “too soon” for the series. The writers still manage to keep her interesting, even if she seems a little “by-the-numbers” at times.

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Omera (Julia Jones) converses with the Mandalorian

The effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic in this story, really works within the environment. This is the first time we’ve seen The Child really stretch his legs, and while certain scenes may involve an animatronic figure, computer-generated effects are used in a sparing way, almost hearkening back to the days of Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.

Episodes like Sanctuary are a great way to use the slower moments to understand more about characters. We learn not only about the galaxy post-Empire via Cara, but more about the Mandalorian code, and a few more hints about our lead character’s past. The storytelling of Mando being tempted with a life of simplicity however, feels a little too soon to tell, given we’re only four episodes into our adventures with him.

Most will probably discount this episode given it’s tone, but for managing to “simplify” where others want a lot more, I feel it’s a bit more worthy of praise than most will give it credit for.

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Final Grade: B+

Movie Review: Frozen II

Rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements

I remember 6 years ago being hyped for Frozen, after the 2013 D23 Expo gave us some exciting sneaks and imagery beyond the hackneyed American marketing campaign.

Next thing we knew, Elsa dolls were flying off the shelves, Idina Menzel’s Let It Go drove parents insane, and it looked like Walt Disney Feature Animation was back on top.

While the studio’s micro-managers during the “Eisner Era” sequelized as much as they could with cheaply-done animation, sequels made within the big-budget Burbank Disney Studios were few-and-far-between. The company recently embraced big-screen sequels again with Ralph Breaks the Internet, and now are hoping it’s icy cash-cow still has what it takes to fill seats and sell merchandise.

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When the kingdom of Arendelle is threatened by magical forces beyond their borders, Anna (Kristin Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Olaf (Josh Gad), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Sven set off to find out what is going on.

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L to R: Sven, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna (Kristin Bell), and Elsa (Idina Menzel)

Their journey leads them into an enchanted forest, cut off from the rest of the countryside. Within it’s shrouded wilderness, the group finds new creatures, humans, and the chance to learn a little more about Anna and Elsa’s royal heritage.

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Frozen II attempts to do what most sequels do, which is send it’s characters off on a bigger and more eye-popping journey than the first foray. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck return to the director’s chairs, while caught in a quandary: how to continue telling the story, when they can’t seem to escape the shadow of the first film.

The filmmakers try to utilize some connective tissue to the Arendelle royal family and expand our knowledge of them, but we get a few too many winks to the audience’s knowledge of Frozen (even Toy Story 2 was able to reference it’s predecessor more sparingly than what we see here).

After 6 years (and two animated shorts), we see that there have been a few changes to our main cast of characters. There’s still a small wedge between the two sisters on how to handle certain situations, with Elsa wanting to do things by herself, and Anna still wanting to be there for her older sister.

Most of the film’s humor comes from Olaf, who seems to be entering the “motor-mouthed kid” portion of his being alive. This time around, Kristoff is pushed to the back, with a running-gag “proposition” narrative that seems to be a continuation from what we saw in the 2015 animated short, Frozen Fever.

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L to R: Destin Mattias (Sterling K Brown), Anna (Kristin Bell)

The film does expand on it’s cast once we get to the enchanted forest. From the introduction of a native tribe, to Arendelle Lieutenant Destin Mattias (Sterling K Brown), it at first seems like we’re going to get a larger cast of characters to go on this new journey. In the end however, they feel like minor bumps in the road.

While the first film focused on Anna learning more about life and coming into her own, this film gives over much of it’s character development time to Elsa. There also is the added mystery as to how the enchanted forest came to be, but it never feels like we really get a concrete understanding about this new location. Still, the visuals do show that Disney’s R&D team have taken some amazing leaps when it comes to real-world environments and lighting.

What also doesn’t help the film, is it’s pacing. From the beginning, the film feels like it’s in a hurry to get us to Elsa’s story. There are some moments where the film could take the time to slow down and allow us to catch our breath, but by the end of it all, you feel like stuff has happened…but how much of what you experienced do you actually comprehend, or care about?

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Elsa (Idina Menzel)

Songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez are back, with plenty of new music that hits the big Broadway sound, while also dipping into the power ballad arena. Idina Menzel delivers the two big show-stopper pieces, while Kristin Bell and Josh Gad are given songs that just don’t hold much water. I don’t see any of the music becoming the new “Let it Go,” though a song sung by Jonathan Groff will either have you in stitches, or leave you scratching your head.

Frozen II gives us a chance to catch up with old friends, but it feels a little too invested in connecting itself to the first film, and too eager to give us more time with Elsa than to focus on keeping us just as emotionally invested in the rest of it’s cast, both old and new. We’re fortunate that it’s not just a “re-skinned” sequel like Mary Poppins Returns, but it just comes off as a good story, that could have been something far greater (like The Incredibles 2!).

Final Grade: B-

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Movie Review: Klaus

Rated PG for rude humor and mild action

As a former animation student, I like many was saddened at how the hand-drawn medium became sidelined in the early 21st century. While Disney would attempt to revive it stateside with The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011), the films did not make much money, and the studio let any further hand-drawn plans sink from sight.

One person who believed in the medium, was Sergio Pablos, who had actually worked for the Disney company on a number of past projects before striking out on his own.

For over a decade, Pablos tried to find investors to bring his film Klaus to life. Finally, Netflix came calling, and the animator’s vision was unleashed to the streaming service, and the world.

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After shirking his Postal Academy training, lazy and over-privileged Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman) is transferred to the isolated island town of Smeerensberg, with the caveat that he establish a postal service there within a year. However, the town is the home of two feuding families (the Ellingboes and the Krums), who would rather see the other side defeated than send each other a letter. Even the town’s lone school teacher Alva (Rashida Jones) sees little future in getting through to the citizenry.

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Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman)

Beyond the town, Jesper comes across a bearded man named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Seeing a large assortment of toys the man has made, Jesper feels that if the kids send letters to request toys from the lone woodcarver, it might be his ticket out of this crazy place.

However, as Jesper begins to put his plan into action, strange things begin to happen to the little island community.

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Like a number of productions in the last 20 years, Klaus comes off as another “you don’t know the whole story” story, but it manages to do things a lot more…”traditionally.”

Pablos’ take on the tale of Santa Claus, definitely feels like it borrows from the older Rankin-Bass Holiday specials (right down to the backwards-thinking jerks who want to quash anything happy). Unlike most films these days, this one treads very lightly into the pop-culture references or “music inspired by” graces of American-made productions. It is quite a feat when the story being put on the screen…is actually focused on telling you a story!

Character-wise, Jesper Johansen isn’t that different from the likes of Emperor Kuzco or Lightning McQueen when we first meet him. He’s your typical character who has it all, and then gets knocked down a few pegs. However, Jesper as a character is not quite as “abrasive” as I had feared.

He does have some work ethic, but he just needs to find a way to focus it. It also helps that we do see him doing quite a bit of action when it comes to helping deliver Klaus’ gifts. The fact that he is quite pro-active for much of the film, definitely helps make us start to feel for his character, even if he isn’t entirely truthful at times.

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Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) and Klaus (J.K. Simmons)

Speaking of Klaus himself, the film portrays him as an enigmatic character: a large figure who seems intimidating, but has a story of his own to tell. Much of his characterization is through little bits of action, and while J.K. Simmons does decent voice-work, it never feels like his voice truly belongs to the gentle giant.

There are also some additional subplots that just feel like overkill for the story.

The subplot regarding the town’s feuding families does get a little flimsy at times. While we do get some scenes regarding the heads of the family, their business within the film just never feels like they’re that much of a real threat.

The town’s school teacher also figures into the plot in a few areas, but it feels like they mainly put her in to give Jesper someone to talk to about the state of Smeerensberg from the inside. She is also given a small character arc, but it doesn’t really seem to be that strong.

The children in the film are what really makes the town seem more alive. As rules are established for the receiving of toys, the children begin to become the more responsible of the citizenry. It is rather fun to see in a few montages, the kids setting a good example to the more “childish adults” around them.

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The art style of the film is inspiring as well. The less-is-more approach to the snow-covered backgrounds, will probably put some people in mind of animation production artists like Mary Blair, or Evyind Earle. There is the use of computer-generated imagery for sure, but it blends in so well to the film, that my brain soon stopped analyzing the techniques and got pulled into the story!

Even so, there are moments that did take me back to what hand-drawn animation could do. From the elasticity of Jesper’s facial expressions, to the “heaviness” of Klaus’ overcoat, this is a film that feels magical in more ways than one.

Klaus is definitely a rare film in this day-and-age, and not just because of the artistry on hand here. While some of the story points woven into it feel a little too much like overkill, the tale of how Jesper and Klaus come together really sticks in your mind long after it’s all over. When there’s an emotional scene to be had in the film, it comes across as genuine and sincere…something that often feels missing from a lot of animated features foisted upon the public these days.

Netflix has helped Sergio Pablos create a wonderful new film, that may surely gain a following of it’s own over the years.

Final Grade: B+

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Movie Review: Terminator – Dark Fate

Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity

In 1984, James Cameron’s tale about a killer cyborg from the future, became one of the year’s surprise hits. Cameron added a sequel (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and a theme park experience (T2-3D: Battle Across Time) to the series before he walked away, but Hollywood couldn’t leave well enough alone.

The 21st century brought about studio-produced sequels, meant to kick-start new trilogies/series related to the characters. Sadly, none of them could make us forget the earlier films.

While Cameron has become more enamored with his personally-created world of Avatar in the last two decades, he has allowed some directors to play in his sandbox. Director Robert Rodriguez resurrected Cameron’s abandoned Battle Angel Alita earlier this year, and now director Tim Miller looks to “finish” the Terminator story, with Terminator: Dark Fate.

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L to R: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), Grace (Mackenzie Davis)

The film breaks free of our regular cast of main characters, and focuses on a young woman named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who finds herself in the sights of a new Terminator, the REV-9 (Gabriel Luna). Help comes in the form of an augmented human protector named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), along with two familiar faces from the series’ past: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzennegger).

Story-wise, the characters in Dark Fate feel like new avatars of those we’ve seen before. Dani is the innocent whose life is turned upside-down, while Grace is our “Kyle Reese,” but with a few twists. Luna’s REV-9 proves to be a more deadly adversary, with the ability to split into a liquid-metal being, and a formidable endoskeleton, making him twice as deadly!

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REV-9 (Gabriel Luna)

Much has been touted publicly regarding Linda Hamilton’s return to one of her most famous roles, but it feels at times like a “caricature” of the Sarah we know and love, growling out her lines and dropping F-bombs. Mercifully, Arnold is relegated to a supporting role, but those moments definitely stand out, and even give us a few laughs in this very dark feature.

It’s also hard to ignore certain story elements that we’ve already seen in the last three sequels, that Dark Fate wants us to forget. Grace’s augmentation doesn’t feel that far from Marcus Wright’s in Terminator: Salvation, and the REV-9’s metal-over-metal form is eerily similar to the T-X’s in Rise of the Machines from 2003.

Director Tim Miller entertained many of us with his work on the film Deadpool a few years ago, but alas, his storytelling isn’t as strong trying to live up to Cameron’s legacy.

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L to R: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)

The film almost gives the viewer whiplash in it’s first act, propelling us from flashbacks into a truncated introduction to Dani and Grace, before slowing almost to a crawl in the second act. The film could have used this area to give us more time to develop stronger connections to these new characters, but instead decides to create a journey-filled quip-fest between Grace and Sarah, as they struggle to keep Dani safe.

The way Miller stages his action and night scenes also took away from much of my enjoyment. Some action shots are a blurry mess and cut together so quickly, that it took me awhile to comprehend just what I was looking at. The night scenes he works with don’t get much better, as the imagery is oftentimes so dark, you’re unable to read character emotions. It doesn’t seem good when some shots in this film, made me pine for the clarity of those from Genisys.

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L to R: Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

This latest film could have tried to steer us down a new path away from the characters and story beats we know by heart, but the film struggles with being a “bridging vehicle” between the older films, and the possibility of new stories with the characters we’re introduced to.

Sadly, we’ve been burned by repetition in this series so many times over the last 35 years (along with the continued knowledge that Judgment Day seems inevitable), that Dark Fate feels like it’s fighting a losing battle to win us over with the promises of greatness, many of us know the series just can’t keep.

Final Grade: C+

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Retro Recaps: Amazing Stories – The Pumpkin Competition

Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.

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Though only lasting two seasons, Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories, left an impression on my young mind many years later. While I didn’t have fond memories of the two episodes he directed, there were others that left little bits of residue in my youthful brain.

One of them, was a tale of the saintly and the selfish, that seemed to have a little bit of author Roald Dahl thrown into it’s storyline.

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The 32nd Yarborough County Fair is about to end another successful year. This time, the judges for the annual pumpkin contest have chosen Mildred McMinamin (June Lockhart) as 1st place winner!

However, the announcement is met by a sharp ‘NO’ from the audience, as wealthy local Elma Dinnock (Poly Holiday), cuts through the crowd and storms onto the stage. Elma claims that since she has not won in the 21 years she’s been entering the contest, it must be fixed (even though we see in one moment, that Mildred’s pumpkin is bigger than Elma’s).

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Her tirade is interrupted by Mildred, who claims her failure to win is due to the angry woman’s stingy nature. Elma owns half the county and has foreclosed on a number of people’s properties, and Mildred has decided to have her say in the matter.

“To be rewarded in life, Elma,” lectures Mildred, “one must give. Whether you’re raising vegetables or raising children.”

The words do nothing to change the old woman’s feelings, and she storms off the stage.ASTPC-1

Returning home, Elma is perturbed when a man named Bertram Carver (J.A. Preston) shows up at her doorstep. She quickly demands this ‘salesman’ leave, but allows him in when he says he can help her win next year’s competition.

Mr Carver claims he’s a professor of agriculture, and is working on finding a way to help end world hunger. Naturally, Elma cares nothing about the plight of the hungry, and wants him to get to the point.

It is then that Mr Carver pulls out a large green object the size of bowling ball. Cutting off a piece of it, he gives it to Elma to eat. When she claims that it ‘tastes like a pea,’ he confirms her observation.

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Bertram has created a formula to enlarge fruits and vegetables, but needs $10,000 to finish his research. He is willing to give some of his formula to help Elma, if she will give him the money he needs.

Elma’s desire to win gets the better of her, and she goes to her secret safe. However, she retrieves only $5,000, claiming it is all she can spare Mr Carver. The cash-starved botanist reluctantly takes the money, and gives the miserly woman a flask and some instructions.

As growing season begins, Elma plants a pumpkin seed with the formula, but over a period of days, nothing happens. Just when she is ready to sue Mr Carver for false advertising, she awakens one morning to the sounds of breaking wood! Rushing out to her backyard, she finds that an enormous pumpkin has sprouted in her garden!ASTPC-3

Shortly afterward, she goes to sign up for the 33rd annual pumpkin competition, and runs into Mildred.

Mildred claims her pumpkin is bigger than last year’s, and says she is telling Elma this to not only save her from disappointment, but also paying the entry fee (since the miserly woman hates to part with money).

This concern causes Elma to laugh and she proposes a wager: everything she has (her estate and savings) against everything Mildred has (a small trailer-home and meager finances). Her goading gets Mildred to consider, and she smiles at the nervous expression that washes over her opponent’s face.

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“Mildred,” she says, “do your friends really believe all that about, ‘blessed be the givers?'”

“I’m sure they do,” says a shaken Mildred.

“Good,” smiles Elma, “since you’ll be asking them to give you a place to stay!”

Elma then attempts to hire a local moving service to transport her pumpkin to the fair, but finds they are unavailable. Forced to get creative with time running out, she uses railroad spikes and rope to attach the pumpkin to her car, before driving off.ASTPC-5

However, the friction of the pumpkin against the road soon causes chunks of it to tear off over the course of the trip, leaving a sloppy trail behind the car.

By the time Elma has reached the fair, the pumpkin is 1/3 it’s original size…and Mildred has won for the second year in a row! Naturally, Elma throws a fit, claiming that hers is the biggest pumpkin there.

“Obviously, you haven’t seen this year’s entries,” chuckles the judge.

Opening a door behind the main stage, Elma is shocked to see numerous pumpkins…each as large as the one she grew!

“Quite amazing, really,” says Mildred. “A professor asked us for $5,000 to complete his research to end hunger. Of course, we all gave, and in return, he gave us his growth formula!”

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We then see Elma shaking on the ground, realizing that her greed has not only cost her the contest, but also the bet she made with Mildred…all because she couldn’t truly “give.”

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And that was The Pumpkin Competition.

This was one of those episodes that I only saw once, but remembered in bits and pieces. Most of my memories had to do with the enormous pumpkin of Elma’s, from it being dragged behind her car to it’s final ‘ruined state’ (though in my mind, the drive was longer, and there was less of the pumpkin when she arrived).

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There was also a scene I recalled, where Elma drives past a family changing a flat tire on their car. A boy in the car starts freaking out about ‘the great pumpkin,’ to which his Mom claims he’s “too old for fairy tales.”

When it comes to the characters in the episode, Elma Dinnock is our main focus. Played by actress Poly Holiday, many had already seen her play a somewhat similar character, in Joe Dante’s Gremlins…which also seemed to be an offshoot of Miss Gulch from the 1939 Wizard of Oz film. Just like Gulch, Holiday’s character roles were wealthy people who sneered down their noses at being “insulted” by those they felt below them. Though in the case of her character in this episode, she lived to be tormented by her decisions.

Strangely, Holiday’s portrayal of Elma feels a little less abrasive than one would assume. It almost feels like they hold back from making her too much of a caricature, though they do hammer over our heads just how obsessed she is with money in a few scenes.

There even comes a minor character moment when Mildred is lecturing Elma. When she mentions ‘raising vegetables or children,’ this causes the old woman to gasp. It could be possible that due to unforeseen circumstances in her life, Elma may have wanted to have a family and children, but being denied such things, turned her attention to more ‘monetary pursuits.’

June Lockhart’s Mildred is the straight-arrow of the piece, taking us back to her roles as the mother figure in the TV series Lassie, and Lost in Space. Her character isn’t wealthy like Elma, but she gets by well enough on her beliefs, and has a grandmotherly quality to her line deliveries.

Just like in episodes of The Twilight ZoneThe Pumpkin Competition is a story that shows someone being a greedy jerk, and getting their comeuppance.

Elma’s stinginess ends up being her downfall, when we find out she could have won the contest had she just paid Mr Carver the full $10,000 he asked for.

Of course, one has to wonder if he offered the formula to the rest of the locals as a way to get back at Elma. Or, maybe Mildred didn’t have enough money, but was able to convince her friends to chip in, thus why they were able to “share the wealth” of the formula.

Plus, given the local moving company was unavailable when Elma called, maybe they were busy moving the other contestant’s pumpkins to the fairgrounds?

Writer Peter Z Orton depicts a place that seems somewhat unstuck in time. The vehicles are decidedly retro, and we only have the fair location and Elma’s home to go off of. Orton was the story editor on half of the Amazing Stories episodes that were made, but this episode marks the only time he is credited as the sole writer for a story.

Directing duties fell to Norman Reynolds. This would be one of two Stories episodes he directed…the only directorial credits in his career. Many may know his name from doing production and art design in the 80’s and 90’s, contributing to films like Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark (to name a few).

Yes, The Pumpkin Competition doesn’t rank as highly as others, but it definitely into the methodology that would be a part of many Steven Spielberg-related projects: the ability for extraordinary things to happen to ordinary people, and maybe throw in a little morality tale into the mix.

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