Archive | March 2012

An Animated Dissection: My Top 5 favorite animated characters, supervised by Glen Keane

Last week, I received some shocking news that made me realize how time had continued to move forward.

One of the Walt Disney Studio’s master animators, Glen Keane, officially announced his retirement. Much like Walt Disney became a fixture in the minds of many due to his appearances on the Disneyland television show, Glen became stuck in my mind as I saw him discuss the animation of Ariel, in a making-of special for The Little Mermaid.

But what really cemented him in my mind, was the interview he did for the making of Beauty and the Beast, as well as the information that was gleaned from him in the updated version of Bob Thomas’ The Art Of Animation, released in the fall of 1991. Needless to say, I was enthralled by Keane’s art style. So much so, that I began to emulate it. However, unlike most animators, Keane was a man of many lines…literally. But the amount of lines that he laid down on a piece of paper, could often convey something much more than just a simple, clean line. I was surprised how much this had wormed its way into my brain, when I showed someone some rough and clean drawings for some personal projects. “The rough drawings look better,” they said, “they have more personality.”

In recent years, I guess it has been hard to believe that the men who worked on the films when I was a kid have grown up as well (I remember being shocked seeing directors John Musker and Ron Clements with grey hair when doing interviews for Treasure Planet!). Much like time aged the former Nine Old Men of Disney’s animation division, the same has happened to the young men who were mentored and taught the principles to them.

With Glen’s exit from the hallowed halls of Disney’s Feature Animation division, I thought I’d list my Top 5 favorite animated characters that Glen had a hand in their creation and supervision. So, away we go!

5. John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray)

As computers began to creep into the animation division at Walt Disney Feature Animation in the early 2000’s, a number of key animated items began to be relegated to cel-shaded computer models, and some animators began to shy away from the changes. However, Keane actually embraced the technology, and with Treasure Planet‘s concept of ‘Treasure Island in Space,’ chose to make the original John Silver’s missing hand and peg leg be cybernetic substitutions/attachments.  While many tore Treasure Planet asunder, I have a soft spot for Keane’s work on Silver, an alien creature who is trapped at a crossroads in his life, but finds himself becoming an unofficial guardian to Jim Hawkins. In the audio commentary for Planet, Keane makes mention of a football coach who encouraged him after the loss of a football game, and pushed him on. When one hears that, it’s like those emotions definitely flowed into the character of Silver. As well, Keane brings a graceful and awe-inspiring fluidity to Silver’s movements, making his preparation of a meal almost as graceful as a ballet dancer, and his rolling around of the name ‘Billy Bones’ just as fascinating. The pronunciation scene shows some wonderful squash-and-stretch that reminded me of the awe some animators felt with former Disney Animator Milt Kahl’s work on Medusa in The Rescuers.

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4. Professor Ratigan (voiced by Vincent Price)

When it comes to having a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes (aka Basil of Baker Street), a precision mind like that needs a nefarious criminal mind to thwart and torture his sub-conscious. Such a figure was the imposingly large Professor Ratigan. This was one of Keane’s first major gigs as a Supervising Animator for a main character, and after proving he could give a powerful performance out of a larger character (the bear during the climactic fight-scene in The Fox and the Hound), Ratigan moved Keane into the territory of an animal with intellect. Emotionally, Keane helped establish Ratigan as a character who appears to be sophisticated, but underneath, lurks an angry rat ready to bubble to the surface. Certainly, this comes into play in the climactic clock fight on Big Ben, where Ratigan goes through an almost Jekyll-and-Hyde like transformation as he confronts Basil. Some people I have talked with have even said that scene was terrifying. Of course, it’s also interesting to consider the voice of the rather slim Vincent Price coming from such a large character, but the work is done so well, that you soon stop thinking ‘Vincent Price,’ and just start thinking ‘that’s Ratigan.’

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3. Tarzan (voiced by Tony Goldwyn)

In 1999, I just couldn’t contain my excitement at the prospect of seeing Tarzan. Once I saw the teaser poster showing him sketched in charcoal pencil, I knew I was going to be there on opening day. Keane’s artistry and love of the original Burroughs’ story really seemed to influence Tarzan’s design, and with the use of animation, Tarzan could be made to more ‘easily’ mimic the pose and movements of the apes he lived with. I still am fascinated by the hands and feet of Tarzan, just the way he curls his hands to look like an ape’s as he moves along the ground, and the way the toes on his feet splay out. Just like Keane would embrace the use of a computer/hand-drawn character hybrids with Silver a few years later, his work making Tarzan move through 3-dimensional backgrounds definitely captured many of our imaginations in the Summer of 1999.

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2. Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson)

Probably no Top 5 list of Keane characters would be complete without this fiery redhead. Ariel was Keane’s first major foray into doing a lead female character. Word was when someone asked Keane why he wanted to tackle a character like Ariel, he explained that he had to. Of course, one could almost look at Glen, a former football player in high school, and not realize that this man got into the mindset of a 16-year-old girl, and made her situation and emotions real to so many. But of course, that’s the beauty of animation: you become any character regardless of what you look like (animators are ‘actors with pencils,’ after all). The second half of Mermaid is also memorable, because Ariel becomes a silent character for much of that time, and it’s through little movements and gestures that we get some well-played emotional scenes. It also helps that her eyes are so large to help convey her emotions. Though when it comes to large-eyed heroines, one can definitely see Keane’s influence on Rapunzel all these years later, making her a lithe and effervescent personality too.

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1. The Beast (voiced by Robbie Benson)

Ever since the fall of 1991, The Beast has been my favorite Disney character. I always remember David Ogden Stiers in the making-0f special for the film Beauty and the Beast proposing an interesting conundrum regarding this creation: “How do you draw a monster, and make him lovable?” Keane got right to the heart of the matter with the Beast: a being both man and animal, yet stuck at an uncomfortable crossroads, where one of the last remaining vestiges of his humanity are his eyes. It was also the design of the Beast that I just fell in love with. While many earlier works of the fairy tale had used more common animal heads like those of a Mandrill, Keane’s final take consisted of a creature comprised of the parts of 7 different animals. This combination could have looked alien or foreign, but the final combination looks like it could most definitely exist in our world. From a wolf’s hind legs, to the body of a bear, and even the neck and head posture of a bison, alot of attention and detail was made, with Keane even diagramming the skeleton of the Beast and making copious notes for his animation crew to follow. It almost feels like the Beast owes a little thanks to Keane’s work on Professor Ratigan, as both of these characters are large and taper down to spindly legs, yet even at their size, they can emote with even the smallest of moments.

One of the scenes that Glen did was the Beast’s Transformation at the end of the film. While I was awe-inspired and left with goosebumps, it wasn’t until I saw Keane’s original rough animation drawings of the scene on the Beauty and the Beast special features DVD, did I feel that something got lost in the translation, when his rough line-art was cleaned to pristine clean-up animation. Below, I’ve included 7 stills from Glen’s rough pencil-animation of the Beast’s Transformation:

There’s so much incredible artistry packed into these scenes. Ordinarily, animators aren’t supposed to add shadow and light to their work, but Glen works in a league all his own, and as we can see above, it helps bring a depth to his work that makes it even better. In fact, let’s compare Glen’s rough art of the Prince’s reveal, with a shot from the completed film. I remember alot of people didn’t like the final design of the Prince in the film, but if he looked like the Prince in Keane’s rough pencil animation, would you give him a chance?

(Left) Keane's rough animation of the Prince, (Right) The final image from the film

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Please bear in mind that this is only my top 5 list, and while I may have left off other characters Keane animated like Marahute the Golden Eagle, Aladdin, and Pocahontas, they still are incredibly inspiring pieces of work. In many interviews and sound bites, I’ve heard Keane get very, very enthused when he talks about what he’s done. On the DVD of Waking Sleeping Beauty, he discusses  how he wanted Marahute the Golden Eagle’s flight to be so uplifting, that the audience feels like they’re flying right along with her and the little boy in the film named Cody. I remember seeing the film opening weekend and really being impressed by that scene, so Glen definitely did his job!

One of the key ingredients that Glen was taught by the remaining Nine Old Men of Disney Animation, was to ‘animate emotions.’ At first, Glen had no real clue what that meant (pressing harder on the paper doesn’t bring about better animation). But soon, he realized that if he went into a character or scene with the intensity of the emotions and a feeling inside of him, then it could work. This is true in the scene in Tarzan, where Tarzan touches Jane’s hand, and there’s a quiet moment shared between them. In an interview on the Tarzan DVD set, Keane said that for this moment, he held onto the memory of when his daughter was born, and the image of Tarzan looking at Jane, was how Keane felt when he saw his daughter for the first time.

Though I never did achieve my pre-teen dream of one day becoming a Disney Animator and being a part of Glen’s animation team, I often loved to keep reading up on what he was doing at Disney. For me, just hearing that some of my favorite animators were working on a project was enough to get me excited about it (one of the reasons why I was going to see Treasure Planet despite what any said about it).

One place I’d recommend to go, if you have an iPod or an MP3 player, is The Animation Podcast . Clay Kaytis works for Disney, and in the last 5 years, sat down with a number of people who worked there, and got them to tell a bit about their thought processes, and their climb up the animation ladder. Glen sat down for a 2-part interview, and you can also find interviews by the likes of Andreas Deja (Supervising Animator on King Triton, Gaston, and Scar), Eric Goldberg (Supervising Animator on The Genie), and Nik Ranieri (Supervising Animator on Lumiere, Rafiki, and Hades).

Well, I’ve rambled enough, but just in case Glen (or someone he knows) stumbles onto this page while Googling, let me just say thank you for your inspiration, and good luck on the next leg of your journey.

Of all the different pictures of Glen that have been taken, this is the one that I always remember: the small image of him in Bob Thomas' "The Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast."

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Book Review: The Complete Peanuts, 1983-1984

The Complete Peanuts: 1983-1984 (Published by Fantagraphic Books)

I remember when Fantagraphic Books first released The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952. I was 24 years old, and remember thinking, “once they finish these releases, I’ll be 36 years old.” And here it is: I’m 32 years old, and with the release of The Complete Peanuts, 1983-1984, that means there’s only 4 more years to go.

The last couple volumes of The Complete Peanuts have been a little hard to wrap my brain around for two reasons:

1) Some of the strips in them I have seen over the years in non-ordered compilations.

2) Charlie Brown and the gang’s exploits have finally caught up to my time on this planet.

To me, the strips from the 1960’s and the 1970’s are those that alot of people usually consider the high-points of the Peanuts gang’s existence. One thing that becomes evident is Charles Schulz’s issues with drawing his comic strip. The line-work begins to waver a bit, and he even starts working in exaggerating expressions. Though Snoopy had some  funny faces in the 70’s, his eyes in some situations get a bit cartoony in the 1980’s…so to speak.

However, what is notable are the backgrounds and natural scenarios that Schulz creates in several scenarios: from a tree covered in detailed leaves, to Snoopy leading some birds on a photo-taking hike to Los Lobos. The way the scenes are rendered, one has to wonder if Schulz took a hike there himself, and made little sketches of certain areas.

In the years 1983-1984, there seem to be myriad strips dealing with various characters telling jokes. Some are laughable, and others are just head-scratching (then again, some stuff that I think is funny leaves alot of people scratching their heads). One that was more an aside than a direct joke, is where Snoopy comes home from a New Year’s Party on January 1st, 1984. Charlie Brown assumes Snoopy over-indulged at the party, but Snoopy insists (through thought balloons) that he’s sick considering all the George Orwell jokes that are going to take place now that it’s 1984. I will admit, this one made me laugh out loud!

The years 1983-1984 also serve as a breeding ground of comic strips/ideas that would then go on to populate the animated realm of the Peanuts gang as well. One weekday strip of Snoopy dancing in aerobic gear ends with him thinking the name, “Flashbeagle.” This would spin off in the next few years into the musical-themed short of the same name. Out in the desert of Needles, CA, Snoopy’s brother Spike takes notice of a girl who drives by his abode in a red truck several times. This would later serve as the basis for a live-action/animated adventure in 1988 called It’s The Girl in The Red Truck, Charlie Brown (which starred Schulz’s daughter Jill, and was co-scripted by his son Monte).

Speaking of Spike, the focus shifts slightly in his favor, as we catch up on his correspondence with Snoopy, as well as a rescue mission Snoopy undertakes with a small ‘bird brigade’ to rescue him from a dangerous situation.

It does feel that through the course of the 80’s, some of the characters do mellow out a bit, notably Lucy. Her presence in the years in this compilation aren’t as notable as years gone past, though what she does and what happens to her on December 16th, 1984, was still quite surprising (I’m not telling what it is…it has to be seen to be believed).

When it comes to the female characters, it feels that Schulz has more fun working with Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Patty has some strips that lead into story arcs that last a couple weeks. She puts up with everything from getting caught in a 3-ring binder, to Marcie using her for classroom presentations when she falls asleep. Almost as a way to answer the viewer’s questions regarding Patty’s constant dozing off in class, Schulz sends her to a sleep disorder center to find out if she may really have narcolepsy.

Though I have told a little about some of the volume, don’t assume what I’ve said above has given away all the surprises. It would be a shame if I did that, and spoil the full discovery of how the Peanuts gang spent 2 years in the time of Reaganomics.

Each of Fantagraphics‘ volumes comes with a special introduction, and for this one, Leonard Maltin regales us with his past memories. Maltin tells that at one point, he wanted to be a cartoonist, and had even sent Schulz some correspondence…to which Schulz responded with encouragement, and a signed original comic panel! Though he ended up going into writing instead of cartooning, Maltin still has fond memories of the Peanuts gang.

Movie Review: The FP

Almost a year ago, I went to a sneak preview screening of Zack Snyder’s Suckerpunch. While the trailer promised plenty of thrills as a young girl escapes the real world and constructs one inside her subconscious, it got a little nuts when she then started dancing and fantasizing about video game-style fights, B-25 bombers being chased by flying dragons, and Samurai with miniguns (even if that last concept is kinda bad@$$). I think my biggest problem with Suckerpunch was they wanted us to take much of the film seriously, but it was a little hard to do so, and that’s where it failed to entertain me.

Why do I bring up Suckerpunch, you may ask? Because it’s blender-style mish-mash of different concepts and genres reminded me a little of Drafthouse Films‘ latest release, The FP. Originally directed by brothers Brandon and Jason Trost as a 13-minute short released in 2007, they extended their story into a feature-length film that is currently seeing limited distribution in select cities.

As the opening narration explains, a deadly turf-war rages in a dystopian future, as two rival gangs compete for control of “The FP” (actually, a rural mountain town called Frazier Park). On one side of the war, is BTRO (Brandon Barrera), leader of the 248 of the North. On the other side, is L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy, looking like Mr T), representing the 245 of the South. And just how do these two sides handle their turf wars? By pitting their leaders against each other in a no-holds-barred game…of Beat Beat Revelation. Yes, the fate of a small rural town resides in the fancy footwork of two men dancing on footpads and racking up high points. If your brain can’t process that, then you may want to click out of here and read something else.

Oh, you’re still here? Well, since you stuck around, I’ll continue.

One person who looks up to BTRO, is his younger brother, JTRO (Jason Trost, wearing a very ‘Snake Plisskin-like’ eyepatch). However, JTRO’s world is thrown upside-down when the latest match ends up killing his brother. JTRO then vows never to play the game again, and with noone to stop L Dubba E, “The FP” is thrown into utter chaos (it’s so terrible, I don’t dare describe it!).

In the wake of the chaos, there’s one guy who still believes that JTRO has what it takes, and that’s his old friend, KC/DC (Art Hsu). KC/DC sets JTRO up with BTRO’s mentor, BLT (Nick Principe), and they work to help JTRO attempt to save “The FP.”

Wandering around the internet, alot of messageboard postings seem to say the same thing: ‘they can’t be serious.’ And in truth, the filmmakers aren’t!! The FP isn’t some film attempting to make a bold statement: it’s a comedy put together like a Frankenstein-monster of movie and story cliches. It’s a film that pokes fun at rival street gangs, and delves into the cliches of action films, like those from the 1980’s. In some instances, the synthesized soundtrack seemed very ‘John Carpenter-esque.’

The Trost Brothers create the film very tongue-in-cheek, and in this case, the serious moments are meant to be laughed at. It’s like in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his knights play it completely straight that they are riding on horses. And that’s what is happening in this film. For example, even though this is a dystopian future, modern day vehicles are driving in the background, and the town seems pretty normal, even though L Dubba E has complete control over it.

Naturally in these films, any manly hero needs a girl, and JTRO’s love-interest is Stacy (Caitlyn Folly), a girl whose been all over town (if you know what I mean), and falls into L Dubba E’s arms after he takes control of “The FP.” Folly’s character is most likely played for the comedic factor, as Stacy is the downtrodden girl who knows that JTRO is the guy for her, but dawdles in her decision as the plot keeps having her make one bad mistake after another.

As the film started out, I was almost reminded of a number of films that would play in the wee hours of the morning on USA Up All Night in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but there’s one thing that would keep The FP from even showing up: the ‘pervasive language.’ There are probably 6 F-bombs dropped in the first 5 minutes alone, but it doesn’t stop there. I wasn’t really surprised by the amount of language, as one guy who was in several of my college classes couldn’t go more than 5-10 words without dropping an expletive. I can’t help but wonder if he’d consider this film to be ‘normal.’

Maybe because it’s not based on a pre-existing book, or a remake of a previously-made/much-loved film, I was able to shut my brain off and just wallow in the B-movie insanity that was The FP. It definitely has the underpinnings of a film that could gain a cult-following. The FP isn’t for everyone, and I have a feeling that most will give it a shot once it is released to DVD. It’s definitely going to be one of those films that will polarize its viewers: either you’re down with the bros of The FP, or you’re not.

Toy Review: Concept Boba Fett (The McQuarrie Series)

From Left to Right: Concept Boba Fett, Boba Fett (Prototype Armor), Boba Fett (Animated Debut, aka The Star Wars Holiday Special), Boba Fett (The Empire Strikes Back)

Last week, one of the artists who was most responsible for getting one of the world’s most influential films off the ground passed away. That man, was Ralph McQuarrie. When George Lucas was attempting to drum up enthusiasm about just what The Star Wars were, he turned to McQuarrie for concept art.

The plan worked: the art helped, Lucas got his film made, and over the course of the next 8 years, McQuarrie would continue to work in the Lucasfilm art department, coming up with costume, set, and character concepts. For the Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie worked with Lucasfilm artist Joe Johnston, and through both of them, was born the evolution of a character whose scant dialogue and armor would keep people talking for over 30+ years: Boba Fett.

In 2007, in honor of the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars‘ inception, Hasbro released a special 14-figure series that brought Ralph McQuarrie’s conceptual art to life in the 3 3 /4″ action figure line. Release-wise, Fett was the first new McQuarrie sculpt for the line, and proved quite popular.

Boba Fett poses in 3 angles similar to McQuarrie's concept art

Originally intended as an offshoot of Stormtrooper Armor, Boba’s orginal color was white. Also, his jetpack does not appear to actually be a jetpack yet, with its appearance resembling something similar to what would eventually be put on the backs of the Snowtroopers in Empire Strikes Back (an air-flow/oxygen pack?).

Boba Fett: Man...or Machine?

Along with his more familiar helmet with its T-shaped viewing port, this figure also comes with an alternate helmet design. This helmet contains some contours that seem a bit like Darth Vader’s in the nose/cheeks/mouth area, with a slight influence by the Stormtrooper design. The wide visor concept would be dropped, but would be seen almost 25 years later in Revenge of the Sith. If you look at the visor design of Clonetrooper Commander Cody, one can see the influence. The commlinks where his mouth would be with this alternate head, almost make Fett look more ‘machine than man.’

To add to that thought, in his abdomen, Fett comes equipped with a flip-out weapon. I wasn’t able to find much regarding this concept, but it definitely adds to the mystique of Fett: was he also meant to be a man/machine hybrid similar to Darth Vader?

(Left) A Mandalorian-like symbol is on Concept Fett's right shoulder. This is similar in style to the symbol seen on the final Fett's left shoulder (Right)

One of Boba Fett’s memorable symbols from the final armor, is a symbol of the Mandalorian tribe of warriors that he was once a part of. When it originally came to the concept images, this symbol was non-existent. Almost as a fan-made ‘cheat’ to the concept art, the guys at Hasbro decided to include a more streamlined Mandalorian symbol on the rear of Fett’s right shoulder. What makes this okay, is that in the original concept art by McQuarrie, you never saw what was back there. So, it’s ‘possible’ this symbol could have been there.

Goodness, Gracious...you know the rest.

Of course, a Bounty Hunter needs a gun, and Fett has one, though not the big one we saw him lugging around in the films. This one fits in a holster almost like a side-arm that a gunslinger would have. The downside is that the holster is pretty big, in order to allow the gun to fit properly. It doesn’t really hinder the figure, but it’s 25% bigger than what is in the original concept art.

One concept that we saw Jango Fett unleash in Attack of the Clones that Boba never did, was an arm-mounted flame-thrower. A feature similar to this was used with one of Jango’s action figures, but Hasbro did the concept one better with this figure. The flame-jet is a removable plastic piece that can be fitted into a hole on the left-arm. Along with the yellow-to orange plastic, some dark paint helps add the illusion of a blooming fireball about to engulf some unlucky victim. Speaking of which, here’s one now:

After all, it's not a Star Wars post unless we bash Jar-Jar.

Overall, the Boba Fett concept figure was definitely one of the best figures released in 2007. I will admit I never did become a huge fan of The Fett, but I still recall that even when Kenner released their Power of the Force 2 line in 1995, what was the very first of the newly-sculpted figures I bought? That’s right: Boba Fett. That figure heralded the rebirth of my figure collecting as I entered my mid-teens in the 1990’s.

In regards to the McQuarrie Series of figures, there were 13 figures released in 2007. In actuality, there is an unofficial McQuarrie release. You see, sometimes some of the crew at Lucasfilm would be included on film, and in Echo Base on the planet Hoth, there existed General McQuarrie (who appeared briefly in a cameo walking past camera).

"He's no good to me opened."

Even though he didn’t come on a Concept Series cardback, I couldn’t bring myself to not have General McQuarrie included with my collection (or shown above, in the action-figure equivalent of carbon-freeze). However, even 6 years later, I find it hard to open the General, and the other figures in the Concept Series. Then again, we did free Boba from his prison.

Retro Recaps: Amazing Stories – Miscalculation

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

For those of you who may not be familiar with the television show Amazing Stories, it was a prime-time anthology series created by Steven Spielberg in the mid 1980’s. Created in the same vein as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, each week brought a new story that would often see ordinary people put into, or encounter, extraordinary situations.

One of the often-used concepts in television or story tropes is the guy who is unlucky at love. This was used in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes titled The Chaser, and was used in the Amazing Stories episode that we will look at today entitled, Miscalculation.

So, just what is this episode about? Well, let’s start the recap.

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The opening shot pans around a college dorm room, filled with lots of books and lots of pin-ups/centerfolds strewn all over the walls, as Robert Palmer’s song Addicted to Love plays from a radio. We are then introduced to Phil (Jon Cryer, or ‘Duckie’ to you Pretty in Pink fans), who is getting ready for school.

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As he attempts to cobble together something cool to wear (based on the examples in the magazines he has), a pizza boy named Bert (J.J. Cohen) comes through his door, with a stack of pizzas. Phil claims he didn’t order any pizzas, but ‘orders’ Bert to leave. The fast-talking pizza-dude takes the hint, but not before scoping out Phil’s pad, his dating tips book, and bashing his choice of wardrobe.

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Phil finally takes leave of the dorm, his head buried in the book on dating tips. Suddenly, the dorm mother’s daughter Angela (JoAnn Wilmette) comes up to him claiming she has a ‘charley horse.’ She begs Phil to massage her leg, but he just ignores her and continues walking. This is our first indication that there is someone who has a crush on Phil, and Angela is then given an establishing shot as she sadly watches Phil walk out the door.

It’s interesting how the show ‘frumps’ up Angela’s character: the glasses, her hair a little askew, a squeak to her voice. Wonder how she’ll fare through the rest of this episode.

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On his way to science class, Phil attempts to use the tips in the book he has, but strikes out every time. When he eventually gets to class, he tries a couple more pick-up lines, only to accidentally spill a pink concoction on some magazines on the floor. He right the bottle, but then knocks over one with some blue liquid, which also spills on the magazines.

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As he attempts to use some more pick-up lines on a couple other girls, his female lab partner notes that there’s a shar-pei puppy under the table! Phil happily gives her the dog, and attempts to ask her out again. Not only does she say no (“I’d rather have a root canal”), but the dog grumbles back as well.

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Phil’s gaze then returns to the floor, where he sees a dog magazine, with a blank space in it. Apparently, the mixture of the pink and blue chemicals caused the image in the magazine to come to 3-Dimensional life!! Naturally, Phil’s libidinous mind hits on a grand idea, and he grabs up the concoctions, and rushes from the building.

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Returning to his dorm, he ignores Angela’s pleas to help her with something, and goes straight to his room. Pulling the blinds and throwing away his dating tips book, Phil pulls out an issue of Sleek magazine, and opens it to a centerfold image of Miss August. He pours on some of each concoction, and steps back. As the centerfold image begins to smoke, the phone rings. It’s Angela, calling to see if he’s alright. As he attempts to tell her to go away, a female voice suddenly calls from behind him:

“Kiss me, and I can be yours, forever.”

This causes Phil to hang up and turn around eagerly…only his face then turns from happiness to shock.

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The chemicals have brought Miss August to life, but due to too much of each chemical, she’s a 10-ft giantess! Naturally, Phil is intimidated and she chases him around the room, first pleading to be kissed, and soon demanding.

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As the giant woman chases Phil around his room, the camera shows Angela sitting on the dorm’s lobby couch looking bored, as a nearby couple just keep kissing and groping each other. It just so happens that Phil’s room is right overhead, and Angela looks up as the ceiling shakes a little, dust rains down, and she can hear Phil and a female voice bantering.

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Meanwhile, Phil has barricaded himself in the bathroom, as the giantess’ tone suddenly becomes pleading, claiming she’s ‘starting to melt.’ Suddenly, her voice disappears, and a purplish liquid creeps under the door. Phil uses a towel to soak up the remains of Miss August, while he sadly peers around his ruined dorm room. At first he’s upset, but then he comes to the conclusion that if he hadn’t used so much of the substances, the girl would have been normal.

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He grabs a centerfold of a brunette in a black negligee, and then applies a little less than before. However, his glee soon turns to annoyance when Angela knocks at his door, wondering about the noise from before. Phil just tells her that he ‘dropped his bed,’ before slamming the door in her face.

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From behind him, a female voice pleads for a kiss. Phil turns and sees his latest creation, her face obscured by her long hair. As he approaches, she whips it back…

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…and reveals that the mixture was too little, making her face look gaunt, and no eyes in her sockets! She keeps pleading in a raspy voice for a kiss, but Phil refuses, and rushes for the bathroom again. Phil manages to trap her in there, where she begins to melt…

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…but not before her half -melted arms of flesh-and-bone break through the door in typical horror-film fashion, choking Phil.

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Downstairs, Angela is still sitting on the couch (with the oblivious couple next to her still making out), and after hearing screaming coming from Phil’s room, leaps to her feet. “That does it!” she yells, and whips off her glasses, heading to the nearby payphone (you know when a girl with glasses whips them off, it’s about to get real!).

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Upstairs, the latest centerfold has melted, but has left several punched holes in Phil’s bathroom door, with him lying with a shocked look on the ground. Without saying a word, he rises with determination, and grabs a magazine picture off his wall, of a girl from the waist up in a blue bikini-top. A look of madness flits across his face, as he places the picture on a table, and begins to apply the chemicals. “This one’s gonna work,” he says, chuckling crazily. “Third time’s the charm.’

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Naturally, Angela comes upstairs to find out what was going on with the screaming she heard before. She has called the Police, afraid that someone is being tortured in Phil’s room. He yells for them to go away, but when they refuse, he moves a chair in front of the table with the girl’s picture on it.

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Finally, the officers break down the door, only to find Phil sitting in the chair. Suddenly, the officers, Phil, and Angela are shocked when a girl’s arm appears, and soon more of her peeks out around the side of the chair. The officers simply assume that it was Phil and the girl making the noise and leave (with Angela not convinced that everything is alright).

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Once they leave, Phil eagerly moves the chair aside to get a better look at his creation…

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…only to find that since the picture was just from her torso-up, that’s all that has materialized!

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Down in the lobby, Bert the pizza boy has returned with some more pizzas, and is talking with Angela, when above they hear Phil cursing his misfortune, only his cries of ‘not again’ make Bert assume that Phil’s dating book worked for his love life. Naturally, Angela just sulks (and the couple nearby continue to make out).

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Back in his room, after the torso-girl has melted away, Phil chooses a magazine image of a dark-haired girl in a red dress, and then uses the last of the formulas on it, muttering nervously that this has to work. Worried about what might happen this time, he hides in the closet next to the main door.

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Downstairs, Angela and Bert are surprised when goo starts dripping from the ceiling, and rush upstairs. Both pound on the door and demand to be let in.

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However, Phil is entranced, as this time…he got it right! The girl in the magazine comes towards him, asking to be kissed. Phil is just about to rush towards her…

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…when Bert knocks open the main door, blocking the closet door. The girl turns her gaze towards Bert, asking to be kissed. Naturally, he does, and she leads Bert out of the room.

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Just as they leave, Phil rushes out of the closet door, eyes closed, unaware of what just happened. “Oh yeah,” he says, happily. “Kiss me and I’m yours forever!”

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Thinking he’s talking to her, Angela leaps into his arms and begins to kiss him. After a few moments, when Phil realizes she isn’t the girl he expected, he rushes outside, to see Bert walking away with the girl in the magazine.

Angela comes out of the room and apologizes for her outward behavior, but as Phil considers her groping and kissing, a thought crosses his mind. As he wraps his arm around her, Phil asks what she’s doing Friday night. With this question, Angela becomes slightly tongue-tied that her crush is paying attention to her, and stammers to answer.

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But, it’s not over yet. Back in Phil’s room, we see that the beakers containing the pink and blue chemicals have tipped over, and the remaining contents have mixed together, and started dripping over the side of Phil’s desk. As the camera moves over the edge of the desk, we find an issue of Fangoria lying on the floor. We see some drops of the chemicals falling on the image of an inside-out human, and smoke begins to rise from the issue, before we fade to black.

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And that was Miscalculation. While it won’t bring world peace or end hunger, it is a rather fun piece of 80’s tv. It’s part screwball comedy, a little bit of horror, and a little bit of romance all thrown together. It almost plays like a lighter version of a Tales from the Crypt episode.

Even so, it does follow some of the standard tropes in regards to quirky situations, whereas one person experiences the strange things happening, only for other persons to show up after things have died down, and find nothing wrong.

Jon McAdam’s character of Phil isn’t given much of a backstory, but then again, we only have 20+ minutes to tell a story. Though in his own wanton desire for conquests, Jon soon becomes his own worst enemy, notably when he botches the creation of girl #3, not realizing that he needs a full-body image. In some ways, the character of Phil reminded me of another ‘Phil’: Philip J Fry from Futurama, another young man who often doesn’t think through some of his own ideas.

JoAnn Willette as Angela I rather enjoyed regarding her gradual transformation over the course of the show. Naturally, for much of the show, she’s the girl that doesn’t have anything go right for her. The show writer uses humor to enhance her own predicament regarding love, with the couple making out on the couch next to her in the main foyer’s couch. One thing that the show creators did that was rather strange, was a major jump regarding Angela’s appearance and wardrobe near the end. If you look at the screenshots of Angela sitting next to Bert in the foyer, and then entering Phil’s room afterwards, she somehow styled her hair and lost the sleeves on her dress in a matter of minutes.

I almost had to wonder about some of the darker tones of the episode, until I realized who the writer and director were for Miscalculation.

The screenplay was written by Michael McDowell, who according to his filmography on IMDB, seems to have a thing for the dark, as well as the romantic. This is the guy responsible for the story/screenplay for Beetlejuice, and given the state of several of the girls Phil created, I was reminded a little of the waiting room occupants in the after-life scenes in Beetlejuice. Of course, McDowell also did a couple love-based segments for Tales from the Crypt, and Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie.

But who is directing this episode, you ask? Why, it’s Tom Holland. Horror and Thrills are part of Tom’s bag of tricks, as his filmography includes the original Fright Night, and Child’s Play.

Actually, Miscalculation would be one of several productions that both McDowell and Holland would team up on. Others include a segment of Tales from the Crypt, and an adaptation of Stephen King’s story, Thinner. Sadly, Thinner would be their last collaboration, as McDowell passed away in 1999.

Musically, I enjoyed composer Jack Marshall’s work on Miscalculationi as well. Throughout the episode, he brings in the rock guitars, and some string instrumentals, that I consider to be ‘Phil’s looking for love’ theme. It almost sounds like a combination of Huey Lewis’ Do You Believe in Love, and Hall & Oates’ Kiss on my List.

After the episode ends, a little humor was also added in the credits of the episode, regarding the names of each of the 4 girls: Ms Laura, Ms Awesome, Ms Eyeful, and Ms Crowningshield.

In the end, I find Miscalculation to be like some films or shows I’ve seen that defy a specific ‘branding.’ It seems stuck in the space between a black comedy (like Death Becomes Her), and a teen sex-romp (like Zapped or Spring Break). It’s cute and short, yet I do find it entertaining.

This was the second episode of Amazing Stories‘ 2nd Season on television. Sadly, you won’t find Season 2 of Amazing Stories on DVD in the States, but you can either import it on Region 2 DVD from overseas, or find episodes floating around online. In upcoming Retro Recaps, we will also look at some other episodes of Amazing Stories.