Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 4 – The (late) Spring of Indiana Jones, and dreams of what might have been
*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 1 – The Summer of Indiana Jones
*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 2 – The Fall of Indiana Jones
*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 3 – The Winter of Indiana Jones
By the start of 2009, there was little hope left for the merchandising realms of Indiana Jones.
The majority of product for the acclaimed character and his friends, had hit its peak that previous summer, and as it stood, other lines were starting to wind down, from cold-cast statues, to the LEGO toys and games. Pretty soon, Indy-mania would be as fondly remembered as the excitement of a fourth Indy film.
For those who who were collecting Hasbro’s action figures based on the characters, the beginning of 2009 was a period where hope rose and fell.
At Comic-Con in 2008, Hasbro had included a slide that outlined the future of the Indiana Jones line beyond 2008. Their information had shown early prototypes and painted figures, for a second wave of toys. These would be additional figures based off of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But, the expected release date of January 2009 came and went, and it seemed that those figures would end up being one of many Lucasfilm-related products that would never come to pass.
And then, came the announcement in the Spring of 2011. As Hasbro began to reveal their offerings for that year’s Comic-Con exclusives, they surprised many action figure fans, when they claimed that those lost figure moldings would definitely see the light of day!
Given that 2011 was the 30th Anniversary of Raiders, Hasbro decided to tie the exclusive release to this film’s major milestone. They then packaged 6 figures in the box design as seen on the left, and gave some lucky people the chance to get the last dregs of this promising, yet DOA toyline.
Almost all of the figures are new, with the exception of Indy in his jacket and fedora. This is a repaint/remold of the Raiders Indy that came out in the Summer of 2008. The figure does come with a few extra accessories, including the bag of sand he uses in the film.
Unlike the relic boxes that the figures from 2008 came with, these sport special stands with the Indiana Jones logo on them. This almost makes one wish there could have been a way to get additional ones, for the other Indy figures in our collections.
The set also has Indy in the German disguise he wore in his attempts to destroy the Ark before it could be opened. One can’t help but feel this release could have very well become the pegwarmer of the series. Even so, it does have a nice little bit with the red mark on Indy’s forehead: a souvenir of his attempts at getting the Ark back in previous scenes.
The set also gives us that rarity of figures from the series: another woman! Though in this case, the return of Marion Ravenwood, in the white dress given to her by Rene Belloq. Of course, this is after she is unceremoniously dumped into the Well of Souls, and loses a shoe. The sculptors and Hasbro have done a remarkable job in giving us a one-shoed Marion. She also comes with a small group of snakes, with a hooded cobra front and center.
The figure also improves over the previous Marion figure, in that her face looks a little more like Karen Allen, and has the additions of ankle and knee joints to move about.
The best thing this set did give us, was some include variety when it came to the amount of bad guys that Indy could go up against.
Satipo (played by Alfred Molina in the film) was one of the first casual baddies Indy encounters, when the timid assistant turns on Indy, attempting to make off with one of his treasures…before his own hubris gets the better of him. Satipo doesn’t really come with a weapon, but an assemblage of plastic spiders, meant to mimic the ones that clustered on his shirt after he and Indy went into the temple.
The German Mechanic that Indy goes up against, is also a nice touch. He not only comes with his cap, but also a gun and a wrench, and his muscles that soon ended up giving Indy quite a run for his money. And just like in the film, he towers over Indy, making him a formidable foe.
Though for many of us, the highlight of the set is Toht, the somewhat unhinged German with a Peter Lorre-feel to his interrogation methods. Of all the figures, Toht gets the lion’s share of removable accessories! He comes with a hot poker, the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra, and two interchangeable right hands (one normal, the other with part of the headpiece burned into it!) Along with a removable hat, he also comes with one of the coolest and disgusting additions: a melting head (the stuff that gave many of us nightmares as a kid)!
Thanks to a good friend of mine, I was able to get one of the sets from HasbroToyShop.com after Comic-Con 2011 for the $60 price tag (which breaks down to around $10 per figure!). The aftermarket value on the set has not let up after almost 3 years. You won’t find a full set running for less than $200 on eBay, and loose or single figures taken from the set will not be cheap either. The lowest I saw any one figure go for, was Indy in his German disguise, for around $40 loose. Even though I love the figures included in this set, I have not been able to bring myself to let them out of their packaging.
It is rather sad that on the secondary market, most of the fandom for Indiana Jones has been able to clean up pretty well. As it stands for those of us wanting to watch our wallets, it hasn’t been the best of times.
My Top 10 figures that Hasbro missed out on
With the release of the Comic-Con boxset, the final nail in the coffin container was sealed, and Hasbro pretty much ended any future hopes we’d be seeing other figures from the Lucasfilm productions.
Over the years, I have often lamented a number of characters that could have been perfect to have figures made of them, and so, I decided to include them in the list below:
10. Harold Oxley – This archaeologist and friend of Indy (played by John Hurt) would have been a decent inclusion to the adventures for the Crystal Skull. Oxley would most likely come with his poncho, the wind stick he had, and the crystal skull he carried around for much of the film.
9. Mac – Probably of all the people he’s worked with, there’s noone Indy has ever wanted to support and strangle more than George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone). A man who couldn’t seem to decide who he was working for, Mac’s figure would have been ripe for action figure roleplaying of some kid having Indy punching him in the face over and over again.
8. The Maharaja of Pankot Palace – Even though he had a rather small role to play in Temple of Doom the young Maharaja would have been a nice addition, with an Indy voodoo doll to carry around.
7. Marion Ravenwood (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) – While many blasted the 4th film for its Inter-dimensional beings and Shia Le Beouf, there was the quickly-forgotten return of many people’s favorite Indy girl: Marion Ravenwood (played again by Karen Allen). It would have been nice to have seen a figure of Marion in her more proper suit she wears for the remainder of their journey (right), let alone give Indy his love-interest for the film.
6. Colonel Dietrich (Raiders of the Lost Ark) – While there were many German officers seen in Raiders, the man who seemed to be heads above the rest was Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler). The man who seemed moreso about making sure efficiency and the task at hand was all for the glory of Germany, one could definitely wish there to have been a figure for him to finish the triumvirate of evil that was himself, Rene Belloq, and Toht. It would be cool if he came with a interchangeable head where it shriveled up with the opening of the Ark.
5. Sallah (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) – Even though we already had a figure of Sallah, it was not in his more recognizable get-up in a white suit and red fez (and they say Fez’s are coming back in style these days!). The outfit would definitely have allowed Indy’s friend to get around better on crazier adventures than just digging in the dirt.
4. Marcus Brody (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) – Who could forget one of Indy’s first academic partners we see? Usually situated on the sidelines, Brody became part of the action in Last Crusade when he became integral to the overall storyline. In this case, he’d most likely be clad in his grey suit.
3. Lao Che (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) – The bad guy from the tail end of another Indiana Jones adventure that segued into Temple, this two-timing gangster from Shanghai would come with the poison antidote vial (see right), as well as the urn holding the remains of Manchu dynasty Emperor, Nurhaci.
2. Walter Donovan (Raiders of the Lost Ark) – Surprisingly enough, Donovan was the main villain of Last Crusade, but did not get any figures made. Then again, like most of the bad guys, he was a well-dressed man in a suit. Even so, it might have been nice to see him with interchangeable head/hands from when the false grail robbed him of life.
1. Rene Belloq – Indy’s first major villain, and one that I felt was sadly sidelined with his final ceremonial robe from the end of Raiders. Belloq was often a man of suits, notably his white one. This was the outfit he often wore, which made him pop out amidst the drab uniforms of the Germans, let alone act as a inverted color to the black-suited Toht.
And with that coda, this round of my column, Raiders of the Lost Toyline, comes to an end regarding the Indiana Jones action figure toylines. In the future, I’m hoping to talk about a few other toylines that reared their heads and then crashed on delivery, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (yep, you heard right!).
Most of us who grew up in the late 1980’s, know of Ernest P Worrell in some form or another.
Originally conceived of as as commercial pitchman, the character was embodied by actor Jim Varney, into a well-meaning, if often accident-prone Southerner, often addressing the camera as if it was his good friend, Vern…whether Vern liked it or not.
In 1987, Ernest made his leap from television to the big-screen, with Ernest Goes To Camp, making him one of several commercial spokespersons to make the leap to film personality. Though receiving a drubbing from a number of critics, the positive reception to the film by the public, quickly pushed the character onward into more adventures.
Ernest would ride out the height of his popularity over the next 5 years, with several films, and even the television series, Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! But unknown to some, Ernest also acted as a guinea pig/test pilot, for a brand-new Disneyland attraction, in the Summer of 1989.
Almost a decade after Disneyland opened its third mountainous attraction (aka Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, in 1979), a new mountain would rise up in the western section of the park near The Haunted Mansion. Billed as the world’s tallest flume-drop ride (at the time), Splash Mountain took the story of Brer Rabbit from Song of the South (before the world tried to forget the film was made), and interspersed it in an attraction that brought some relief from the southern California sun.
The cul-de-sac behind The Haunted Mansion was soon given the name of Critter Country, and was billed for awhile as a separate land of its own…albeit one that only had one attraction (for over 2 decades, anyways).
To tie in to the opening of the new attraction, The Disney Channel aired a network-only special, in which Ernest P Worrell would become America’s first “Splashtronaut,” and try out the ride. Just how Ernest got chosen? Well, those facts are lost to the annals of history.
The show starts with real-life news anchor Ralph Story in Splash Mountain News Central, our main eyes and ears on the mountain as Ernest prepares.
While the news team readies for Ernest’s arrival, the man himself is undergoing testing at his friend Vern’s Daredevil Training Camp (Vern is a man of all trades, isn’t he?). Needless to say, these sequences just last as small vignettes as Ernest seems to get into all sorts of trouble.
Interspersed within these little bits with Ernest, are news reports given by several different correspondents that Story talks to. Some of them act as little more than travelogue material to tell people what they’ll see if they go to Disneyland, but some do offer some behind-the-scenes material and facts about the attraction. In one scene, we see the water filtration area where the ride’s water is constantly pumped out and back into the attraction’s waterways. In another, a reporter (played by Sheryl Bernstein), interviews Walt Disney Imagineer Chris Gordon.
Unknown to many, Gordon was part of the next generation of Imagineers at the company, helping to orchestrate a number of new attractions and refurbishments, with Splash Mountain being one of his biggest projects. It is nice to see Gordon (who passed away in 2007) given some screen-time, even if the humor of the moment is that the reporter doesn’t let him get a word in edge-wise.
Eventually, Ernest makes his way to Disneyland, where he’s carried down Main Street USA, and into the ride. After some rather eye-rolling humor (“Someone call me a log!” “You’re a log!”), Ernest gets into one of the ride’s log-shaped vehicles, and starts on his way.
We’re treated to several interior shots of the the ride as Ernest eventually makes his way up the steep incline leading to the top of the ride’s flume drop. Of course, in typical Ernest-fashion, the plunge down the flume into the briar page lasts 3 times longer than normal, as Ernest freaks out in his typical over-exaggerated style.
Ernest soon returns to the station, seemingly in a state of shock, and at first, having a hard time getting any words out. It’s only when the reporter asks if he’d recommend Splash Mountain to the other park guests, does Ernest finally find his voice:
“I’d recommend Splash Mountain to anyone. Things like Splash Mountain keep you young…that and, blood transfusions, organ transplants, cosmetic surgery…I feel great.”
And with Ernest’s seal of approval, the ride officially opens.
Back in Splash Mountain News Central, Ralph Story concludes his news report, claiming that “Ernest P Worrell will certainly be written into the history of Disneyland, because he’s one for the books.”
The credits then roll, but not before we get a small bit with Ernest telling Vern how he is throwing a party after his victory over Splash Mountain. He also makes mention that he invited the guys from Walt Disney Imagineering over to his place, but they claimed they were busy.
Originally airing on The Disney Channel on July 7, 1989, Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain was almost like a members-only early look into up-and-coming attractions, for those lucky enough to have this new cable channel. The ride’s official opening would be on July 17, 1989, also the 34th Anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.
I will admit this special helped raise awareness for the new attraction, and several of my family and I went on it that very summer. I still recall the 2-hour wait time to get on the ride, and by the time we got on, the heat from the afternoon sun made us eager to ride. The ride definitely threw down the gauntlet to other theme parks, as almost 8 years later, Universal Studios Hollywood would try to outdo Splash Mountain with their bigger and more expensive, Jurassic Park The Ride.
One of my favorite moments in the special is when Ernest is on his way to the top of the flume drop. He’s leaning back calmly going, ‘Wish I’d brought a book.’ I always wanted to do that if I had a log to myself, but when that moment came in the Summer of 2010, the log seating had been re-designed, and one could not recline like Ernest had once did.
There are also some humorous little easter eggs. In one scene as Ernest is saying his lines, one can see Brer Rabbit in the background, almost miming along to the words. I don’t know if this was the result of the character-actor just getting tired of standing around or what, but it is one of the few funny moments. As well, one gets to see the often-never-seen costumes for Brer Fox and Brer Bear.
In my younger days, Ernest was pretty funny, but when one gets a little older, some of Varney’s humor at times get a little too cornball.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time Ernest would make a trip to Disneyland. The following year, he returned for a television special celebrating the park’s 35th Anniversary. Over the next decade, Varney would soon find himself ingrained further into the legacy of The Walt Disney Company.
In 1995, he was part of the world’s first computer-generated feature film, Toy Story, playing the role of the loyal Slinky Dog (a role he’d also reprise in 1999 for the sequel). And, in 2001, he voiced Cookie in the animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Though throughout the 1990’s, Varney’s role as Ernest became less mainstream, and soon, further “Ernest Goes To” adventures became relegated to the growing direct-to-video marketplace.
His role as Cookie in Atlantis would be one of his last roles, as Varney passed away from lung cancer, a year before the films release. A dedication was added to the end of Atlantis for him as well.
In the last few years, it was mentioned that Ernest could possibly make a return, albeit in the form of another person donning the persona and clothing. Of course to many of us, the only Ernest that matters or makes a difference, will always be Jim Varney: the man who saved Christmas, conquered Splash Mountain, and defeated a band of evil trolls. Not many people could put those claims on their tombstones.
For many years, we have been thoroughly fascinated and horrified at the thought of the human race ending in some massive cataclysm. The lingering threat of nuclear annihilation led James Cameron to make this shadow of death act as a backdrop to his Terminator films. George Miller saw chaos in a barren wasteland with Mad Max, as the last dregs of humanity battled over dwindling fuel supplies. And in Waterworld, global warming sent the last of humanity adrift on rising tides, as many searched for the promise of dry land.
Though leave it to South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, to find a way to twist a future story around a premise noone has ever considered: a train. This brings us to his 2013 release Snowpiercer, based on the graphic novel by Jacque Lob, and Jean-Marc Rochette.
In July of 2014, a chemical dubbed CW7, was distributed into the upper atmosphere, as a way to reverse the greenhouse effect on our planet. The agent meant to lower the world’s temperatures in a manageable increment, instead plunged the planet into a new ice age.
Of those known to survive, were those that made their way onto a special train: a massive, multi-car construction created by a rich train enthusiast known only as Mr Wilford.
Passage on this train worked like any passage: 1st class, economy, and so on and so forth. In the tail end of the train, live the dregs of this society: those who barely made it on before the cold completely engulfed the world. As they did not pay for passage, they are at the lowest rung of this society.
For over 17 years, the self-sustaining train has continuously followed the same path, crossing through 5 continents. To those in the tail, the denial of certain amenities or even respect at times, has worn down on many. Key among them is Curtis (Chris Evans), a man who wants to make his way to the front of the train, hoping to improve the lives of those in the tail. Helping him in his plans are his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), and an old man named Gilliam (John Hurt). Gilliam acts as a sage of sorts regarding the train, and it is Curtis’ hope that he will become the new leader of the Snowpiercer.
Their plan involves freeing a man named Minsoo Namgoong (Song Kang-Ho), who was said to have designed the wiring system that activates the train car doors. As well, an unknown figure keeps sneaking Curtis and his cohorts small messages, that helps drive them to spring their plan into effect, as well as avoid several close calls.
A mystery also unfolds, when some unknown persons from the front of the train come to take two children from the tail, leaving their parents to plead with Curtis to get them back.
Originally released in 2013, Snowpiecer is just now getting a release in the states through The Weinstein Company. What may seem hard for some people to believe, is that for a film by a South Korean director like Bong, it boasts a list of names that almost anyone over here would recognize: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and many more.
Evans plays Curtis as a little less determined, and more beaten down by the 17 years he’s been confined to the tail of this train. With his bearded looks, there are times that Evans almost resembles Christian Bale, but his actions definitely show him to be more brutal than we’ve probably even seen him as Captain America.
One of the most intriguing castings for those who know Bong’s work, is the return of actors Song Kang-Ho, and Ko Ah-sung. Both played a father and daughter in Bong’s 2006 release, The Host. Here, their roles are almost counter to that film, in that Song’s father figure is a bit more knowledgeable, whereas Ko plays his daughter as somewhat naive, and almost childlike at times. Unlike some of the survivors, she has only known the world inside of the train.
This isn’t the only thing Bong seems to reference from The Host, as in that film, the cause of a creature’s mutation was by dumping harmful chemicals into a nearby river, much like the chemicals dispersed into the atmosphere in Snowpiecer, which unleashed the new ice age.
Each new car that is entered into, becomes almost like a new ecosphere for the tail people to enter into. Some are horrifying, while others are hard to believe exist. Some even feel like decadent conceptual leftovers from the Panem Capitol in The Hunger Games.
In fact, don’t be surprised if you do feel a slight Hunger Games vibe at times. One such reminder is Tilda Swinton in the role of Mason, an ambassador for Wilford, that at times seems as empty-headed and uninformed as Effie Trinket. Though in truth, Swinton’s character is one of the most memorable of the supporting characters. With her pronounced upper teeth and large-rimmed glasses, you just want to laugh at her and punch her at the same time.
Alison Pill is also a strange ‘ray of sunshine’ in the film, having a brief role that has to be seen to be believed.
One of the things Bong has been known for in films like The Host, is leaving certain key elements unanswered, and it seems he may do that a few too many times to allow smooth passage for the film.
Some friends I was with were perplexed when in one room, the group finds themselves facing off against a couple dozen men in black masks, with a car that has chains hanging from the ceiling. The train car they are in doesn’t really seem to give a purpose for their dress. My one assumption was the group had found their way into a butcher’s car, but there was little to back up my thinking.
As well, 3/4 of the way through, the film begins to focus on a henchman that almost becomes Terminator-like in his pursuit of Curtis after awhile, though a reason is never really given as to the motivation.
Word was that the film was held up from release over here, because Harvey Weinstein wanted to edit the feature (it clocks in at 2 hours and 6 minutes). Bong was said to be in on the cut, but it feels that while it is passable, some further edits could have been made to tighten it up at times. However, one can at least be glad that he doesn’t overdue a lot of the visual effects work.
While visual effects are utilized for some nice invisible effects work, they are largely utilized for some sequences seen outside of the train. Luckily, Bong handles the exterior views in a minimalist way, keeping an almost claustrophobic feel similar to Paul Greengrass’ film, United 93.
With its bloody violence in some areas, Snowpiercer has relegated itself to that strange world these days, known as the limited release. While it has had a larger theatrical release in South Korea and overseas, it has seen a limited theatrical release in the last few weeks within the US, and is said to be coming to Video On Demand sometime this week.
The final product adds a new look into apocalyptic features, but the film can become jumbled up at times. Given its juxtaposition of some scenes that may clash at times, one can’t help but be put in mind of the works of filmmaker Terry Gilliam. However, Snowpiercer has some deeper action going for it than even Gilliam could muster. As well, don’t be surprised if you pick up a small Wizard of Oz vibe through the piece. This extends to Mr Wilford, who is often talked of, and symbolized by a circular symbol with a “W” on it.
In the end, Snowpiercer wants to be a lot of things: a political drama, an action feature, and even a story about the human condition. However, it just can’t seem to properly balance all of these things, causing the audience to pitch up and down at times, but not enough to properly leave on a satisfying conclusion. The film ends up feeling like it had good intentions, but it just couldn’t fire on all cylinders to properly pull this train into the station, in my opinion.
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
Throughout the years, there have been many variations of the famous Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Hansel & Gretel. By now, almost all of us know the tale: A wicked mother does not like the young charges in her care, and has them sent off into the woods to die. However, the two children come across a candy house, but are soon imprisoned by a witch who lives there, with plans to devour the two.
I’ve seen numerous adaptations over the years, but one that had not surfaced until recently, was a variation made by Tim Burton.
Produced on a budget of $116,000, and sporting an All-Asian cast, Burton’s live-action effort was made between his stop-motion short Vincent, and his live-action short, Frankenweenie, in 1984. It only premiered once, way back on Halloween 1983, on the newly-formed Disney Channel…and then was never heard from again…until recently.
The short starts by showing us numerous toys and playthings, each one with large round eyes, and intriguing features. We soon see these are the playthings made by Hansel and Gretel’s father. The two children eagerly watch the toys, when their stepmother angrily scolds them for lazing about, and their father for doing nothing productive except making toys.
As night falls, the mother serves everyone a goop-like substance, berating the father for not making enough money, and the kids for being lazy. While she spoons out a small amount of goop for each of the three, she fills her bowl to the brim, and noisily devours the meal.
The kids quietly make fun of her eating habits, causing her to strike them, before their father intervenes. Angered that he has taken “their side,” she sends the kids to their room in the attic.
After some time, their father climbs the ladder, and performs a little puppet show for them, and gives them cookies. Gretel says how she does not like their stepmother, but the little puppet promises that she will soon be gone.
The next day, the stepmother encourages the kids to go on a walk with her. A little unsure, Hansel takes some small stones, and creates a small trail behind them as they venture into the nearby woods. The stepmother then distracts the kids with a sparkling toy, and disappears from sight.
Later that evening, the father wonders where the children are, but the stepmother offers little help. It is soon after that a knock is heard on the door, and the children appear, and are embraced by their father (as the stepmother feigns joy that they have returned).
The next day, the stepmother gives Hansel a pull-toy shaped like a duck, that she claims was from their father. The kids are led back out on another journey, with Hansel dropping the stones, and pulling the duck behind him. Unseen by Hansel, the duck eats up each pebble he drops.
This time when the Stepmother abandons the kids, the two realize they have no way to get home, and fall asleep in the forest. Overnight, the duck toy turns into a spindly-robot. Upon awakening, the children follow it, and it leads them to a large candy house!
The children begin to eat at the front of the house, with Hansel surprised that the walls contain candy-coated filling. As they continue to eat, the door opens, and out steps a pale old woman with dark glasses, and a candy cane nose. She eagerly invites them in, and allows them to eat some candy chairs and a table.
After they have finished eating, the witch takes them to a room with marshmallow beds…but it doesn’t take long before suddenly, striped hands emerge from the beds, and grab the children, holding them down!
The hands then push Hansel down a chute into the basement. He is soon joined by a talking cookie, called Dandan the Gingerbread Man. Dandan then taunts Hansel to eat him, as well as makes all sorts of bad puns (including a take on Rod Stewart’s If You Think I’m Sexy).
Upstairs, the witch has put Gretel to work making sure the oven is warm enough. Finally, the witch can’t wait any longer, and has Hansel brought up for cooking. However, Gretel whacks the witch with a poker, and the witch begins to fight back with her striped cane. Eventually, Hansel gets free, but not before the witch half-blindedly begins poking her cane all over the house, cause the walls to spew all sorts of candy filling.
Things get dicey when in a fit of craziness, the witch’s cane turns into a pair of nunchuks, before she blindly begins throwing candy objects from her dress, that turn out to be candy-filling bombs (that explode in a spatter of color!).
Quickly, Hansel and Gretel position themselves in front of the oven, and when the witch makes a flying kick at them (yes, you read that right), she flies into the inferno.
The kids quick rush out of the house, and watch it melt into a puddle of candied goo. Once the house has completely melted, a swan-shaped boat rises from the remains. The kids board it, and the candy goo turns into a river, carrying them home.
Their father eagerly greets them, and happily tells that their stepmother is gone. He then proposes that they roast marshmallows and make a spaghetti dinner, only for Hansel to exclaim that they still don’t have any money.
As the family’s eyes turn to the swan head on the boat, its beak opens up, and gold coins pour out, causing the reunited family to cheer for joy at their good fortune.
As one can read from that synopsis above, this is definitely a different take on the Hansel and Gretel story. It’s never really been explained just why the short was then stashed away deep in the Disney Vaults. In the book Burton on Burton, Tim mentioned the following regarding its premier:
“I think it showed one night, Halloween, at 10:30 pm, which for The Disney Channel is like the 4:30 am slot. So, that one didn’t go over too big. But there are little moments in it that I like. It was like one of those scary children’s shows I grew up with.”
In truth, the show comes across almost like a bigger-budgeted, small-town stage production. All the sets are as simple as can be, though the real creative production design is saved for the witch’s house. Instead of the standard gingerbread house, Burton’s use of a cake-like house oozing with filling inside its walls and furniture, is a concept I have never seen attempted before. One can easily imagine the multiple takes needed for these scenes, but it’s a sight that is almost a ‘horror’ sign, in the way the filling seems to almost “bleed” from the soft walls.
What was most interesting to me, was seeing so many staples of future Burton production design in almost every single scene! As well, the short may be one of the brightest Burton productions there is, with Hansel and Gretel dressed in blue and pink shades. This coloration makes them stand out in the normal world, but when they get to the witch’s house, they seem to blend right in…while the witch’s dark black robes pop out at you, almost as a sign that something is amiss.
The witch’s pointy-hatted attire, and pasty face, immediately put me in mind of the Mayor in Nightmare Before Christmas, and Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Even the rather cloying mannerisms of the witch seemed a little familiar, almost like how Burton and Depp worked to make their Wonka like an off-kilter kids-show host.
Burton’s stylings also seem to work well when things go from charming, to creepy. I’m sure some kids were terrified when those candy-striped hands popped out of the marshmallow beds, and enfolded the two screaming children…not to mention how their bed frames look like teeth with big eyes on the edges.
This short shows one of the first times Burton directed live-action, and one can see that the staging is not particularly strong at times. Then again, that could be where the charm of this bizarre short comes from, in that it feels like something you would have seen on Saturday mornings long ago.
Even the music has an air of simpler times, sounding more like a music box, putting me in mind of the melancholy and calming sounds heard from Mr Roger’s Neighborhood.
Acting-wise, Michael Yama seems to have the more fun role, playing the dual parts of the Stepmother, and the Witch. Most of Burton’s work usually has a character that seems larger-than-life (like Beetlejuice, or the Joker), to play off the more ordinary persons, in this case Hansel, Gretel, and their father. These three are the more soft-spoken, and seem moreso to be there to show that the innocent and simple-minded will triumph over the wicked and mean-spirited.
Of interest is that it’s never said exactly what becomes of the Stepmother. One could assume that maybe she was the Witch, but like a number of plotpoints in the short, it’s never resolved. The story seems to exist in its own realm, wherein while certain things seem modern, others seem old-fashioned (almost like the way Edward Scissorhands, is a film that seems entrenched in old monster movies, 1950’s suburbia, and the modern day).
There are some fun little wordplays that spell caution if you listen, notably when in one scene, the witch mentions how ‘everything’ in her house is edible, along with calling the children “cutlets.”
For this short, writing chores were given to Julie Hickson, who was said to be Tim Burton’s girlfriend at the time. She also served as the writer on his short Frankenweenie, and had a small hand in the treatment for Burton’s first Batman film.
Looking online, there are a few areas that have been fascinated by this lost Burton short. One of the most intriguing things was this post at a blog titled Unpopped , that has pictures from a Japanese Tim Burton Tumbler fansite, that has several black-and-white, behind the scenes pictures of the production. One that shows detail lost due to the video tape copies, is the detail in the floor you can see on the right. Those whorl patterns in the forest floor set are all but lost when one views the video of these scenes.
It should be noted that the posted short online is incomplete. Before it started, Vincent Price appeared in a pre-show, to introduce the story. The only thing I could find in regards to this appearance, was the following picture, with the puppet Hansel and Gretel’s father made, perched over his shoulder:
Prior to the posting of this special on Youtube, the only place one could have seen it, was as part of the Tim Burton exhibition put on at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The exhibit also appeared in Los Angeles in 2013, but as of now, there’s been no word if it’s still out there, touring in the US or other parts of the world. If you do happen across the exhibit, the short can been seen in its entirety, along with the Vincent Price opening. And if anyone knows if the exhibit is coming to the American Midwest anytime soon, please let me know.
During his early days working as a Disney animator, Burton often said that much of what he did creatively seemed odd to the management staff. Some said his less-traditional character stylings on The Black Cauldron would have been amazing to see, and some of his first preliminary work on The Nightmare Before Christmas dates back to that time. Eventually, Burton struck out into the world of live-action filmmaking, and the quiet animator with the quirky drawings has become a name almost everyone knows now. And with this short posted to Youtube, it serves as another little insight into his early creative roots.
“I’ve never been able to predict or think what an audience would like to see. I’ve always felt: how can anybody else want to see it if I don’t want to? And if I want to see it, and nobody else wants to, then at least I get to see it. So, there’s one person who’ll enjoy it” – Tim Burton, from Burton on Burton