1992 could be considered a big year for Batman.
While the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns was a hit in theaters that summer (despite it’s somewhat ‘darker’ tone), a new incarnation of the Dark Knight,would find it’s way to the Fox Kids block of weekday afternoon shows that fall.
With it’s retro-stylings and entertaining writing, the show quickly became one that I and many kids watched after school (if any cartoon block could give The Disney Afternoon a run for it’s money, Fox Kids could!).
While there would be plenty of colorful members of Batman’s rogues gallery that came to light, the show would also give time over to the mobsters within Gotham City, as well as members of it’s police force (two areas that the movie series at the time, failed to properly focus on).
It also gave us some interesting one-shots, dealing with the average people that lived within the city, and how Batman and his adversaries interacted with them.
The first ‘average Joe’ we encountered, was Charles Michael Collins, in the 7th episode of the first season, titled Joker’s Favor.
On the freeway heading home from work, Charlie Collins is taking stock of his bad day: his boss turned down his request for a raise, his son needs braces, and his wife is making meat loaf for dinner.
Charlie feels the world is further treating him like a punching bag, when several police cars and the Batmobile flash their lights, making him move to another lane. Right after this, a station wagon cuts him off, and Charlie decides he’s had enough! Catching up to the wagon, he begins to rant at it’s driver.
“Hey, you,” he yells. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Why for two cents, I’d-”
Charlie quickly shuts up, when the street lights reveal just who cut him off: The Joker!
Fearing for his life, Charlie pulls off onto some side roads. Eventually his car gives out, and he is soon confronted by the Joker. The Clown is about to teach his rude friend some manners, when Charlie pleads that he’ll do anything if the Joker will spare him.
This request intrigues the Joker, and he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Taking his driver’s license, the Joker claims he’ll let Charlie go, if he’ll do him a favor.
“Okay,” agrees Charlie. “What?”
“I DON’T KNOW!! I haven’t thought of it yet!” Yells the Joker, before his voice softens. “You just toddle on back to your mundane, meaningless little life, and when I need you, I’ll call.”
The Joker then walks away laughing, as Charlie is left behind, shaking from the encounter.
Two years later, we cut to the Gotham Police Department. A testimonial dinner is being planned for Commissioner Gordon at the Gotham Peregrinators Club, but deep down, he finds the whole thing a waste of time and money.
As he sulks in his office, the Batman shows up.
Gordon claims that the Batman should be honored instead of him, but the Dark Knight puts things in perspective, claiming he just works “the night shift,” while Gordon has to deal with things on a daily basis.
The Commissioner accepts the Batman’s ‘endorsement,’ but as he asks if his friend knows where to rent a tux, he finds the room empty.
“I hate it when he does that,” mutters Gordon.
Meanwhile, the Joker has gotten out ‘on early parole,’ and feels he should be able to honor Gordon at the event as well. As he looks through his little black book, his assistant Harley Quinn, asks if he’s looking for ‘a specialist.’
“No no,” says the Joker, pulling out Charlie’s license. “Just an old friend…who’s dying to do me a favor!”
Some time afterward, the phone rings at the residence of Don Wallace, in Springdale, Ohio. When the caller asks for Charlie Collins, Don claims the caller has the wrong number. However, the Joker is on the phone, and he knows he’s talking to Charlie! He even rattles off Charlie’s new address, and claims he’s made knowing about Charlie and his family, his ‘hobby.’
The Joker tells Charlie that there’s a ticket on the next plane to Gotham for him, and that he should tell his family he’s visiting ‘a sick friend.’
Once Charlie is face-to-face with him again, the Joker is all-smiles, as if he’s seeing an old friend. Charlie pleads that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the Joker simply tells him that once the favor is repaid, he can go home.
Soon, the Joker outlines Charlie’s part of his plan. Harley is to deliver a huge cake to Gordon’s party at The Peregrinators Club. Charlie will stand by the main doors to the party room, and once Harley knocks three times, he opens the door…and that’s all he has to do!
When Charlie enters the club’s room prior to the start of the party, he sees two of the Joker’s henchmen standing nearby, keeping an eye on things. With the two men in the room, he realizes there’s no way he can alert any of the cops about what is going to happen, and wishes he could somehow contact the Batman.
Walking into the nearby Hall of Inventions, he sees a glider in the shape of a bat, hanging from a crane. Willing to try anything, he maneuvers the glider to a nearby window.
It just so happens that Bruce Wayne had been at the party a few minutes prior, congratulating Gordon. As he and his butler Alfred drive away, Alfred points out the bat-symbol in the window behind them, wavering back-and-forth.
As Gordon gives a few words inside, three knocks are heard at the door. Charlie opens it, and Harley enters with the cake. Charlie then attempts to leave, but finds an adhesive keeping his hand stuck to the door handle!
Harley gives a little ode to the Commissioner, when suddenly, nerve gas erupts from some nearby candles. Harley gives Charlie a gas mask, and the two watch as everyone in the room freezes in place!
The Joker then emerges from the cake, and has Harley place a small bomb on Gordon’s jacket.
“Wear it in good health,” he chuckles, “all remaining 59 seconds of it. Toodles!”
“Wait! You promised to send me home,” pleads Charlie, still stuck to the handle.
“I never said, ‘alive,'” laughs the Joker, as he and Harley leave the room.
A few moments after they leave, Batman appears through the skylight in the room. Charlie points out the bomb, and Batman quickly sends it hurtling outside of the building (where it conveniently blows up the Joker’s van).
Back in the main room, everyone has started to regain movement, and Batman loosens the adhesive on Charlie’s hand. He tells Batman about the Joker using him as part of the assassination plot, before Batman rushes into the club to find the Joker.
He quickly subdues the Joker’s goons and Harley, but ends up chasing his adversary into a recreated ancient temple (“Right down to the poison-tipped darts!” laughs the Joker at one point).
The Joker attempts to blow up Batman, but mainly succeeds in the bomb destroying the temple, as both of them run for their lives.
Escaping into an adjoining alleyway, the Joker is confronted by Charlie. At first, he laughs off seeing the little man again, but Charlie then punches him, knocking him to the ground!
“You miserable little nobody!” he spits out. “If I get caught, your wife and son are history!”
Charlie then claims that he’s got some insurance…and reveals one of the Joker’s bombs, which is ticking!
“This is how it ends, Joker.,” he says. “No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow, all the papers will say, is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley, alongside a ‘miserable little nobody!’ Kinda funny, ironic really. See, I can destroy a man’s dreams too…and that’s really the only dream you’ve got, isn’t it?”
“Stop! You’re crazy!” pleads the Joker, struggling to get away.
“I had a good teacher,” smiles Charlie.
The Joker desperately calls for Batman to help him, and his adversary emerges from the shadows. Batman tells Charlie to stop what he’s doing, but the angry little man is determined to finish off the Joker, claiming it’s the only way to keep his family safe.
It is then the Joker empties out his pockets, claiming all the information about Charlie’s family is there.
Charlie then freaks out the white-faced clown, and chucks the bomb at him! Joker ducks behind Batman, and the detonator goes off…just causing a puff of confetti, and a paper reading ‘boom” to pop out.
“Gotcha!” smiles Charlie devilishly, as Batman laughs at his little ‘joke.’
“Oh, very funny,” smirks the Joker, like a bad sport. “A million laughs.”
As Batman leads the Joker away, Charlie heads off, eager to get home to his family.
After all these years, Joker’s Favor is still one of my Top 5 favorite episodes for this series, and in the release schedule for the show, it was our first story to feature this incarnation of the Joker.
It was nice to see that the showrunners didn’t just decide to make an animated Jack Nicholson, and gave this Joker his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. It also was one of the first times I think many of us realized actor Mark Hamill’s talent for voices. He manages to provide a voice that becomes impossible to separate from the mad man we see on-screen.
This Joker is also a bit theatrical, but does have certain vestiges of pride.
Notable is when he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Charlie thinks the Joker wants whatever cash he has, and the clown is somewhat disgusted at what Charlie is thinking.
“Oh please, don’t insult me,” he snaps.
Of course, the character also revels in the power he has over this little man. The Joker even gives Charlie all sorts of nicknames, from ‘Chuckers’ to ‘Charlie Brown.’
To many a Batfan, what is most notable about the episode after all these years, is that it marked the first appearance of one of the modern era’s most famous Batman characters: Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin).
In the beginning, she seemed little more than a cute hench-girl for the Joker, but as time went on, a backstory was developed for her, and she began to appear in more material related to Batman. In this episode, she is the main ‘cheerleader’ around the Joker’s plans, and has some memorable lines.
When she tries to sweet-talk Batman as a distraction, he quickly subdues her, and leaves her handcuffed for the Police to arrest.
“Beauty school’s looking pretty good about now,” she mutters.
And then, there’s Charlie Collins.
Of all the ‘average Joe’s’ the show has had, Charlie is the one who definitely stands out. He’s just an regular guy, who ended up thrust into circumstances beyond his control.
My favorite moment for the character, comes at the end when Charlie freaks out the Joker. It’s the equivalent of seeing a person whose been bullied, getting ‘the last laugh’ on their tormentor. Actor Ed Begley Jr, provides Charlie’s voice, and it’s fun to hear him go from timid, to almost crazed as he makes the Joker squirm.
Plus, it is funny that Charlie manages to do what the Joker couldn’t: make the Batman laugh!
We also get some fun little character moments, with members of Gotham’s police force. At the time, we were just beginning to meet other members of the force, such as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Renee Montoya.
At the Peregrinator’s Club, we see Montoya acting much more ‘refined’ than Bullock, who seems to be there just for the free food. There also comes a moment where he tries to sweet-talk Harley, and gets the business end of a baton to his knees.
While one of my favorites, the episode isn’t perfect.
What is notable is that when Charlie throws the bomb at the Joker, Batman has a split-second look of panic, yet doesn’t run! With a (supposed) live-bomb inches away from him, it is surprising that he wouldn’t try to kick it or toss it away (even with seconds to spare!), given how we saw him handle the last few explosives the Joker was using. Of course, it is funny to see both Batman and the Joker, in this split-second shot of utter panic.
There also is a thought, that maybe the episode could have been better utilized later on in the first season of the show. I mean, we’re seven episodes in, and we have a guy threatening to blow up the Joker!? If Charlie had gone through with it, I think Hamill’s Joker would have had slightly more screentime than Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad!
Even the music for the episode, has it’s own special ‘flavor.’ The late Shirley Walker often never gets enough recognition for the themes and musical pieces she did for the series. While there is a tinge of Danny Elfman in some areas, she brings a regality to Batman’s theme, and a playful-yet-ominous tone to the Joker’s theme.
Joker’s Favor has a theme that feels like a distant cousin to the Joker’s Theme. It has a happy-go-lucky feel with a chorus whistling a tune, but becomes somewhat humorous with an added synthesizer piece put in, that sounds like someone is squeezing a whoopee-cushion. It’s never stated outright, but I sometimes refer to the piece as Charlie’s theme song: it seems the kind of song for a ‘lovable loser,’ who just wants something to go right in his life.
Overall, I feel Joker’s Favor should be ‘required viewing’ for anyone who is introducing someone to Batman: The Animated Series. As we celebrate the show having been around for over 25 years, stay tuned, as we recap several more episodes in the coming months.
One of writer Rod Serling’s most famous contributions to popular culture, may have been his television anthology series, The Twilight Zone.
For 5 seasons, Serling’s show would often take unsuspecting people into ‘another dimension,’ where all manner of strange and unusual things could happen. These tales would go on to inspire a number of people, including Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King.
Along with it’s tales of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, many of the show’s episodes often reflected on ‘the human condition,’ providing cautionary tales, in the same way as fairy tales.
One of the traits that can be both a blessing and a curse to humanity, has been ‘control.’ For centuries, we’ve seen human beings do horrible things, often at the behest of their own petty whims. Once in power, some are thinking of only a select few, and ignoring the needs of the many, that surround them.
That seemed to be what Serling was looking to convey, in his Season 3 episode, The Little People.
In a rocky canyon on an alien world, a rocket has touched down. Standing outside of it are two men: William Fletcher, and Peter Craig. Both are at odds with each other, over what has brought them to this place.
While Craig chastises his commander for landing them in a canyon, Fletcher counters that Peter got them into this mess, by navigating them into a meteor storm, causing them to seek a place to land for repairs.
Craig continues to complain (even about the food rations), leading to Fletcher demanding that he stop with the attitude. While Craig sees negatives, Fletcher is the optimist: they’ve walked away from their ship in one piece, and are on a planet that is able to sustain them while they make necessary repairs to their craft.
While Craig gives an affirmative to being told to ‘knock it off,’ Fletcher notes that taking orders seems to not be one of his co-pilot’s strong suits. When Craig mentions how he’d like to make ‘a few changes,’ the commander plays a game with him.
“What do you hunger for most, Craig?” he asks, introspectively.
“Try this one, Fletch,” says Craig. “I’d like a whole lot of people at my elbow. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. And I’d like Yankee Stadium right alongside…but I’d like them on ‘my terms.'”
“That’s what I’m getting at,” replies Fletcher, looking into Craig’s face. “What are ‘your terms?'”
“I’d like to be the number one ‘straw boss,” he answers. “I’d like to give the orders.”
“I’ll bet you would,” replies the commander.
As the conversation trails off, Craig begins to look around, claiming he hears a strange sound, that sounds like…people.
The camera then whip-pans over to Serling, as he delivers his opening monologue:
“The time is the space age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth. The cast of characters, you’ve met them: William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig. The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out. Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that gray, shaded area in space and time…that’s known as the Twilight Zone.”
When we return to Fletcher and Craig, we find a few days have passed. Fletcher is still making repairs, while Craig seems to have given in to shirking his duties, and has returned from another trip away from their landing site.
As he looks up at the twin suns beating down on them, Fletcher realizes that for how hot it is, he hasn’t seen Craig dip into their rations, and finds his canteen is still full!
Fletcher suspects that Craig is holding out on him, and has found a source of water. Craig soon gives in, claiming he was simply testing it to make sure it was drinkable, but Fletcher isn’t so easily convinced. He also finds some small plants that his co-pilot has collected.
While Craig claims they’re “just lichen,” Fletcher examines them under a magnifier, and finds something startling: they’re clumps of miniature trees!
Realizing that his secret’s out, Craig pulls something out of his jacket, and shows it to the commander. Though it is the size of an ant, looking through the magnifier, Fletcher finds the tiny object to be a truck!
Craig seems to be enjoying the look of awe in his commander’s face, and soon leads Fletcher to another part of the canyon. Spread out on the ground, is what appears to be a small civilization, complete with miniature houses, and even a marina (observed by Fletcher through his magnifier).
Craig tells how he’s still deciphering their language, but they do understand mathematics. He goes on to tell how cooperative the little people are, and in looking for edible plants, they directed him to the trees that Fletcher was looking at.
As Craig continues to talk about the people they are observing, his voice quivers with excitement.
“They’re scared, Fletch,” he says. “Petrified. And so they do as they’re told! Because this giant, is like some avenging angel to them. I’ve graduated, Fletcher, from a slob with a slide rule to…to…to a god!”
“Craig, they’re people,” replies Fletcher, trying talk sense to his co-pilot. “They’re flesh and blood. In that respect, they’re no different than us.”
“Sure they are,” says Craig, his eyes growing wider. “Because they’ve been created, ‘in my image!””
Mad with power, Craig begins stomping down on the miniature world. Trees and houses collapse beneath his feet, as a chittering cry rises up from the unseen masses below! Fletcher is forced to knock out his partner to stop his ‘reign of terror,’ and the co-pilot collapses to the ground nearby.
“You’re no god, Craig,” he says. “That’s not what you are at all! The only trouble is, that by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the devil.”
Fletcher addresses the little people, telling them that he’s sorry, hoping they can forgive them for what has happened.
Some time afterwards, We see Fletcher making final repairs to the ship. Calling out to Craig, he receives no answer. Returning to the spot where the little people are, he comes across a life-size statue of Craig, towering over the miniature landscape!
As he looks over the statue, Craig smugly tells how the little people, constructed it overnight.
It’s too bad they don’t know who they’re breaking their backs for,” says Fletcher.
“Meaning what?” asks Craig, the smile disappearing from his face.
“Meaning they’re worshiping a heartless slob whose insides are made out of the same stuff as that statue,” replies Fletcher. “Yeah, it’s a good likeness, Craig…and an hour from now they can sell it for junk!”
Fletcher then tells Craig that with the ship fixed, conditions are right for them to blast off soon. However, Craig pulls his laser-pistol on his partner, claiming he isn’t going back.
Fletcher tries to reason with his co-pilot, claiming that left alone, he’ll end up losing his mind, but his pleas are met with a laser-blast from Craig’s gun, that knocks the head off the statue.
“This is a monotheistic society here,” claims Craig. “Just room for one god.”
Soon afterward, Fletcher takes off, and Craig glowers over his miniature ’empire,’ a look of ‘mad power’ spreading across his face.
Declaring that ‘The Age of Peter Craig’ is upon them, he proclaims that there will be a lot of projects for his little minions to begin work on.
Craig gleefully stamps down on parts of the miniature world again, claiming that he will continue to give these ‘little reminders’ periodically, to remind them to be subservient to his whims.
Suddenly, the sound of a ship can be heard overhead. Craig claims it’ll quickly go away, but he soon plugs his ears, as the sound of the craft reaches a fever pitch! Finally, the sound dies away, but is replaced by an earth-shaking, rumbling sound. As Craig looks around for what is causing the sound, he is shocked!
Above him, stand two men, towering giants to his eyes, dwarfing the canyon walls!
“Go away!” demands Craig, trying to keep some semblance of control. “Don’t you understand?! I’m the god! I’m the god, don’t you understand?! I’m the god!!”
Craig screams in terror as one of the giants notices him, and reaches down to pick him up. However, in the process, the enormous man accidentally crushes him to death. As the giant looks down at the now-silent Craig, his partner tells him that they have repairs to make. And like a dead fly, the giant tosses Craig’s lifeless body to the ground, where he lands in a crumpled heap, not far from the little people’s world.
Some time afterward, we see a number of small ropes attached to Craig’s statue, and small, triumphant cries go up, as it comes crashing down, breaking across the body of the dead ‘tyrant.’
Rod Serling’s voice then returns to us, closing out the segment:
“The case of navigator Peter Craig: a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size, in the Twilight Zone.”
Size and scale have often factored into a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, though of course, the logic of what is shown here may be a bit ‘pedestrian.’
Though we are dealing with a miniature civilization on another world, it is strange that they would have such Earthly creations as trucks and boats. However, given that we don’t actually spend time among the little people, this may have been a simplified way to make us feel sympathy and association, for the unseen masses that Craig mistreats.
The effects work in the episode may seem primitive by our standards (Fletcher’s staring at the sun is simply a static image of two ‘lights’), but it is in how both of the actors sell the piece that makes it work.
The episode is one of many, written by Serling himself. Much of the story is contained in several little ‘moments,’ as we cut to scenes that actually matter to the story. It’s possible the episode could have been stretched out in the longer, Season 4 format, but for fitting into the 25-minute frame work of the 3rd season, It gets the job done.
Both Claude Akins and Joe Maross are veterans of The Twilight Zone series, with each of them having starred in a Season 1 episode (The Little People would be their final appearances in the show).
In this episode, the voice of reason, falls on Claude Akins as Commander William Fletcher. Akins had already appeared in another cautionary episode of The Twilight Zone, with the first season’s The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In both cases, he tried to serve as the calming voice, though in this story, he manages to escape with his sanity and reasoning intact. Akins’ voice had that deep, commanding tone I heard in a number of things from the 50’s, and it works well when he tries to talk sense into his delusional co-pilot.
Maross’ first role in the series, was in the first season’s Third from the Sun episode. There, he played a more calm role, while here, he gets to act quite unhinged. There are times in his performance, where one wonders what the space agency was thinking, pairing him up with someone like Fletcher. Given how Craig doesn’t like to take orders, it seems odd that he’d be cleared to co-pilot the ship….but then again, maybe in this world, there are less restrictions on who gets to go into space.
Maybe it’s the pacing of the episode, but Craig’s delusional rantings of becoming a god, feel like they come on a bit too quickly. At times, he chews the scenery, much like some over-the-top Stephen King villains do…though one has to wonder if maybe Mr Craig, may have inspired some of the crazies in King’s novels.
Like most Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of The Little People found it’s way into popular culture.
On the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson would sometimes use Peter Craig’s cries of “I’m the god,” when he’d riff on some film characters in the cheesy movies they’d watch.
Even TV show creator Matt Groening’s series The Simpsons and Futurama, borrowed from the episode.
The Simpsons had a Treehouse of Horrors segment titled The Genesis Tub, which saw Lisa Simpson create a miniature society, and her brother Bart quickly caused mayhem within it.
In an episode of the Futurama series titled Godfellas, the robot Bender ends up floating through space, where a stray asteroid crashes into him, upon which are a number of tiny creatures. They think him to be a god, and Bender revels in having a number of tiny underlings that will do whatever he commands…however, he soon finds out there are consequences to his actions.
Though a simple episode, The Little People still serves as a good cautionary tale, about size and power, and like many of Serling’s works, it’s a story that can still be used to teach morals and lessons today.
In this day and age, we have access to a number of films. Some are great, others good…and a lot of them that are just plain bad!
Over the years, small ‘cults’ of fandom have grown around such titles as Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, and The Room. They’re poorly-made films, with horrendous acting and absurd stories, and yet many cannot turn away from the pull of their abysmal production values.
In recent years, there’s been a few animated films that have gained prominence due to their ‘bad-ness’ as well. These range from films like the $60 million animated production Foodfight, to the Rob Schneider-voiced Norm of the North. However, I submit for your consideration, an animated film that premiered 25 years ago, in the United Kingdom: Freddie as F.R.O.7.
Freddie started out his life as the young Prince, of an unnamed Kingdom in France. Unlike an ordinary family, his was imbued with magical powers. However, Freddie’s Father ended up being killed by his shape-shifting Aunt, Messina. Once she had taken over the kingdom, she then turned him into a frog, and attempted to kill him!
However, Freddie escaped, with some help from Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After fleeing the kingdom, Freddie ended up hiding out with a group of frogs, far away from his home. He soon grew to human-size, and went off into the world, eventually becoming a secret-agent for the French government.
After an indeterminate number of years working for them as a spy (though how/why they decided to hire a man-sized frog, we’ll never know!), he is called to England. At the request of a man known as Brigadier G, Freddie is tasked with finding out what is causing a number of the country’s famous monuments, to disappear. For the mission, Freddie is teamed up with a martial arts expert named Daffers, and a Scottish weapons-expert, named Scotty.
It soon turns out the monuments are being stolen by a bombastic figure named El Supremo, and, he’s in cahoots with Messina as well (who largely stays in her snake form during their time together).
-What kind of story is this!?-
Ok, that was a pretty ‘basic’ summary of this film..and reading over what I just typed, even I have to wonder just how this film got made!
It would be enough if maybe this had been a new take on The Frog Prince (like what Disney did in 2009), but this story decides to create a veritable train-wreck of ideas, as if it was an Italian rip-off film, or a Golan-Globus production.
Over the years, many of us have seen stories that can take a bunch of strange items, and actually make you accept them. Both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series are prime examples of this done right. They ground you with enough information in their worlds, to feel acclimated to them.
With FRO7, the storytelling bounces around so much, that you’d swear you’ve gotten whiplash!
The fault for this may actually lie, with writer/producer/director, Jon Acevski. Word was Acevski’s son had a toy frog as a child, and Jon would avail him with numerous tales about it.
Once you think about that, the plot for FRO7 seems as obvious as a through-line bedtime story. Freddie’s tale dips and dodges around, like an adult trying to keep their child entertained. Stuff just feels like it was added in, as if to enthrall a young kid to keep interest in a tale, that should have ended several bedtimes ago.
Even the reasoning behind El Supremo stealing the monuments is rather ‘boring.’ Basically, he has a machine that can shrink them down, and using a special crystal, plans to drain the essence of the country’s history from them, putting it’s people to sleep, allowing for him to invade the country (once again, I am not making that up).
Thinking about all of these strange twists and turns, reminded me of The Nostalgia Critic’s words about another train-wreck of a film, 1988’s Felix the Cat: The Movie. The Critic claimed that Felix felt like a film that had “way-too-much story,” and that’s what it feels like we have here with FRO7.
In looking up more information on Acevski for this blog post, I found relatively nothing (even his IMDB bio only lists credits for FRO7). Word was this had been a dream-project that he’d wanted to have made since the 70’s, though the story as to just how he got production capital and created a studio to make the film, seems to have been lost to time.
-Explain, Movie! Explain!!-
Going over the film’s story several times, I can only assume that FRO7 was either put together by a committee who had no idea how to tell a good story, or they were simply given Jon Acevski’s rough outline, and told to just work straight off of it!
So much of the film feels like a patchwork quilt of ideas/scenarios/etc, that makes very little sense if you start questioning it’s logic.
Here are “a few” logic gaps that I’ve catalogued while watching the film:
- Freddie grows into a human-sized frog, yet seems to have totally thrown away the thought of taking care of his evil Aunt, or maybe helping out the Kingdom that he is entitled to inherit the throne to! He also makes no allusions to ever having been human, to any of his cohorts.
- When a number of large monuments are stolen from Britain, NOONE sees where these things go…and there are even people standing in front of them, AND snapping pictures! Also, once it is found out that this is not an isolated incident of just one monument being stolen, it is never considered to send troops/planes/tanks/etc to guard the other remaining monuments after the first few go missing!? Plus, even though the buildings are taken from high-traffic areas, noone notices them being taken (not even with the giant shadow looming in the pic above, when the Tower of London is taken!!).
- Freddie lies to Daffers and Scotty at one point, and pretty much gets them all captured by El Supremo, during a stake-out (he also takes the batteries out of their walkie-talkies so they can’t contact the Brigadier!). At first they are angry with him, but a few scenes later, they’re casually talking to Freddie, as if they’ve forgotten what he just did!
- Why is almost anything with two X chromosomes attracted to Freddie!? (seriously, aside from Messina, it seems every female character/creature makes ‘goo-goo eyes’ at him!).
- Freddie drives around in an anthropomorphic green car (see right), that has a face, makes croaking sounds, and spouts little hearts from it’s exhaust pipe. We never know just where Freddie got it from, or how it came to life (and it also seems to have a crush on him too!). Maybe she’s the girl-frog he was impressing in an earlier scene, and he just magically turned her into a car?
- Freddie claims he uses his ‘mind powers’ to combat evil, but we only ever see him use these for a few seconds near the end, while the other times, he engages in hand-to-hand combat.
- In one scene, our ‘heroes’ are face-to-face with some enemy soldiers with guns. The soldiers fire off the guns from a distance, but when our ‘heroes’ are right in their face, they forget how to use them!
- Though the Brigadier is surprised to find Freddie is actually a frog, noone else freaks out upon encountering a 6-foot-tall, walking-and-talking frog!
- In the modern-day(?), Messina has teamed up with El Supremo, but we’re never told exactly when they formed their alliance, or even if Supremo knows that his partner-in-crime/possible-love-interest(?!?), is even human (note: she sings in English around him, but the rest of the time, just makes hissing/squeaking sounds).
- Though we see Freddie can talk to other humans (I assume this is because he was originally human), we are never made to be aware if a number of non-magical creatures we see (such as these punk-crows(?!?) on the right), are even able to be understood (even though we can hear them babbling in English).
I had to stop myself there, lest I just rattle off an Everything that’s Wrong with FRO7 list that could stretch on further (maybe one of these days, I’ll make a video of it!).
-A Glimmer of Hope, that quickly dies out-
Sometimes, I curse my ability to find little pockets of ‘good’ in things (one reason why I can never fully hate the Star Wars prequels). Going over the story, it feels like there could have been a decent story buried in this train-wreck of a film.
The opening scenes where Freddie is turned into a frog and Messina attempts to kill him, are pretty intense. The music and visuals are rather dark, and the wailing chorus we hear, makes it seem as if we’re watching something out of a Don Bluth film. However, that scene is about the most intense thing the filmmakers could put together, when it came to this film.
It feels like they also could have just had Freddie escape into the nearby countryside after the encounter, and team up with other witches and wizards to take back his kingdom. He could also encounter some other animal friends along the way, but I’m thinking in a far simpler way than the writer/producer/director could have envisioned.
-Flimsier than Cardboard Characterization-
One would assume that there might be some decent characters to like here, but overall, they all feel like stock characters, put on an assembly line, and spat out onto celluloid.
Having been a young Prince traumatized by his evil Aunt, one would assume maybe Freddie would have an interesting character arc. Instead, he seems to have been hit with the amnesia ray, let alone the ‘blase bazooka.’ He never makes mention to his cohorts about his royal heritage, let alone mention that he is related to Messina, when they are face-to-face with her the first time (and when he calls her his ‘dear Aunt’ later on, neither of his cohorts question how a snake could be related to a frog!).
Freddie approaches almost every situation with a smug smile on his froggy face, as if he knows he’s bulletproof in surviving his own story. For being one of France’s top agents (and why would they publicize that, by the way!?), Freddie seems pretty incompetent. My guess is that he simply got all his more competent partners killed in the field, and smilingly took the credit for their exploits, elevating him to a position of prominence, simply by being the ‘last frog standing.’ It’s possible they may have also been trying to make him a bit like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series (given how he seems to solve or get out of most situations by sheer dumb luck!).
Ben Kingsley voices the adult Freddie, who spends most of his time sounding like he’s trying to do his best impression of Mel Blanc’s Pepe le Pew. This is definitely not one of Kingsley’s better voice roles, with some areas sounding like he’s rambling, just to put words in pre-animated scenes (btw, if you want to hear him at his best, check out his role as Archibald Snatcher in the Laika production, The Boxtrolls!).
Daffers as the ‘female spy/love interest,’ is just as bland. She’s basically there just to take one look at Freddie, and fall in love…as well as provide one of the most shocking ‘non-kid’ joke-shots in the film (“Well, I don’t have any concealed weapons,” she tells Freddie, leading to this scene on the right…and yes, that is in the actual UK release!)
The third member of their group, Scotty, is pretty much the third-wheel ‘gadget-master’ of the group, and that’s about all I have to say about him.
The modern-day villain of the piece is El Supremo, voiced by Brian Blessed. His character just hisses, bellows, and yells throughout his entire role, supposedly making the kids in the audience know that he wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD (or Britain, at least)!! There are even some points where Supremo could very well kill Freddie, but he instead just stands around, monologuing and laughing in front of Freddie, to the point where I was yelling, “he’s right in front of you, just kill him already!!”
And then there’s Messina, Freddie’s evil Aunt. While she does get the story going, she serves little purpose going forward, but to be threatening only a few times, and the rest of the time, just be as incompetent as Supremo.
However, as much as she claims she needs to get rid of Freddie to be all-powerful, it seems she has enough powers to actually get the job done (plus, it doesn’t seem like he’s devoted any of his time to trying to track her down or stop her up to this point!). The filmmakers show that she has a poisonous bite, can strangle others, hypnotize them, change people into things, let alone conjure up gale-force winds that can destroy a wooden ship!…and yet she’s as competent as Skynet in a non-James-Cameron directed Terminator film.
There are so many scenes, just like the ones with Supremo, where she could easily take out Freddie, and yet shows total incompetency to do so. While she can turn herself into other dangerous creatures, it seems the only one that does her any good (if ever), is her ‘default’ snake form.
Freddie even lets her get away in the end, and when the Brigadier in the film sees the Aunt, flying away as a strange bird, Freddie claims it was “noone of importance.”
…really, Freddie? You have an evil, shape-changing, poison-fanged, hypnotizing, world-domination-planning Aunt you just let get away…AND THAT WAS ‘NOONE OF IMPORTANCE!!?’
(btw, Daffers and Scotty just laugh at this, so if people did end up getting killed by Messina, I hold those two just as responsible for not telling anyone, as Freddie!!)
The film’s Brigadier who hires Freddie and is in charge of keeping Britain safe, is portrayed as worried-yet-bumbling old man. The filmmaker even try to make him our ‘comic relief,’ by making him so befuddled about the loss of Britain’s landmarks, that he ends up being constantly tangled in phone cords. However, the timing just never works to make us laugh at his predicaments.
In truth, the Brigadier actually gets in probably the only funny line in the entire film.
It comes when he makes mention that a number of his best agents have been lost in the field, leaving him noone to call upon from Britain, to investigate the disappearing monuments.
“003 in China,” he moans, looking at a globe. “005 in Russia, 007 in Hollywood.”
There’s even a very small subplot about a spy for El Supremo, within the Brigadier’s group of assistants, but the film doesn’t give us enough evidence to really even suspect him (well, there’s one split-second shot, but, it makes little sense when you see it). Sure, they give the spy shifty eyes, a placid face and a snide voice, but he looks just as strange as the other men assisting the Brigadier.
They even try to throw the spy (voiced by Jonathan Pryce) into some scenes just chuckling and smiling to himself, but I felt his actions, were just him laughing at how much of a wreck the Brigadier was, or maybe this man in question, was hoping the Queen of England would eventually replace the Brigadier with him instead.
-A Soundtrack of Silliness-
I don’t know what it is, but it seems that when it comes to animated films, studios like to entice singers or musicians, to showcase their talents in a ‘kids film.’ I’ve seen that with films in the past, suck as Rock and Rule, Jetsons the Movie, and a number of others. My guess is before every studio decided to spend that money on hiring big-name actors to voice everything, they just felt that movie soundtracks were how they’d keep the extra royalty money rolling in.
Of course, the musical choices for much of this film, make one wonder what they were thinking.
The opening song (sounding like a leftover tune from the 80′), is called Keep Your Dreams Alive. Sung by George Benton and Patti Austin, this almost sounds like it would be the love ballad to play over the end credits, but maybe the filmmakers felt that it would somehow make the audience believe that Freddie was a competent hero…though the song plays over a rather strange opening scene.
Some may be wondering why a human-sized frog is driving around Paris in an anthropomorphic car, but there also is the strangeness, that he’s doing so, in a deserted major city (most likely, there wasn’t enough time or money to animate crowds for these scenes?).
Over the years, I think some would agree that the most memorable song, is the one sung by Messina (with singer Grace Jones providing these vocals). She gets a villain’s song titled Evilmania, though strangely enough, even though we’ve seen her take human form, she performs the entire song in her snake-form…and for much of this piece, she’s slinking around, swaying her ‘snake-hips'(!!?) to the piece.
Messina sings about all the ways she can control or kill a person, yet one has to wonder if it’s all just for show. What she does to several people during this song, could have come in handy at the end of the film, when she dawdles and is just plain incompetent in taking down her nephew and his friends.
The song is also memorable for a number of ‘evil figures’ that are bopping along to the song…including a few that would be considered ‘questionable’ in this day and age!
Sometimes, the worst thing a film can do, is just stop, and have a song moment for no real reason.
That happens when Freddie encounters Nessie again after all these years(!?!), and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance…she takes him underwater to meet her family, and sing a song ‘in his honor’!!? And what does Freddie do? Remind Nessie that the fate of Britain and his comrades are at stake? Nope, he just goes along with it (and changes outfits at least 2 times during the song!!).
Nessie gets a song to sing called Shy Girl, with vocals by Barbara Dickson. When watching the scene, it feels like the film’s blatant attempts to rip off Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, THAT song actually had a purpose to it’s story.
There are even songs contributed by Boy George, and Asia, though they’re little more than clips used in the film.
There’s even a dance-mix style end-track about Freddie, sung by Holly Johnson (aka the lead singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The song reminds me of some hero songs, that make the lead character sound even cooler than he actually is. I will admit, it is strange that after all these years, this song hasn’t found it’s way into any club remixes.
Though the film is rather obscure, I am surprised that even Lucasfilm never came down on the production. Why? Well in a few scenes, the film actually uses John Williams’ music from Star Wars: Episode IV!! I kid you not, as soon as I heard that music I had heard probably a thousand times before, I could not believe George Lucas had not sued the production company!
-Big Plans Die Hard-
Believe it or not, the studio making Freddie, actually thought they had a viable franchise on their hands!
At the end of the film, it’s hinted at that the Americans need Freddie’s help with something, and the Brigadier seems eager to send him across the pond (however, if that heart-shaped closing image is any indication, Freddie and Daffers are gonna partake in a little…what do you call it…beastiality?).
My guess is there’d be plenty of expendable FBI agents for Freddie to use as cannon-fodder, but the already-titled Freddie Goes to Washington never got off the lily pad, as FRO7 floundered at the box-office in Britain, and fared even worse when released in the US, 2 weeks later (courtesy of Miramax Pictures).
With the death of the sequel, so too went Hollywood Road Film Productions Studios (dang that’s a mouthful!) as well as any word on just what the sequel would have been about. However, given that Freddie nonchalantly let his power-hungry Aunt get away(!!!), it is most likely she would be behind the troubles across the pond.
A few years after it’s dismal theatrical release, FRO7 was released on video in the US (see cover on the left), this time as just Freddie the Frog. Unlike it’s theatrical release, this one would be a little different. James Earl Jones was now voicing several narrative bits, and the film had been edited down in some places (such as the Evilmania song routine, that was now nowhere to be found!).
Since then, there hasn’t been an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray for Freddie (in regards to it’s original release), and most viewers have had to make due with versions floating around in cyberspace, or on Youtube. However, if you are feeling curious, seek out the original British release, but be warned…I recommended it to a friend, and this film ‘broke him!’ And no, I am not making that up.
Overall, FRO7 is a mess of an animated film. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and I can’t help but wonder how it got all the way through it’s production, with noone actually questioning how all-over-the-place the plot is. Then again, maybe the studio producing it, felt that the kids would just be so enthralled, and drag their parents back to it multiple times (like with those Minions movies).
Personally, I’d love to see the film skewered by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. With the show having come back on Netflix, they’ve shown in their most recent season, that there’s still plenty of bad movies out there to roast, and this would make a fine introduction to the world of animated features, if they so wished!
However, for now, Freddie will just exist out here in cyberspace, where adults will think of it fondly, and others of us, will just shake our fist at the smug frog, mocking us as we strive to make sense out of the illogical mess that is his ‘perfect little world.’
Oh, one more thing. Ever wonder why Freddie is called F.R.O.7.? Well, apparently the letter ‘G,’ is also, the 7th letter in the alphabet, so…it kinda makes sense?…
And here we are: the fourth episode, the final part to Season 3’s Battle for Mewni storyline.
Given the title and imagery you’ve seen so far, it’s a good bet that a certain lizard-creature, is going to come into play in this story. So, let’s get on with it!
On her own, Star manages to infiltrate her family’s castle, but reveals to Ludo what he doesn’t know…that Toffee, whom he thought was long-gone, is inside his ‘wand-hand,’ and is controlling him!
Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Ludo, and he wants this problem taken care of. Star believes she may have a solution…but it soon leads to revelations and much more, than she and her friends could possibly have conceived of!
Watching the whole Battle for Mewni storyline, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like, if these four episodes had finished off Season 2 (instead of the cliffhanger we received). With this episode, it truly feels like a rollercoaster ride of a 22-minute story…and this is just the fourth episode of the new season!
Going over this story, I couldn’t help but feel that while it had some little ‘filler’ bits here and there, it’s one of the few stories that seems to quickly put aside nonsense, and throws us into the fray. This is one of those episodes where a number of revelations are revealed to us…and it feels like a lot of things that we have been wondering about for awhile, have finally been given some attention!
Since he disappeared at the end of the first season, many of us in the Star fandom have had numerous theories regarding Toffee and his ‘end-game.’ We’ve seen he can be an enigmatic puppet master, but it feels that with this episode, he has (so far) cemented himself as one of the series’ top baddies (sorry, Ludo).
Michael C Hall returns with his calm, enigmatic voice, that just gives Toffee that air of menace that makes him so scarily enjoyable to watch! Most notable is one scene, where he gives the equivalent of ‘three mic drops,’ in under 2 minutes!
Though Toffee figures into the story, it’s main character is Star, as she braves a number of dangers, and gets in over-her-head, in ways that I’m sure had many fans gasping at the events that unfolded before us!
Star last mentioned that she is not one to come up with plans, and we somewhat see that work both for, and against her in this story. She makes choices one would almost consider foolish, AND does things that show maturity, showing how far we’ve come from that first image, of a girl who conjured up a flaming rainbow in the first episode.
Aside from Toffee and Star, the rest of the cast are there largely as supporting players.
Ludo has a smaller role in this piece, but will probably get one of the episode’s most memorable moments.
Marco Diaz, Queen Moon, and Buff Frog show up for this episode as well, but seem to largely be here for ‘moral support.’ Even so, they play their parts well, with Moon getting probably one of the more emotional moments of the episode.
It was nice to also see how the previous episode Puddle Defender, brought Moon and Buff Frog together as allies, and makes me hope we’ll get more of this going forward.
This was the first episode I can recall, that while there are mysteries still unfolding, it felt complete (and emotional) enough, to jump to the top of the list of my favorite 22-minute episodes for the series (so far). I remember watching Gravity Falls, and being surprised that Disney was allowing some shocking-yet-amazing storytelling and graphics. It appears that taking of chances, has also been allowed with this series as well.
While there are some moments that seem to slow down for a comedic joke or three, there is more drama and emotion that overrides them, to deliver one of the best episodes the series has to offer!
Final Grade: A
Toffee proves to still contain secrets and questions within the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil, but it brings forth enough drama, emotion, and revelations, that it ends up becoming one of the best episodes the series has produced!
Even with some minor comedy moments that seem like ‘speed bumps’ in the overall story, there’s plenty of great stuff going on, to make one forget most of it’s underwhelming moments.
And with that, The Battle for Mewni is now over…but what other adventures await Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and their family and friends in the next episodes of this season? Questions still abound related to some items in the series. Plus…(former) Queen Eclipsa, is still alive!
Sadly, we’ll have to wait until November to find out! Yep, another hiatus, and then we’ll see what happens next. My guess is, given the new opening and closing segments that show more dimensions, let alone Star being back in the Kingdom of Mewni, this season may take place over Star and Marco’s “summer vacation” time.
“Star, it’s called summer,” Marco told Star in the Season 2 episode, Starcrushed. “And it’s gonna be great.”
It may sound great, but we’ll have to wait a few more months to see just what the rest of this season has to offer.
Until then, expect a few little Animated Dissection posts regarding the series (and the possibility that I may be reviewing the new Ducktales series!).
Halfway through Star vs the Forces of Evil’s Battle for Mewni storyline, things are looking rather bleak for the Mewmans in their dimension. Not only is the magic power that Star Butterfly and her Mother use failing them, but Ludo has taken control of the Kingdom of Mewni!
The third episode of Season 3, shifts us into more adventures for our main characters, revolving around unlikely alliances, both for Mewmans, and Monsters.
After circumstances force them out of their hiding place, Star takes her Mom to Buff Frog’s place. However, while Star seems to be right at home with the monster, Queen Moon seems a bit uncomfortable with their surroundings.
One of the more intriguing character developments to come out of Season 2, was regarding the monster Yvgeny Bulgolyubov, aka Buff Frog. Upon being given some tadpoles by Ludo, Buff Frog gave up (most of) his evil ways, and strove to become a caring and devoted father to his children.
Getting to see Star and Buff catching up like old friends was a treat, and the way the writers threw Queen Moon into the mix, proved to be quite entertaining. It’s also notable in showing how Star differs in thinking from her Mother. Whereas Moon is more confident with a plan in place, Star is more willing to improvise on the fly.
Much like the segment Mewnipendence Day did for Star’s character, it feels like this story works as a ‘growing’ experience for Moon. Some stories like to throw a character out of familiar surroundings to see how they’ll act, which is often a great way to learn more about who they are.
We’ve seen Moon interact with ‘monster royalty’ (such as with Ludo’s parents), but it seems a given that she’s avoided the more ‘common monsters,’ scattered throughout the kingdom. Of course, as we saw in Moon the Undaunted, she may have decided to avoid most monsters altogether, given how they affected her life.
A notable part of the story, is Moon trying to play a boardgame with Buff Frog. The scene is a highlight for me, given it ends up being humorous, but also gets rather serious when we learn a bit more about Mewman/Monster relationships, and each culture’s perceptions of the other on Mewni.
This was an overall entertaining story, and getting to see Star, Moon, Buff Frog and his children interacting together, proved to be a highlight! There was a decent balance of comedy and storytelling, that has made this one of my favorite segments so far this season!
Final Grade: A-
– King Ludo –
Now that he has taken over the Kingdom of Mewni, Ludo attempts to get it’s inhabitants to like him, but finds resistance from everyone. Meanwhile, Marco and King River are locked in the dungeon, with Marco attempting to get them out, and restore River to the throne.
Most of the entertainment value of the story, stems from Marco meeting up with three members of the royal court: the songstrel Ruberiot (whom we know from last season), court jester Foolduke, and a Mime.
I didn’t expect to find myself entertained by them, but their banter and Marco trying to wrangle them together, proved to be very memorable (notably the rather quiet visual reactions of the Mime!).
Even Ludo manages to have some funny moments. His personality can waver between funny and annoying, and here, many of the beats for his childish thoughts on being the Kingdom’s ruler, proved to keep me smiling throughout. I did have to wonder how many of his lines, were improvised by his voice-actor, Alan Tudyk.
Compared to the last Ludo-based segment we saw (episode 2’s Book Be Gone), this one feels a bit more entertaining when it comes to the comedy regarding Ludo. While there was a bit more ‘rinse-and-repeat’ regarding him being abused by the book in the last story, this one lets us see just how unfit he is to rule.
Of all the main characters, it is King River who is mostly sidelined in this story. He has a few more serious moments here than in the Marco and the King storyline, though I felt they could have pulled back on some of his incompetency, in the face of what is going on.
Even with my minor gripes, this story proved to be a surprise, and I’ve found myself watching it a number of times since it came out!
Final Grade: B
So far this season, this episode has offered a very entertaining 1-2 punch of stories, making it a pretty enjoyable viewing experience.
Puddle Defender helped shed a little more light on Mewni’s ‘monster relations,’ showing how Star Butterfly and her Mother interact with Buff Frog and his children. Almost like a nice breath of comedic air to calm us down, it also proves well-written and insightful, in giving some character development to Moon, and challenging her perceptions of monsters.
King Ludo feels a little like Puddle Defender in it’s storytelling, but doesn’t delve into the dramatics regarding character development. This story is largely Marco’s, as we see him interacting with a few members of Mewni’s royal court, attempting to save King River. The inane bantering of Ruberiot and Foolduke may wear thin on some, but there is a method to the madness (and some fun, silent comedy moments with the Mime in their group). King River gets a small chance to shine, but it feels like once again, he serves as little more than comic relief.
Next episode, the Battle for Mewni comes to an end, with the eerily named, Toffee. Star has headed off to her Kingdom to confront Ludo and Toffee, and circumstances are pushing Marco to step up his game. How did I feel about where this epic 4-parter went? Come back soon to find out!
With the first episode of Season 3 introducing us to a dangerous (and uncertain) new Mewni, along with Queen Moon’s past, I was eager to know what stories lay ahead in the second episode of the Battle for Mewni storyline.
This time, Star and her Mom take a backseat, as we focus on Ludo, Glossaryck of Terms, King River, and…Marco Diaz!?
Following events at the end of Season 2, we have Ludo waking up, wondering what destroyed his lair, and why his wand is suddenly a part of his right hand! We also find that Glossaryck of Terms and the wand’s Magic Instruction Book, are still with him.
After being informed by Glossaryck that he took down the Magic High Commission, Ludo eagerly wants to write about this in the book (nevermind that he doesn’t know just how he defeated the commission!), but finds that the tome is somewhat uncooperative, and…it might not ‘belong’ to him anymore…
In this story, Glossaryck is his usual, enigmatic self, though like some other appearances of his, there may be a ‘method’ to his ‘madness.’ Also notable, is that one theory I had regarding how he operates, may have been partially confirmed (regarding his place in space and time).
Much of the story’s focus is on Ludo, and like Wile E Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner, the humor from the segment comes from Ludo trying to get the book to cooperate with his demands. There is the typical humor of using Ludo’s incompetence and childish nature for comedy, but also within the story, is a chance to show us once again that he can be vulnerable, and naive.
The structure of Book reminded me of a few other episodes, where the story tends to be off-the-wall for the majority of the run-time, but in the last few minutes, they suddenly shift from comedy-to-drama. They tried to use this with the segment titled Starstruck last season, but it failed to redeem that story. A better version of this method, was used in a segment titled Collateral Damage, though it’s ending wasn’t quite as ‘heavy’ as what we have here.
With By the Book, that dramatic turn near the end actually worked, as we’ve seen that Ludo has wrestled with his emotions, and sometimes, his snap-decisions and desperation to be taken seriously, can lead to bitter regret.
Rewatching some of the Season 2 episodes recently, I was surprised to see the story had even included some continuity with Bird and Spider, from the end of last season! Those little ‘easter eggs’ are always fun to find.
Final Grade: B
With Queen Moon gone from the Kingdom of Mewni, King River tries to keep morale up with constant partying. However, when Marco arrives from Earth hoping to find Star at the castle, River may have to face some harsh realities.
I found this segment surprising, especially in seeing how Marco was sad about Star going away in the first episode of season 3, but finding out here, that he still retained his pair of dimensional scissors from last season (I thought maybe Star had them with her)! Given how he can easily travel to Mewni, that show of emotional depression seems rather out-of-place now (to me, at least).
King River Johansen is our main focus here, much the way Moon the Undaunted focused on the Queen. However, while Moon’s story was intriguing, King River’s modern-day tale just doesn’t feel as wholly entertaining.
Personally, I was hoping we’d get a little more introspection into River’s background, much like what we had with Queen Moon. We have seen in the past that River can seem competent, but it feels like the further we’ve gone on into the series, the more he’s been used largely for comic relief. It’s starting to make me wonder just why Moon married him in the first place (maybe she didn’t marry him for love, but because he was a loyal and caring friend?).
For this story, Marco serves as a ‘cheerleader’ for the troubled King, oftentimes trying to put things into perspective. We’ve seen Star can take after her Father when it comes to uncontrolled recklessness, and much like Marco oftentimes talking sense to her, he does the same to River here. Of course, it isn’t so hard to see Marco doing this, given that his own parents seem a bit ‘childish’ at times as well.
We do get some more information about the lower-levels of the kingdom, and some of it’s denizens. At times, the low morale and ‘everyone in a state chaotic quandary,’ reminded me of when Echo Creek Academy went haywire in the Collateral Damage storyline last season.
Overall, it feels like the show’s crew tried to give us a little humor before the story ends on a cliffhanger, but I still feel like they missed a golden opportunity to explore more regarding River.
Final Grade: B-
Compared to the first episode’s segments , the second episode’s feel a bit less exciting. There is information to be gleaned here, but it’s buried within stories that feel like a small gag, stretched thin.
Book be Gone brings us back into the story of Ludo and Glossaryck, and seems to act as a form of ‘comic relief’ from the rather heavy storytelling of the last episode. While there is humor derived from Ludo trying to make the book obey him, it’s final moments get rather dramatic, in ways that I don’t think anyone expected.
Marco and the King brings Marco back to Mewni, as we see him observe the King in action. The story has it’s moments, but it feels like King River has sadly begun devolving moreso into ‘royal comic relief’ for the show, making me wish the storyline could have given us more information about his past.
Whew! Well, we’re halfway through The Battle for Mewni.
Next time, we’ll review Puddle Defender, where Star and her Mom seek help for their predicament, from an unlikely source. Plus, in King Ludo, we’ll see Mewni Castle under new management, and Marco trying to find a way to help King River, with some very unlikely Mewmans. See you back here in a few days!