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Movie musings: looking through the first script for Barry Levinson’s “Toys”

When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.

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Robin Williams and Barry Levinson, on the set of Toys.

For director Barry Levinson, one script that had been on his mind since the start of his career, was Toys. Word was when he began to make the move from television to film, he wanted this film to be his feature debut. However, it’d take over a decade, and numerous attempts, before the film was made and released by Twentieth Century Fox, in 1992.

The film concerned a company called Zevo Toys. It’s founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) passes away, but rather than will the company to his son Leslie (Robin Williams), he requests his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) take over management.

Of course, Leland is not of the same mind as his brother. Soon, the factory’s production begins to shift into making ‘war toys,’ which were never produced when Kenneth was alive. As the world around them begins to shrink and becomes more threatening, Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), must find a way to restore their father’s legacy.

The film was released around Christmas of 1992, but even with it’s colorful production design, whimsical previews, and Robin Williams as it’s lead, the film failed to even recoup back it’s production budget.

Viewing the film on VHS several years after it was released, I couldn’t help but become curious over the years, and wonder: what was it about Toys that had Levinson signify it as his ‘passion project?’ Was there something in the original scriptment, that had somehow gotten lost in translation?

In July, a trip to California allowed me some time to stop by the Margaret Herrick Library  in Beverly Hills. Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it houses a number of scripts, pictures, and other material not often available to the public.

Notable to me for this visit, was perusing through three drafts of Toys they had in their collection. Each script was written in 1979, 1982, and 1992, with writing credits on all three, given to Valerie Curtin (Levinson’s first wife), and Barry himself.

My curiosity piqued, I delved into all three copies of the script, but was most interested in the one dated December 14, 1979. What follows, is a summary of that script.

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Taking place in Connecticut, the story focuses on a company called Panda Man Toys, Inc. It is housed in a “three story, nondescript building sitting isolated in the countryside.”

The company’s founder, Kenneth Presswell, is close to death, and has sent for his Militaristic brother, General Leland Presswell. During their meeting, Kenneth makes clear his intentions to turn the factory over to Leland. The meeting takes a morbid turn, when Kenneth dies right in front of his brother.

The General is given time to consider the offer, and upon deciding to take over, is given a 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40%, is split between Kenneth’s children, Leslie, and Alsatia.

Leslie is identified as being 34 years old, but not ready yet to take over the company (with Kenneth’s assistant Wyeth Owens, claiming he’s ‘sowing some wild oats’). Leslie is somewhat of a prankster like his father, but is a ‘late-bloomer’ when it comes to business.

Alsatia is not given an age, though it is noted that she did not leave grade school until the age of 18. Even so, she is considered a devoted factory worker.

The General quickly makes it clear that he isn’t enamored with the factory’s ways, at one point claiming that money and manpower is being ‘wasted,’ when it could be used to ‘develop new ways to annihilate foreign races.’

Wyeth brings up his misgivings about the General to Leslie, but Leslie just brushes off the concern, figuring that time at the factory, will ‘loosen up’ his uncle’s demeanor.

Visiting his bedridden father (a former 5-star general), Leland tells him about the factory, but the old man shows no interest. However, as he talks about his brother’s company, Leland begins to formulate a plan.

Once he takes charge, the General makes it clear at a board meeting, that he feels the company will not survive, unless they start producing ‘toy weaponry.’ Wyeth claims that Kenneth never had the company make ‘war toys,’ because he was a pacifist.

“I know he was a pacifist,” declares Leland. “That’s why I used to kick the $#!t out of him all the time.”

(This declaration causes Leland to laugh at his ‘joke,’ while everyone else in the room remains silent.)

Talk of industrial espionage hurting the company’s R&D department, has the General send for his son Patrick, who soon starts using some brutal interrogation methods among the staff, to try and weed out the spies.

Leland also brings aboard his secretary, Gwen Tyler. Though she has a very serious demeanor at first, Leslie slowly starts to get her to lighten up, and a romance blossoms between them.

Still concerned with espionage, the General takes Patrick’s advice, and decides to counter-espionage designs from a competitor, named My Toys. Patrick manages to trick Leslie into helping him create a distraction for some guards, by putting on a strange show, seen on the My Toys security cameras. which manages to temporarily distract the guards, and allows them to make off with some of the company’s designs.

Upon hearing what has been done, Wyeth voices his objections to the General, but is ignored. Other projects and departments are then shut down, as the General commandeers the staff to work round-the-clock to produce toys off of the stolen designs.

The General likes most of the designs, but one of them he calls “a little submarine,” he thinks has potential. He soon hatches a plan to make ‘war toys,’ with the money made off of them, used to fund a few of the General’s ‘special projects.’ As work continues, more departments are shut down, and Alsatia even loses her office in the factory.

Soon, Panda Man Toys is producing and selling war toys (tanks, jeeps, paratroopers, etc). With the development continuing on the General’s projects, he soon invites some men from Washington to secretly see the designs for them. However, they are not impressed by his ideas, including his (as one of the men calls it) “submarine with a nose.”

After the General loses his temper and assaults one of the men, Patrick takes him away to calm down. Even with this setback, the General claims he is still going to go ahead with his plans.

One day, Wyeth manages to sneak into the restricted area of the factory. There, he finds men testing miniature war machines, along with video game simulators. However, Wyeth is spotted, and he is chased into a room with a large water tank. Wyeth gets into the water tank to hide, but is then attacked and killed by some underwater toys in the large tank (making the General very happy that they work!).

After Wyeth’s death is labeled an ‘industrial accident,’ Leslie demands Patrick tell him what the General is doing. Patrick attempts to stay loyal to his father, until Gwen tells him how his mother died (the true facts of which the General never told him!).

Patrick then confronts his father, and upon finding out that a nurse he likes also had an affair with his Dad, he finally confesses to Leslie, Alsatia, and Gwen, everything that has been going on. The General’s main goal, is to use video computer technology, to turn kids into ‘super-patriots,’ willing to die for their country without question!

The group then hatches a plan to steal the designs, and stop the General. Alsatia and Gwen are left behind, as Leslie, Patrick, and his surveillance team, attempt to break in.

They are attacked by a number of toys, with several of them dying (one is vaporized by a toy tank’s blast!). The final battle takes place in a miniature village, and it is during the fighting, that the ‘submarine with a nose’ (referred to as “The Guppy”) is unleashed. Of course, the General’s brilliant idea ends up being his downfall, as “the Guppy” kills him.

The final scene shows two tombstones, side-by-side. On them are the following:

Kenneth T Presswell – 1910-1979 – May Joy and Innocence Prevail

Leland H Presswell – 1914-1979 – I Disagree

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It’s never been divulged just how many scripts were written for Toys, but the next draft the library had (dated February 1982), starts to become closer to the 1992 shooting script. Here are a few noted changes:

  • The General’s secretary Gwen Tyler, becomes just another Panda Man employee, whom Leslie slowly falls in love with (becoming the character Robin Wright played in the final film).
  • The 82′ script changes Alsatia from being human, to a robot, whom Kenneth built after Leslie’s mother died when he was younger. Alsatia and Gwen also attempt to stop the General, going along with Leslie and Patrick at the end (the surveillance team Patrick had in the first draft, is dropped).
  • Unlike the 79′ script, the 82′ script has the men from Washington willing to forgive the General for assaulting them, and tell him that NATO has a weapons conference coming up, that he might be interested in getting ready for. This ‘second chance’ mentality, would be dropped in the final script.
  • The 82′ script also jettisons Leslie and Patrick stealing toy designs from a competitor. Instead, the General and Patrick purchase some competitor’s toys from the store, and attempt to build them. One of them that the General attempts to assemble, is a “Sammy the little Submarine” toy. Like the 79′ script, this toy somehow inspires the General to make a ‘killing machine’ based off of it, which the General dubs, “the Sea Swine.” Not much is told about this rendition of the sea swine, except it has two periscope-like eyes that pulsate with an eerie light, and it makes a ‘creature-like sound.’

What is most notable about the original script, is how dark it gets. Kenneth dies right in front of his brother, and his assistant Wyeth, and the General are killed. In the 82′ and 92′ scripts, Kenneth dies (off-screen) on the way to the hospital, and both Wyeth and the General survive.

There is also the fact that the original Panda Man Toys was little more than a non-descript factory building, before becoming a surreal toy factory, located who-knows-where. Plus, at the end of the day, I am still no closer to knowing when the decision was made to change the company name from Panda Man, to Zevo (the Panda Man moniker is still prevalent in the 82′ script).

Plus, there is still the question of just how a toy submarine, evolved to become the semi-alive ‘sea swine’ mentioned in the 82′ and 92′ scripts.

One item I found intriguing about the final scene in the 79′ script, is the difference in ages. I had assumed that Kenneth was the younger brother, and Leland had followed directly in their father’s foosteps. This may have been done to show the wisdom of the older brother, vs the younger, who may have wanted to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of their militaristic father.

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The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Levinson’s goal with the ‘idea’ for Toys, was to create a ‘surrealist film.’

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Poster for the film, and Rene Magritte’s famous painting, Son of Man.

Surrealism is often the giving of something a dreamlike quality, where the material skirts the line between real, and unreal.

We see that so many times in numerous scenes in the final film. There are many bits inspired by surrealist painter Rene Magritte throughout the film(even the poster of Williams in a bowler hat, appears to be inspired by his works!).

One could even see the decision to put a Militaristic General in charge of a toy factory, definitely being one of several ways the story tries to keep it’s viewer ‘disoriented.’

I think that is Toys’ greatest flaw: Levinson got so into trying to make it surreal, that it probably would have made a better series of paintings (or even a short-subject), than a feature-length film.

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Over the years, when Toys has come up in interviews, Levinson still defends the film. In one interview, he claimed it’s been the one film he has been most criticized about.

Even with many not embracing the film, some can’t deny that it seemed almost prescient. This is notable in the use of small, unmanned planes, meant to get into enemy territory, without having to place a human soldier in danger.

This tied into the thinking of the time that Military budgets were being heavily slashed during peace-time, and there was some intent to keep advancements in weaponry relevant, as well as economical.

Of course, it may also be seen that Toys could be somewhat relevant in our current day-and-age, as we seem to also have a madman intent on turning our world upside-down, as we struggle to find some good in a world, that seems to have gotten darker.

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Retro Recaps: Trick or Treat (1952)

This past summer, the world of voice-acting and animation, lost one of it’s most beloved members: June Foray.

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Animator Eric Goldberg’s memorial drawing for June Foray

Probably as much as Mel Blanc was a part of our childhoods, June was just as notable. She voiced dozens of characters, from Rocky the Flying Squirrel, to Witch Hazel in the Looney Tunes shorts, and many, many more!

Speaking of Witch Hazel, that’s one reason why we’re having this Retro Recap.

In the world of animation, most think of a character by that name, in relation to the Looney Tunes series of cartoons. Created by Chuck Jones, the Looney version of Hazel, would be voiced by Foray for over 50 years (with the exceptions being Bea Benaderet in 1954, and Tress MacNeille from 1992-1994).

However, most may not know that Jones was not the first to give an animated character that name, AND have her voiced by June.

In 1952, another Witch named Hazel, appeared in the Donald Duck short, Trick or Treat.

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On Halloween night, Witch Hazel flies through a nearby town on her broom B.Z. Bub, cackling maniacally, and causing plenty of mischief. During her antics, she stops to watch as Huey, Dewey, and Louie, show up at the door of their Uncle Donald’s house.

tot-2Instead of treats however, Donald decides to give out some ‘tricks,’ putting live firecrackers in the boy’s treat bags, destroying their candy haul. He then finishes by dumping water on them, before laughingly closing the door in their faces.

“Aw, bless their little black hearts,” says Hazel, coming down to console the boys.

Of course, the boys are perfectly fine encountering a real witch on a flying broom, and Hazel decides to help them get some candy from Donald. However, her polite attempts don’t work, and so she gets the boys to help her use witchcraft on him!

tot-3Setting up a cauldron, Hazel has the trio bring forth a number of specific ingredients. Finally, the concoction is complete, and sucking up some in a sprayer, she and the boys hop aboard BZ Bub, and take to the air!

Hazel’s laughing catches Donald’s attention, and as he looks out the window, he watches as she uses the spray to enchant a number of objects. A paintbrush begins painting Donald’s house green, a pumpkin menacingly flies through the air, and even some fence posts, become ghosts!

Donald is surprised to watch as these apparitions sing a song, and make their way to his doorstep, where Hazel and the boys confront him, demanding that he ‘treat’ the boys. Donald is willing to do so, until he hears Hazel tell the boys that ‘this pigeon’s a pushover.’

tot-4.jpgUpon hearing this, Donald locks all his food in the pantry closet, and swallows the key.

But this isn’t enough to deter Hazel, who enchants Donald’s feet, and demands they kick out the key he’s swallowed. Hazel starts up a hoe-down song, and the key is soon ejected out of Donald’s mouth. But even this doesn’t stop him from being a jerk, as he then tosses it under the pantry door.

Hazel’s reaction now, is to give his feet a larger dose of the potion, and demands they use Donald’s body to break down the door.

tot-6As everyone watches, the feet follow Hazel’s request to take a longer start (“Bout a mile or two!”), sending Donald out into a nearby field, before he comes screaming into the house! A loud crash later, and the door has been busted open, with Donald lying unconscious nearby.

The boys happily collect some treats from the open pantry, but Hazel notes that it’s almost dawn, and her time to play is up. Hopping aboard her broom, she bids the boys goodbye, and they do the same to their witchy friend.

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Growing up, The Disney Channel would often have little Holiday ‘clip-shows,’ and when it came to one known as Disney’s Halloween Treat, there were quite a few clips used from this short.

I think out of the many Donald Duck cartoons made over the years, Trick or Treat is one of the highlights.

tot-7The Disney Studios didn’t often do Halloween-themed shorts, so Treat is one of the few times that they acknowledged the holiday.

It’s also notable how they play with the art for the opening. Rather than the standard Donald Duck intro image, his face has been painted onto a wooden fence, and the card stating that this is a Donald Duck cartoon, also has it’s own special title-card art imprinted on the fence too.

There is some pretty wild and good animation to be had here as well. We get long shadows, Characters and objects changing scale and distance, and plenty of effects animation in the way of fire, smoke, and a fairy-dust sheen off of the fence-post ghosts.

tot-5.jpgA fun moment comes when Hazel is mixing her brew, and reciting a few lines from the witches in Macbeth (“this is the real thing ya know,” she tells the boys, “right outta Shakespeare!”).

Shakespearean-style wording comes up a few more times, in how Hazel talks. “What manner of ghoul is this?” she ponders, seeing the nephews for the first time. She also refers to Donald as “a quacking rogue” after she encounters him first-hand.

The animators also have some fun with her broom, which looks like a distant cousin to the brooms in Fantasia. For having a very small role, BZ Bub actually gave me a few laughs with how he ‘reacted’ in some scenes.

While most of Disney’s shorts are known for having a musical cadence to them, this short is one of the few that actually has a full song worked into it’s running time.

Paul Smith does the music for the piece, and the theme song like many a good Disney song, can easily get stuck in your head (it’s been popping up sporadically over the last few months for me!).

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Walt Disney, with The Mellowmen

A group known as The Mellowmen (composed of Bob Hamlin, Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Max Smith), sing the main song, and keep it quite sprightly.

The four men figured into a number of Disney productions during the 50’s and 60’s (even singing the opening song for the Zorro TV show!), and of course, Thurl Ravenscroft would go on to great fame, singing the songs for Chuck Jones’ adaptation of Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

When I watched most cartoons with Donald Duck in them as I was growing up, I often felt sorry for him. Most of the time, his temper was a case of others provoking him, or just trying to get him to explode into a quacking tantrum, so they could have a good laugh out of it.

However, in Treat, I found myself not really showing much sympathy for what he was doing to his nephews. It’s one of the few shorts where I actually took some delight in what Hazel was subjecting him to.

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Unlike most animated shorts, Trick or Treat’s animated storyline, ended up being adapted in the Donald Duck comic by Carl Barks!

tot-11While the animated short had just 7 minutes to tell a story, Barks  was allowed to extend certain parts of it into a 30+ page story. Plus, he gives over more ‘vocalizing’ to Donald and his nephews (in Barks’ stories, Donald often carried out long conversations!).

A simple line like “whiskers from a billy goat,” becomes a page-and-a-half gag as we see where the boys got those whiskers from.

Barks also embellishes Hazel’s bringing things to life with her magic. Notable is this long-panel, showing a number of other strange creatures, happily heading towards Donald’s front door (singing Paul Smith’s song from the cartoon!).

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However, once Hazel calls Donald a “pushover” in the comic, Donald simply assumes that all the creatures were fake, and kicks her and the nephews out of his house.

This is where Barks adds his own story touches, as Hazel then tries several ways to get candy from Donald.

She first disguises herself as a beautiful female duck, but is found out by Donald, who manages to get back the candy she took.

tot-12Next, she magically summons her pet ogre, Smorgasbord (or “Smorgie,” for short), and sends him to Donald’s doorstep.

The duck simply assumes it’s a costume, but Smorgie proves invulnerable to a mace to the chest, and his multiple arms creep in through a number of openings, looking for the pantry key. Donald seems to concede defeat and hands over the candy, but also gives Smorgie an ‘extra treat.’ It turns out to be a stick of dynamite, and once Smorgie consumes it, the creature is blown to smithereens. Surprisingly, Hazel only shows mild concern for her destroyed pet.

This then leads to Hazel using the sprayer on Donald’s feet (like in the animated short), as well as him swallowing the hey.

When it comes to Hazel having the feet use Donald as a battering ram on the door, she first enchants a suit of armor to cover the duck, before he comes hurtling in through the doorway, breaking down the pantry door, and waving a white flat in surrender. Of course, Hazel takes the chance to lecture Donald on his actions during the night.

“Thou miserly hoarders must learn that on Halloween the goodies belong to the ghosts and goblins! Thou hath to treat!” she says, pointing a wrinkled finger at Donald.

“I still say it’s plain Robbery!” he retorts, before Hazel’s broom konks him on the head.

However, by the last panel, all is well. The boys have a huge bag of candy, Donald seems to have learned a lesson (“Next year, I’m going to be a goblin, too” he admits), and the ducks wave as Hazel takes off, as the sun begins to rise.

Overall, the embellishments Barks made to the story prove quite entertaining. Notable is at the beginning, where Hazel watches the boys get treats from a few more houses, and is impressed at how simple it is to get candy (“What a racket!” she thinks to herself. “How long has this been going on?”).

Donald also proves to be more of a bully in the comic than on-screen, adamant that noone is going to get any treats from his house.

The added ghosts and goblins Barks draws are also a sight, as is the design of Smorgie, who on first sight, appears to be a cyclops, but in a following panel, is shown to have a second eye, in the back of his head!

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Of course, when it comes to Witch Hazel in the animation world, animator Chuck Jones had his own ideas.

Online, word is that Jones had originally tried to get Foray to voice his Witch Hazel in the short, Bewitched Bunny (in which Bugs Bunny saves Hansel and Gretel from the witch’s clutches). Though Foray turned down the request, she soon relented, and her career as Jones’ Witch Hazel, started in 1956 with the short, Broomstick Bunny.

June was said to have been none-too-pleased about Jones “stealing” the character Witch Hazel for his own purposes, though this could very well just be a joke, as neither Disney or Warner Brothers (as far as I know), actually owns the copyright on the name.

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When Witch Hazels collide (from Eric Goldberg’s memorial drawing for June Foray)

Of course, Jones’ Hazel wasn’t quite as playful and helpful as the one in Trick or Treat. Jones’ interpretation of the character, was a bit more selfish, and oftentimes, intended to do away with Bugs Bunny, for her own nefarious purposes. Jones’ Hazel was also given a trademark of sorts. Whenever she’d get an idea, she’d cackle loudly, jump in the air, and then quickly zoom off-camera, leaving several bobby pins dangling in the air.

While having their heyday in the 1950’s, both of these witches never did meet in the animated world, but that changed recently in another medium. At the memorial service for June Foray, animator Eric Goldberg did a Hirschfeldian caricature of the famous voice-actress, surrounded by all sorts of characters she voiced during her career.

One of the most notable gags Goldberg did, is in the bottom-left, where both Disney and Warner Bros’ Hazels, seem to be at odds with each other. I guess only in memoriam for their voice-actress, could these two witches meet face-to-face.

A Peanuts Prospectus: Linus Van Pelt’s bid for Class President

Politics and Peanuts.

It seems that over the years, the two have often collided in some very entertaining, and memorable storylines in the funny pages.

In the Summer of 2016, I did a Peanuts Prospectus on Snoopy, and a number of very political birds. The storyline took place during the first few weeks of September in 1964, but almost a month later, politics would again return to Charles M Schulz’s comic strip.

Only this time, it would affect one of the Peanuts gang’s main child characters: Linus Van Pelt.

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On October 5th, 1964, Lucy Van Pelt suggested that her younger brother Linus, run for School President, and she’d serve as his campaign manager.

peanutslinus1Linus at first has trepidations about attempting to take on such a major role, but Lucy says the magic word that often makes most normal persons, rush into the Political minefield (see left). Plus, Linus’ face takes on an expression we don’t normally see.

Over the next few days, Linus officially signs up as a candidate, and is brought up before the student body to say a few words. Right off the bat, Linus promises to do away with “cap-and-gown kindergarten graduations,” and “sixth grade dance parties.”He also vows that in his administration, “children will be children, and adults will be adults.”

On a final note, he claims he may also do away with “stupid elections” like the one he’s currently taking part in. That’s definitely a lot to put down, though it is interesting to read his ideas. Growing up in the 1980’s, I never had kindergarten graduation, or a dance party in sixth grade. Of course, one assumes that Linus doesn’t fully understand just how much power he can wield as school president, if he claims he may do away with future elections (does this mean he plans to become a grade-school despot?).

peanutslinus2Of course, one normally can’t have a President without a Vice-President, and Linus soon makes his choice: Charlie Brown! Naturally, Lucy feels this is a terrible idea at first, but warms up to it after a few moments of thought (see right).

Eventually, the school newspaper begins to interview the candidates. The job falls on a girl named Violet, who first asks Linus what he’ll do if elected. Linus bursts forth with a loud, passionate speech, but Violet just condenses it down to Linus being “very honored, and will do his best if elected.”peanutslinus3

She also goes to Charlie Brown for a short interview, and after a few moments, decides to use the same blurb on him, as she did with Linus. Needless to say, Charlie has a funny comment about her reporting skills (see left).

peanutslinus4The next few days, find Linus in the school auditorium, outlining what his election will mean. Most notable, is the strip from October 14th (pictured at right).

Along with his religious-laced ravings, Linus soon after mentions how he will also increase wages for school employees…which makes one wonder again, if he knows exactly what his role as School President will mean.

He also claims that if a little dog comes onto the playground, it will not be chased away, but welcomed with open arms, which leads to a standing ovation from Snoopy in the audience.

Along with the previous declarations, Linus also mentions that his first act will be to appear before the schoolboard, before Lucy quietly reminds him that this isn’t possible…since they meet at 8 o’clock, and he goes to bed at 7:30.

peanutslinus7Over the next few weekday strips, Schroeder takes Linus’ picture for the school newspaper, and Lucy is hard at work checking on the polls, along with ‘encouraging voter turn-out’ (see left). Most notable is her “private poll,” which steadily climbs to 92%, with the remainder giving 7% of the votes to Linus’ (unidentified) opponent, and 1% undecided. The undecided vote stings a bit for Linus, as he wonders why some would be undecided to vote for a nice guy like him.

Finally, the candidates give their final words before the election, and Linus is up. Lucy is confident in her private poll numbers, and Charlie Brown is all-smiles, eager to gain an important position in their school.

peanutslinus5And that’s when Linus drops a bomb (see right). Of course, he gets little more than a few sentences into talking about the Great Pumpkin, before he’s drowned out by the laughter of his classmates. “I’ve blown the election!” he says, as he trudges off the stage.

Naturally, Lucy is upset at her brother for what he said, and given her attitude, it seems a sure bet that her private polls have gone up in smoke, and that Linus’ rival won by a landslide.

Eventually, Linus has a small talk with Charlie Brown, who questions why Linus would even mention the Great Pumpkin. Linus firmly answers his friend, that he felt it was his duty to inform the other kids in school, re-affirming his belief to Charlie about the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch, and bringing joy to the children of the world. Naturally, Linus re-stating his believes does little to quell Charlie’s feelings about losing the chance to be Vice-President of the school.

During the final week of October in 1964, Linus even attempted to get some sympathy from Snoopy, claiming that he simply spoke what he felt was the truth. Of course, reading Snoopy’s thought balloons, even he feels Linus made a stupid decision (“if you’re going to hope to get elected,” he thinks to himself,  “don’t mention the ‘Great Pumpkin!'”).

As Halloween approaches, the loss of the election even frustrates Linus’ belief system. He attempts to write a letter to the Great Pumpkin, which quickly turns into a small venting of frustration over him clinging to the hopes and belief that the Great Pumpkin will appear this time.

peanutslinus6Linus carries around a sign, and tries to make sure the nearby pumpkin patch is sincere enough to catch the Great Pumpkin’s eye. Charlie Brown comes by, and even attempts to see if Sally may show a little compassion and sit with him, but after the last time she did it, she’s not about to be taken a second time.

Eventually, Halloween comes around, and the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show, leading to Linus writing a very angry letter in the November 2nd, 1964 strip (see right)…but not entirely.

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Needless to say, things didn’t go so well when Linus finally expounded one of his primary beliefs on the student body. Surprisingly, the comic strip storyline about the school election, like several other storylines from the 1960’s, found it’s way into the television medium.

In October of 1972, the short You’re (Not) Elected, Charlie Brown was released as a TV special. Unlike the very Linus-centric storyline, this special would add some extra bits and pieces, to fill out the show’s running time.peanutslinus8

Most notable is a very frustrated Sally Brown, who is fed up with how she is unable to open her locker at school…notably because she can’t reach it.

When it comes to the election portion of the story, the position is for Student Body President, and it is originally Linus who suggests Charlie Brown run for the position. However, Lucy is unsure if it would be worth it, and takes a small poll. With the data she gathers, she then claims that it’s very unlikely Charlie would win.

After this news, Sally recommends Linus as a candidate, and Lucy takes another poll. After adding some ‘intimidation tactics’ to her polling methods, she concludes that Linus might have a shot.

peanutslinus9Unlike the comic strip, Linus is actually given a rival for the Class Presidency slot, in the form of a boy named Russell Anderson.

Of course, most notable about the special is how Charlie Brown’s name is mentioned in the title, and yet, he doesn’t figure that prominently into the story (heck, he isn’t even considered for, or given the Vice-President slot like in the comics!). However, he does play a part in the elections, working the podium during the stage appearances of Linus and Russell, as well as being part of the group counting the election ballots.

The short also mixes a small subplot about Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown joining Lucy as part of Linus’ campaign. They also go to a radio station and set up time for a call-in segment, for the schoolkids to call in and talk to Linus (pretty hoity-toity, if you ask me!). Of course, the radio program idea doesn’t go off too well, and the majority of the callers fail to even know what the election entails (at one point, one caller asks what Linus is going to do about ‘the rivers’).peanutslinus10

Unlike the comic strip, Linus’ mentioning of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fully blow his chances at the election, but knocks down some ground between him and Russell, tying both candidates in the polls. Lucy cautions Linus that if he keeps from doing another ‘stupid thing,’ he might have a chance.

Even so, Linus is more personally concerned over the laughter and jeers he heard.

“It’s depressing to think, that there are students that don’t believe in The Great Pumpkin,” he says to himself.

Soon, it’s time to vote, resulting in a tie between both candidates, with Russell Anderson casting the deciding vote. However, in a surprise move, Russell ends up voting for Linus, impressed by his convictions!

With Linus now Student Body President, Sally rushes him to the Principal’s office, eager to have him start making good on all his promises.

peanutslinus11However, after a meeting with the Principal, Linus admits to Sally that he actually doesn’t hold enough power as Class President, to actually do most of what he claimed.

“He sold out!” bellows Sally, at the top of her lungs. “We elected him, and he sold out! They’re all the same! Promises, promises! You elect them, and they weasel out of their promises!”

Yes Sally, you realized the horrible truth about politics, first-hand.

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Retro Recaps: Batman – The Animated Series (Season 1, Episode 7) – “Joker’s Favor”

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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?”

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“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.’

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“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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 28) “The Little People”

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!””

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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!

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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.

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“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!

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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.’

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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.”

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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.

 

 

An Animated Dissection: Freddie as F.R.O.7. – the ‘Best Worst Movie’ of animation?

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.

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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!

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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).

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-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.

FRO7-13Over 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.

FRO7-3Even 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.

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-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.
  • FRO7-6When 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!).
  • FRO7-4Freddie 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).
  • FRO7-7Though 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!).

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-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.

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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.

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-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!).

FRO7-8Freddie 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!).

FRO7-5Daffers 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!!”

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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.

FRO7-15Freddie 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.

FRO7-9

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.

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-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.

FRO7-12

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.

FRO7-10Messina 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!!).

FRO7-11Nessie 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!

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-Big Plans Die Hard-

Believe it or not, the studio making Freddie, actually thought they had a viable franchise on their hands!

FRO7-16At 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).

FRO7-18

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.

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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?…

Retro Recaps: The Adventures of Pete and Pete ( Season 3, Episode 4) – Splashdown!

As Season 3 of The Adventures of Pete & Pete rolled around, it was plain to see that the town of Wellsville (where the show was set), was changing.

Artie (the strongest Man in the World) had taken leave of (little) Pete, and it seemed that Ellen had just become to (big) Pete what he claimed in the earliest shows: just a girl, and a friend.

The final season of the show, would ping-pong between the older and younger siblings of the Wrigley household, with a few episodes even pitting the two against each other.

Splashdown, would be one of those episodes.

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Another Summer is upon Wellsville, and this year, (big) Pete has a job: as junior lifeguard for the Wellsville Municipal Pool! Along with the job, (big) Pete has his eye on 2 things: a beautiful brunette named Linda, and the throne of Senior lifeguard Matt Uplinger: The Krebstar Hydro-Thrustinator 2000.PeteSplash1

Unfortunately, (big) Pete has to pay his dues like all lower ranking “officers” must, by performing menial duties. These including such character-building jobs, like cleaning out the pool after it’s closed for the day.

One evening, Matt informs (big) Pete of two problems. One of them, is an unidentified “urinator” who has been reported in the pool. The other, is (little) Pete, whom Matt feels could stir up trouble.

While Matt explains an added chemical agent in the water will help them catch the first culprit, (big) Pete gets a little help keeping lookout, when local Kreb Scout member Monica Prime, eagerly volunteers to help.

PeteSplash2Matt’s thoughts on (little) Pete prove true, when the younger Wrigley brother declares war on Adult Swim – the one time during the day, when all kids must leave the pool, and the adults take over for one hour.

After an incident with (little) Pete and electric eels, Uplinger ups the stakes for (big) Pete: if he can prevent (little) Pete from ruining Adult Swim, he can become a Senior Lifeguard…which will allow him to sit upon the Hydro-Thrustinator 2000!

(Big) Pete tries to have a casual conversation with his brother about leaving Adult Swim alone, but as expected, (little) Pete has his reasons.

“Adult Swim is a disease,” the younger Pete explains to his elder. “The pool is for everybody. Why do they get to hog it?”

PeteSplash3The next day, as Adult Swim begins, (big) Pete sends a dog running off with a tape player around its neck…playing a cassette that sounds like Mr Tastee’s ice cream truck music!

The sound causes all the kids at the pool (including (little) Pete), to give chase, clearing out the pool, and making the transition to Adult Swim painless…impressing Matt!

Needless to say, (little) Pete is furious about the trick, and sends the dog back with a message of his own: “Vengeance will be mine, blowhole!”

Not wanting to spend the rest of his Summer hunting for the Urinator, (big) Pete leaves that hunt to Monica Prime, and steps up to take charge of Adult Swim. Matt then relays the rules: (little) Pete will get three strikes. Once he uses them up, he’s banned for the rest of the summer.

(Little) Pete almost gets away with (literally) pulling the plug during Adult Swim (disguised as an older woman named Mrs Blotard), but (big) Pete catches him in the act. The first strike is given, and (big) Pete tries to plead with his brother to stop…but (little) Pete promises not to give up.PeteSplash4

Soon after, (little) Pete’s friends Nona Mecklenberg and Wayne Pardue, attempt to summon Pete with a special call (that Wayne saw on Flipper). Nona questions Wayne’s logic, when suddenly, (little) Pete appears…riding a jet ski! Adults scatter from the pool, but soon, (big) Pete appears with a jet ski of his own, and the second strike is given.

This time, Nona and Wayne are placed in the ‘docking zone’ area of the pool, along with (little) Pete. While (big) Pete tries to stay firm, Ellen and Pete’s parents feel that he’s being too hard on his little brother.

(big) Pete attempts to patch things up, but mainly to tell his brother that “adults have rights, too.”

“Not to kick us out anytime they want,” expounds (little) Pete. “The whole world is theirs! All we’re asking for is one, stinking, pool! We belong here, and you know it!”

“Pete, things are different now,” says (big) Pete. “I’m a lifeguard.”

“No you’re not,” responds the younger. “You’re a traitor! To all kids…everywhere!”

PeteSplash5(little) Pete’s words hang in (big) Pete’s head as he cleans the pool that evening. While doing so, he is surprised to see Linda taking a late-night swim…but the mood turns sour, as he sees she’s swimming with Matt, who claims (big) Pete still has to prove himself, if he wants to move beyond pool-cleaning.

This pushes (big) Pete over the edge, and the next day, he attempts to take full-command over Adult Swim (“Kids, OUT! Adults, IN!”). With Adult Swim’s 60-minute time limit, (big) Pete goes into monitor-overdrive. The minutes tick by, until finally, only a minute remains.

Matt congratulates (big) Pete on having put his little brother in his place, but (big) Pete is still convinced his brother will do something.

But in a matter of seconds, Matt makes (big) Pete forget his problems, declaring him Senior Lifeguard, and allowing him to ascend to the kingly seat, overlooking the pool!

(big) Pete begins to relax in his new perch…until he sees (little) Pete on the high-dive board! (big) Pete yells for his brother to just wait for Adult Swim to end (in a matter of seconds!).

“Why blow your whole summer?” yells (big) Pete.PeteSplash6

“Because there are some things in life worth dying for,” replies the younger brother. “You used to know that. You used to care!”

As everyone watches, (little) Pete ignores his brother, and dives into the pool! The kids cheer at (little) Pete’s defiance, but Matt demands (big) Pete finalize his brother’s banning from the pool.

“I hate to do this Pete,” says (big) Pete, rising from his chair, “but you leave me no choice!”

However, everyone looks on in shock, as (big) Pete cannonballs into the pool!

This seems to break the mood, and everyone takes to the water: kids, and adults! Pete’s rebellious act shows that the pool can be enjoyed by all!

All are fine with this, except Matt , who swims out to (big) Pete, to relieve him of his post…only for (big) Pete to point out…that Matt seems to have ‘relieved himself!’PeteSplash13

The water-changing chemical agent shows a green bloom around Matt, and Kreb Scout Monica Prime appears. She tells that she figured Matt didn’t put the actual chemical in the pool, to keep himself from being caught. Monica though, being an honorable and decent Kreb Scout, happily did her civic duty by helping out!

With Matt exposed, his authority is all-but-destroyed, and the Wellsville Municipal Pool becomes a haven where all are welcome now!

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And that, was Splashdown.

Word was that as Season 3 went along, it entered into uneven territory. Even so, Splashdown is one of its most notably fun episodes.

The gags fly fast and furious as (little) Pete digs in with his attempts to make a stand for the kids. A lot of the ridiculousness of the gags (like how he managed to appear on a jet ski in the pool!), keep that strange charm that the show began with.

PeteSplash8Along for the ride with (little) Pete are Nona Mecklenberg, and Wayne Pardue. While Wayne is the ‘third wheel’ of the group getting little respect, Nona’s attitude at times makes her a good match for Pete in several situations.

It sometimes seems that (big) Pete should be the more grounded one, but here, (little) Pete definitely manages to show his older brother the error of his ways.

We also see more of Ellen just being relegated to the “girl-and-a-friend” territory, with Pete setting his eyes on Linda. Over the course of Season 3, Linda would be one of several girls that (big) Pete would go after, almost as if the writers were just scrounging for ways to keep (big) Pete’s teenage love life afloat. In this episode, Linda serves as little more than another pretty face for (big) Pete to try and impress, as he attempts to seem like an authority figure.

PeteSplash7Much like some earlier episodes, it is fun to see some things taken to extremes, like the Krebstar Hydro-Thrustinator 3000, which looks like the most awesome throne a lifeguard could want…and a definite explanation as to why (big) Pete would want some of that power (as well as a vantage point to eye Linda.

I recall first seeing this episode without total concentration…so I almost missed the first time when (little) Pete disguised himself as the portly Mrs Blotard, in an attempt to pull the plug in the pool (the costume worked out pretty well). Plus, the showrunners have a little fun with showing the adult swim people, doing fancy water ballet routines (I wonder how long that stuff took to film?).

For Season 3, Splashdown would be one of a couple episodes that would pit the Wrigley brothers against each other. Most of the final season, would separate the brothers into their own group of age-appropriate friends, as they maneuvered their way through school, bullies, driver’s ed, and a few other things, before their adventures would come to an end.

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