1992 could be considered a big year for Batman.
While the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns was a hit in theaters that summer (despite it’s somewhat ‘darker’ tone), a new incarnation of the Dark Knight,would find it’s way to the Fox Kids block of weekday afternoon shows that fall.
With it’s retro-stylings and entertaining writing, the show quickly became one that I and many kids watched after school (if any cartoon block could give The Disney Afternoon a run for it’s money, Fox Kids could!).
While there would be plenty of colorful members of Batman’s rogues gallery that came to light, the show would also give time over to the mobsters within Gotham City, as well as members of it’s police force (two areas that the movie series at the time, failed to properly focus on).
It also gave us some interesting one-shots, dealing with the average people that lived within the city, and how Batman and his adversaries interacted with them.
The first ‘average Joe’ we encountered, was Charles Michael Collins, in the 7th episode of the first season, titled Joker’s Favor.
On the freeway heading home from work, Charlie Collins is taking stock of his bad day: his boss turned down his request for a raise, his son needs braces, and his wife is making meat loaf for dinner.
Charlie feels the world is further treating him like a punching bag, when several police cars and the Batmobile flash their lights, making him move to another lane. Right after this, a station wagon cuts him off, and Charlie decides he’s had enough! Catching up to the wagon, he begins to rant at it’s driver.
“Hey, you,” he yells. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Why for two cents, I’d-”
Charlie quickly shuts up, when the street lights reveal just who cut him off: The Joker!
Fearing for his life, Charlie pulls off onto some side roads. Eventually his car gives out, and he is soon confronted by the Joker. The Clown is about to teach his rude friend some manners, when Charlie pleads that he’ll do anything if the Joker will spare him.
This request intrigues the Joker, and he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Taking his driver’s license, the Joker claims he’ll let Charlie go, if he’ll do him a favor.
“Okay,” agrees Charlie. “What?”
“I DON’T KNOW!! I haven’t thought of it yet!” Yells the Joker, before his voice softens. “You just toddle on back to your mundane, meaningless little life, and when I need you, I’ll call.”
The Joker then walks away laughing, as Charlie is left behind, shaking from the encounter.
Two years later, we cut to the Gotham Police Department. A testimonial dinner is being planned for Commissioner Gordon at the Gotham Peregrinators Club, but deep down, he finds the whole thing a waste of time and money.
As he sulks in his office, the Batman shows up.
Gordon claims that the Batman should be honored instead of him, but the Dark Knight puts things in perspective, claiming he just works “the night shift,” while Gordon has to deal with things on a daily basis.
The Commissioner accepts the Batman’s ‘endorsement,’ but as he asks if his friend knows where to rent a tux, he finds the room empty.
“I hate it when he does that,” mutters Gordon.
Meanwhile, the Joker has gotten out ‘on early parole,’ and feels he should be able to honor Gordon at the event as well. As he looks through his little black book, his assistant Harley Quinn, asks if he’s looking for ‘a specialist.’
“No no,” says the Joker, pulling out Charlie’s license. “Just an old friend…who’s dying to do me a favor!”
Some time afterward, the phone rings at the residence of Don Wallace, in Springdale, Ohio. When the caller asks for Charlie Collins, Don claims the caller has the wrong number. However, the Joker is on the phone, and he knows he’s talking to Charlie! He even rattles off Charlie’s new address, and claims he’s made knowing about Charlie and his family, his ‘hobby.’
The Joker tells Charlie that there’s a ticket on the next plane to Gotham for him, and that he should tell his family he’s visiting ‘a sick friend.’
Once Charlie is face-to-face with him again, the Joker is all-smiles, as if he’s seeing an old friend. Charlie pleads that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the Joker simply tells him that once the favor is repaid, he can go home.
Soon, the Joker outlines Charlie’s part of his plan. Harley is to deliver a huge cake to Gordon’s party at The Peregrinators Club. Charlie will stand by the main doors to the party room, and once Harley knocks three times, he opens the door…and that’s all he has to do!
When Charlie enters the club’s room prior to the start of the party, he sees two of the Joker’s henchmen standing nearby, keeping an eye on things. With the two men in the room, he realizes there’s no way he can alert any of the cops about what is going to happen, and wishes he could somehow contact the Batman.
Walking into the nearby Hall of Inventions, he sees a glider in the shape of a bat, hanging from a crane. Willing to try anything, he maneuvers the glider to a nearby window.
It just so happens that Bruce Wayne had been at the party a few minutes prior, congratulating Gordon. As he and his butler Alfred drive away, Alfred points out the bat-symbol in the window behind them, wavering back-and-forth.
As Gordon gives a few words inside, three knocks are heard at the door. Charlie opens it, and Harley enters with the cake. Charlie then attempts to leave, but finds an adhesive keeping his hand stuck to the door handle!
Harley gives a little ode to the Commissioner, when suddenly, nerve gas erupts from some nearby candles. Harley gives Charlie a gas mask, and the two watch as everyone in the room freezes in place!
The Joker then emerges from the cake, and has Harley place a small bomb on Gordon’s jacket.
“Wear it in good health,” he chuckles, “all remaining 59 seconds of it. Toodles!”
“Wait! You promised to send me home,” pleads Charlie, still stuck to the handle.
“I never said, ‘alive,'” laughs the Joker, as he and Harley leave the room.
A few moments after they leave, Batman appears through the skylight in the room. Charlie points out the bomb, and Batman quickly sends it hurtling outside of the building (where it conveniently blows up the Joker’s van).
Back in the main room, everyone has started to regain movement, and Batman loosens the adhesive on Charlie’s hand. He tells Batman about the Joker using him as part of the assassination plot, before Batman rushes into the club to find the Joker.
He quickly subdues the Joker’s goons and Harley, but ends up chasing his adversary into a recreated ancient temple (“Right down to the poison-tipped darts!” laughs the Joker at one point).
The Joker attempts to blow up Batman, but mainly succeeds in the bomb destroying the temple, as both of them run for their lives.
Escaping into an adjoining alleyway, the Joker is confronted by Charlie. At first, he laughs off seeing the little man again, but Charlie then punches him, knocking him to the ground!
“You miserable little nobody!” he spits out. “If I get caught, your wife and son are history!”
Charlie then claims that he’s got some insurance…and reveals one of the Joker’s bombs, which is ticking!
“This is how it ends, Joker.,” he says. “No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow, all the papers will say, is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley, alongside a ‘miserable little nobody!’ Kinda funny, ironic really. See, I can destroy a man’s dreams too…and that’s really the only dream you’ve got, isn’t it?”
“Stop! You’re crazy!” pleads the Joker, struggling to get away.
“I had a good teacher,” smiles Charlie.
The Joker desperately calls for Batman to help him, and his adversary emerges from the shadows. Batman tells Charlie to stop what he’s doing, but the angry little man is determined to finish off the Joker, claiming it’s the only way to keep his family safe.
It is then the Joker empties out his pockets, claiming all the information about Charlie’s family is there.
Charlie then freaks out the white-faced clown, and chucks the bomb at him! Joker ducks behind Batman, and the detonator goes off…just causing a puff of confetti, and a paper reading ‘boom” to pop out.
“Gotcha!” smiles Charlie devilishly, as Batman laughs at his little ‘joke.’
“Oh, very funny,” smirks the Joker, like a bad sport. “A million laughs.”
As Batman leads the Joker away, Charlie heads off, eager to get home to his family.
After all these years, Joker’s Favor is still one of my Top 5 favorite episodes for this series, and in the release schedule for the show, it was our first story to feature this incarnation of the Joker.
It was nice to see that the showrunners didn’t just decide to make an animated Jack Nicholson, and gave this Joker his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. It also was one of the first times I think many of us realized actor Mark Hamill’s talent for voices. He manages to provide a voice that becomes impossible to separate from the mad man we see on-screen.
This Joker is also a bit theatrical, but does have certain vestiges of pride.
Notable is when he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Charlie thinks the Joker wants whatever cash he has, and the clown is somewhat disgusted at what Charlie is thinking.
“Oh please, don’t insult me,” he snaps.
Of course, the character also revels in the power he has over this little man. The Joker even gives Charlie all sorts of nicknames, from ‘Chuckers’ to ‘Charlie Brown.’
To many a Batfan, what is most notable about the episode after all these years, is that it marked the first appearance of one of the modern era’s most famous Batman characters: Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin).
In the beginning, she seemed little more than a cute hench-girl for the Joker, but as time went on, a backstory was developed for her, and she began to appear in more material related to Batman. In this episode, she is the main ‘cheerleader’ around the Joker’s plans, and has some memorable lines.
When she tries to sweet-talk Batman as a distraction, he quickly subdues her, and leaves her handcuffed for the Police to arrest.
“Beauty school’s looking pretty good about now,” she mutters.
And then, there’s Charlie Collins.
Of all the ‘average Joe’s’ the show has had, Charlie is the one who definitely stands out. He’s just an regular guy, who ended up thrust into circumstances beyond his control.
My favorite moment for the character, comes at the end when Charlie freaks out the Joker. It’s the equivalent of seeing a person whose been bullied, getting ‘the last laugh’ on their tormentor. Actor Ed Begley Jr, provides Charlie’s voice, and it’s fun to hear him go from timid, to almost crazed as he makes the Joker squirm.
Plus, it is funny that Charlie manages to do what the Joker couldn’t: make the Batman laugh!
We also get some fun little character moments, with members of Gotham’s police force. At the time, we were just beginning to meet other members of the force, such as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Renee Montoya.
At the Peregrinator’s Club, we see Montoya acting much more ‘refined’ than Bullock, who seems to be there just for the free food. There also comes a moment where he tries to sweet-talk Harley, and gets the business end of a baton to his knees.
While one of my favorites, the episode isn’t perfect.
What is notable is that when Charlie throws the bomb at the Joker, Batman has a split-second look of panic, yet doesn’t run! With a (supposed) live-bomb inches away from him, it is surprising that he wouldn’t try to kick it or toss it away (even with seconds to spare!), given how we saw him handle the last few explosives the Joker was using. Of course, it is funny to see both Batman and the Joker, in this split-second shot of utter panic.
There also is a thought, that maybe the episode could have been better utilized later on in the first season of the show. I mean, we’re seven episodes in, and we have a guy threatening to blow up the Joker!? If Charlie had gone through with it, I think Hamill’s Joker would have had slightly more screentime than Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad!
Even the music for the episode, has it’s own special ‘flavor.’ The late Shirley Walker often never gets enough recognition for the themes and musical pieces she did for the series. While there is a tinge of Danny Elfman in some areas, she brings a regality to Batman’s theme, and a playful-yet-ominous tone to the Joker’s theme.
Joker’s Favor has a theme that feels like a distant cousin to the Joker’s Theme. It has a happy-go-lucky feel with a chorus whistling a tune, but becomes somewhat humorous with an added synthesizer piece put in, that sounds like someone is squeezing a whoopee-cushion. It’s never stated outright, but I sometimes refer to the piece as Charlie’s theme song: it seems the kind of song for a ‘lovable loser,’ who just wants something to go right in his life.
Overall, I feel Joker’s Favor should be ‘required viewing’ for anyone who is introducing someone to Batman: The Animated Series. As we celebrate the show having been around for over 25 years, stay tuned, as we recap several more episodes in the coming months.
One of writer Rod Serling’s most famous contributions to popular culture, may have been his television anthology series, The Twilight Zone.
For 5 seasons, Serling’s show would often take unsuspecting people into ‘another dimension,’ where all manner of strange and unusual things could happen. These tales would go on to inspire a number of people, including Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King.
Along with it’s tales of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, many of the show’s episodes often reflected on ‘the human condition,’ providing cautionary tales, in the same way as fairy tales.
One of the traits that can be both a blessing and a curse to humanity, has been ‘control.’ For centuries, we’ve seen human beings do horrible things, often at the behest of their own petty whims. Once in power, some are thinking of only a select few, and ignoring the needs of the many, that surround them.
That seemed to be what Serling was looking to convey, in his Season 3 episode, The Little People.
In a rocky canyon on an alien world, a rocket has touched down. Standing outside of it are two men: William Fletcher, and Peter Craig. Both are at odds with each other, over what has brought them to this place.
While Craig chastises his commander for landing them in a canyon, Fletcher counters that Peter got them into this mess, by navigating them into a meteor storm, causing them to seek a place to land for repairs.
Craig continues to complain (even about the food rations), leading to Fletcher demanding that he stop with the attitude. While Craig sees negatives, Fletcher is the optimist: they’ve walked away from their ship in one piece, and are on a planet that is able to sustain them while they make necessary repairs to their craft.
While Craig gives an affirmative to being told to ‘knock it off,’ Fletcher notes that taking orders seems to not be one of his co-pilot’s strong suits. When Craig mentions how he’d like to make ‘a few changes,’ the commander plays a game with him.
“What do you hunger for most, Craig?” he asks, introspectively.
“Try this one, Fletch,” says Craig. “I’d like a whole lot of people at my elbow. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. And I’d like Yankee Stadium right alongside…but I’d like them on ‘my terms.'”
“That’s what I’m getting at,” replies Fletcher, looking into Craig’s face. “What are ‘your terms?'”
“I’d like to be the number one ‘straw boss,” he answers. “I’d like to give the orders.”
“I’ll bet you would,” replies the commander.
As the conversation trails off, Craig begins to look around, claiming he hears a strange sound, that sounds like…people.
The camera then whip-pans over to Serling, as he delivers his opening monologue:
“The time is the space age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth. The cast of characters, you’ve met them: William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig. The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out. Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that gray, shaded area in space and time…that’s known as the Twilight Zone.”
When we return to Fletcher and Craig, we find a few days have passed. Fletcher is still making repairs, while Craig seems to have given in to shirking his duties, and has returned from another trip away from their landing site.
As he looks up at the twin suns beating down on them, Fletcher realizes that for how hot it is, he hasn’t seen Craig dip into their rations, and finds his canteen is still full!
Fletcher suspects that Craig is holding out on him, and has found a source of water. Craig soon gives in, claiming he was simply testing it to make sure it was drinkable, but Fletcher isn’t so easily convinced. He also finds some small plants that his co-pilot has collected.
While Craig claims they’re “just lichen,” Fletcher examines them under a magnifier, and finds something startling: they’re clumps of miniature trees!
Realizing that his secret’s out, Craig pulls something out of his jacket, and shows it to the commander. Though it is the size of an ant, looking through the magnifier, Fletcher finds the tiny object to be a truck!
Craig seems to be enjoying the look of awe in his commander’s face, and soon leads Fletcher to another part of the canyon. Spread out on the ground, is what appears to be a small civilization, complete with miniature houses, and even a marina (observed by Fletcher through his magnifier).
Craig tells how he’s still deciphering their language, but they do understand mathematics. He goes on to tell how cooperative the little people are, and in looking for edible plants, they directed him to the trees that Fletcher was looking at.
As Craig continues to talk about the people they are observing, his voice quivers with excitement.
“They’re scared, Fletch,” he says. “Petrified. And so they do as they’re told! Because this giant, is like some avenging angel to them. I’ve graduated, Fletcher, from a slob with a slide rule to…to…to a god!”
“Craig, they’re people,” replies Fletcher, trying talk sense to his co-pilot. “They’re flesh and blood. In that respect, they’re no different than us.”
“Sure they are,” says Craig, his eyes growing wider. “Because they’ve been created, ‘in my image!””
Mad with power, Craig begins stomping down on the miniature world. Trees and houses collapse beneath his feet, as a chittering cry rises up from the unseen masses below! Fletcher is forced to knock out his partner to stop his ‘reign of terror,’ and the co-pilot collapses to the ground nearby.
“You’re no god, Craig,” he says. “That’s not what you are at all! The only trouble is, that by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the devil.”
Fletcher addresses the little people, telling them that he’s sorry, hoping they can forgive them for what has happened.
Some time afterwards, We see Fletcher making final repairs to the ship. Calling out to Craig, he receives no answer. Returning to the spot where the little people are, he comes across a life-size statue of Craig, towering over the miniature landscape!
As he looks over the statue, Craig smugly tells how the little people, constructed it overnight.
It’s too bad they don’t know who they’re breaking their backs for,” says Fletcher.
“Meaning what?” asks Craig, the smile disappearing from his face.
“Meaning they’re worshiping a heartless slob whose insides are made out of the same stuff as that statue,” replies Fletcher. “Yeah, it’s a good likeness, Craig…and an hour from now they can sell it for junk!”
Fletcher then tells Craig that with the ship fixed, conditions are right for them to blast off soon. However, Craig pulls his laser-pistol on his partner, claiming he isn’t going back.
Fletcher tries to reason with his co-pilot, claiming that left alone, he’ll end up losing his mind, but his pleas are met with a laser-blast from Craig’s gun, that knocks the head off the statue.
“This is a monotheistic society here,” claims Craig. “Just room for one god.”
Soon afterward, Fletcher takes off, and Craig glowers over his miniature ’empire,’ a look of ‘mad power’ spreading across his face.
Declaring that ‘The Age of Peter Craig’ is upon them, he proclaims that there will be a lot of projects for his little minions to begin work on.
Craig gleefully stamps down on parts of the miniature world again, claiming that he will continue to give these ‘little reminders’ periodically, to remind them to be subservient to his whims.
Suddenly, the sound of a ship can be heard overhead. Craig claims it’ll quickly go away, but he soon plugs his ears, as the sound of the craft reaches a fever pitch! Finally, the sound dies away, but is replaced by an earth-shaking, rumbling sound. As Craig looks around for what is causing the sound, he is shocked!
Above him, stand two men, towering giants to his eyes, dwarfing the canyon walls!
“Go away!” demands Craig, trying to keep some semblance of control. “Don’t you understand?! I’m the god! I’m the god, don’t you understand?! I’m the god!!”
Craig screams in terror as one of the giants notices him, and reaches down to pick him up. However, in the process, the enormous man accidentally crushes him to death. As the giant looks down at the now-silent Craig, his partner tells him that they have repairs to make. And like a dead fly, the giant tosses Craig’s lifeless body to the ground, where he lands in a crumpled heap, not far from the little people’s world.
Some time afterward, we see a number of small ropes attached to Craig’s statue, and small, triumphant cries go up, as it comes crashing down, breaking across the body of the dead ‘tyrant.’
Rod Serling’s voice then returns to us, closing out the segment:
“The case of navigator Peter Craig: a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size, in the Twilight Zone.”
Size and scale have often factored into a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, though of course, the logic of what is shown here may be a bit ‘pedestrian.’
Though we are dealing with a miniature civilization on another world, it is strange that they would have such Earthly creations as trucks and boats. However, given that we don’t actually spend time among the little people, this may have been a simplified way to make us feel sympathy and association, for the unseen masses that Craig mistreats.
The effects work in the episode may seem primitive by our standards (Fletcher’s staring at the sun is simply a static image of two ‘lights’), but it is in how both of the actors sell the piece that makes it work.
The episode is one of many, written by Serling himself. Much of the story is contained in several little ‘moments,’ as we cut to scenes that actually matter to the story. It’s possible the episode could have been stretched out in the longer, Season 4 format, but for fitting into the 25-minute frame work of the 3rd season, It gets the job done.
Both Claude Akins and Joe Maross are veterans of The Twilight Zone series, with each of them having starred in a Season 1 episode (The Little People would be their final appearances in the show).
In this episode, the voice of reason, falls on Claude Akins as Commander William Fletcher. Akins had already appeared in another cautionary episode of The Twilight Zone, with the first season’s The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In both cases, he tried to serve as the calming voice, though in this story, he manages to escape with his sanity and reasoning intact. Akins’ voice had that deep, commanding tone I heard in a number of things from the 50’s, and it works well when he tries to talk sense into his delusional co-pilot.
Maross’ first role in the series, was in the first season’s Third from the Sun episode. There, he played a more calm role, while here, he gets to act quite unhinged. There are times in his performance, where one wonders what the space agency was thinking, pairing him up with someone like Fletcher. Given how Craig doesn’t like to take orders, it seems odd that he’d be cleared to co-pilot the ship….but then again, maybe in this world, there are less restrictions on who gets to go into space.
Maybe it’s the pacing of the episode, but Craig’s delusional rantings of becoming a god, feel like they come on a bit too quickly. At times, he chews the scenery, much like some over-the-top Stephen King villains do…though one has to wonder if maybe Mr Craig, may have inspired some of the crazies in King’s novels.
Like most Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of The Little People found it’s way into popular culture.
On the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson would sometimes use Peter Craig’s cries of “I’m the god,” when he’d riff on some film characters in the cheesy movies they’d watch.
Even TV show creator Matt Groening’s series The Simpsons and Futurama, borrowed from the episode.
The Simpsons had a Treehouse of Horrors segment titled The Genesis Tub, which saw Lisa Simpson create a miniature society, and her brother Bart quickly caused mayhem within it.
In an episode of the Futurama series titled Godfellas, the robot Bender ends up floating through space, where a stray asteroid crashes into him, upon which are a number of tiny creatures. They think him to be a god, and Bender revels in having a number of tiny underlings that will do whatever he commands…however, he soon finds out there are consequences to his actions.
Though a simple episode, The Little People still serves as a good cautionary tale, about size and power, and like many of Serling’s works, it’s a story that can still be used to teach morals and lessons today.
In this day and age, we have access to a number of films. Some are great, others good…and a lot of them that are just plain bad!
Over the years, small ‘cults’ of fandom have grown around such titles as Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, and The Room. They’re poorly-made films, with horrendous acting and absurd stories, and yet many cannot turn away from the pull of their abysmal production values.
In recent years, there’s been a few animated films that have gained prominence due to their ‘bad-ness’ as well. These range from films like the $60 million animated production Foodfight, to the Rob Schneider-voiced Norm of the North. However, I submit for your consideration, an animated film that premiered 25 years ago, in the United Kingdom: Freddie as F.R.O.7.
Freddie started out his life as the young Prince, of an unnamed Kingdom in France. Unlike an ordinary family, his was imbued with magical powers. However, Freddie’s Father ended up being killed by his shape-shifting Aunt, Messina. Once she had taken over the kingdom, she then turned him into a frog, and attempted to kill him!
However, Freddie escaped, with some help from Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After fleeing the kingdom, Freddie ended up hiding out with a group of frogs, far away from his home. He soon grew to human-size, and went off into the world, eventually becoming a secret-agent for the French government.
After an indeterminate number of years working for them as a spy (though how/why they decided to hire a man-sized frog, we’ll never know!), he is called to England. At the request of a man known as Brigadier G, Freddie is tasked with finding out what is causing a number of the country’s famous monuments, to disappear. For the mission, Freddie is teamed up with a martial arts expert named Daffers, and a Scottish weapons-expert, named Scotty.
It soon turns out the monuments are being stolen by a bombastic figure named El Supremo, and, he’s in cahoots with Messina as well (who largely stays in her snake form during their time together).
-What kind of story is this!?-
Ok, that was a pretty ‘basic’ summary of this film..and reading over what I just typed, even I have to wonder just how this film got made!
It would be enough if maybe this had been a new take on The Frog Prince (like what Disney did in 2009), but this story decides to create a veritable train-wreck of ideas, as if it was an Italian rip-off film, or a Golan-Globus production.
Over the years, many of us have seen stories that can take a bunch of strange items, and actually make you accept them. Both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series are prime examples of this done right. They ground you with enough information in their worlds, to feel acclimated to them.
With FRO7, the storytelling bounces around so much, that you’d swear you’ve gotten whiplash!
The fault for this may actually lie, with writer/producer/director, Jon Acevski. Word was Acevski’s son had a toy frog as a child, and Jon would avail him with numerous tales about it.
Once you think about that, the plot for FRO7 seems as obvious as a through-line bedtime story. Freddie’s tale dips and dodges around, like an adult trying to keep their child entertained. Stuff just feels like it was added in, as if to enthrall a young kid to keep interest in a tale, that should have ended several bedtimes ago.
Even the reasoning behind El Supremo stealing the monuments is rather ‘boring.’ Basically, he has a machine that can shrink them down, and using a special crystal, plans to drain the essence of the country’s history from them, putting it’s people to sleep, allowing for him to invade the country (once again, I am not making that up).
Thinking about all of these strange twists and turns, reminded me of The Nostalgia Critic’s words about another train-wreck of a film, 1988’s Felix the Cat: The Movie. The Critic claimed that Felix felt like a film that had “way-too-much story,” and that’s what it feels like we have here with FRO7.
In looking up more information on Acevski for this blog post, I found relatively nothing (even his IMDB bio only lists credits for FRO7). Word was this had been a dream-project that he’d wanted to have made since the 70’s, though the story as to just how he got production capital and created a studio to make the film, seems to have been lost to time.
-Explain, Movie! Explain!!-
Going over the film’s story several times, I can only assume that FRO7 was either put together by a committee who had no idea how to tell a good story, or they were simply given Jon Acevski’s rough outline, and told to just work straight off of it!
So much of the film feels like a patchwork quilt of ideas/scenarios/etc, that makes very little sense if you start questioning it’s logic.
Here are “a few” logic gaps that I’ve catalogued while watching the film:
- Freddie grows into a human-sized frog, yet seems to have totally thrown away the thought of taking care of his evil Aunt, or maybe helping out the Kingdom that he is entitled to inherit the throne to! He also makes no allusions to ever having been human, to any of his cohorts.
- When a number of large monuments are stolen from Britain, NOONE sees where these things go…and there are even people standing in front of them, AND snapping pictures! Also, once it is found out that this is not an isolated incident of just one monument being stolen, it is never considered to send troops/planes/tanks/etc to guard the other remaining monuments after the first few go missing!? Plus, even though the buildings are taken from high-traffic areas, noone notices them being taken (not even with the giant shadow looming in the pic above, when the Tower of London is taken!!).
- Freddie lies to Daffers and Scotty at one point, and pretty much gets them all captured by El Supremo, during a stake-out (he also takes the batteries out of their walkie-talkies so they can’t contact the Brigadier!). At first they are angry with him, but a few scenes later, they’re casually talking to Freddie, as if they’ve forgotten what he just did!
- Why is almost anything with two X chromosomes attracted to Freddie!? (seriously, aside from Messina, it seems every female character/creature makes ‘goo-goo eyes’ at him!).
- Freddie drives around in an anthropomorphic green car (see right), that has a face, makes croaking sounds, and spouts little hearts from it’s exhaust pipe. We never know just where Freddie got it from, or how it came to life (and it also seems to have a crush on him too!). Maybe she’s the girl-frog he was impressing in an earlier scene, and he just magically turned her into a car?
- Freddie claims he uses his ‘mind powers’ to combat evil, but we only ever see him use these for a few seconds near the end, while the other times, he engages in hand-to-hand combat.
- In one scene, our ‘heroes’ are face-to-face with some enemy soldiers with guns. The soldiers fire off the guns from a distance, but when our ‘heroes’ are right in their face, they forget how to use them!
- Though the Brigadier is surprised to find Freddie is actually a frog, noone else freaks out upon encountering a 6-foot-tall, walking-and-talking frog!
- In the modern-day(?), Messina has teamed up with El Supremo, but we’re never told exactly when they formed their alliance, or even if Supremo knows that his partner-in-crime/possible-love-interest(?!?), is even human (note: she sings in English around him, but the rest of the time, just makes hissing/squeaking sounds).
- Though we see Freddie can talk to other humans (I assume this is because he was originally human), we are never made to be aware if a number of non-magical creatures we see (such as these punk-crows(?!?) on the right), are even able to be understood (even though we can hear them babbling in English).
I had to stop myself there, lest I just rattle off an Everything that’s Wrong with FRO7 list that could stretch on further (maybe one of these days, I’ll make a video of it!).
-A Glimmer of Hope, that quickly dies out-
Sometimes, I curse my ability to find little pockets of ‘good’ in things (one reason why I can never fully hate the Star Wars prequels). Going over the story, it feels like there could have been a decent story buried in this train-wreck of a film.
The opening scenes where Freddie is turned into a frog and Messina attempts to kill him, are pretty intense. The music and visuals are rather dark, and the wailing chorus we hear, makes it seem as if we’re watching something out of a Don Bluth film. However, that scene is about the most intense thing the filmmakers could put together, when it came to this film.
It feels like they also could have just had Freddie escape into the nearby countryside after the encounter, and team up with other witches and wizards to take back his kingdom. He could also encounter some other animal friends along the way, but I’m thinking in a far simpler way than the writer/producer/director could have envisioned.
-Flimsier than Cardboard Characterization-
One would assume that there might be some decent characters to like here, but overall, they all feel like stock characters, put on an assembly line, and spat out onto celluloid.
Having been a young Prince traumatized by his evil Aunt, one would assume maybe Freddie would have an interesting character arc. Instead, he seems to have been hit with the amnesia ray, let alone the ‘blase bazooka.’ He never makes mention to his cohorts about his royal heritage, let alone mention that he is related to Messina, when they are face-to-face with her the first time (and when he calls her his ‘dear Aunt’ later on, neither of his cohorts question how a snake could be related to a frog!).
Freddie approaches almost every situation with a smug smile on his froggy face, as if he knows he’s bulletproof in surviving his own story. For being one of France’s top agents (and why would they publicize that, by the way!?), Freddie seems pretty incompetent. My guess is that he simply got all his more competent partners killed in the field, and smilingly took the credit for their exploits, elevating him to a position of prominence, simply by being the ‘last frog standing.’ It’s possible they may have also been trying to make him a bit like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series (given how he seems to solve or get out of most situations by sheer dumb luck!).
Ben Kingsley voices the adult Freddie, who spends most of his time sounding like he’s trying to do his best impression of Mel Blanc’s Pepe le Pew. This is definitely not one of Kingsley’s better voice roles, with some areas sounding like he’s rambling, just to put words in pre-animated scenes (btw, if you want to hear him at his best, check out his role as Archibald Snatcher in the Laika production, The Boxtrolls!).
Daffers as the ‘female spy/love interest,’ is just as bland. She’s basically there just to take one look at Freddie, and fall in love…as well as provide one of the most shocking ‘non-kid’ joke-shots in the film (“Well, I don’t have any concealed weapons,” she tells Freddie, leading to this scene on the right…and yes, that is in the actual UK release!)
The third member of their group, Scotty, is pretty much the third-wheel ‘gadget-master’ of the group, and that’s about all I have to say about him.
The modern-day villain of the piece is El Supremo, voiced by Brian Blessed. His character just hisses, bellows, and yells throughout his entire role, supposedly making the kids in the audience know that he wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD (or Britain, at least)!! There are even some points where Supremo could very well kill Freddie, but he instead just stands around, monologuing and laughing in front of Freddie, to the point where I was yelling, “he’s right in front of you, just kill him already!!”
And then there’s Messina, Freddie’s evil Aunt. While she does get the story going, she serves little purpose going forward, but to be threatening only a few times, and the rest of the time, just be as incompetent as Supremo.
However, as much as she claims she needs to get rid of Freddie to be all-powerful, it seems she has enough powers to actually get the job done (plus, it doesn’t seem like he’s devoted any of his time to trying to track her down or stop her up to this point!). The filmmakers show that she has a poisonous bite, can strangle others, hypnotize them, change people into things, let alone conjure up gale-force winds that can destroy a wooden ship!…and yet she’s as competent as Skynet in a non-James-Cameron directed Terminator film.
There are so many scenes, just like the ones with Supremo, where she could easily take out Freddie, and yet shows total incompetency to do so. While she can turn herself into other dangerous creatures, it seems the only one that does her any good (if ever), is her ‘default’ snake form.
Freddie even lets her get away in the end, and when the Brigadier in the film sees the Aunt, flying away as a strange bird, Freddie claims it was “noone of importance.”
…really, Freddie? You have an evil, shape-changing, poison-fanged, hypnotizing, world-domination-planning Aunt you just let get away…AND THAT WAS ‘NOONE OF IMPORTANCE!!?’
(btw, Daffers and Scotty just laugh at this, so if people did end up getting killed by Messina, I hold those two just as responsible for not telling anyone, as Freddie!!)
The film’s Brigadier who hires Freddie and is in charge of keeping Britain safe, is portrayed as worried-yet-bumbling old man. The filmmaker even try to make him our ‘comic relief,’ by making him so befuddled about the loss of Britain’s landmarks, that he ends up being constantly tangled in phone cords. However, the timing just never works to make us laugh at his predicaments.
In truth, the Brigadier actually gets in probably the only funny line in the entire film.
It comes when he makes mention that a number of his best agents have been lost in the field, leaving him noone to call upon from Britain, to investigate the disappearing monuments.
“003 in China,” he moans, looking at a globe. “005 in Russia, 007 in Hollywood.”
There’s even a very small subplot about a spy for El Supremo, within the Brigadier’s group of assistants, but the film doesn’t give us enough evidence to really even suspect him (well, there’s one split-second shot, but, it makes little sense when you see it). Sure, they give the spy shifty eyes, a placid face and a snide voice, but he looks just as strange as the other men assisting the Brigadier.
They even try to throw the spy (voiced by Jonathan Pryce) into some scenes just chuckling and smiling to himself, but I felt his actions, were just him laughing at how much of a wreck the Brigadier was, or maybe this man in question, was hoping the Queen of England would eventually replace the Brigadier with him instead.
-A Soundtrack of Silliness-
I don’t know what it is, but it seems that when it comes to animated films, studios like to entice singers or musicians, to showcase their talents in a ‘kids film.’ I’ve seen that with films in the past, suck as Rock and Rule, Jetsons the Movie, and a number of others. My guess is before every studio decided to spend that money on hiring big-name actors to voice everything, they just felt that movie soundtracks were how they’d keep the extra royalty money rolling in.
Of course, the musical choices for much of this film, make one wonder what they were thinking.
The opening song (sounding like a leftover tune from the 80′), is called Keep Your Dreams Alive. Sung by George Benton and Patti Austin, this almost sounds like it would be the love ballad to play over the end credits, but maybe the filmmakers felt that it would somehow make the audience believe that Freddie was a competent hero…though the song plays over a rather strange opening scene.
Some may be wondering why a human-sized frog is driving around Paris in an anthropomorphic car, but there also is the strangeness, that he’s doing so, in a deserted major city (most likely, there wasn’t enough time or money to animate crowds for these scenes?).
Over the years, I think some would agree that the most memorable song, is the one sung by Messina (with singer Grace Jones providing these vocals). She gets a villain’s song titled Evilmania, though strangely enough, even though we’ve seen her take human form, she performs the entire song in her snake-form…and for much of this piece, she’s slinking around, swaying her ‘snake-hips'(!!?) to the piece.
Messina sings about all the ways she can control or kill a person, yet one has to wonder if it’s all just for show. What she does to several people during this song, could have come in handy at the end of the film, when she dawdles and is just plain incompetent in taking down her nephew and his friends.
The song is also memorable for a number of ‘evil figures’ that are bopping along to the song…including a few that would be considered ‘questionable’ in this day and age!
Sometimes, the worst thing a film can do, is just stop, and have a song moment for no real reason.
That happens when Freddie encounters Nessie again after all these years(!?!), and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance…she takes him underwater to meet her family, and sing a song ‘in his honor’!!? And what does Freddie do? Remind Nessie that the fate of Britain and his comrades are at stake? Nope, he just goes along with it (and changes outfits at least 2 times during the song!!).
Nessie gets a song to sing called Shy Girl, with vocals by Barbara Dickson. When watching the scene, it feels like the film’s blatant attempts to rip off Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, THAT song actually had a purpose to it’s story.
There are even songs contributed by Boy George, and Asia, though they’re little more than clips used in the film.
There’s even a dance-mix style end-track about Freddie, sung by Holly Johnson (aka the lead singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The song reminds me of some hero songs, that make the lead character sound even cooler than he actually is. I will admit, it is strange that after all these years, this song hasn’t found it’s way into any club remixes.
Though the film is rather obscure, I am surprised that even Lucasfilm never came down on the production. Why? Well in a few scenes, the film actually uses John Williams’ music from Star Wars: Episode IV!! I kid you not, as soon as I heard that music I had heard probably a thousand times before, I could not believe George Lucas had not sued the production company!
-Big Plans Die Hard-
Believe it or not, the studio making Freddie, actually thought they had a viable franchise on their hands!
At the end of the film, it’s hinted at that the Americans need Freddie’s help with something, and the Brigadier seems eager to send him across the pond (however, if that heart-shaped closing image is any indication, Freddie and Daffers are gonna partake in a little…what do you call it…beastiality?).
My guess is there’d be plenty of expendable FBI agents for Freddie to use as cannon-fodder, but the already-titled Freddie Goes to Washington never got off the lily pad, as FRO7 floundered at the box-office in Britain, and fared even worse when released in the US, 2 weeks later (courtesy of Miramax Pictures).
With the death of the sequel, so too went Hollywood Road Film Productions Studios (dang that’s a mouthful!) as well as any word on just what the sequel would have been about. However, given that Freddie nonchalantly let his power-hungry Aunt get away(!!!), it is most likely she would be behind the troubles across the pond.
A few years after it’s dismal theatrical release, FRO7 was released on video in the US (see cover on the left), this time as just Freddie the Frog. Unlike it’s theatrical release, this one would be a little different. James Earl Jones was now voicing several narrative bits, and the film had been edited down in some places (such as the Evilmania song routine, that was now nowhere to be found!).
Since then, there hasn’t been an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray for Freddie (in regards to it’s original release), and most viewers have had to make due with versions floating around in cyberspace, or on Youtube. However, if you are feeling curious, seek out the original British release, but be warned…I recommended it to a friend, and this film ‘broke him!’ And no, I am not making that up.
Overall, FRO7 is a mess of an animated film. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and I can’t help but wonder how it got all the way through it’s production, with noone actually questioning how all-over-the-place the plot is. Then again, maybe the studio producing it, felt that the kids would just be so enthralled, and drag their parents back to it multiple times (like with those Minions movies).
Personally, I’d love to see the film skewered by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. With the show having come back on Netflix, they’ve shown in their most recent season, that there’s still plenty of bad movies out there to roast, and this would make a fine introduction to the world of animated features, if they so wished!
However, for now, Freddie will just exist out here in cyberspace, where adults will think of it fondly, and others of us, will just shake our fist at the smug frog, mocking us as we strive to make sense out of the illogical mess that is his ‘perfect little world.’
Oh, one more thing. Ever wonder why Freddie is called F.R.O.7.? Well, apparently the letter ‘G,’ is also, the 7th letter in the alphabet, so…it kinda makes sense?…
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.
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.
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.
Matt’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?”
The 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.
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!”
(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.
“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!’
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!
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.
Along 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.
Much 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.
The past year regarding the race to see who will be the next President of the United States, has been a spectacle in itself (largely egged on by a number of media networks, on a mad quest for ratings).
As we come up on the National Conventions regarding the major political parties, a certain businessman who has decided to run, put me in mind of an episode of the animated television show, The Critic. In the show’s 2nd season in 1995, cocky businessman Duke Phillips, thought he had what it took to take control of one of the most powerful countries in the world.
And so, let’s dive into my latest Retro Recap, of The Critic‘s episode, All The Duke’s Men.
As the show starts, we find Jay Sherman working with his son Marty, to write a speech. Marty wants to run for 8th grade class president, at the United Nations International School he attends. However, when they try to find a ‘hook’ that they can use to drum up support, Marty claims that he doesn’t have anything major going for him, as he’s just an average kid.
Jay figures this is the hook they need, feeling Marty claiming he’s just like his classmates, is the perfect slogan to pitch to them (“they’ll lap it up like cheap booze at Drew Barrymore’s Sweet 16 Party!”).
Marty goes before the students the next day, telling how he’s “The Regular Kid,” and that he’ll work hard to build the best homecoming float ever.
He also eagerly shouts out to many different members of the school in their native languages (even Klingon!), and gets plenty of affirmative returns!
The campaign slogan works, and Marty wins by a landslide!
Jay shows a video of the kids cheering for Marty to his girlfriend/assistant Alice, and his boss, Duke Phillips. This causes Duke to consider running for President of the United States.
“But you’re not a politician, you’re a businessman,” counters Jay.
“All the better,” says Duke. “I made a multi-national media conglomerate out of a humble fried chicken franchise.”
(This is true, as the giant sign outside of the Phillips Broadcasting building, tells how it was formerly Duke Phillip’s House of Chicken and Waffles)
After seeing how well Marty’s campaign went, Duke asks Jay to become his speech writer, and even offers him any position in the government he’d like.
Jay thinks long and hard about this, and asks his friend, actor Jeremy Hawke, for some advice.
However, Jeremy doesn’t provide anything concrete, except telling how easy it was for him to ‘play’ a President in a spy film (right).
Meanwhile, Marty attempts to rally his class to help him build the homecoming float. However, when they find that electing Marty means they’re expected to do work, they abandon him! Fortunately, Jay, Alice, and her daughter Penny, agree to help him.
During their work, Jay explains his trepidations about Duke to Alice, afraid that his boss will end up standing for the wrong things if he runs for President. She counters this thought, encouraging Jay to act as a conscience, and guide him.
Duke then goes public with his Presidential plans, quickly catching the people’s ear about ‘who’ he is. He first appears on a late-night talk-show, with host Tom Snyder.
“It’s time we had a President who’s not beholden to ‘special interests,'” Duke tells Tom. “I’m a self-made Billionaire, and the only person who can bribe me, is a Bazillionaire.”
Positive public opinion quickly escalates for Duke, and he grows even happier when he receives a request to meet with Bob Dole, figuring he’s got the Republicans “running scared.”
The two meet, and Duke eagerly tells of his wish to become the Republican Party nominee. However Bob warns Duke against it, threatening to release a video of Duke getting teary-eyed over reading a poem to a cat.
“Fine, I’ll run as an Independent,” promises Duke, wishing to still keep his ‘secret shame,’ secret.
While Duke struggles to make his way Independently, Marty struggles in his attempts to build the homecoming float by himself. He wishes to just give up, but Jay reminds his son that building a great homecoming float, was one of his campaign promises to the other 8th grade kids.
“But all they want to do is goof off and eat candy,”complains Marty.
“Well son, as President, you’re above that,” says Jay (before remembering how well ‘goofing off and eating candy’ worked out for a certain 2-term President in the 1980’s).
Jay then works on more speeches for Duke, pushing him into the good graces of the NRA, the Jewish Community, and zombies (“I promise you zombies, more raw human flesh, than any President since Roosevelt!”).
We then catch up with Marty. The Homecoming Parade is now on, and his float concept of George Washington on a horse, has only been completed up to the horse’s hindquarters.
The 8th grader’s float is still entered into the parade, but a stray flaming baton from a cheerleader in front of the float hits the sculpture, leading to it becoming (in the words of Principal Mangosuthu), “A flaming horse’s pa-toot!”
Even so, the students cheer at the final result…though the float soon breaks away, crashing into a theater (advertising Cats: Now and Forever), followed by a huge explosion.
“And nothing of value was lost,” sighs Jay.
Back at Duke’s campaign headquarters, the picture is less rosy.
His campaign adviser tells him that he’s not a big hit with women voters. Duke then shows his ignorance to the common person, when he is surprised that women have the right to vote.
He is also forced to take down a number of anti-Irish campaign ads, when he is informed that ostracizing this part of the population is also politically incorrect.
Duke then tries a number of new tactics. They range from marrying actress June Lockhart, to using a hypnotic, ‘evil eye’ on negative reporters.
Jay grows doubtful about continuing to work on the campaign given Duke’s current actions, but is enticed to continue as speechwriter, when Duke promises that Jay can make and star in a film if Duke wins the election.
With the Guam Primaries(?) coming up, Duke wants Jay to write him a new speech. He also introduces Jay to his Vice-Presidential running mate.
“He’s a former ambassador, cabinet member, and ex-governor of New York,” Duke proudly proclaims.
Those criteria might fly fine for some, but to Jay, it can only mean one thing: Duke has chosen Jay’s Dad, Franklin Sherman, as his running mate! And Franklin, is known for his little…quirks.
The Primaries get underway, and as expected, Franklin babbles away like a crazed mental patient.
After the fiasco, Duke demands Jay write a speech wherein he can fire Franklin, but Jay claims he can’t do that to his own family.
Things reach a head when during a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s new musical (“Apocalypse Wow“), a loud and flashing message is broadcast, demanding people “vote for Duke!”
This causes Jay to vocally refuse to help Duke any further, and once more refusing to help him fire Jay’s father.
Duke then takes over the stage of Jay’s show, and ‘honestly’ tell the people watching, what he really will do as President.
“I’ll run this country like I run my company,” he proclaims. “I’m gonna raid the pension fund, dump chemicals in the ocean, and sell our best assets to the Japanese!
“Half of you states are in the toilet, and you’re not coming out! New York, you know what I’m talking about! California, kiss your smoggy butt goodbye! New England, you’re going back to Old England!”
After leaving the stage, June Lockhart tells Duke off, claiming she wants a divorce, and thinks he’d be a terrible President.
She also calls on her former TV co-star Lassie to attack Duke, and the entertainment mogul finds himself trying to fend off the angry collie.
Needless to say, it looks like Duke’s campaign is over, as Jay shows up to deliver the final words.
“Well, that’s our show for tonight, folks! We didn’t review many movies, but tune in next week, when we have Gentle Ben, maul Newt Gingrich! Good night, everybody!”
And that was All The Duke’s Men.
It’s hard to believe that all these years later, the show’s story has somewhat become reality, as we currently have an opinionated businessman trying to take the Presidential Seat (I won’t name names, but you all know who).
Of course, much like The Simpsons, the show’s writer gets in plenty of jabs at former Presidents and wannabes. There’s a few jabs at Reagan, and in Marty Sherman’s run for class president, former Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis can be seen (“I thought I would start small, with an election, I could win.”). Though even the school’s 8th grade class has no faith in Mike, booing him off the stage.
There’s even a scene where Duke wonders what became of Independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot, and we see that Ross and his VP nominee James Stockdale, are down on their luck, delivering pizzas.
We also see how Duke’s wealth and power, extend into other parts of his empire, outside the media. Duke takes Jay to his theme park, and shows him his Hall of Presidents exhibit, with a number of figures having their speeches changed to drum up support for Duke.
John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton’s audio have changed to give their support, but the figure of “Slick Willy,” looks a little different (see left).
“That’s not Clinton,” points out Jay. “That’s just one of your mechanical Hillbilly Bears.”
“Yeah, but so far nobody’s noticed,” replies Duke.
Of course, Jay manages to slip in a few of his own ‘wishes’ into his bosses’ speeches. One that comes to pass, is the tarring and feathering of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Duke originally promises to do this if elected President, but when other political figures see how well Duke’s poll numbers are doing, they try to fulfill some of his campaign promises to get voters on their side. Bill Clinton is one person, and he signs the bill that leads to Arnold promising: “I’ll be BAWK!”
Like some other episodes of the show, this one has some jokes or story points that seem to still bring up some topics that are relevant, all these years later.
Notable is when Duke appears before the NRA to gain their support.
“I believe Americans have the right to bear arms,” Duke declares, “Except for vicious, cop-killing assault rifles!”
Needless to say, that exception is met with a ‘flurry of outbursts’ from the crowd.
However, Duke strikes back with some heavy weaponry of his own at the naysayers (“Bazooka Duke says chew on this!”)…and his ‘I mean business’ tactic actually wins over the survivors in the room.
Marty Sherman’s running for Class President works as a nice lead-in and parallel to Duke’s story, notably in how fickle voters can be at times.
With such an entertaining story about politics as this one, it should also be noted that writer Patric Verrone, has quite a remarkable list of credentials. He attended both Harvard College and Boston College Law School. He was editor on the Harvard Lampoon, and even wrote for The Tonight Show, before going into animation writing, on shows like The Critic, and Futurama. Plus, he is also a former president of The Writers Guild of America (West).
In writing this Recap, I decided to see if Patric was on social media, and hit the jackpot. I inquired about some of the eerie coincidences in the episode, to current events. His response?
Hotchie Motchie indeed, Patric. Hotchie Motchie, indeed!
Almost 20 years later, it’s surprising how often I find myself referencing the animated series, The Critic.
Touted as being from the creators of The Simpsons, the show followed New York film critic Jay Sherman, as he attempted to put up with reviewing plenty of dreck from La-La-Land, dealing with his crazy socialite parents, and getting into strange situations on each episode.
Sadly, the show didn’t fare too well. After its 13-episode run on ABC, the show was picked up by FOX, for what would become a 10-episode second season, before being cancelled completely from television.
Jay did return to the public eye in 2000, in several animated webcomics. However, unlike the original television series, Jay simply was there to review recent films, not have a series of wacky adventures.
In light of a certain film sequel coming out this week, that has been verbally reviled online since it was announced (I’ll let you figure out what film it is), I thought I’d do a Retro Recap, regarding one episode that could almost be on the same wavelength as that internet vitriol.
After reviewing Al Pacino’s latest film (Scent of a Jack@$$), Jay confides to his stylist Doris, that he’s written a screenplay. He asks her to read it to give her opinion, but she turns down his request.
Fortunately, Jay gets positive feedback from several of his closest friends, as well as his sister.
He also ends up getting a ‘celebrity endorsement’ from his friend, action-film star Jeremy Hawke (though it wasn’t Jeremy who read it, but his script-readers who gave Jay’s work a positive endorsement). Of course, Jeremy has some additional ideas on how it could be improved:
“All it needs is a few car chases, a rap song by Salt N Pepa, and a ‘message’ of some sort!”
Of course, Jay isn’t easily swayed by these suggestions, but when Jeremy sees the script as having true potential to become a successful film, he takes his friend’s advice, and decides to take his script to Hollywood!
Before heading west, he asks to take a sabbatical from his boss Duke Phillips. Jay’s feelings are that making a film and reviewing them at the same time, might be considered a conflict of interest.
“You want to hear a conflict of interest?” asks Duke. “I own a cigarette company, and a company that sells nicotine patches. I own a baseball team, and I bet against them. I love America, but for tax purposes, I’m a citizen of the Dutch Antilles.”
“Gee, thanks for sharing all that with me,” says Jay. “Now that I know all your secrets, you don’t have to kill me, do you?”
“If I do,” says Duke, narrowing his eyes, “you’ll never see it coming.”
Those words are on Jay’s mind, as he and Jeremy take off in an airplane. As they fly over the Midwest, Jeremy remarks how in the space between New York and Los Angeles, are all the people that see his movies (which are often not so thought-provoking).
Down below, a farm father and his son are working in a field.
“Look Pa, the 9:25 to Hollywood,” calls out the son, pointing skyward.
“Yep,” says Pa. “Those are the folks that fill our lives with blockbuster movies, moronic situation comedies…award shows, where award shows win awards?…get my gun, boy!”
Shortly afterwards, the plane’s pilot tells the passengers that they are being shot at by farmers (again).
Eventually, the plane lands in Los Angeles, and Jay and Jeremy head to Quality Pictures.
Jeremy introduces Jay to the head of the studio, Gary Grossman…who at first wants to throttle Jay for how he has bad-mouthed so many of the studio’s pictures (“your bad reviews have cost my Japanese Masters over one billion yen!”).
Luckily, Jeremy steers the conversation to Jay’s script. Gary skims it, and offers Jay $100,000 for it!
Jay eagerly accepts, but is shocked when Gary explains that Jay has agreed to take payment, for the studio to NOT make his script into a film.
Gary claims it is ‘too good,’ and quickly puts it in a bin with a number of other scripts, that were also ‘too good.’ These scripts include topics such as a lesbian love story, and a biography on Galileo.
Gary then offers Jay a consolation, by asking him to write the script, to Ghostchasers III.
Jay is at first against this, since he hated the previous Ghostchasers films. Plus, he’d be becoming his own worst enemy: the kind of person who writes the kind of films he often hates to review on his show!
However, Jeremy tells Jay that this could be his chance to make the series better. If the film is well-received, it could be his stepping-stone to making the kinds of award-winning films with deep subject matter, that Jay yearns to make!
Jay decides to give in, and quickly falls into the Hollywood nightmare.
Talking to several of the studio executives, he finds that the only cast member they got back from the first sequels is (in their words), “The Black Guy.” When asked about possible improvements to the story, they tell Jay that merchandise sales didn’t do so well on Ghostchasers II, and they pitch a few ideas that could turn that around, leading to Jay taking “copious notes.”
Jay also has to deal with Grossman providing ideas, one of which is a 50 foot battery with the voice of Pat Morita (his idea, since a battery company is willing to give money to finance the film).
Feeling that talking to people in the studio is getting him nowhere, Gary allows Jay to meet with some directors, to get some ideas on where to take the plot of the film. His guests include Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, and Spike Lee. But even here, he finds little respite.
Jay meets up with Jeremy again, and explains that things aren’t getting any better. Jeremy soon recommends that Jay just try to enjoy himself out in Los Angeles, feeling that he’s focusing too intently, and that relaxing might help him.
Jay gets a makeover and a sports car, and invites his son Marty out to partake in sightseeing. However, Marty soon makes Jay see that he’s doing little more, than being “a showbiz phony.”
“My God, you’re right, son,” says Jay. “I’ve forgotten why I came to Hollywood: To write the sequel to the sequel to a movie I didn’t think they should have made in the first place!”
(actually he came to sell his script and get it made into a film, but it seems that Jay has forgotten all about that part of the plot)
Marty’s pep-talk causes Jay to get ‘back on track,’ and soon completes the script, noting that it feels as if a divine force was guiding his hand…though, not quite (see right).
Jay then turns in his script to Gary…but when Jay asks for an opinion on it a few hours later, Gary takes off in his sports car, with Jay giving chase. Eventually, Gary crashes, and Jay demands to know what he thought of it.
Gary quickly spews forth words such as ‘crummy,’ excrement,’ and ‘junk.’
The next day, Jay finds his parking spot moved, and his office now being redecorated as a private bathroom for Tom Cruise. The writing is on the wall that Jay has been canned, and that his script is most likely not going to be used for the sequel.
Jay returns to New York, and three months later(!), Ghostchasers III is released.
Jay immediately lashes out about it on the air, even going so far as to list the addresses of the studio executives of Quality Pictures! However, the scene cuts to the following disclaimer:
This is followed by the video feed returning, with Jay in a towel, as he’s hauled off to New York State Penitentiary for 30 days.
Along with having a rather forward bunkmate (“let me give you a shiatsu massage”), Jay soon finds there are worse things, when one day, the prisoners are subjected to a screening of Ghostchasers III.
“Is there no end to my torment!?” he wails.
The clip we see, shows a Rick Moranis-like character, telling the Ghostchasers that New York is being attacked by an 80-ft Ed Koch! This is soon followed by a giant version of the city’s former mayor, causing chaos, as he asks loudly, “How’m I doin?”
The response from the audience isn’t good, and they soon start a riot.
“They hate it,” says Jay, growing happy that the men in the room also see just how bad the film is. “For once in my life, I truly belong!”
His bunkmate returns with some popcorn (“no salt, just the way you like it”), leaving Jay to think that his remaining days in the penitentiary, might not be so bad after all.
And that was L.A. Jay.
Definitely not one of the best episodes of The Critic, but I did love how it poked fun at the often ridiculous ways that Hollywood seemed to work against good taste.
The struggle to make something tasteful, while being brushed up against an army of P.R. and marketing people, is definitely shown in how noone at the ironically named Quality Pictures, seems to care about story, but only about making money.
We’ve all seen plenty of examples of studios putting product placement over story in many films (*cough*BatmanandRobin*cough*).
A surprise several years after I saw the episode, was the revelation that Gary Grossman, was voiced by Billy Crystal! Billy manages to alter his voice enough, that the tone seems a perfect fit for the illiterate ex-gigolo turned film-studio head.
What’s also funny are how some references have taken on a different meaning all these years later.
Notable is a quote given to Coppola as he lays out his ideas for where the third Ghostchasers film could go: “I think one of the Ghostchasers should be a woman. She should be strong, intelligent. Someone like, oh I don’t know, my daughter, Sofia.”
In 1993, Sofia was still taking the slings and arrows for her role in The Godfather Part III. Though almost a decade later, she’d be seen as an up-and-coming director in the independent film world, garnering plenty of praise for the film, Lost in Translation.
The show could also poke fun at Hollywood making sequels to current films (like Jurassic Park, Speed, and even Home Alone).
In going over his pile of ‘too good’ scripts, Gary Grossman is surprised, when he finds a script for Revenge of the Nerds IV.
“What are you doing here you beautiful thing, when you could be making me a mint!”
At the time the show aired, Fox had actually released Revenge of the Nerds IV as a TV-movie, so once has to wonder if the show writers knew about this, and if it might have been a little jab at the studio.
It’s also fun to see the Variety headlines that Jeremy is reading (circa 1994):
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
There is also a running gag throughout, as every other thing Jay is given, from a director’s chair, to his office at the studio, has his name papered over the name of Andrew “Dice” Clay.
This may have been a jab at Clay, who after being an actor in the late 80’s, largely switched over to stand-up material at the time the show was made.
Another fun bit is when Jay daydreams about being able to one day write something, that could garner him an Academy Award.
In his imagination, he accepts the award, but also uses the win as a platform to bring attention to something he feels needs to be addressed: “Independence for Quebec!”
This is followed by a number of Quebeckians cheering for him from their basement viewing area, chanting: “Viva Jay Sherman! Viva Quebec!”
Of course, much of the recap was truncated, as the writing gets so intricate at times, I could have spent another 1500 words itemizing everything. Though I think the recap works pretty well in this “abridged” form.
I have another Retro Recap coming up soon for a Season 2 episode of The Critic, so we’ll see how that one fares compared to this one.
*With the rise of DVD’s in the late 1990’s, one feature many promised with the addition of Special Features, were audio commentaries. These would often contain dialogue from the film’s crew, or even film historians. In this category, I’ll discuss some of the audio commentary tracks that I feel are rather compelling, and end up being entertaining, in regards to the information provided, and what is being said.*
One item that quickly caught my attention with the rise of the DVD, were audio commentaries. However, while some studios went straight to the behind-the-scenes personnel like film directors and writers, someone at Warner Brothers actually had a really great idea when it came to repackaging some of their more ‘classic’ feature films.
One film that had grown to be a classic in their library, was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
For special features on the film’s DVD, a new documentary had been made, along with pulling together several other items from the archives…but when it came to audio commentary, the studio went the extra mile.
Though unable to secure Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka) or director Mel Stuart, they were able to get the actors who had played the five main kids in the film.
They were Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde), and Paris Themmen (Mike TeeVee).
Plus, since the making of the film, it had been 30 years since they had all been in one place together!
The commentary rarely ever gets boring, and there’s a constant exchange of words and memories throughout. I thought I’d share a few of them here, for the film’s 45th anniversary.
What’s funny as the commentary goes on, is hearing that both Denise Nickerson and Julie Dawn Cole, seemed a bit boy-crazy in their early teen days.
Very quickly, it’s mentioned how they had a crush on Peter Ostrum, oftentimes taking turns on who ‘got’ Peter during various days.
Other times, there was talk of how the runner-up would end up with the assistant director’s son, Bobby Rowe.
One fun bit is where the girls try to draw Peter into the conversation about their pre-teen infatuation with him:
Denise Nickerson: Peter, does this just make you blush just thinking that two women were just fighting over you? But we did it so politely, and so civilly, didn’t we?
Julie Dawn Cole: Yeah, we did.
Denise Nickerson: Yeah, we understood, one day was mine, one day was yours (aka Julie’s), it was a good fight.
Peter: Moving right along…
In several portions of the commentary, the actors discuss how the film’s director, Mel Stuart, could often be so exacting, that he would keep pushing and pushing on an actor until the scene was perfect.
Paris Themmen makes note of this in Mike Teevee’s introductory scene, in which he tells the news reporters that his Dad is going to get him a real six-shooter one day.
When Mike’s father proudly replies, “not til’ you’re twelve, son,” Paris shares a behind-the-scenes fact:
Paris Themmen: Ok, great line, one of the big laughs, I’ve seen it in theatres and everybody laughs at that line…it took us at least 45 takes to get him to say that line right.
Denise Nickerson: Oh, my-
Paris Themmen: I’m sorry, I don’t know where the actor is now, I apologize, but, it was a combination of his read and things going wrong with the set and so forth, and, that was the take that just took a lot of takes.
Not quite a type of wart…
For playing such a brat on-screen, Julie Dawn Cole was nothing like her character…in some respects. Though she wasn’t a stuck-up loud-mouth, she somehow managed to keep her everlasting gobstopper, as well as one of the film’s golden eggs (which were not meant to be taken!).
Of course, Julie also had her own ‘trial by fire,’ when it came to Veruca’s golden tresses:
Julie Dawn Cole: It was in the day, 30 years ago, when the main obsession was about split-ends, and every single shampoo product was about curing the split-ends. And we had a German makeup lady, who was obsessed with split-ends. And she used to twist my hair like into a tight rope, and then run a candle down it, and burn the split-ends off. And if you look during the movie, my hair shrinks, because it caught fire, several times!
A fun game is to see if one can see how short Julie’s hair is in certain scenes. The scene where she enters the factory, was her first day of shooting, and the day that it was at its longest.
The Dangers of Chewing Gum
When it came to gum-chewing as Violet Beauregarde, Denise Nickerson was often seen on camera chewing away, before she eventually swelled up into a blueberry for her big scene.
During the commentary, a question arose regarding all that chewing:
Paris Themmen: Did your jaw ever get tired?
Denise Nickerson: I spent two months in the dentist’s chair when I got back.
Paris Themmen: Really?
Denise Nickerson: This was before sugar-less gum, so yes, I did spend a lot of time at the dentist.
Of course, a reminder of her role seeped back into the real world with Denise, when she returned to the US after filming:
Denise Nickerson: So, I’m sitting in my math class two days later in New York City, I went to Rhodes School, I’m on the fifth floor of a brownstone in New York City, and all the kids start looking at me, and pointing at me and snickering you know, and I’m like: “What? What?”
And my girlfriend looked at me and she says, “you’re turning blue!”
Well the makeup had started resurfacing through my pores, and only my neck, my face, and my hands were blue. Ladies room was on the second floor so needless to say that I flew down there, never got asked for a date in that school but uh, what can you do?
Over the years, some child actors are often plucked out of obscurity, bask in the limelight for a bit, and then return to ‘the real world.’ That was the case with Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket. Though he was offered a multi-picture deal following the film, Peter’s family declined the offer.
Though the other four kids do get in trouble, Charlie was not as innocent as he was in Dahl’s book. Charlie does transgress into being a semi-bad kid when Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson) convinces him they should try the fizzy-lifting drinks, and while he doesn’t meet a horrid demise, Ostrum does tell that the scene was anything-but-pleasant:
Peter Ostrum: Jack (Albertson) and I thought this was going to be great fun-
Julie Dawn Cole: And?
Peter Ostrum: and it wasn’t. We wore these leather, “girdles” is the only way I can describe them and, all your weight, is hanging, right on your crotch. Jack made reference that the music that should be played to this, should be from “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Peter shares quite a few other stories about Jack Albertson, who also showed them some of his old vaudeville routines during the production.
Much like The Wizard of Oz, the film was not a hit upon its release, but through re-releases, television, and home video, the film quickly became a staple in the viewing diets of many young persons.
I wasn’t raised on live-action musicals as a child, though I did see it when I was 4, and then 6 years later when in 4th grade, when most of the class voted to see it as our pre-Christmas movie.
Much like Julie Dawn Cole had to work through her dislike of chocolate (true story!), I slowly came around to the film over the years, though still don’t hold it in quite as high regard as most people out there.
Even so, it isn’t without its charm, and its behind-the-scenes stories about how it was created, still entertain me to this day.