For those of us who grew up in the 1990’s, there was one commercial ad campaign that you couldn’t ignore.
Beginning on October 27th, 1993, the Got Milk ad campaign officially began showing up on TV. Soon it would be in print magazines, on billboards, and many other places.
For many like myself who watched a lot of television in the mid-1990’s, there are many commercials that were made for the campaign, that are still stuck in my head. There were so many, that I decided to compile my (personal) Top 5 favorites from the Got Milk ad campaign (hint: most of them are from the early days of the campaign).
And so, here’s my little stroll down memory lane.
A nervous man enters a convenience store, and picks up three boxes of cereal, including Trix. At the register, the old woman chastises him for this.
“Don’t you know Trix are for kids?” she laughs, ringing him up, as he bolts out the door.
Once returns to his apartment, the man empties the cereal into a bowl, before suddenly, unzipping his skin(!), revealing that he is the Trix rabbit in disguise!
The rabbit is finally about to enjoy his cereal, when he realizes…that he’s out of milk!
Over the years, the Got Milk campaign would often bring some star-power into their commercials. After all, how else to get the kids’ attention, than to use characters and icons they were familiar with? Additional iconic characters used over the years, included The Powerpuff Girls, and Mario from Nintendo.
Personally, I felt that the Trix rabbit commercial was the stronger of these concepts, given that it played with the topic of desperation, and then trips up the main character right before he can achieve his goal…which was often a staple of many different Got Milk commercials.
Of course, if one looked at the commercial logically, the rabbit could simply eat the cereal without milk (plus, four years before this commercial came out, a promotional campaign had let kids across America, vote to let him eat the cereal during a Trix commercial).
As the clock strikes six, an old woman prepares to feed her cats. Unfortunately, she quickly realizes she’s all out of milk.
Looking for a substitute, she finds some non-dairy creamer in a cupboard.
“Oh look,” she says to herself. “Just like milk.”
Mixing the creamer with water, she then proceeds to feed the cats…but one lick, and they turn on her.
Next thing we see, are paws closing the blinds, locking the doors…and turning off the power to the house!
This was one of those commercials where someone tries to get out of a bad situation, but as we soon see, their fate is sealed.
Most likely thanks to a number of Stephen King-based films, we know that when you mess with cats, things aren’t going to turn out well. Though as the commercial begins, I don’t think anyone expected the final outcome, making the final moments both humorous…and a little uncomfortable.
As the commercial starts, we see a businessman firing someone over his cellular phone…before nonchalantly walking out into the middle of a street, and getting hit by a truck!
Next, we see him in an all-white world.
“Welcome, to eternity,” a female voice says, as the man notices a pile of huge chocolate-chip cookies on a table.
“Heaven,” he murmurs, taking some bites, before going to the nearby fridge, and finding it filled with milk cartons.
However, as he picks one up, he finds it empty. Pretty soon, he realizes that all of the cartons are empty!
“Wait a minute,” he murmurs, “where am I?”
Growing up, I often felt that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had some important lessons. The most important lesson of all? Don’t be a jerk!
The businessman and his joy over someone less-fortunate than himself, seems very much in line with Twilight Zone characters who realize too late, what their selfishness has wrought upon themselves.
The kicker for this commercial, is we don’t even need to be told where this guy is spending “eternity.” It’s spelled out for us in the Got Milk logo we see at the end of the commercial…which is on fire!
In a boardroom, we see a number of men sitting around a large table, trying to name a familiar black-and-white sandwich cookie.
As the men dunk their cookies in milk and play with them, all sorts of names are thrown out, from “twist-o-cookie,” to “choco-lama.”
The head of the company (named C.W.), doesn’t feel any of these names are winners.
“What do you think, Hurley?” he asks, to a man with his mouth full of cookie.
At this point, Hurley attempts to pour himself a glass of milk, but finds the carton empty. Addressing the boss, he shrugs his shoulders, and mutters through his mouthful of cookie: “Or-eo (aka ‘I don’t know’).”
“Hurley,” say C.W., his eyes opening wide, “you’re a genius.”
I’ve always been a fan of word-puns, and the way the writers come up with the punchline for this commercial, has always been one of my favorites! It’s still funny to see Hurley’s “accidental genius” moment.
While we have seen other cookie-related Got Milk commercials, the Oreo sandwich cookie has often prided itself on being an accessory to milk. This was one of the few times where we had a food product referenced by name in one of the commercials, rather than the nondescript chocolate-chip cookies in a number of them.
As the commercial opens, we see a man sitting at a table, making a peanut-butter sandwich. As he stuffs the sandwich into his mouth, the radio program he’s listening to, begins it’s daily contest.
“For $10,000,” says the announcer, “who shot Alexander Hamilton, in that famous duel?”
The young man’s eyes go wide…as he’s sitting amongst all sorts of Hamilton-related historical items!
Just then, the phone rings. The man picks it up, and hears the announcer’s voice!
However, his mouth is still crammed full of sandwich, and he is unable to clearly say, “Aaron Burr.”
Grabbing the carton of milk nearby, he finds it to be empty…just as the radio announcer says his time has run out, and the phone-line goes dead!
I don’t think it’s any surprise that this, the first Got Milk commercial, ended up being my favorite.
What is surprising to a lot of people, is when they find out who directed this commercial: Michael Bay!
Bay’s kinetic filming and editing style is on display here, as the scenes cut fast-and-furiously all around the room. We get all sorts of information that the guy in the commercial is a huge fan of Hamilton and Burr, though when one stops to question things a bit more, it can make your head hurt (as most of Bay’s feature films have done).
The commercial went on to win several awards, and in 2015, was parodied in a promotional commercial, related to the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Over the years, the Got Milk slogan would also end up being mentioned in a number of shows and films, cementing it’s place in America’s pop-culture. It would also be used in a number of other slogans (such as Got Jesus).
The campaign also branched out into advertising for chocolate milk, and even had a Hispanic outreach with the slogan, Familia, Amor y Leche (“Family, Love and Milk”).
In 2014, there was an attempt to change the Got Milk slogan to Milk Life. However, in the Summer of 2018, Got Milk officially returned, to try and give the dairy products a boost, in the face of 21st century offerings like almond and soy milk. Plus, just like the big to-do over the years regarding the health benefits/risks of “the incredible edible egg,” dairy-based milk may not be the be-all/end-all to strong bones, and prevention of osteoporosis.
It’s interesting to think about what has happened to the world of milk-based products over the past 25 years, and if the current attempts to steer people back towards the dairy aisle, will work as well in the early 21st century, as it did on people’s consumer tastes in the late 20th century.
Along with it’s introspection and sometimes humorous observations on topics like religion over the years, The Simpsons’ writers also had no problems skewering a common, everyday thing that many adults often find themselves wrapped up in: Politics.
Whether it was aliens Kang and Kodos invading Earth during an election year, or Homer rallying Springfield’s brainless slobs with a bunch of crazy promises, they often found ways to think up the most ridiculous political concepts that today, seem to have become (terrifyingly) prescient!
Most often say that when it comes to political figures, they want someone that is honest, has integrity, and will lead by good example. Sadly, that doesn’t usually happen to be the case most of the time. In the season 6 episode Sideshow Bob Roberts, the writers not only brought back an entertaining supporting character, but spun a story about how the manipulation of facts and truth, could make people vote for a man against their basic principles.
As the show opens, we find Homer and a number of other people in Springfield, listening to Conservative talk show host, Birch Barlow.
Barlow quickly begins checking off a number of constants that Springfield seems unable to do anything about, including it’s 6-term Mayor, Diamond Joe Quimby.
Barlow claims that a bunch of ‘tie-dyed tree-huggers’ are to blame for the town’s ‘Quimby Quagmire,’ and that the time supporting the Mayor, could be better spent ‘locking up the homeless.’
Later on that day, Homer and Lisa are out for a drive and listening to Barlow (mainly at the insistence of Homer). Barlow soon begins taking calls, and a man named Bob calls in.
“Thanks for putting the ‘public’ back in the Republican Party,” cites Bob. “It’s time people realized we conservatives aren’t all Johnny Hatemongers and Charlie Bible-Thumps or even, God forbid, George Bushes.”
The deep tone of the caller’s voice suddenly hits Lisa, and she realizes that Birch is talking to Sideshow Bob!
Sometime afterward, we see Mayor Quimby visiting the Springfield Retirement Castle, trying to get the Seniors there (including Grandpa Simpson) to support his new expressway plan. Naturally, the Seniors won’t support such a proposal, unless there’s something in it for them. Upon hearing about what they like, the Mayor suggests calling it The Matlock Expressway, and the Seniors quickly warm to the proposal.
We then hear Bob call back to Birch’s show, and claim that he was falsely imprisoned (“‘attempted murder,'” sneers Bob over the phone, “now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for ‘attempted chemistry?'”).
Barlow claims that this is another example of liberal bias against intelligent conservatives, and incites a number of his local listeners to protest for Bob’s release.
Mayor Quimby is soon overwhelmed by protesters, and wanting to avoid further negativity from his constituents, fully pardons Bob.
We then cut to a meeting at the Republican Party Headquarters (held in an ancient castle!). With the Springfield mayoral election coming up, a number of the party’s local members (including Mr Burns, Birch Barlow, and even actor Ramier Wolfcastle!), are seeking a proper opponent for Quimby.
“We need a candidate with name-recognition and media savvy,” says Mr Burns. “A true leader…who will do exactly as he’s told!”
It is then that Birch introduces everyone to Bob, with Ramier Wolfcastle claiming that he ‘likes the human touch’ that Bob brings to the group.
After Bob is confirmed as a viable candidate, he and Mayor Quimby do a press appearance with the kids at Springfield Elementary, concerning education. However, Bob puts on a show attempting to make Quimby look incompetent, and most of the kids just eat up his act.
Bart and Lisa attempt to steer attention towards Quimby, claiming they heard him say that ‘kids are the most important natural resource we have.’
“Even more important than coal?” questions news-anchor Kent Brockman.
Seconds after the ‘publicity stunt,’ Bart is thrown into a limo with Bob and some henchmen, and whisked away.
“Oh, that was a big mistake, Bart,” growls Bob. “No children have ever meddled with the Republican Party and lived to tell about it.”
It looks like Bob may have Bart eliminated right then-and-there, but his men simply put ‘Vote Bob’ paraphernalia on him, and return him to the Simpsons’ home.
Even with the threat of Bob possibly coming after him, Bart works with Lisa to help Mayor Quimby’s election, despite Quimby’s own rickety track-record.
“This time, he’s the lesser of two evils,” says Lisa, as they attempt to hand out bumper stickers and pins.
Just like Quimby, Bob also attempts to win over the Seniors at the Retirement Castle. He sweetens the Matlock Expressway deal, promising to build it, AND, spend the afternoon listening to the Seniors’ ‘interminable anecdotes’ (a move he quickly regrets).
Next, Bob and Quimby have a televised debate. While Bob seems confident, Quimby has caught a cold and has taken medication to combat it. However, his unkempt appearance and drowsy demeanor, makes the effervescent Bob quickly win over the audience.
When it comes time to vote on the candidates, some are willing to forgive some of Bob’s more glaring crimes.
“I don’t approve of his Bart-killing policy,” notes Homer. “But I do approve of his Selma-killing policy.”
“Well, he framed me for armed robbery,” thinks Krusty, “But man, I’m achin’ for that upper-class tax cut.”
Final election results are soon released on the local news, showing Bob winning 99% of the votes, and Quimby just 1% (“and we remind you there is a one-percent margin of error,” adds Kent Brockman).
After he wins, Bob makes good on (quickly) fulfilling his promise to build the Matlock Expressway…which is re-routed to go right through where the Simpsons’ house is, with Bob giving the family 72 hours to vacate.
Bart is also affected by the election, when Bob has him sent back to kindergarten (much to the delight of Mrs Krabappel).
As the family faces the loss of their home, Lisa begins to question the final election results.
“I can’t believe a convicted felon would get so many votes, and another convicted felon would get so few,” she thinks aloud.
Going to the Hall of Records, Lisa pores over the election results, but soon falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds a letter telling her to go to a parking garage that evening.
Lisa brings Bart along, and the two come across a shadowy figure, who refuses to reveal who he is….until Homer turns on the car’s headlights, revealing the secret informant to be Mr Smithers!
The Simpsons then drive Smithers home. On the way, he mentions his misgiving about some of Sideshow Bob’s ‘ultra-conservative views,’ claiming they ‘clash with his choice of lifestyle.’
Wanting to help, he tells them to look for the name, Edgar Neubauer.
The kids check the phone books and the public library, but find no trace of Edgar. However, they are soon surprised when Bart sees the name on a tombstone in the local cemetery.
“Oh my God,” he exclaims. “The dead have risen and are voting Republican!”
Lisa tells Bart that in truth, Bob most likely solidified his win by rigging the election, and having a number of dead persons vote for him.
The list even uses names from the local Pet Cemetery…including Lisa’s dead cat, Snowball 1!
“Alright Bob,” she angrily cries out. “Now it’s personal!”
“Hey! He did try to kill me,” notes Bart.
With the information the two have obtained, Bob is put on trial, but attorney Lionel Hutz seems unable to get Bob to confess.
Lisa and Bart then step forward. Playing to Bob’s ego, Lisa claims that Bob was nothing more than a pawn in a scheme, run by Birch Barlow.
Bob’s hubris gets the better of him, and his calm demeanor breaks! He confesses to not only rigging the election, but also provides documents (that he conveniently carried in with him!) that tell of his plans.
“But why?” asks the judge, looking over the files.
“Because you need me, Springfield,” says Bob, grandstanding before the jury and the rest of the courtroom. “Your guilty conscience may tell you to vote Democratic…but deep down, you long for a hard-nosed Republican to raise taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did it: to save you from yourselves! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.”
However, Bob’s verbal outrage is enough to have him placed under arrest, and Quimby wins the election by default.
This also means construction on the Matlock Expressway is halted, sparing the Simpsons’ home (but angering the seniors at the Retirement Castle). Bart is also returned to the fourth grade.
As Bob reads the headlines, he vows to escape from his prison…which should be relatively easy, since he’s been placed in the Springfield Minimum Security Prison. Unlike a regular prison, it has no no fences, and it’s own rowing team of Ivy League educated prisoners.
Sideshow Bob Roberts marked Bob’s third major appearance on the show, and seemed to cement him as a constant thorn in Bart Simpson’s side, as each new season was rolled out.
Given the political nature of the episode, the show writers really play around with the absurdity of campaigns. In one television ad, a narrator tells how Mayor Quimby let Sideshow Bob out of prison, before telling the viewers to vote for Bob.
Even back in the early 1990’s, I and a lot of other people were often surprised when the show would poke fun at it’s own network.
This comes across during a debate, hosted by Larry King (voicing himself).
“Even though we’re being broadcast on…Fox,” he grumbles, “there’s no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering.”
And just like telling a child ‘not to do something,’ the audience takes the warning and just completely ignores it.
The Simpsons was often known for making film and pop-culture references in their episodes, and with this one, they also made reference to a real-world event.
The investigation into Bob’s rigging of the system, is largely inspired by the Watergate Scandal, which was exposed by Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Lisa even mentions them by name in the episode). Their work was shown in the film All the President’s Men, and several scenes in the episode mimic ones from that film. Even two of Bob’s henchmen that are constantly seen by his side, are based on Nixon staff members at the time: John Ehrlichman, and H.R. Haldeman.
The episode’s title is also a reference to a film from 1992, titled Bob Roberts.
Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and starred as that film’s title character: a conservative who sings folk songs, and attempts to run for public office in Pennsylvania. However, he seems to be hiding a number of political secrets, let alone trying to slip subversive messages into his numerous public song performances. At one point, he even goes on a popular late-night television show, and goes off-script to deliver his own message.
There are also references to Citizen Kane, A Few Good Men, the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960, and strangest of all: Archie Comics!
The Archie reference really has nothing to do with the overall political scope of the episode. We first see several of the characters dump Homer on the front lawn, and warning him to “stay out of Riverdale.” This is later followed by a scene of Homer angrily reading an issue of Archie, while Bart and Lisa meet their mysterious informant.
Why the writers included this reference in the story…I’ve never been able to figure out.
Word was at the time of the episode’s release in October of 1994, a number of Conservative persons felt the show was painting them in a very negative light. Even so, it is noted on the audio commentary included on the Season 6 DVD, that the writers claim that the episode pokes fun at many across the political spectrum.
It is notable that at the time of the commentary recording in 2005, several of the writers felt certain elements of the episode seemed to feel very similar to the political climate at that time.
I guess it’s the sad truth about politics: As much as people want things to change, it’s a neverending struggle to make things better for people.
When it came to films released in the early 1990’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio really seemed to look at their 1992 feature film Aladdin as a major cash-cow.
Following it’s release in the winter of 1992, the film became the first animated feature to gross over $200 million at the domestic box-office (largely buoyed on by Robin Williams’ supporting role as the Genie of the lamp).
The studio had had some success expanding on The Little Mermaid in television form (albeit set before the events of the film), and seemed to think they could have similar luck with Aladdin. And so, in the fall of 1994, the film’s characters found themselves appearing in the company’s new television series!
New locales were introduced, as well as a host of new characters. In terms of villains for the series, most seemed pretty set in their ways, except one: a young woman named Sadira.
Much like Aladdin’s introduction in the 1992 film, the character of Sadira is first seen evading Razoul and the Palace Guards in her introductory episode, Strike up the Sand.
Seeing her leaping and jumping to evade the guards, Aladdin sees a kindred spirit in the girl, and steps forward to cover for her. Unluckily for Al, his kindness and good looks instantly cause Sadira to develop a crush on him. However, she is soon saddened to hear that she has just been saved by Princess Jasmine’s future husband.
Sometime later, Sadira accidentally stumbles onto a hidden chamber under the city. The abandoned locale turns out to be the inner sanctum, of the long-forgotten Witches of the Sand. After going through a number of magic scrolls in the sanctum, Sadira soon gets to work learning the ancient magic, and thinks it can get her what she desires most.
Using a magical amulet, she conjures up a sand creature and commands it to bring Jasmine to her. it is notable that the sand creature tells Sadira that he could easily ‘smash’ Jasmine (destroying things brings him much joy!), but Sadira refuses to allow this, showing she is not as vengeful as her creation.
We soon see Sadira hasn’t fully thought through her magical actions. Once she has Jasmine kidnapped, Aladdin and the others show up, and the sand creature wants to smash them as well. Sadira isn’t sure what to do, leading to the creature getting angry at her indecisiveness, and taking the amulet away from her. Without Sadira’s control, it sets out to finish them all off.
Needless to say, Sadira feels remorse for getting everyone caught up in this mess, but Aladdin helps them formulate a plan to get back the amulet. Once it is destroyed and the sand creature disintegrates, Sadira apologizes for her actions.
Aladdin claims that while he likes her, his real love is for Jasmine. Jasmine even shows a willingness to forgive Sadira, and invites her to come to the Palace. However, the young woman declines, claiming she wants some time to be alone.
After they leave, she looks through some more sand-magic scrolls, and finds one about ‘shifting the sands of time,’ proving that she still harbors thoughts to try and snare Aladdin.
Shortly after her introductory episode, Sadira attempted to get Aladdin again…this time, with a more intriguing sand spell.
In the episode Sandswitch, she uses a special “memory sand,” allowing her to switch places with Jasmine, making everyone believe Sadira to be the Princess of Agrabah, and Jasmine a lowly ‘street rat.’ However, the spell only works on Genie and the humans of the city, leaving Iago, Abu, and Rajah as the only ones who realize what’s happened.
It is notable that even though she is again trying to fulfill her own wants and desires, Sadira continues to not be totally vindictive towards others. When she realizes Rajah did not fall under the sand spell, she decides to use some magic on him, but apologizes for what she is trying to do. Fortunately for Jasmine’s pet tiger, Abu and Iago help him to escape.
There’s even a little ‘continuity payback’ Sadira gets, when it comes to the head of the Royal Guards, named Razoul. In Strike up the Sand, Razoul was leading the guards in trying to capture her. Here, he is made to bow and give in to her demands. They also make a joke about his name, as Sadira keeps confusing it with other things that sound familiar to it.
In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine’s love is strong enough to break Sadira’s spell. However, even though she’d been thwarted a second time, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Sadira next appeared in the episode, Dune Quixote.
Running into Aladdin in the marketplace again, she invites him back to her place for some pomegranate juice. Aladdin tries to politely decline, but when Sadira claims that Jasmine “has him on a short leash,” Aladdin won’t let this slap against his masculinity stand!
Once at her place, Sadira quickly puts Aladdin under a sand-spell, wherein she makes him believe he is a Dragon Slayer, who must ride forth to vanquish a dragon, rescue his beloved Princess, and give her a kiss.
However, before Sadira can finish her spell (with her as the beautiful princess in the story), Jasmine and the others show up to stop her. Despite Genie’s protests, Jasmine has him use his ‘genie-magic’ to stop Sadira’s ‘sand-magic.’ This altercation messes up the spell, leaving Abu trapped as a monkey-type horse, and Aladdin still believing he has to slay a dragon.
Sadira claims that because of the spell, the final parts of the story have to play out, which means Aladdin has to slay a dragon and kiss her. Jasmine doesn’t believe her, but thanks to his magical knowledge, Genie confirms that Sadira is correct.
As the story goes on, we see Sadira and Jasmine put aside their animosity towards each other, and try to get Aladdin and Abu back to normal. With Genie’s help, they manage to whip up a false dragon, and upon ‘defeating it,’ Aladdin kisses Sadira (much to Jasmine’s ire).
Once everything is fixed, Sadira apologizes to Jasmine for how she has acted, and it seems she is willing to give up on her obsession over Aladdin.
The episode ends with the two girls going off to peruse the marketplace, leaving Aladdin confused as to why he kissed Sadira (with Iago eager to spill the beans!).
Now that it seemed that Sadira had given up her obsession with Aladdin, the show’s main cast (almost) seemed willing to hang out with her.
This is revealed in the episode, Witch Way Did She Go. However, while Jasmine seems to believe Sadira has changed, Iago and Aladdin still have some doubts about her. Things don’t get better when Sadira serves her friends some soup, and her sub-par cooking skills accidentally turn Iago into an hourglass.
The spell eventually wears off, but the group grows more suspicious when a large sand snake menaces Iago and Abu!
Sadira is immediately the prime suspect, but Jasmine rushes to her defense. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain why the others suspect Sadira, ends up sounding like she’s accusing Sadira.
Angered at being accused, Sadira storms out of the palace and returns to her sanctum, only to find three ancient sand witches there (the ones who conjured the snake). The trio (Shakata, Razili, and Farida) have returned to their former home from The Realm of Mists, and are intent on taking control of Agrabah, and the Seven Deserts!
They attempt to get her to help them, but Sadira rushes back to the palace, to warn the others. Unfortunately, she overhears them once again claiming she’s bad, and returns to the witches, seemingly willing to help them take over the kingdom.
The others return to Sadira’s place (intending to apologize), but find the witches at work! Surprisingly, Sadira stops them from attacking the trio. After a scuffle that almost stops the witches, Sadira recommends that Aladdin and his friends be banished to the Realm of Mists.
The three witches open a portal to the ancient realm, but Sadira attempts to double-cross them! Razili and Farida end up being shoved in easily, but Shakata grabs hold of Sadira, attempting to drag her down with them!
Aladdin and the others rush to her aid, but Sadira falls into the mists below, and the pit disappears!
Everyone feels remorse for ever doubting Sadira…but a few moments later, she manages to escape, sealing off the witches for good! The others quickly embrace her, and it seems all traces of doubt about her character are gone.
After Witch Way Did She Go, Sadira never appeared again on the series. However, like many characters in the show, she was given a small ‘curtain call’ appearance in 1996’s direct-to-video film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
During the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine walk past a number of guests, one can see Sadira dressed in pink (see screenshot above).
While her character was not as memorable as the show’s more villainous characters like Mozenrath or Mirage, Sadira was definitely noticeable for being a very “gray-area” character.
Most of the time, she did things out of selfish desire, but it was interesting to see that she still held some moral principles. A good example is that she could have had Jasmine offed in one episode, but she was never that vindictive.
My guess is that after four episodes, the showrunners felt there was little more they could do with her, story-wise. It did feel like three episodes was enough for them to play out the “magical stalker” characterization (I’ve seen some anime series that would gladly stretch that type of character arc out over multiple seasons).
Over the years, I have questioned the scene where she falls into the Realm of Mists, wondering if they had originally meant for her to “disappear” from the series forever in this manner. It would have been a very dramatic end, given the others realizing how wrong they were to judge her as they did. Plus, in several episodes, the showrunners actually did have a few characters die!
Sadira’s storylines also expanded on the series’ ‘lore,’ by introducing ‘sand-magic.’ What Genie can do was soon classified as ‘genie-magic,’ and it was soon established that to mix the two magic-types, was very dangerous (as demonstrated in Dune Quixote).
Unlike Linda Larkin’s more ‘regal’ vocal tones as Jasmine, Sadira’s voice had a more bubbly, all-American girl vibe, courtesy of actress Kellie Martin (see right).
Most probably know Martin’s voice work from A Goofy Movie, where she voiced Max’s crush, Roxanne. She brings a bit of that tone to Sadira, but she gets to play a wider range of emotions as Sadira.
Of course, Sadira wasn’t the first reluctant villain the studio created. There was also the character of Bushroot in the Darkwing Duck TV series. After being turned into a plant-duck hybrid, Bushroot would sometimes be involved in evil schemes, but most of the time, he just wanted a friend, or to be accepted.
By the end of Aladdin, it seemed being accepted was all Sadira wanted as well. It is a shame that they never found a way to bring her back and assist the group with her sand-magic on another adventure.
Throughout the years, the concept of love and relationships has popped up in many shows, often as Valentine’s Day approaches.
In February of 1963, it just so happened that the broadcast date for a new Twilight Zone episode, fell on that fated day. And with it, brought the tale of an Appalachian love triangle, between flaxen-haired Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon), the handsome Billy-Ben Turner (James Best), and the raven-haired Jesse-Belle Stone (Anne Francis).
At the Glover’s annual barn dance, Luther Glover (George Mitchell) praises the bountiful harvest that he and his neighbors have collected, along with an announcement: his daughter Ellwyn Glover, is to be wed to Billy-Ben Turner.
However, not everyone in attendance is happy for the couple, notably Jess-Belle Stone, who quickly leaves. Billy follows her outside, where Jess claims that she still longs for the time when they were together. She feels that Billy is only marrying Ellie for her family’s wealth, but Billy claims that isn’t so.
Before he returns to the dance, Jess asks Billy to tell his bride-to-be, not to start making her wedding dress just yet.
“Why should I tell her a thing like that?” replies Billy, curiously.
“She ain’t married you yet, Billy-Ben,” says Jess, sternly. “Maybe she never will.”
It is then that Rod Serling’s voice is heard, as we see Jess watch the lovers embrace, before storming off:
The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has it’s roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and, got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside, in the southern hills, of the Twilight Zone.
Jess-Belle is next seen at the home of a woman named Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan), whom the locals claim to be a witch. Granny just laughs this off, and inquires why the girl has come to her.
Jess claims she wants the old woman to help her make Billy-Ben love her again, but upon being asked for money for the old woman’s services, the girl claims she has none…but is willing to pay ‘any price.’
With those words, Granny pulls out a small bottle from a covered shelf. Jess drinks it’s contents, but suddenly flinches! After a few moments, her eyes open, and Granny Hart claims that once Billy sees her, he’ll never have eyes for another.
Jess-Belle then returns to the barn dance, where she interrupts a dance-circle, and catches Billy’s eye. Just as Granny Hart promised, he becomes enchanted by her, and as Ellwyn and the others watch, the two walk out of the barn!
Ellwyn’s mother and father immediately have harsh words for Billy turning his back on their daughter, but Ellwyn claims she knows what happened: “Jess-Belle bewitched him.”
Some ways off, Jess-Belle and Billy lay in a field, talking of their future together. Suddenly, Billy notes the moon overhead going down, causing Jess to suddenly claim she has to get home.
Once there, she rushes for her room, ignoring the entreaties of her mother. As the clock tolls The Witching Hour, Jess collapses to the floor of her room, and in a puff of smoke, turns into a leopard.
Some time later, Billy comes to Jess, and gives her the ring he had given Ellwyn, claiming it now belongs to Jess. He also speaks how he has made plans with a preacher, and how her mother will make her a wedding dress, but Jess seems perturbed by all this.
She claims she needs to go away, but as Billy grabs her arm not wanting her to leave, she lashes out a hand at him…leaving three claw marks raked across the side of his face!
She then rushes back to Granny Hart, claiming she feels an emptiness inside. It is then that Granny claims that she really is a witch, and reveals the price Jess paid for Billy-Ben: her soul. Granny also reveals that because of this, Jess has also become a witch!
“You paid the price,” she tells the girl. “Take what you paid for.”
After several days of doubt, Jess puts aside her fears, and decides to heed the old woman’s advice, soon giving in to Billy’s request to be wed soon.
Sometime later, Jess-Belle comes across Ellwyn Glover picking wildflowers. The two trade ‘quiet barbs’ with each other, before Jess tells Ellwyn to watch out for a wildcat that’s been seen in the area.
However, Ellwyn claims her father is rounding up a number of men (including Billy) to take care of the creature, before morning the next day.
Jess returns home, where her mother works to hem her wedding dress. When she claims she saw Ellwyn out in the fields looking ‘sickly,’ her mother thinks maybe she should take the girl some tonic.
“You and your tonics,” laughs Jess. “You’re worse than Granny Hart-”
The slip of her tongue causes an awkward silence between mother and daughter. When Jess’ mother finds out her daughter has knowledge of the old woman, she soon deduces what her daughter has done in getting Billy to love her again.
When the girl reveals the price she paid, her mother says they should pray for her, but Jesse claims that will do not good. Instead, she asks her mother to lock her room door, so that she cannot get out until morning.
Though her mother does as she wishes, Jess (in her leopard form), escapes out her bedroom window, and ends up in the Glover’s barn, spooking the horses, and scaring Ellwyn.
The girl’s screams attract her father and the men hunting the cat. Billy and another man fire at it, and are surprised as the creature vanishes in a puff of smoke!
“A witch,” exclaims Ellwyn’s father. “That cat, was a witch!”
Billy examines where the wildcat disappeared, and finds the ring he had given to Jess. As the other men leave, Billy begins speaking to Ellwyn…a sure sign that his connection with Jess-Belle has been severed.
A year passes, and Ellwyn and Billy are set to be wed. As Billy prepares for the wedding, he is visited by Jess-Belle’s mother, who gives him her daughter’s silver hairpin as a gift…along with a warning.
As talk turns to Jess-Belle, her mother claims that she does not believe her daughter is dead. Though Billy claims one of his bullets hit the wildcat in the Glover’s barn, Mrs Stone tells how she saw a toad in her daughter’s room, and upon trying to kill it, it turned to smoke, and flew away!
Billy tries to put this thought out of his mind, but at the wedding, he notices a spider crawling on Ellie’s veil. Plucking it off and holding it in his hand, it then disappears in a puff of smoke, leading Billy to believe that Mrs Stone was right.
After the ceremony, the newlywed couple returns to Billy’s house, where strange things begin to happen. Ellie finds herself attempting to slap Billy, and a clock in the room suddenly falls to the floor! Billy then gives Ellie their Bible, and tells her not to leave the house, as he rushes off.
Billy seeks out Granny Hart, wanting to know how to kill a witch. She asks for a lock of his hair as payment, but Billy instead pays her in coins. Hart then tells Billy that he needs to make a figure of the girl, wearing something she wore, then stab it in it’s ‘heart’ with something of silver.
Billy then goes to Jess-Belle’s home, where her mother gives him the wedding dress she hemmed for her daughter. before he leaves, she tells Billy that she is sure her daughter would appreciate what he is trying to do.
Billy returns to his house, where he finds Ellwyn standing outside. He tells her that he knows how to be rid of Jess’ spirit, but is shocked when Ellie starts speaking, with Jess-Belle’s voice!
Billy rushes into the house and locks the door (with the possessed Ellwyn pounding on it from the outside). Putting the dress on a seamstress’ mannequin, he then stabs it in the heart-area with the silver pin. Suddenly, Jess-Belle materializes, before the figure crumples to the ground and disappears, leaving behind the empty dress.
Billy then finds Ellwyn outside, having no recollection of what happened since her wedding. As he embraces her, the girl’s eye is drawn to the heavens, where she witnesses a star, streaking through the sky.
My mama says when you see a falling star,” she tells Billy, “that means a witch has just died.”
“So I’ve heard tell,” replies Billy, sure that he and Ellwyn are now safe, and that Jess-Belle is truly gone, but also finally at peace.
I’ve often been a fan of stories with a “be careful what you wish for” storyline. Of course, this wasn’t the first Twilight Zone episode to handle the concept of love and potions.
In Season 1, there was the modern-day story called The Chaser, where a young man gets a love potion to get a girl he lusts after, to love him. In the end however, her constant fawning over him gets to be too much, and he ends up paying for something called, “the glove cleaner,” to fix his dilemma.
Writer Earl Hamner Jr, wrote eight episodes during the last few seasons for The Twilight Zone, and in one interview, he claimed that Jess-Belle was his favorite one to write.
It was also done relatively quickly. When another script fell-through, Hamner pitched, wrote, and finished Jess-Belle in a week’s time (with no time for revisions!).
There was also an issue with the kind of cats considered for Jess-Belle’s nightly transformation. The original idea for a tiger was dropped, when the producer Herbert Hirschmann claimed they were hard to work with. After this, there was consideration for a black leopard (to match the color of Jess’ hair), but none could be found, leaving the production to settle on the spotted leopard in the episode.
Along with writing the episode, Hamner also wrote the lyrics to several musical interludes throughout. As the story progresses, a female voice sings bits of a small ‘ballad,’ about the story. It is notable that in place of a closing narrative by Serling, we get a reprise of part of the ballad, heard in the beginning of the episode:
Fair was Elly Glover, dark was Jess-Belle.
Both they loved the same man, and both they loved him well.
Hamner also uses some creative wordplay, when it comes to Jess and Ellwyn. They never get into a shouting match over their love of Billy-Ben (being decent young women), but Earl gives them a small moment of trading barbs, through wordplay.
This comes when Jess-Belle finds Ellwyn in a field by herself.
“Lots of wildflowers around here,” notes Jess. “Saw a patch of ‘old maid’s fern’ up on the mountain.”
A few moments later, Ellwyn responds with: “I notice a lot of ‘vixen-wort’ around here m’self.”
Buzz Kulik, the director, also was a Twilight Zone alumni, directing nine episodes during the show’s run.
In several of his episodes, he had a way of having the camera play among people’s faces, having the actors say plenty with just their expressions.
This type of storytelling is seen in the opening scene especially, when we see Billy-Ben looking a bit nervous, locking eyes with Jess-Belle, after his and Ellwyn’s engagement is announced.
It’s the look of a young man who seems to have possibly made a snap-decision, without telling the other party.
The overall story plays out almost like an Appalachian ‘fairy-tale,’ but it does feel like it stretches the story a bit long for the hour-long format of Season 4. Some areas feel a little repetitive, though one wonders if maybe there could have been more of Jess-Belle in her leopard form, and how her late-night presence affected the locals.
Word is that Earl Hamner was also planning to adapt the story into a musical at one point. When Anne Francis (who played Jess-Belle) heard this, she told him she’d love to play the role of Granny Hart in it…only for him to say he didn’t feel she would have been right for the role. However, this venture was never completed (as far as I know).
Out of all the characters in the episode, it is Jess-Belle and Granny Hart that stand out the most.
The character of Jess-Belle could easily have been a vindictive and over-the-top girl who is willing to knock aside anything and anyone in her way. One can easily see the girl’s name is a take on the word ‘jezebel’ (meaning ‘an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman,‘ according to Merriam-Webster), but the character here is crafted to be little more than a young woman, whose yearnings end up being her downfall. She thinks all her troubles are behind her once she has Billy-Ben, but it feels like everyday after, she is stuck living with the consequences of her actions, making her a tragic figure.
Jeanette Nolan seems to have the more ‘fun’ role in the episode, as she plays Granny Hart as a witch with a spirited personality. There is a devilish mischief Nolan imbues on the old woman. She seems to delight in causing mischief, and a naive young woman who wishes for a man’s love, gives her some entertainment. It doesn’t help that she seems to smile a great deal, a Cheshire grin that makes one wonder what is going on in her mind.
There is even an interesting juxtaposition, as we first see her in black robes conjuring something, before she pulls the robes away, and simply looks like a kindly old woman, expecting company.
Jess-Belle is not one of the more popular episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it feels like it was somewhat ‘experimental’ in it’s execution. And for that, it sticks out in my mind.
It’s cautionary tale about how love can sometimes blind people to the consequences of their actions, proves to be an intriguing story that the episode’s cast and crew, wove together, all those years ago.
I like to think when it came to some areas of entertainment regarding popular culture, I inherited some of my tastes from my parents. While my Mom turned me on to the wonders of Walt Disney and his animation studio, my Dad I feel, opened my eyes to adventure, and science fiction.
One series that we often watched over the years when it’d show up on television, is Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Serling’s anthology series enthralled my Dad as a young man, and during my early years, they came to entrance my own imagination as well.
As I got older, I found myself drawn to Serling’s tales that explored humanity, and oftentimes, how simple it could be for things to break down, or even how dangerous some people could become, for want of attention or respect.
Serling’s hand was often behind many of those introspective tales. In The Twilight Zone’s 4th season, he explored the possibility that an enemy that was once thought to have been extinguished after the second World War, could very well be lying in wait, ready to instigate those seeking power, or manipulate those who are easily led astray…
As the episode starts, we see that it’s a hot night on a city street corner, and a small group of neo-Nazis are giving a speech to a small crowd.
Presiding over the gathering, is a young man named Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper). Peter preaches about ‘foreign control,’ and that a conspiracy is under way by minorities, to take over the country.
Several people throw vegetables at Peter and laugh at him, causing him and his men to rush out into the crowd, where a fist-fight breaks out.
The ruckus causes the Police to show up, and the citizens scatter. When they inquire to Peter who started the fight, he nonchalantly claims they were ‘all Communists,’ and walks away.
Peter and his men reconvene in a side alley. One of them claims that the heat brings out ‘the stiffs in the crowd,’ but Peter blames himself, claiming he couldn’t verbally get through to the people he saw.
As Peter sulks, Rod Serling appears, delivering our opening monologue:
“Portrait of a bush-league Fuhrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. That something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon he calls it faith, strength, truth. But in just a moment Peter Vollmer will ply his trade on another kind of corner, a strange intersection in a shadowland called, The Twilight Zone.”
Peter then heads to the apartment of a man named Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath).
Upon seeing Peter, Ernst demands that he wash his face, and provides him with some medication for his wounds.
The older man begins to lecture Peter on getting into trouble, but the young man doesn’t want to hear it. However, he requests if he can stay the night at the old man’s place.
Peter claims that he and the old man are ‘good friends,’ but one can see Ernst is questioning that statement. Ernst recalls how as a young boy, he’d take Peter in: a rock in the storm of an abusive father, and a mentally-deficient mother. He recalls how Peter was a scared, lost little boy.
“Now, you peddle hate on street corners, as if it were popcorn,” he sighs.
It’s not hate,” defends Peter. “It’s, ‘a point of view.’ It’s a, ‘philosophy.'”
Ernst claims there were men who said the same thing…and because of it, he ended up in the Dachau Concentration Camp for nine years.
After Ernst leaves Peter to go to bed, Peter gets a strange feeling, like he’s being watched. Going to the nearby window, he sees a man in shadows, standing on the sidewalk.
When Peter asks who he is, the figure claims he’s ‘a friend,’ and wants to talk. Going downstairs, the figure tells Peter that he believes in much of what he was talking about earlier, and wants to help his cause.
The shadowy figure then gives Peter speaking tips, claiming he should speak to the people, like he was one of them.
“Speak to them in their language, on their level,” says the dark figure. “Make their hate, your hate. If they are poor, talk to them about poverty. If they are afraid, talk to them of their fears. And if they are angry, Mr Vollmer…if they are angry, give them objects for their anger.”
Peter takes the figure’s advice, and at the next meeting in a local hall, he claims that many say his group is biased towards minorities. Peter takes these words and turns them around, telling those in attendance, that ‘they’ are the minorities! He tells them that ‘patriotism’ and ‘love of country’ is not a majority notion anymore, and that his group, will make it so again.
This draws applause, and Peter’s associates are also energized by his fiery rhetoric.
The shadowy figure returns a little while later to help Peter, quietly giving him the money he needs to keep speaking at the hall, and praising how he speaks to the people.
It is then that the figure claims their ‘party’ needs something more, in order to ‘cement the organization’: they need a martyr.
“How do you find a martyr?” asks Peter.
“You do not ‘find’ one, Mr Vollmer,” the figure replies. “You ‘choose’ one. You take one of no value, and you make him into a symbol. You wrap him in a flag, and you make his death work for you. Find a man who is of no value while he’s alive, but who can serve you when he is dead.”
Of the men in his employ, Peter decides that one named Nick, will be their martyr. Peter then lies to a cohort named Frank, telling him that Nick has been telling the Police about their meetings, and must be taken care of.
Frank does as he’s told, and some time later, the Police find Nick’s body in an alley, with a note pinned to his jacket, making it look like someone is trying to send ‘a message’ to Peter’s group.
Though Frank and Pete are able to put Nick out of their minds, their associate Stanley misses his friend. Trying to act stoic, Peter claims that Nick was a traitor, and not worthy of being mourned.
However, moments later, Peter is using Nick’s death to electrify the crowd, claiming that those in the room, will carry on in his honor. His words do their trick, and the audience applauds loudly!
We then cut to some time later, to a candy shop across the street from the hall. Ernst is sitting at the counter talking to the store’s proprietor, while across the street, Peter’s voice bellows out from the open door, over which hangs a large portrait of the young man in uniform. As Peter’s voice continues to spill out into the night, Ernst and the proprietor have a conversation.
“Used to be, people would laugh at him,” says the man behind the counter. “But lately, he gets the crowd…and not many people laugh, either.”
“I’ve seen it before,” says Ernst, thoughtfully. “I’ve seen it all before.”
“That was another time, Mr Ganz,” says the proprietor. “Another place. Another kind of people! That doesn’t go here.”
“That’s what we said, too,” says Ernst, bowing his head. “We called them ‘brown scum.’ ‘Temporary insanity,’ part of the passing scene, too monstrous to be real. So, we ignored them, or laughed at them….because we couldn’t believe there were enough insane people to walk alongside of them! And then one morning, the country woke up from an uneasy sleep…and there was no more laughter. The ‘Peter Vollmers’ had taken over. The wild animals had changed places with us in the cage!”
As he thinks, Ernst rises from his seat, and goes to the window.
“But not again,” he says, a tone of defiance rising in his voice. “It mustn’t happen again. We can’t let it. We simply can’t let it happen again!”
Determined to do something, Ernst enters the crowded hall through the stage entrance, and catches Peter off-guard.
Ernst tells Peter that he’s heard these kinds of rantings before. Peter quietly pleads with Ernst to stop talking, but the old man addresses the audience, with Peter watching, unsure just what to do.
“Let me tell you about ‘this one,” preaches Ernst, pointing at the scared young man. “About the breed, the species. They’re all alike…they’re all alike! Problem children. Sick, sad neurotics, who take applause like a needle!”
Peter once again pleads for Ernst to be quiet, but the old man threatens to tell about Peter’s ‘weaker’ side, claiming the young man can only find strength in the ‘show’ he puts on…leading Peter to strike the man (whom he called ‘a friend’) across the cheek!
“The only sort of answer ‘your kind’ know how to give,” says Ernst, before walking out through the front door, followed by the audience.
Afterwards, Peter is alone in the hall, when he hears the shadowy figure call to him. Peter is still upset at what has transpired between him and Ernst, but the figure shows no sympathy, sharply criticizing Peter for his timidity at what took place.
“And you…what are you!?” cries out Peter. “You direct traffic from the darkness! You plan the battles and you’re never there when they’re fought! Why don’t you come out in the light? Why don’t you come up here alongside of me!? Why don’t you give me a name, and a face, and a reason WHY!?”
“Mr Vollmer!” responds the figure, sharply. “I was making speeches before you could read them. I was fighting battles, when your only struggle, was to climb out of a womb! I was taking over the world, when your universe was a crib! And as for being in darkness, Mr Vollmer…I, INVENTED DARKNESS!!”
It is then that the figure steps into the light, and Peter’ eyes go wide with fear, when he sees that his mysterious benefactor…is Adolf Hitler!
When Peter claims that Hitler picked him, the dictator claims it to be the other way around.
“You chose my ideas,” he says. “You invoked my name, you stole my slogans! So now, you must take whatever else comes with it.”
The old dictator then gives Peter a gun, and orders him to kill Ernst, promising that if he does not, the old Jew will keep returning to ruin their meetings.
Peter then goes to Ernst’s apartment, where the old man claims he showed the crowds how weak Peter really is. When Peter pulls his weapon on Ernst, the old man falters slightly, claiming that the young man won’t kill him.
“Just goes to show you don’t know me very well, Ernst,” claims Peter.
“I know you,” says Ernst, quietly. “From a ravaged little boy wanting love, to a torn man, craving respect, identity, pride. Peter…I don’t fear you. So you may do what you have in mind, anytime you wish, but this last reminder to you: you can never kill an idea with a bullet, Peter…never.”
“I’m all steel now,” Peter stoically counters. “Ernst, I’m made of steel. No sentiment, no softness…just purpose, and will.”
With that, Peter fires, and Ernst collapses to the floor.
As he dies, the old man utters his last words: “All steel. All Strength…but at the expense of the thing most other men have. Some…fragments of decency, to tell them right from wrong. To make them feel guilt at dishonor…to make them…that make them love. Yes, Peter, you have steel…but you have no heart.”
Peter then returns to the hall, where he tells his Fuhrer, that killing Ernst made him feel “immortal.”
“Mr Vollmer,” screeches Hitler’s voice. “WE! ARE! IMMORTAL!!”
Suddenly, the hall’s lights come on (and Hitler disappears). Peter turns towards the doorway, to see several Policemen, who have come to arrest him in regards to the murder of his comrade, Nick.
However, when face-to-face with the Police, Peter does not act as an “immortal,” but as a coward, fleeing through the nearest door! The Police chase Peter into the nearby alleyway, where he is shot, and falls into a pile of trash.
As the officers come over to him, Peter looks at his hands, covered in blood.
“There’s something, very wrong here,” he gasps. “You’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m made out of steel. Don’t you understand…that I’m made out of steel?”
The officers walk away to radio in what happened, but as they do, Hitler’s shadow falls over Peter’s dying body, and slowly, walks away. As he does so, Serling’s closing monologue is heard:
“Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare. Chicago? Los Angeles? Miami, Florida? Vincennes, Indiana? Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things…we keep him alive.”
It is notable that in his closing narration, Serling strays from his regular path. The closing narration would normally make mention of The Twilight Zone, but here, Serling chooses not to tell us that what we’ve witnessed has safely been contained in another dimension. His narration confirms, the ‘monster’ of this episode is alive…and he is walking amongst us!
When I saw the episode many years ago, it was not one that stuck out in my mind, but after recent events, I revisited it, and found it to be surprisingly eerie, regarding the story that Mr Serling had written (and broadcast over 50 years ago).
Sometimes people say Serling’s writing can become a little heavy-handed, and it feels that way with the character of Ernst. Then again, Serling portrays Ernst as Peter’s ‘last friend,’ the one who may still see some small shred of humanity in him…and when he dies, so too it seems, does any hope of redemption for Peter. While Peter did order Nick to be killed as a martyr, it is Ernst who dies by his hand.
I’ve never been a big fan of Dennis Hopper. For much of his career, he seemed to usually end up being cast as “the crazy guy,” in everything from Easy Rider, to Apocalypse Now. With his role as Peter Vollmer, this may be the most ‘toned down’ I’ve ever seen Hopper (in his quieter moments anyways).
Hopper manages to sell the desperation, and the longing to be somebody. He channels Vollmer’s ‘strength-through-repression,’ with the character dismissing these faults as if they were just overreactions.
It is notable that we encounter Vollmer a ways into the movement he’s taken a part in. Serling keeps it ambiguous if Peter originated this movement, or maybe, it was ‘inherited’ from another neo-Nazi on the streets. I could see that possibly being the case, and maybe Peter was enthralled by those same ‘poisonous promises.’
Of course when it comes to the figure of Hitler, Serling keeps it ambiguous if his spirit is still alive, or if he is just a figment of Peter’s imagination, almost like a ‘devil’ on his shoulder, in the guise of an ‘angel,’ claiming to show him ‘the right path’ to go down.
Over the years, television show and film viewers have often found pieces of popular-culture, and elevated them to a new status, given ‘current events.’
While many are quick to point out more popular Twilight Zone episodes like The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or To Serve Man, I feel He’s Alive may gain more traction these days, given it’s cautionary tale (of course, the big question is: is it too late?).
Even though he brought the story to his anthology series, Rod Serling was also considering giving Hes Alive a second life, as a longer, feature-length film.
Th film would have added an FBI agent, investigating Vollmer’s ‘movement.’ However, the film proposal was turned down.
Even so, one has to wonder what Serling would make of current world events, and maybe even wonder if we truly have all been spirited away into…The Twilight Zone.
When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.
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.
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
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.
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.’
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.
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.
This past summer, the world of voice-acting and animation, lost one of it’s most beloved members: 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.
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.
Instead 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!
Setting 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.’
Upon 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.
As 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.
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.
The 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.
A 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!).
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.
Unlike most animated shorts, Trick or Treat’s animated storyline, ended up being adapted in the Donald Duck comic by Carl Barks!
While 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!).
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.
Next, 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!
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.
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.