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A Peanuts Prospectus: When Snoopy lost his Home

Recently, I was saddened to hear that a wildfire that swept through the city of Santa Rosa, California, destroyed the house where Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had lived, along with his wife, Jean. Though Jean made it out alright and is staying with family, a piece of Peanuts history, is now gone.

As I heard news of the events, and saw aerial footage of whole neighborhoods wiped out by the advancing wildfires (that still burn as I write this posting), I was reminded of how this wasn’t the first time that fire had entered into the lives of Schulz’s family.

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Prior to moving to Santa Rosa, Schulz, his first wife Joyce, and their kids, had lived in Sebastopol, California, starting in the late 1950’s. It was there that they built a house, along with a studio where Charles would work on his daily comic strips. However, 8 years after the studio was built, it was destroyed by fire, in 1966.

The Peanuts creator would often take certain elements of his own life, and inject them into the strips (some say that Lucy’s personality and opinionated nature in the 1960’s, were derived from his first wife, Joyce). Shortly after the loss of his studio, Schulz channeled his feelings about these events, through Snoopy and his doghouse.

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As the Peanuts comics moved on from the 1950’s, Snoopy’s doghouse became a source of intrigue. What had started out as a simple dwelling, began to change into something more.

Though it seemed small on the outside, all sorts of strange surprises lay within. Snoopy could be heard playing pool, several neighborhood birds would come over to play cards, and the dwelling also housed a Van Gogh painting (how Snoopy acquired it, and whether or not it was an original, we were never told!).

In the first decades of the comic, the doghouse saw a few instances of wear-and-tear. It was destroyed by a giant icicle in 1960, and in 1964, a major flood hit the neighborhood. Even though the waters reached above the dwelling, it came out okay (and Snoopy’s Van Gogh remained in good condition).

Snoopyfire-3Of course, things changed when on September 19, 1966, Charlie Brown was awoken to the smell of smoke, and rushing out to the yard, found Snoopy in a state of shock, as flames ate through the roof of his doghouse (see right)!

This was followed the next day, by Snoopy quietly observing the burned-out remains of his home, before bursting into tears. It’s a rather solemn strip, and where there should be a funny punchline in the final panel, there’s none to be found. It is notable that we get a rarely-seen, three-quarter shot of the ‘house,’ as Snoopy walks around it.

Snoopyfire-4From my experience, house-fires tend to attract people to gawk at the damage, and Lucy and Linus soon showed up (see left) to inspect the remains. Snoopy would also be hit with a rude awakening, upon finding out that his fire insurance had lapsed (“How can that be?” he ponders. “I sent them a can of dog food every month.”).

Of course, the Lucy Van Pelt of this era can’t very well leave well-enough alone, and soon after, returns to ‘school’ Snoopy on why this happened to him (see below-right).

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But the fun doesn’t stop there. She returned a few days later, to deliver some more ‘helpful information.’

She claims that this tragedy will make Snoopy a better person, quoting the line, “man was born to suffer.”

“He’s not a man,” notes Charlie Brown. “He’s a dog.”

“The theology is the same!” decrees Lucy.

Naturally, Snoopy doesn’t believe her, sticking to his own thoughts that “dogs were born to bite people on the leg, and sleep in the sun.”

Snoopyfire-6The next few days would see Schulz milk a few more gags out of the house’s remains (see left). Charlie Brown also helps assess the damage, and does indeed confirm that everything has been lost in the fire (“even my pinking shears!?” sniffs Snoopy).

We also see Snoopy try to escape into his imagination, as The World War I Flying Ace (somehow his goggles and scarf survived!) The pilot heads out to the aerodrome grounds, but is puzzled by what has become of his Sopwith Camel.

Snoopyfire-7On September 30th, it looked like the nightmare was coming to an end, as Charlie Brown and Snoopy went over plans for a new doghouse. Of course, while new plans are interesting to look over, bringing them to life can be another matter entirely.

Schulz expressed the issues of rebuilding in the next day’s strip (see right), channeling his frustrations through Snoopy…and eventually, finding a silver lining through those headaches.

A few days later, the construction process was complete, and Snoopy’s new home was finished (bringing a tear to the beagle’s brown eyes)! After a day or so, Snoopy admitted that it felt a little strange sleeping ‘in a new home,’ but pretty soon, things were back to normal.

Snoopyfire-8However, Schulz would slip in a little mention of the events, a month later (see left).

On November 4th, 1966, we got to hear a few voices coming from inside the doghouse, as some unnamed kids (I always assumed it was Charlie Brown and Linus), examine what Snoopy has done with the interior of his new place.

Both of the guests became quite enamored with a new painting that Snoopy had acquired. Instead of replacing his beloved Van Gogh with another work by the artist, Snoopy had opted instead to acquire a painting, by artist Andrew Wyeth.

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After fire destroyed his home, Snoopy never encountered anything as hair-raising as that incident again. However, in coming years, his doghouse would be set upon, by the unseen “Cat Next Door,” who on a few occasions, would end up destroying much of the structure with one swipe of it’s claws!

Supposedly, artist Andrew Wyeth was very touched that he had a piece hanging in Snoopy’s doghouse, and in 1966, sent Charles Schulz a drawing he had done of his dog, Rattler. The artist personalized it: “To Snoopy, With Warmest Regards – Andrew Wyeth.”

To me, the series of strips was one I recalled from my days, checking out Peanuts collections from my Elementary school library. At the time, I had never heard of Vincent Van Gogh, and struggled to even pronounce his last (“Van Go-guh?” “Van-Goff?”). The same would even go for Andrew Wyeth’s last name (leading me to at first thing it was pronounced “Wee-ith”).

I found the story at the time to be a bit outside my field of knowledge as a youngster (Lucy’s philosphical observations and talk of fire insurance lapsing, were still foreign concepts to my still-developing brain). Of course, as I got older, certain elements of the story began to make sense (though to this day, I’ve never encountered anyone who owned a pair of pinking shears).

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I’d like to end this post and say like many Peanuts fans out there, that I hope Mrs Jean Schulz is doing well, and that everything will turn out well going forward into the future.

I’m also hoping that soon, The Charles M Schulz MuseumThe Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop (which were near the wildfire area, and are currently closed due to power and air quality issues), will be up and running, ready to welcome back many old and new Peanuts fans, to Santa Rosa, California.

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My Thoughts on New York Comic Con’s Westworld Experience

In recent years, a few conventions (courtesy of film and television studio promo departments) have started delving into advertising via ‘experiences,’ in which a limited number of attendees, can take part in rare, once-in-a-lifetime events.

In 2016, HBO unleashed a Westworld Experience at San Diego Comic-Con, and word was, it happened again this year. New York Comic-Con had their own experience as well in 2016, but when it came to the main attraction, unlike San Diego, it was simply a lead-up to a virtual reality experience, taking place within the Westworld park.

This year however, the experience was revamped to give visitors a full, live experience, and in the days leading up to the convention, word began to spread about the event via Westworld’s Twitter handle.

Needless to say, after seeing the series for the first time, the weekend before the convention (courtesy of free HBO weekend on Hulu!), I decided to make an effort to see if I could get in.

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As the first day of the convention approached, HBO was tweeting out hints to the sign-up locations, which would randomly pop-up in the morning, before the start of the convention.

On Thursday, October 5th, I found myself checking Twitter, and seeing if anyone else had found anything. I was at least 10 blocks from the area, when Westworld‘s twitter feed dropped the actual location at 8am, and quickly took a Lyft ride to 27th Avenue.

Before long, I joined a long line, snaking alongside a large brick building. I had gotten to the location 10 minutes after it had been revealed online, and already, I was among those being considered for “stand-by.” Nearby were several people in dark suits, wearing Delos security badges, keeping an eye on us.

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I’m on my way to Westworld!

Eventually, I made my way up to a white tent, under which two white-dressed reservationists were seated. The one who assisted me did so with a polite smile, and I was told my reservation time to visit Westworld, would be 7 pm. After I confirmed the time, she wrote it on a Delos business card, and I headed off to The Javits Center, to partake in what the convention had in store for that Thursday.

Along with the time-field, the card also had the address of the location, which was right up 37th St, a few blocks from The Javits Center. As my first day of NYCC came to an end, I made my way to the locale.

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Tight security.

Pretty soon, I and several other people, were lined up outside the door of Delos’ New York Offices, with several men keeping an eye on us, and one checking our names against his list.

As we waited, we asked a few questions about being able to get in. Apparently, if you show up late for your appointment, you’re shut out completely (we were told about one girl having a ‘meltdown’ about that earlier that day). Plus, I and a few others were ‘stand-by guests.’ This meant that if those who were scheduled for their timed session didn’t show at 7 pm, we were free to take their place.

Eventually, the time rolled around, and we were allowed inside. After being greeted by a receptionist, we were directed to an adjoining room.

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Our male host, and some cowboy gear.

In the middle of the room, was a lit case showing several vintage guns and knives, and along the walls, were mannequins in western attire. A male host at the far end of the weapons case, politely welcomed each of us.

Next, the receptionist and our male host, requested we watch the large screen in front of us. As we did so, promotional images of Westworld appeared…but then, started to glitch. Pretty soon, we were seeing scant traces of things going horribly, and terribly wrong.

However, our hosts acted like nothing had happened, and our male host began to read from the guest list. As two of the main guests hadn’t shown up, I and another standby person, were permitted in!

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No, we did not go through that door up ahead.

I was then put in a group of three with two other guys, and we were led down a corridor, to each be given an individual evaluation.

As I sat down in the room, my evaluator gave me a few questions, to determine what my experience in Westworld should be. The questions covered everything from how I saw myself, to my thoughts on handling a tense situation.

After going over the evaluation, she determined that I was a person who believed strongly in doing what was right, and was often willing to help others if they needed it. As she rattled off a number of other traits to go with these things, I felt like I was hearing my workplace’s DISC assessment results: her analysis felt so on-the-nose, it was scary!

She then directed my attention to two hats, hanging on the wall: a white one, and a black one. From her evaluation, she sensed that I would be very well-suited for a white hat, but…I sensed that she was also giving me leeway, to put aside how I behaved out in the real world, and to possibly consider the choice of a black hat.

It felt like the choices I was given in the video game, Epic Mickey, in which Mickey can choose to do good things, or bad things, and just like in going through that video game environment the first time, I decided to ‘play ball,’ and went with the white hat. Of course, like most hats, it didn’t fit my irregularly-shaped head (wearing baseball caps feels like I’m wearing a beanie-hat!). However, my evaluator claimed the hats came in several sizes, and upon giving me a 2x-sized hat (with the Westworld logo stitch into the inner-band), I was amazed how well it fit!

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Our hostess and I, waiting for the elevator.

When I exited the room, my two cohorts had already finished their evaluation, and had both donned black hats. A female host then led us to the elevator, where a number of plaster casts of other hosts’s faces, lined the walls.

We were then taken up to the 12th floor. As the doors opened, piano music caught our ears, and passing through a set of swinging doors, we entered into the Mariposa Saloon.

Our main saloon girl welcomed us, as we bellied up to the bar, where a bartender and her two assistants also watched over us. The main host made note of our hat colors, as well as inquired what we were planning to do ‘out in the park.’

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The bartender prepares our second drink, at the Mariposa Saloon.

The two guys with their black hats, were very much like the character Logan in Westworld, playing on the “bad boy” vibes, while I kept with the role I felt was befitting my white hat (shades of the character William from the show). I gave a few answers, and kept an eye on things, being the stoic “good guy,” looking for any signs of trouble.

Very quickly, we were served several mixed drinks. The ‘tasting’ started off with an alcoholic punch, then a whiskey/bourbon mix (prepared with fire!), and finally, a milk-concoction with shaved ice on top. Each one of them was very tasty, though we only had a little time to finish each drink, before the next one was being prepared for us.

Eventually, our hostess led us over to the player-piano. As she did so, my eye was drawn to the ‘music roll,’ as a splotch of faded red rolled into view.

“Looks like you had a little fight in here recently,” I said to her.

“What do you mean?” she asked, sounding confused.

“You didn’t see the blood?” I replied, pointing to the sheet.

“…doesn’t look like anything to me,” she said, after taking a long look at it.

Suddenly, a red light went off, and klaxxon-sounds pounded our eardrums, as our host and the bartenders suddenly froze in place! An announcement was then made, that the place was on lock-down, and all guests were to leave at once.

As security forces entered, we grabbed up our things, and headed through another corridor, to a different elevator. The two security men then rode with us down to the ground floor, where we soon realized we were to exit the building, returning out onto the noisy streets of New York City.

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After it was over, I checked my watch to see that it was 7:29, making me believe that each experience, is only meant to last for half-an-hour.

My fellow “black hats” and I then began to discuss what we observed, and when the group after us exited the building, they joined in our conversation too!

We were mainly interested in the evaluation process, and the different answers we each gave. Like me, one of the guests claimed she was so surprised at how accurate her evaluator’s assessment was of her.

Pretty soon, we all parted ways, and I had to chuckle, as I headed back to my Airbnb in New Jersey, wearing my cowboy hat the entire way.

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I have to say, that for how brief it all was, the Westworld Experience was a very fun tie-in, to one of the most intriguing shows on cable television!

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Plaster heads from Robert Ford’s study.

The people playing their roles do a good job mimicking the animatronic staff in the show, with some adding an extra tinge of ‘niceness,’ that can seem a little off-putting. Plus, the numerous touches to the show (such as the weapons-table, and plaster casts of the hosts’ faces on the wall), helped ground us in the show’s world.

One thing I realized after it was all over, was that unlike some other things I’ve done, I didn’t have to sign a waiver for the experience. I guess HBO trusts their guests to be pleasant enough to the staff, and intelligent enough to behave themselves.

I will admit that once I was through the front door, I was sorely tempted to just keep snapping pictures left-and-right, but took only a select few, to try to fully experience what was going on.

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The elevator directory, as security led us out.

The theming of the area worked quite well, though it did seem odd to have an old-west saloon 12 stories above the ground. I of course, rolled with it.

During so much of the experience, I kept flashing to thoughts of my friends, who I could see enjoying certain things, or even sampling some of the drinks that were served to us.

One guest in line that I had fun talking to, was named Zara. She was accompanied by her little dog, which was a service pet (her dog alerts her if she’s going to pass out). It looked like she would be turned away for bringing her dog, but they let them both in (I kept wondering how the saloon staff would react to seeing a dog in their place!). Like me, Zara was quite introspective over the experience, and before we parted, I felt it would be fitting to get a snapshot with my ‘line-buddy.’

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A selfie with fellow guest Zara (and her little dog, too!).

After it was all over, I did consider maybe trying to get in the next day, and go for a black hat. However, in the end, I decided to sleep-in, and give someone else the chance to have their own Westworld Experience.

On Saturday, October 7th, I left my luggage at a place near the Delos offices, while I headed off on a little trip across town. On my way back to retrieve my luggage, I walked by Delos, and saw a group of 6 people, discussing their experience and choices. I couldn’t help but stop and find out what they had decided, making me think the aftermath of the experience, is just as fun as the experience itself.

I wish the experience could be open to more people. However, I understand that the rarity of it, makes it a lot more memorable, probably much like traveling to the actual Westworld park would be.

At this point, there’s no further word if HBO will do the experience again. However, given that Season 2 is set to release sometime in 2018, I’m at least sure they’ll bring it back for the San Diego Comic-Con. Personally, being from Chicago, I would be all-in if they did it as a promotional experience during C2E2 (Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo), but as much of the entertainment industry skips over our city for convention promotions, I’m sure I’ll need to fly to the coasts, if I get the urge again to visit Westworld.

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

Politics and Peanuts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1992 could be considered a big year for Batman.

While the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns was a hit in theaters that summer (despite it’s somewhat ‘darker’ tone), a new incarnation of the Dark Knight,would find it’s way to the Fox Kids block of weekday afternoon shows that fall.

With it’s retro-stylings and entertaining writing, the show quickly became one that I and many kids watched after school (if any cartoon block could give The Disney Afternoon a run for it’s money, Fox Kids could!).

While there would be plenty of colorful members of Batman’s rogues gallery that came to light, the show would also give time over to the mobsters within Gotham City, as well as members of it’s police force (two areas that the movie series at the time, failed to properly focus on).

It also gave us some interesting one-shots, dealing with the average people that lived within the city, and how Batman and his adversaries interacted with them.

The first ‘average Joe’ we encountered, was Charles Michael Collins, in the 7th episode of the first season, titled Joker’s Favor.

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On the freeway heading home from work, Charlie Collins is taking stock of his bad day: his boss turned down his request for a raise, his son needs braces, and his wife is making meat loaf for dinner.

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Charlie feels the world is further treating him like a punching bag, when several police cars and the Batmobile flash their lights, making him move to another lane. Right after this, a station wagon cuts him off, and Charlie decides he’s had enough! Catching up to the wagon, he begins to rant at it’s driver.

“Hey, you,” he yells. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Why for two cents, I’d-”

Charlie quickly shuts up, when the street lights reveal just who cut him off: The Joker!

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Fearing for his life, Charlie pulls off onto some side roads. Eventually his car gives out, and he is soon confronted by the Joker. The Clown is about to teach his rude friend some manners, when Charlie pleads that he’ll do anything if the Joker will spare him.

This request intrigues the Joker, and he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Taking his driver’s license, the Joker claims he’ll let Charlie go, if he’ll do him a favor.

“Okay,” agrees Charlie. “What?”

“I DON’T KNOW!! I haven’t thought of it yet!” Yells the Joker, before his voice softens. “You just toddle on back to your mundane, meaningless little life, and when I need you, I’ll call.”

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The Joker then walks away laughing, as Charlie is left behind, shaking from the encounter.

Two years later, we cut to the Gotham Police Department. A testimonial dinner is being planned for Commissioner Gordon at the Gotham Peregrinators Club, but deep down, he finds the whole thing a waste of time and money.

As he sulks in his office, the Batman shows up.

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Gordon claims that the Batman should be honored instead of him, but the Dark Knight puts things in perspective, claiming he just works “the night shift,” while Gordon has to deal with things on a daily basis.

The Commissioner accepts the Batman’s ‘endorsement,’ but as he asks if his friend knows where to rent a tux, he finds the room empty.

“I hate it when he does that,” mutters Gordon.

Meanwhile, the Joker has gotten out ‘on early parole,’ and feels he should be able to honor Gordon at the event as well. As he looks through his little black book, his assistant Harley Quinn, asks if he’s looking for ‘a specialist.’

“No no,” says the Joker, pulling out Charlie’s license. “Just an old friend…who’s dying to do me a favor!”

Some time afterward, the phone rings at the residence of Don Wallace, in Springdale, Ohio. When the caller asks for Charlie Collins, Don claims the caller has the wrong number. However, the Joker is on the phone, and he knows he’s talking to Charlie! He even rattles off Charlie’s new address, and claims he’s made knowing about Charlie and his family, his ‘hobby.’

The Joker tells Charlie that there’s a ticket on the next plane to Gotham for him, and that he should tell his family he’s visiting ‘a sick friend.’

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Once Charlie is face-to-face with him again, the Joker is all-smiles, as if he’s seeing an old friend. Charlie pleads that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the Joker simply tells him that once the favor is repaid, he can go home.

Soon, the Joker outlines Charlie’s part of his plan. Harley is to deliver a huge cake to Gordon’s party at The Peregrinators Club. Charlie will stand by the main doors to the party room, and once Harley knocks three times, he opens the door…and that’s all he has to do!

When Charlie enters the club’s room prior to the start of the party, he sees two of the Joker’s henchmen standing nearby, keeping an eye on things. With the two men in the room, he realizes there’s no way he can alert any of the cops about what is going to happen, and wishes he could somehow contact the Batman.

Walking into the nearby Hall of Inventions, he sees a glider in the shape of a bat, hanging from a crane. Willing to try anything, he maneuvers the glider to a nearby window.

It just so happens that Bruce Wayne had been at the party a few minutes prior, congratulating Gordon. As he and his butler Alfred drive away, Alfred points out the bat-symbol in the window behind them, wavering back-and-forth.

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As Gordon gives a few words inside, three knocks are heard at the door. Charlie opens it, and Harley enters with the cake. Charlie then attempts to leave, but finds an adhesive keeping his hand stuck to the door handle!

Harley gives a little ode to the Commissioner, when suddenly, nerve gas erupts from some nearby candles. Harley gives Charlie a gas mask, and the two watch as everyone in the room freezes in place!

The Joker then emerges from the cake, and has Harley place a small bomb on Gordon’s jacket.

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“Wear it in good health,” he chuckles, “all remaining 59 seconds of it. Toodles!”

“Wait! You promised to send me home,” pleads Charlie, still stuck to the handle.

“I never said, ‘alive,'” laughs the Joker, as he and Harley leave the room.

A few moments after they leave, Batman appears through the skylight in the room. Charlie points out the bomb, and Batman quickly sends it hurtling outside of the building (where it conveniently blows up the Joker’s van).

Back in the main room, everyone has started to regain movement, and Batman loosens the adhesive on Charlie’s hand. He tells Batman about the Joker using him as part of the assassination plot, before Batman rushes into the club to find the Joker.

He quickly subdues the Joker’s goons and Harley, but ends up chasing his adversary into a recreated ancient temple (“Right down to the poison-tipped darts!” laughs the Joker at one point).

The Joker attempts to blow up Batman, but mainly succeeds in the bomb destroying the temple, as both of them run for their lives.

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Escaping into an adjoining alleyway, the Joker is confronted by Charlie. At first, he laughs off seeing the little man again, but Charlie then punches him, knocking him to the ground!

“You miserable little nobody!” he spits out. “If I get caught, your wife and son are history!”

Charlie then claims that he’s got some insurance…and reveals one of the Joker’s bombs, which is ticking!

“This is how it ends, Joker.,” he says. “No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow, all the papers will say, is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley, alongside a ‘miserable little nobody!’ Kinda funny, ironic really. See, I can destroy a man’s dreams too…and that’s really the only dream you’ve got, isn’t it?”

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“Stop! You’re crazy!” pleads the Joker, struggling to get away.

“I had a good teacher,” smiles Charlie.

The Joker desperately calls for Batman to help him, and his adversary emerges from the shadows. Batman tells Charlie to stop what he’s doing, but the angry little man is determined to finish off the Joker, claiming it’s the only way to keep his family safe.

It is then the Joker empties out his pockets, claiming all the information about Charlie’s family is there.

Charlie then freaks out the white-faced clown, and chucks the bomb at him! Joker ducks behind Batman, and the detonator goes off…just causing a puff of confetti, and a paper reading ‘boom” to pop out.

“Gotcha!” smiles Charlie devilishly, as Batman laughs at his little ‘joke.’

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“Oh, very funny,” smirks the Joker, like a bad sport. “A million laughs.”

As Batman leads the Joker away, Charlie heads off, eager to get home to his family.

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After all these years, Joker’s Favor is still one of my Top 5 favorite episodes for this series, and in the release schedule for the show, it was our first story to feature this incarnation of the Joker.

It was nice to see that the showrunners didn’t just decide to make an animated Jack Nicholson, and gave this Joker his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. It also was one of the first times I think many of us realized actor Mark Hamill’s talent for voices. He manages to provide a voice that becomes impossible to separate from the mad man we see on-screen.

This Joker is also a bit theatrical, but does have certain vestiges of pride.

Notable is when he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Charlie thinks the Joker wants whatever cash he has, and the clown is somewhat disgusted at what Charlie is thinking.

“Oh please, don’t insult me,” he snaps.

Of course, the character also revels in the power he has over this little man. The Joker even gives Charlie all sorts of nicknames, from ‘Chuckers’ to ‘Charlie Brown.’

To many a Batfan, what is most notable about the episode after all these years, is that it marked the first appearance of one of the modern era’s most famous Batman characters: Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin).

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In the beginning, she seemed little more than a cute hench-girl for the Joker, but as time went on, a backstory was developed for her, and she began to appear in more material related to Batman. In this episode, she is the main ‘cheerleader’ around the Joker’s plans, and has some memorable lines.

When she tries to sweet-talk Batman as a distraction, he quickly subdues her, and leaves her handcuffed for the Police to arrest.

“Beauty school’s looking pretty good about now,” she mutters.

And then, there’s Charlie Collins.

Of all the ‘average Joe’s’ the show has had, Charlie is the one who definitely stands out. He’s just an regular guy, who ended up thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

My favorite moment for the character, comes at the end when Charlie freaks out the Joker. It’s the equivalent of seeing a person whose been bullied, getting ‘the last laugh’ on their tormentor. Actor Ed Begley Jr, provides Charlie’s voice, and it’s fun to hear him go from timid, to almost crazed as he makes the Joker squirm.

Plus, it is funny that Charlie manages to do what the Joker couldn’t: make the Batman laugh!

We also get some fun little character moments, with members of Gotham’s police force. At the time, we were just beginning to meet other members of the force, such as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Renee Montoya.

At the Peregrinator’s Club, we see Montoya acting much more ‘refined’ than Bullock, who seems to be there just for the free food. There also comes a moment where he tries to sweet-talk Harley, and gets the business end of a baton to his knees.

While one of my favorites, the episode isn’t perfect.

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What is notable is that when Charlie throws the bomb at the Joker, Batman has a split-second look of panic, yet doesn’t run! With a (supposed) live-bomb inches away from him, it is surprising that he wouldn’t try to kick it or toss it away (even with seconds to spare!), given how we saw him handle the last few explosives the Joker was using. Of course, it is funny to see both Batman and the Joker, in this split-second shot of utter panic.

There also is a thought, that maybe the episode could have been better utilized later on in the first season of the show. I mean, we’re seven episodes in, and we have a guy threatening to blow up the Joker!? If Charlie had gone through with it, I think Hamill’s Joker would have had slightly more screentime than Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad!

Even the music for the episode, has it’s own special ‘flavor.’ The late Shirley Walker often never gets enough recognition for the themes and musical pieces she did for the series. While there is a tinge of Danny Elfman in some areas, she brings a regality to Batman’s theme, and a playful-yet-ominous tone to the Joker’s theme.

Joker’s Favor has a theme that feels like a distant cousin to the Joker’s Theme. It has a happy-go-lucky feel with a chorus whistling a tune, but becomes somewhat humorous with an added synthesizer piece put in, that sounds like someone is squeezing a whoopee-cushion. It’s never stated outright, but I sometimes refer to the piece as Charlie’s theme song: it seems the kind of song for a ‘lovable loser,’ who just wants something to go right in his life.

Overall, I feel Joker’s Favor should be ‘required viewing’ for anyone who is introducing someone to Batman: The Animated Series. As we celebrate the show having been around for over 25 years, stay tuned, as we recap several more episodes in the coming months.

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

One of writer Rod Serling’s most famous contributions to popular culture, may have been his television anthology series, The Twilight Zone.

For 5 seasons, Serling’s show would often take unsuspecting people into ‘another dimension,’ where all manner of strange and unusual things could happen. These tales would go on to inspire a number of people, including Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King.

Along with it’s tales of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, many of the show’s episodes often reflected on ‘the human condition,’ providing cautionary tales, in the same way as fairy tales.

One of the traits that can be both a blessing and a curse to humanity, has been ‘control.’ For centuries, we’ve seen human beings do horrible things, often at the behest of their own petty whims. Once in power, some are thinking of only a select few, and ignoring the needs of the many, that surround them.

That seemed to be what Serling was looking to convey, in his Season 3 episode, The Little People.

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In a rocky canyon on an alien world, a rocket has touched down. Standing outside of it are two men: William Fletcher, and Peter Craig. Both are at odds with each other, over what has brought them to this place.

While Craig chastises his commander for landing them in a canyon, Fletcher counters that Peter got them into this mess, by navigating them into a meteor storm, causing them to seek a place to land for repairs.

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Craig continues to complain (even about the food rations), leading to Fletcher demanding that he stop with the attitude. While Craig sees negatives, Fletcher is the optimist: they’ve walked away from their ship in one piece, and are on a planet that is able to sustain them while they make necessary repairs to their craft.

While Craig gives an affirmative to being told to ‘knock it off,’ Fletcher notes that taking orders seems to not be one of his co-pilot’s strong suits. When Craig mentions how he’d like to make ‘a few changes,’ the commander plays a game with him.

“What do you hunger for most, Craig?” he asks, introspectively.

“Try this one, Fletch,” says Craig. “I’d like a whole lot of people at my elbow. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. And I’d like Yankee Stadium right alongside…but I’d like them on ‘my terms.'”

“That’s what I’m getting at,” replies Fletcher, looking into Craig’s face. “What are ‘your terms?'”

“I’d like to be the number one ‘straw boss,” he answers. “I’d like to give the orders.”

“I’ll bet you would,” replies the commander.

As the conversation trails off, Craig begins to look around, claiming he hears a strange sound, that sounds like…people.

The camera then whip-pans over to Serling, as he delivers his opening monologue:

“The time is the space age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth.  The cast of characters, you’ve met them:  William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig.  The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out.  Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that gray, shaded area in space and time…that’s known as the Twilight Zone.”

When we return to Fletcher and Craig, we find a few days have passed. Fletcher is still making repairs, while Craig seems to have given in to shirking his duties, and has returned from another trip away from their landing site.

As he looks up at the twin suns beating down on them, Fletcher realizes that for how hot it is, he hasn’t seen Craig dip into their rations, and finds his canteen is still full!

Fletcher suspects that Craig is holding out on him, and has found a source of water. Craig soon gives in, claiming he was simply testing it to make sure it was drinkable, but Fletcher isn’t so easily convinced. He also finds some small plants that his co-pilot has collected.

While Craig claims they’re “just lichen,” Fletcher examines them under a magnifier, and finds something startling: they’re clumps of miniature trees!

Realizing that his secret’s out, Craig pulls something out of his jacket, and shows it to the commander. Though it is the size of an ant, looking through the magnifier, Fletcher finds the tiny object to be a truck!

Craig seems to be enjoying the look of awe in his commander’s face, and soon leads Fletcher to another part of the canyon. Spread out on the ground, is what appears to be a small civilization, complete with miniature houses, and even a marina (observed by Fletcher through his magnifier).

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Craig tells how he’s still deciphering their language, but they do understand mathematics. He goes on to tell how cooperative the little people are, and in looking for edible plants, they directed him to the trees that Fletcher was looking at.

As Craig continues to talk about the people they are observing, his voice quivers with excitement.

“They’re scared, Fletch,” he says. “Petrified.  And so they do as they’re told! Because this giant, is like some avenging angel to them. I’ve graduated, Fletcher, from a slob with a slide rule to…to…to a god!”

“Craig, they’re people,” replies Fletcher, trying talk sense to his co-pilot. “They’re flesh and blood. In that respect, they’re no different than us.”

“Sure they are,” says Craig, his eyes growing wider. “Because they’ve been created, ‘in my image!””

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Mad with power, Craig begins stomping down on the miniature world. Trees and houses collapse beneath his feet, as a chittering cry rises up from the unseen masses below! Fletcher is forced to knock out his partner to stop his ‘reign of terror,’ and the co-pilot collapses to the ground nearby.

“You’re no god, Craig,” he says. “That’s not what you are at all! The only trouble is, that by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the devil.”

Fletcher addresses the little people, telling them that he’s sorry, hoping they can forgive them for what has happened.

Some time afterwards, We see Fletcher making final repairs to the ship. Calling out to Craig, he receives no answer. Returning to the spot where the little people are, he comes across a life-size statue of Craig, towering over the miniature landscape!

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As he looks over the statue, Craig smugly tells how the little people, constructed it overnight.

It’s too bad they don’t know who they’re breaking their backs for,” says Fletcher.

“Meaning what?” asks Craig, the smile disappearing from his face.

“Meaning they’re worshiping a heartless slob whose insides are made out of the same stuff as that statue,” replies Fletcher. “Yeah, it’s a good likeness, Craig…and an hour from now they can sell it for junk!”

Fletcher then tells Craig that with the ship fixed, conditions are right for them to blast off soon. However, Craig pulls his laser-pistol on his partner, claiming he isn’t going back.

Fletcher tries to reason with his co-pilot, claiming that left alone, he’ll end up losing his mind, but his pleas are met with a laser-blast from Craig’s gun, that knocks the head off the statue.

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“This is a monotheistic society here,” claims Craig. “Just room for one god.”

Soon afterward, Fletcher takes off, and Craig glowers over his miniature ’empire,’ a look of ‘mad power’ spreading across his face.

Declaring that ‘The Age of Peter Craig’ is upon them, he proclaims that there will be a lot of projects for his little minions to begin work on.

Craig gleefully stamps down on parts of the miniature world again, claiming that he will continue to give these ‘little reminders’ periodically, to remind them to be subservient to his whims.

Suddenly, the sound of a ship can be heard overhead. Craig claims it’ll quickly go away, but he soon plugs his ears, as the sound of the craft reaches a fever pitch! Finally, the sound dies away, but is replaced by an earth-shaking, rumbling sound. As Craig looks around for what is causing the sound, he is shocked!

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Above him, stand two men, towering giants to his eyes, dwarfing the canyon walls!

“Go away!” demands Craig, trying to keep some semblance of control. “Don’t you understand?! I’m the god! I’m the god, don’t you understand?! I’m the god!!”

Craig screams in terror as one of the giants notices him, and reaches down to pick him up. However, in the process, the enormous man accidentally crushes him to death. As the giant looks down at the now-silent Craig, his partner tells him that they have repairs to make. And like a dead fly, the giant tosses Craig’s lifeless body to the ground, where he lands in a crumpled heap, not far from the little people’s world.

Some time afterward, we see a number of small ropes attached to Craig’s statue, and small, triumphant cries go up, as it comes crashing down, breaking across the body of the dead ‘tyrant.’

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Rod Serling’s voice then returns to us, closing out the segment:

“The case of navigator Peter Craig: a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size, in the Twilight Zone.”

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Size and scale have often factored into a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, though of course, the logic of what is shown here may be a bit ‘pedestrian.’

Though we are dealing with a miniature civilization on another world, it is strange that they would have such Earthly creations as trucks and boats. However, given that we don’t actually spend time among the little people, this may have been a simplified way to make us feel sympathy and association, for the unseen masses that Craig mistreats.

The effects work in the episode may seem primitive by our standards (Fletcher’s staring at the sun is simply a static image of two ‘lights’), but it is in how both of the actors sell the piece that makes it work.

The episode is one of many, written by Serling himself. Much of the story is contained in several little ‘moments,’ as we cut to scenes that actually matter to the story. It’s possible the episode could have been stretched out in the longer, Season 4 format, but for fitting into the 25-minute frame work of the 3rd season, It gets the job done.

Both Claude Akins and Joe Maross are veterans of The Twilight Zone series, with each of them having starred in a Season 1 episode (The Little People would be their final appearances in the show).

In this episode, the voice of reason, falls on Claude Akins as Commander William Fletcher. Akins had already appeared in another cautionary episode of The Twilight Zone, with the first season’s The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In both cases, he tried to serve as the calming voice, though in this story, he manages to escape with his sanity and reasoning intact. Akins’ voice had that deep, commanding tone I heard in a number of things from the 50’s, and it works well when he tries to talk sense into his delusional co-pilot.

Maross’ first role in the series, was in the first season’s Third from the Sun episode. There, he played a more calm role, while here, he gets to act quite unhinged. There are times in his performance, where one wonders what the space agency was thinking, pairing him up with someone like Fletcher. Given how Craig doesn’t like to take orders, it seems odd that he’d be cleared to co-pilot the ship….but then again, maybe in this world, there are less restrictions on who gets to go into space.

Maybe it’s the pacing of the episode, but Craig’s delusional rantings of becoming a god, feel like they come on a bit too quickly. At times, he chews the scenery, much like some over-the-top Stephen King villains do…though one has to wonder if maybe Mr Craig, may have inspired some of the crazies in King’s novels.

Like most Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of The Little People found it’s way into popular culture.

On the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson would sometimes use Peter Craig’s cries of “I’m the god,” when he’d riff on some film characters in the cheesy movies they’d watch.

Even TV show creator Matt Groening’s series The Simpsons and Futurama, borrowed from the episode.

The Simpsons had a Treehouse of Horrors segment titled The Genesis Tub, which saw Lisa Simpson create a miniature society, and her brother Bart quickly caused mayhem within it.

In an episode of the Futurama series titled Godfellas, the robot Bender ends up floating through space, where a stray asteroid crashes into him, upon which are a number of tiny creatures. They think him to be a god, and Bender revels in having a number of tiny underlings that will do whatever he commands…however, he soon finds out there are consequences to his actions.

Though a simple episode, The Little People still serves as a good cautionary tale, about size and power, and like many of Serling’s works, it’s a story that can still be used to teach morals and lessons today.

 

 

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

In this day and age, we have access to a number of films. Some are great, others good…and a lot of them that are just plain bad!

Over the years, small ‘cults’ of fandom have grown around such titles as Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, and The Room. They’re poorly-made films, with horrendous acting and absurd stories, and yet many cannot turn away from the pull of their abysmal production values.

In recent years, there’s been a few animated films that have gained prominence due to their ‘bad-ness’ as well. These range from films like the $60 million animated production Foodfight, to the Rob Schneider-voiced  Norm of the North. However, I submit for your consideration, an animated film that premiered 25 years ago, in the United Kingdom: Freddie as F.R.O.7.

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Freddie started out his life as the young Prince, of an unnamed Kingdom in France. Unlike an ordinary family, his was imbued with magical powers. However, Freddie’s Father ended up being killed by his shape-shifting Aunt, Messina. Once she had taken over the kingdom, she then turned him into a frog, and attempted to kill him!

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Original US Release Poster

However, Freddie escaped, with some help from Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After fleeing the kingdom, Freddie ended up hiding out with a group of frogs, far away from his home. He soon grew to human-size, and went off into the world, eventually becoming a secret-agent for the French government.

After an indeterminate number of years working for them as a spy (though how/why they decided to hire a man-sized frog, we’ll never know!), he is called to England. At the request of a man known as Brigadier G, Freddie is tasked with finding out what is causing a number of the country’s famous monuments, to disappear. For the mission, Freddie is teamed up with a martial arts expert named Daffers, and a Scottish weapons-expert, named Scotty.

It soon turns out the monuments are being stolen by a bombastic figure named El Supremo, and, he’s in cahoots with Messina as well (who largely stays in her snake form during their time together).

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-What kind of story is this!?-

Ok, that was a pretty ‘basic’ summary of this film..and reading over what I just typed, even I have to wonder just how this film got made!

It would be enough if maybe this had been a new take on The Frog Prince (like what Disney did in 2009), but this story decides to create a veritable train-wreck of ideas, as if it was an Italian rip-off film, or a Golan-Globus production.

FRO7-13Over the years, many of us have seen stories that can take a bunch of strange items, and actually make you accept them. Both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series are prime examples of this done right. They ground you with enough information in their worlds, to feel acclimated to them.

With FRO7, the storytelling bounces around so much, that you’d swear you’ve gotten whiplash!

The fault for this may actually lie, with writer/producer/director, Jon Acevski. Word was Acevski’s son had a toy frog as a child, and Jon would avail him with numerous tales about it.

Once you think about that, the plot for FRO7 seems as obvious as a through-line bedtime story. Freddie’s tale dips and dodges around, like an adult trying to keep their child entertained. Stuff just feels like it was added in, as if to enthrall a young kid to keep interest in a tale, that should have ended several bedtimes ago.

FRO7-3Even the reasoning behind El Supremo stealing the monuments is rather ‘boring.’ Basically, he has a machine that can shrink them down, and using a special crystal, plans to drain the essence of the country’s history from them, putting it’s people to sleep, allowing for him to invade the country (once again, I am not making that up).

Thinking about all of these strange twists and turns, reminded me of The Nostalgia Critic’s words about another train-wreck of a film, 1988’s Felix the Cat: The Movie. The Critic claimed that Felix felt like a film that had “way-too-much story,” and that’s what it feels like we have here with FRO7.

In looking up more information on Acevski for this blog post, I found relatively nothing (even his IMDB bio only lists credits for FRO7). Word was this had been a dream-project that he’d wanted to have made since the 70’s, though the story as to just how he got production capital and created a studio to make the film, seems to have been lost to time.

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-Explain, Movie! Explain!!-

Going over the film’s story several times, I can only assume that FRO7 was either put together by a committee who had no idea how to tell a good story, or they were simply given Jon Acevski’s rough outline, and told to just work straight off of it!

So much of the film feels like a patchwork quilt of ideas/scenarios/etc, that makes very little sense if you start questioning it’s logic.

Here are “a few” logic gaps that I’ve catalogued while watching the film:

  • Freddie grows into a human-sized frog, yet seems to have totally thrown away the thought of taking care of his evil Aunt, or maybe helping out the Kingdom that he is entitled to inherit the throne to! He also makes no allusions to ever having been human, to any of his cohorts.
  • FRO7-6When a number of large monuments are stolen from Britain, NOONE sees where these things go…and there are even people standing in front of them, AND snapping pictures! Also, once it is found out that this is not an isolated incident of just one monument being stolen, it is never considered to send troops/planes/tanks/etc to guard the other remaining monuments after the first few go missing!? Plus, even though the buildings are taken from high-traffic areas, noone notices them being taken (not even with the giant shadow looming in the pic above, when the Tower of London is taken!!).
  • Freddie lies to Daffers and Scotty at one point, and pretty much gets them all captured by El Supremo, during a stake-out (he also takes the batteries out of their walkie-talkies so they can’t contact the Brigadier!). At first they are angry with him, but a few scenes later, they’re casually talking to Freddie, as if they’ve forgotten what he just did!
  • Why is almost anything with two X chromosomes attracted to Freddie!? (seriously, aside from Messina, it seems every female character/creature makes ‘goo-goo eyes’ at him!).
  • FRO7-4Freddie drives around in an anthropomorphic green car (see right), that has a face, makes croaking sounds, and spouts little hearts from it’s exhaust pipe. We never know just where Freddie got it from, or how it came to life (and it also seems to have a crush on him too!). Maybe she’s the girl-frog he was impressing in an earlier scene, and he just magically turned her into a car?
  • Freddie claims he uses his ‘mind powers’ to combat evil, but we only ever see him use these for a few seconds near the end, while the other times, he engages in hand-to-hand combat.
  • In one scene, our ‘heroes’ are face-to-face with some enemy soldiers with guns. The soldiers fire off the guns from a distance, but when our ‘heroes’ are right in their face, they forget how to use them!
  • Though the Brigadier is surprised to find Freddie is actually a frog, noone else freaks out upon encountering a 6-foot-tall, walking-and-talking frog!
  • In the modern-day(?), Messina has teamed up with El Supremo, but we’re never told exactly when they formed their alliance, or even if Supremo knows that his partner-in-crime/possible-love-interest(?!?), is even human (note: she sings in English around him, but the rest of the time, just makes hissing/squeaking sounds).
  • FRO7-7Though we see Freddie can talk to other humans (I assume this is because he was originally human), we are never made to be aware if a number of non-magical creatures we see (such as these punk-crows(?!?) on the right), are even able to be understood (even though we can hear them babbling in English).

I had to stop myself there, lest I just rattle off an Everything that’s Wrong with FRO7 list that could stretch on further (maybe one of these days, I’ll make a video of it!).

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-A Glimmer of Hope, that quickly dies out-

Sometimes, I curse my ability to find little pockets of ‘good’ in things (one reason why I can never fully hate the Star Wars prequels). Going over the story, it feels like there could have been a decent story buried in this train-wreck of a film.

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The opening scenes where Freddie is turned into a frog and Messina attempts to kill him, are pretty intense. The music and visuals are rather dark, and the wailing chorus we hear, makes it seem as if we’re watching something out of a Don Bluth film. However, that scene is about the most intense thing the filmmakers could put together, when it came to this film.

It feels like they also could have just had Freddie escape into the nearby countryside after the encounter, and team up with other witches and wizards to take back his kingdom. He could also encounter some other animal friends along the way, but I’m thinking in a far simpler way than the writer/producer/director could have envisioned.

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-Flimsier than Cardboard Characterization-

One would assume that there might be some decent characters to like here, but overall, they all feel like stock characters, put on an assembly line, and spat out onto celluloid.

Having been a young Prince traumatized by his evil Aunt, one would assume maybe Freddie would have an interesting character arc. Instead, he seems to have been hit with the amnesia ray, let alone the ‘blase bazooka.’ He never makes mention to his cohorts about his royal heritage, let alone mention that he is related to Messina, when they are face-to-face with her the first time (and when he calls her his ‘dear Aunt’ later on, neither of his cohorts question how a snake could be related to a frog!).

FRO7-8Freddie approaches almost every situation with a smug smile on his froggy face, as if he knows he’s bulletproof in surviving his own story. For being one of France’s top agents (and why would they publicize that, by the way!?), Freddie seems pretty incompetent. My guess is that he simply got all his more competent partners killed in the field, and smilingly took the credit for their exploits, elevating him to a position of  prominence, simply by being the ‘last frog standing.’ It’s possible they may have also been trying to make him a bit like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series (given how he seems to solve or get out of most situations by sheer dumb luck!).

Ben Kingsley voices the adult Freddie, who spends most of his time sounding like he’s trying to do his best impression of Mel Blanc’s Pepe le Pew. This is definitely not one of Kingsley’s better voice roles, with some areas sounding like he’s rambling, just to put words in pre-animated scenes (btw, if you want to hear him at his best, check out his role as Archibald Snatcher in the Laika production, The Boxtrolls!).

FRO7-5Daffers as the ‘female spy/love interest,’ is just as bland. She’s basically there just to take one look at Freddie, and fall in love…as well as provide one of the most shocking ‘non-kid’ joke-shots in the film (“Well, I don’t have any concealed weapons,” she tells Freddie, leading to this scene on the right…and yes, that is in the actual UK release!)

The third member of their group, Scotty, is pretty much the third-wheel ‘gadget-master’ of the group, and that’s about all I have to say about him.

The modern-day villain of the piece is El Supremo, voiced by Brian Blessed. His character just hisses, bellows, and yells throughout his entire role, supposedly making the kids in the audience know that he wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD (or Britain, at least)!! There are even some points where Supremo could very well kill Freddie, but he instead just stands around, monologuing and laughing in front of Freddie, to the point where I was yelling, “he’s right in front of you, just kill him already!!”

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And then there’s Messina, Freddie’s evil Aunt. While she does get the story going, she serves little purpose going forward, but to be threatening only a few times, and the rest of the time, just be as incompetent as Supremo.

However, as much as she claims she needs to get rid of Freddie to be all-powerful, it seems she has enough powers to actually get the job done (plus, it doesn’t seem like he’s devoted any of his time to trying to track her down or stop her up to this point!). The filmmakers show that she has a poisonous bite, can strangle others, hypnotize them, change people into things, let alone conjure up gale-force winds that can destroy a wooden ship!…and yet she’s as competent as Skynet in a non-James-Cameron directed Terminator film.

There are so many scenes, just like the ones with Supremo, where she could easily take out Freddie, and yet shows total incompetency to do so. While she can turn herself into other dangerous creatures, it seems the only one that does her any good (if ever), is her ‘default’ snake form.

FRO7-15Freddie even lets her get away in the end, and when the Brigadier in the film sees the Aunt, flying away as a strange bird, Freddie claims it was “noone of importance.”

…really, Freddie? You have an evil, shape-changing, poison-fanged, hypnotizing, world-domination-planning Aunt you just let get away…AND THAT WAS ‘NOONE OF IMPORTANCE!!?’

(btw, Daffers and Scotty just laugh at this, so if people did end up getting killed by Messina, I hold those two just as responsible for not telling anyone, as Freddie!!)

The film’s Brigadier who hires Freddie and is in charge of keeping Britain safe, is portrayed as worried-yet-bumbling old man. The filmmaker even try to make him our ‘comic relief,’ by making him so befuddled about the loss of Britain’s landmarks, that he ends up being constantly tangled in phone cords. However, the timing just never works to make us laugh at his predicaments.

In truth, the Brigadier actually gets in probably the only funny line in the entire film.

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It comes when he makes mention that a number of his best agents have been lost in the field, leaving him noone to call upon from Britain, to investigate the disappearing monuments.

“003 in China,” he moans, looking at a globe. “005 in Russia, 007 in Hollywood.”

There’s even a very small subplot about a spy for El Supremo, within the Brigadier’s group of assistants, but the film doesn’t give us enough evidence to really even suspect him (well, there’s one split-second shot, but, it makes little sense when you see it). Sure, they give the spy shifty eyes, a placid face and a snide voice, but he looks just as strange as the other men assisting the Brigadier.

They even try to throw the spy (voiced by Jonathan Pryce) into some scenes just chuckling and smiling to himself, but I felt his actions, were just him laughing at how much of a wreck the Brigadier was, or maybe this man in question, was hoping the Queen of England would eventually replace the Brigadier with him instead.

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-A Soundtrack of Silliness-

I don’t know what it is, but it seems that when it comes to animated films, studios like to entice singers or musicians, to showcase their talents in a ‘kids film.’ I’ve seen that with films in the past, suck as Rock and Rule, Jetsons the Movie, and a number of others. My guess is before every studio decided to spend that money on hiring big-name actors to voice everything, they just felt that movie soundtracks were how they’d keep the extra royalty money rolling in.

Of course, the musical choices for much of this film, make one wonder what they were thinking.

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The opening song (sounding like a leftover tune from the 80′), is called Keep Your Dreams Alive. Sung by George Benton and Patti Austin, this almost sounds like it would be the love ballad to play over the end credits, but maybe the filmmakers felt that it would somehow make the audience believe that Freddie was a competent hero…though the song plays over a rather strange opening scene.

Some may be wondering why a human-sized frog is driving around Paris in an anthropomorphic car, but there also is the strangeness, that he’s doing so, in a deserted major city (most likely, there wasn’t enough time or money to animate crowds for these scenes?).

Over the years, I think some would agree that the most memorable song, is the one sung by Messina (with singer Grace Jones providing these vocals). She gets a villain’s song titled Evilmania, though strangely enough, even though we’ve seen her take human form, she performs the entire song in her snake-form…and for much of this piece, she’s slinking around, swaying her ‘snake-hips'(!!?) to the piece.

FRO7-10Messina sings about all the ways she can control or kill a person, yet one has to wonder if it’s all just for show. What she does to several people during this song, could have come in handy at the end of the film, when she dawdles and is just plain incompetent in taking down her nephew and his friends.

The song is also memorable for a number of ‘evil figures’ that are bopping along to the song…including a few that would be considered ‘questionable’ in this day and age!

Sometimes, the worst thing a film can do, is just stop, and have a song moment for no real reason.

That happens when Freddie encounters Nessie again after all these years(!?!), and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance…she takes him underwater to meet her family, and sing a song ‘in his honor’!!? And what does Freddie do? Remind Nessie that the fate of Britain and his comrades are at stake? Nope, he just goes along with it (and changes outfits at least 2 times during the song!!).

FRO7-11Nessie gets a song to sing called Shy Girl, with vocals by Barbara Dickson. When watching the scene, it feels like the film’s blatant attempts to rip off Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. However, THAT song actually had a purpose to it’s story.

There are even songs contributed by Boy George, and Asia, though they’re little more than clips used in the film.

There’s even a dance-mix style end-track about Freddie, sung by Holly Johnson (aka the lead singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The song reminds me of some hero songs, that make the lead character sound even cooler than he actually is. I will admit, it is strange that after all these years, this song hasn’t found it’s way into any club remixes.

Though the film is rather obscure, I am surprised that even Lucasfilm never came down on the production. Why? Well in a few scenes, the film actually uses John Williams’ music from Star Wars: Episode IV!! I kid you not, as soon as I heard that music I had heard probably a thousand times before, I could not believe George Lucas had not sued the production company!

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-Big Plans Die Hard-

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

FRO7-16At the end of the film, it’s hinted at that the Americans need Freddie’s help with something, and the Brigadier seems eager to send him across the pond (however, if that heart-shaped closing image is any indication, Freddie and Daffers are gonna partake in a little…what do you call it…beastiality?).

My guess is there’d be plenty of expendable FBI agents for Freddie to use as cannon-fodder, but the already-titled Freddie Goes to Washington never got off the lily pad, as FRO7 floundered at the box-office in Britain, and fared even worse when released in the US, 2 weeks later (courtesy of Miramax Pictures).

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With the death of the sequel, so too went Hollywood Road Film Productions Studios (dang that’s a mouthful!)  as well as any word on just what the sequel would have been about. However, given that Freddie nonchalantly let his power-hungry Aunt get away(!!!), it is most likely she would be behind the troubles across the pond.

A few years after it’s dismal theatrical release, FRO7 was released on video in the US (see cover on the left), this time as just Freddie the Frog. Unlike it’s theatrical release, this one would be a little different. James Earl Jones was now voicing several narrative bits, and the film had been edited down in some places (such as the Evilmania song routine, that was now nowhere to be found!).

Since then, there hasn’t been an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray for Freddie (in regards to it’s original release), and most viewers have had to make due with versions floating around in cyberspace, or on Youtube. However, if you are feeling curious, seek out the original British release, but be warned…I recommended it to a friend, and this film ‘broke him!’ And no, I am not making that up.

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Overall, FRO7 is a mess of an animated film. It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and I can’t help but wonder how it got all the way through it’s production, with noone actually questioning how all-over-the-place the plot is. Then again, maybe the studio producing it, felt that the kids would just be so enthralled, and drag their parents back to it multiple times (like with those Minions movies).

Personally, I’d love to see the film skewered by the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. With the show having come back on Netflix, they’ve shown in their most recent season, that there’s still plenty of bad movies out there to roast, and this would make a fine introduction to the world of animated features, if they so wished!

However, for now, Freddie will just exist out here in cyberspace, where adults will think of it fondly, and others of us, will just shake our fist at the smug frog, mocking us as we strive to make sense out of the illogical mess that is his ‘perfect little world.’

Oh, one more thing. Ever wonder why Freddie is called F.R.O.7.? Well, apparently the letter ‘G,’ is also, the 7th letter in the alphabet, so…it kinda makes sense?…

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 4) – Toffee

And here we are: the fourth episode, the final part to Season 3’s Battle for Mewni storyline.

Given the title and imagery you’ve seen so far, it’s a good bet that a certain lizard-creature, is going to come into play in this story. So, let’s get on with it!

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– Toffee –

On her own, Star manages to infiltrate her family’s castle, but reveals to Ludo what he doesn’t know…that Toffee, whom he thought was long-gone, is inside his ‘wand-hand,’ and is controlling him!

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Ludo, and he wants this problem taken care of. Star believes she may have a solution…but it soon leads to revelations and much more, than she and her friends could possibly have conceived of!

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Watching the whole Battle for Mewni storyline, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like, if these four episodes had finished off Season 2 (instead of the cliffhanger we received). With this episode, it truly feels like a rollercoaster ride of a 22-minute story…and this is just the fourth episode of the new season!

Going over this story, I couldn’t help but feel that while it had some little ‘filler’ bits here and there, it’s one of the few stories that seems to quickly put aside nonsense, and throws us into the fray. This is one of those episodes where a number of revelations are revealed to us…and it feels like a lot of things that we have been wondering about for awhile, have finally been given some attention!

Since he disappeared at the end of the first season, many of us in the Star fandom have had numerous theories regarding Toffee and his ‘end-game.’ We’ve seen he can be an enigmatic puppet master, but it feels that with this episode, he has (so far) cemented himself as one of the series’ top baddies (sorry, Ludo).

Michael C Hall returns with his calm, enigmatic voice, that just gives Toffee that air of menace that makes him so scarily enjoyable to watch! Most notable is one scene, where he gives the equivalent of ‘three mic drops,’ in under 2 minutes!

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Though Toffee figures into the story, it’s main character is Star, as she braves a number of dangers, and gets in over-her-head, in ways that I’m sure had many fans gasping at the events that unfolded before us!

Star last mentioned that she is not one to come up with plans, and we somewhat see that work both for, and against her in this story. She makes choices one would almost consider foolish, AND does things that show maturity, showing how far we’ve come from that first image, of a girl who conjured up a flaming rainbow in the first episode.

Aside from Toffee and Star, the rest of the cast are there largely as supporting players.

Ludo has a smaller role in this piece, but will probably get one of the episode’s most memorable moments.

Marco Diaz, Queen Moon, and Buff Frog show up for this episode as well, but seem to largely be here for ‘moral support.’ Even so, they play their parts well, with Moon getting probably one of the more emotional moments of the episode.

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It was nice to also see how the previous episode Puddle Defender, brought Moon and Buff Frog together as allies, and makes me hope we’ll get more of this going forward.

This was the first episode I can recall, that while there are mysteries still unfolding, it felt complete (and emotional) enough, to jump to the top of the list of my favorite 22-minute episodes for the series (so far). I remember watching Gravity Falls, and being surprised that Disney was allowing some shocking-yet-amazing storytelling and graphics. It appears that taking of chances, has also been allowed with this series as well.

While there are some moments that seem to slow down for a comedic joke or three, there is more drama and emotion that overrides them, to deliver one of the best episodes the series has to offer!

Final Grade: A

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Best line from episode (said by Toffee): “Poor little butterfly…you’ve lost your wings.”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Ludo): “It turns out you’re dead!”

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Toffee proves to still contain secrets and questions within the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil, but it brings forth enough drama, emotion, and revelations, that it ends up becoming one of the best episodes the series has produced!

Even with some minor comedy moments that seem like ‘speed bumps’ in the overall story, there’s plenty of great stuff going on, to make one forget most of it’s underwhelming moments.

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And with that, The Battle for Mewni is now over…but what other adventures await Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and their family and friends in the next episodes of this season? Questions still abound related to some items in the series. Plus…(former) Queen Eclipsa, is still alive!

Sadly, we’ll have to wait until November to find out! Yep, another hiatus, and then we’ll see what happens next. My guess is, given the new opening and closing segments that show more dimensions, let alone Star being back in the Kingdom of Mewni, this season may take place over Star and Marco’s “summer vacation” time.

Starit’s called summer,” Marco told Star in the Season 2 episode, Starcrushed. “And it’s gonna be great.”

It may sound great, but we’ll have to wait a few more months to see just what the rest of this season has to offer.

Until then, expect a few little Animated Dissection posts regarding the series (and the possibility that I may be reviewing the new Ducktales series!).