Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 7) – Demoncism / Sophomore Slump

With the last few episodes, Star vs the Forces of Evil have kept us pretty well grounded back in the world of Mewni. I recall during the first few seasons, that I hoped to learn a bit more about the strange dimension Star comes from, and it looks like this is becoming the modus operandi for season 3!

In the latest episode, we continue to see her adjusting to being back on her home world…while Marco Diaz, seems to be having some troubles returning to his old routine in the Earth dimension, following the Battle for Mewni.

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– Demonciscm –

When Star finds out that her ex-boyfriend Tom is going to have a demoncism (a painful procedure to extract the evil from within him!), she tries to find a way to stop it from happening.

The story acts as continuity to the last episode’s Club Snubbed storyline, where it seems Star is working on trying to mend old wounds with Tom (though purely ‘as friends’).

We also get a fun little gag with Pony Head talking about one of her ex-boyfriends, who also had a demoncism previously. This leads to a marginally funny scene, where we see what has become of her ex, and how the procedure changed his life.

Much like the tone of Rest in Pudding, the story goes from funny-to-serious pretty quickly at one point. We also get some new character designs for the demoncism leader and his followers.

Throughout the story, I liked the small banter between Star and Tom. We’ve been seeing Star take on a slightly more serious tone since the Battle of Mewni, and it seems that that may have inspired Tom to ‘grow up’ a little as well.

The lead-up to the ending is mildly entertaining, though it’s definitely a revelatory storyline, both regarding character interaction, and story points moving forward.

Overall, a decent episode!

Final Grade: B

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Best line from episode (said by Princess Pony Head): “Tom is getting a demonciscm and he told me you can’t know – *gasp* – oh no, I’m unreliable!”

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– Sophomore Slump –

After spending the majority of his summer on Mewni, Marco finds it difficult to readjust to life on Earth. As he prepares to become a high school sophomore, his attempts to hang out with his friends proves frustrating, let alone his constant need to wear the cape that King River gave him, before he returned to Earth.

While we usually see Marco can be pretty well-adjusted (he was often the voice of reason when Star would do her crazy things), he seems to have developed a bit of a superiority complex from being on Mewni. This is actually touched upon by his Mom, who gets only a few minutes of screen-time, but has one of the funniest bits in the episode.

Most surprising, is we get a minor return of Ferguson and Alfonso, Marco’s friends who were pretty much missing-in-action during season 2. Of course for me, the real interesting moments came once Marco met back up with Jackie Lynn Thomas again.

The writers have done a pretty good job of giving Jackie some character moments, but have never fully moved her beyond much of a supporting role in the series. With this story, she and Marco probably get some of the most intimate alone time, since the Bon Bon the Birthday Clown episode.

During their time together, I  was surprised to see Jackie run through a number of emotions, and a few reactions that reminded me eerily of a few times in my own life. I’m pretty sure that whomever came up with the moments that stood out for me, were writing based on their own experiences with relationships.

Watching the episode, also reminded me of one story from the anime series Urusei Yatsura, titled After You’ve Gone. That episode showed how the character of Lum, after leaving Ataru Moroboshi’s life, really affected him. That story of how something has changed your life in such a big way, is moreso the theme of Sophomore Slump.

Probably not since Running with Scissors, have we had such a ‘deep’ episode regarding Marco. Usually it’s Marco being the logical one, but here, he almost is in ‘Star-mode,’ being a bit more off-the-wall in a few instances. The final minutes and revelations, also were totally out of left-field for me.

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “You’re never gonna hear me say ‘cwoissant,’ again!”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Janna, in Sophomore Slump): “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”

Since the Battle for Mewni storyline, this is the first episode that feels pretty well-adjusted (if a tad painful to watch at times!). Plus, both of the stories seem to compliment the other.

Demonciscm shows Star and Tom continuing to try and mend old wounds, but also taking into consideration a few things they hadn’t before. There is some minor character development going forward, and we get to learn a little more about Tom.

Sophomore Slump addresses Marco’s emotional rollercoaster, following his return to normalcy on Earth. Though he is a tad annoying in how he reacts at times in this story, it’s definitely a story that shows how his experiences with Star Butterfly and her world, have changed him.

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The next episode, appears to be quite interesting. Lint Catcher finds Marco attempting to try a new profession. And Trial by Squire, sends him and Star back to the store Quest Buy, to take advantage of a big sale. See you real soon, for another review!

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Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 6) – Club Snubbed / Stranger Danger

The last episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil, returned us to the Kingdom (and dimension) of Mewni, where it seemed we were getting a bit deeper into Star Butterfly’s life.

Following the Battle for Mewni, it feels like a number of new challenges await the young princess, and this episode gives us a few more to look into.

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– Club Snubbed –

Star and her family attend the annual Silver Bell Ball, an event to show unity among the neighboring kingdoms. Everything seems to be going well, until it seems that Tom (Star’s ex-boyfriend, and prince of the Lucitor Kingdom), ‘club snubs’ her during the dance!

One item to note in the story, is Star trying to ‘play nice.’ Pony Head hopes that her ‘bestie’ will liven things up, but Star shows surprising maturity (though pouty-faced annoyance at times) as the ball goes on.

Like in the story Scent of a Hoodie, Pony Head seems to be here to add some banter with Star, though the writers seem to be having fun making her the more wild one of the two friends in this situation.

Tom and Star’s backstory has been hinted at in the past, and this story provides a few more details, though keeps it’s main focus on the ‘drama’ at hand. We also get some additional information regarding Tom and his family (we even get to see his parents!). At times, this story almost felt like a variation on the season 1 segment, that took place during the Blood Moon Ball.

There is some character development going on in this story, but it feels like it’s mostly shoved aside until the last few minutes, when it comes to Star and Tom.

I think that’s my main problem with the story: much like Scent of a Hoodie, we get stuff happening, but it’s a bit too ‘dry’ for the bulk of the run-time.

A fun little gag I did enjoy, was seeing the writers poke fun at politics, notably in how everyone in their different kingdoms is meant to be getting along. However, we see some animosity bubbling beneath the surface.

Final Grade: B-

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Best line from episode (said by Princess Pony Head): “The more you ignore somebody, the more they fall deeply in love with you-that’s like science, that’s like, ‘scientific’ or something like that.”

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– Stranger Danger –

After the events of Rest in Pudding, Glossaryck of Terms has returned to the land of the living, albeit on a very primitive level.

While attempting to ‘walk’ her former mentor, Star comes across a woman in the royal rose garden, whom she engages in conversation. When her Mom and the Magic High Commission suddenly show up, Star finds that she has been talking to Eclipsa, the former Queen of Mewni!

Following Star (somewhat) behaving herself in Club Snubbed, we get to see her be a bit more off-the-wall once back in her kingdom.

The highlight of this story for many, is surely going to be seeing Eclipsa out-and-about. It is intriguing to see her being so calm and collected, and rarely without a small smile on her face. Esme Bianco gives Eclipsa a tone that almost makes you want to trust her, but it feels like there’s something going on behind those half-lidded eyes of hers.

The episode milks some humor out of the Magic High Commission testing Star to make sure Eclipsa hasn’t turned her evil, though it does feel like ‘overkill’ after awhile.

It is nice to see Star and Moon have some mother/daughter discussions here too. Though while Moon was willing to accept another side to monsters upon meeting Buff Frog, she is not so easy to move beyond her thoughts of Eclipsa being evil. Star on the other hand, is shown still trying to draw her own conclusions by the end of the story.

Compared to Club Snubbed, this story moves at a pretty fast pace, though has a rather abrupt ending, which may be the writers hinting at more interactions between the two as the season progresses.

Final Grade: B

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Yes! Due pro-cess! Due pro-cess!”

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly, in Stranger Danger): “How did you do that and teach it to me now.”

Much like the last episode, this one is kind of a mixed bag, but is marginally more entertaining.

Club Snubbed may be a bit over-my-head when it comes to the subject matter. While it is nice to see more of the world of Mewni, I feel the real heft of the piece gets saved too long til’ the end, when it started to really get interesting to me.

Stranger Danger ends up being the stronger of the two stories, with the return of Eclipsa, as well as showing Star’s thought processes, compared to her Mom and the Magic High Commission. A little more fun than Club Snubbed, but may have milked a few too many gags here-or-there.

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The next episode, looks to be quite intriguing. The first segment titled Demoncism, deals with Tom trying to expel the evil from within himself. Then, we have Sophomore Slump, featuring Marco Diaz, as he struggles to readjust to Earth-life, after his time on Mewni. See you real soon!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 5) – Scent of a Hoodie / Rest in Pudding

When it rains, it pours.

After The Battle for Mewni storyline this summer (which comprised the first four episodes of Star’s third season), many of us were eager to see what would be coming next, and when we could look forward to a weekly dose of more Star vs the Forces of Evil. 

Well, turns out that much like the ‘Star-bomb’ of episodes that hit this past February, Disney has decided to just dump all of Season 3 on us, in a 2-week window!

This means that you’re also gonna get a heapin’ helpin’ of reviews from me regarding the episodes (guess I should be happy I don’t video-blog these things!).

But enough talk, let’s get on with the show!

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– Scent of a Hoodie –

Following the Battle for Mewni, Marco Diaz packs up his things, and returns to the Earth dimension. However, he can’t seem to find his red hoodie.

It soon turns out that Star has secretly saved it, as intermingled within it’s swirl of smelly odors, is Marco’s scent!

Of course, her best friend Pony Head can’t stand the smell, and has the hoodie sent off to the castle’s laundry room. Naturally, Star does whatever she can to stop the hoodie from being cleaned!

I was surprised to see some continuity from the previous episodes, let alone the realization that even with the previous threats now neutralized, Star is not returning to Earth, but staying in Mewni.

The concept of holding onto something for someone’s scent may seem a strange (and possibly gross) idea, but I’ve seen enough anime to be familiar with the concept. Plus, it’s also a sign that Star may need to work through her feelings for Marco a little more.

The writing for Pony Head, continues to build off of her character growth in the 2nd season, and while she doesn’t have any really big moments, she proves to be a decent story partner for Star (we also find out why she was nowhere to be found during the last few episodes’ storyline).

We get some expanded royal lore with Sir Lavabo, a member of “The Knights of the Wash,” who cleans the royal’s garments. However, while the writers try to make his valiant efforts humorous, he just felt a bit ‘bland’ in his overall execution. Fortunately, there’s nobility in his determination, which seems to parlay against Star’s rather out-of-control actions to get the hoodie back.

In the end, this was a story I felt was a bit low on the scale for overall enjoyment, but I think the added emotional punch of Star trying to deal with being separated from Marco again (let alone trying to come to grips with her crush on him), helped propel it to my final grade. I just wish Sir Lavabo would have been a bit more entertaining.

Final Grade: B

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “I AM ‘TO MY SENSES!'”

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– Rest in Pudding –

After a funeral for High Chancellor Lekmet (who perished at the end of Season 2), Star begins to see her former mentor, Glossaryck of Terms, everywhere!

This episode was quite notable, in the uneasy way it played with Star seeing Glossaryck (reminding me of the scary beats from season 2’s story, Hungry Larry). Here, we definitely get some unsettling imagery, and further knowledge that the animation company Sugarcube (which took on animation duties during the 2nd season), seems be doing an admirable job of delivering a consistent style of animation.

We also get a cameo from Janna back on Earth, whom Star consults with for how to rid herself of Glossaryck. Naturally, Janna is more intrigued than worried about Star, and the story artists find ways to keep her calmly doing stuff in our dimension, as we hear Star panicking during their conversation.

Most notable about the story, is a bit near the end where Star has a moment where she just emotionally lets out how she feels/felt about Glossaryck. It doesn’t feel that different from Ludo’s ‘unloading’ in the segment titled, Book be Gone.

It was nice to see further resolution regarding the death of Lekmet, though I felt Star’s mother’s talk about how she used to deal with tense situations, a bit too ‘convenient.’

The resolution at the end of the story, throws in some more questions than I expected, reminding me of how a lot of episodes in the second season were structured. I hope we’ll get more answers soon, as the season continues.

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Best line from episode (said by Hekapoo, and Moon Butterfly): “Oh, uh, hey, Star’s upside-down in the punch bowl.” “Oh, not again!”

Final Grade: B-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Marco Diaz, in Rest in Pudding): “Why do we even hang out with Janna?”

The first episode after the 4-part intro to season 3, is kind of…basic, as our characters dust themselves off from what happened, and try to move on.

Scent of a Hoodie will surely please a number of Star/Marco fanshippers. The bits with Star getting emotional are the highlight, though the story about the journey getting Marco’s hoodie back feels a bit blase.

Rest in Pudding seems to be about finding closure when someone you know has passed on. It actually has some intriguing moments as we see Star freak out, but the overall resolution just feels a little weak for my tastes.

Overall, both stories just felt okay, with a bit more of the emotional ‘oomph’ given to Scent of a Hoodie. I do like that we are getting callbacks to previous events and episodes, as well as see Star add a new dress to her wardrobe. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on her taking on a more serious role as the Princess of Mewni, which makes me wonder, if we truly have seen the end of her living on Earth.

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Next episode, the segment Club Snubbed sees Star and her family attend a ball, with her ex-boyfriend Tom in attendance. We also get the segment Stranger Danger, in which a long-lost relation of Star’s royal heritage returns to Mewni, for a not-so-warm welcome. See you real soon for my next review!

Retro Recaps: Batman – The Animated Series (Season 1, Episode 32) “Beware The Gray Ghost”

As the first season of Batman: The Animated Series carried on into the fall of 1992, many like myself, quickly became regular viewers. The Tim Burton films had introduced a number of new fans to the mythos, and the animated series was showing us another medium in which the caped crusader could play in.

Of course, this wasn’t the Batman’s first foray into television. One need only think back to the 1960’s, and the first time Batman appeared on TV.  Actors Adam West and Burt Ward became the live-action faces of Batman and Robin for many years, until the film series came along.

In the summer 2017, Adam West died, and many were quick to remember and honor his legacy. Of course, when it came to Batman: The Animated Series during it’s first season, the show’s creators were not just fans of who Adam was, but sought to find a way to give him a small tribute role in their show.

Thus, Mr West found himself in the 32nd episode, Beware the Gray Ghost, which premiered on November 4th, 1992.

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The show starts with the opening to The Gray Ghost television series, and a title card for the episode: The Mad Bomber.

BTAS-BTGG-1We soon see a young Bruce Wayne, watching the show with his father. On the TV screen in their living room, a plastics plant is rocked by an explosion, and the fragments of a ransom note are found.

We then cut to present-day Gotham, where a number of buildings are being leveled by massive explosions (one of them also a plastics plant). Commissioner Gordon finds a ransom note after the last explosion, and shows it to the Batman. It’s message is very similar to a note on the Mad Bomber episode, jogging the caped crusader’s memory. Even with this revelation, Batman is stumped: the current events seem to be tied to the Gray Ghost show, but he isn’t sure exactly how.

Under the guise of Bruce Wayne, he visits a film collector, looking for episodes of the show. Sadly, the collector says that the studio that made the series, burned down some time ago, along with the original negatives stored in their filmvault.

BTAS-BTGG-2“So the Gray Ghost doesn’t exist?” asks Bruce.

“Not anymore,” says the collector.

Bruce then goes to the Television Actors Guild, where he manages to find information on the actor who played The Gray Ghost: Simon Trent.

Unfortunately, Trent has fallen on hard times since the days of his show. He is late paying his rent, and his agent is not able to get him any new roles, with those who remember Trent, typecasting him based on his most famous role.

BTAS-BTGG-3Desperate for money, Trent sells off some merchandise and all of his props from the show (including his original costume!) to Ted Dymer, the owner of a vintage toy store called Yestertoys. Trent has done the same in the past, but Ted tells the actor that as the last stuff he sold to him isn’t moving, he can’t pay much for the latest offload.

“I’ll take whatever you can give me,” says Simon.

Returning home, Trent gazes at his empty display shelves, and falls asleep. Awakening some time later, he is shocked to find that all of the items he sold, have been returned! Nearby is his costume, with a note, requesting he meet ‘a friend’ at The Gotham Art School.

BTAS-BTGG-4He does as requested, but is shocked when out of the shadows, emerges the Batman!

Fearing for his life, Trent takes off running, but Batman catches up to him, and gets him to listen. Batman explains that the recent bombings that have plagued Gotham, are similar to what happened on one of the Gray Ghost episodes. Even with this information, Trent just demands to be left alone.

Suddenly, a strange whirring sound is heard, causing Trent to stop. A few moments later, the Gotham Art School explodes! Trent takes the chance to run, and gets back to his apartment…only to find the Batman waiting for him!

Batman noticed how Trent recognized the whirring sound, and reveals that at the Art School scene, he found another note, this one claiming the Gotham Library is next.

“Help me,” he pleads.

BTAS-BTGG-5Trent finally relents, and goes to his closet, which contain his personal copies of the show’s episodes. Pulling out a film canister labeled The Mad Bomber, he hands it to the Batman.

“Here’s your answer,” he says, angrily. “Take it and go! Please!”

Batman does as requested, but before he leaves, he turns back to the old man.

“I used to admire what The Gray Ghost stood for,” he says.

“I’m not The Gray Ghost,” responds Trent.

“I can see that now,” says Batman, a tinge of hurt in his voice, as he vanishes out a nearby window.

BTAS-BTGG-6Returning to Wayne Manor, Alfred runs the film through a projector, and Bruce sits down to watch it.

When Bruce had originally seen the episode as a boy, he fell asleep before it ended. Now, he gets to see the rest of the story. As he does so, the same whirring sound is heard. On-screen, he sees that it is coming from a small, remote-controlled car.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” says Bruce, as the small car drives toward a building, that then explodes in a giant fireball!

Batman then reports his findings to the Commissioner, and the Police set up positions around the library.

BTAS-BTGG-7Suddenly, three cars just like on the show appear, streaking through the barricades and cops milling about!

Batman and a rifleman manage to stop two of the vehicles. The third one takes off, but doesn’t get far, overturning in an alley nearby. Opening it up, Batman finds no explosives inside.

“A decoy?” he ponders, as suddenly, two more cars streak out of the darkness toward him!

Just then, a rope is lowered down from the building behind him, and Batman grabs for it. As he does so, the cars hit the nearby wall and explode, the force of which throws him up onto the building’s rooftop, where he meets his savior: Simon Trent, clad in his Gray Ghost costume!

BTAS-BTGG-8“Hey, I owed you,” say Trent, “you got me my outfit back.”

As Batman looks over the toy car he obtained, he offers Trent the chance to come along with him to check it for fingerprints.

Trent is in awe as he gets into the Batmobile, but is soon assisting the Batman, when several more remote-controlled cars give chase. The two manage to trip them up, and arrive at the Batcave (with Trent having been blindfolded before they entered). Looking around, the TV star is surprised how much it resembles the Gray Ghost’s lair.

Batman even shows him a small shrine to his character (complete with the hat and cape Bruce wore as a young boy, when watching the show!).

BTAS-BTGG-9“As a kid, I used to watch you with my father,” he says, happily. “The Gray Ghost was my hero.”

“So it wasn’t all for nothing,” mutters Trent, amazed that what he thought was just a ridiculous TV show, actually inspired one of the city’s greatest heroes.

Batman then runs a diagnostic on the car, but both he and Trent are shocked when they find the only set of prints on it…match Trent’s!

Trent pleads with Batman that he isn’t behind the bombings, but Batman notes how he (Trent) had the only copy of the show, and the bomber followed the episode’s plot to the ‘T.’

Trent claims it couldn’t have been him, as all of the remote control cars from the show that he owned, were sold to Ted Dymer at his collectibles store some time ago…leading to a sudden conclusion!

BTAS-BTGG-10Batman then goes to Dymer’s store, where he finds the owner in a control room, filled with monitors, knobs, and dials.

Like any delusional villain with an audience, Ted starts monologuing, claiming that he loves toys, but in order to satisfy his collecting habit, he needs money. Remembering the Mad Bomber episode of The Gray Ghost, gave him the idea.

“And then I remembered what else a toy can do,” he claims. “It can carry a bomb. It can hold a city for ransom. Oh, the power of the toy. It can earn millions…millions for the little ol’ toy collector: me!”

BTAS-BTGG-11However, Ted is so caught up in his monologuing, that he is shocked when the Gray Ghost bursts in through a window, knocking him into some shelves, that wreck his control panel that quickly catches fire!

Batman scoops up Ted, and he and Trent rush from the building, before it too explodes, the blast destroying Ted’s store, and his precious collection.

Following the events, Ted Dymer is locked away, and Simon Trent allows for his copies of The Gray Ghost series, to be released as a home video boxset. Trent now has a new source of income, and is also surprised at the massive lines that greet him at a signing event at a local Gotham video store.

BTAS-BTGG-12One of the men in line is Bruce Wayne, who kindly asks Simon to make the signature out, “To Bruce.”

“You know, as a kid I used to watch you with my father,” says Bruce, repeating what he told Trent in the Batcave. “The Gray Ghost was my hero.”

“Really?” says Trent, recognizing the wording, before turning his attention to another fan.

“And he still is,” smiles Bruce, walking away.

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And that was Beware the Gray Ghost.

Up until watching the episode, I had no idea who Adam West really was. While I would watch the old 60’s TV show when it popped up on reruns, it never really electrified my brain the way the 1989 film did.

Over the years, I’d often see Adam West in a number of smaller roles (like a crooked cop in the 1987 film, Zombie Nightmare, which was skewered on the show Mystery Science Theater 3000) but out of all his parts in the last couple decades, his role here as Simon Trent, is still the one that stands out the most to me.

I did wonder what may have gone through West’s mind, when there were scenes of Trent frustrated that he could not escape the shadow of his biggest role. Word is that showrunners Bruce Timm and Paul Dini had the idea to have West voice Trent, but would not have made the episode if he hadn’t agreed to play the character.

The episode really felt like the show writers getting the chance to build up their own mythos for the Animated Series. Also, the emotions that both Trent and Batman go through, are a bit more ‘adult’ in nature. Most kids probably wouldn’t get Trent’s frustration, or the tone of disappointment Batman feels, when Trent seems to want to bury anything to do with his character.

The episode even manages to combine elements of the 30’s serials, notably in how the Gray Ghost seems to be an homage to the radio character, The Shadow

Even Ted Dymer (voiced by the show’s co-creator, Bruce Timm), has a plan almost worthy of the 60’s TV show’s bad guys (though much more explosive than anything those bad guys ever did!).

The story starts out pretty strong, but it seems when it comes to the conclusion with Ted Dymer, it is wrapped up incredibly fast, with the bulk of the storytelling being focused on Batman, and Trent. Dymer just monologues, is knocked out, and his place goes up in smoke in about 2 minutes of screen-time!

Over the years, West was often ripe for parody, but with his role here, he is given a wonderful ‘thank you’ by some great Bat-fans.

BTAS-BTGG-13Most notable looking back on it now, is the ending in which Simon Trent gains a new lease on life as the Gray Ghost. This comes about when he is able to release the series on home video.

The same feeling came about in the last few years, when the 60’s TV series of Batman, was finally able to be released to consumers. It also brought forth a number of merchandising items honoring the show, from Mattel action figures, to a massive LEGO set that combined Wayne Manor and the Batcave from the show!

Speaking of merchandise, I was genuinely surprised in recent years, when the Batman Animated Series got a line of DC Direct action figures. With new molds and following the show designs more accurately, I was disappointed that even with the line making some figures that were never released, we never did get a newer molding of The Gray Ghost (who has had a few different figures released over the years!).

 

Retro Recaps: Trick or Treat (1952)

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

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Animator Eric Goldberg’s memorial drawing for June Foray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walt Disney, with The Mellowmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Peanuts Prospectus: 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.

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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