Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Magic Nursery Dolls

Disclaimer: To all of you male readers out there, I promise there will be some chest-thumpingly testosterone-filled posts coming up soon. I assure you, it's not all baby dolls and flounce here at Children of the 90s. Some brusque masculinity will be coming right up, pronto.

Magically, the Puppy Surprise post from a few days back garnered so much unprompted discussion of Magic Nursery Babies that I felt compelled to further examine their existence in their very own full-length post. See? You spoke, I listened. It's fun how it works like that. Unless I don't like your idea, that is. Luckily, though, this one is a winner. Bravo, readers. Bravo.

In toy production as in warfare, your most important strategy is the element of surprise. If the surprise can involve some scale of sorcery, well, then all the better. Children's awe and amazement is fairly easy to obtain: simply present to them something that defies their expectations, and wait for the temper tantrums begging parental spending to begin.

In 1990, the Mattel Corporation had a few such magic tricks up its sleeve with which to woo both children and toy retailers alike. Behold, from a 1990 New York Times article on the great unveil of Magic Nursery Babies at a retailer toy fair:

"With a wave of her silver wand, a fairy princess wearing a sparkling pink gown and tiara opened the mirrored portal known as the Magic Door. Inside was the Magic Nursery, a room decorated in spare-no-expense style, with soft lighting, plush pink carpeting and white lace."

In the center of the room stood a group of about a dozen middle-age men, all dressed in dark business suits. Like a religious sect reciting ancient prayers, they were chanting in a deep, solemn tone.

''Love is magic,'' they said in unison. ''Love is magic. Love is magic.''

[. . .]The group in the Magic Nursery was watching a demonstration of Mattel Toys' Magic Nursery doll, one of more than 6,000 new toys on display. As the men obeyed a saleswoman's command to keep up their chant, they stared at a baby doll's dressing gown that had been immersed in a bowl of water. Suddenly, the gown vanished, leaving behind a waterproof bag containing a frilly dress for the doll. The retailers erupted with ''oohs'' and ''aahs,'' responses that hovering Mattel executives hoped would translate into signatures on order forms."

While usually I enjoy speculating on what tipping point of craziness put ridiculous 90s toys on the shelves, in this case I don't have to. This is an actual account of the initial Magic Nursery Baby demonstration. Let me be the first to say, this is absolutely insane. There, I said it. Middle-aged men in business suits chanting cultishly, "Love is magic" is above and beyond any absurd toy pitches I could have dreamed up. I admit, the trick is pretty impressive, but the chanting errs on the side of totally and irrepressibly creepy.

"Love is magic," was the mantra of the Magic Nursery Babies. According to Mattel lore, if you chanted this mysterious incantation while swirling your doll's dressing gown in water, you could conjure an informative packet containing valuable and pertinent information about your latest doll acquistion. Oh, and an outfit! Mainly an outfit. See for yourself:

I especially love the little girl who hugs the baby doll maniacally, exclaiming, "I'm your magic nursery mommy!" Her level of enthusiasm troubles me. Also, does anyone else as an adult get a little creeped out when they say, "Let's find out!" and begin undressing it? I do sort of like the implication that the only thing differentiating a boy or girl baby is hair and a dress, though.

Just imagine, in the late 80s teams of researches and scientists slaved laboriously over Bunsen burners and graduated cylinders. They worked tirelessly to formulate the chemical reactions necessary to bring us these Magic Nursery Babies. The country's best and brightest weren't all tied up researching vaccines and medical treatments; some were churning out dissoluble baby doll dressing gowns. While their peers were out there, day after day, bettering mankind, these guys really wanted to focus more on doll cheeks that responded to kisses. You know. For the kids.

I will be the first to concede that the trick is undeniably impressive. How do they do it? Where are they hiding this mysterious packet, and how does this sinkful of water unlock this mystery? The details are pretty hazy, but the response was clear. Children loved them. They could not get enough. Better yet for Mattel, kids had no inkling as to whether their doll was to be a boy or a girl. Hence 50% of the time, the kids wouldn't get what they wanted. Even if, say, only 30% of parents are complete suckers, it's still a 30% increase in return customers to appease screaming children.

The baby's gender was not the only surprise the Magic Nursery had in store for us. Additionally, we all had a one-in-thirty-six chance of our baby being a twin. Let me repeat that. A one-in-thirty-six-chance. Those are terrible, terrible odds. Either way, we were all fairly certain that when push came to shove, we'd probably be getting a twin. Unfortunately for our parents, most of us were very wrong.

Also, the twin thing was pretty anticlimactic. Your dissolving dressing gown's resultant packet would proclaim your baby twinned, and you could fill out a form and send it into the manufacturer, wait 8-10 business days from point of receipt, and eventually receive a second doll by mail. Children, by nature, are not especially patient creatures. By the time that twin gets there, it's pretty likely they'll already have abandoned its brother or sister in favor of a new toy.

Mattel must have known our enchantment with these babies (under the "Love is Magic" spell) wouldn't last forever, and quickly shoved into production other Magic Nursery Prototypes:

Magic Nursery Pets were pretty much the same thing, only with animals and a condensed TV commercial time slot. I imagine these were slightly confusing to children, though, as they imply that the only thing differentiating one animal from another is its ears. Somewhere down the road, one of these Magic Nursery Pet-owning kids will be in a biology lesson on evolution, raise her hand and ask bewilderedly, "But what about the ear pulling? Where does that factor in?"

Later incarnations brought forth a new slew of tricks: babies with eyes that open or close when ice cubes or warm water was applied, twins or triplets that could be bought as sets, "my first haircut", a choice of newborn or toddler dolls. Even with the newer models, these dolls were essentially one-trick ponies. The most exciting part happened when the doll was first opened, meaning everything from that point on was sort of a letdown. Either way, that one magical moment of swirling the dress in water and chanting, "Love is Magic", was pretty impressive, whether to a child or room full of middle-aged businessmen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mrs. Doubtfire

Sometimes, we have to give credit where credit is due. Some feats are so trying with such apparently insurmountable obstacles that their ultimate achievers deserve the utmost in respect and recognition. Thus was the case of transforming the hairiest man in the world into a moderately convincing elderly British woman. In the words of one of Robin Williams' on-screen transformers, "The man has a five o'clock shadow at 8:30 am." These makeup people and professional arm waxers certainly deserve their due.

Mrs. Doubtfire, based on the 1993 novel Madame Doubtfire, was an ambitious undertaking. Sure, audiences had eaten up Tootsie a decade before and publicly declared their love for movies starring cross-dressing men, but you know what they say: it's a hell of a lot easier to turn Dustin Hoffman into a woman than it is with Robin Williams. Though the two movies invite obvious comparisons, Mrs. Doubtfire separated itself in a major way by marketing to children. Sure, a man in drag is funny, but a man in drag to children is hilarious. Well played, director Chris Columbus. Well played indeed.

The movie is one for which audiences were willing and eager to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to get caught up in the touchy-feely heartwarmingness of it all. We can all recognize that the plot is absurd and unrealistic, but that's why it's a movie. There's no "based on a true story" anywhere about it. It's based on a fictional story. It doesn't have to be real. It just has to be entertaining.

Cresting the wave of popularity of William's voice acting successes in animated films such as Aladdin and Fern Gully, Mrs. Doubtfire's opening scene depicts Williams (as Daniel Hillard) doing in-studio voice-over work for an animated short. Though his performance as a opera-singing caged bird is near-inspired, he clashes with the creative director and leaves the set, thus severing ties with gainful employment.

Largely unaffected by this minor hiccup, Daniel defies his wife's wishes and throws his son (played by Matthew Lawrence) a crazy 12th birthday bash, complete with full zoo and other reckless means of child enjoyment. Daniel's wife Miranda (Sally Fields) comes home to find the house a mob scene, with everyone jumping around to that House of Pain song. Tired of being the bad-cop to Daniel's super-fun cop, Miranda asks for a divorce. Due to his flaky employment and lack of steady income, the judge allows Daniel the miniature visitation time slot of Saturday evenings. Needless to say, Daniel is pretty bummed.

Lucky for us viewers, this sad sack-ness doesn't last for long and antics quickly escalate into insane debauchery. Daniel learns that his ex-wife is seeking a housekeeper and is insulted that he can't be trusted to care for his kids. Instead of handling this in a rational, adult way, Daniel goes for the crazy, voice-talent approach. He intercepts Miranda's newspaper ad and changes the phone number to ward off legitimate inquiries from qualified housekeepers, and proceeds to call Miranda numerous times with different frustrating-inducing traits. Eventually he calls in as the soothingly sweet and highly qualified Mrs. Doubtfire, pilfering the name from a newspaper headline ("Police Doubt Fire Was Accidental").

What happens next can only be described as a clinically, almost criminally insane quest for Daniel to disguise himself as a sweet old lady. In an extremely convenient plot point, Daniel's brother is actually some form of special-effects make-up guru who is just perfect for this job. Although he probably should have considered disguise options before committing to an interview, Daniel hastily retreats to his brother's home and asks, "Can you make me a woman?" His brother is more than happy to oblige, and also happy to waste mountains of time and expensive resources making him look like Barbara Streisand and other near-misses, purportedly for our pure entertainment value. They even through in some Fiddler on the Roof in a sequence where Williams appears dressed exactly like my grandmother in a rainstorm.

Watch more SpikedHumor videos on AOL Video

His brother just happens to have all of the necessary accouterments on hand, right down to the jeweled Victorian brooch. Euphoric high fiving, hip-bumping, and chaotic dancing ensue, and Daniel's brother and his partner declare Daniel fit to convince his ex-wife and children that he's a 70-something English nanny full of worldly wisdom, nutritious cooking expertise, and disciplinary goodness.

Of course, requisite hilarity ensues in typical 90s montage fashion. All sorts of what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong situations unfold, such as the hilarious prosthetic-breasts-aflame-in-cooking-gone-awry moment. Unfortunately for Daniel, Miranda becomes smitten with her hunky co-worker (Pierce Brosnan). Sure, it's rough on him, but just try to tell me you could platonically share office space with James Bond without asking him to be the father of your children. Just try!

Image via ew.com

Daniel's son walks in on him in the bathroom, and is justifiably frightened to find that their sweet old lady housekeeper is actually a man. With his cover blown, Daniel 'fesses up to his son and older daughter and implores them to maintain the secret. Meanwhile, Daniel shows some on-air promise while goofing around at his crappy TV studio film-reel filing gig and his boss invites him to dinner to discuss potential opportunities. By pure cinematic coincidence, Miranda asks Mrs. Doubtfire to join the family and her beau at the exact same restaurant at the exact same time. I think we can all see where this is headed.

Obviously, instead of doing the grown-up thing and either a) lying to someone to change the conflicting plans or b) telling the truth, Daniel opts for elusive option c) attempt to change back and forth and eat two dinners as two different people at the same time. Obviously it goes amok, and Daniel's cover is blown as his disguise comes unglued and he is exposed as the father of all frauds. Or frauds of all fathers. Take your pick.

Daniel pleads his case in family court, but to no avail. In a singular sane moment of clarity, the judge revokes Daniel's custody and allows him only supervised visitation. Daniel is devastated, but somehow manages to pick up the broken shards of his life and relegate his creative energy into a new show, Aunt Euphegenia's House, starring himself as Mrs. Doubtfire. Miranda sees the show and in typical movie fashion, immediately reconsiders and allows joint visitation. It just goes to show you: if you're crazy enough to housekeep your children in drag but entertaining enough to bring that character to TV, everything will work out just fine. Really.

If that description was too long and unwieldy for your tastes, don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Someone (not me) put together this handy condensed version of the film. For your viewing and summarizing pleasure, Mrs. Doubtfire in under a minute flat:

Oh, and don't forget to tune in to the next installment of our multi-part series on mid-90s cross-dressing themed movies starring Robin Williams when we examine The Birdcage. What can I say? These were his drag queen years.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Children of the 90s One Hit Wonder Mash-Up: 1993

1993 was a highly varied year for one-hit wonders, with a great span of genres coming to the forefront of popular music. These songs ran the gamut from whiny to contemplative to club-thumping without skipping a beat (well, occasionally the club-thumping ones did, depending on the DJ).

Without further ado, the most memorable and enduring one-hit wonders of 1993:

I'm Gonna be (500 miles) (The Proclaimers)
Nothing's sexier than a guy with an accent. Unless, of course, it's two guys with accents. That look exactly alike. Oh, except if that accent is Scottish. I don't know about all of you, but I had to watch the movie Billy Elliot with subtitles. I've heard rumors it was in English, but I couldn't understand a damn word these Scots were saying. I suppose if you've got guys as lust-worthy as The Proclaimers, indecipherable accents aren't that important. After all, these sexpots sported the same eyeglass frames as my grandmother. Swoon!

Sure, they may not have been your typical young male pop act, but they certainly had some form of mesmerizing charm. Their uncanny ability to sing in perfect snappy staccato unison was a marvel all of its own. I didn't have to understand the words. I spent the next few years contemplating what exactly it would mean for them to
haver to me. To this day. I'm still shaky on the definition. Okay, okay. I have no clue. But I can only imagine it's something to illustrate commitment in a manner relative to talking a 1000-mile stroll to fall down at my door. I'm pretty sure.

Insane in the Brain (Cypress Hill)

What better place to be insane? I really hate it when a rebellious knee or elbow of mine randomly asserts its psychoses and has to be restrained with mini straitjackets. No, the brain seems like a pretty fair location for insanity to flourish.

Cheap jokes aside, you've got to love that intro. The beat, the rap--they so shrewdly represent all that was fun and non-threatening about 90s hip hop. Also, imagine how many thugs learned such valuable biological terms as "membrane". Before this song's rise to one-hit wonderdom, people would have to refer to the location of their sanity in far vaguer terms. Following its peak, however, we could all pinpoint its whereabouts to the slightly mores specific "membrane". In the brain.

We also were exposed to such brilliant poetics as:

Like Louie Armstrong
Played the trumpet
Ill hit dat bong and break ya off something soon
I got ta get my props
Come and try to snatch my crops
These pigs wanna blow my house down
And underground to the next town
They get mad when they come to raid my pad
And I'm out in the night loose scared

Who doesn't love a good fable or fairy tale reference in their rap songs? Especially when referencing impromptu marijuana raids? Kudos to you, Cypress Hill. Ku

Blind Melon (No Rain)
This is probably the first time I've ever really watched this video, and let me be the first to say that it's totally and completely insane. Everyone laughing at a tap-dancing young girl in a bee costume is undeniably a unique music video plot point. You can't accuse Blind Melon of unoriginality. In fact, their music video actually supposedly inspired Pearl Jam's song, Bee Girl. If your bizarre music video concept is enough to inspire contemplative odes, your concept is probably pretty compelling. Or crazy. Take your pick.

No Rain is an incredibly catchy song. I challenge you to listen to it the whole way through without being at the very least
tempted to sing along. The music is so simple and repetitive that it actually manages to embed itself into your brain's cortical membrane (formerly the location of the above mentioned insanity. See Hill, Cypress.)

In 1993, I performed an ensemble tap dance to "Tea for Two" at my dance recital and was thus convinced that this song (due to its inclusion of the phrase "All I can do, is just pour some tea for two") was somehow related to the jazzy 1925 song from the then-hit musical No, No, Nanette. I swear, if you were 7 years old, it would make perfect sense to you to. A more thorough retrospective examination indicates this song is a lot darker than I'd originally surmised. I was also way off on the tea party quotient.

What is Love? (Haddaway)

Since we just reminisced about Night at the Roxbury a few days ago, it is certainly appropriate to take a look at its trademark tune. This is one of the most repetitive, irritating, can't-expel-from memory-even-if-you-had-one-of-those-Matrix-flashy-things songs in history. Sure, it's got a fun beat. The first time it loops. Then we get to hear it a staggering 50 more repetitions. By the end, it really gives one the urge to start vomiting Jock Jams CDs and sweating out cheap clubbing cologne to purge the song's memory from your system.

The Whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohh-oh-ohhh, oh-ohhh-oh-ohhh, ohhh-oh-ohhh, ohhhhhhhh part doesn't help, either.

What's Up? (4 Non Blondes)
The song's title really fails to do it justice. First of all, the phrase "what's up?" never comes up in the song's lyrics. Ever. Also, it brings to mind those painful oft-quoted Budweiser "WHAZZZZUP???" commercials. In all of their all-caps multiple-punctuational glory.

The general tone What's Up? was just south of Debbie Downer and only slightly north of Suicidal Susie:

Twenty - five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
And I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means
And so I cry sometimes
When I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out
What's in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream at the top of my lungs
What's going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I said hey, what's going on?
Ooh, ooh ooh
And I try, oh my god do I try
I try all the time, in this institution
And I pray, oh my god do I pray
I pray every single day
For a revolution
And so I cry sometimes
When I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out
What's in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning
And I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high
And I scream at the top of my lungs
What's going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I said hey, what's going on?
Twenty - five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination

Talk about before its time; 4 Non-Blondes were the original emo. I'm just thankful I wasn't twenty-five at the time of its release and thus joining in on the contemplation of my life's lack of direction. The only revolution I was praying for was a coup against my tyrannical beginning-swim instructor.

Whoomp! There it is! (Tag Team) You have to be at least slightly endeared to a song that opens with a call to "Party People!" You've gotta admit, it sounds like a fun group. Something I would really like to be a part of. Other folks can have their quilting circles and bowling teams. I'm joining the Party People.

Funnily enough, the song was released a mere month after the group 95 South put out "Whoot! There it is." Yep. Whoot and Whoomp. Not only are we not especially original at coming up with titles, we're making up words to boot. I preferred the Tag Team song, particularly because I have a soft spot for responsive shouting in songs such as this:

Can you dig it?
We can dig it!
Can y'all dig it?
We can dig it!

I liked knowing when my part was coming up. It really made me feel a part of the song. Tag Team had sat down and though, "You know, little kids probably want to get in on this too. If we ask them a question, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to respond with a hearty exclamatory reply."

So there you have it. Perhaps these artists' careers didn't flourish much beyond these fleeting glimpses of success, but in the end it seems they have the last laugh. After all, you're probably going to be humming these songs all weekend long.

Michael Jackson, You Will be Missed

Regardless of your take on his personal life, it's undeniable that Michael Jackson was an immensely talented artist. The King of Pop deserved his title for his unending string of catchy, original hits spanning from the late 70s to mid 90s. Though his life became a complicated and unhappy one, he should certainly be recognized for his innumerable achievements. Unfortunately, we will never get to see his comeback tour. RIP, Michael Jackson. You will be missed.

I leave you with the video that once gave me weeks' worth of nightmares but I have since come to love. From the best-selling record of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller. Feel free to dance along:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Puppy Surprise

What exactly about the birthing process do toy companies perceive to be so child-friendly? Aside from the fact that labor begets a child, that is. Children are both innocent and inquisitive, and parents have a hell of a time balancing those two conflicting natures without sadistic toy manufacturers coming in and mucking it up with biologically confusing playthings.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Hasbro came up with a glorious marketing scheme guaranteed to disappoint one in five children. "What if we had this animal doll," a Hasbro rep would suggest excitedly. "That has babies inside of it?" The guy at the head of the table would clasp and unclasp his hands, asking thoughtfully, "But how would the children extract the babies?"

A fine question indeed, guy at the head of the table. I'll tell you how. In a natural order-defying act of toy bizarreness, the good people of Hasbro developed a velcro-adhered pouch that children could simply open and close as they please. As you can imagine, this led to inevitable confusion about birthing. A whole slew of Puppy Surprise-toting kids spent years thinking that when you're done playing with a baby, you can simply shove it back into the womb. No problem here.

The "surprise" element of Puppy Surprise referred to the fact that the doll could contain three, four, or five puppies. Kids are fairly simple creatures, and are thus easy to persuade that more equals better. In fact, every child was convinced that as special as he or she was, it was only fair that their doll contained the maximum of five puppies. You can bet parents had a swell old time consoling these children when their doll (as most did) contained a scant three puppies.

Three puppies? Don't insult me, Hasbro. What can I do with three puppies? Five, now that's a fun toy. But three? Come on.

Note that sped-up fine-print speech at the end: "Puppy Surprise comes with three, four, or five baby puppies! One in five Mommy dolls comes with four or five puppy dolls." Luckily, children are terrible at math, or they'd realize they had a crappy 20% chance of achieving the maximum (or even silver medal) Puppy Surprise experience. They are, unfortunately, pretty adept at counting and thus are clearly aware when they are being cheated.

I remember a birthday party at which one of my classmates received a pink Puppy Surprise with five puppies. How was I supposed to compete with that when my spotty mommy doll had been significantly less fertile? This was the precise moment in a child's life when they learn that life is not fair. Luckily for parents, they also learn greed, envy, anger, and all sorts of other fun hard-to-quell negative behaviors. Thanks, Hasbro!

All images from here on out from the exhaustive http://timpersock.googlepages.com. I implore you to check it out. Really, I'll wait. It's the most incredibly exhaustive Hasbro Surprise toy site/shrine in existence. Enjoy!

Fortunately, if you struck out the first time, there were approximately one million alternative variations you could subsequently beg for to try your luck of the litter again. All dolls in the Surprise line had similar by-the-books adorableness achieved by the winning combination of hard plastic faces and soft, pliable bodies. The box assures us that each of our babies, just like us, are unique. Unlike us, their uniqueness is broadcast by a ribbon round the neck declaring the puppy to be of the male or female persuasion.

Hasbro churned out all variations of huggable Surprise creatures including Kitties, Bunnies, Bear Cub, and Pony. Conveniently, in Hasbro world all of these animals and their corresponding offspring were roughly the same size. Lucky for us, the fun didn't stop there! As the ever-competitive toy market necessitates, Hasbro had to milk this concept until the Mommy Surprise ran dry. Let's investigate some of the odder exploits Hasbro undertook in order to continually surprise us:

Drink n' Surprise.

To those of us now immersed in semi-adulthood, this sounds like a typical weekend. Back in the early 90s, however, you would have been far happier to wake up to this surprise the next morning. In this case, if you shoved a tiny bottle of water down your puppy's throat, you could be rewarded with a variable physical reaction. As the tag-line said, "Will your puppy drink n' wet or drink n' burp?" If only we so excitedly anticipated these outcomes in human infants.

Surprise Outfit

These lucky pups came complete with a mysterious box that could contain any type of outfit. Just imagine! Sure, you only had three puppies to speak of, but that one comes dressed as a mermaid. Makes up for it, right?

Playful Hair Surprise

In essence, you yanked on the little guys' till their hair was visible, with blue hair indicating a male and pink a female. The hair could also be re-retracted (yep, two re-s) into the body. That certainly is...a surprise.

There were oodles more there those came from, but they all generally shared the same ridiculous elements of Surprise. There was always some element of unexpectedness that lent some excitement to the toy opening process. After that moment had passed, however, the doll lost quite a bit of its luster.

Unsurprisingly, Hasbro began releasing "sold separately" packs of babies for reasons we can only assume are related to the continuous bitching from the four in five kids whose dolls contained just three babies. Though children delighted in this manner of cheating the system, there was a fatal flaw in the system. The velcro-pouch wombs were just big enough to accommodate innumerable additions to the additional litter.

At least it gave us an easily identifiable means of judging whose parents were child-spoiling suckers: the ones whose Puppy Surprise dolls' painfully bulging bellies dragged on the floor. Served them right. I was stuck with three puppies, none of whom had retractable hair or a mermaid costume. The only thing to console me? My Mommy Doll got to keep her svelte pre-litter figure. In your face, kids whose parents buy supplemental toys to appease their obnoxious children. In your face!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

90s Feature Films based on SNL Sketches

It takes guts to take a one-note joke and stretch it out over a long couple of hours. Occasionally, the sketch-to-film adapters will get lucky and create a viable, self-standing feature film. More often, however, it plays like a 4-minute sketch on an enduring, unending loop.

Saturday Night Live in the 90s (or at least the early 90s) certainly had its high points. Boasting classic cast members such as Phil Hartman, Mike Meyers, and Adam Sandler, SNL provided 90s audience with consistently funny sketch material. Sure, there were a few duds in there, but it was a far cry from some of the inane sketches of today.

Banking on their peaking popularity, producers saw fit to morph several sketches into full-scale movie projects. Their aspirations were admirable, if sometimes a smidgen misguided. At times, they misjudged the public's intelligence; that is to say, that the movie-going public realized that something that is funny for five minutes is not necessarily funny for 120 minutes.

Let's just be thankful that the SNL movie-makers were discriminating enough to spare us some of the more irritating recurring sketches. I don't know about you, but my tolerance for watching Rob Schneider describe himself "maaaaking copiiiies!" tends to wear a bit thin. On the other hand, I would like to have gotten a glance into Matt Foley's life in a van down by the river, but we can't have it all.

Image via therecshow.com

I present to you, the extensive string of 1990s Saturday night live feature films:

Fear not, loyal readers. Inclusion on this list is not grounds for exclusion for full-length posting. It is certainly possible I have 1000 more words to say on Wayne's World.

Wayne's World (1992)

The most financially successful Saturday Night Live movie to date, Wayne's World translated well to a full-length feature and even warranted a movie sequel. Its iconic stars Wayne and Garth (played by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) were emblematic of 90s goofballs everywhere. On SNL, Wayne's World was a humble public access show broadcast in Aurora, Illinois. In the film, the duo sells out to a scuzzy network executive.

Wayne's World is certainly deserving of its cult hit status. Without it, our glossary of humorous-but-eventually-irritating phrases would be infinitely shorter. The sketch and movie spurned such ubiquitous 90s expressions as "Schwing!" "Schyea!" and "Party On!" Most notably, however, they coined the phrase (now in comeback mode due to its use on The Office) "That's What She Said". Yep, you can thank Wayne and Garth for that one the next three hundred times you hear someone follow up an unintentionally sexual statement with it.

One of the most memorable scenes of the movie features Wayne and Garth riding in the car, singing along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Just imagine how excited I was when my 7th grade chorus director let us sing this for our spring concert. Unfortunately for me, there was no headbanging allowed.

Coneheads (1993)

Sometimes, not even a million drop-in cameos by 90s celebrities can save a sinking ship (Then again, unless these celebrities were equipped with some sort of ship-hole patching equipment, I'm not sure why I would expect them to be capable of such a feat. Please excuse my tiringly literal interpretations of phrases.) Coneheads as a sketch was occasionally chuckle-worthy, but it was certainly a one-note joke. The Coneheads, a family of aliens from the planet Remulak, attempt to fit in with their human neighbors while stranded on Earth. Oh, and their heads are shaped like cones.

We get it. They don't understand the way humans do things. They speak in overly complex, highly literal phrasings. It's not that complicated or original a premise, and its probably not worthy of a film (even if it is a scant 88 minutes). There's only so far you can take a simple joke, especially one as hackneyed as this one. Sure, the movie had its moments, but in general the Conehead's evasion of the INS was (to quote Wayne's World) not worthy of our time and ticket money.

It's Pat (1994)

By far the worst-performing film in the SNL movie lineup, It's Pat took in an abysmal profit of just under $70,000. Julia Sweeney plays the intentionally gender neutrally-monikered Pat Riley, a misfit of unknown biological sex assignment. The real underlying issue with this movie was that the sketch itself was not all that funny, so it certainly didn't translate well to the big screen. Pat form a relationship with the equally andogynous Chris, and together the two dodge zany attempts to uncover their true gender identities. Heh.

In fact, the movie was so poorly received and remains so unpopular that the only video I could find of it online was the cameo by 90s band Ween (posted only due to Ween fanmanship, with no love shown to It's Pat). Internet bootleg video obscurity can only mean one thing: a movie is bad enough to be ignored, and but not enough to be so bad it's funny and can thus be enjoyed.

Stuart Saves His Family (1995)

I will admit I have a soft spot for Al Franken. Before you get all politically relevant on me, let me clarify that this squishiness is a direct result of his growing up in my hometown suburb of Minnapolis. For this and this alone, I am eternally open to liking any Al Franken output (same goes for the Coen brothers, who also boast my hometown heritage). Though by all means a financial flop, Stuart Saves His Family is not without its endearing moments.

Franken stars as Smalley, a corny 12-stepping self-helper who embarks on a joint attempt to save his ill-fated cable access show and his family. We can at least admire that this is an ambitious undertaking for a mere 95 minutes. Smalley's signature move involved self-talk while gazing into a mirror, reciting, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" See? It has its charms.

Some (I can only assume it was The Man) disabled all embedding functions for the theatrical trailer, and there's no further video evidence of Stuart's existence. For proof, you can watch the trailer here. Otherwise, you'll just have to take my world on it.

Night at the Roxbury (1998)

Clocking in at just 81 minutes, Night at the Roxbury may qualify as one of the briefest of SNL cinematic endeavors. According to critics, however, that wasn't brief enough: the movie has a 10% Fresh rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Though the sketch itself is both easily memorable and imitable, it failed to translate well to a full-length movie. Shocking, isn't it? If people won't watch two slick and sleazy club-rat guys dance insanely to awesomely bad 90s techno pop, what will they watch?

The sketch's signature song was Haddaway's "What is Love?", to which Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan head-bounced repeatedly. I think we can all safely say this premise it not especially worthy of a full movie, and hence the film itself was pretty shaky plot-wise. Steve and Doug desperately want to party at the Roxbury nightclub and eventually open a club of their own, but face all forms of madcap obstacles to reaching their goal. I think we can all see this runs a little thin, even at 81 minutes.

At the very least, it features some great 90s tunes:

Superstar (1999)

Obviously SNL movie producers failed to learn any valuable money-making and face-saving lessons from their innumerable past cinematic flops. At least that's what we're led to believe by their decision to green-light Superstar. Molly Shannon played Mary Catherine Gallagher, an awkward idiosyncratic Catholic schoolgirl with all sorts of odd quirks, most notably a tendency to stick her fingers under her armpits and smell them ("like this!") when in a stressful situation.

In the movie, MCG yearns to be a superstar, which by her definition will land her a much-coveted kiss by supposedly hunky (but really, Will Ferrell) Sky Corrigan. For some reason I've yet to fully grasp, Ferrell also plays Mary's visions of God. Go figure. Mary Catherine's chosen path to Superstardom entails performing in the school talent show, a plot which somehow manages to cover the full length of the movie.

Perhaps not all these films were cinematic masterpieces, but they were certainly enduring in other ways. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find a club playing that song without all or most of its population jerking their head rhythmically in the signature Night at the Roxbury Style. That's got to count for something.

Post-post (that is, after post) note: I just realized this is my 100th post! How exciting. Stay tuned for more celebratory developments later in the summer, including some fun 90s giveaways :) Suggestions for giveaway prizes are always welcome!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Momentous Day...

Today was a momentous day in Children of the 90s history: I got my first celebrity comment from someone about whom I wrote a post. Well, at least as far as I know. Who knows if any rogue Furbies have been lurking in my midst.

That's right, folks, you read it here. Twitter verified. Brad from LFO did indeed leave me a comment on my post about, well, LFO. As is fitting. (PS, they're going on tour! If you're into that kind of thing. Check it out here. While you're there, feel free to stop by.)

Of course I do a lot of jabbing and mocking around here, but let me just say that no matter how hard of a time I give you I will always be incredibly starstruck and/or in awe if you choose to respond. That said, I'd like to issue a call to any other 90s-era celebrities who may be reading this right now. Don't be afraid. Come forth from the woodwork. I am willing to offer any sort of shameless plug or promotion for whatever you happen to be pushing now. All you have to do is ask.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Image via Amazon.com

The ballots are in and the votes have been tabulated. It's official: children love talking animals. There's just something special about anthropomorphic house pets that really drives them wild. And who can blame them? They're undeniably adorable.

The Disney Corporation is well-aware of this fact and has been milking it since its humble steamboat-driving mouse beginnings. Disney's 1993 remake of its own 1963 movie (The Incredible Journey) was no exception. Based on the novel of the same name by Sheila Burnford, the 1963 version featured our furry friends sporting the somewhat less-appealing monikers assigned to them by Burnford: Bodger, Luath, and Tao. Disney must have recognized that the ever-shortening attention spans of 90s children would likely oppose these unfamiliar names and thus replaced them with the snappier Shadow, Chance, and Sassy.

Poster from the original 1963 film. Image via movieposter.com

People of all ages seem to have an uncharacteristic response of sympathy to animals in movies. We could all carelessly watch hundreds of people getting blown to bits in some form of super-advanced special effect explosion and never bat an eye or miss a beat on the popcorn-gobbling. Portray a dog in any form of mild discomfort, on the other hand, and the crowd will weep uncontrollably.

Homeward Bound was no exception. It had a distinctly heartstring-tugging cuteness that made us collectively "awww" over our motley crew of four-legged protagonists. We willingly oblige to completely abandon our usual veneer of disbelief and briefly believe that these animals are feeling what the voice actors claim. It was both easy and enjoyable to get caught up in the magic of the film and root for these pets the whole way through.

The movie begins with a voiceover by Chance, describing his hard-luck life: abandoned, sleeping on the streets, and scavenging in garbage cans. We learn that eventually, this lifestyle led to his imprisonment. You sort of feel bad for this voice, until the camera pans over the voice's source: a hearty American Bulldog. Surprise! Chance is a dog! I never would have guessed it from all of those movie posters and cinematic previews. That voice-over had me fooled. Then again, I was eight, so I'm willing to legitimately plead ignorance.

Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox) was adopted by a loving family who already has two pets in tow: Sassy the Himalayan cat (Sally Fields) and Shadow the golden retriever (Don Ameche). Chance describes the family's children as belonging to Sassy and Shadow respectively, cementing our understanding of the film's pet-centric view. I spent much of the opening scenes deliberating over why little girl Hope had chosen to name her beloved cat after a teen magazine.

Shadow and Sassy are well-behaved, but Chance is somewhat of a rebel and a bit rough around the edges. The family leaves the pets under the care of a neighbor as they make their exit to San Francisco. They say their goodbyes and are off on their happy, petless way. The pets aren't about to stand for this sort of abadonment, though. Shadow immediately begins to worry about his owner, and convinces the whole gang that they should hightail it it out of there and go find their now-absent human companions.

Here's where our promised Incredible Journey begins. Shadow, Chance, and Sassy make their way into the wide wilderness, embarking on a scenic trip through a stretch of Pacific Northwestern national forest. They navigate their wild, unfamiliar surroundings and weather the less-than-hospitable outdoor conditions. They continue to do adorable animal things, like scoop for fish in the river and cower in the presence of truly terrifying grizzly bears. Really, cute stuff. Here's where I learned some of my most valued childhood lessons, namely that "Cats rule and dogs drool." Or at least it provided me with a mantra of self-reassurance when my parents brought me a cat in lieu of the dog I begged for.

The movie takes a tear-jerking turn when our pal Sassy is swept away by the river and thrust into the pounding falls. Even as a child, this scene made me cry. Shadow and Chance, how could you? You just let your prissy feline friend be smushed by 10,000 pounds of beating water. For shame. Luckily, Sassy is rescued by some class of forest ranger and is quickly nursed back to pre-waterfalling health. She hears her friends barking and scurries off to meet them. Sure, this chance encounter is unlikely, but we're talking about a gang of domesticated animals off on a wilderness adventure. We can concede the smaller improbable situations when we accept the larger one.

As you can imagine, innumerable hilarious hijinks ensue, such as the see-saw style catapulting of a rogue mountain lion. Pure wildlife comedy gold, I tell you. But then, the unthinkable: Chance is attacked by a pesky porcupine. I will forever remember the sage Shadow instructing him, "Whatever you do, don't lick yourself!" Despite being all quilly, Chance soldiers on and the group continues on their way. They somehow manage to rescue a lost child, but in the midst of the celebratory reunion are sent to an animal shelter.

Image via EW.com

Long (incredible, really) story short, Sassy escapes and frees her canine companions. Just when everything seems to be looking up, Shadow falls into a pit. Despite valiant rescue efforts, Shadow is resigned and asks the others to go on without him. By this point, of course, the whole audience is sniffling. A dog dying on film is like onion-chopping for moviegoers: you can pretend all you want that it doesn't effect you, but your eyes are going to water uncontrollably whether you like it or not.

The pets' family is back home and very down about the loss of their furry friends. Then suddenly, like magic, they hear a bark in the distance. Chance come rollicking in, followed by littleSassy. The oldest son is dejected, realizing his dog isn't coming home. In a moment of admittedly corny by nonetheless heartwarming movie magic, Shadow slowly limps over the hill and is reunited with his beloved owner. All is well in the world.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for happy endings. It just goes to show you: if you really love your animals, you'll leave them with irresponsible neighbors with questionable pet-sitting credentials, the pets will escape and embark on a quest into the abyss, they'll encounter hilarious and dangerous obstacles, and will then come prancing on back to you full of wisdom and experience.

At least that's the way I understood it.

Monday, June 22, 2009


In honor of yesterday being the first day of summer, I thought I'd kick of this sweltering season with a refreshing burst of non sequitor boy band absurdity. The 90s were a heyday for boy bands and girl groups; teenyboppers fell over themselves and swarmed the TRL studios in droves to catch a glimpse of these highly calculated, well-managed, overly-primped and coiffed ensemble acts. One of the greatest mysteries of the 90s is how a decade that began as so musically rebellious so quickly morphed into a veritable bubblegum pop teenage circus*.

Not all boy bands were assembled by sleazy record producers at open casting calls seeking "The Bad Boy" and "The Sensitive One." Sometimes, for reasons probably better left unexplained, these types of musical groups saw fit to form organically. LFO (short for Lyte Funky Ones, if that's any clue to the secret of their long lost street credibility) was one of these bands. The group formed in 1995, which meant they spent a good 4 years failing to crack the ever-enigmatic fortress of formulaic pop music. It's hard to say which is worse: that they never had a doubt about the self-perceived brilliance of their musical output, or that they suffered tumultuous periods of uncertainty but managed to persevere for the sake of the greater good.

After their years of wandering parched in the proverbial music desert, music markets inexplicably decided to offer these boy bandits (boy banders?) a nice cool drink. Sure, they had encountered marginal success on the UK Billboard charts, but they could at best be classified in the late stages of obscurity. By the late 90s, they had finally managed to garner some attention with the accidental leak of their inane demo song, "Summer Girls."

Summer Girls is clearly a very polarizing song. If you zip on over to Amazon.com, you'll see most reviewers give the single either one or five (out of five) stars. These dispensers of judgment speak passionately on both sides of the energy-and-time-wasting debate. One five star reviewer enthusiastically writes, "THE BEST SONG FOR A&F LOVERS!!!!!!!" The liberal use of both all-caps and generous exclamatory punctuation certainly expresses their support for both LFO's single and the bitchin' Abercrombie-wearing lifestyle. Well played, reviewer.

On the other side of the Summer Girls battle, a verbose and angry anti-LFOer contends, "I mean, it would be one thing for this song to simply exist in it's own suicidal dimension, not dragging anyone to the hungry abyss with it; but it insists on pressing itself upon our nation, seizing the nubile minds of our youth in its evil maw and condemning them to a lukewarm existence with candy-coated ideas of life." (And I thought I wrote tirelessly long sentences. That one boasts an incredible 59 words. That's a fourth of an eighth grade book report, right there. Congratulations, Captain Spare Time, for this landmark achievement in wordiness.)

So perhaps that dark, angry reviewer took it a tiny bit too far in demonizing the song's "evil maw" and its captivating trance over the young and impressionable, but the sentiment is clear. A lot of people really, really, did not like this song. It represented all that was empty and vapid about teenage pop music in the late 90s. On the other hand, in some sort of colossal teenybopper inside joke, a serious contingency of people swore this song was brilliant. The jury's still out on this one, so I'll leave it to you to be presiding judge:

It goes a little something like this:

Yeah, I like it when the girls stop by
In the summer
Do you remember?
Do you remember
When we met that summer...

What can I say, I like the way this is going already. rhyming words with themselves is an art form, I tell you. An art form!

New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
And I think its fly when girls stop by for the
Summer, for the summer

I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch
Id take her if I had one wish
But shes been gone since that summer,
Since that summer

In case you have yet to notice, the song uses completely unrelated examples and reads like a poorly-written advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch. We get it, you like the store's women's clothing selection and its consumer base. Was this love really worth penning a song over?

Hip-hop mama laid spic and span
Met you one summer and it all began
You're the best girl that I ever did see
The great Larry Bird, jersey 33

When you take a sip, you buzz like a hornet
Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets
Call me willy whistle cause I cant speak baby
Somethin' in your eyes went and drove me crazy

When we get past the chorus, we get to see just how nonsensical the song really is. I don't know about you, but I'm fairly certain that "hornet" and sonnet" do not rhyme. A travesty, indeed. If you're going to use completely non-related lines, why not at least make them rhyme properly. Is that so much to ask?

Now I cant forget you and it makes me mad
Left one day and never came back
Stayed all summer then went back home
Macaulay Culkin was in Home Alone
Fell deep in love, but now we ain't speakin'
Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton

When I met you I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

Alright, I like the way this is going. Hello, 80s and 90s randomly inserted pop culture references! It is nice the way this Rich fellow occasionally intersperses it with something marginally relevant to the song.

New kids on the block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
And I think its fly when girls stop by for the
Summer, for the summer

I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch
I'd take her if I had one wish
But she's been gone since that summer,
Since that summer

The chorus obviously needs no further editorialization. I'm pretty sure it speaks for itself.

Cherry Pez, Coke, Crush Rock, Stud Boogie
Used to hate school, so I had to play hooky
Always been hip to the b-boy style
Known to act wild and make a girl smile
Love New Edition and the candy girl
Remind me of you because you rock my world

You come from Georgia where the peaches grow
They drink lemonade and speak real slow
You love hip-hop and rock & roll
Dad took off when you were 4 years old
There was a good man named Paul Revere
I feel much better baby when youre near

You love fun dip and Cherry Coke
I like the way you laugh when
I tell a joke when I met
You I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

At least in this one we get a brief history lesson. If ever asked who went from town to town on horseback announcing that the English were coming, you can just hum through Summer Girls to recall the answer. This Rich also really, really likes Cherry flavoring. Cherry Pez and Cherry Coke? Surely you jest, Rich. How could one handle such intense sugary fruitiness?

Chorus (let's skip this one, for all of our sanity)

In the summertime girls got it goin on
Shake and wiggle to a hip-hop song
Summertime girls are the kind I like
Ill steal your honey like I stole your bike

Boogaloo shrimp and pogo sticks
My mind takes me back there oh so quick
Let you off the hook like my man Mr. Limpet
Think about that summer and I bug cause I miss it

Like the color purple, macaroni and cheese
Ruby red slippers and a bunch of trees
Call you up, but whats the use
I like Kevin Bacon, but I hate Footloose

You came in the door I said it before
I think Im over you, but Im really not sure
When I met you I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

I was about to write this one off completely until they made that Mr. Limpet reference. Sold!

Also, I may have to disagree with you on Footloose, Rich. Respectfully, of course.

Okay, so perhaps that's all we can take of that, but you must admit there's a certain...charm to their inanity. Sure, it's a gimmick, but sometimes gimmicks sell. Indeed, this was not the last we saw of LFO. They also brought us the equally intelligent "Girl on TV":

And yes, the Girl on TV in the video is Jennifer Love Hewitt. This song was somewhat less tangential, but it was still definitely pushing our boundaries of lyrical tolerance. I'll admit, in a moment of middle school weakness, I did possibly have a soft sport for this song. A small one, though. Cross my heart. Tiny.

Regardless of their apparently controversial music (on Amazon, that is), they had more staying power than you may have assumed. After all, whenever Summer Girls comes up on shuffle on my iPod in the car, all the passengers miraculously seem to know all the words.

Don't judge.

*And yes, I recognize that there was plenty of high quality alternative music that was popular in the late 90s. We're talking a shift in th etrends of mainstream youth culture, and is thus not meant to be a judgment of quality in any way. (obviously)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Captain Planet and the Planeteers

For some reason, magic rings are pretty common cartoon motif. I suppose the appeal is pretty universal: you wear on your hand not only the irrepressible power to do your magic bidding but also your membership card to an exclusive superhero club. Unfortunately there's got to be some sort of superhero hierarchy out there, meaning not all superheroes are created equal. Magic ring or not, it's pretty safe to say that Protector of the Environment doesn't quite rank up there with the coolness factor of Batman or Superman. Hell, even Mighty Mouse may have had something on these guys.

Captain Planet was the animated response to an increasing push for social relevance and educational programming in children's television programming. This brand of thinly-veiled cartoon education, dubbed "edutainment", was pretty forthcoming in its attempts to teach us all sorts of pertinent facts and figures regarding the environment and our role as informed citizens of Earth. Think of it as an animated superhero version of An Inconvenient Truth, but with fewer powerpoint presentations and more mystical Earth spirits.

In the true spirit of the 90s, Captain Planet and the Planeteers were painfully multicultural. As emphasis of the inherent value of diversity grew in the American cultural marketplace, TV producers became more and more eager to appear politically correct in their entertainment undertakings. It was no longer enough to abide by the time-honored principle of tokenness. No, children today needed not just a vaguely ethnic friend here and there but rather a full gang of worldly companions. In an painstaking effort to make it even more realistic, the American one is by far the most ignorant and least informed. Who says cartoons aren't a mirror to society?

It all starts when the spirit embodiment of the Earth, Gaia, wakes up and is pissed to see the horrible squandering of resources and pollutive tendencies of contemporary man. There's pretty much only one thing she can do: conjure up a slew of magic rings, send them to some kids around the world, and hope for the best. Gaia's convenient Planet Vision alerts these youths as to the most devastating pollutants and disasters cropping up around the world, to which they must mobilize and act. Each Planeteer controls an element: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and...Heart?

These kids, while marginally powerful, are not altogether qualified to confront the worlds' mounting environmental crisis. Just as the Mouseketeers could always call on Mickey for reinforcement, so too could the Planeteers summon their more powerful and well-known pal. With the power of their rings combined and and a rousing cheer of "Go Planet!", the meager Planeteers could conjure up their leader, Captain Planet.

If you think I come up with some groan-inducing puns, you should go back and take a gander at some of the god-awful punnery that Captain Planet emits. Perhaps it's smog related, but something is clearly clouding his judgment with these cheesy jokes (Clouding? Smog? Come on, throw me a line here.) Captain Planet is pretty powerful, as far as superheroes go, but he's got his limitations. Just as Superman had Kryptonite, our man CP has pollution. Scary, isn't it?

The Planeteers, while less powerful, had a few tricks up their respective natural-fibered sleeves. In the intro, we find that we too can be Planeteers. As a child, this was so exciting for me I practically tripped over own burgeoning compost heap in a maniacally frantic effort to sort my recycling or purchase a sweatshirt made out of used water bottles. Just imagine, me, a Planeteer! It's almost too much to bear. As my role as a Planeteer was not sufficiently well-documented in the series (I blame my lack of multicultural qualities for this obvious snub for camera time), our more prominent ring-bearing Planeteers got quite a bit of airtime:


Played by Lavar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow and star of the Roots miniseries. Talk about socially conscious, Burton was edutaining us from all fronts. Kwame possesses the power of Earth, which allowed him to create earthquakes, mountains, and other not-so-exciting plate-tectonic and topographic landforms. From Africa, Kwame came across his magic ring while planting trees in the Savannah. He acts as sort of an unofficial leader to the group, and always gets to be the one who shouts, "With our powers combined...!" Which when you think about it, was probably one of the best jobs on the show.


Voiced by Kath Soucie, another 90s voice actor extraordinaire. With voice acting credits like Phil and Lil of Rugrats, Lola Bunny from Space Jam, and Futurama's Cubert Farnsworth, Soucie was a veritable voice chameleon. In this case, she voiced Linka, our communist Soviet Planeteer, later replaced by the vaguer "Eastern European" Planeteer following the USSR's demise. She is incredibly stereotyped to the early-90s mounting fear of Soviet education surpassing that of the US, with superior math and computer hacking skills. Cute, no? Linka has the power of Wind, allowing her to create gusty breezes, tornadoes, and to some extent, offers her the power to levitate.


Our South American Planeteer did not boast quite as well-known voice acting credentials, but Scott Menville did play Kimmy Gibbler's boyfriend Duane on Full House which certainly gives him points in my book. Ma-Ti lives in the rainforest with his grandfather, a local Shaman. In case you had yet to notice, the Planeteers' creator took great pains in making the diversity as painstakingly obvious as possible. It was never acceptable for a South American to live in a major city, or an Asian to be scientifically non-inclined. These Planeteers took their embodied stereotypes highly seriously. Ma-Ti had the power of Heart, which was clearly the crappiest element. It wasn't an element at all, if you want to get technical. He could converse with animals, occasionally read minds, and affect others emotionally, but you have to admit that when compared to the other Planetary (Planeteery?) powers this one seemed a bit consolatory.


Voiced by Joey Dedio, who earns my seal of 90s credibility for voicing the over-the-top drug dealer in Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue! Wheeler was our American friend, and in typical typecasting fashion he is a salty, short-tempered Brooklynite. He wielded the power of Fire, which was admittedly cooler and more useful than many of the other elements. In retrospect Wheeler's role as an American was a bit insulting to actual Americans, though not altogether untrue. He came across as overly privileged and ignorant, and was forced to serve as comic relief to his smarter, more able global counterpars.


The Southeast Asian member of the group, Gi was voiced by Janice Kawaye. Proving my American ignorance in a manner not unlike that of my Planeteer pal Wheeler, I must admit I'm pretty clueless about Kawaye's other voice credits, which include such
shows as Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. Gi is an aspiring marine biologist, and hence posesses the power of Water. She can control water to do her bidding, unless of course it is (gasp!) polluted. Gi is also unsurprisingly highly knowledgeable in science, which is not so shocking in this realm of absolute, unerring stereotyping.

With their powers combined, they could summon the reliable Captain Planet, a blue-faced, green-mulleted muscular superhero.

His intentionally hazy powers mean that he can pretty much perform whatever sort of magic necessary to fit the situation. Convenient, indeed. I always sort of thought he had something going on with Gaia, too.

Captain Planet's tagline, "The Power is Yours!" emphasized a worthwhile if cheesy take on personal responsibility to global environmental issues. Things certainly got a little (read: overtly) PSA, and by a little, I mean a lot. Observe, a call against joining gangs, vandalism, graffiti, littering, and pretty much anything else you can think of:

Obviously, the intentions were good but the edutainment factor often came off as more skewed toward the educational than the entertainment. Regardless, it was entertaining, if a bit corny. In his constant reminders that the Power is indeed ours, at least we got to feel marginally powerful, albeit in an environmentally conscious, distinctly unsuperhero type of way. At least we got to hear his never-ending pollution puns. For however ignorant the Planeteers assumed us to be, they worked tirelessly with Captain Planet to clear the air for us on all things environmental.

(insert groan here)

Check it out:
Captain Planet's TV Tropes

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

It's a tale as old as time, at least according to 90s juvenile movie tropes: for some reason or other (usually either some parental oversight or colossal change of plans) leaves one or many children utterly alone to do as they please and wreak havoc on their once-stable environment. While to anyone remotely grounded in reality can easily assess that this situation would inevitably end in starving, general run-amokery, and eventual outing to authorities, in movies it always seems like such a gas. What's that, the kids are completely unsupervised and without money or other necessary resources? Classic!

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is probably one of the most explanatory and descriptive movie titles to date. While other studios were issuing more subtle, nuanced movie titles, execs at Warner Brothers knew kids and teenagers had a short attention span. "Kids are pretty slow, so let's see if we can explain this entire plot in a single sentence and then assign that as the film's title. Deal?" The title managed to encapsulate the entire plot in six simple words. No ticket purchaser could claim they didn't know what they were getting into. It was right there on the stub.

The movie itself was yet another manifestation of the ultimate kid fantasy of autonomy based on the false notion that being an adult is carefree, easy, and cheap. We certainly get a sense of this from the preview, when two of the male Crandall children deviously announce, "Dishes are done!" after shooting them in the air clay-pigeon style. No one would alert the authorities on that one, right? Just a couple of kids sniping on a neighbor's roof. Kids will be kids.

Contrary to the happy-go-luckiness of the preview, Don't tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead actually explored some of the potential monetary woes that a group of unruly, unemployed teenagers would potentially encounter. Namely, that they can't afford food. Sure, it's all fun and games when your babysitter dies (or at least so this movie would lead us to believe), but how do you intend to stay under the radar of child services when you don't have the means to keep yourself fed? How, I ask you?

But perhaps we're getting a tad ahead of ourselves here. Let's start at the very beginning (as an incessant childhood viewer of The Sound of Music, I can pretty safely verify that that's a very good place to start). The plot was relatively simple: prior to the start of the movie, Mrs. Crandall announced to her brood of zany and sometimes incorrigible children that she's planning to spend her entire summer in Australia, sans her five lovable little hellions. Naturally the kids are psyched, particularly teenage Sue Ellen (played by Christina Applegate), or at least we're led to believe this on the basis of her being the main character. The older kids are making all sorts of ruckus-rousing plans for the summer, while the younger ones grumble about their mom's abandonment.

What Mrs. Crandall conveniently fails to tell them was that they were not, as assumed, to be staying alone for two months. Right before their mother is set to leave, Sue Ellen answers a knock on the door to find a little old lady who introduces herself as "Mrs. Sturak, the babysitter." Even though all of us with ticket stubs or blurb-splattered VHS cases in our possession know the eventual fate of Mrs. Sturak, Sue Ellen is pissed. When confronted, Mrs. Crandall offers, "She has a lot of experience." Sue Ellen huffs, "Of course she does. She's 200 years old." Burn! Oh, Sue Ellen, you brassy, sassy 90s teen fashion magnate. What will you say next?

Image via moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

Of course, the minute Mrs. Crandall exits stage left, supposedly kindly Mrs. Sturak turns into a terrorizing tyrant. It looks like it's going to be a long, hellish summer. Until the prophecy of the movie title is fulfilled, of course.

As I child, I found Mrs. Sturak's death scene to be pretty dark. I say this mainly because even though I loved this movie and watched it endlessly (literally, until the tape began unraveling) the title seen in which the crazy Mrs. Sturak kicks the bucket always scared the bejeezus out of me. Now, of course, I realize that Sue Ellen's brother's pothead paraphernalia and pseudo-pornographic images giving Mrs. Sturak a heart attack make the scene pretty funny, but at the time I thought he was some sort of satanic worshipper. Ah, the pangs of innocence. I was all riled up because Mrs. Sturak smelled some not-so-fresh bongwater.

Naturally, everything that happens from this point on is intensely and completely ridiculous. For some reason (read: no reason) they can't just call their mother and tell her what happened. No, it would be best to act criminally insane and purge the body. So they do what any logically thinking, level-headed kids would do in this situation: stash the body in a trunk and quietly drop it off at a local morgue. Thankfully, they had the good sense to attach a note: "Nice old lady inside. Died of natural causes." Of course, it's not till after all this body-ditching is over that they realize Mrs. Sturak was in possession in all of the money their mother left for the summer. Very smooth indeed, Crandalls. Very smooth indeed.

While everyone still has high hopes for their summer sans authority, this pennilessness puts a bit of a damper on their plans. As the oldest, Sue Ellen grudgingly accepts an admittedly crappy fast food job. This is clearly an ill-fated plan, and prissy Sue Ellen quits soon thereafter. Luckily for Sue Ellen as the ingenue, she manages to form a relationship with remarkably hot coworker Bryan during her short tenure as a hot dog jockey.

Seeking cushier employment, Sue Ellen applies for a receptionist position at a local fashion firm. Though in retrospect Sue Ellen's wardrobe choices are highly suspect, at the time she was quite the fashion plate and this seemed like a logical fit. Of course, Sue Ellen is a mere high school grad, so she lifts some buzzwords from a resume-tip book and forges the resume of an accomplished 28-year old. In a whirlwind of increasingly unlikely events, Sue Ellen's resume garners so much positive attention that the Senior VP offers her the Executive Administrative Assistant job she'd promised to her old receptionist (who is conveniently Sue Ellen's new boyfriend's sister. Obviously). I smell some inner workplace tension brewing.

Of course, Sue Ellen doesn't know how to do anything except steal from the petty cash supply. In fact, that's pretty much all she does. Her brood is getting hungry, so she pilfers some petty cash for groceries. Unfortunately, her increasingly selfish siblings each squander the salary in some silly sense. They've still got not money, and Sue Ellen is on the verge of being in huge trouble for totally depleting the petty cash fund.

Meanwhile the company is hovering on bankruptcy. The clothes are hideous and in turn, no one wants to purchase them. Her problems compounded by trouble in romantic paradise, Sue Ellen is feeling pretty SOL. What happens next is pure cheesy 90s movie moments at its best. Our girl SE has an epiphany, and singlehandedly undertakes the task of redesigning the fashions to save the company:

Sue Ellen saves us all!

All the Crandall kids clean up the house and agree to pitch in to throw a huge fashion show launch at their house. Everything is going swimmingly, until of course in typical 90s movie fashion incredibly obvious things go awry. SE's heartthrob Bryan shows up. Mrs. Crandall is home from Australia. Sue Ellen's forced to own up to the fact that she's a huge liar, and thief, and oh yeah, only 17. While in real life, all sorts of horrifying pending legal action would ensue, everything here works out perfectly. The fashion company is pleased, Mrs. Crandell calms down and is impressed by Sue Ellen's hard work, Bryan and Sue Ellen have a romantic reunion. Sue Ellen's boss even offers her a real full-time job, but Sue Ellen maturely decides to (wait for it...wait for it...) go to college instead. All together now: awwww.

Cut to the last scene, where the guys from the morgue are chilling at Mrs. Sturak's tombstone, musing over how sweet it was for her to leave them all that cash. See how everything worked out for everyone and no one was ever angry or suspicious in the countless situations that warranted it? That's the beauty of 90s movie idealism. Anything can, and inevitably will, happen.

Image via moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

Sure it's glossy and unrealistic, but it was actually a fun movie. Everyone even managed to learn a lesson, so movie-going parents didn't mind so much all of the rest of the initial conflicting bad messages their impressionable kids were being exposed to. The magic of these types of 90s movies was the convenient, simplified ending in which everyone lives happily ever after. Sure, it's not realistic, but it is entertaining. After all, no one wants to see Sue Ellen's ass dragged to court or the kids convicted for disposing of poor old Mrs. Sturak's body. No, no, all's well that ends well, and that's just the end.

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Watch the whole movie on YouTube! (in 10 parts)

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