Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Handi-Snacks


Some mysteries are better left unsolved. For example, it baffles my mind to ponder exactly what part of the cheese becomes the semi-gelatinous room-temperature no-refrigeration-required goo in the Handi-Snacks conveniently compartmentalized tub. The more I think about it, the more my brain yearns to burst from its enskullment and lay twitching on the floor, exhausted and defeated. Luckily, I've never given it that much thought.

Dunkable snacks were all the rage in the 90s. Dunkaroos cornered the sweet sector of the market, but the savory had yet to be conquered in a snack dunking tour de force. Luckily, Nabisco (later Kraft) was there to step in and show us the way to salty dunkable goodness. With mystery cheese. Really, just incredibly mysterious. I'm starting to get a headache again contemplating its very existence, so I think I'll just go on pretending that's a natural state of cheese. Okay, good, good. I'm back at cheese-pondering baseline again. Whew. Close one there.

Handi-Snacks were a pretty ingenious concept. Parents were increasingly busy and demanding more and more of food manufacturers to produce the type of lunchbox fillers that required little to no preparation. The morning rush and ensuing time crunch forced working parents to reconsider their nutritional standards and opt for easy available prepackaged options.

Things like nutritional content and edibility quickly took a backseat to the incredible ease of taking a few ready-sealed packages, throwing them in a bag, and declaring it a fully assembled lunch made with a parent's loving albeit neglectful touch. When it came to lunch time, instead of finding a sweet note and a well-filled sandwich, we were usually left with a moderately sized pile of plastic packaging that held mysterious and delicious contents within its airtight plastic. We're talking the kind of stuff that could survive some serious nuclear fallout. This food may not have had much to do with anything edible found in nature, but it certainly had the power of perseverance.



Handi-Snacks were streamlined for ease of accessibility. The concept was brilliantly simple. Each individually wrapped packaged housed two compartments: a cracker den and a cheese hangout. Somewhere in the vicinity of our crackers lay the one necessary implement to cheese spreadage: the little red plastic stick. I like to think of the little red plastic stick as a sort of magic soft cheese spreading wand. Or, you know. Just a little red plastic stick. Whatever.

As a child I craved these things with a zealousness that would make proselytizing missionaries pause and say, "Now, really. Don't you think that's a bit much?" These things were like a snack time drug to me. I needed my fix, and I would stop at nothing to get it. Whether it was a frenzied cafeteria trade for some off-flavor Snack Packs or discreetly tossing them into the supermarket cart when my mom's head was turned, one thing was for sure: I was going to get my Handi-Snacks.

The brand later expanded to include other delicious flavors and varieties. We had our breadstick version, though I use the term breadstick lightly. Er, heavily. These things were rock solid. They in no way resembled a breadstick and any insinuation of a relationship between the two would certainly infuriate any legitimate Italian gourmet. Whatever the case, these little breadstick-shaped crackers were nothing short of a dunking revelation. Or at least, that's the way my 7-year old self perceived their greatness.


The brand also came in a pretzel variety, satiating our salt cravings and prematurely clogging our virile young arteries. These too were packaged alongside the mystery cheese that for the above described reasons shall be investigated no further. Let's just say it may not have been cheese cheese, but they were probably related in some way. Somehow, though, I doubt a dairy cow would have recognized it as her byproduct. Just sayin'.


There was also a peanut butter cracker combination, which to its credit was a bit easier to stomach when considering its appropriately tepid temperature. This formulation was fairly short-lived, however, as it was not as well-received. The people had spoken and they wanted their disgusting cheese, dammit. Far be it from Kraft to deny them the spreadable cheese fix they so sorely need.

Handi-Snacks dropped the ball a bit when they attempted to break the Dunkaroo empire and offer sweet dunkable snack products. The cookies and cream variety was less than appetizing, though that of course did little in the way of stopping me from begging my parents to purchase it for me at every supermarket turn. Pretty much anything sweet that showed up on my snack radar was fair game for grocery store begging. I didn't even have to like the product, it just needed to contain a proportion of sugar that far exceeded the recommended daily dosage. It was a simple system, actually, though I can't imagine my teeth have written me any heartfelt thank you notes since.


In a sort of gross turn of events, Kraft morphed the Handi-Snacks brand name into a catchall for all sorts of their newer products: run-of-the-mill pudding cups, gelatin snacks, and even a Baskin-Robbins crossover pudding brand. Perhaps the rebranding was warranted in some way I've failed to comprehend, but let me be the first to say that when I think Baskin Robbins, I tend not to think lumpy, unidentifiable and unsourceable cheese. But then again, maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A League of Their Own


All my life, I always sort of wanted some sort of personified or anthropomorphic moral compass. You know, like a little devil or angel on the shoulder type of deal. Someone who would show me right from wrong and would tell it like it was. The problem was, I never really wanted a Jiminy Cricket.

I wanted a Jimmy Dugan.

After seeing A League of Their Own at a retro-standby drive-in movie theater in 1992, I was pretty certain that I needed someone around to tell me whether or not there was going to be any crying in baseball of if someone looked like a penis with that little hat on. Although, to be honest, even more than that I just yearned with all my being to be a Rockford Peach.

I've never played baseball, but this movie was more than enough to convince me that it could very well be my calling. Or, at least that it could have been my calling had I been a tough-talking short-skirt donning tomboy-type coming of age during the World War II era.



I've got to say, I'm not always a John Lovitz fan, but that trailer really makes it work. When he offers Kit and Dottie 75 dollars a week and they tell him they only make 30 at the dairy and he goes, "Well, then, this would be more, wouldn't it?" Brilliant. And when he asks, "Are you coming? See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station." Pure sarcastic genius. See? This film has magical powers to make everything sweet and funny and family-friendly. Aww.

But, hey, we're getting ahead of ourselves here. The movie certainly had its fair share of great one-liners, but it was more importantly an all around sweet and generally wholesome film that was fun for the whole family. A League of Their Own is a fictionalized version of the formation and run of the real-life war-era All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Following the American entry into the second World War, baseball executives feared that a lack of eligible ball-playing men would crush the immense popularity of the sport. To circumvent the anticipated windfall, they theorized that the creation of an all-women's league would be enough to sufficiently bolster their earnings in the absence of a strong male league.

They also had a pretty kick-ass victory song, which I imagine in real life featured about 100% less Madonna standing around the locker room in her bra. Oh well, sometimes we have to stretch history a bit to make it more interesting. And to enjoy Madonna's figure before it morphed into the Incredible Hulkhood of current fame, of course.



While the premise is based on the actual league, any truth-telling in this movie pretty much ends there. All of our characters are fictional (read: more interesting than real people) and unfortunately for the real Peaches, they never got to play under the coaching expertise of one Jimmy Dugan. Too bad, too, as I'm sure the real Rockford Peaches would have been far more successful if they were forced to come face to face daily with his humorous tirades.

The movie opens with the decision to form the AAGPBL and the appointment of a PR professional and talent scout to get things off the ground. Scout Ernie Capadino (John Lovitz) heads out to recruit and encounters "doll" Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), whose good looks he's certain the league can manipulate for publicity and male fanship. She's less than thrilled at the prospect of leaving her serene married farm life, but her sister Kit's enthusiasm eventually leads to Ernie persuading them to sign on as a package deal.



With the two recruits in tow, Ernie stops to check out an outstandingly talented but less-than-comely prospect in Marla Hooch. Kit and Dottie demonstrate a good show of pre-bra burning era women solidarity by refusing to play unless Ernie picks up Marla, as well. See how heartwarming this is already? They're even taking the ugly girls. How precious.

When the group reaches tryouts in Chicago, they're lumped in with all the other recruits and are eventually picked as Peaches. Picked, get it? Okay, okay, I can see where my punniness is underappreciated, I'll move on. The three meet up with their new teammates, including wisecracking Brooklyn natives Mae Morbadito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell). The girls are forced into learning proper manners and other matters of deportment to prepare for their new role as public figures. Oh, and they also are assigned some butt-baringly skimpy (well, for the time) skirts in which to play baseball. Go figure.

Here we meet the great Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) a washed up alcoholic former baseball star who is less than ecstatic about his new gig coaching a gaggle of giggling girls. Things are going too stellarly at first, making the executives question their decision to form the women's league. A cutesy photo shoot with Life Magazine earns the girls some publicity, though, and they're well on their way to minor female athletic stardom. It's quite a dream come true, I imagine, to be kind of famous but totally disrespected and discredited by your fans. Really, we can only hope for such a sense of fulfillment in our own lives.

We get a peek into Jimmy's tough love coaching style and some of his personal theories on coaching, namely that there is absolutely no crying in baseball. Never. Don't you forget it.



We get some light character development around these parts, which I'll leave to your own research. The girls are working hard, building skills and working as team, though they do still seem to have quite the flair for taking advantage of their leisure time at swing bars:



Suffice it to say at this point Kit and Dottie aren't getting along too well, and they push to make Hottie Dottie a real star and trade Kit to some third-rate team. As you can imagine, she's not quite thrilled with this development. They finally meet again face to face in the final game of the women's World Series, and let's just say it ain't all that pretty. I'll try to leave out the spoilers as best I can, so just leave that final game to your wildest imaginations, hopefully supplemented with some vague recollection of the film.

The movie closes with a reunion of our girls many, many years later, sometime around the present (well, then-present) day. The Baseball Hall of Fame is opening a wing dedicated to its female players and the whole gang's back together for a brief but memorable reunion. We even get to see some of the real players (now elderly) in this scene. They're adorable, by the way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Animaniacs



For years, every time I saw that glimmering Warner Brothers logo at the beginning of a TV show or movie, I was certain that the brothers Warner in question were none other than Animaniacs stars Yakko and Wakko. I was fairly positive. I mean, they came out the logo-emblazoned tower in the intro, right? Obviously they were the masterminds behind this multimillion dollar corporation. Really, who else would it be?

How was I to know of Polish immigrants Harry, Jack, Sam, and Albert Warner (nee Hirz, Itzhak, Szmul, and Aaron Winskolaser) whose pioneering exhibition work in the early 20th century earned them a rightful place in movie-making history? The only Warner Brothers I'd ever heard of were Yakko and Wakko, and of course the Warner sister, Dot. TV wouldn't lie to me. Would it? After all, these guys claimed to be animaney, totally insaney, in a show that's maney. Sounded pretty credible to me.



Animaniacs provided 90s children with an endless array of slapstick humor and sight gags sure to encourage all sorts of danger imitative behavior. Immediately on the heels of the success of Tiny Toon Adventures and character cameos in the full-length feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the studio released this animated variety show intended to pay homage to many of the early animated greats. Not unlike Tiny Toons, the characters were crafted after the classic animated stars from the genre's earliest era. Wakko, Yakko, and Dot were ambiguous in species and resembled the stars of bygone black and white cartoons.

The premise of Animaniacs was undoubtedly complex for a cartoon, not too mention confusing for even the savviest of seven-year olds. Either way, I'll do my best to recount it as I recall, with a fair bit of research filling in the admittedly vast mental blanks. The title Warner brothers and sister were supposedly created in the 1930s to add a bit of spice to the traditional Looney Tunes fare. They managed to become veritable cartoon all-stars despite the fact that their show was both unconventional and completely insane. '

The trio was so crazy and wreaked so much havoc on the studio that the Warner Bros studio authorities eventually locked them in a studio water tower. In the 90s, however, the three managed to escape and continually sneak back into their hidden home. The studio unleashed upon them a Dr. Otto Scratchansniff to allegedly dezanitize the crazy group. A Warner Bros Studio security guard, Ralph, was also charged with reconfining the siblings after each subsequent escape. Pretty complex for a kid's cartoon, I'd say. I still don't totally understand it, though it was rather entertaining.

In the spirit of preceding cartoon variety shows, Animaniacs featured a number of recurring sketches and characters. While the series had a host of minor and lesser stars, let's explore our major animaniacal players:


Hello Nurse!

Not so much a skit but a running gag, "Hello Nurse!" was not only a well-worn Animaniacs catchphrase but also specifically denoted the presence of the vixen blonde studio nurse. Typically when in her presence, the boys would shout, "Helllllllloooo Nurse!" and jump into her arms. The gag was also used with a variety of other characters, such as in the presence of a hefty muumuu-ed lady to which Yakko exclaims, "Hellllloooo large nurse!" See, it works so many ways. How versatile.





Pinky and the Brain

This sketch gained such popularity and such an intensely loyal following that it was later spun off into its own animated show. The Brain is aptly named for his smarts, whereas his sidekick Pinky is not much more than a moronic lackey kept around to do the grunt work involved in taking over the world. The Brain would usually ask Pinky, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" only to be subjected to an utterly imbecilic and muddled response. Needless to say, their attempts to take over the world were less than fruitful, though they did provide a good deal of satire and entertainment.


See, it's educational!



Rita and Runt

These two put on a whole lot of show-stopping musical numbers through a veritable array of historical settings. Rita was a street savvy New York-accented cat and Runt was a dim-witted Rain Man-esque dog. The catch was that Runt hated cats with a deep fervor but was generally too slow to realize that his best friend Rita was indeed of a feline persuasion. The musical numbers were fairly impressive, largely due to the fact that Rita was voiced by Bernadette Peters. Due to the financial strain of maintaining Peters on cast and the mounting issues surrounding creating original musical numbers for each episodes, the two faded from the Animaniacs repertoire somewhere around mid-run.






The Goodfeathers

Goodfeathers...Goodfellas. Pure comedic parody gold, right? Okay, so the pun is a tad groan-inducing, but the shorts were pretty cute. A takeoff of the movie Goodfellas, the Goodfeathers were a gang of New York pigeons just trying to make it. Oh, and fighting their rival sparrow gang. And courting Girlfeathers. All in all, not awful satire. Kids weren't all that likely to get it, but at least it gave their parents something to chuckle over.





Buttons and Mindy

The premise of Buttons and Mindy was incredibly simple and formulaic. Mindy's anonymous parents ("Lady" and "Mr. Man") would leave dog Buttons to care for their daughter. Sounds responsible, right? Mindy (voiced by Nancy Cartwright of Bart Simpson fame) was forever wandering off and causing trouble, to which Buttons would rush to her rescue and bear the brunt of the responsibility. I really just loved Mindy for her coinage of the phrase, "Okay, I love you, buh-bye!" She gave kids everywhere the verbal ammunition necessary to forever irritate their parents.





Slappy Squirrel

Uncommon for a kid's cartoon, this short's star featured an elderly star. Slappy was a anthropomorphic octogenarian squirrel living with her chipper nephew Skippy. Slappy skits utilized a lot of well-worn comedic territory such as the Vaudeville-esque skit below, thus introducing an entirely new generation of children to some very old but still funny bits.




Animaniacs ran a couple of seasons on FOX and finished off the remainder of its seasons on the burgeoning but now-defunct WB network. The show was not-only long-running but also aired in syndication for quite awhile following the end of the show, meaning a serious cache of kids grew up on this stuff.

There was also one direct-to-video movie release, Wakko's Wish, which can still occasionally be seen playing on TV sometime around Christmas time. While you can catch the first two and a half seasons on TV (with the remaining episodes pending release to DVD), feel free to use up all that pent up 90s childhood energy to campaign for DVD release of the full-length film.

That's all I got for you today, folks. In the ever-wise words of one Mindy Sadlier, "Okay, I love you, buh-bye!"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Awesome Lunch Box Beverages of the 90s



Nowadays, it takes a lot of dough to impress our friends. $200 jeans, $100,000 cars; it's awfully tough to attain something covetable. Back in our younger days, however, it was as easy as whatever you had packed in your brown bag lunch. As kids, money wasn't much. We wanted some functional currency. Something we could really barter would, something that had tangible value to us.

That's where school lunches came in. If yours happened to contain a Lunchables box or Snack Pack, congratulations. You were well on your way to your way to lunch trading royalty. It was more than just food, though. The 90s brought an onslaught of sweet beverages that were marketed specifically at youth. These drinks became the stuff that supermarket temper tantrums were made of. Our parents may have aspired to feed us healthily, but they could only hold out so long.

These may not have been the healthiest of offerings, but that didn't stop us from coveting them with ever thirst-unquenched fiber of our beings. Many of them had pretty vague and questionable contents, making them the perfect product for kids. We didn't question, we simply consumed. And if it helped garner us some cafeteria credibility, well then, all the better.


Squeez Its/Kool Aid Bursts


What sort of parent wouldn't want to purchase their kid a six-pack of pure liquid sugar? Especially if they came in super-sleek flexible, squeezable bottle. Everything about it just screamed kid-friendly. The twistable cap with its residual droplets of so-called juice. The faces on the Squeez-It brand bottles. The pure, pure sugar that would no doubt be coursing through our veins at a rapid rate by the time we hit math class. Seriously, I still don't know why my mom refused me these. They seem so full of nature's goodness. What? Chemicals are found in nature. Sometimes.




Capri Sun


Speaking of brands who got a lot of flack from parents for their sugar content. These pouches were like liquid crack to children. There was something so satisfying about plunging the pointed end of that little yellow straw into the pre-perforated circle in that shimmering silver pouch. The contents were indiscernible, to say the least. The ads claimed the juice to be "all-natural" but failed to tell us exactly from which fruits these juices were extracted. It didn't matter much, as we were all pretty mesmerized by the Alex Mack rip-off commercials in which active kids morphed into some silvery form of the juice. Sold.




Orbitz



Nothing quite says refreshing beverage like little balls of orbiting gelatin crowding up the bottle. Novelty drinks are one thing, but sometimes manufacturers take it a bit too far. Orbitz were the hottest drink on the market for about five minutes in the mid-90s, proving that your concept doesn't need to be a good one, just a new one. The little suspended balls of gelatin tasted exactly like, well, balls of gelatin. The concept was interesting and kids certainly found them appealing, but it just didn't cut it for the long-term beverage market.



Fruitopia


In 1994, Coca Cola saw the success Snapple was having with their fruit and flavored tea beverages and thought they'd cash in on the market. They unleashed Fruitopia, a fruit-like drink aimed at teens and young people. They created original tv ad spots featuring kaleidoscoping fruits, new-agey music, and beatnik-esque poetry. I'm not totally sure what they were going for, but I did drink a lot of Fruitopia so I can only assumed it worked on me.




Snapple


Snapple was one of the original beverage giants. There was something oddly trendy about these drinks, even though their commercials suggested otherwise. In the 90s, the thrust of their advertising strategy involved use of Wendy the Snapple Lady responding to Snapple fan mail. It was sort of cute and kitschy in a she-sounds-like-all-of-my-Jewish-relatives-with-that-accent kind of way.


Please try to ignore the annoying countdown part of the commercial and focus on the annoying aspects of the commercial itself.


Snapple was (and is) famous for the under-the-lid factoids, though many errors have been found in these facts. I have learned a lot from Snapple over the years, though. When Costco first opened in my hometown my mother would purchase something like 100-packs of Snapple and we'd be forced to drink it nonstop. I know, I know, there are thirsty kids in China. I'm drinking, I'm drinking.




Sunny Delight







Ah, the classics. Sunny D has been around since the 60s, but there was a marketing push for it in the 90s with ads like this:



And of course, Family Guy in the 90s made a pitch-perfect parody of the 1994 ad. You know, back when the show was still funny.



Libby's Juicy Juice

Okay, I can see that now it's Nestle's Juicy Juice. I will remember it forever forth as Libby's, though


It may not seem like much, but Libby's is something of a juice box advertising genius company. You see, the name sounds familiar to most of us based on their sponsorship of some of our favorite PBS shows, namely the Arthur series. When day after day, we saw our pals at Juicy Juice supporting our favorite shows, we couldn't help but desire our very own juice boxes. After all, it was 100% juice for 100% kids. I guess that means Sunny D is for those of us who were only 2% kids. You know, really grown up for our age.



It definitely is enough to make you nostalgic for the days when your status could be determined by what you pulled out of your lunch box. I've tried bringing Red Bulls and other flashy beverages to meetings at the office, but it just doesn't have the same effect. At least we have our memories.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

90s Kids TV Game Shows



People grumble a lot about this current generation of children. They complain that they're too lazy, too unfocused, or overly dependent on technology. I, on the other hand, have a different theory.

Kids these days are suffering from a major shortage of children's television game shows.

I mean, think about it. Really think about it. We watched a lot of TV, too, but what was the differentiating factor that motivated us to get up off the couch and do something? I'm telling you, it's game shows. Watching kids on TV partaking in mild to moderately strenuous activities was enough to give us something to aspire to. Sure, their activities were strange, unconventional, and had little applicability in actual society, but they were real kids who were challenging themselves physically, academically, or super sloppily.

And to those of you who didn't have cable, well, you'll probably feel just as bad reading this post as you did back when you were taunted for being the only kid on the block without cable. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Nick Arcade



I might as well negate everything I just said up there about these game shows encouraging kids to be active. Nick Arcade actually encouraged them to be pretty darn inactive. Contestants battled virtual video game wizards in a green screen world, creating a mesh of animation and live action in a virtual Nick Arcade universe. You have to admit, that's pretty cool.


Finders Keepers



Now this is my kind of show. As the owner of an incredibly messy room that resisted all sorts of motherly intervention attempts, I was deeply envious of the kids on this show who were allowed to ransack the rooms in this fake house. Some kids have all the luck. The game was bisected into two rounds. In one round (the boring round, if you will), kid contestants identified hidden objects in pictures. In the second (the cool round), kids were unleashed in a makeshift simulated house environment finding object based on the host's clues. The best part was the bonus Room-to-Room-Romp round in which kids frantically and methodically ransacked rooms for cards that could grant them such mediocre prizes as a summer at space camp or a gift certificate to KB Toys.


Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?




Speaking of mediocre prizes, Carmen San Diego's offerings teetered on the brink of insulting. That didn't stop us from coveting the goods and being tricked against our will into learning the geography we so desperately needed. Plus Rockapella was there to provide us with their sweet, sweet in-house harmonious musical stylings. If you didn't take home the gold, though, your prize pickings were admittedly slim. We're talking Rand McNally atlases and Carmen Sandiego sweatshirts. Oh well. It's the thought that counts.



Legends of the Hidden Temple



Speaking of vaguely educational children's television game shows. Legends of the Hidden Temple was sort of educational, in a confusing, myth-heavy sense. It's kind of Incan or Mayan, or whoever it was that was heavy into talking stone head Olmecs. The game began with the moat, as partner-teams would race to cross a pool and ring their assigned gong. In the Steps of Knowledge round, our friends answered questions based on the tale Olmec had recounted for them. The Temple Games featured Guts-like stunt work. The real fun, however, came in the Temple Run. It was like ancient Incan Finders Keepers, but with incredibly frightening Temple Guards who would steal your hard-earned pendants. Tough break, kids.

You have to admit, just a little part of you wants to be a Silver Monkey or Purple Parrot for Halloween. Go on now. We won't tell.


Double Dare





Some things are better left unexplained. Like why exactly in the above clip these kids are pulling rubber chickens out of the birdcages perched on their heads. Really, who comes up with this stuff?
It was a nice touch to make Marc Summers the host, what with his cleanliness-demanding OCD and all. Whether it was Super Sloppy, Family style, or just plain old Double Dare, a lot of really confusing stuff went on. Confusing and messy. We didn't know why, but we just wanted to be a part of it.



Get The Picture



In the 90s, it didn't take much of a premise to get a game show off the ground. All you needed was Nickolodeon's buy in, Mike O'Malley signed on as a host, and you've pretty much got yourself a show. It was a sort of mix between a trivia game, picture guessing game, and physical-challenge filled excitement fest. All in all, not a bad run.



Figure it Out



Sigh. If only I'd had some sort of secret hidden talent or spectacularly interesting fact about myself. I never quite qualified as a contestant for this one. The kids on this show always won. It was pretty much in the script. We were supposed to let our Nickelodeon-grade celebrity guests make fools of themselves and get endlessly covered in buckets of green slime all so we could win our Nintendo 64s and Figure It Out t shirts and call it a day.


For some reason or other, the genre faded into obscurity by the late 90s, despite the syndicated push of reruns on the Nickelodeon cable Games and Sports channel. Like I said, these kids just don't know what they've missing. Maybe once they've ransacked a temple only to be accosted by a full grown man in full Mayan sentinel garb all while wearing a helmet and kneepads, they would know what it was all about. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

90s Movie Remakes


With all this current talk of remaking such recent films as The Neverending Story and The Karate Kid, you've got to wonder if Hollywood's just plain running out of ideas. Remakes are a tricky thing. If done in the right way they can come off as a clever reimagination of the original, but veer too far from or even to close to the original story and you've got a potential disaster on your hands.

Seriously, you don't have to tell me twice. My friends and I in a bout of uncharacteristic (okay, characteristic) laziness decided to rent the movie Great Expectations in lieu of reading the no-doubt worthy if undeniably lengthy Charles Dickens classic in high school. No one told us, however, just how many times this film had been remade. In our bad luck my friend picked up the 1998 Gwenyth Paltrow vehicle instead of the admittedly more boring and less sexy of any of the three previous incarnations. It was amusing, no doubt, to see Paltrow's character all dressed up in some ridiculous outfit and asserting flippantly, "But Mother, it's the 90s!" Unfortunately for us, it had really very little to do with the actual book itself. Suffice it to say none of our movie-watching gang performed too wonderfully on the exam.

But perhaps I digress. What exactly is the point here? Great cinema may be timeless, but choosing to remake a great film is a treacherous road. Succeed and you achieve the goal of exposing a new generation to a worthy classic. Bonus points if you remake a foreign film, as most of us ethnocentrites here wouldn't have a clue it wasn't an original. After all, that was pretty much the only thing I learned from watching the 1998 version of Great Expectations. Much to the chagrin of my English teacher, of course. She was all-too-quick to inform me that there was no character in the novel named Finn. Damn you remakes and your insidious name-changing. I suppose it didn't help my cause that for a paragraph or two in my essay, I accidentally referred to him as "Ethan Hawke". Subtlety isn't my fine point.

These 90s movies may not have been originals and some are far from classics, but they generally did pretty well in holding our attention. And if at the end of the day, it gave us a common notion to discuss with our parents who so loved the original, then all the better.


Little Rascals



If you can believe it, the Little Rascals (or "Our Gang") comedic shorts featuring cute and rambunctious child actors date all the way back to the 1920s.



While the popularity of the originals waned sometime around the 1940s, the brand was reinvigorated when it was picked up for syndication television in the 50s. Just a few decades later, however, the Gang was all but forgotten. In 1994, Universal Pictures put out a loosely defined remake of the shorts. The new film borrowed heavily on gags and themes from the originals, and retained many of the same characters. Oh, and in case you're wondering, here's my favorite part:



Fans of the originals were less than thrilled with the remake, but the film did reasonably well and a new generation of kids were rather taken with these miniature rascals. It may not have lived up to the standards of the original gang, but they were admittedly pretty cute.




The Parent Trap


The original was released in 1961, featuring Hayley Mills as both Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick. This was, no doubt, pretty sharp technology for the time. The film was well-received and was even nominated for two Oscars. Though, let's be real here, they were for Sound and Editing respectively. Oh well, they're still Oscar nods, right? You can still put that on your home video case.


You know you're a real 90s kid when you hear Hayley Mills' voice even as a teenager and your mind immediately jumps to Good Morning, Miss Bliss


In 1998, Disney remade the film and introduced the world to a then-adorable Lindsay Lohan. The film was appropriately updated to entertain 90s children, giving them something over which to bond with their parents who had grown up with the original.





Romeo and Juliet


There have been quite a few releases of Romeo and Juliet, but perhaps the most widely seen was the 1968 version. I know we were forced to sit through it in 9th grade Language Arts.



Probably completely unfairly to the perfectly fine '68 version, my classmates and I had been spoiled by the 90s-ified remake and thus referred to the older film as "The Boring One". Hey, it's tough to compete with Leonardo DiCaprio, gunfights, and songs by The Cardigans. Sorry, 1968 version. We never gave you a chance.





101 Dalmations


The 1961 Disney animated version was spectacularly successful and well-received by audiences. It was so successful, in fact, that the film was actually re-released to theaters a staggering four times before they finally just came out with it and did a remake.


Sorry, guys, according to this commercial it looks like this baby may already be back in the Disney vault. Looks like you missed your chance.


While Glenn Close was pretty spectacular and terrifying in her role as Cruella DeVil, the film wasn't quite as critically acclaimed as the original. It was a financial success, however, and a pretty wise move by Disney overall.

If only the world's dalmatian puppy population had fared as well. Following the release of the '96 version, demand for adorable dalmatians skyrocketed. No one at Disney ever told us that they weren't all that great with kids. I mean, they looked so cuddly in the movie. Soon thereafter rescue shelters with bursting at the seams with returns and exchanges of dalmatians. Whoops. Maybe the film should have come with some sort of caveat.





Angels in the Outfield


The1951 picture was not nearly as family-oriented a film as its subsequent reincarnation. The first didn't have much in the way of child-age characters, and come on, the team in this version was the Pirates. Where's the pun in that? Come on.


I have to say, this original trailer is awesome. It's completely ridiculous.


The 1994 release was much more of a family movie. A sad little foster kid played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is told by his deadbeat dad that they'll be reunited when the Angels win the pennant. See, the Angels. Clever update, right? Plus we get Christopher Lloyd as our lead angel. What's not to like?


Oh my god, how cute is little Joseph Gordon-Levitt? The correct answer is, incredibly, unbelievably, heartstring-tuggingly cute.





Little Women


I guess great stories really are timeless. Either that, or people have terrible memories. There have been five big-screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, although the first two were in the era of silent films. We had our 1933 release with Katharine Hepburn as Jo:



The 1949 adaptation with over-the-top theatrics, featuring Elizabeth Taylor as Amy:


I love the way the trailer claims it to be Romantic as Springtime! Merry as Christmas! Sparkling as Winter!


And finally, our 1994 feature chock full of big names as Winona Rider, Christian Bale, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and Susan Sarandon:


For a movie that's been remade so many times, you've got to admire the 1994 version for getting it right. Yes, it's sappy and sentimental, but so is the novel. It's pretty hard to make selling your hair and dying of scarlet fever into slapstick comedy.




The Nutty Professor

I'm sure this news is going to shock you, so I'm going to try to break it to you gently: the original Nutty Professor contained infinitely fewer fart jokes. It also did not spurn any insufferable fart-joke filled sequels featuring its star playing every member of his family. Here's the trailer to the Jerry Lewis original, released in 1963:



The Eddy Murphy vehicle somehow, God knows how, morphed into, well, this:


Some things are better left unexplained.



As you can see, remakes run the gamut from a welcome reinterpretation to inexplicable excuse for cross-dressing and flatulence jokes. We can only hope the forthcoming remakes of 80s and 90s films can do any bit as much justice to the movies we grew up with. After all, I don't know how I'll ever explain to my kids that no, that flying luckdragon thing from The Neverending Story is not supposed to be computer animated, it's supposed to be real and fuzzy and absolutely terrifying.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Clueless

All of us have that movie for which we know every line of dialogue word-for-word. The movie that makes us abrasively irritating to friends and neighbors who just want to watch the damn movie and less-than-kindly demand for us to shut up already. The movie we can watch again and again without becoming bored, reveling in noticing delightful little touches we may have missed in our previous 364 viewings.

For me, Clueless is that movie.

I'll let you in on a little secret, just between us. Even though I loved this movie unconditionally from the first viewing, I will be forthcoming in my admission that I had no clue whatsoever what was going on. You might say, in fact, that I myself was clueless when it came to Clueless. Well, I might say that. You probably would spare yourself the embarrassment of making such a lame, hackneyed attempt of a joke. I, on the other hand, will shamelessly go for it.

The movie came out when I was in fourth grade, and I immediately and devoutly worshiped Cher Horowitz with ever fiber of my being. In the mid-90s, we were all about voyeurism in observing how the other half lived. Or, perhaps more accurately, how the media portrayed the wildly wealthy. Shows like Beverly Hills 90210 ruled the airwaves, with preteens and adolescents desperately coveting the undeniable coolness their privileged lifestyle commanded.



How can you not smile at that delivery? In the debate scene, Alicia Silverstone unintentionally pronounced Haitians as Haiti-ans, but it was so perfect for the role of Cher that no one bothered to correct her. Really, could she have been a more perfect casting choice?

That trailer is filled with some seriously credible 90s nostalgic goodness. That scene at the end in gym class, where Amber claims to be excused because her plastic surgeon doesn't want her doing anything where balls fly at her nose? And Dionne says, "There goes your social life"? That line alone took me about 5 years until I had my "ohhhhhh" moment of facepalming realization and retrospective blushing that I'd watched the move so many times with my parents.

Amy Heckerling, the teen-genre genius behind 80s classic Fast Times at Ridgemount High, took a smarter route to exposing and humanizing the teenage children of the rich and the famous. Clueless's dialogue may have sounded vapid and substance free, but beneath the veneer of superficiality and teenage drama lay a truly smart, well-conceived film. Heckerling loosely based the screenplay on Jane Austen's Emma, updating both the setting and characters to star the gum-snapping, credit-card wielding teens of Beverly Hills.

Like her Austen counterpart, Cher is utterly self-absorbed and spoiled but with generally good intentions to her scheming. She is undeniably likable as a character. She's sweet, she's funny, and she singlehandedly managed to bring knee-high socks back into vogue. What's not to like?




The film opens with The Muff's song "Kids in America" blaring, as well-groomed attractive teenagers cruise carefreely down the streets of Beverly Hills, go shopping, party, and frolic by a waterfall-type pool that would make the Playboy Mansion's grotto blush.

Cher is quick to cut the moment, though. Her voice-over muses, "So okay, you're probably thinking, is this, like a Noxema commercial, or what? But seriously, I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl. I mean I get up, I brush my teeth, and I pick out my school clothes." For Cher, however, picking out her school clothes entails using an enviable and no doubt advanced for its time wardrobe matching computer program and the best remote controlled scrolling closet this side of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.


In a seriously condensed period of time, we learn a lot about Cher Horowitz and her lavish lifestyle. We meet her best friend Dionne, to whom she relates because a) they both know what it's like to have people be jealous of them and b) they were both named for singing superstars of the past who now do late-night infomercials. At school, we get to see a veritable range of 90s social groups, though of course grungy flannel is a popular theme. Cher learns she got a C in debate, dragging down her academic average. We also meet Josh, the ever-hunky Paul Rudd as Cher's ex-step brother and initial pain-in-the-ass granola-munching housemate.


Cher and her gang have a fabulous way of coining their entire own system of teen-centric terminology. Indeed, after the movie's sleeper hit status was confirmed, you could hardly enter the hallowed halls of any high school without hearing at least an occasional "Whatever!" or "As if!" Alicia Silverstone nails the doe-eyed tongue-in-cheek delivery of her airhead lines. She plays the part to perfection, letting us as the audience know that no, she's not really an airhead, she just plays one in high school. In actuality, Cher's no dummy. She manages to successfully trail in her father's litigator (the scariest kind of lawyer) footsteps by renegotiating most of her undesirable grades. Talk about results.

Dionne and Cher are well-meaning meddlers, as we see them trying to fix up two lonely single teachers at their school early in the movie. They also come upon an ugly duckling of a fish-out-of-water new student (sorry, I ran out of pond creature idioms) Tai, whose less-than-stellar appearance prompts them to do a major overhauling makeover to secure Tai's social standing at school.

Tai initially is warm to the form of slacker skateboarder Travis, but Cher vetoes that route as she's certain that if Tai starts dating the social climbing cretin Elton she'll no doubt claim a place in the A-crowd. This plan, however, goes awry when Elton expresses his feelings for Cher, to which she responds by storming out of his car in the middle of God knows where. She not only gets robbed, but is forced to lay on the ground in an Alaia for heaven's sake. An Alaia! I can't even fathom.*


I have distinct memories of seriously coveting that outfit of Tai's to biblical proportions. Now, well, not so much.

Cher, meanwhile, has fallen for new student Christian in a big way. She sends herself chocolate and flowers and wears revealing clothing in an attempt to win his affection. Her efforts, unfortunately, seem to be for naught as she's completely oblivious to the otherwise obvious fact that Christian is gay. If that weren't enough, Tai's supposedly traumatizing near-death experience at the mall suddenly makes her the toast of the school's social scene, leaving Cher to contemplate if she's perhaps created a well-coiffed monster. On top of it all, Cher also fails her driving test in the one moment of her life she can't seem to talk or charm her way out of.

In an effort to clear her head, she heads out shopping and comes to the Celine Dion and lit-fountain punctuated moment of realization that she is actually in love with her step-brother Josh. Okay, ex-step brother, but still. I mean, yeah, they're not blood related, but their parents were once matrimonially bound. It's a bit on the skeevy side.

It gets a little awkward around home as she suddenly is unsure of how to act in his once-maligned presence. Cher throws herself into the goal of becoming a better person in her attempt to distract herself from her crumbling personal life. It's all really kind of sweet in a completely out-of-touch with reality way. Like donating your expensive skis to a disaster relief aid collection? Probably not at the top of their list. Oh well. It's the thought that counts.

All's well that ends well, luckily, as Cher and Josh eventually confess their mutual if awkwardly familial feelings toward one another, and the two lonelyhearts teachers from the initial set-up are wed in a sweet concluding ceremony. Tai and Travis finally get together, Dionne makes at least temporary peace with her boyfriend Murray, and Josh and Cher are finally together after a long and painfully tense period of anticipation.



Alright, so maybe it's not real life. But that's the real fun of it. Clueless was more than just a modern reuptake on a classic. It was a film that briefly defined a fledgling generation teetering on the brink of a shift from grunge flannel and heroin chic to mainstream preppy teenybopperyism.** It was better than real life. The people were better looking and better attired, the setting was covetable, and the money was free flowing. It was a well-grounded fantasy that spurned a thousand Cher wannabes.

And of course, I just can't give you a full in-depth post on Clueless without posting (well, reposting) one of my personal faves: a Golden Girls Clueless spoof from the 1996 MTV Video Awards. I just can't in good conscience let you off the hook without enjoying some good old fashioned satire with jokes at the expense of some very comically talented elderly ladies. Enjoy responsibly.






*For those of you who don't know, she's like a totally important designer
**This is not a word. Just deal with it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Alanis Morissette



Some career transformations are subtle as artists gradually and organically transition from one style to another over an extended period of time. Others are, let's say, not so nuanced. Such was the case of Alanis Morissette, whose career began as a Canadian mall-haired teen queen a la Tiffany or Debbie Gibson. At one point she was actually opening for Vanilla Ice, for heaven's sake. It's a pretty far cry from the Alanis the rest of the world met in the mid-90s, but for a stretch of time in the first half of the decade Alanis reigned as a cheesy dance-beat pop artist in America's hat.*

At 12, Alanis debuted as a regular cast member on one season of the the Nickelodeon tween sketch comedy show You Can't Do That on Television. It's not exactly the thing that angry-chick musicians are made of, I'll give you that. She started her career as a squeaky-clean, happy preteen in this slime-splattered comedy spot. Well, clean other than her very convincing fake vomiting at the end of this clip:



In 1990 at age 14 she moved on to show her, er, pop potential on the original America's Got Talent, Star Search. Be warned, for those of you familiar with a different, darker, more ironic Alanis, this may be quite the shock. While I do admire her general boppiness and the confidence it no doubt took to don that polka-dotted puffy sleeved midriff baring jacket, it's a far cry from the Alanis the rest of the world met a few years later.



Just one year later and released under her original Cher slash Madonna-esque stage name of Alanis, her first single "Too Hot" performed relatively well in the Canadian market. In this awesomely bad 90s music video, Alanis demonstrates a both surprising command of snappy dance moves and a serious lead finger on her can of Aquanet. The album was not released internationally, but from what I've been told it was pretty big in Canada. Take a look at this video and you can definitely see where the Tiffany comparisons come in.



A year later, yearning to show her more substantial side, Alanis released a more ballad-heavy album. The Canadian teen sensation's star seemed to be on the wane, as sales numbers fell off significantly from her first album. I guess they liked the Tiffany Alanis better. No one, however, or at least no Canadians, would likely have foreseen what was to come next for Alanis Morissette.

Flash forward just a few short years to the release of her angst-ridden album Jagged Little Pill, her first record to be released outside of Canada, and I'm sure you'll see why her musical transformation can be classified as less than subtle. Much less than subtle. Really, not subtle at all. Is there such a word as unsubtlest? If not, I move to add it on the basis of Alanis's incredible career 180.

On sort of a fluke, her single "You Outta Know" started getting some serious radio airtime following the lead of an LA DJ's broadcast of the song. For most of us, this was all well and good and we had little prior knowledge of bubble-gum pop Alanis, but I can only imagine what those poor Canadians were thinking about their coiffured pop princess when they heard this:


I apologize for making you sit through the preceding ad, but hey, this comes from MTV. We have to deal with what we're dealt here. Thanks for your understanding.


Well, that's a little, um, different, wouldn't you say? "Too Hot" to this? Is that really any form of logical leap? I guess if you want to shake the Debbie Gibson and Tiffany comparisons, this is probably the safest route. This was pretty edgy stuff for mainstream music, after all. It did fit in nicely with the mid-90s flannel wearing coming of age of a cynical Generation X. Assuming, that is, that they'd never seen any of Alanis's previous work. I can't imagine that widespread international knowledge of that "Too Hot" video would bolster her bitter 90s angst street credibility much.

The best part about this song, however, was in the speculation on the subject matter. Just who was this guy who inspired Alanis to spew such angry vocals? There were a lot of different names thrown into the mix, but by far the most prevalent prognosis was that this song's mysterious Mr. Wrong was none other than Full House's Dave Coulier. Yep, Uncle Joey of the Hawaiian Shirts, the "Cut. It. Out." hand motions, and insufferable woodchuck impressions. I'm sorry, what? That guy? Geez, Alanis, pull yourself together. Our jury at Snopes are still out on the verdict, but as far as rumors go this one has got to be one of the strangest. And, let's be honest, most embarrassing.

Jagged Little Pill gave Alanis a number of mid-level singles like "Hand in My Pocket", but her next big moment came in the form of the release of her single for "Ironic":



This song had to be by far one of the primary leading contributors to middle school students' collective misunderstanding of the literary notion of irony. According to the song, it seems irony is nothing more than a series of unfortunate inconveniences. While her examples certainly aren't welcome life circumstances ("10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife"), the are not ironic by any stretch of definition of the term. If nothing else, the real irony was that she managed to release a song entitled "Ironic" that claimed to showcase numerous incidences of irony while in reality none were ironic in the least. Now that's a bit ironic. Don't you think?

The album enjoyed a pretty substantial shelf-life, giving her two additional Billboard-worthy singles in "Head Over Feet" and "You Learn". "You Learn" contained the album's eponymous line, "swallow it down, what a jagged little pill/ It feels so good swimming in your stomach". It's a pretty far cry from "Too Hot", I must say.



This was, of course, not the last we heard from Alanis Morissette. I'm sure any die-hard fans can tell you not only of her 90s trailblazing ways for angry female singers, but of her subsequent album releases that I'm sure were also worth listening to despite the fact that I have yet to do so. There were happier, less angst-ridden incarnations of Alanis in the earlier part of this decade, but she will undoubtedly be most remembered for her mid-90s reign as a strong, bitter female talent. Which is probably for the best, really. I mean, would you want to be remembered for "Too Hot"? That's what I thought.




*I'm sorry, some of you may know this territory as Canada.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tickle-Me Elmo

"I was pulled under, trampled—the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans [. . .] I was kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious."

Sounds pretty scary right? So what was it? Soccer hooligan riot? Controversial political protest gone awry? Student demonstration gone violent?

Or, a race for $28.99 worth of pulsating synthetic fur?

If you answered D, then congratulations. You're a witness to the soulless materialism of sheeplike 90s suburban parents. Yes, that right. Innocent unsuspecting shop clerks were trampled and concussed all for the unworthy cause of an overpriced, overrated toy. Something tells me that guy wasn't laughing nearly as much as these toys. Or TYCO, for that matter. I'm sure we can all imagine that journey to the bank involved a lot of uncontrollable giggling. And I mean all the way there.


Though I was a bit too old (and let's be real here, too cool) to have any remote desire for a Sesame Street themed toy in 1996, I was perplexed and amazed by the impact this single plaything had on our fair nation. Every couple of years or so, a toy comes on to the market that takes off in an unanticipated and astronomical way. While usually the trajectory of a toy's success is pretty stable, every once in a while one comes along that becomes an absolute hands-down no-two-ways-about-it must have item. As in we've got people trading black market kidneys for these things.

It also seems that once this path of toy-crazed destruction begins, it can not be stopped. No rational intervention of any kind seems enough to quell the unquenchable desire to one-up our neighbors. It became about the principle of the thing--or in this case, the lack thereof. People went completely insane, manic under the spell of owning the most coveted holiday item of the year. Congratulations, you Jiminy Cricket-less bastards.



The best part of the whole shebang was the Sophacles-level of irony hiding just beneath the surface. Elmo, as a character, was the ultimate prototype for sweet, kind, good-natured innocence. Never in a million years would he engage in any type of violence--he was a monster in name and bodily fluffiness alone. These were values people wanted to pass down to their kids. So much so, in fact, that they were willing to completely disregard these same values in their unbridled bloodlust for these toys. Smooth move, parents.

I'm sure if my parents had trampled some poor shmoe down at Toys 'R Us without so much asking after his broken bones and resultant disfigurement, I'd be pretty pleased. After all, I'd have Elmo as my moral guide. That pretty much makes up for it, right?

Too bad our Tickle-Me pal didn't offer much in the way of substance, or even any type of real underlying value. Take a look at the toy in question in its natural habitat in its depiction in the original 1996 ad:



What? Really? We're trampling people for that? That thing sort of...sucks. It's not really exceptional in any way. I mean, yeah, it shakes. Great. It laughs in a horribly irritating high-pitched tone. Remind me again why we all want one of these?

Oh, right. Because we're slaves to a competition-driven consumer society. I'd almost forgotten. I suppose if you really get down to it, the vibration was marginally high-tech for the time. It used similar technology to the type of feedback you get now on your Wii when you run over a penguin in Mario Kart*. It was kind of cute in a "I see this thing every day on TV but don't really need one in my own home" sort of way. It didn't seem to have all that much going for it substance-wise outside of the ample hype.

Keep in mind this was not the only Elmo doll on the market. There were dozens of others that for some reason or other had failed to become the almighty chosen one for the holiday season. That vibrating censor and voice chip was just the tipping point to drive this toy to phenomenon status. People who'd been lucky enough to buy one before the craze took over everything and everyone made out pretty nicely overall on the deal. These toys were selling in unofficial markets for upwards of $1000. I'm sorry, if you missed that, that sum was $1000. Given, this was the 90s and the economic climate was a bit less dire, but geez. No wonder people hate America. I blame Tickle-Me Elmo.**


Just like any craze, the hysteria subsided almost as quickly as it had crested. TYCO tried to quickly cash in on the brand by offering up a whole line of Tickle-Me Sesame Street friends, but it seems everyone had had just about as much tickling as they could take. It was time to lay the concept to rest, especially if we ever wanted our late-night talk show hosts to joke about anything else.

This was not, however, the last we saw of Tickle Me Elmo. In 2006, the 10th anniversary of the original release, Fisher Price unleashed TMX limited edition Tickle Me Elmo Extreme. Yep, extreme.



Okay, that one was too creepy, even for me? What's with the Cheaters/Cops-grade blurring? What exactly are they hiding? Let's try that one more time:



Nope, I was right the first time. Still creepy.



*What? I'm really bad at Mario Kart.
**Remember, if you don't buy a Tickle-Me Elmo, the terrorists win.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Children of the 90s One-Hit Wonder Mash-Up: 1994 Edition

You know the drill: one year, uncommonly popular songs, a group of bands whose records rarely saw the light of day by year's end. 1994 was a surprisingly light year for one-hit wonders, but it did give us a few winners. Or losers. Depending on your point of view.

Without further ado, I give you the inexplicable one-time hits of 1994:


Crash Test Dummies: Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm

Crash Test Dummies - Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Official Music Video) - Watch the top videos of the week here

You've got to give at least a smidgen of credit to a band who's able to make a hit song without having a single actual word in the chorus or name of the song. We've got to give them credit wherever we can find it, really, because this song doesn't have so much going for it. Sure, it's catchy and will play over and over and over again in your head after you hear it, but that's not necessarily a good thing. In this case, especially.

The song details three minor hard-luck stories of three unique children, allotting each child's tale a single lyrical verse. The song doesn't exactly have a point, per se, but it does tell three disparate stories in great, unnecessary detail. Really, just so unnecessary. In the first, we learn of a boy whose hair has suddenly turned white after a car accident. In the second, we hear about a girl who avoids changing in gym class for fear of her classmates berating her unseemly birthmarks. In the last, a boy's family belongs to an odd religious sect for which participants shake and quiver about on the church floor.

Wait, I'm sorry. What? This is a song? I remember liking the music video as a kid, but that's probably just because it's so damn literal. Children act out the scenes exactly as they're described in the song. There's no deeper meaning. There's no point whatsoever. To all the struggling musicians out there putting out lyrical gold, let me apologize on behalf of the Crash Test Dummies for pushing you out of the spotlight so we could hear, well, this.



69 Boyz: Tootsee Roll


I'm going to come right out and say it: any song backed up by the Quad City DJs is pure beat-thumping genius in my mind. Thus perhaps I'm a little biased in my assessment of the 69 Boyz' song "Tootsee Roll", but seriously, doesn't it just make you want to dance a little bit? No? Just me? Okay then. The song starts out strong with a hearty:

The butterfly? Uh-uh, that's old!
Let me see the Tootsee Roll!


Then, just a mere chorus and few shouted lines later, they reiterate the previous statement by explaining:


I don't know what you've been told

It ain't the butterfly, it's the Tootsee Roll

A brand new dance


Wait, wait, wait. I'm confused. Maybe they should explain it one more time. So you're saying it's not the butterfly? I'm not sure who exactly has been trying to convince us of otherwise since their initial introductory proclamation, but at least that's settled now. It's not the butterfly, everyone. It's just not.

Anyway, I've always been a fan of dance songs where they shout out specific dance directions in the lyrics. It means I don't have to think of what I'm going to do next. There's no awkward moment where I'm wondering if I should throw the dice one time. No, no. I'll just dip, baby. Dip.



Ahmad: Back in the Day


Okay, okay, I know this song was not quite as popular as the others, but I just have to throw it in there for its dedication to the preservation of nostalgia. This Ahmad is a guy after my own heart. We're all about the back in the day here at Children of the 90s. I must say based on the song that I didn't have much in common with Ahmad, but it's the sentiment that really counts.




Big Mountain: Baby I love your Way



You know you've really made it in the one-hit wonder world when you don't even have to come up with the tune or lyrics of the song that buys you your fifteen minutes of fame. Such was the case with Big Mountain, whose cover of Peter Frampton's 1974 hit "Baby I Love Your Way" earned them a top ten spot on the Billboard charts in 1994. The song was featured in Reality Bites, thus forever preserving it as a piece of 90s history. Reality Bites was one of those prototypical 90s movies encapsulating all things Gen X, giving the song automatic 90s clout by mere association.

The movie soundtrack also introduced most of us to Lisa Loeb with her hit "Stay", so it's got some 90s credibility. "Baby I Love Your Way" was reinterpreted as a light-rock reggae song, a slight twist on the original Frampton version. It was catchy and infectious in the normal manner of airborne musical contagions, but it didn't make much of Big Mountain. They may have been dropped by their label a few years later, but at least they managed to give us some semi-soothing 90s reggae-inspired 70s covers. Wait, is that a genre?




Deadeye Dick:


(I couldn't find a good embeddable version of the video, so enjoy the lyrics on a red background!)

I've already covered this one here, so I'll be brief. I love this song. Sure, I didn't quite get the not-so-subtle innuendo as a kid, but it's all in good fun. It's just a fun song, plain and simple. It wasn't enough to give Deadeye Dick much of a blip on the radar of musical history, but it did get quite a bit of radio play. And it was in Dumb and Dumber. You can't get much better than that, can you?




Us3: Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)


Some might say Jazz-Rap is an odd musical filing subcategory, and they may be right. Regardless of the uncommon characterization, it's a pretty catchy tune. So much so that it occasionally pops into my head and I can't remember any words except for "flip fantasia". Whatever that means. The song is a reincarnation of the 1960s Herbie Hancock tune "Cantaloupe Island". As you can see, 1994 was a great year for people low on originality and high on music rights purchasing power. It is a fun song, thought.




Culture Beat: Mr Vain


Confession: this song is on every one of my workout mixes. Now that I've been officially deemed unbroken by medical professionals, I'm going to be hearing a whole lot more Mr. Vain. Theoretically, that is. I'd forgotten about this song completely until I was in Poland one summer and turned on the TV. If you've ever been to Poland, I assume you know this was my first mistake. They're not overly keen on television censors. Anyhoo, this song was playing and the memories just flooded back. Music can do that to you. Even really terrible, horrible, 90s era technopop.


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