Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Did you know? 90s Disney Voice-Over Edition

Voice acting is a great gig. Compared to having a major role in a live-action feature film, working as a voice actor allows a far more relaxed and simple commitment. In other words? It's an easy gig. You provide the vocals, and some artsy animator types provide all the rest. Not too shabby.

To draw in audiences, animation studios will often seek out big-name actors whose names they can shamelessly splash across promotional posters. In the case of Disney, this sometimes meant they had to cast a second actor for the singing parts, but all in all, it was worth it to boast the headliner.

Early in animation history, voice actors were typically low-profile highly specialized individuals without existing careers in live action film or television. These skilled voice actors were capable of producing a range of voices, so studios often cut down on costs by hiring few actors to play several roles. As time went on, however, animation studios were eager to replace these multitalented no-names with a bunch of expensive live action actors who could only speak in their own street voices. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Love it or hate it, celebrity voice actors certainly help put butts in the theater seats. In the 90s, Disney pulled in a wealth of big-name stars to offer the voice tracks to their animated features. The quantity of celebrities who lent their voices to Disney films is far too abundant to fully catalog here, so let's take a look at a selected few of the most famous and/or surprising voice actor selections:

Timon: Nathan Lane

My favorite part of this clip is the line, "What do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?" As if Nathan Lane dressing up in drag was a shocking revelation. I think we've all seen that before in The Birdcage...and, if we can be candid here, he looks way more like Margaret Thatcher than a hula aficionado.

Simba: Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick

Disney offered us a great one-two punch with the child and adult versions of The Lion King's Simba: Randy from Home Improvement and Ferris Bueller. As a child, I was really excited about the prospect of JTT, but in retrospect Broderick is likely the bigger name. Neither actually provided the singing voices for the character, but they both lent their voices to create a believably lovable lion.

Aladdin: Scott Weinger

You know, Steve from Full House? DJ's endlessly food-consuming letter jacket-wearing boyfriend? He's not necessarily a huge name celebrity, but most of us children of the 90s are more than familiar with him.

Oliver: Joey Lawrence

Whoa! Who knew? Joey from Blossom is Oliver. I certainly had no idea. Now that I think of it, though, it's completely adorable.

Lumiere: Jerry Orbach

That's right, the man also known as Detective Briscoe from Law and Order and Baby's father from Dirty Dancing is the voice of our smooth-talking French candelabra. I may be being a bit facetious; Jerry Orbach has a long resume of stage, film, and television credentials that I'm totally overlooking here. That said, I'll always think of him as Dorothy's boyfriend Glen from Golden Girls.

Genie: Robin Williams

Ladies and gentlemen, Robin Williams as...Robin Williams. In fact, in most 90s movies Robin Williams played some version of himself, but possibly none quite as pronounced as this one.

Mrs Potts: Angela Lansbury

Jessica Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote as a singing teapot? No wonder old people love this song so much.

Esmerelda: Demi Moore

They sort of look alike, don't they? Demi Moore and Esmerelda have a certain resemblance, though their choice of mate varies pretty significantly. As far as I know, Quasimodo never punk'd anyone.

Mufasa: James Earl Jones

That's right, Mufasa is Darth Vader. They're not that different really; one's a masked intergalactic hero-fathering villain and the other's a pride-leading Lion who dies prematurely. Wait, where was I going with this? They're pretty damn different,

John Smith: Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson, wary of cultures other than his own? Never! It's a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

Thomas: Christian Bale

Yes, Batman is John Smith's settler friend. For some reason, even though all of these settlers are supposed to be English, only some of them actually sound British; Bale and Gibson have American accents. I guess they adapted quickly to life in the New World.

Woody and Buzz Lightyear: Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

In 1995, Toy Story impressed us with more than just its innovative computer animation technology; it also boasted two very big-name celebrity voice actors for its principal roles. Tom Hanks plays Woody, a displaced favorite cowboy whose moment in the toybox sun is waning. Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear, a new and flashier astronaut action figure who is completely unaware that he's a toy and not an actual intergalactic voyager. The two actors play well off of one another, sparring convincingly with strong comedic energy.

Hanks and Allen returned in 1999 for a sequel and again in the upcoming summer 2010 Toy Story 3. It's a rare event when a Disney film produces a theatrical sequel instead of a subpar straight-to-video installment, and even rarer to see a third theatrical feature. The return of the celebrity voice actors--Hanks, Allen, and the rest of the gang--is a testament to their faith in the quality of the film; in a lot of these sequels, the original actors want nothing to do with the sinking ship of a straight-to-DVD franchise. We've got high hopes for the final film in the trilogy. Hopefully our veteran voice actors will not disappoint.

Professional voice actors may have multifaceted skills that far exceed the capability of celebrity voice actors, but there is a certain appeal to attaching big name voices to your animated feature. If nothing else, it's fun to spend the movie trying to figure out where you've heard that voice before. These actors may not have the range of specialized cartoon voice actors, but they do have the power to amuse and entertain us. Plus, it makes for some entertaining behind-the-scenes with the voice actors DVD special features. Isn't that really what it's all about?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

American Girl

I'm still moderately crushed that they didn't unleash the glory of the respective downtown-based American Girl Places until I was far past the acceptable American Girl consuming age. I would have been all over that. I mean, tea parties? With your doll? Is there some sort of a sign up list somewhere? Because I would like to enlist myself immediately.

Just the other day, I was at the home of a family with young girls and found each one proudly toting a bona-fide American Girl doll. The jealousy reflex in me sprang forth, strong as ever. As much as I begged, my parents would never cave and purchase me a wildly expensive Samantha doll per my, demands. My friend had one complete with it's own turn-of-the-century style miniature version of the rich person wire bed on which she slept. Granted, these young girls I encountered this week had the far inferior "Just Like Me" My Twinn-knockoff dolls complete with eerily identical features and customizations, but the jealousy reflex enacted nonetheless.

While American Girl may have started with the noblest of literacy and girl pride-minded intentions, the brand morphed into a major franchise of merchandise and self-proclaimed collectibles. I was an avid reader of the books, so imagine my delight as a child when the mailman saw fit to bring me my very own American Girl merchan dise catalog. If I had known what crack was at the time, this catalog would have become its mildly less addictive equivalent for my 10-year old self. I spent hours meticulously marking pages, indicating not only which dolls and accessories I preferred but also which me-sized American Girl-style clothing options I would hopefully someday wear with false-modest pride. Who doesn't want colonial frock or a shirt whose collar suffocates me with its early 1900s high buttonedness? These things are relatively irresistible. Well, to girls in the target 8-12 demographic, that is.

This effort-laden catalog scouring turned out to be for naught, but it did teach me a valuable lesson about coveting and consumerism. That is, that I really, really like it. Thank you, American Girl. You've served me well in my path to shopping addiction.

The spark of the American Girl concept was born in the mid-80s when creator Pleasant Rowland visited colonial Williamsburg, enjoying the impact of the fully immersive experience. Later, when shopping for gifts for her tween-aged nieces, Rowland realized that the range of dolls available to preteens was highly limited. The focus of these dolls, she observed, seemed to be on either mothering (baby dolls) or aspiring to teenagehood (Barbie-type fashion dolls). No dolls were specifically geared toward the interests of then generally underserved preteen demographic.

Initially launching the line as a mail-order enterprise, Rowland created the fledgling American Girl franchise in 1986. American Girl originally featured three historical girls: Kirsten Larson, Samantha Parkington, and Molly McIntre. Each doll came with three books about her life in her respective historical setting and optional clothing and accessories based on the character. American Girl was born.

American Girl quickly grew into a veritable operation, releasing birthday books, seasonal books, and my personal favorite in 1988: life-size matching clothing for the doll owner. The line veered into some alternate territories, but for the most part its focus was on the historically relevant doll line with its corresponding books. The original characters released in 1986 were:

Kirsten Larson (1850s)Kirsten is a Swedish American living in Minnesota in the mid 19th-century. Kirsten is a kind, sensitive girl open to new experiences in her new country. She was an avid sewer and had an adventurous spirit. Plus, she wore her hair in an awesome braid/Princess Leia Cinna-bun hybrid. I liked the idea that she was Minnesotan like me, but I could never seem to get my hair to stay in those braid loops like hers.

Samantha Parkington (1900s)

Samantha Parkington is a turn-of-the-century orphan living with her rich Grandmary. Yep, Grandymary. I guess that's Edwardian rich-speak for Grandmother. Samantha is curious and progressive, excited in new prospects and ideas. She taught me that you can be both rich and kind. Plus that it's totally awesome to have a slew of servants at your disposal. I don't think that was the point, of course, but I definitely picked up on it.

Molly McIntire (1940s)
Until the line expanded into more ethnically diverse characters, Molly is the original line's token "girl with the glasses." Molly is lively and scheming, with a father abroad fighting in World War II. She has a taste for glamour and excitement and has vivid imagination.

The line quickly expanded to include more characters based in different historical periods. In 1991:

Felicity Merriman (1770s)

It's surprising Felicity wasn't in the original release group, considering creator Pleasant Rowland's claim that a visit to colonial Williamsburg inspired the series. Felicity is coming of age during the Revolutionary War. She is highly independent and spunky and rejects many of the feminine ideals assigned to her my her time period.

In 1993:
Addy Walker (1860s)
The series' first African American character, Addy's books explore more complex societal issues, depicting her life as an escaped slave. Addy doesn't believe slavery is fair and is a proponent of racial equality, finding the North to be similarly prejudiced to the South from which she escaped.

In 1997:
Josefina Montoya (1820s)
Josefina is a girl growing up in New Mexico before the Mexican-American war, when the period was still under Mexican control. Her books integrate some Spanish terms and examine Josefina's life following the death of her mother. She is shy, thoughtful, and caring. Plus, we get to pronounce her name "HO-se-fina", which is totally awesome.

In the 2000s, the company later added post-white settlement Native American Kaya'aton'my,first-generation American Russian Jewish Rebecca Rubin, spunky tomboy Kit Kittredge, and civil-rights minded Julie Albright. The diversity of character and ethnic background grew significantly over the years since the original 1986 release, but the general guiding principles remain the same.

The books had their flaws, but they fulfilled Rowland's original vision of interesting young girls in history and lives unlike their own. Rowland introduced girls to disparate historical periods through the lens of girls who were their own age, with similar hopes and ideals. It was an innovative idea, and kids bought into it with great fervency. Bought into it so much, of course, that they begged their parents for books, dolls, magazine subscriptions, costumes, accessories, and everything else that turned this educational premise into a lucrative financial enterprise. It may have worked too well on me; I'm still putting that Samantha doll on my birthday list. It's worth a try. If you're interested in fulfilling my decades-long dream, don't forget to throw in the wire-frame bed too.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Children of the 90s One-Hit Wonder Mash-Up: 1996 Edition

It's about that time again, folks. Time to delve into the magical world of bygone one-time chart topping artists, that is. The one-hit wonder retrospective is always a bit surprising. In some cases, we may have once thought these artists to be poised for greatness and industry longevity, only to have since forgotten about them entirely. Whatever the explanation, these artists hit it big in mainstream markets with an appealing single and failed to deliver on the much-hyped follow-up.

The outlook's not all bad for our one-hit wonder makers, though. If you ever go to the dentist, you're pretty likely to hear their former hit cropping up on the inoffensive LITE FM radio station being piped into your examination room. With enough laughing gas, you can probably even transport yourself right back to where you were when you enjoyed the song the first time around. Really, with enough laughing gas, anything is possible.

Though they may not have stood the public opinion-administered test of sophomore CD success, in 1996 these songs were among the most-played on the airwaves and in Discmans (Discmen?) everywhere. Considering they don't even make Discmans anymore, these songs aren't the only thing that failed to live up to their initial fanfare and promise. Tough break all around.

Peaches (Presidents of the United States of America)

For the record, this is clearly not the video, just the song set to a bunch of peach-related images. It is sort of amusing though, right?

We just can't leave well enough alone in this country, can we? We're so full of repressed latent sexual content that we keep projecting it onto innocent songs. At least that's what PotUSA claim. The song is really just about peaches. Get over it, people. It's offensive music at its best, so please stop trying to assign it some dark deeper meaning.

Counting Blue Cars (Dishwalla)

This is one of those sort of melancholy-tinged songs that can really pull your mood in the general direction of ennui. Most often, this song is referenced for its line, "Tell me all your thoughts on God/'Cause I'd really like to meet her." Yep, her. How out there is Dishwalla? Just imagine what else they could have made quietly gender-bendingly shocking if they'd churned out a few more chart-toppers.

I Love You Always Forever (Donna Lewis)

I distinctly remember listening to an end-of-year 1996 countdown and hearing this song as the year's top chart hit, so imagine my surprise at learning that this is the last well-performing song we saw from Lewis. "I Love You Always Forever" has that light, airy, sticks-in-your-head-for-all-eternity quality to it. It may not be heavy on substance, but the song makes up for it with catchiness. So much catchiness. Be warned before listening: you're going to be singing this one for the rest of the day.

That Thing You Do (The Wonders)

Okay, so this one is sort of cheating. Technically, it's a song from a movie about a band who learns firsthand what it means to be one-hit Wonders (formerly one-hit Oneders-- feel free to mistakenly pronounce it Oh-need-ers. Really, go ahead. I won't tell.) This is a great movie with an undeniably catchy title song, so it's no surprise that the music translated well to the real-life pop charts. Of course, it wasn't quite at the movie's level of Beatlemania-esque hysteria, but it performed pretty well for a song released by a fictional group.

One of Us (Joan Osbourne)

Every once in awhile, the public just yearns for a pop song that dares to ask the tough rhetorical questions. It helps, of course, if the songwriter is articulate enough to include lyrics like, "Yeah, yeah/God is good/yeah, yeah/God is great/yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah." Throw out those old hymnals, people; this girl's a theological poet.

Macarena (Los Del Rio)

I know, I know, how many times can we talk about the Macarena here at Children of the 90s? Apparently the answer is something like bi-weekly, but we'll have to chalk it up to the fact that it was just that infectious. Forget parental warnings: his single needed a CDC warning. After the song enters your ear canal and undergoes a brief incubation period, The Macarena is doomed to be contagious to others for up to a week. We still see flare-ups of spontaneous outbreaks of the dance today. I think you never really get over it; we're all carriers of the dormant Macarena, our bodies poised and waiting for the song to strike so it can break out into well-ordered group line dancing.

Jellyhead (Crush)

Jellyhead is one of those songs that you might still be sort of embarrassed if it came up on your iPod on shuffle in front of other people but that you secretly relish listening to on your own. Its techno-pop dance beat is fun and upbeat, which might sound strange for what is essentially a breakup song. Somehow, though, Crush makes it wok.

Breakfast at At Tiffany's (Deep Blue Something)

It's a sweet song, but the premise is a little thin, don't you think? If you no longer had anything in common with your significant other, would a shared reminiscence about an Audrey Hepburn movie really rekindle your relationship? Especially considering that the band's original idea for the song had featured Hepburn's Roman Holiday instead. I guess, "So I said, what about, Ro-o-man Holiday" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Everything Falls Apart (Dog's Eye View)

This is another one of those deceptively upbeat songs, though to its credit "Everything Falls Apart" has significantly more depth than say, "Jellyhead." The music video is just so 90s, from the overacting antics of the lead singers with the brief vignette cutaways. That lead singer really rocks that grungy button-down left open over a t-shirt, too.

Closer to Free (The BoDeans)

This song was actually released in 1993, but it didn't get any chart action until 1996. It became the theme song for the TV drama Party of Five, assuring the song's quick ascendancy to popularity. The BoDeans also recorded a lesser-known theme for Jennifer Love-Hewitt's short-lived Party of Five spinoff Time of Your Life. Unfortunately, like the new show, it seemed their mass appeal was all tapped out.

Their time at the top may have been brief, but most these songs are memorable enough to spark a little nostalgia. Just because we don't have daily conversations about the rise and fall of Dog's Eye View and Dishwalla doesn't mean they're completely forgotten. If you hear one of these songs on the radio, it's more than enough to jar you back to 1996. Well, you know. Give or take some flannel and stringy hair.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shel Silverstein Poetry Books

It takes a special kind of adult to truly get inside a child's head. We so often forget the whimsical, imaginative world of childhood as we're hardened by our collective cynical ascendancy to adulthood. It's rare to find a grown-up who is able not only to get in touch with his inner child, but who is able to bring it to the surface and forge a lucrative career from it. While his friends are off becoming doctors and lawyers, he's got to be content with writing poetry about ponies and dragons. It's a tough job, certainly, but someone's got to do it.

Granted, Shel Silverstein is a special case in children's book authorship; his extensive range of career endeavors would likely make many parent purchasers of A Light in the Attic or Falling Up blush. Silverstein's work spanned drawing cartoons for Playboy magazine to writing STD-laden songs entitled "Don't Give a Dose to the One you Love the Most." And did I mention he wrote Johnny Cash's country music hit "A Boy Named Sue?" Oh, right, and in the late 80s he wrote nine plays for adult audiences. You can't say the man didn't have varied interests; Silverstein squeezed several lifetimes worth of lucrative artistic careers into a mere 67 years. Not too shabby.

To generations of kids in the mid-to-late 20th century, Silverstein provided us with a certain silliness that was simultaneously irreverent and irresistible. Not all parents were crazy about the sometimes inane and often ridiculous content in his poetry, but Silverstein undeniably sparked a love of reading in children. For the most part, adults were just happy to see their kids excited about reading; it may have not have been heavy literature--I don't think a poem entitled "Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too" registers in that class--but it was reading nonetheless. It was enough to make even the begrudgingest readers among us pick up a book of our own will and accord. That's pretty strong stuff.

Silverstein's unique sense of word choice and clever use of double meanings paired with cute illustrations provoked delight in young children. Finally, here was something right on pitch with the mysterious inner workings of a child's brain. Based on Silverstein's astronomical success, the recipe for writing a really effective children's poem seems to be as follows: write something kind of crazy. Show it to an adult. If the adult think it's crazy, stop drilling; you've hit children's literary oil. It's a tried and true formula: if adults find something to be crude and distasteful, that's the ultimate litmus test of its potential appeal to children.

Children have a far likelier propensity for possessing a sense of humor than their grown-up counterparts, so this formula was right on target. Silverstein found monumental success with his children's poetry anthologies, outlasting some of the 90s' most persistent blockbuster authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. "A Light in the Attic" spent a remarkable 182 weeks on the list following its 1981 release, proving that books geared toward children can have serious mass market appeal.

There was, admittedly, a certain naughtiness to his children's poetry that made children devour it so gleefully. Many of the poems included PG-rated punchlines or humorously violent turns of events that delighted children with its unexpectedness. For example:

That's funny, right? Come on, you know it's a little bit funny. That illustration is killer. Admittedly, toilet humor was prevalent, but it was used cleverly and quietly, like this:

All in all, fairly innocent stuff. It's not exactly racy content, it's just a joke. You know, those things with the set-ups, the misdirections, and the surprise endings? Kid love 'em.

Unfortunately, not everyone was on board with Silverstein's sense of humor. Wherever you find someone trying to bring something fun and enjoyable to children, you undoubtedly find a group of sour-faced adults hell-bent on killing every last speck of joy and laughter. Naysaying parents argued against a few specific poems, citing their content as being inappropriate for children and encouraging disrespectful and anti-authority behavior.

Some found contention with this poem in particular:

What a group of killjoys, huh? The phrase "lighten up" was coined with this group of ignorant indignants in mind. If your child reads this and immediately proceeds to your kitchen to smash dishes one by one in a subversive manner, then we'll talk. Until that point, we might all want to work on developing at least a mild sense of humor. It might diffuse some of that tension that's sure to arise from the brooding resentment your kids will unleash on you twenty years down the road.

Another poem from A Light in The Attic caught even more flack from sanctimonious parents for its allegedly outraging message. "Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony" detailed the story of a little girl who begged her parents for a pony, telling them she would die without it. They refused her the pony, as parents are wont to do, and she did indeed die. The poem closes with the line, "This is a good story to read your folks when they won't buy you something you want." Holy banned books, that's funny stuff.

It seems the moral of the story is that it's probably okay to expose kids to humorous material. In fact, I'd even prescribe it for your own children, if you have any. I'm not a doctor, though, so you might want to check with a professional before administering that hilarious treatment. Either way, I'd venture it's a pretty safe bet to say your kids aren't going to develop into antisocial sociopaths for having read a clever poem or two. Just a hunch.

We all read it, and we turned out okay, right? Well, to a point at least. Our snarkiness and self-satisfied sense of irony had to come from somewhere, right? Whatever the potentially damaging impact alleged by parent groups, the positive impact of children enjoying reading outweighs the negative of ending up incredibly uptight, humorless, and unyielding. So, thanks, Shel. We'll see you where the sidewalk ends.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some of our Favorite Stars' Unlikely 80s and 90s Horror Roles

Sometimes we forget that it takes years of careful publicist-managed grooming to create a respectable public persona for an actor. Strange as it may seem now, many celebrities who we respect and admire for their legitimate talent were once groveling for B-movie parts. Hey, everyone's got to start somewhere. The bottom seems like as good a first step as any.

Admittedly, not all of the actors on this list are Oscar contenders, but no matter their current position on the fame totem pole, they've certainly come a long way since these early parts. The sheer number of actors who got their start slumming in campy horror flicks are too many to list in a single post, so I present to you a small entertaining slice of now-famous actors' early horror roles. Extra credit has been awarded for worst titles, least necessary sequels, best punny tagline, and cheesiest poster art*.

Jennifer Aniston: Leprechaun

It's a tale as old as time: someone steals an ornery leprechaun's gold coins, they lock him up, the new homeowners release him, and he wreaks havoc by going on a homicidal spree. Same old story. Well, it should be, at least, considering they made 5 follow-up sequels. The most recent (2003) is Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. I can't believe I missed it.

Jennifer Aniston plays the new homeowner terrorized by the deviant little green guy. Lucky for her, she got her big break with Friends later that year. Without the Rachel role, who knows? She could have been starring in Leprechaun: Back 3 tha Hood.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Critters 3
In case you missed the first two installments, let me fill you in. There are these critters, see. And...that's it. The whole thing. A franchise is born.

Critters 3 is the first clip in this montage. DiCaprio's adorable. Almost as cute as the critters.

This is DiCaprio's first film, a breakthrough role in which he deftly maneuvers the role of the evil landlord's stepson. Spooky, right? This stepdad landlord is so evil that he gets comeuppance in the manner of being locked by DiCaprio in the basement with the critters. And you thought your family was dysfunctional.

Eva Mendes: Children of the Corn V: Field of Terror

I'll bet you never realized this film warranted so many sequels, but apparently these Children of the Corn have a lot of stories to tell. Eva Mendes had a major-ish role in this installment, playing a teenager who surrenders to the cult. She can't quite measure up to Alexis Arquette in the lead male role, but she has her moments.

Mariska Hargitay: Ghoulies

Really? Ghoulies? That' a movie? You know it's a top shelf kind of film when the cover has a low-budget monster popping out of a toilet. And the tagline "They'll get you in the end." Get it? Unfortunately. Really, that was the best they could do.

This. Is. Hilarious. If you're a Hargitay fan, I implore you to watch this. You won't be sorry.

Mariska Hargitay may have won us over as tough-on-sex-crimes officer Olivia Benson on Law and Order SVU, but back in 1985 she was accepting roles like "Donna in Ghoulies." You'd think having Jayne Mansfield for a mom would give you an in. You would be wrong.

Jim Carrey: Once Bitten

Aren't vampires hilarious? That was the central thesis of this 1985 vampire horror comedy starring Jim Carrey in his first major role. The plot is almost too ridiculous to warrant an in-depth study, but suffice it to say it was pretty terrible. At least it was a comedy: that's it's primary redeeming feature.

George Clooney: Return of the Killer Tomatoes and Return to Horror High

Clooney's lucky that he's got his good looks to fall back on: not all actors can achieve such monumental fame after starring in such humiliating horror sequels. I don't want to confuse you with too many clever plot details, so suffice it to say both movies involved an unnecessary revisiting of the first films' respectively ridiculous storylines. Things return.

Brad Pitt: Cutting Class

Get it? Cutting? These movie people are just too punny for words. This was Pitt's first major screen role, with his role as hunky high school basketball Dwight Ingalls establishing him as an up-and-comin hearthrob. Dwight Ingalls in possibly the most prototypical late 80s/early 90s movie character name: cheesy yet unlikely. I wonder if they have a mechanism where you can insert a normal-sounding name and then a corny 80s name like "Dash Harrington" or "Kassandra Kellogg" pops out.

Hilary Swank: Sometimes They Come Back Again

How's that for a sequel title? Sometimes They Come Back... Again. Someone on the writing team could use a refresher course on redundancy. Didn't they already come back? Is it really necessary to add that "again?" Especially when you've already got the "sometimes" in there to imply it happens periodically. It just highlights the fact that this movie is totally unnecessary. Well done.

Whatever my qualms with the title, it does have one redeeming quality: a future Oscar winner. Hilary Swank plays the main character's teenage daughter. I'd offer some more useful details, but to be honest I couldn't even make it through the synopsis. It's just that bad.

Katherine Heigl: Bug Buster and Bride of Chucky

I was going to put the Bug Buster trailer but it was so disgusting I thought it better to spare you. YouTube it at your own risk. If you are terrified of bugs like me, it may be traumatizing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Another two-for-one deal here for former B-movie stardom. Heigl may have caught our attention with her young role in 1994's My Fatehr the Hero opposite Gerard Depardieu, but it was a good 10 years before she caught her big break with Grey's Anatomy**. During this time she did a few stints on the horror circuit, most memorably as sassy teenager Jade Bride of Chucky, the fourth film in the Child's Play series. By this time they weren't even trying anymore; the series was teetering on the edge of self-referential parody.

That same year (1998) Heigl also appeared in Bug Buster, a film about massive mutant underwater cockroaches. Take a second, it's exactly as stupid as it sounds. To the film's credit, Scotty and Sulu from Star Trek are in it. Other than that, it's pretty much a Bug Buster. Right.

Somewhere along the way these stars caught their lucky break, but not before paying their dues with some pretty embarrassing horror flick gigs. It may not be their best work, but it'll be a part of their acting canon for life. Or at least they will stick around to forever haunt them in their readily fan-accessible IMDB pages. Spooky.

*The term "art" here has been used loosely
**To be fair, I also liked her on Roswell

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sock'em Boppers

Here's an idea: why not round up the kids for some good old fashioned fistfight practice? Don't worry, we'll give them a pair of comically giant inflatable boxing gloves, first. These youngsters won't have a mark on them after a few rounds in the imaginary ring, but they will get a taste for brutal violence. Sounds like a wise parenting purchase, no?

It's no wonder parent watchdog groups weren't crazy about these blow-up fighting gloves; they may have prevented us from getting too banged up, but they did, after all, promote violent fighting. What message, they asked, were we sending our kids in buying them a product whose sole purpose was to inflict simulated bodily harm on their friends and family? Because they didn't fully understand the lingering impact of a rhetorical question, they answered with, "A pretty terrible one." Not the subtlest of approaches, but hey, they got their point across.

These naysayers, like always, were hell-bent on sucking all of the fun (and in most cases, the inflatability-dependent air) out of a toy we legitimately enjoyed. At a time when parents' choices for toys for their children were increasingly dependent on the presence of some underlying educational value, Sock'em Boppers were not exactly a beacon of enlightenment emanating from the Toys 'R Us shelves.

To be fair to those protesting the toy's violent aim, the pro-Sock'em Boppers arguments were pretty flimsy. Some argued they promoted physical fitness, which might be true but doesn't build their case particularly well. That's like saying, "Well, they might have some aerobic benefit to ordinarily sedentary kids...but only if they really go at it." Others claimed that kids would probably resort to roughousing anyway, so why not give them the luxury of a little padding. It was a small price to pay to save a trip or two to the Emergency Room, right?

Foremost, though, these things were fun. What other reason do you really need to endorse a toy? There was something uniquely exhilarating about beating the crap out of our friends and siblings with no foreseeable consequence. It's no secret that kids have an excess of expendable energy; what better way to release it than in a violent show of fistfighting glory?

The Sock'em Boppers advertisements kept it light, calling them "more fun than a pillow fight." This was, of course, a totally unfounded claim. They never backed it up with empirical research illustrating the perceived fun quotient of Sock'em Bopping to pillow fighting. Technically, this was just their theory, and a convenient one at that. After all, our houses were bursting at the drywall seams with pillows. We could fight with those for free. For these babies, though, our parents would have to shell out ten or fifteen bucks to ensure our hours-enduring amusement.

The marketing strategy behind these was pretty solid. You couldn't buy just one pair of Boppers. Well, yes, technically the store would let you out its doors without sending the Sock'em Bopper-directed legal enforcers after you, but a single pair wouldn't do you much good. Unless you intended for your kid to punch himself in the face for an indeterminate period of play time, you'd have to invest in at least one more set.

What they didn't warn us about, though, was the fact that these oversized air-laden hand guard were susceptible to pop at any moment. It's all fun and games until some kid busts through his Bopper and is left punching his little brother in the face unprotected. I'm not sure away, but fist to face contact is a pretty painful experience. In theory, we were all just one leaky Bopper away from an assault charge.

Danger aside, these gloves had the power to amuse and engage us for hours at a time. We could beat up parents, siblings, friends. The possibilities were endless and the potential was great. Their contribution to the future aggressiveness of impressionable young children was a small price to pay for a toy that could both entertain and wear out an overly energetic and generally exhausting specimen of child. It may not have been parenting at its finest, but it a tradeoff many of our parents were willing to concede in the name of their sanity.

Sock'em Boppers were so much more than just their original boxing glove line; their product catalog include all sorts of other watered-down versions of generally dangerous weapons. No need to worry if fists aren't your weapon of choice: Sock'em Boppers has got you covered with a full array of bop-worthy products. Boxing not your thing? Why not enjoy a round of fencing with our inflatable Sock'em Swords? How about a punching bag? Novelty fist with punchball attached? Our pals at Sock'e thought of everything. Well, everything to amuse violently inclined youth, that is.

Formerly known as Socker Boppers, these rebranded inflatables had been around for dozens of years ebfore their resurgence in the 90s. Socker Boppers were released in the early 70s, meaning these things had been polluting (and possibly rattling from impact) young brains for years by the time we got to them. Boppers are time tested, and apparently they passed. In your face, naysayers. With a Sock'em Bopper, though. So, you know, it won't hurt. That's the whole idea.

These toys are still around, so you still have time to invest in a pair or two if your parents deprived you some much-needed aggression release in your youth. Much like the Slip n' Slide, the potential risk of bodily harm fell a distant second place to the far more compelling fun factor. After all, what fun are toys without a slight injury risk factor? There's a reason they make kids so durable: so they can be punched in the face repeatedly with inflatable boxing gloves and still be asking for more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great 90s Movie Cameos

There's something special about an unexpected cameo movie moment; watching celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris or Mike Tyson play humorously warped versions of themselves in Harold and Kumar or The Hangover tickles our collective fancy in a way that few comedic situations can. Whether the celebrity is playing a version of themself or another bit part entirely, the element of surprise is usually enough to bring us on board with the choice and applaud the creativity and wit of the casting team.

It's the old It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World trick. For those of you out the who never saw the classic 1963 comedy, it featured cameos from what seemed to be every comedian living at the time of filming. It seemed their attitude was if one guest star can bolster the humor, hundreds will make it rip-roaringly hilarious.

There's some debate over what constitutes a cameo. Certainly playing yourself will get you a bona fide cameo credit, but what about appearing onscreen in a small unpublicized role? The jury's not quite in on that one, but for the sake of enjoying these moments at face value wihtout nitpicking over pop culture afficionado sense of superiority-building details, we'll include them in our list.

For your convenience, cameos have been arranged by arbitrary types. These aren't industry standard labels; in fact, I just made them up. That said, you're welcome to use them as you will in everyday conversation...but only if you end that conversation with a hearty endorsement of You've got to say the whole URL or else face some serious copyright infringement allegations. Sorry, I looked into it. The regulations are airtight.

The "In" Joke

This type of cameo usually has some sort of underlying punchline that's not overtly stated, but it amusing if you know what you're looking at. If done well, it's meta-comedy at its finest. There's a lot of potential for flopping here, so any movie that pulls off the trick deserves some major accolades.

Martin Sheen in Hot Shots Part Deux

This is pure genius on so many levels. The reference to Martin Sheen's roles in Platoon and Apocalypse Now! combined with the shout out (literally) for their joint film Wall Street. This is the ultimate meta-reference cameo. It just goes to show, when it works, it works.

Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy in Coming to America

Okay, okay, so sue me; this isn't technically from the 90s, but I love it so much that 1988 will have to be close enough to make the list. Also, the quality of the clip is atrocious, but it's something you can willingly overlook in the name of good crossovers. Ameche and Bellamy reference their roles as Randolph and Mortimer in the earlier Murphy vehicle Trading Places. The cameo is just brief and fleeting enough to be likable.

The Out-Of-Left-Field Whammy

These appearances present a picture totally and inexplicably out of sync the actor or celebrity's perceived character. They're not playing themselves (see "The Extras Approach" below), but they're playing a character as whom we wouldn't have thought to cast them.

Bob Saget in Half Baked

For those of us unfamiliar with Saget's raunchier stand-up, this was the ultimate out-of-left field whammy. Danny Tanner would never say this. Interestingly enough, the line is dubbed for cable TV as Saget saying he sucks "feet" for coke. That actually just made it so much worse.

Dave Letterman in Cabin Boy

I'll say up front, this is not a great movie. It's not even a good movie. This cameo, in fact, is probably Cabin Boy's only major redeeming feature.

Dave Letterman as...salty fisherman? It just doesn't add up. His acting is nothing to write home about, but there's something legitimately funny about this scene. Unfortunately, that's something of an anomaly for Cabin Boy. Writer and star Chris Elliot was a former writer on Letterman's show, so it's only fair for him to give his old boss his due by letting Letterman call him a "fancy lad."

Mel Gibson in Fathers' Day

It's footage of this cameo exists online in any visual aid-style format. You'll just have to watch the movie for yourself.

Well,at least it was out of left field when we still knew Gibson as a heartthrob leading man and not a religious enthusiast with occasional tendencies to spew anti-Semitic remarks and refer to waitresses as "Sugar Tits." I believe Gibson is credited as something like "pierced guy" in this movie.

Elvis Costello in Spice World

Actually, make that Elvis Costello, Elton John, Meatloaf, Bob Geldof, Anthony Hopkins...what exactly are all of these respectable people doing taking bit parts in Spice World? It baffles the mind. Perhaps they were all just serious supporters of girl power.

Alanis Morissette in Dogma

This technically could also be characterized as The Big Surprise, particularly because it comes close to the end of the movie. The Out-of-Left-Field Whammy on this one is that apparently Kevin Smith thinks the celebrity who best exemplifies godliness is Alanis Morissette. It's a little bit ironic, don't you think? By her standards, I mean. Not in the actual sense of irony in its proper usage.

The Big Surprise

We don't know why exactly they're there, but we're thankful they showed up. This sometimes requires a double take to determine the star's identity, usually because either a)they are in disguise b)their appearance was unadvertised and unexpected or c) it is really, really unlikely that they would agree to this.

Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride

Some might argue this is more of a small role than a cameo, but Crystal's disguised appearance tilts my judgment more toward a Big Surprise cameo.

Charleton Heston in Wayne's World 2

Really? Charleton Heston in Wayne's World 2? Really?

Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction

This is a great movie and a great scene. Walken owns this cameo, if you want to classify it as such. It's just one of the best. Short but utterly memorable.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross

Remember when Alec Baldwin used to play serious roles? There's some debate as to whether his brief seven minute appearance in the film constitutes a cameo or just a bit part, but there's a general consensus about his skill and adeptness with the role. Geez, he was skinny here. To his credit, though, he's still got that hair.

The Extras Approach

If you've never seen the HBO series Extras, here's a quick run-down of the premise. A celebrity plays a twisted tongue-in-cheek version of him or herself that doesn't usually mesh with their public persona.

Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer

I can only hope that if I ever get bumped to first class, Billy Idol will introduce me over the mike. He's such a badass. Idol still pulls off his 80s look so many years later. Well, sort of. At least as much as he did the first time around.

Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore

I always knew Barker had it in him. Barker beats up Happy Gilmore when they're unfortunately paired for a celebrity golf tournament, and let me tell you, it is awesome. Bob Barker is such a sport for agreeing to this completely ridiculous cameo.

Brett Favre in There's Something About Mary
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Geez, Favre has been around a long time. I used to have a huge crush on him, which was taboo for me as a Vikings fan. Luckily, now I have a legitimate license to swoon over this scene. Favre is actually pretty funny, here, too. Sometimes these athlete cameos fall flat, but he works it smoothly.

The Good Sport

Whether you're the subject of a biopic or forced to endure a questionable remake of a film you starred in years earlier, these lesser-noticed cameos prove their subjects to be good sports about the whole ordeal.

John Lovell in Apollo 13

I couldn't find a better still or video clip, but the back of that navy captain's head is the real astronaut Mr. John Lovell himself, congratulating his fictional biopic self (Tom Hanks). After all he went through, he absolutely deserves some screen time. And, you know, a whole movie detailing the failure of his mission. That would work, too.

Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich

The real Erin Brockovich appears in her eponymous film as waitress wearing a nametag bearing the name "Julia." Get it? Because Julia Roberts is playing her? What will these writers come up with next?

Larry Flynt in People vs. Larry Flynt

Yep, that's Flynt himself at 1:01, filling in a cameo as the judge in the movie about his own life. Like most Good Sport cameos, it's a brief one, but it's a respectable nod to the man himself.

These scenes won't usually make or break a movie, but they do have the power to entertain us on a totally unexpected level. A cameo is like a little surprise party; you go in expecting things to be business as usual, and then the unforeseen kicks in and spices it up. Whatever the style or reason behind these bit roles, you've got to appreciate the celebrity's willingness to play along. More often than not, their few minutes onscreen will be the ones we go on to remember.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Rarely does a sitcom become as pervasive and persistently popular as Friends. It maintained a surprisingly consistent level of quality and popularity throusghout its ten-year run, particularly for a show that was based on such a simple premise. As the name implies, the subject matter in question was, put simply, friends. Apparently all it takes is a group of eclectic and mismatched personality types with a penchant for local coffee houses living in unrealistically mammoth and well-decorated Manhattan apartments to hold our attention. Who knew?

Friends's large ensemble cast was a great credit to its success, utilizing six then lesser-known twenty-something actors as principals with relatively equal screen time. So many sitcoms gave us a main character or two with a smattering of conveniently prominent or absent sidekick roles, so it was refreshing to see such a strong balance of multiple main characters. Conceived by David Crane and Marta Kauffman in the early 90s, they sought to explore the lives of young adults making it on their own for the first time in a fast-paced New York setting. Kauffman and Crane teamed up with producer Kevin Bright to develop a show that captured a relatively universal experience of finding oneself post-college.

Tentatively (thankfully) entitled Insomnia Cafe, the trio pitched the show to NBC in late 1993. NBC liked the idea, so the three went to work on their pilot now somewhat less tentatively called Friends Like Us. They also liked the pilot, investing in the series that the creators now called Six of One. Who knew a show could cycle through so many terrible working titles before even going into full-scale production? Especially considering the final choice for title ended up being such a no-brainer. As Chandler Bing might say, "Could it be any simpler?"

That level of simplicity was what sold not only NBC but a vast proportion of the sitcom-viewing public on this fledgling show. The creators' original pitch for show described it as being "[...about sex, love, relationships, careers, a time in your life when everything's possible. And it's about friendship because when you're single and in the city, your friends are your family," giving the premise an open-ended array of endless scenarios, couplings, and experiences for its main characters.

As so many of us children of the 90s are just now coasting through that stage of our lives that Bright, Kauffman, and Crane envisioned as the universal connecting experience to bolster the show's appeal, it's strange to think so many of us were major fans of the show at a point in our life that in no way intersected with that of the major characters. At the time of its premiere in 1994, I was only nine years old, yet somehow my friends and I were convinced we found the show hilarious. More likely is that we initially found it a little bit confusing; a vast proportion of the humor and situations certainly must have gone straight over our heads. It was just so likable, though, that we couldn't help getting caught up in the Friends fervor,

At the time, Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey seemed like such grown ups to me and my peers, so it's always odd catching an early episode in syndicated rerun and realizing that I'm possibly now as old as or older as they were then. If you never got into it or haven't seen any of the early seasons in a few years, you might want to invest a few hours in doing so. There's a reason the show became such a quick hit: the producers nailed their intended delivery of that universal twenty-something experience. Their pitch about your friends being your family may be a little cheesy, but it also rings true for so many of us at the stage in our life between extended adolescence and responsible parenthood,.

So much of the show's charm lay in the quirkiness and depth of its characters; without their idiosyncratic personalities and strong performances from the cast of comically gifted actors, there would be no show. The majority of the action focused on our six principal characters:

Chandler Bing

The One With All The Sarcasm. Chandler is the resident wise-cracking smartass, always quick to issue a cutting quip or a self-deprecating witticism. He's wound up pretty tightly, though his eventual marriage to Monica gave him a more playful side.

Phoebe Buffay

The One With The Offbeat, Out There Personality. Phoebe not only marched to the beat of her own drummer, she seemed to have invented a new style of drumming entirely. Her singer/songwriter escapades at the local Central Perk coffee shop feature gems like "Smelly Cat", which is indeed about a cat with a less-than-appealing odor. I suppose her eclectic early years on the street could be the source of her general oddity, so all in all she turned out pretty okay.

Rachel Green

The One With the Semi-Reformed Princess Behavior Tendencies. We first meet Rachel in the debut episode as a rain-soaked bride who left her groom at the altar, claiming she was getting married for all the wrong reasons. Once something of a spoiled brat, her reconnection with childhood friend Monica sets on her on, if not a totally straight path, at least a less wavy and more grounded one. Rachel's on-again-off-again with Ross is a major plot point throughout the show's ten-year lifespan.

Monica Gellar

The One With The Serious Neuroses. Monica is as obsessive compulsive and anal retentive as they come, so it's a good thing Courtney Cox managed to make her so charming. The show had originally wanted to cast Cox as Rachel, but she preferred the Monica role and convinced them she could make it her own. Monica is Ross's sister, Rachel's childhood friend, and Chandler's eventual wife. Oh, and she also used to be fat--that's one of the show's favorite retrospective punchlines, often through fat suit technology.

Ross Gellar

The One With the All the Lovable Nerdiness. It takes a special kind of endearingly intellectual guy to not only choose a career path in paleontology but also to bore his friends with the details. Ross's first wife turned out to be a lesbian, though the truth didn't come out until after she became pregnant with his son. Ross excels in karate, is a sometime-monkey daddy, and has compelling evidence that he and Rachel were indeed on a break at that crucial juncture in their relationship.

Joey Tribbiani

The One With Limited Intellectual Capacity. It's okay, he gets all the ladies, so it's really sort of a trade-off. All he has to do was issue a signature, "How you doin'?" and the women were putty in his hands. Joey and Chandler were roommates for a bulk of the sitcom's run, with the two engaging in all sorts of comedic apartment-sharing situations. He is a sometimes-working actor, most notably for his role as Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives. Joey was the only one to get his one spin-off, though I think we all know how that turned out.

Friends kept the writing sharp over its extensive ten-year run, a stretch that would leave many lesser sitcoms grasping at cop-out storylines. That's not to say Friends didn't use its fair share of guerrilla ratings tactics: inane plot twists, surprise couplings, and most notably the end-of-season leave-us-on-the-edge-of-our-seats-and-stick-us-with-three-months-of-reruns-why-don't-you cliffhangers. Those things were brutal. What's that? Ross said Rachel's name instead of Emily's at his wedding? And now we have all summer to contemplate the repercussions? Awesome. I was hoping to work on my tan and read the classics, but now I'm stuck pondering this one for all of my waking hours until it can be resolved in the fall season premiere.

It was all part of the show's signature charm, though. Sure, there was a fair amount of reliance on gimmicks and well-worn sitcom territory, but the cast chemistry and smart writing brought in all together in a new way. If you flip on your TV at any given time of evening or night, you're pretty likely to find Friends still playing on at least three or four different channels in multiple timeslots. It's perseverance in syndication speaks volumes to its impact and success. More importantly, though, it's funny. When so few sitcoms actually make us laugh, it's a legitimate claim to fame to be The One With All of the Good Jokes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Polly Pocket and Mighty Max

What better toy to give curious young oral fixators than a little compact full of tiny, swallowable, and potentially delicious component pieces? These things were a choking hazard waiting to happen. In some cases, it didn't wait; it just hacked and coughed and received the child-size version of the Heimlich Maneuver. Yech.

Even with the building safety concerns over offering children protozoan-proportioned playthings, Polly Pocket and Mighty Max quickly became some of the most popular toys around. It seemed kids just couldn't get enough of the pocket-sized playsets. A brief choking stint was more than worth it in exchange for a chance to carry around an entire action figure universe in your pocket. I mean, really.

The concept behind Mighty Max and Polly Pocket was roughly the same mold adjusted for preset gender stereotypes. Both play sets featured small plastic cases that opened into a miniature dollhouse or action figure setting. Inside the fun chamber lay a slew of tiny hard plastic figurines and movable set pieces. There were all types of different scenarios and settings, but these toys were generally appealing on the basis of their small-size gimmick.

Unfortunately, their extreme portability made Mighty Max and Polly Pocket pieces extremely prone to loss. At approximately an inch or so in height, these toys were probably too small to be entrusted in the care of small children. Once you lost the main characters, the entire playset was rendered utterly useless until your parents came through with replacements. All in all, probably not the most well thought-out children's toy venture.

Logic aside, these things were hot sellers; their tininess was a novelty on which we couldn't afford to miss out. We could take these things anywhere. It was a pretty creative idea, of course: a dollhouse that fits in your pocket. It's like the doll version of a smartphone. Something that used to be a sedentary activity with a lot of bulky hardware was reduced to a convenient pocket-sized item that works on-the-go. Not totally necessary, but once someone has one we've all got to scramble for ownership.

The premise may have been the same for the Polly Pocket and Mighty Max toys, but the nature of the miniature worlds were vastly different. I was a Polly Pocket girl myself, but after further examination of the Mighty Max product line, I'm feeling just a smidgen underwhelmed with my tiny toy selection. Let's take a quick peek at what Mattel had to offer us, shall we? I think you might get an idea of what I mean.

The girls got this:

With a jazzy theme song like that, how could you deny the allure of these pearlized plastic chambers?

Whereas the boys got this:

Yes, that's right. Your eyes do not deceive you; girls get a little pink seashell-style enclosed dollhouse with a giggly cartoon spokessprite, and boys get a Skull Dungeon. In the boys' version, our hero sends a Frankenstein-esque monster plummeting to his death from the second story of the evil doctor's lair. In the girls', to contrast, our little blond darling gleefully enjoys a ride on a playground slide. Unsurprisingly, the girl version of the toy originated from a dad setting up his daughter with a super sweet makeup compact-cum-dollhouse. The boys' incarnation, we can only speculate, originated from awesome.

It may not have been a politically correct gender divide, but it was pretty standard toy marketing for the 90s. The girls got the vapid but cute dollies and boys get the guts and gore. It was just the natural McDonald's Happy Meal-style female/male breakdown.

That's not to say there was no gender cross-over with these things, though I'd put pretty strong odds that more parents felt comfortable buying Mighty Max toy sets for their daughters than Polly Pocket for their sons. There were also many, many more points of interaction available with the Mighty Max franchise. The Polly Pocket mini playshells may have come first, but the Mighty Max toys branched out into a legitimate mini-media empire.

Mighty Max became an animated TV series in 1993, following the adventures of young "Cap-Bearer" Max. Max receives in the mail a magical hat that granted him the power to transport him all over the world to fight evil in all of its monstrous cartoon incarnations. It had plenty of charm, plus it didn't hurt that Rob Paulsen provided the voice of Max. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, we're talking about the voice of Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pinky and Yakko from Animaniacs (and later Pinky and the Brain), and Throttle from Biker Mice from Mars. I know, I know. Throttle. I'll give you a few moments to gather yourself following such exciting animation revelations.

Nintendo subsequently developed the Mighty Max character into a Super Nintendo game, leaving Polly Pocket in the toy empire dust as she languished in her makeup compact-style shell shaped mini-playhouses. Mighty Max had quickly grown into a small-scale multimedia franchise. To be fair, from a Super Nintendo perspective it's way more fun to battle evil zombies than to play quietly with friends in your upstairs nursery. Polly Pocket just didn't have the cross-marketing potential to be developed into a game like this one:

In comparison, the Polly Pocket empire was far more modest. To its credit, though, it ended up the franchise with the most staying power.

So, to review. Girls donned shiny ballerina tutus to hang with Polly, Dana, Stephanie, Billy, Becky in one of these:

And boys fought nuke rangers and neutralized zomboids in one of these:

It may not be a particularly enlightened marketing strategy, but hey, it worked. We all got what we wanted, more or less. In my case, I'm tempted to say less. I could have battled the killer T-Rex in the dino lab. Instead, I lost valuable formative hours revealing wrapped stuffed animals in Polly's Party-Time Surprise. Yes, that's right; I might have ended up with aspirations to be an adventure-seeking archeologist, but instead I learned the value of always bringing a well-wrapped birthday present with a shimmery bow. Reach for the stars.

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