Friday, January 29, 2010

Children of the 90s Ode to Discontinued 90s Foods, Part Deux

Well, children of the 90s, it's that time again. I've had some email requests from readers about some of their favorites 90s snacks, so I thought we were due for another discontinued 90s food roundup. If these commercials bring back some cravings, you're probably out of luck. Most of these foods, despite their hearty nostalgic value, have been discontinued somewhere along the way. On a good day, you might be able to find a couple of these on grocery store shelves outside of the US, but for the most part any cravings for these goodies will go unfulfilled.

For one reason or another, the producing companies of these delicious (though often un-nutritious) treats decided it just wasn't profitable enough to keep churning them out on their assembly lines. In our day some of these might have had impressive cafeteria trade value, but they've since dropped in kid coolness capital. All we have left is our memories...and for some of us, imbalanced blood sugar and an increased risk for early onset diabetes. We weren't the most health-conscious generation of kids, but we knew what we liked. Food manufacturers must have known, too, as they supplied us with copious amounts of nutritionally devoid options like these:

Pop Qwiz

At the time, this seemed like a true technological innovation in kid's snack food. Pop Secret released this kid-pleasing product in the early 90s, proving that children are the only group of consumers willing to eat incredibly unnatural-hued foodstuffs. Pop Qwiz was mostly gimmick and little substance, but the gimmick was more than enough to hold our attention and prompt countless tantrums in the popcorn aisle of the supermarket. Hey, I'd still be willing to throw myself on the ground and wail inconsolably for a bag of Pop Qwiz.

The name sounds far more educational than the value of the product warrants. I guess that's why they misspelled "Qwiz", to let us all know this popcorn snack was not academically relevant, nor would it offer us extra credit opportunities. Instead, the concept was rather simple: each bag of Pop Qwiz featured a different food-colored mass of kernels. The packaging was unassuming, leaving us kids to impatiently speculate on the bag's contents while still in the microwave. Would it be blue? Green? Purple? This eagerness for answers undoubtedly led to many oil-based burns.

Doritos 3-D

Our good friends at Doritos had no shortage of creative nacho-flavored chip incarnation ideas in the 90s. Every few weeks or so, it seemed they were debuting a new member of the ever-growing Dorito family. The short-lived Doritos 3-D were especially popular, literally adding a new dimension to our Dorito consumption. They fit in well with the "X-Treme!" trends in 90s advertising and product promotion, but they clearly couldn't stand the test of time. Air-filled pockets of salty goodness can only hold our attention for so long.

Planter's Cheez Balls

I know this ad is older than the 90s, but it was the best I could find. I think at a certain point, these defied advertising. They were pretty ubiquitous as a nutrition-free party snack food

Remember when Planter's used to make a whole bunch of other snack foods? I always thought it a bit weird that Mr. Peanut veered from his legume comfort zone to promote all classes of salty snacks. Cheez Balls (and Cheez Curls, and the briefly available PB Crisps) were once a universal party food. People were forever setting these unnaturally orange puffed balls out in bowls at social gatherings. There was something uniquely satisfying to popping off the tub's cap and hearing the release of suctioned air when you pulled the foil top and released the Cheez Balls into the wild. Unfortunately, you'll have to settle for the generics if you're craving Cheez Balls these days; Planter's has since discontinued the snack. You can, however, get a no-brand version at Sam's Club or Costco if you really need to satisfy your urge. Unfortunately, they're only available in giant tub sizes.

French Toast Crunch

90s children's cereal trends show an unprecedented obsession of taking ordinary foods, miniaturizing them, and then convincing us they're a perfectly natural part of a balanced breakfast. French Toast Crunch was a perfect example, giving us bowlfuls of tiny French toastlets that we were expected to drown in milk and eat with a spoon. They didn't taste all that much like French toast, but they were a novelty and were thus deserving of our attention.

If you're lucky enough to live in Canada, you've still got access to this delicious breakfast treat. Publicly-funded health care comes second to the allure of starting every day with a big bowl of miniature processed imitation egg-soaked cinnamon bread? Actually, scratch that, make health care first. Daily intake of this sugar-laden cereal probably warrants regular doctor's visits.

Sprinkle Spangles

Here we go again with the miniatures. Sprinkle Spangles were a sort of Cookie Crisp knockoff, featuring sprinkle-spangled miniature sugar cookies and passing them off as cereal. How any of us ever got this one into the grocery cart and past our parent's wary watchful eye is beyond me, but the concept has yet to lose its appeal for me. I still think a bowl of these would really hit the spot when I'm craving something sweet.

Cheetos Paws

Like Doritos 3-D, Cheetos came out with an alternately shaped version of its original product and tried to pass it off as something new. Naive as we were as kids, we were ecstatic to find out our favorite orange finger-dying munchies now came in an easily grabbable pawprint shape. It was sort of like a crystal ball, really. It showed us exactly what our hands would look like if we engaged in gloveless Cheeto consumption. Well, the color part, at least. They usually didn't morph into paws.

Sodalicious Fruit Snacks

Sodalicious wins for best made-up food flavor descriptor. It's not soda per se, but it is delicious in a way similar to soda. How can we hybridize these words? Genius, I tell you.

Magic Middles

I'm getting a little drooly just watching that commercial. The name is right on: those middles were pure, sweet magic. Those Keebler elves sure are crafty. They realized they could hide even more delicious chocolate inside of an already chocolate-laden cookie, obscuring the extra sugar content from our parents. Oh hey, I'm just eating this chocolate chip cookie. With a candy bar's worth of chocolate inside. Ha ha! Gotcha.

Dannon's Sprinklins

We weren't allowed much junk food at my house, so we had to settle for the best imitation. That is, foods that incorporated sugary goodness without actually being all that sugary or good themselves. In this case, we had to suffer through some does-a-body-good yogurt in order to get to the good stuff: sprinkles. I challenge you to find a kid who doesn't like sprinkles. They're pure sugar and they're colorful. It's basically a kid's confectionery dream. I always utilized good sprinkle strategy. I'd try to conserve as many as I could for the end, but to a healthy food-disparaging kid, I'd usually have to give in and spread them throughout the cup. I just couldn't stomach it without the "Sprinkl'" part.

Like many of you, I didn't notice the gradual disappearance of these goodies from my grocery store shelves. Over time I'd eventually notice that some of my old childhood favorites had gone the way of the Dunkaroos. Unless they decide to ignore low profit margins and get swept up in the 90s nostalgia, it's unlikely we'll be seeing most of these gracing our supermarket aisles any time soon. We'll just have to settle for our delicious memories. Either that, or trying to track down some packages on Amazon or eBay. It just comes down to how seriously you consider expiration dates.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Laser Pointers

It's strange to think a tiny red beam of light could bring so much childhood joy and so much adult annoyance all in its compact key chain-attachable form. Especially when you consider that this device was originally intended to aid lecturers in their presentations, it seems like a bit of a leap to imagine children having much of a use for the thing. I doubt the inventors of the laser pointers sat around their brainstorming table musing about alternative uses for their product. "Well, how about pointing it at people's crotches on movie screens? Do you think that could be a selling point?"

No, it was up to us kids to decide on the most irritating and teacher-grating uses for the laser pointer. Anyone who believes children aren't naturally creative simply have not examined the case of the laser pointer. It takes a savvy mind to take a tool meant for one of the most boring possible purposes and changing the function to delight their insatiable appetite for mischief.

Kids are far craftier and more inventive than adults usually give them credit for. The only problem is, they generally tend to direct this mind power toward the deviant. As kids we're not about finding solutions to the world's problems; we don't have that kind of mental breadth or empathy. We're in it solely for the entertainment.

Of course, kids have been partaking in this sort of tomfoolery for generations. It doesn't take much to entertain a child, and it doesn't take much to irritate an adult. The power of these two forces combined leads to a dangerous and potent cocktail of annoying proportions. The day a kid realized he could temporary blind a teacher by using the reflection of the sun off his watch, you better bet that's exactly what he did. It's not that he didn't care about her well-being. It's just that he cares more about delighting his impressionable classmates.

Such was also the case with laser pointers, a sort of updated version of this blinded-by-the-light childhood fancy. It's one thing to use "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" as an empty threat, but quite another to have to really mean it. That's not to say these things were actually capable of loosening an eye from its physical socket. I'd imagine they'd have been long banned from business conferences and conventions if that was the case. They could cause some temporary visual discomfort, though, and this was enough to have angry parent watchdog-type groups up in arms over the issue.

Fun for pets, too! From

Many of these uptight groups were enraged that parents were buying these little lights for their children. They wrote angry letters to school principals and district superintendents about the harm in these kids playing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader with their makeshift light sabers. These devices, they stressed, were not toys. They didn't care how hilarious it was to illuminate their teacher's private parts with a pesky red dot. They just wanted them banned.

To be fair, there might eb some legitimately harmful implications of shining a little red dot on someone. I suppose if someone was intensely overly suspicious, they could assume that the telltale red dot was indicative of a sniper alignment. In fact, in a brief internet search on kids and laser pointers, I came across a very angry letter from a proud gun owner claiming it's not her fault if she panics over that little red light and pulls her gun on a kid. Now, I'm all for consequences for our actions, but that seems a tad harsh. That's like saying we should approve the death penalty for stealing lunch money. The sense of proportion seems just a smidge out of whack.

Incensed critics of laser-pointers-as-toys even cried foul on an episode of Seinfeld that chronicled George's misadventures with a laser pointer-wielding miscreant. The part I like best about this episode (entitled "The Puerto Rican", by the way) is that the perpetrator is actually a grown man. It just goes to show that immaturity is something we can all share. It's not exclusive to preadolescent boys. If anything, the drive to stir up trouble only grows with age. Well, to a point, that is. At a certain age, we all morph into the crotchety critics who cried foul on these glorious sources of entertainment in the first place. Until then, though, we have a free pass to behave like this:

The craze of young people utilizing laser pointers for pure entertainment was a short-lived one. At a point, the novelty wore off and we were once again able to attend a movie matinee without having to worry about the endless distraction of a roaming point of light. In a way, though, you have to miss the innocence and easy distractability of your youth. Sure, the things were annoying, but they represented a certain juvenile sense of humor that's tough to recapture in an age of ever-increasing technological output.

Now that kids today have a wealth of information and gadgetry at their immediate disposal, it's tough to imagine them getting as much of a kick out of a red bedotted movie. On the other hand, maybe there's a common bond that transcends generations that brings us together. I'm willing to venture that deep down, no matter in which generation you grew up, you will find certain things intrinsically amusing. So to today's kids, I say enjoy your easily amused youth. We'll catch you on the other side when you're getting all crotchety and George Costanza about it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Ones that Got Away: 90s Shows that Ended with Cliffhangers

Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, worrying yourself awake over Angela Chase's eventual choice of high school beau? Do you find your mind racing over the endless possibilities, considering the implications of taking a pro-Jordan or pro-Brian bias? No, no, of course you don't. That's what I'm here for. To carry your unshouldered burden of those unsolved 90s pop culture mysteries.

It's the ultimate case of The One That Got Away. We found a TV series we enjoyed, we became invested in the characters and plot lines, and then suddenly the reality of poor ratings and low ad revenues kicked in and the network would yank it from its lineup. This is disappointing in any case, but it's especially vexing when the writers leave important plot threads dangling. We never saw it coming. At least when a series that plans its own finale, we get that closure we so desperately crave. Everything wraps up neatly and we can all sleep soundly knowing that our characters have found their peace.

Sometimes, though, the writers may not know they're teetering on the brink of imminent cancellation. They write a season finale as a cliffhanger, hoping to keep their loyal viewers in suspense of a surprising twist in the next season's premiere episode. We're all waiting anxiously for our favorite show's return, eager for the answers to our most pressing plot questions when we hear the bad news: the show has been canceled. The canon on its storylines is officially closed, and we're left to speculate forever on the true nature of the show's intentions. I'm still vacillating over the whole Jordan/Brian ordeal, and it's been over ten years.

Home Improvement

Like many young girls of my time, the show started its decline in my mind the minute JTT left. It just wasn't the same without his endearing floppy-haired precociousness. Aside from my own bitterness at his departure, most viewers had a bigger issue with the iffy series finale. After nine years, you would think they would at least have given us a little something to hold onto.

The final episode features a wealth of deliberations for the Taylor family. Tim films his final Tool Time and producers beg him to stay. Jill gets a job offer to be a psychologist in Indiana. It looks like they're going to Indiana, moving their house one piece at a time...or are they? Yup, we potentially got Dallas'ed. Is it a dream? We'll never know.

They did, however, at least have the common courtesy to leave us with a cheesy montage and a final curtain call:

Caroline in the City

This show may not have been quite as culturally persevering as Home Improvement, but it did fare pretty well for awhile in NBC's Thursday night line-up. The writers dish up another heaping serving of What Might Have Been, though they leave us to ponder whether or not it will be. Caroline's all set to marry Richard, he tells her he doesn't really want kids, she freaks out a bit. Fast forward six months, Caroline's about to marry Randy, and wouldn't you know it, there's Richard! Who would've thought? Anyway, the clip isn't available anywhere on the interwebs, so you'll have to settle for this montage of Caroline and Richard and just hope that was the finale's intention.

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Remember, if you can think back this far, a time before Terri Hatcher was a Desperate Housewife and Dean Cain a desperate Ripley's Believe it or Not host. In the 90s, these two embodied the updated Superman and Lois Lane. The series' last episode is a real puzzler, though. The two find a baby on their doorstep with a note. We don't get much more than that. They thought the show would get picked up for another season, but we were stuck with this ending. If it helps, though, one of the writers later revealed that the baby was a Krypton royal who they needed to shield from deadly assassins. I think I liked it better when I didn't know.


Someone's pregnant! Moesha's brother's been kidnapped! It's all pretty exciting stuff, but unfortunately we don't get to find out what happened. They'd originally intended to resolve the issues on the spin-off The Parkers, but there just wasn't enough time. Besides, at that point, I'd lost interest anyway.

My So-Called Life

Ah, the classic cliffhanger ending. MSCL didn't have spectacular ratings, but it did gather a fiercely loyal fanbase. You can imagine the anger they felt when they found out that the eternal question of Angela's love life would never be resolved. Angela's all about hunky and semi-illiterate Jordan Catalano until she finds out at the end of the episode that his heartfelt love letter was ghostwritten by none other than geeky but kind-hearted Brian Krakow. Like I said earlier, this one still haunts me. I'm sort of a Brian fan, but I had a huge crush on Jared Leto. I don't know what I wanted, I just wanted an ending, dammit.

Models, Inc.

I'm still not totally sure why I loved this show as a kid. It wasn't particularly good, nor was it remotely appropriate for my young age. Regardless, I have a soft spot for this one and I'd really like to know how it all played out. This one was so bold to splash a big To Be Continued.... across the screen, meaning they were pretty cocky about their chances for a second season. There's a wedding, an assassin points a gun at several different characters, camera pans away, we hear a shot. And then...nothing. No answers. Several years down the road, E! aired an alternate ending that gave us some closure. Unfortunately, I never saw it. If any of you did, let me know what happened.

Oh, wait, never mind. Here it is. Thanks, YouTube!


Did Cybill and Maryanne kill the infamous Dr. Dick or not? They thought not, just a simple blow-up-his-boat operation. Next, they're arrested for his murder. The show was canceled so suddenly, we never got a chance to find out what might have been. Either way, I think he deserved it.


I spent many of my high school years pondering the age-old question: was I Brooke or a Sam? I realize now that I'm probably not missing anything by not falling into the categories of bulimic cheerleader or repressed lesbian. I've really got to get some new role models.

Anyway, this show was, as the title implies, pretty popular for awhile. The WB pushed it into the black hole of the Friday night time slot and the ratings plummeted. The cliffhanger was pretty juicy, too--we probably all would've tuned in for a little tying-up of loose ends. Brooke's fellow cheerleader Nicole Julian gets drunk and runs over Brooke with her car. How could you not want to know what happened? My curiosity is pretty persistent.

I couldn't find the ending, so you'll have to settle for the intro. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to iTunes to go download that theme song.

We may never know what happened in most of these scenarios, but perhaps it's better off that way. Leaving the story open-ended lets it lives on and gives it a potential that probably exceeds whatever the writers would have actually come up with. They also taught us the valuable life lesson of learning to live with disappointment. Sure, I was upset when I didn't know how Home Improvement wrapped up, but it did prepare me for the continued grief associated with opening one of my current paychecks.

And for the record, Runner Up: Dallas. It got resolved in a TV movie, anyway. Plus, what kind of a 6-year old watched Dallas? I have no context for it. On the other hand, I watched Cybill, so my tastes may have been a bit more mature than I'd initially thought.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Today, on a Very Special posting on Children of the 90s: Sex! Drugs! Drinking! Puberty! School Violence! If it's an issue you don't feel comfortable discussing with your adolescent child, have no fear. We'll do the heavy lifting for you! Simply listen for your cue (a deep, all-business voice intoning, "On a Very Special..."), turn on the tube, and let the TV do its responsible parental heart-to-heart magic.

Teen TV in the 80s and 90s was frequently preoccupied with addressing heavy moral issues. The shows would suck you in with their teenspeak and lighthearted humor (and in the case of Blossom, enviable headwear), and then pull a quick switcheroo into explications on ethical adolescent behavior. One day we'd be empathizing with a character's case of acne or bad hair day, and the next we'd be tricked into learning a Very Special valuable lesson about the consequences of our decisions.

In this Very Special Episode, Six gets completely wasted

Blossom was a pioneer in the burdgeoning field of Very Special Episoding. NBC would promise us that a forthcoming Blossom episode was one our families "could not afford to miss." Yes, that's right. In terms of familial moral currency, NBC billed Blossom as the most valuable moral stock available. In accordance with traditional after-school special norms, we watched as Blossom and friends battled a slew of ethical dilemmas. Unlike some of the cautionary tale after-school movies, Blossom and Co. usually emerged morally victorious, making the right decisions and resetting their moral odometers to squeaky clean.

Mayim Bialik starred as Blossom Russo, a quirky, perky teenager with a penchant for flower-adorned floppy hats. Her mother essentially backs out of her role in the family, leaving her ex-husband Nick to fend for Blossom and her older brothers Joey (a dim-witted jock) and Tony (a recovering addict). With a premise like that, things could have gotten very heavy very quickly in the series, but writers were smart enough to keep it pretty light at the outset. Rather than focusing on the hardships facing a family torn apart by circumstances, the show centered more on the day-to-day lives of Blossom, her family, and her friends.

Oh, and also sex, lies, and teenagers. Catchy title, huh?

The show quickly segued into more controversial topics, giving Blossom an edgier feel than many of its sappy 90s sitcom counterparts. In today's entertainment marketplace it would be considered pretty tame, but in the 90s the show was touted for its tackling of tough issues in a realistic way. Blossom's world was mostly pretty family-friendly, but every so often they veered into PG-13 territory. While some of us would groan at the announcement of yet another Very Special Blossom, parents often took the hint that the upcoming episode might not be suitable for their younger children. Like I said, Blossom was a bit ahead of its time. It had parental rating indicators way before the networks mandated the caveat.

Speaking to the cast, Bialik played a great "everygirl". Young girls related to her because she was ordinary, though they wouldn't have wanted to be related to her; that would spoil their chances with hunky brother Joey. I had a fairly serious crush on Joey (Joey Lawrence) back in my Blossom-watching days. Every time he uttered his signature "Whoa" my heart fluttered just a bit. Jenna von Oy co-starred as Blossom's best friend and quick-talking confidant Six. Yep, Six. Didn't you hear? The good people at Blossom decided it was a name.

To be honest, Six is likely to blame for a generation of children growing up talking at a speed totally incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 30. We all embody her legacy very time one of our grandparents says, "Can you repeat that honey? You're talking too fast." Curse you, Six. You've muddled my chances at ever becoming an adequate public speaker.

Older brother Tony (Michael Stoyanov) played out a role uncommon to most glossed over 90s sitcoms, portraying the life of a struggling addict in recovery. Most teen-centric sitcoms would have an episode or two where kids were tempted by alcohol or drugs (and to be fair, so did Blossom) but at the end of the day none of the major players ever seemed to know any actual perpetual users. While Tony's role certainly could have been darker, the show didn't sugarcoat the breadth of his daily struggles. You've got to give Blossom some credit for shedding light on a widespread issue once largely absent from network shows.

In addition to a well-rounded regular cast, Blossom brought in more than its fair share of impressive guest stars. The show boasted cameo appearances from celebrities like Hugh Hefner, Will Smith, and Mr. T. Even ALF came along for the ride, appearing in a bizarre crossover episode. Even though he was just a puppet, he was still a pretty big name in TV back then.

Check out Alf around the 8 minute mark

Blossom had edge but it wasn't groundbreaking. It didn't try to deny that sometimes teenagers act like teenagers and not like their counterparts in most sitcoms. The show let the kids make their mistakes, deal with the consequences, and live to tell about it. Plus, they got to wear awesome hats while doing it. What's not to like?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Way They Were: Celebrity Couples of the 90s

Time after time, Hollywood manages to fool us with its glittering golden couples. Every time a couple of favorite stars get together, we're all convinced they live a charmed shared life. They always appear so poised, so together, so happy. Plus, they're rich beyond our wildest lottery-winning fantasies. Their enviable lives extend beyond the bounds of relatability. It just seems further proof that celebrities are indeed special on a level us ordinary folks can never attain.

Just as suddenly as their perfect romances begin, though, many of our favorite celebrities quickly plummet back down to human status. On one level, it makes the rest of us feel a tad better about our own problem-addled lives. These people may be rich, beautiful, and famous, but hey, they've got issues, too. On another, though, it crushes our misguided illusion that any of us can achieve perfection. If these people can't manage it, how will the rest of us normals fare?

It's understandable that maintaining a romantic relationship under the glaring minutiae-dissecting public spotlight is a challenge. We're all watching their every moves, praying for a shred of evidence that their lives are a bit more like our own than we'd initially considered. When their relationships do fail, however, we feel somewhat let down. It's a sort of catch 22: they're damned to suffer our scorn whether they make it or not.

The 90s was a time ripe with celebrity couplings, though many of the pairs didn't cross the finish line into this decade. While they may have seemed nearly untouchable in those days, it's tough today to make sense of some of these match-ups. Whether you loved them, hated them, or just didn't get it, you have to admit that these couples enjoyed more than their share of fanfare and publicity in their heyday.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman

I'm not sure if you can think back this far, but try your best to remember a time when Tom Cruise wasn't just a infamous couch-jumper plagued by reputation-defaming rumors. Back in the 80s and 90s, Cruise was one of the most successful and coveted movie stars in Hollywood. Cruise and Kidman were married 10 years, which seems like a lifetime with respect to the span of most celebrity relationships. There was much speculation over the reason for their split, with reporters hinting at scandal. While Cruise has since remarried to Katie Holmes, he has yet to shake those pesky speculations on his character. The couch jumping and misguided Matt Lauer name-calling hasn't helped much, either.

Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder

If I were to engineer a quintessentially 90s couple, I doubt I could come up with anything quite as representative as these two. Examine a photo or two in their days as a happy couple and they just ooze 90s from their every pixel. It was hard not to root for them after watching their doomed romance bloom in Edward Scissorhands. After their split, they went on to further respective high-profile romances: Ryder with Matt Damon and Depp with Kate Moss, both of which relationships have since run their course. Still, it's gotta hurt that Depp altered his "Winona Forever" tattoo to read "Wino Forever". It's tough to think you could be so easily replaced by a full-bodied chardonnay.

Puff Daddy and Jennifer Lopez

Yeah, I said it. Puff Daddy. That was we called him back then. They had a certain charm, with him in his all-white get-ups and her in her scandalous double-stick tape supported Versace Grammy dress. If nothing else, we certainly liked them better than J Lo and Ben Affleck. As long as a Hollywood couple doesn't put us through a Gigli, they're alright in my book.

Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe

I'd really thought these kids were gonna make it. The story of their courtship seemed so cute and Hollywood storybook, we just didn't want to believe things were less than perfect with our favorite Cruel Intentions co-stars. They got married, had 2 kids, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly until they announced their decision to divorce in 2006. I'd prefer to remember them as they were, with Reese making that weird deformed devil face in the carwith Ryan in Cruel Intentions.

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

Talk about your golden teen couple. These two seemed so in love, we were willing to overlook the fact that they were cohabiting in the midst of their allegedly chaste relationship. It might be tough now to remember Britney as an innocent virginal pop starlet, but once upon a time we were all under the spell cast by her talented publicists. We even considered tolerating their God-awful matching denim outfits if they could just make it. Unfortunately, some things just aren't meant to be, no matter how much foreshadowing we thought we'd seen on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow

It's easy to forget that before there was even Brad and Jen, there was Brad and Gwen. Brad has long been a part of the Hollywood "it" couple, though he's cycled through a few female counterparts over the years. We once fell in love with Brad and Gwynnie, though we've since been convinced to fall in love with Brad and Jen and eventually the less-rhyming but more annoying hybrid classification Brangelina.

Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman

This one had all of us scratching our heads. They both seemed to bask in the attention of the public eye, Carmen for her Baywatch physique and Rodman more for his odd appearance and outlandish fashion choices than his prowess on the basketball court. The two were wed in Vegas, though the marriage was annulled less than two weeks later. The reason? Why, intoxication during the wedding vows, of course. It's probably a common tale for Vegas, but not quite so widespread an excuse in celebrity couplings.

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee

These two got hitched after knowing each other for just a few days, characterizing the carefree (and some might argue, careless) nature of their relationship. Their infamous honeymoon sex tape went into wide circulation after it was stolen from their house, but the couple took it in stride. Considering the two weren't exactly known for their wholesome image, it all played out pretty well. They not only won over a million in the lawsuit, but they made a killing on video sales. Well played, Anderson and Lee.

Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

There have been all sorts of speculations on Jackson and Presley's short-lived marriage, most claiming that it was a sham. Presley still vehemently denies the charge, though that footage of the two of them kissing at the VMAs still raises some eyebrows. Like most of Jackson's personal life, the details remain shrouded in secrecy, leading the public and the press to jump to all sorts of conclusions. We may never know the true nature of their relationship. I'm torn on it. I read that heartfelt note Presley wrote upon learning of Jackson's 2009 death, and she seemed to have genuine affection for him. I watch that kiss again, though, and it's a little iffy.

Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger

At this point, it's tough to look past the tarnished image of this now-bitter relationship and remember how we revered this couple upon their public debut. Back then, though, we were blissfully unaware of a looming custody battle and eventual reputation-dinging leaked voicemails from Baldwin to his daughter Ireland. The former spouses now occasionally make contact through their publicists to fling angry and bitter accusations, so I would venture things did not end so well for these two.

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey

This one still hurts my heart just a little. I know, I know, it's not like I knew these two personally. After Newlyweds, though, I really thought they were going to be in love forever. Yes, it's naive, but he was so sweet when she made silly mistakes like confusing chicken and tuna based on the name of a popular canned-fish brand. I've always liked Jessica Simpson, so I feel for her that she never quite seemed to rebound in terms of fame and image. I'll try to think of her as she was, believing buffalo had wings and charming MTV audiences everywhere.

Their relationships may not have stood the test of time, but for a brief moment these couples represented to us the ideal partnerships. We may just have to settle for remembering them as they were, before bitter divorces or circumstances drove them apart. As they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. If you can't, well, then it seems you're at least in pretty good Hollywood company.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Encino Man

What are you supposed to do if you're not popular, the girl you like doesn't know you exist, and your best friend is an offbeat loser? Why, unearth a prehistoric man and pass him off as your cool foreign exchange student, of course. I can't even imagine there are any other solutions to this problem. It's pretty much live-in caveman buddy or bust.

1992's Encino Man passes off this storyline like it's a completely valid way to make friends and/or influence high school people. Yes, sometimes in movies we have to suspend our disbelief, but Encino Man plays it like this premise makes perfect sense. It's one thing to concede that a rozen movie caveman can be reanimated, but on another level entirely to believe that the discovery of this caveman will lead to instant high school popularity. There are just so many points that don't add up. Why couldn't Dave just be a hero for discovering the caveman? Why did he have to cover it up? Why would having a non-English speaking exchange student make you the coolest kid in school? My mind is still reeling over that one.

I adored this movie as a kid, but after watching it as an adult I'm just in awe of how little effort the filmmakers seem to be putting forth. It's like even they know it's crap. I understand it's a low budget film, but there are a lot of scenes where it feels like they're not even trying. Never mind that the research they conducted on cavemen seems to be a little lax. It's like they were trying to stage a scene, going around the room and asking for the crew members to shout out examples of things cavemen do, and then having Brendan Fraser act out those things. "Make cave drawings!" "Start a fire with two sticks!" "Okay, great, that's enough suggestions, everyone. We're just going to have him do those two things repeatedly. I know we could probably look up cavemen in the encyclopedia and see if they have any other traits, but our film budget doesn't cover the cost of the "C" volume and I don't have a library card."

Encino Man was also the film debut of the much-maligned Pauly Shore, who at the time was hosting his own MTV show Totally Pauly. Shore's brand of comedy is at best confusing and at worst grating on par with nails on a chalkboard. He has a one-note schtick involving using strange inflection and unusual variations of words, offering up such questionable colloquial gems as "buff chillage" and "fresh nugs". Don't try to think about it too hard, you'll just get a headache. As kids, not all of us were aware of how universally annoying Shore was and regrettably took up his speech patterns for awhile. Thankfully, our foray into Shore-esque chillage usually only lasted for a few weeks and then it was out of our collective systems.

The movie stars Sean Astin and Pauly Shore as a pair of geeky high schoolers in Encino, California. Dave (Astin) desperately wants to be cool, but can't seem to figure it out. In an attempt to raise his social stock, Dave decides he's going to dig a pool. Again, a perfectly logical leap. I'm sure he's totally capable of installing a full-size swimming pool despite his lack of knowledge of local zoning laws or tiling procedures. It's pretty clear this was the only set-up they could think of for the kids to find their caveman without any adults finding out about it. But I digress. Dave and Stoney (Shore) discover a cavemen buried in a block of ice and conveniently leave it on a heater. I wonder what will happen next?

Of course, Stoney and Dave come back to find melted ice and the caveman tearing up their house and painting primitive animals on everything. They give him a mini-makeover and suddenly he's their best buddy Link. Get it? Evolutionary humor is so witty. Anyway, Dave somehow manages to convince his parents that this is the exchange student they never agreed to hosting, Linkovitch Chomofsky of Estonia. I guess hosting ol' Linkovitch is nothing compared to having to deal with Stoney every night:

Miraculously, their plan works and all of their classmates think Link is incredibly cool. We never really find out why, though we're supposed to believe it has to do with his rockin' style and prehistoric good looks. All the girls go crazy for that, clearly:

Dave is trying to hook up with Robyn, and there's a whole romantic storyline that makes about as much sense as the rest of it. Robyn's unquestionably evil boyfriend Matt is displeased at the situation, but somewhere along the way Robin ends up asking Link to prom. There are a bunch of little scuffles at this point, culminating in Matt's vowed vengeance on Link and Dave. Matt tracks down some photos of Dave and Stoney posing with Link in his original caveman form and is determined to tell the school what a freak he is. Um, a few things here. First, why did they take pictures of themselves with Link as a caveman and just leave them strewn about haphazardly? Second, wouldn't Link's freakiness come second to the news that he's, well, a caveman?

We all learn the valuable lesson of Be Yourself, and Stoney, Dave, and Link are the coolest guys at the prom. How could they not be, with dance moves like these?

Robyn and Dave work it out and begin their fledgling romance at Dave's after-prom party. At the party, they discover Link's prehistoric girlfriend bathing in the bathtub, effectively closing our story with many questions. Where did she come from? How did she get unfrozen? Who taught her how to turn on the hot water and employ the necessary nudity-cover bubble bath?

It's best not to ponder these questions too much. Encino Man is supposed to be fun, and that's what it is. It never pretends to be deep or layered. It doesn't even pretend to be good. It's just the simple tale of a boy and his popularity-bolstering caveman, and that's all there is to it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 80s' and 90s' Oldest High Schoolers: Giving New Meaning to the Term "Senior"

When I get confused on a daily basis for a high school student, I don't let it faze me. Instead, I simply remind myself that I am probably younger than the average actor who plays a high school student in the movies or on TV. People think high schoolers look like 25 year olds because 25 year olds populate most of the high school roles: it's as simple as that. In contemporary shows like Glee, some of the actors playing the students (namely Cory Monteith and Mark Saling, both 27) are only four years younger than the actor playing their teacher (Matthew Morrison, 31). It's no wonder our perceptions are skewed; in Hollywood, it seems, one truly can stay 16 forever.

The problem with a movie franchise featuring a high-school age lead character is simple: that actor is going to age a lot faster than you can churn out those movies. So while the "...To be continued" might allegedly pick up the day after the original action, in reality the actors are a few years older. It's the same problem they're bound to have with those Twilight films. Unless Robert Pattinson really is a vampire and thus immortal (and based on his skin tone, I wouldn't automatically rule it out), he's probably going to stop looking 17 at some point.

The practice of casting 20-something actors as teens is a fairly common one. After all, it's far easier to deal with adult than a minor when casting actors. On the other hand, there's only so far you can push the age range and still reside comfortably in believable territory. Maybe some of you had 30-year old classmates in high school, but in my experience most of these actors would have garnered some questionable looks from their alleged peers if they showed up at the homecoming game.

The 80s and 90s had a lot of gross offenders, but the group listed here is among the most grievous:

Alan Ruck as Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Cameron's age: 18
Ruck's age when the movie was released in 1986: 29

I'm not much of a math person, but even I can figure this one out pretty easily. Alan Ruck was born in 1956, making him practically the same age as my parents. I was born in 1985, and I'm pretty sure my parents weren't high school seniors at the time. It just doesn't add up.

It's not whether or not we can appreciate his performance in Ferris Bueller; personally, I thought he was great. It's more that he was twice the age of some real-life high school students while playing one himself. To be fair, Matthew Broderick was in his 20s when he filmed the movies, but Mia Sara (Sloane) was actually 19. When you've got an actress 10 years younger than you giving you life advice onscreen as your peer, we've got a slight problem.

Gabrielle Carteris as Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210

Andrea's age at the outset of 90210: 17
Carteris's age at the outset of 90210 in 1990: 29

It's one thing to play a part 10-plus years your junior for a one-time gig, but it's another entirely to commit to a long-running project under these pretenses. Carteris was 29 when she started on 90210, meaning that by the time of her departure in the fifth season she was probably old enough to have a high school son or daughter of her own. She was only 6 years younger than James Eckhouse, the actor who played Brenda and Brandon's dad. Then again, on a show where character's willfully name their children cutesily matchy names like Brenda and Brandon, perhaps hiring a 29 year old actor isn't your biggest problem.

Shannon Elizabeth as Nadia in American Pie

Nadia's age in American Pie: 18
Elizabeth's age when American Pie was released in 1999: 26

Thank goodness for Shannon Elizabeth's terrible fake European accent or else her age would have been the least believable aspect of her character in American Pie. Actually, I should take that back. Her boobs probably win that prize.

Michael J Fox as Marty McFly in Back to the Future III

Marty's age: 17
Fox's age when the movie was released in 1990: 29

Here's another case of an actor aging out of their original character in a franchise while preserving the illusion that they haven't changed a bit. In a movie that defines time travel so laxly, you'd think they could have written in a few extra years of life for Marty in between installments, but they all just kept picking up where the last one left off. I always liked this one better than Part II, though, so maybe I was a tad more willing to suspend my disbelief.

Meredith Monroe as Andie McPhee on Dawson's Creek

Andies's age when she first appeared on Dawson's Creek: 15
Monroe's age when he first appeared on Dawson's Creek in 1998: 30

Dawson's Creek made Monroe's extreme age discrepancy from her character a bit more stomachable by casting Kerr Smith as Andie's fraternal twin, Jack. Smith was no fresh-faced kid himself, debuting on the show at age 26. I'm not sure if any of you have ever seen a high school sophomore, but I'll give you a hint: they look much closer to 12 than 30. Of course, they are much closer to 12 than 30, but that's really beside the point.

To her credit, Monroe did have a pretty youthful appearance, but when she appeared in the series finale at age 36 the show may muddled its credibility. Suddenly, storylines like Pacey hooking up with a teacher don't seem so scandalous. It would probably been equally troubling if he'd just gotten together with one of his senior castmates.

Judd Nelson as John Bender in The Breakfast Club

John's age in The Breakfast Club: 18
Nelson's age when The Breakfast Club came out in 1986: 25

25 is still young compared to some of the others rounding out this list, but both Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were actually high school-aged when The Breakfast Club premiered in 1986. I'll concede that co-stars Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy were both 22, but still. Either you cast a bunch of teenagers or you cast a bunch of 20-somethings, but mixing the two only highlights the differences in age.

Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Cordelia's age when Buffy premiered: 16
Carpenter's age when Buffy premiered: 27

Carpenter had originally intended to audition for the show's title role and Sarah Michelle Gellar for the role of Cordelia, but the two got switched somewhere along the audition process. I don't care what they dressed her in: there was no way this girl would ever pass for 16. She might not even have gotten carded at the club. Carpenter is, however, gorgeous, which means many viewers were in it more for the eye candy than the believability.

Stacey Dash as Dionne Davenport in Clueless

Dionne's age in Clueless: 16
Dash's age when Clueless came out in 1995: 29

When I first saw the movie, I'd never have guessed that Dash was almost 11 years older than her costar Alicia Silverstone. Actually, if you've seen any recent photos of Stacey Dash, it's pretty obvious she's still got it. Dash went on to reprise her role for the Clueless TV show, continuing to play her high-school aged character well into her 30s. Aside from posing for Playboy in 2006, Dash's career probably peaked in her postmature high school days, so it's for the best she milked her perceived youth for as long as humanly possible.

Most of us would balk at the offer to experience high school all over again, but some of these actors have made pretty lucrative careers out of living their adult lives in reverse. It just goes to show that there doesn't need to be such a thing as aging gracefully. Who would pick that option when you could choose not to age at all?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

90s Sequels that Outperformed the Originals

Once you've got a bona fide blockbuster on your hands, it can be tough to ignore the glistening temptation of franchising. Provided most of your original cast is willing to come back for a second round, a sequel can seem like the next logical step in milking a successful movie. You've already got your concept, your characters, and your proven success; things are poised to proceed regardless of whether or not you can maintain the quality of the original. Then again, in some cases, the original wasn't all that great, so you have little chance to disappoint critics at your second go. It's a win-win all the way.

Moviegoers clearly don't listen to enough Public Enemy, or else we'd know better than to believe the movie industry's self-promoting hype. Studios often generate so much hype over a sequel that it far outperforms its predecessor. The original may have been a hit, but the built-up anticipation for a follow up bolsters the initial fan base. Movie patrons are ravenous for the next installment of their favorite movie, and movie makers are equally voracious for their money.

Whether they were a one-note success or translated well into serial, all of these movies have a common bond: they brought in far more money than the initial film. It just goes to show that when faced with a decision of movies, we're far more likely to stick with what's familiar.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery domestic gross: $53,883,989
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me domestic gross: $206,040,086

When your original movie ends happily with the romantic leads ensconced in wedded bliss, there's really only one way to move the story forward: blow up the bride. At least that seemed to be the Austin Powers' strategy, killing off Elizabeth Hurley in a the first few minutes of the movie to make room for younger, blonder starlet Heather Graham. The Austin Powers series parodied 60s spy movies, featuring Mike Myers in multiple roles as Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, and the less-appealing Fat Bastard.

The first movie was fairly well-received, and certainly boasted a meatier plot than its sequel. The Spy Who Shagged Me focuses on Powers' lost mojo and spends a lot of time cashing in on signature jokes from the first movie. It wasn't brilliant, but it was still amusing enough to hold our attention. Considering some of Mike Myers' more recent projects (The Love Guru, anyone?), this sequel is looking better all the time.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator domestic gross: $38,371,200
Terminator 2 domestic gross: $204,843,345

Terminator 2 taught us a valuable lesson about sequels: they can be just as great as the original, if you're willing to blow a hundred million on production and effects. At the time of its release, Terminator 2 was the most expensive movie ever made. The expenditures must have paid off, though, as the movie was a huge financial and critical success. The movie is pure action, giving us thrilling chases and exciting explosions, though it does bring out a bit more heart than the first. Terminator 2 performed outstandingly well at the box office, but we've come to expect nothing less of James Cameron. That guy knows how to bring it.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story domestic gross: $191,796,233
Toy Story 2 domestic gross: $245,823,397

Toy Story wowed audiences everywhere with its innovative computer animation, so it's no wonder the movie left us eager for more. So eager, in fact, that a third installment of the series is scheduled for release in June 2010. We can only hope it lives up to the solid sequel, a movie that claims the rare honor of an 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes boasting 130 positive reviews. Not bad, Pixar. That tidbit would almost be enough for me to relinquish my lighthearted vendetta against you for making me cry so profusely at the beginning of Up. It really fogged up my 3-D glasses.

Mission Impossible II

Mission Impossible domestic gross: $180,981,886
Mission Impossible II domestic gross: $215,409,889

With music that exciting, how can you resist lining up to screen the next installment. It's really got a way of pumping that adrenaline to a point that we can ignore the facts that the plot doesn't make all that much sense. It didn't in the first movie, either, so we're pretty prepared for that sort of a turn of events. The plot is way too complex for me to summarize in 100 words or less, but suffice it to say the action and excitement far outweighs the significance of any plot point. MI:II seemed more at ease with sacrificing character development to suspenseful action. It doesn't have to pretend to be nuanced and complicated. It just needs to get the blood flowing.

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective domestic gross: $72,217,396
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls domestic gross: $108,360,063

Toilet humor in the title is not usually a promising way to start a movie, but in this case it's just emblematic of the filmmakers knowing their juvenile audiences. Just like the original, the movie is completely ridiculous, with plot and character always falling secondary to jokes. It doesn't matter much when kids are your target demographic: we'd have watched almost anything. For our accompanying adult guardians, it was probably pretty painful, but we cracked up the whole way through.

Highlander II: The Quickening

Highlander domestic gross: $5,900,000
Highlander II: domestic gross: $15,556,340

Watch Roger Ebert call it one of the worst movies of all time...

I'll be straight with you here: I've never seen Highlander, nor have I seen its follow-up Highlander II: The Quickening. I just really love that title. It's so shamelessly cliche. "The Quickening". I like that. The film was universally panned by critics, but it did far outperform Highlander.

Die Hard 2

Die Hard domestic gross: $83,008,852
Die Hard 2 domestic gross: $117,540,947

Titlewise, this just can't compare to Highlander: The Quickening, though the Die Hard franchise picks it up in later installments with flashy names like Die Hard with a Vengeance. Actually, I just learned that movie posters advertised the sequel as Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which is actually pretty awesome. When Bruce Willis's character muses, "How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?" he's not kidding. It's pretty similar, but the action makes up for it. It wouldn't be my first pick for a moving piece of cinema, but it's got all the makings of a solid summer blockbuster.

Lethal Weapon II

Lethal Weapon domestic gross: $65,207,127
Lethal Weapon II domestic gross: $147,253,986

Hearken back to a simpler time, when Mel Gibson wasn't taking on lofty religious film projects, begrudging the Jews, and coining the colloquialism "Sugar Tits". Back in the 90s, Mel Gibson was still known as something of a movie star hunk. Whatever the reason, he certainly put butts in the seats. Lethal Weapon II had all of the action of the original, with exciting fast-paced scenes and gratuitous violence. It even got a little political, condemning South African apartheid. It wasn't exactly a documentary on inequities in South African society, but it was a nice touch.

Churning out a sequel may be a formulaic path to success, but these movies have proven they can make it work. While the third and fourth installments in some of these series may have wavered a bit in quality, most of these (with the obvious exception of Highlander II: The Quickening) managed to capture most of the magic of the original. So keep your fingers crossed, children of the 90s, for the forthcoming Toy Story 3. Despite what many of the above franchises may suggest with their declining third films, hopefully in this case the third time is indeed a charm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Disney's proven time and again that a tale as old as time is most attractive to children when stuffed with with stock anthropomorphic characters. Sure, we may like Cinderella or The Little Mermaid as stories, but to whom would we have turned for laughs save for Gus the mouse or Sebastian the crab? It's just not the same without musical numbers featuring animals or ordinarily inanimate objects singing and dancing their little hearts out. We may never have considered that a teacup could be adorably naive or a feather duster sexy, but Disney is always there to show us the way.

In the 90s Disney Animation Studios was at the peak of its renaissance period, churning out hit after hand-drawn hit on an annual basis. The films were of consistently high quality and offered much in the way of catchy music, stunning visuals, and much-needed kid-friendly comic relief. Kids and adults alike enjoyed these movies; adults for the quality and kids for the cuddly, easily merchandisable characters. It was an especially easy sell for young girls, banking on two magic words: Disney princesses. Put those girls in skimpy enough outfits (Jasmine, anyone?) and you'll have adolescent boys on board, too.

Compared to many other Disney animated features, Beauty and the Beast played it pretty safe in sticking with the original story. Beauty and the Beast is based on the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bete and follows the 18th century version fairly closely. Disney, though, has a charming way of Disney-fying everything in its path, meaning inserting the aforementioned anthropomorphic characters whenever deemed necessary. In the case of Beauty and the Beast, Disney dreams up a full menagerie of living decorative homegoods to entertain us, giving us a world filled with French-accented candelabras and wise, matronly teapots. They might not advance the plot any, but they are pretty damn cute.

Disney worked and reworked their version of the story many times, with the studio considering a Beauty and the Beast movie since its early days. Most critics agreed that it was indeed worth the wait; Beauty and the Beast remains one of the best-reviewed animated films of all time, not to mention the only one to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Their final product was a cinematic bouillabaisse of their various attempts at telling the story.

The movie opens on the Beast's backstory, depicting him as a cruel and selfish prince who is unkind to others. After he gives the boot to a sorceress in disguise as a beggar, she turns it back on him and turns him into some unholy cross between Chewbacca and a Minotaur. As a consolation, he gets a handy magic mirror (that serves little purpose other than to move the plot forward later in the movie) and a magic rose. The rose will die on his 21st birthday, leaving him a beast forever unless he can learn to love. That's kind of a downer, huh? Not exactly how I'd like to have spent my 21st birthday, if I remembered it. I'm pretty positive it didn't involve an eternal fate as a hideous monster, though.

We jump to Belle and her nutty inventor father, Maurice, an oddball family living in the French countryside. Belle is extraordinarily beautiful, loves to read, and has a sophisticated vocabulary that includes words like "provincial". The town's resident beefcake Gaston seeks her affection based on her looks, overlooking what the rest of the town perceives to be her strangeness. Belle, though, just isn't having it. As romantic as it sounds to have your home decorated in early big game hunting, I think I'd pass too.

Belle's father, Maurice, is on his way to some wacky inventors' fair when he takes a wrong turn and ends up at the Beast's secluded castle. I'm not sure if any of you ever saw the Disney on Ice version, but those bats he encounters in the woods were downright scarring. Clearly, I'm still not over it. Anyway, Maurice is pretty taken by the talking household objects, who are really the prince's faithful servants under the same curse. The Beast isn't going for the whole generous hospitality thing and locks Maurice in a cell. He agrees to trade his new prisoner for his daughter when the ever-goodly Belle offers to take his place.

The Beast tries to be hospitable, but it's obviously not really his thing. Belle denies his dinner invitation, so he tells his decorative servants not to feed her. In what may be the greatest act of defiance ever performed by a candelabra, smooth-talking Lumiere pulls out all the stops for her. He even throws in this incredibly entertaining song-and-dance routine:

Fast forward a little and we're at Belle's near-escape. She and her horse encounter some vicious wolves, the Beast steps in, Belle nurses him back to health. One thing leads to another and the two are friends. He gives her a library, you know, like you do to express your friendship. I suppose we should give him a break, he's a furry horn-sporting shut-in, it was a kind gesture. They have a little on-site date where she wears an enviable gold gown, the Beast tries his best to be gentlemanly, and Mrs. Potts provides the song:

Remember that magic mirror that served to set up a later plot point? Well here it is. Belle looks in the magic mirror and sees her father dying and insists she must rush to his side. The beast lets her go, despite the fact that his rose is nearly withered. Needless to say, his servants are pretty pissed. Sure, it was nice to let her go, but would you want to be an armoire forever?

No one back in town is buying Maurice's seemingly tall tale about a mysterious beast, so Belle proves it with the mirror. Gaston rounds up an angry, torch-wielding mob and goes after our now-gentle giant. Gaston calls for the townspeople to hunt and kill the beast, and they all seem to be pretty on board with it:

The Beast has no will to fight back, but he spots Belle and finds it within himself to shove Gaston off a cliff. Unfortunately, Gaston managed to stab the Beast before his demise. Beast is fading fast, till Belle utters, "I love you". Presto-Change-o, the Beast is a handsome prince, and we get to see all of our servant friends back in human form. Remarkably, they all look pretty much exactly the same. Who would've thought?

In true Disney fashion, it's a happy ending for all, at least until they can milk the franchise for more profits on a direct-to-video sequel. Lucky for all of you, I never saw those sequels (actually, midquels) and thus will not be subjecting you to a lengthy and snarky synopsis.. Instead, we can just let the story ends where it ends here: happily. The good guys prevail, the bad guy dies a retributive death, and the other sort-of-bad-guy with a secret heart of gold is reformed. The only question left to ponder is why Lumiere is the only guy with a French accent if this whole thing is taking place in France. Any takers on that one?

Monday, January 18, 2010

On This MLK Day, We Revisit Some 90s Songs that Speak to Issues of Racial Inequality...

I deliberated for a sizable chunk of time about what constituted an appropriate topic for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Sure, these heart-palpitating deliberations were conducted while watching the Golden Globes, but it was a grueling process nonetheless. Thanks to plenty of breaks for rest, Powerade, and protein bars, I was able to make it through. I appreciate your concern, though.

As you know, we love to have a good time here at Children of the 90s, but there are certain topics that probably transcend sarcasm in good taste. That brings us back to the original question: what's the proper etiquette here? As a pop culture blog that covers such groundbreaking issues as Mall Madness and Where's Waldo? books, it can be tough to make that leap to any sort of politically-minded commentary. The Children of the 90s sense of satire tends to lean more toward retired snack food than underlying divisive societal issues. Then again, based on some of the debates we've had going here in the comment section about the merits or shortcomings of Ring Pops, some topics may be more divisive than I'd initially imagined.

So while I could have pulled a moderately-proportioned cop-out move on you and just posted Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video (which I like, for the record), I decided to pull an even bigger one and post a whole bunch of 90s popular songs that reside in a similar genre. Like I said, we've had a lot of laughs here, but that doesn't mean we can't try our hand at tackling some of the big issues occasionally. Some might argue that listening to a couple of popular songs about racial inequality may not add up to "tackling" but to those critics I say, hey. Cut me a little slack here. We're still allowed to have a little fun. There's no rule that dabbling in the issues has to come at the expense of lighthearted fun. Well, actually, there might be, but we're just going to disregard that for the time being.

Black or White (Michael Jackson)

Watch Michael Jackson - Black Or White in Music | View More Free Videos Online at

Let me say right off the bat that I'm a huge Michael Jackson fan. Say what you will about the late performer's personal life, but he made more than his share of contributions to the world of pop music. Before its release, "Black or White" was described by Jackson's label as a "rock n' roll song about racial harmony," and the song delivered on that promise. Admittedly, this video isn't for everyone; it's undeniably a bit hokey, but it's over-the-top in a way consistent with Michael Jackson's style. Macaulay Culkin plays a kid who wants to blast his music, much to the chagrin of his grumpy dad played by George Wendt. George is transported to Africa, where we witness a cross-cultural celebration of dance.

The video is best known for the morphing sequence that takes place toward the end of the video, with faces gradually transitioning from one person to another. As a kid, I was pretty sure this was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, though I did have a brief fear that one day I'd look in the mirror to see my face transition through a rainbow of races.

The song isn't revolutionary in its lyrics; it's pretty general and straightforward, but it certainly makes its point. The rap part in the middle is the meatiest, lamenting "turf war on a global scale" and proclaiming "I'm not going to spend my life being a color." "Black or White" must have spoken to the general public, as the song quickly shot to number 1 on the Billboard charts.

Changes (2Pac)

Released posthumously, "Changes" was a compilation of a number of Tupac's raps. "Changes" samples Bruce Hornsby and the Range's 1986 song "The Way It Is" and expounds on many of its themes, albeit with more profanity. The song is starkly honest about many of the issues facing blacks in America, touching on many of the inherent racial inequalities in American society. The lyrics sugarcoat nothing, and give a pretty bleak outlook on the prospects of racial equality. There are some upbeat elements, though, namely the eponymous "changes" Tupac suggests we make to our lives.

On a more upbeat note of progress, it seems time has defied some of the charges in the song. "Changes" declares "We're not ready to see a black president," which suggests that maybe we've made some headway since "Changes" hit the airwaves in 1998. In late 2009, the song was in the spotlight again for its curious placement on the Vatican's official MySpace playlist. Apparently they deem "Changes" to be on par with Mozart, which is a promising sign for acceptance.

F tha Police (NWA)

Don't be fooled by the tongue-in-cheekiness of the song's title; this one really gets to the heart of the issue. The song had its share of big names in the rising rap scene, produced by Dr. Dre and featuring Ice Cube. "F*** tha Police" sets the scene in a courtroom with rappers offering inflammatory testimonials to the unequal and sometimes brutal treatment of blacks by police officers. It's incredibly volatile, even suggesting violent retaliation against the police, but it also brings to light some issues of racial profiling in law enforcement. While the song predates the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA race riots by a few years, it certainly exemplifies the high levels of tension between police and minorities.

Free Your Mind (En Vogue)

"Free Your Mind" debuted amid the race riots stemming from the Rodney King brutality incident. As the issue of racial inequities in America were coming to a head, the female R&B group released this song to highlight some of the prejudice and systemic issues. The song's lyrics aren't quite as gritty of some of the other songs on this list, but they still touched on

While this post might be a bit too flimsy to pay deserved tribute to Dr. King and the civil rights movement, the songs all highlight issues that continue to plague us. While we've arguably made some progress, there is--as the cliche so aptly tells--a lot of work to be done, not only regarding racial inequality but also all of the other inequities in our society. Until we can reach that point, though, we might just have to settle for uniting in our common love of nostalgia. If we can all enjoy reminiscing about the 90s, can't we all just get along? It seems like a logical leap.

Speaking of socially relevant issues, now seems as good a time as ever to mention the recent Haitian earthquake. Like Cher says in Clueless:

"So like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, "What about the strain on our resources?" Well it's like when I had this garden party for my father's birthday, right? I put R.S.V.P. 'cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that like did not R.S.V.P. I was like totally buggin'. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty."

We can't always just leave it to the government, so if we could all take a little time to get to our figurative financial kitchens and rearrange some things we could certainly help out the Haitians. I know I possibly just stretched that connection a bit too far, but please consider donating to any legitimate charitable organization. If you need it, this site offers a lot in the way of helpful advice on where to direct your monetary donations.

As long as we're going to take some time to examine some problems here at home, we can definitely spare some to address those facing the international community. If you don't believe me that there's an international community, just watch that above Michael Jackson video one more time. If we can't collaborate on some sort of full-scale international dance number, the least we can do is try our best to reach out to others.

Digg This!