Showing posts with label Characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Characters. Show all posts

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Post: Adolescent Ingenues of the 90s

About guest poster Kari, in her own words: I’m a 90s kid hailing from the suburban South and living in New York City. I frequently prefer kid’s movies, often watch Saturday morning cartoons, always enjoy nostalgia, and determinedly refuse to grow up for good. You can visit me on Tumblr, and I also write a book blog.

There was just something about certain actresses of 90s movies; they seemed to pop up in everything (kinda like the klepto kid from Can’t Hardly Wait, who was also the pube pizza kid from She’s All That, and also in American Pie). These ladies were the ones I wanted to be—maybe because they rocked awesome kicks, hats, and had great hair, but most likely because they were individuals. They were a little bit quirky but entirely confident with themselves.

You’ll be pleased to know that most of our adolescent ingenues are still in the acting world, though most of them have gone more of the indie flick route (just further evidence that these 90s ingenues were destined for great things beyond the dreaded child actor stigma). Your individualism has paid off—you’re no longer just “former child stars”!

Anna Chlumsky

Oh my god, what I would’ve done to be Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl 2. (For some reason, always liked that one better than the first. Inexplicable.) I can’t even count how many cheap mood rings I bought after those two movies and how much of an internal struggle I had about flowery 1970s hats (I was a huge tomboy, yet she just looked so damn cool...). Beyond the My Girl flicks, Anna also starred in Trading Mom and Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain with fellow ingenue Christina Ricci (two movies my mom rented for me on sick days). Anna took almost a decade off from acting after 1998 to attend college (International Studies), get married, and apparently be a woman of all trades (food critic, restaurant guide, editorial assistant). She’s back to acting, though, with several recent indie movies and lots of TV roles.

Thora Birch

Never have I wanted anything as badly as I wanted a pet monkey, thanks to the movie Monkey Trouble. (I also desperately wanted a copy of that movie, and, it was incredibly hard to find. I never got it.) And lest we forget Thora’s best and most memorable role as Dani in Hocus Pocus. (This assertion is not up for debate.) Thora’s early acting also included Now & Then and Alaska. In 1999, she made a swift move to adult roles with American Beauty, and she’s steadily done indie flicks since (most notably Ghost World).

Gaby Hoffmann

I never really knew Gaby Hoffmann until Now & Then (where she and Demi Moore were most perfectly cast), but since then, I’ve seen her pop up in a ton of stuff made prior. Who knew that wasn’t her break-out role? (Me.) She started her career with Field of Dreams, Uncle Buck, and Sleepless in Seattle, and starred in All I Wanna Do (total underrated late 90s teen flick starring lots of the up-and-coming famous females of the late 90s/early 00s—Kristen Dunst, Rachel Leigh Cook, Monica Keena, Heather Matarazzo...) before joining fellow ingenue Christina Ricci in 1999’s 200 Cigarettes (again, end of child roles). Lately, she’s done some guest-starring TV roles and has several new indie movies under her belt.

Christina Ricci

Christina was the “It girl” of the early to mid-90s, with a breakout role in Mermaids to her pre-teen roles in flicks like Addams Family and its sequel, Casper, Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, Now & Then, and the 1997 version of That Darn Cat. Just one year later, in 1998, Christina officially ended her career as “child actor” with The Opposite of Sex—a poignant moment I remember in the video store when I saw her sporting blonde hair and cleavage, and thinking, “That’s it—my childhood is dead.” Christina’s had arguably the most well-known career of our ingenues throughout the past twenty years, leading most recently to ABC’s new series Pan Am.


Tina Majorino

Who could forget the adorable girl from Andre and Corrina, Corrina (which were released, in my mind, at exactly the same time)? Tina’s childhood career wasn’t quite as notorious as the previous four ladies, but she was a familiar face. You probably remember her now from Napoleon Dynamite; I bet every 90s kid’s reaction to that movie was: “She looks familiar...” Tina has done lots of TV acting since Napoleon, most famously on Veronica Mars and Big Love.

Anna Paquin

I give Anna Paquin an honorable mention for this reason: I always thought she was one of these ingenues that appeared in everything mid-90s, but when I recently checked her creds, I, she wasn’t in as much as I thought. Yet, I DO remember her and associate her with these 90s childhood flicks, so that must mean something. While her official breakout role was in 1993’s Piano, her breakout role to OUR generation was in 1996’s Fly Away Home. The next really memorable role of hers was as Freddie Prinze Jr’s goth-chic sister in She’s All That, which led her to more teen/adult roles in Almost Famous, the X-Men flicks, The Squid and the Whale, and...her current claim to fame...HBO’s True Blood.

As you can see, no troubled former childhood stars from this group of girls. Further evidence that 90s kids are the best kids.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Telltale Signs Children of the 90s are Getting Older

You knew it would happen, you just never imagined it would happen to you. One day you’re raging against the machine and bringing the man down while wearing flannel (or if you were more like me, grooving to Ace of Base on your Walkman while donning a Blossom hat) and the next you’re shaking your fist in a crotchety manner and muttering incoherently about the trouble with “kids today.” Where do the years go?

Getting older is inevitable, but the gradual onset of adulthood makes it difficult to pinpoint that exact moment you start to worry about the health of your 401K and can sustain lengthy dinner party conversations about mortgage rates and homeowner association costs. Just in case you’ve been building up a thick shield of denial, Children of the 90s is here to break it down and point out all the glaring signs that you’re just not as young as you used to be. Sounds like fun, right? Here goes:

The Shows you Grew Up With are on Nick at Nite

When we were kids, Nick at Nite was a block of television that featured significantly older and largely black and white sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Munsters. At some point I must have stopped watching because I was recently shocked to learn that Nick at Nite now plays Home Improvement and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When did all of the things I grew up with get so retro? Do kids today think of Full House the same way I thought of Mr. Ed? A terrifying prospect indeed.

The Kids on The Real World keep getting Younger

When The Real World premiered in 1992, its stars seemed so grown-up to us children of the 90s. Fast forward 25 seasons and a suspicious trend is emerging: the cast members not only seem to be growing less relevant and more obscure with each year, but also significantly younger. Some may argue that we’re just getting older, but I think it’s all a matter of perspective.

You Still Think of Actors as the Iconic Characters they Portrayed in their Youth

Perhaps you find yourself wondering why Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell and Travis from Clueless are pretending to be lawyers together weeknights on TNT. Or, alternatively, you’re still marveling that Clarissa Darling and Blossom’s brother are involved in weekly madcap manny adventures. Regardless of all of the mold-breaking and serious roles these former teen actors undertake, it can be hard to remove them from the context of the Bop! magazine pullout posters that once plastered our walls.

Your Favorite Teen Pop Stars are Constantly Staging Comebacks

It may seem like only yesterday that young stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were shocking audiences with their bare midriffs and provocative dancing, but they’ve long since been replaced by a new generation of teen stars. The teen pop stars we grew up with are desperately clinging to their former sex-symbol statuses, and while many have managed to remain in the limelight it’s often been through tightly managed “comeback” moves and constant reinvention.

Rap Songs all Sound the Same, and the ones you like are by Artists who have been around Twenty Years

Case in point: I still love Jay-Z. His current age? 41. Hardly a representative of young folks today. Other pertinent examples: Snoop Dogg (age 39), P. Diddy (age 41) , Dr. Dre (age 46), Eminem (age 38), 50 Cent (age 35), Nelly (age 36)....need I go on?

It’s finally happened: I’ve turned into the old person who changes the radio station when an irritatingly repetitive rap song comes on. I find myself complaining about the lack of creativity, vulgar lyrics, and overly catchy hooks I can’t get out of my head. When a new rap song I like comes on, nine times out of ten the rapper is older than 35 and has been churning out hits since the early 90s.

Hollywood is already Remaking the Movies you Watched as a Kid

The movie industry is clearly low on new ideas. How else can you explain remaking films as recent as The Karate Kid, Footloose, The Bodyguard, and Total Recall? There are kids out there who don’t even know there was an original Karate Kid, or even if they do, they’re disappointed he couldn’t rap and wasn’t featured in a Justin Bieber song. Truly tragic.

You’ve Lived Through a Full Cycle of Fashion

All you have to do is walk into an American Apparel or Urban Outfitters to realize that their “new arrival” items are a reboot of the what you used to wear in junior high. A quick glance at the American Apparel website shows items like light wash high waisted jeans, neon scrunchies, leggings, and bodysuits. If only you had saved your middle school wardrobe, you’d save yourself a lot of money on new clothes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Indoor Play Places

For those of us who did not grow up in consistently temperate climates, our parents faced a serious conundrum: how to drain us of our boundless energy when the outdoor playgrounds were buried under six feet of snow or consumed by a mighty hurricane? Without the benefit of outside space with major running-around space capacity, it was difficult to sufficiently tire a kid out in time for naptime. What's an exhausted and weather-beaten parent to do?

Luckily, enterprising child-minded 90s entrepreneurs had the answer: indoor play places. In these colorful, kid-friendly enclosed playgrounds, masses of children had the opportunity to run wild to their hearts' collective content. Parents, by lucky virtue of their inability to fit in those constrictive plastic crawl tubes, were mercilessly spared and allowed to sit back and relax from the observation area. Overall, a win-win situation.

All it took was a quick removal of shoes to be stored in the play place cubbies and we were generally good to go. Crawling spaces, climbing ropes, ball pits, and slides awaited us at every visit, turning these indoor play spaces into popular venues for birthday parties and playdates. While their appeal waned in the late 90s and many chains merged and eventually filed for bankruptcy, I'd like to remember them as they were: chaotic, germ-ridden, and filled with screaming children. At least we have our memories.

Discovery Zone

For a brief period in the early-to-mid 90s, DZ play places were a major force, opening centers in cities across the US. These self-proclaimed "indoor fitness centers" for children boasted an array of climbing, swinging, and sliding apparatuses. Perhaps DZ got a bit greedy, as their haste in opening venue after venue left them in a relatively dire financial situation. In 1996, the company filed for bankruptcy, inspiring the more dominant Chuck E. Cheese to quickly gobble up DZ franchises. By the end of the decade, Discovery Zones were but a brief memory to most 90s children.

Despite their short-lived popularity, many of us still remember the colorful commercials and catchy jingles that impelled us to beg our parents for what we considered to be our right to Discovery Zone time. Though the company failed to live up to their self-generated hype over time, for a time their slogan was right on: "Where kids want to be." Or, perhaps more appropriately, "Where fed-up and exhausted parents want to bring them."

Chuck E. Cheese

Among the few free-standing play place chains to cross over to the new millennium, Chuck E. Cheese's aptly cheesy concept has served them well over the years. Despite the undeniably frightening full-size animatronic mouse music show accompanying their signature sit-down pizza meal, Chuck E. Cheese has enjoyed relative success in the children's entertainment industry for over 30 years. Aside from the standard climbing equipment and ball pits, the chain also featured a sizable arcade stocked with standard fare. You've got to commend their multi-faceted approach at entertaining young consumers, but those giant singing mice are essentially unforgivable. They will haunt your dreams.

McDonalds PlayPlace

Some of today's savvier and consumer-minded children may be appalled to know some of us actually held birthday parties at (gasp!) McDonalds, but back in the late 80s and early 90s the novelty of these indoor PlayPlaces made them an attractive venue for children's celebrations. The relative cheapness of McDonalds' PlayPlaces in comparison to stand-alone chains like Chuck E. Cheese lured in budget-conscious parents. We may not have known what was in the Chicken McNuggets (suspiciously not containing all-white meat chicken breasts until a few years ago, leading me to suspect they once potentially contained shoes and tire remnants) but we knew one thing: PlayPlaces are free, Chuck E. Cheese costs money. Done deal.

Leaps and Bounds

McDonalds Corp knew they couldn't give it all away for free though--especially not when they saw their PlayPlace competitors raking in the big bucks from their pay-for-play centers. In 1991, McDonalds opened the pilot "Leaps & Bounds" center in an 11,000 square foot strip mall space Naperville, IL. The experiment was short-lived--the chain merged with the now-defunct Discovery Zone a few years later--but it was fun while it lasted.

Circus Pizza/Showbiz Pizza

These chains were somehow linked to the Chuck E. Cheese empire, though my research skills are a bit too hazy (read:lazy) to tell you exactly how. They featured the same basic Chuck E. Cheese prototype: arcade, ball bit, climbing zone, pizza, freaky animatronic performers. In case your memory needs some dusting off, here's a brief refresher course in the terrifying singing puppets: they were called the Rock-afire Explosion and you can see them in all of their horrific glory in the video above. Watch at your own risk: those things are creepy.

These play places varied significantly by region, so I imagine many of you grew up with different chains. Feel free to wax poetic in the comments section about your favorite mangy ball pit or sandbox station. These centers were popping up everywhere in the 90s, sometimes in the least expected places. Here, I'll get things started: my personal favorite was my family's annual stop at Grand Casino Hinckley in Minnesota--it may not sound like much of a place for children, but they had the play place to trump all other small-town isolated casino play places. To this day when I enter a casino, my instinct is not to sit down at the blackjack table but rather to ask the concierge for directions to the on-site enclosed play place. Screw slot machines: I want crawling tubes.

Okay, now it's your turn. Knock yourself out. Not literally, though. We don't have a brain-cushioning ballpit or recycled-tire floor here to break your fall.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Barney the Dinosaur

When you look back wistfully on beloved characters from your childhood, you may notice that some of their back stories were a bit questionable. As a child, I would never dare have questioned the existence of a towering overly jolly purple dinosaur who resided in the abstract realm of our collective imaginations. He could only spring to life from his miniature plush toy existence if we just believed. Too bad when our parents bought us an official licensed Barney stuff toy and we tried to imagine him to life, nothing happened. The power of our actual imaginations had been dulled by the glittering allure of television entertainment. It was a lot easier to watch kids imagine something than to go through the whole ordeal ourselves. So thanks a lot, Barney and Friends. Our parents spent $24.95 on this stuffed Barney and it won't even come alive and interact with us. Sheesh.

Truth be told, Barney's habitation of our imagination was nothing new. Kid's shows have been featured imaginary characters for generations. It's pretty much par for the course for adults trying to make a buck off of children's natural sense of wonderment and naivete. Usually, though, it didn't come out quite as sugar drippingly sweet as Barney and friends. The fact that our friends at Guantanamo use Barney's signature "I Love You" played on loop as a form of auditory torture to detainees probably says it all; I can imagine our parents felt the same way after hearing it blaring from our television sets for the 12th time that day.

That song has a way of lodging itself in your brain to a place where you can't seem to wrangle it free. So, sorry, readers. If you've even begun to inwardly play the song, you're pretty much stuck with it for the day. I guess that's just the power of imagination coming back to bite you in the butt. Tough break.

The Barney the dinosaur character premiered in 1987 in a series of videos called Barney and the Backyard Gang. My family owned these videos, and I played them into the VHS reel was sputtering to cough out its last whirring rotation. I yearned for an imaginary dinosaur friend and accompanying backyard gang with whom I could put on talent shows and have campfire sing-alongs. In my reenactments, though, I pathetically had to imagine not only my dino pal but also summon a nonexistent gang of backyard pals. While now the suggestion of a backyard gang sounds pretty threatening, dangerously proximal, and somehow involving meaningfully-colored bandannas, at the time it seemed like a warm and inviting proposition of friendship.

Barney and the Backyard Gang was adapted for television as Barney and Friends in 1992 as part of the PBS kids' programming block. The show quickly caught on and became a phenomenon for small children. Like many things that appeal to small children, the show was chalkboard-scratchingly irritating to the rest of the world. To justify its presence in our home despite being generally repugnant to anyone over the age of eight, the show's theme song lauded some hefty promises set to the toon of Yankee Doodle:

Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination
When he's tall, he's what we call a dinosaur sensation
Barney teaches lots of things, like how to play pretend
A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s and how to be a friend!
Barney comes to play with us, whenever we may need him
Barney can be your friend, too, if you just make believe him!

Once your adult self has quelled the inevitable gagging from reading these sickly sweet sentiments, consider the educational value of Barney. Yes, the theme song extols Barney as a sort of teaching jack-of-all-trades, bestowing timeless wisdom onto eager young devotees worldwide. Kids may have fallen for his insidious purple charm, but a fair proportion of parents weren't buying it. While they may have sung Barney's praises for his ability to keep their children glued to the TV while they conducted some household chores, they weren't wholly impressed with his purported dissemination of important life lessons.

As a character, Barney isn't a bad guy. He's generally a pretty positive role model for children, save for the fact that he's imaginary and a dinosaur. He's upbeat, optimistic, and an all around decent dinosaur. Barney's relentless cheerfulness, however, has been the subject of critical scrutiny. Some critics claim Barney's overly positive spin on life and lack of attention paid to any negative life experiences could numb children to real emotion. This claim is pretty ridiculous, assuming that the children in question are exposed to any other life experiences than their Barney videotapes. Sorry, researchers. You can try to take down Barney, but he'll just continue his reign of jolly terror. You can't win that easily.

The television version of the show features a different group of kids, continually cycling out once they reach a point of maturity that renders questionable their consorting with imaginary dinosaurs. PBS also threw in some younger dinosaur characters like Baby Bop and BJ to broaden the show's appeal. All secondary characters are typically just as nerve-grinding and irritating as the originals, performing equally irritating signature songs and dances. It's no wonder our parents left the room when this came on. As a child, it's all sort of cute and enticing, but as an adult it's just grating.

In case you were worried that kids today might go hungry for the Barney they so desperately crave, you needn't worry. Barney's still churning out the episodes, meaning you may soon be getting a taste of your own karmic medicine when you have your own preschool-age children. Purple, imaginary dinosaur-flavored medicine with bits of cloying song stuck in it. I'm sure all of our parents will gleefully delight in our slow progression to craziness after hearing that damn "I love you" song for the umpteenth time. We put them through it, though, so it's probably only fair we have to have a go at it from the other side.

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