Showing posts with label Talking Animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Talking Animals. Show all posts

Monday, May 10, 2010

The 90s' Favorite Canine Companions

Doug and Porkchop Pictures, Images and Photos

I was actually meaning to write a post about some of our favorite 90s pups two months back when we adopted our dog, but I've been too busy rescuing semi-chewed wallets from the inside of his death-trap jaws and picking up the inner stuffing of his over-loved toys off of the floor to bother. All these TV and movie dogs are always too busy going on Incredible Journeys, professing their love for Taco Bell in Spanish, or rising to fame as canine basketball stars to bother with day to day walking, feeding, and general well-meaning terrorizing of their owners. With this in mind, I was almost certain adopting a dog would be similar to the experiences I'd seen in the entertainment of my childhood. I knew to be prepared for lurking villainous dog fur poachers around every bend and to keep on the lookout for opportunities for my dog to take me on a humorous kid-friendly trip into the world of classic literature. Overall, it was a pretty exciting prospect.

As of yet, however, none of these outcomes have really panned out. I thought the dog was about to transform my living room Wishbone-style into a Shakespearean drama complete with period costumes, but it turned out he was just trying to catch a moth. I haven't given up hope though; it could still happen. I'll be prepared with my Elizabethan snood and pantaloons when it does.

These famous canines may not have given us a realistic depiction of dog ownership, but their general adorableness and lovability makes up for the resultant misconceptions about their magical and athletic abilities. If we overestiamte our own dogs' ability for greatness, it's only because these lovable pups set the bar so high with their hilarious and frequently heartwarming antics.

Chance and Shadow from Homeward Bound

If only we could all hear our dog's innermost thoughts narrated by Don Ameche and Michael J. Fox. They would be alternately wise and mischevious, with a touch of "Dogs rule and cats drool" thrown in for good measure.

101 Dalmatians

After the release of the 1996 live remake of the animated Disney classic 101 Dalmatians, the demand for Dalmatian puppies exploded. The movie created a breed boom, stocking housefuls of vulnerable children with adorable but admittedly rambunctious dalmatians. While the movie pupies were spared the cruel fate of becoming Cruella's fur coat, many of their real life counterparts were frequently abandoned or mishandled. Let the lesson be learned: highly trained Disney movie dogs may be enticing, but that's not what you're going to get at your local pet store or shelter.

Air Bud

Now here's a dog with some serious prospects. Not only was Air Bud an incredibly skilled basketball player, but he later went on to conquer football (Air Bud: Golden Receiver,) soccer (Air Bud: World Pup,) and baseball (Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch) among other pursuits, including Air Buddies puppy spinoffs. If nothing else, this series deserves major props for what may be the most groan-inducing puns to ever grace a movie poster.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

With names like Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy Itchiford, what's not to love? Plus, they're voiced by Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, some pretty impressive big names during the movie's 1989 release. Everyone learns a lesson, it's sufficiently heartwarming, and all the dogs get to go to heaven. All in all, a pretty good deal.

Otis from Milo and Otis

This originally Japanese movie was dubbed in English for Western release, detailing the cute story of a kitten and a pug puppy who make their way through all sorts of adventures, evenutally settling down with a cat or dog mate of their own, respectively. The animals are adorable, especially Otis, so it's a bit disturbing to learn of the animal cruelty allegated filed against the Japanese filmmakers. I'm just going to hope for the sake of my childhood innocence that the Japanese Humane Society told the truth in the closing credits that no animals were harmed in the filming of this movie.


Here's a solid example of a canine character that bombed with critics but resonated well with enthusiastic and easily amused audiences. Movie reviewers may not have been kind, but the movie's eponymous St. Bernard proved popular enough to spawn a slew of theatrical and straight-to-video sequels. Though I haven't seen Beethoven's Seventh, I can only assume it's equal parts hilarious big dog antics and cutesy symphony title jokes.

The Beast from the Sandlot

Now here is an example of a seriously scary movie dog. To the kids of the Sandlot, this mastiff was their most feared nemesis of the summer. It's pretty safe to say that while it all turned out okay in the end with The Beast, I doubt the demand for mastiff puppies surged as a result of the movie.

Comet from Full House

Here's a revelation: Full House's lovable golden retriever went on to play the title role in the film Fluke. His fur was dyed and apparently restyled to give him a more mutt-like appearance for the film. Turns out by default this makes Comet's post-FH acting career more successful than Stephanie Tanner's or Kimmy Gibbler's. Who knew?

Spunky from Rocko's Modern Life

You've got to feel a little bad for the house pet in a TV show populated by anthropromorphic characters. They're all animals too, but the poor dog is the only one who can't seem to communicate effectively. Tough break, Spunky.

Porkchop from Doug

Porkchop may not have been able to talk, but this dog was awesome. He was forever getting Doug out of jams before going to chill in his igloo doghouse. Get it? Chill? Igloo? No? Okay, okay, fine.

Spike from Rugrats

To be fair to Tommy, as a toddler I always thought the pet food looked pretty tasty, too. I was always rooting for him when I saw the above episode "Fluffy vs. Spike." Fluffy was no match.


What, your Jack Russell terrier never takes you on educational adventures through historically relevant fiction? You're probably just not feeding him the right brand of food. I'd also recommend asking him, "What's the story?" It always worked for Wishbone. You might want to sing it, though.

Yo Quiero Taco Bell Chihuahua

This little guy did for chihuahuas what 101 Dalmatians did for dalmatians. The character was played by canine actress Gidget Chipperton, though she didn't provide her own hilarious Taco Bell-seeking vocals. If nothing else, this little guy did teach even the most unilingual among us a single Spanish phrase. If I ever get lost in a Spanish speaking country where I think there may be a Taco Bell present, I'll know how to find it.

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I just couldn't resist. In case you were incredibly curious--and I'm sure you were!--here's a photo of my own little monster. He may not be quite as accomplished as these dog stars, but I think we'll keep him. Plus, if we build him an igloo in the backyard, I think he might start co-starring in my Quailman fantasy sequences. It's worth a try.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Where Do They Come Up With This Stuff? A Few Truly Strange 80s and 90s Children's Shows

It takes a special kind of creativity to dream up the premise of a truly unique kids' show. In grown-up circles, it's more commonly referred to as certifiable insanity. It's almost as if some of these children's show writers have some special gene that grants them an eternally youthful point of view. Otherwise, craziness is probably the most flattering description of their professional endeavors. We'll go with the gene thing.

Though the 80s and 90s saw its fair share of educational children's programming, many kids' shows lacked that level of justification for production. At best the characters might learn a moral lesson or two, but in general the themes of these shows fell into the "WHAAAA?" category. It's hard to imagine the shows' creators delivering their respective pitches for these absolutely ridiculous concepts.

We can only imagine it went a little something like this:

"So there are these Martian mice, right? Oh, and they're motorsports enthusiasts. That part's pretty important, too. And--"
"Say no more. We're putting this into production immediately. Biker Mice? From Mars? Brilliant!"

It's almost enough to make you want to start keeping a dream journal. All of those unrelated thoughts shuffling around in your head just might turn out to be the premise of a lucrative children's entertainment franchise. Maybe.

Regardless of the germination process of these strange concepts, kids embraced these shows as gospel. That's the best part about children's entertainment: your viewers won't question a thing. Everything you show them makes perfect sense to them. Why? Because you said so. It's a perfect balance of getting away with insanity and never having a fan dispute or question anything you present. What's the worst they can do--write a scathing review in crayon on the living room wall?No, they'll watch it and they'll like it. It's just that easy.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

We've had such heavy exposure to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that it can be difficult to remind ourselves that the concept is utterly ridiculous. They're not just mutant turtles, they're also adolescents with a penchant for mixed martial arts. Brilliant.

Biker Mice from Mars

As many shows on this list have firmly established, kids go for the literal. When naming your animated or puppet-populated series, it's best to just come up with an exact description of your major concept and just go with that. Biker Mice from Mars are a perfect example, as they are indeed mice from Mars with a passion for motorcycling. Don't fight it, it makes perfect sense.

It's amazing we made it all the way to the 90s before someone turned this into a TV show. You would think someone would have come up with it sooner. After all, motorcycles, mice, and Mars are just so darn intrinsically connected. Anyway, Ian Ziering was in it. Ian Ziering! You've got to have a soft spot for that.


Like I said, save the creativity and craziness for your show's concept. The title should be simplified to a point of dumbed-downness. It's half cat, it's half dog, what do you call it? A CatDog. Of course.


To be fair, in the case of the Popples, the toys came first. At least we know where they came up with it, though the back-story the writers filled in is a tad questionable. The Popples are adorable little pom-pom tailed puffballs who pull mysterious objects from their kangaroo-esque pouches. They also consistently thwart the efforts of well-meaning human children. It's crazy, sure, but their cuteness is a reasonable distraction from how little sense it all makes.


These may have risen to popularity a bit after our time, but their impact on the genre of strange kid shows was incredibly resonant. They're colorful, they roll on the ground in the sunshine, they laugh uncontrollably, and they believe they can see children through a screen on their tummies...I don't know what these guys are on, but I want some.

Eureeka's Castle

This was pre-Harry Potter wizardry, meaning the Eureeka's Castle producers still got away with making up their own arbitrary rules on sorcery. They also gave us a slew of unique characters, including the peanut butter-sandwich gobbling Bogg twins, the flying impaired blind-as-a-bat Batly, bumbling dragon Magellan, and vaguely ethnic pushcart owner Mr. Knack. Magellan even had some terrifying claymation pets, Cooey and the Slurms. Maybe it's just me, but I have always been terrified by claymation. I'm pretty sure it's just me.

The Smurfs

Despite the conspiracy theorist arguments claiming the Smurfs to be a pro-communist vehicle, I've never really bought into it. Yes, the Smurfs are admittedly strange, but their intention is to get kids to share. Maybe we should stop teaching that in kindergartens, too, to simulate a more capitalist classroom environment. Survival of the fittest five-year olds. How could it possibly go wrong?

Bananas in Pajamas

The title says it all: the main characters are indeed bananas eternally clad in pajamas. That's pretty much all there is to it. They don't even get the courtesy and respect of real names, stuck as B1 and B2. You get the feeling the writers meant to fill that in somewhere along the way, but then just gave up on it.

Rocko's Modern Life

What, you've never seen an Australian wallaby with a pet dog whose best friends are a steer raised by wolves and a neurotic over-phobic turtle? You can't accuse Rocko's Modern Life's creators of being unoriginal. The characters are undeniably idiosyncratic, but they're all charming in their own right. Well, charming if you're not too visually squeamish; the show can get a tad gross.

Fraggle Rock

To their credit, the Fraggles did teach us to dance our cares away. That probably counts as moderately educational. They can share dreams by making head contact with another Fraggle, they subsist on doozle sticks and radishes, and they coexist with Gorg giants. Their incredibly specific and detailed existence is at least justified by the show's relative complexity for a kid's program. And, you know, we danced our cares away. That part was the best.

Wee Sing in Sillyville

This one was actually a straight-to-video musical series, but its craziness warrants a legitimate place on this list. Sure, it has a legitimate message of togetherness and anti-prejudice, but the songs are so over the top that you've got wonder what these adult actors were on.

Aaah! Real Monsters

There's something to be said for the originality of 90s Nicktoons. Shows like Aaah! Real Monsters created a fully formed highly imaginative world of monsters-in-training. Ickus, Oblina, and Krum were fully realized characters, which makes up for their sometimes unsavory behavior. We can probably let it go, though. They are monsters, after all. Plus they live in a literal dump. Let's cut them a break.

Zoobilee Zoo

Perhaps this one qualifies more aptly as creepy than just strange. Those costumes are reallysomething else. Adults in full animal makeup and get-ups are sure to simultaneously delight young children an scare the bejeezus out of adults. The older and allegedly more mature I get, the scarier the pictures of these guys seem.

This list is just skimming the surface of the under-examined weirdness of the kids' TV series with which we grew up. Additions to the list are more than welcome in the comments section. Just don't think about any of the shows' premises too hard; you could easily strain a neuron or two trying to wrap your brain around their convoluted reasoning.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Image via

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

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

Poster from the original 1963 film. Image via

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via

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

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

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

At least that's the way I understood it.

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