Friday, April 16, 2010

90s Witches

There's an undeniable appeal to shows with supernatural themes. We all would like to believe that we might be capable of powers beyond the scope of our daily mundane lives and limited personal abilities. As children especially, the notion of pointing our fingers and fulfilling our every whim is pretty attractive. Teacher assigns too much homework? Parent requests too many chores? These are all prime target for our mischievous magic. Seems like a pretty good deal overall, really.

Unfortunately, these witches in TV and the movies seem to be doing it all wrong. They're always getting themselves into zany misunderstandings that usually end with some moral lesson on how we can't wish ourselves happy and how our mortal heart is the strongest guiding principle. I was always fairly sure that if given the same powers, I wouldn't end up in any of these situation comedy-friendly pickles. I could have just pointed and zapped and never had to learn a life lesson at all. How easy would that have been? Imagine the time I would have saved. What can I say? In my theoretical foray into witchdom, I'm all about results and efficiency. None of this "moral of the story" crap.

90s witches in popular entertainment tended to fall into one of the following categories: comedic and well-meaning, horrific and fear-inspiring, or some wacky combination of the two. Whatever the genre, these films and TV shows gave us an entertaining glimpse into the supernatural. I have yet to develop any mysterious powers of my own, but watching these gives me hope they're coming in any day now. If I could just zap that big daunting pile of papers out of my inbox, we'd all be in good shape.

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus may be a family-friendly comedy, but that "Come Little Children" song still has the creepiness capital to chill you to the core. In the film, young new-in-town Max and Dani bring back to life the infamous Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches put to death during the Salem witch trials. The kids do manage to eventually save the day, but not before the mischievous sisters wreak bewitching havoc on the town. Somewhere along the way, they also put on some show-stopping musical numbers.

Teen Witch

If you've never seen this one, you're truly missing out on a wealth of hilarious potential mocking. Just watch the above snippet and tell me it's not the most unintentionally rip-roaringly funny thing you've ever seen. Yes, her friend really looks at a boy and sighs wistfully, "Look how funky he is!" Look how funkly he is indeed.

Teen Witch is one of those incredibly corny, campy movies you just can't tear yourself away from. It was conceived as a sort of female counterpart to Teen Wolf, which may serve as an explanation for their comparable cheesiness. Oddly enough, Teen Witch is sort of a musical. It may not know exactly what it is, but one thing is for sure: even when it's meant to be serious, it's just laughably ridiculous.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Teenage witchery was evidently a popular pastime in the 90s; it seems Teen Witch didn't have a monopoly on adolescent witchcraft. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is based on the eponymous Archie series comic book. The show held a prime spot in ABC's TGIF Friday night lineup for several years, featuring Clarissa Explains it All's Melissa Joan Hart as the titular character. Sabrina lived with her sorceress aunts Hilda and Zelda and talking black cat Salem. Get it? Like the witch trials? Oh Sabrina. Is there no end to your cleverly sly references?

Practical Magic

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock star as two orphaned sisters who suffer the effects of a centuries-old family curse. The Owens family women are doomed to destroy any man with whom they fall in love. It may sound depressing, but the stars give the movie a humor and lightness. Throw in an accidental homicide and an oddly feel-good exorcism and you've got yourself a chick flick that even the manliest of men might be willing to watch. As long as you don't tell anyone about it.

The Craft

On the other side of the 90s witch spectrum we have The Craft, a dark revenge flick that's a dark cry from the touchy-feely witchcraft in Practical Magic. In this teen horror drama, Robin Tunney plays a new girl in town who doesn't quite fit in with the mainstream kids at school. She has a natural propensity for witchcraft, so when she falls in with an occult-minded trio of girls they manage to develop a mutual power that they hone and channel into wreaking revenge on their classmates and nemeses. It culminates in a big showdown of good versus evil, and (not-so-surprise spoiler alert) good manages to prevail. Whew. Close one.


Following its 1998 debut, Charmed went on to live out an impressive eight-season run, establishing it as the longest-running hour-long show to feature a cast of all female leads. While there was a bit of shifting around in the casting department in the 2000s, the original version featured Shannon Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs as Halliwell sisters Prue, Phoebe, and Piper. This trio of twenty-somethings are living together in San Francisco when they discover that they are "The Charmed Ones", good witches destined to battle evil. After perusing their inherited Book of Shadows and experimenting with their individual powers--telekinesis, the ability to freeze time, and psychic insight--they learn to combine their powers into the almighty Power of Three. I'll admit I stopped watching after Rose McGowan's Paige replaced Prue in the ensemble, but the show maintained a fairly steady popularity throughout its lifespan.

These characters piqued our imaginations and allowed us a brief escape to a fantasy world where, whether for good or evil, we might fancy ourselves bewitching. While they ranged in tone from dark and ominous to featherlight and silly, the content was consistently engaging and entertaining. And hey, we can keep fantasizing about the limitless potential of our imaginary powers. There's no saying we'll ever be as vengeful as the girls from the Craft or heroic as Charmed's Halliwell sisters, but we may at least be inspired to perform an enviably version of Teen Witch's "Top That." It won't take an inborn proclivity for sorcery, but it will take a supernatural ability to suppress your uncontrollable laughter.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Popular Young Children's Books of the 80s and 90s

Children's authors set the groundwork for a new generation to develop a deep love of reading, so it's critical that their output is engaging and amusing enough to hold our limited attention. Plus, our parents often bore the burden of reading these books to us again and again until they could have recited them from memory, so it helped if authors could throw in some humor that satiated the appetites of both adults and children.

These books satisfied both criteria in balance and firmly established a place in our collective nostalgic heart for their silliness, fun, and wit. Let's take a stroll through the magical world of 80s and 90s young children's books. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll develop a catchy rhyming scheme. Don't blame me if you start talking Seusically, though. It should wear off in 10-12 hours.

If You Give A Mouse a Cookie

We all know what happens when you start giving mice cookies. They're insatiable little rodents, really. At least that's the central message of Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He'll just keep bleeding you dry with favors until he finally just wants a cookie again. There's just no winning. Maybe if you try giving a Moose a Muffin or a Pig a Pancake things might turn out differently. Maybe.

Love You Forever

If you're a leaky-faucet type crier easily set off by emotional material, be warned that you'll release the floodgates by the last cycle of "I love you forever, I love you for always, as long as you're living, my baby you'll be." The book details the relationship of a mother and her young son as she recites the same refrain to him at various stages of his life. Near the end of the story, the adult child recites it back to his dying elderly mother and finally to his own infant daughter. The book resonates well with adults and children alike; it seems the older you get, the more likely you'll want to keep a full box of tissues nearby when you pick this one up.

The Eleventh Hour and Animalia

I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three years trying to trace these gorgeous illustrations in hopes of miraculously transferring Graeme Base's incredible art talent onto my own hopelessly skill-free hands. Base's books may be visually enchanting, but in the case of The Eleventh Hour they're also incredibly tricky. I still haven't managed to solve all of the many riddles embedded in the story. I almost caved and broke into the solution in the back, but I'm still holding out hope that the answer will just come to me.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales

Revisionist fairy tales can be a lot of fun, and this Wolf-narrated version of the classic Three Little Pigs story is no exception. Our allegedly mistakenly accused suspect, Alexander T. Wolf, describes his troubles in borrowing sugar to bake a cake for his Granny's birthday. Is it his fault he has a terrible cold and that pigs build inferior non-sneeze-resistant houses? How could you let a delicious ham dinner like that go to waste, after all?

Along the same lines and written by the same witty author (Jon Scieszka), The Stinky Cheese Man gives us an irreverent look at some of our favorite classic fairy tales. The Gingerbread Man is the Stinky Cheese Man, The Really Ugly Duckling just grows into a Really Ugly Duck, and Little Red Riding Shorts manages to outrun the wolf on the way to Grandma's. The book is a bit chaotic, but it's legitimately clever and witty, too.

Arthur Books

Marc Brown was clearly onto something when he created this lovable anthropomorphic eight-year old aardvark named Arthur. Populating Arthur's hometown of Elwood City are a host of other cuddly animal characters with varying socioeconomic backgrounds, leading me to find that yes, you can indeed be jealous of a fictional monkey. Darn you, Muffy, and your enviable rich-monkey lifestyle.

The Jolly Postman

Kids have pretty short attention spans, so an interactive book is always a major draw: it's like a combination book/game rolled into a neat little package. To be delivered by a postman. A jolly postman.

In The Jolly Postman, our hero postman maneuvers from one fairy tale house to another, delivering correspondences (an apology note from Golidlocks and the 3 bears), junk mail (an advertisement for "Hobgoblin Supplies, ltd."), and even threats of legal action (the case of the Wolf v. Miss Riding Hood.) The jolly postman stops for tea at each home, delivering letters that we as readers could physically open and read.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Learning the alphabet can be pretty boring, so imagine how relieved we were to find a book that turns dry and humorless letters into cute anthropomorphic characters. Our fearless letters climb the tree in orderly A-B-C succession, only to fall back down and sustain alphabetized injuries. Ouch.

Where the Wild Things Are

Monsters might seem like a scary, lurking under the bed prospect until we learn that in our imaginations we can just dance with them in a wild rumpus instead. Sounds like a decent solution to me. The back-story is possibly as entertaining as the tale itself: author Maurice Sendak had initially planned for the book to feature wild horses, but his publisher shunned Sendak's sub-par horse drawings. Sendak replaced the horses with caricatures of his Polish Jewish aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emile, Moishe, and Tzippy. I imagine they were thrilled to find their likenesses titled "things."

Berenstain Bears

This friendly bear family has been teaching kids valuable life lessons for generations. I believe I read the Visit to the Dentist book at my own dentist's office at least twenty times, which helped assuage my fear of the infamous yankers while simultaneously teaching me about the untapped goldmine of cash at stake for my expendable baby teeth. Win-win.

Amelia Bedelia

What do you get when you combine a charming rhyming named housekeeper and a penchant for extreme literal interpretation of simple instructions? Pure children's book gold. Amelia Bedelia draws the drapes by trying her hand at sketching the curtains and prunes the hedges by sticking prunes in them. We learned the value of simple vocabulary and double meanings, plus I got some great ideas for how to make a mockery of my household chores,

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Though it may have become a cliche gift for recent graduates, Dr. Seuss's final book is ultimately inspirational and sweet. The book details our protagonist's travel through uncharted territory, complete with setbacks and triumphs. So go ahead, give it to your graduating cousin or neighbor. He'll probably be able to start a collection with all of the copies he receives, but he may just learn a valuable lesson about endless possibilities.

The Rainbow Fish

This book seems pretty innocent with its message of sharing, so imagine my surprise in discovering it's taken some flack from critics for allegedly promoting a socialist agenda. It's a pretty preposterous accusation; it's enough to make you wish yourself back to a simpler time when you didn't know what things like "socialist agenda" even meant.


Fruit bats are adorable and owls are evil? What kind of crazy mixed-up pre-Harry Potter owl love affair world is this? Stellaluna is separated from her mother and is raised with a nest full of baby birds, the mother of whom admonishes her for hanging upside down like, well, a bat. In case you were worried, she does eventually reunite with her mother, but the book has a bit of a melancholy feel through the whole "be true to yourself" message.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

90s Slang--Catch Phrase Mash-Up, Volume 2

Slang and colloquial expressions have a certain way of dating things. At the time, these phrases seemed so unspeakably fresh and modern, but in retrospect it's clear that these slangy expressions are laughable at best. When we look back at the way we spoke just 10 or 15 years ago, it's easy to cringe at the ridiculous words and phrases we peppered into our daily conversation to feel hip and cool. I'll raise the roof to that.

Whether you were a frequent user and abuser of the day's trendiest terminology or simply dabbled in them recreationally, you can't deny their ubiquitousness in the 90s. Much as we may like to bury it away in our past, most of us were guilty of using these expressions at one point or another. I say, embrace your cheesy slang-dropping former self and revel in the wonder that is 90s slang--part two*:


Definition: (noun) Nonsensical noise to be used in situations where one emerges victorious over others and wishes to rub it in. The preferred exclamation of sore winners everywhere.

See also: In your face, BAM!

Example: I just got Jimmy in the face with my Super Soaker. Boo-ya!

Yo Mama

Definition: (noun) Your mother. While this seemingly innocuous phrase may not hold an inherent insult, its context usually suggests a derogatory connotation. In many cases followed by "so fat" or "so ugly" and an expository joke at your innocent mother's expense. As your mother is generally not directly involved in the back-and-forth trading of insults, its use suggests that your inherent familial stock resides at a Depression-era low. Plus, it's just mean.

Example: Yo mama's so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits around the house.

Note: You could probably throw in a boo-ya at the end of that for good measure.

Who's Your Daddy?

The pop culture reference may not be 90s, but it is pretty funny...if I were just a hair nerdier I would be sporting this t-shirt

Definition: (question, inquiry) Literally, who is your father? Maury Povich has spent countless television episodes examining this very topic, but this single phrase allows a similar impact with significantly less DNA sampling. The expression signifies your dominance over a competitor, implying you have embarrassed him to the extent that you have ascended to the rank of his father. Usually not accompanied by an outright spanking, but the phrase elicits a verbal one.

Example: Oh, I just schooled you in French verb conjugation! Who's your daddy?
Also acceptable in above example: Qui est votre pere?

Open Up a Can of Whoop-Ass

Definition: (verb) A generally empty threat of physical harm to another.

Process: Hold the can of whoop-ass perpendicular to a flat surface. Using a can opener or sharp knife, carefully pierce the outer edge of the lid. Peel lid from can. Discard. Proceed to beat the crap out of someone.

Example: I'm about to open up a can of whoop-ass on whoever graffiti-ed obscenities all over my Trapper Keeper.


Definition: (question, inquiry) What is up. Not meant to be taken literally, though true pains in the butt may gleefully respond, "The sky." Best received in delivered into the phone at an irritating decibel level with an incessant lengthening of each letter.

More: Budweiser popularized this pronunciation in an incredibly catchy but undeniably irritating 1999 ad campaign.

See also: How are you, what's new, what's (up arrow)

Example: I'm probably going to do something I'll regret if I have to watch that Whasssssuuuuppp?? commercial one more time. I'm warning you.

Raise the Roof

Definition: (verb) To delight in one's success. An outward expression of one's prideful joy.

Process: Bend arms upward, palms facing above you. Pump flat palms upwards several times in succession. Enjoy.

We would also accept: Remove roof from house. Raise skywards.

Example: This party is kickin'--raise the roof!

Word (to your Mother)

Definition: (interjection) A salutation or indication of agreement. The "to your mother" part is optional, but reflects firmer agreement.

See also: I concur, well said sir

Example: Yo man, let's get out of here. Word to your mother.

Note: That example has been shamelessly lifted from the song "Ice Ice Baby"

As If
Definition: (exclamation, interjection) A comical expression of exaggerated outrage. Popularized by Clueless's Cher Horowitz, the phrase indicates one's speculation on the unlikeliness of a situational outcome.

Example: Ugh, get off of me! As if!


Definition: (adverb) An alternative pronunciation of "all right"; an indication of agreement with an inexplicable aversion to l-r connectivity.

Example: "You up for going out tonight?" "Aiiiiight."


Definition: (exclamation, interjection) Of course, certainly. A reactive response to stupidity and obviousness. Grated on the nerves of a generation of parents who did not appreciate the sass.

Example: "Did you clean your room?" "Duh!"

My Bad

Definition: (interjection) Assumption of guilt or blame; admission of a mistake.

Example: (Nearly kills man on bicycle in out-of-control, poorly driven Jeep) "Oops! My bad!"
Note: Yes, that's a scene from Clueless. Cher's coinage is legendary.

Definition: (adjective) According to slang lore, an acronym for "Pretty Hot and Tempting." An urban word adopted by suburban poseurs in typical filter-down slang fashion. Experienced extreme overuse and outwearing of welcome in the late 90s. For clarification purposes, may need qualifying statement regarding the "P-H" spelling.

See also: Cool, Jiggy...yes, Jiggy.

Example: "Man, that girl is phat. With a p-h. Also, kind of with an f."

*Find part 1 of the Children of the 90s Catch Phrase Mash-Up here

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