Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Easter Baskets Full of Movies

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

This past Easter Sunday was a nice, quiet day.  The Syracuse Orange college basketball team  moved onto the Final Four the day before so I was in a good mood, and my family wasn’t planning on going anywhere.  I also got some great stuff in my two, yes, count them, two baskets!  Also included were some great movies!  My mother and I sat down to enjoy three of them.

My favorite movie of the three (and my mom’s, too!) was Rise of the Guardians , a DreamWorks movie about a group of magical characters including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and new member Jack Frost, who come together to protect children everywhere from the nightmare-inducing Pitch Black.  I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had seen a few trailers but not much else.  The description on the back of the DVD case made the movie a bit more interesting for me when I came across the villain’s name which was given as simply Pitch, which I recognized as an old name for the devil, something I thought was a bit unusual for a family movie.  Everything in the film was full of magic and wonder.  The settings of each of the Guardians’ homes and the town they visited looked fantastic, the characters were lively, funny, and touching when the moment called for it, and following Jack Frost’s journey from aloof prankster to rightful hero was very inspirational to me.  This film was a great one for me to get lost in, and I would love to see a sequel.

Hotel Transylvania was a much wackier film than Rise of the Guardians, but it hit another of my sweet spots.  The premise of Dracula running a hotel for monsters and his daughter Mavis falling in love with a human were solid in my view.  To me, the film felt like a two-dimensional cartoon even though it was really a computer-animated movie.  With the way the characters were bouncing around, it reminded me of an old Tex Avery cartoon at some points.  The jokes were also consistently funny all the way through; my favorite joke was one of the Wolfman’s daughters, a very young girl, giving Drac and his friends detailed directions to the airport.  Both this movie and the Guardians film had very cute characters, causing me and my mom to go “Awwwww!” every few minutes.  On a day where cute things are very welcome, these two films had some of the most adorable things I have ever seen and made me feel very happy.

The last movie my mom and I watched on Easter Sunday was Wreck-It Ralph, a tale of redemption which I now think was appropriate to watch at the end of a day concerned with rebirth and renewal.  In the movie, the title character, tired of being endlessly humiliated as the villain in a popular Donkey Kong-like arcade game, leaves his home and goes “game jumping” into other arcade machines in the hope of obtaining a medal which he believes will make the other characters in his home game accept him as a hero.  Along the way, he meets up with a little but feisty girl named Vanellope who, in turn, helps him to save the entire arcade from a massive infestation of murderous virtual bugs.  In true Disney movie fashion, he soon finds out the true meaning of heroism.  This is is the only film of the three which I previously watched in a movie theater, but it was fun to watch it again at home and be able to see a lot of details I hadn’t noticed before.  It was my favorite movie of 2012, at least of the movies I actually saw last year.  However, after watching the other two movies and being astounded by those, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed with this one in comparison.  I already knew how Ralph’s story went, and I was a little less excited to watch it again after seeing what the Guardians movie had to offer.  All things considered, though, I think it was a nice way to end the day, and it is still one of the best Disney movies I have seen in quite a while.

I enjoyed all three of these movies and they made for a great Sunday triple matinee.  I believe they all had a theme of “bad seeds” (Jack Frost, Dracula, and Ralph) finding better paths for their lives which come to benefit everyone around them; what better message could you give on Easter?  How was your Easter Sunday (if you celebrated it, that is?)  Did you do anything special?  Let me know in the comments.

Thomas the Tank Engine: A Sodor Sing-Along

Monday, March 25th, 2013
All aboard!

Rolling along the tracks of life…

I’ve been on a bit of a “Thomas the Tank Engine” kick lately.  Since the recent announcement of a new Thomas movie coming out in 2013, I’ve been hunting for Thomas videos and DVDs at garage sales and  bargain bins, looking to reconnect with a cherished piece of my childhood.  I’ve also tuned in weekly to the Thomas & Friends TV show to see what all the engines look like now that CGI is being used instead of the old model trains (I prefer the models, but the computer animation isn’t too bad).  I have rediscovered many wonderful friends on the island of Sodor, and I love seeing them all.  A couple of days ago, I bought a DVD full of songs from the TV show and spent a bit of last night appreciating just how good the songs were and the great memories they brought back.  Here’s a few of my favorite songs from the show along with links to YouTube videos featuring them.  Credit for most songs goes to series composers Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell who I feel gave just the right kind of lighthearted feel this series called for in terms of music.  The one exception is “Hear the Engines Coming” which was written by Robert Hartshorne.  Feel free to share them with your kids; I think these songs are too much fun to keep to yourself.

“Toby”

This song features one of my favorite engines in the whole Thomas universe (other than the big blue guy himself, of course).  It’s a three minute retelling of the story of how Toby the tram engine came to Thomas’s railway after being shut up in a shed for years.  That story almost always makes me cry a little at the thought of Toby being cut off from everyone for so long.  The song makes this thought even more unbearable for me because the kids singing it soon start wailing, “Toby, oh Toby,/What will become of you?/The world’s much nicer whenever we see you.”  I agree with them wholeheartedly: the whole world does seem a lot nicer whenever I see Toby’s big square body and cute little smile, and I’m glad that the song ends with him going out into the world again.  It also has a great melody taken from Toby’s signature upbeat musical theme which always precedes his appearances in the series and which I never tire of hearing.  No matter how old I might get, I’ll always cherish Toby’s presence in my life.  Like the song says, “Oldies but Goldies, we still care for you.”

“Sir Topham Hatt”

Please note that this is the 1994 song, not the 2010 rendition which covers virtually the same territory but with a light jazz motif which I really don’t like much at all, so, in my opinion, the lesser said about that one the better.  The 1994 song is a musical tribute to the big guy in the top hat and black coat who runs one of the most famous parts of the Sodor railway system.  Basically, the song covers Hatt’s rotund figure, his control of the railway, and recounts a few of his more iconic moments in the series.  It’s all sung to a melody that throws its weight around through heavy percussion beats and loud brass notes, just like the character it is dedicated to.  If you ever wanted to explain to someone who has never heard of the Thomas franchise who Sir Topham Hatt is, this song would be a good place to start.

“Hear the Engines Coming”

As I hinted at above, I generally don’t like a lot of the newer songs that have been written for the Thomas series.  Most of them tend to be written in Broadway, rock-and-roll, and light jazz styles which I think clash a lot with the old-fashioned setting of the series.  I do like this song from 2011, however.  It turns the puffs, whistles, clanks, bangs, and bashes of the engines’ work day into a fun, noisy song that made me smile the first time I heard it, possibly the first time I’d cracked a really big grin at anything I’ve seen during the CGI era.  I’ve always liked songs and stories that turn noise into a fun rhythm game, and this song hits that sweet spot for me.  I don’t think of it as a classic like the songs from when I was growing up, but it’s not half bad.

“Island Song”

I had actually never heard this song before (or at least I didn’t remember it from my childhood) until I picked up the DVD I talked about at the beginning of this post.  I felt myself crying a little bit as this song went on because it reminded me of why I fell in love with the Thomas the Tank Engine show in the first place.  In fact, that was pretty much how I felt after hearing the first verse: “Picture a land where the sky is so blue/A storybook land of wonder/A magical land just waiting for you/Island of Sodor will make your dreams come true.”  The show’s depiction of Sodor as a perpetually green in the summer (pristine white in winter) land full of talking train engines definitely left a strong impression on me when I was younger and has stayed with me for years.  As new generations discover Thomas for the first time, I feel compelled to join in with the chorus and tell those kids, “Children follow the dream/To the land of make believe.”  I am sure that dream will live on forever as long as kids care to dream it.

“Thomas’ Anthem”

We started with a song about one of my favorite engines, so now I’ll close with my absolute favorite song from the series, which coincidentally happens to be the first one ever featured in the series.  Like the title indicates, this song is pretty much the original Thomas theme song, using the music from the opening title sequence to back up its chorus, “Thomas the Tank Engine rolling along,/[whistling part – I don’t quite know how to do it all that well either for this post or in real life; you can hear it for yourself in the video, so bonus points if you can replicate it on your own]/All of his friends will be coming along/Thomas, we love you!”  I was actually surprised the original title sequence even had lyrics, but when I heard them, I thought to myself, “Yup, this one’s going to stay with me.”  I also kind of like the new intro song it’s been replaced with since my childhood, “Engine Rollcall,” but there’s a part of me that will always like the original theme the best.  I didn’t hear it until well after my formative years were over, but it reminds me of when I first saw the show, and that’s a great thing in my book.

These songs always bring back my childhood whenever I hear them, and I hope you enjoyed them, too.  What did you think of them?  What songs do you like?  Let me know in the comments, and keep puffing along!

Great Fictional Presidents

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
And forever in peace may you wave.

The U.S. Stars and Stripes: a grand old flag.

I believe I might be going a bit crazy from all of the snow that has been falling in my area over the past few days.  It looked for a while like the snow was going to melt and spring would be here, but apparently that’s not the case right now.  Somehow, this has driven me to write a post about some great fictional United States presidents, even though Presidents’ Day has passed.  Regardless, I think a little appreciation of these leaders and their accomplishments will make me get over my winter blues, and, hopefully, make you feel good, too.

President Scooby-Doo, Cartoon Network

That’s right, a mystery-solving cartoon canine played the role of a U.S. president, or at least the president of a television network.  Cartoon Network held a mock election in 2000 with all of the network’s characters eligible for candidacy.  There were plenty of candidates on the air at the time who I thought would make for a more suitable leader of the free world (President Bugs Bunny, anyone?), but somehow, Scooby appealed the most to voters.  I can’t seem to recall if the administration of Scoobert Doo made any far-reaching efforts to address the economy, healthcare, or any other big issues, but he definitely moved the crowd during his State of the Union address and his push for a bill giving America new airings of old Scooby movies and specials showed that he believed in a healthy appreciation of the arts.  Unfortunately, when Cartoon Network ran another election in 2004, Scooby wasn’t involved, what I feel is a shame considering he was probably one of the most popular leaders in this country’s recent history.  At least he will always be remembered for being the first cartoon dog to be president, as well as being one of the greatest Great Danes ever.

Unnamed president, Fairly Oddparents, “That Ol’ Black Magic”

This fictional president appears only a few times in one episode of this Nickelodeon show featuring magic, wishes, and the hilarity that ensues, but his appearances left quite an impression on me.  In the episode he appears in, it is Friday the 13th, so even though he is being briefed by a general regarding how he shouldn’t touch the huge red button on his desk, the president accidentally tips over a salt shaker and presses the button anyway, launching a nuclear warhead in the process.  Luckily, the warhead lands in a desert without harm.  When the general asks the president what he is going to do now that he’s almost caused World War III, he replies while dressed in full vacation gear, “I’m going to Escalator Land!”  (Sorry about the low volume in the video; turn up your volume as high as possible if you want to hear what everyone’s saying.)  A short time later, the president is seen vacationing at the escalator-themed amusement park and asking, “When do we get to the ride?”  Timmy Turner’s father replies, “This is the ride!”  The camera pulls back to reveal that the escalator everyone is riding on is indeed the main attraction at the park.  I know that presidents are sometimes criticized with being “out of touch” with the American public, but this fictional president takes that sentiment to a whole new low.  I think he is also largely a product of his time because he slightly resembles George W. Bush who was in power at the time this episode originally aired, thus becoming a reflection of the disgruntled feelings the people had with Bush.  I think this character is an interesting footnote in cartoon history, forever tied to a particular time and set of feelings.  We may never see a fictional president like him again.

President Lancelot R. Gilligrass, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon, a task which was accomplished six years after his untimely death.  Two years after man landed on the moon in the real world, President Gilligrass promised to launch a hotel in space in the fictional world.  This goal was accomplished during his lifetime, but not before it was invaded by an army of Vermicious Knids.  In one of the darkest hours in the short history of space exploration and tourism, the hotel staff and three brave astronauts as well as a strange party of individuals led by eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka fended off the fiends.  The astronauts and hotel staff stayed on the orbiting hotel to clean up the place and prepare it for the exciting new world of space tourism, while Wonka and his party returned to Earth for a special dinner with President Gilligrass.  This exciting adventure was one of the few high points in Gilligrass’s time in the White House, a period marked with numerous accusations that he was letting Vice President Elvira Tibbs, his former nanny, handle all of the day-to-day operations to cover up his general incompetency.  Given Gilligrass’s tendency to work knock-knock jokes into every conversation and the fact that his secretary of the treasury’s idea of “balancing the budget” was to literally balance stacks of money on a scale, I have reason to believe those accusations might be true.  However, I still believe such faults shouldn’t take away from Gilligrass’s main accomplishment of establishing a space tourism business long before such a thing would even be considered practical in the real world.

I hope you enjoyed this examination of some fictional presidencies.  What did you think of it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Obscure “Starcade” Games I Think Would Be Fun to Play

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Not bad for a TV screen and a wooden box.

Life’s all fun and games!

One of my favorite game shows of all time is Starcade, a show from the early 1980s in which kids played new arcade games in order to win such prizes as their very own arcade machine, a personal robot, a jukebox, and in a rare case, vacations to Hawaii with a large supply of quarters to spend in arcades in that state.  I became familiar with this show through frequent reruns on the G4 cable network and was entranced by some of the more unusual games featured on the show.  Tucked in between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were some unique games which I think I would greatly enjoy playing if I were to come across them in a real arcade.  The following is a catalog of five of those games as well as links to videos of the games in action.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Starcade show itself, I highly recommend checking out the official website set up by JM Productions, the company responsible for making the show; it contains a lot of cool stuff including complete episodes, videos and trivia of all of the games featured on the show, and music from those games, the show itself, and some of JM’s other shows.

5. Pooyan

One fine day in a nondescript virtual forest somewhere in the arcade, Mama Pig’s little piglets were kidnapped by a band of wolves.  Apparently the wolves decided to celebrate by freefalling from the top of a tree with balloons attached to their backs (Why balloons instead of parachutes?  Oh well, that’s video game logic for ya!).  Unbeknownst to them, Mama Pig will soon be taking revenge on them by firing darts at their balloons from the safety of an elevator controlled by some of her liberated children.  You, the player, must move the elevator up and down and fire darts at the wolves while avoiding the pinecones (or are they acorns?  Oranges?  They definitely look like circular objects, at least!) the wolves throw back.  It seemed to me that Pooyan was the game I saw being played most often on Starcade, as it was picked by one of the contestants in just about every single show in which it was one of the featured games.  I have wondered what made it so popular.  Is it because it was a horizontal shooter in an era when vertical shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga were still considered the norm?  Is is because the characters could quite possibly be the cutest-looking video game characters ever?  Whatever it’s appeal was, the Starcaders flocked to it like groupies at a rock concert.  I’d like to experience that phenomenon firsthand and see what all the fuss was about.

4. Pengo (not to be confused with the animated penguin character Pingu)

As announcer Kevin McMahan states at the start of the video I linked to above, “Pengo is a penguin.”  He is trapped in a maze of ice blocks with the Snowbees, round Q-bert imposters, chasing him down.  They are trying to stop him from completing his mission of lining up three specially marked ice blocks in a row for big points.  Fortunately, Pengo can fight back by sliding ice blocks across the playing field and over the Snowbees to make them vanish for a few seconds.  He can also destroy ice blocks to create new paths through the maze and to get rid of places where the Snowbees can regenerate.  Like Pooyan, I think this game has some very cute characters and provides a nice twist on an established arcade game genre, in this case maze games like Pac-Man and its ilk.  I also find it interesting that it seems to be a variation of an old Japanese game called Sokoban in which you push crates around a warehouse (ice blocks around an ice field?  Pretty much the same thing to me.).  I feel this game would appeal greatly to Pac-Man fans who want to see a different kind of maze game, and I think it’s a very “cool” game concept (come on, the pun was right there!).  (Incidentally, I love the background music this game has.  It sounds like a classical piece to me, but I’m not sure which one it is.  The Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to have the answer I’m looking for.  Does anyone else know?)

3. Popeye

Before Nintendo hit the big time with Donkey Kong, a game about an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute, they tried their luck in arcades with a game focused on, get this, an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute.  In this case, Popeye is attempting to beat the stuffing out of Bluto in order to rescue Olive Oyl, just like in all of his classic cartoons.  Popeye doesn’t have much of a fighting chance against the much stronger Bluto in his normal state, but luckily, the game makers have provided a few cans of spinach for the sailor to gulp down.  Naturally, eating one of these gives Popeye tremendous strength so he can knock Bluto’s block off and send him down into the water below the playing field.  In addition, Popeye can grab hearts and notes of love that Olive sends down from above for extra points.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this game outside of Starcade as it looks like a solidly built basic aracde game that could’ve been a big hit.  I’ve heard that Nintendo had a bit of trouble with King Features over the license to use the Popeye characters.  The game did get a release on the Japanese Nintendo Famicom (the original version of the NES) and Namco made a new game based on it for mobile phones in 2008, so at least some people are still able to play it in some form.  I’d still like to play the original arcade version, though.  It’s an interesting footnote in video game history, and I would be interested in playing it myself to see if it’s just as fun as Donkey Kong.

2. Cliffhanger (not to be confused with that Price is Right game with the mountain climber; that one’s spelled “Cliffhangers” with an added “s,” but I do think that yodeling music is very catchy!)

I think this game is probably the most unusual one on this list because it’s not really much of a game at all.  It’s actually an interactive version of a classic Japanese animated movie!  Actually, there’s two movies featured in the game: according to this Wikipedia page, the bulk of the game is based on Castle of Cagliostro with a small bit extracted from Mystery of Mamo.  In any case, the player is tasked with guiding the dapper chap Cliff in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Clarissa from the clutches of the fiendish Count Draco.  You don’t control Cliff or his friends directly, though: instead you move a joystick around and tap a button to play the next section of the movie.  This game was one of many such “interactive movie” games including Dragon’s LairSpace Ace, and Mach 3.  I’ve played all of those other games except Mach 3, and I think this type of game is very fun, if a bit limited.  I’d like to seek the Cliffhanger game out and play through it to complete my quest through all of this genre’s most notable games.  I wonder if such a bizarre source of footage would indeed make for compelling game play.

1. Super Pac-Man

 Since Starcade did focus on the world of arcade games, of course Pac-Man would be a fixture on the show.  In addition to Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, there was also a trio of unusual spin-off titles.  Pac-Man Plus was a souped-up version of the original game in which all of the characters moved faster and Pac-Man could consume a soda can which made all of the ghosts invisible (a bad thing if you hadn’t eaten a power pellet yet; those ghosts could pop out of nowhere Alien-style and get you when you least expected it!).  Professor Pac-Man wasn’t a maze game at all but rather a math quiz game with a graduation cap-wearing Pac-Man as the quizmaster.  The spin-off game I would most like to play, though, is Super Pac-Man.  In this game, Pac-Man is still playing “chase or be chased” with the ghosts and can still swallow power pellets to turn his enemies blue and then chomp them away for a time.  However, the familiar small dots have been replaced with more nutritious-looking apples for Pac-Man to consume.  Also, there’s a bunch of doors which block off certain sections of the maze.  Thankfully, someone apparently keeps dropping keys into the maze; whenever Pac-Man swallows one, he turns into Super Pac-Man and grows to ten times his regular size.  In this huge form, the ghosts can’t harm him and he can unlock the doors.  Even though the style of game play is, for all intents and purposes, fairly typical for a Pac-Man game, the small differences in this game is what I like.  It adds a couple of new wrinkles to the usual Pac-Man strategy: Do you want to unlock this new portion of the maze and give the ghosts more space to roam?  Which power-up do you want more at the moment: the key for the Super Pac-Man form or the old power pellet to get rid of your ghostly adversaries?  I’m not sure what my strategy would be, but I would like to play this game to find out.  Not to mention Pac-Man is just plain fun in any form, so ten times the size could surely equal ten times the fun!

There were a lot of neat games featured on Starcade that I liked to see or was interested in.  Would you like to hear more about them or about the show itself?  Are there any arcade games you really enjoyed or still enjoy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  And until next time, in the words of host Geoff Edwards, “May all your troubles get zapped!”

Obscure Holidays Worth Celebrating

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I celebrate most of the major holidays with my family: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.  However, there are some very obscure holidays you don’t really find on a calendar which I feel should be observed alongside their more famous brethren.  I smile a little bit when I realize one of these “holidays” is coming up or has passed without my realizing it.  Here’s a few of these lesser-known special days along with the dates on which they occur so you, too, can celebrate them the next time they roll around.

Pi Day (March 14)

This holiday gets its name due to the fact that it falls on the third month and its fourteenth day.  The first three digits of the extraordinarily long long number pi are 3.14.  There’s three things I think I would love to do on this day.  One: have a contest with someone to see who can correctly recite the most digits of pi in a row.  Two: learn how to make a pie and then eat three whole pieces of it for dessert with fourteen hundredths of a piece to be served with dinner.  Three: enjoy a My Little Pony mini-marathon on TV with Pinkie Pie as a featured character (or just watch this five-minute video of all of her best moments).

Star Wars Day (May 4)

This special day is based on a famous quote from the Star Wars movies, “May the Force be with you.”  Every year on May the fourth, the hearts of young Jedi Knight wannabes everywhere turn to memories of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, Han Solo resembling Indiana Jones in space, Darth Vader revealing to Luke who his true father is (spoiler alert!), and the “prequel” movies having some really cool/embarrassing moments (for me, that would be the podracing sequence in Episode I for the cool side and Jar Jar Binks casting the deciding vote in favor of  the Empire’s creation for the other).  This year, May 4 will be a Saturday, so I feel that might be a good opportunity to organize a little Star Wars viewing party with my family, even if we watch just the classic trilogy.  Who knows, maybe I might discover I have Force powers, which would make doing the household chores a heck of a lot easier!

Free Comic Book Day (May 4)

In addition to Star Wars Day, Saturday, May 4, plays host to another special occasion this year.  On the first Saturday in May every year, comic book stores throughout the country, as well as comic book fans in general, celebrate Free Comic Book Day.  This day is dedicated to promoting a love of comic books and literacy among kids and adults.  A whole host of comic book companies, including DC, Marvel, and Archie, publish special comic books and offer them free of charge to anyone who cares to visit a comic store that day.  It has been an annual tradition for me for the past few years to visit all the local comic book stores in my area and pick out a few free comics at each stop.  Most stores have limits on how many free comics you can get at that particular location, so I visit a few stores to get the best selection of titles.  I’ve noticed that more and more kids have been going to the stores on this day each year, so it’s definitely a special day I want to support.  Check out the link above for more information on Free Comic Book Day, and this link for info on the free comics being offered this year.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19)

Ahoy, matey!  Have you ever wanted to have a day where you could only speak in pirate lingo?  Have you felt the inexplicable urge to bury a treasure chest in your backyard, then go on a long “sea voyage” to find it again?  Do you just want to have a parrot sit on your shoulder all day?  Then this holiday just might be for you!  Whether you aspire to be the next Blackbeard or Anne Bonny, whether you want to turn your house into a pirate ship or just wear a puffy shirt and shout “Argh” or “Shiver me timbers,” this day has something for all landlubbers young and old to enjoy.  There’s still plenty of time to plan out your pirate party, but if you’re looking for inspiration, this music video featuring the cast of LazyTown as pirates might float your boat.

What do you think of these holidays?  Would you want to celebrate any of them?  Do you have any other special obscure holidays you observe each year?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Now get out there and celebrate!

Think Again: I Wish…

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
I wish I may, I wish I might...

Care to wish upon this star?

Think Again is a new format I am experimenting with.  It’s kind of like a Random Top Five.  This first list was inspired by all of the examples of wish fulfillment I have seen in pop culture.  Often, it seems the results of wishes are less than desirable while in other cases the wish itself or, to me, the way it is expressed seems poorly thought out.  I tend to live by the rule, “Be careful what you wish for.”  Here’s a few examples of wishes that I think should have been made more carefully.

“I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener.”  (commercial tag line)

Okay, Ralphie, let me get this straight.  You wished you wanted to become delicious sausages for no other reason than that, “…everyone would be in love with me.”  Did it ever occur to you that maybe they would love you because of how you tasted?  Well, look at you now.  Little Johnny’s lying between two hot dog buns and slathered with mustard.  Tony’s tied up in a long string of sausages along with Sally, Susie, and Norm, along with a dozen other kids.  People have been trying to eat your head off for two hours straight.  Now that you know what being a sausage feels like, maybe you’ll now wish you had an Oscar Mayer wiener instead of wanting to become one.

“When You Wish Upon a Star” (Disney anthem)

I have loved this ultimate tribute to wish fulfillment ever since I first heard it on a Pinocchio VHS tape.  I highly appreciate the song’s message that anyone’s dreams can come true.  However, I think it’s about time somebody added a verse to it or changed its lyrics slightly to reflect the fact that often you have to work hard to make your wishes a reality.  There’s too many princesses waiting around in towers waiting for a prince to come along and sweep them off their feet.  There’s too many child heroes waiting for some deus ex machina to come along and free them from lives of endless labor.  They all need to realize that sitting around accomplishes nothing, that action leads to reward (well, at least I think it should!).  The song already says, “Fate is kind; she brings to those who love the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing.”  I say we change that lyric to, “..those who love and work!”

“I wish everything was back to normal!  (Timmy Turner in every single Fairly Oddparents episode ever)

The typical plot line for a Fairly Oddparents episode goes like this: Average kid Timmy Turner makes a wish.  His fairy godparents grant the wish.  The wish often goes horribly and hilariously wrong.  Timmy wishes that everything was back to normal, effectively canceling the wish out.  Lather, rinse, repeat for 126 episodes.  The only thing is, Timmy’s life isn’t really all that normal.  His parents, babysitter, and teacher are all still lunatics.  Villains he’s defeated show up again in later episodes.  Some of the wishes he has made have had such far-reaching effects on his world that his life can never go “back to normal,” such as when he wished that his fairies would have a baby (he’s still on the show, folks, and he’s cute as a button!).  I think Timmy knows well enough by now that his life will probably never be “normal” again, and to his credit, he is starting to wish that “…the (insert bad thing here) was gone,” or that things would go back to “…the way they were.”  He still makes plenty of bad wishes, but at least he’s a bit more realistic when it comes to his expectations of what his normal life is like.

Do you wish to see more of this “Think Again” format?  Are there any wishes you’ve made that you’ve wanted to change?  Let me know in the comments, and may all your wishes come true!

Random Top Five: My Favorite Fives

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
One, two, three, four...guess what's next?

Coming in at Number Five!

Five is a number that is less than six, more than four, and number one in my heart.  The number five also turns up a lot in popular culture.  I wonder why that is.  I want to find out someday, but until that day comes, here are five of my favorite fives.

5. Subway’s “Five,  five dollar,  five dollar foot-long” jingle

I haven’t taken advantage of the deals being advertised in the Subway commercials featuring this jingle, but I do find the tune itself to be very catchy.  It’s got a simple thumping rhythm that makes me feel like I belong to something bigger.  Not bigger in a religious sense, mind you, just bigger in the sense that the jingle is welcoming me in.  It’s still “…g-g-going strong” for me!

4. The five starting members of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Whenever I think of this exciting action show that I loved watching during the ’90s (even though I didn’t really understand what was going on), I tend to think of the five “teenagers with attitude” who were first selected to be on the team.  Jason, Kimberley, Zack, Trini, and Billy were a diverse group who always tried to do the right thing and made kicking alien butt in multicolored superhero costumes look very, very fun.  Tommy joined later as the Green Ranger, but I always viewed him as a side character whereas the other five kids were on the show all the time.  Ironically, Tommy is one of the few Power Rangers characters to have continued to make appearances in the franchise much later than his heyday and modern groups of Rangers have initially had as few as three members, but I feel those original five Rangers formed the blueprint for the team’s balance and will continue to inspire new groups well into the future.  Whatever happens to the Rangers next, I’m sure it will always be “Morphin’ Time!”

3. Counting by fives with Schoolhouse Rock’s “Ready or Not, Here I Come”

The video accompanying this song features a group of kids playing hide-and-seek in a field of rolling hills, grass, and trees while practicing counting by fives all the way up to one hundred.  I can’t really remember much about the song itself beyond the numbers being delivered very fast.  The video doesn’t have too many standout moments for me either beyond the setting and the kids recalling the numbers using their fingers.  I do find myself singing the “counting by fives” part for no particular reason sometimes, however, so I guess it must have worked its way into the deep recesses of my mind somehow.

2. Numbuh Five from Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door

The Kids Next Door are a group of kids who carry out secret-agent/commando missions to stop the fiendish plots of evil adults.  All of the members are very cool in their own ways, but in my view, Numbuh Five, Abigail Lincoln, was practically the definition of “cool.”  She always looked confident whenever she headed into battle, and her signature red hat and blue coat made her seem, to me,  able to handle the pressure, even if she may have actually felt scared or uncertain.  The other KND members often experienced embarrassing moments, but at least Abby was able to keep a level head most of the time.

1. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”

Some might call this song annoying (it ended up in AOL’s Top 100 Worst Songs list at #95), but it’s one of my favorite songs to listen to.  Whenever it comes on the radio, I turn the volume up and enjoy the awesome audio samples of brass bands which back up Lou’s vocals.  I’ve never been too crazy about the lyrics but I do feel they go perfectly with the music, making it sound like a lost Roaring Twenties jazz love song that somehow time traveled to 1999.  My favorite part comes when Lou calls for, “The trumpet!”  Some awesome horns are played in that section, probably the reason I love this song so much.  Incidentally, there’s a version of the song that played on Radio Disney back in the day where all of the girls’ names are replaced by Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.  I’ve listened to both and I prefer the original version (I don’t know why), but either way, the brass band still sounds good to me.

Do you have any favorite fives?  Give me your five cents’ worth of thoughts in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions (and My Answers!) 3: Stopping Crazy Things

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
How did that other question mark turn upside-down anyway?

Some questions turn you upside-down and inside-out.

For those of you who were looking forward to another edition of Pop Culture Questions on Tuesday, I apologize.  Due to circumstances beyond my control (and also because I hadn’t really thought of any good questions yet, and also I was kinda tired), I decided to do a shorter post, the first ever Random Top Five list.  I’m feeling a bit more at the top of my game, now, though, so let’s get back to exploring the nooks and crannies of pop culture for new queries to consider.

How come no one trips on the moving sidewalks on The Jetsons?

The future world presented on The Jetsons is one of my favorite TV environments.  I love seeing all of those high-rise buildings and flying cars and imagining what it would be like to live there.  One part of the show I think I would absolutely hate, though, would be the “moving sidewalks,” those conveyor belts on the floor that the characters are always stepping onto to save time from walking everywhere.  George Jetson, his family, Mr. Spacely, and just about everyone else in the universe seems to manage just fine in handling these sidewalks, a phenomenon which I took for granted when I was younger but which greatly bugs me now. 

No one trips on the sidewalks and ends up having their feet crushed under a doorway or wall or wherever those sidewalks start or end.  The sidewalk never moves too fast and sends someone hurtling through a glass window and falling hundreds of feet to the planet below (if there even is a planet down there).  Every other machine seems to go haywire at least once an episode, but those moving sidewalks always work the way they’re supposed to.  Even during the closing credits when George gets caught on the treadmill (“Jane, stop this crazy thing!”), he just keeps going around and around, the forward momentum always carrying him but never throwing him off.  I would be terrified out of my mind if moving sidewalks became a common mode of transportation in real life; I have seen a few in action in various places, but I still feel uncomfortable about getting on one myself.  I feel a bit more comfortable with escalators and elevators, but not by much.

How come there are so many turtles and walking mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.?

My favorite enemies in the Mario series are none other than the first ones I ever saw, the turtles (Koopa Troopas) and walking mushrooms (Goombas).  I’m still curious, though, as to how their numbers became so big.  They seem to multiply like rabbits with each new game that comes out.  It’s come to the point that I’ve seen them start long Broadway-style chorus lines in my dreams.  What has caused this surge in their populations?  Sure, they are pretty cute, and I guess they’d have to be popular if they keep showing up.  Real turtles do produce a lot of baby turtles and you can find mushrooms just about everywhere.  But still, these guys show up everywhere in Mario’s universe, whether they’re in grasslands, underwater, in frigid snowscapes, and even in outer space.  To me, it can seem a bit like overkill at times.  I’d like to imagine that King Bowser has a section of his castle estate designed to be a huge breeding ground and training center just for Koopas and Goombas.  They are probably subjected to all sorts of rigorous tests to make sure they can survive in any type of environment, and luckily for Bowser, most of them do pass with flying colors.  It’s too bad Darth Vader never turned these guys into his stormtroopers; who, besides Italian plumbers, could possibly fight back against turtle shells flying right at their heads?                  

How come the song’s called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

I think love is one of the greatest things a person can experience in this world.  No wonder so many songs have been written about it!  Through these timeless tunes, we’ve learned that love “is a many-splendored thing,” “takes time,” is “hard to find,” “knows no season” or “clime”, and, in short, “does exactly what it wants to do.”  Obviously, love is very demanding, so maybe there’s a good point to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ age-old musical question, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  Still, I feel there’s a negative tone to the question that Lymon and the Sour Bunch raised, because I’m sure most people don’t feel like fools when they fall in love with someone.  They probably think all is right with the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.  Even though I do think that is a foolhardy way of thinking, that doesn’t make lovers fools.  Some pretty smart guys have fallen in love, too.  Just look at Peter Parker (you know, the Spider-Man guy) who has fallen in love with Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy, and a bunch of other girls over the years.  Of course, some of the girls he has gone out with later turned out to be bad eggs, but that doesn’t make him a fool.  I haven’t even fallen in love with anyone yet, but does that make me a fool?  Let’s just agree to disagree here, Frankie Lymon and the Funky Bunch: everyone, including fools, smart guys, and everyone in between, can fall in love.

So, did you love this question-and-answer session?  Did it help you to come out of your shell?  Did it move you like the sidewalks on The Jetsons would move you?  I wait with bated breath for your comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 2: Me Need Help

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

question-mark-63979_150For the second installment of the feature in which I give famous (and occasionally infamous) fictional characters some sound advice, we have a mix of characters from film and television.  As with last week’s letters, the writer’s identities have been replaced with nicknames, but those nicknames will be linked to Wikipedia pages about the real McCoys for everyone playing along.

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps right now (literally; I live in a dump, you see).  For over thirty years, I’ve been stuck in the same dead-end job.  I was actually very happy with it at first because it paid very well (lots of quarters) and it was easy work.  Now, however, I’m getting tired of the daily grind.  Sometimes I feel like all that I’m good at is punching the clock (and bricks, and walls, and pretty much anything else you put in front of me).  I want to think outside the box and broaden my horizons, to break away from the same old routine.  I’ve been beating myself up about it for a long time, but now it’s time for some action.  Do you have any suggestions?  Don’t say, “Make some friends,” because I tried that already with some people at work, but I don’t think they really appreciated anything I had to offer.  Signed, Nervous Wreck 

Dear Nervous,

I’m not surprised at all that you’ve become tired of your work routine after thirty years; a lot of other people have, and sometimes sooner than you.  I’m going to level with you: I actually was thinking about suggesting a healthy friendship, even if you seem to have already lost a few points in that department; one good friendship is all some people need to improve their lives.  I agree with you that heading out into the world would be a good thing, too, but there is one question I have about your case.  Has all of your time just been spent at your job?  It seems to me like you’ve never even been more than ten feet from your house!  If you are as keen on heading outside as you say you are, then please, for the sake of your co-workers, bring a buddy along who knows the ropes.  Also, try to find a more worthwhile avenue for your aggression.  Too much pent-up anger can be quite unhealthy.  By the way, what does your family think about all this?  I don’t think you’d make your mother very proud with all of the sulking you’re doing right now.  Go grab life by the bullhorns and make something of yourself.  Enjoy the sweet things life has to offer, and don’t be too concerned about rewards or honors because life isn’t always centered around getting medals.  Put family first and find somewhere you belong, and you should do all right after that.  Thanks for writing, and game on!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I have recently been swept off of my feet and into a new place I never would have dreamed existed.  It’s the most wonderful place, all emerald and yellow, very pretty colors.   I’ve met some great friends along the way, too, but now I want to go home.  We were going to see someone who I think can help me get back to my family (I think he’s going to be simply wizard!), but there’s just one problem.  There is a really mean woman trying to stop us from reaching our goal, and I fear she’s going to do something horrible to us (but especially my dog; she seems to have an unhealthy obsession with him) if she isn’t stopped.  I’m telling you, she’s a real witch!  I wish I could just click my heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home,” and then I’m home, but that only happens in fairy tales, right?  I’m so confused, and I feel like a raging tornado of emotions inside.  Please help me!  Signed, Twisted with Toto

Dear Twisted,

Your letter has given me a lot of questions, but very few answers are coming to me.  Are you sure this “witch” (Such a derogatory term!) is really as bad as you believe she is?  Have you tried talking to her yet?  Maybe she just wants to compliment you on your dog.  It couldn’t hurt to ask.  Even if she turns out to be a jerk, don’t let her get in the way of enjoying your time in this new land.  You’re only feeling homesick.  Making good friends seems to have made you feel a little better, but you can do more.  Go around and see the sights.  Go down the yellow brick roads less traveled, look at the cities glowing like emeralds.  I can’t guarantee you’ll see any flying monkeys or anything like that, but what you do see should be very magical.  Enjoy your stay, and have a heart (and some brains and steady nerves while you’re at it)!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Me writing because me had massive hunger attack this morning shortly after breakfast, but there nothing me want to eat!  Me okay with fruits and veggies most of the time, but right now, me want something sweet, daring, practically forbidden!  Me been considering cake, but that leave frosting all over me fingers, very messy.  Cupcakes and muffins no good, they too small.  Me out of options!  What me do? WHAT ME D…  What that?  On dat table over dere?  Big plate full of chocolate chippy, round, delicious…  YES!  COOKIES!  That what me been looking for all this time!  This gonna hit the spot!  Cowabunga!  Please kindly disregard this letter.  Signed, (there’s a huge hole at the spot where the signature would normally go; all that remains is a big letter C that looks vaguely like a crescent moon-shaped cookie with a huge bite taken out of it)

Dear whoever you are,

Ummm… thanks for solving your own problem, I guess.  I’m craving something myself after reading your letter.  I think I’ll have a plate of little peanut butter and cracker sandwiches to tide me over until dinner.  Thanks for writing in, and remember to write to us again if life ever bites back!  Ben    

Well, that’s it for this week folks!  Did you like the advice I gave?  What would you suggest to these characters?  What other characters would you like to see in this space?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Weekend Thoughts: Feb. 24-25, 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

When I started this blog, it was my intention to post at least one new entry every weekday while taking weekends off to rest and recharge.  During my first weekend away from the blog, however, I noticed that there were a few things I wanted to write about based on what I had seen and heard during the two-day period.  Therefore, I have decided that that from now on, my Monday entry will be devoted to various  thoughts I came up with during the weekend based on what I have experienced.  This way, every day of the week can feel like they have a home here.  My base thought is presented in boldface followed by my personal opinion and analysis.

The bonus puzzles in Wheel of Fortune can be ridiculously hard and unfair sometimes.  I was playing a version of Wheel of Fortune on my iPad over the weekend, and I noticed that some of the puzzles used during the bonus round turned out to be a very obscure turn of phrase that I doubt would occur to most people.  I often feel frustrated when I see such puzzles turn up on the TV version of Wheel, but at least in that context they provide an interesting problem for contestants to solve and even if they don’t get it, they usually have enough money and other prizes to have done a good half-hour’s work anyway.  Such puzzles in the video game, however, leave me feeling like I am missing something.  There is a line of logic the puzzle writer sometimes follows which does not occur to me as a player, not just because I picked the wrong letters, but because the kind of English phrase being used just isn’t one I would use normally.  Unless its something I might commonly use or hear other people using, there’s a good chance I won’t get it.  I think it would probably be the same way for most people.  If I was writing a puzzle for a game like Wheel of Fortune, I would first test it out on a focus group before unleashing it on the larger public.  I feel that such puzzles need to be understood by a wide variety of people in order to be successful thus keeping the videogame just as exciting and interesting as the television show.

The old and new styles of Spongebob Squarepants actually do go well together.  Nickelodeon programmed a seven-hour marathon of Spongebob Squarepants episodes for Sunday; I watched quite a bit of it.  It was a mix of episodes from two different eras of the show, one consisting of the first three seasons, and the other containing episodes released from season four onward after The Spongebob Squarepants Movie came out.  Normally, I consider these two eras to be wildly different from each other based on the changes in the animation teams that made them and the different styles of humor on display during a typical episode from each era.  Shockingly, I found the episodes picked for the marathon fit very well together thematically and had roughly the same sense of humor emphasized throughout.  I happily gobbled down the episodes like popcorn and left feeling satisfied, but also wanting more.  Even though I am a big fan of the show, I haven’t felt that way about Spongebob in a long time.  This marathon was a much-welcomed surprise, and I wouldn’t mind seeing another one like it soon.

Even after a 150 year separation in time and space, there still can be such a thing as “too soon.”   I was watching the Academy Awards with my parents on Sunday night, enjoying the attempt to merge host Seth McFarlane’s controversial style of humor with a more sedate, understated event like the Oscars.  For the most part, everything I saw worked on a basic level and didn’t take away from the glamour and honor the event typically displays.  He did show off his talents for song and dance in ways that I thought were very tasteful.  However, there was a weird moment involving a McFarlane joke which my mom and I had slightly differing opinions on.  Shortly after mentioning the movie Lincoln as part of a monologue bit, the host joked that the only actor who ever truly succeeded at getting “inside” Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth (his assassin).  Naturally, the entire audience seemed very uncomfortable about this joke, prompting McFarlane to comment on this by saying something along the lines of, “What, don’t tell me that after 150 years, that kind of joke is still too soon.”  My mom was very disgusted by the joke and McFarlane’s response to the audience’s groans, and I can understand why.  Lincoln’s death at Booth’s hands remains to this day one of the great tragedies of American history.  Any attempt to make light of it could be considered unthinkable by most people.  However, I think McFarlane was pretty brave to even attempt to do something like that on such a prominent stage, and to his credit, his “too soon” line went over much better with the crowd.  I thought the “getting inside Lincoln’s head” part was a slightly clever turn of the traditional meaning of that phrase, and the way that that particular moment was just about the edgiest thing McFarlane did all night made me glad that he held his composure on one of the most important nights in Hollywood.  Not to mention that having seen and heard some of his edgier material myself, in my opinion, it is not the worst thing he has ever done, and thank goodness he didn’t try anything worse!

On that note, I believe it is time we let this weekend blog post come to an end.  I hope all of you enjoyed it.  Please leave your recommendations and other thoughts in the comments.