Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

UNO and Royal Rumble

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaI turned 24 years old a few days ago, but to be quite honest, I still think of myself as 23 (and 22 feels like a long time ago).  My family and I had a little party this past weekend to celebrate.  It was a good get-together: we had some cake and ice cream, played a few hands of UNO, opened some presents, blew out a few candles, and generally had a grand old time.  The next day, I watched the WWE Royal Rumble wrestling pay-per-view with my cousin and best friend.  That show was, in a way, also a great present and a fun way to end my birthday weekend.  A lot of excitement was had by all with plenty of great stories to tell.

The UNO game was a real highlight of the party for me.  It’s a quick game to pick up and play that doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment.  My family and I have played it a lot in the past.  The interesting thing about playing this time for me, though, was figuring out new game-playing strategies for the first time.  The game’s instructions show how to play a simple five-hundred point game where numbered cards are worth the same amount as the number on them (zero to nine, to be precise), cards with words are worth twenty (Draw Two is great for you to have and play, terrible if you’re on the receiving end of it), and wilds are worth fifty (if Wild Draw Four were a military weapon, it would be either an atomic bomb or orbital laser, whichever floats your boat).   This past weekend, I started to look at UNO in a new way and to add a bit more strategy in my approach to this timeless card game, one which my family and I gainfully employed to varying success during the party.

The strategy I gleaned from basic gameplay boils down to two important principles.  The first one: Get rid of your word cards as soon as you can.  These cards are ticking time bombs ready to rain points down on you if another player empties their hand first, and at twenty or fifty points per card, they can add up all too quickly.  During the party, I saw firsthand the devastating results of having several such cards in your hand once the dust settles.  One of my uncles kept getting stuck with hundred-point hands.  After a while, though, we were all numbed from the pain from these types of hands and more often laughing at how the fickle finger of fate dealt these cards to us.  (I do find that word cards have good uses.  If you want to keep other players stuck with lots of cards in their hands, Reverse and Skip make for excellent “traffic controllers.”  The Draw Twos and Wild Draw Fours are great for this, too, but their high point value makes them very risky to keep in your hand for too long.  Be careful how you use them!)

The second principle I gleaned from our UNO games, and this one did come as a bit of a surprise to me, but it does make a good lick of sense: Track the colors!  Depending on what your opponents play/call for when playing a wild, you can get an idea of the colors of the cards in their hands and which ones they want to get rid of.  Once you know this, you can change the color on the discard pile to something they don’t have, forcing them to draw more cards.  The discard color became a serious point of contention during our play time, as it meant being able to free ourselves of a surplus of cards of a dominant color or to switch up the color to break a streak of discards from an opponent about to empty their hand.  It was almost like a boxer switching from one stance to another to confuse their opponent and make a few adjustments; catch them off-guard and then score a KO.  This was a very interesting point to me, one I will have to investigate and practice more during future UNO games.

Speaking of strategy, the one WWE used for putting together this year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view was one my cousin, my friend, and I spoke about quite a bit while we were watching the show.  The Rumble is one of my favorite shows to watch each year, usually because it’s so hard to predict and brings a lot of surprises.  One undercard bout this year really surprised me and my viewing buddies: scientific wrestling whizzes Tyson Kidd and Cesaro pulling out a major upset victory over Kofi Kingston and Big E of the New Day faction.  It was the first match of the night and a bit of a shocker; normally, Kidd and Cesaro, the bad guys, would be booked to lose the opening contest so the audience could have a feel-good moment to start the show, so seeing them pull off a win was very unexpected.  Good job!

The WWE World Championship match between John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Seth Rollins was likewise very delightful.  All three men did a great job of bringing intensity to this top-level contest.  Cena played his customary hero role to the hilt, Rollins was a desperate man looking to break through in a big way (I’m not a huge fan of his, but this was certainly his best match to date), and Lesnar steamrolled both opponents like the nearly unstoppable monster he is known to be.  Lesnar won the match in the end, but all three made this one worth watching.  This quickly became my favorite match of the night, and judging from the reactions of my viewing partners, the highlight of their evening as well.

The Royal Rumble Match itself, however, which came right after the world title match, was somewhat less enjoyable for us.  It started out strong for sure with some big-time returns from the likes of tag team specialist Bubba Ray Dudley (who sadly did not break any tables but did pull off a sweet 3D Driver with an assist for R-Truth standing in for the strangely absent D-Von; where did that other guy go, anyway?), WCW legend Diamond Dallas Page (who pulled off several Diamond Cutter stun maneuvers on everyone he came across; great move that ranks right up there with the DDT and RKO as my go-to moves of choice), and even the worm-chewing creepy-yet-cool Boogeyman (who didn’t seem to have any worms on him this particular evening, sad to say; anyone want to bet his favorite book is How to Eat Fried Worms?).  These special guests, as well as the regular superstars who entered, delivered a lot of great action for a few minutes and had me and my guests feeling confident that this year’s Rumble would be something worth remembering.

All that changed once Daniel Bryan was eliminated about halfway through the match.  You see, Bryan is one of our favorite wrestlers, a real crowd-pleaser who always puts on a memorable show, but who has gotten an astonishing amount of resistance from WWE’s higher-ups both behind the scenes and on camera.  Our hopes were on Bryan to mow through this year’s competition and earn the top spot at Wrestlemania, or at least to come in a close second to our other mutual top pick, Roman Reigns.  Instead, Bryan got tossed out in short order, a very disappointing result to the Philadelphia audience as well as us watching at home.  Why WWE did not let Bryan compete longer than he did, or at least make it to the final four remaining contestants before getting eliminated, I would surely like to know.  After numerous years of following D-Bry, we wanted to see him go far, not trip over a stone miles before the finish line.

After Bryan’s unexpected exit, almost all the energy was sucked out of the match.  I mean no disrespect to the other guys who stayed in the match after Bryan left, but his removal was a sore point not easily healed.   Roman Reigns, of course, won the bout, but the Philly crowd and us home viewers were still a bit too numbed to truly accept him as the next big kahuna of the WWE landscape.  Granted, he entered the Rumble well after Bryan left, but, in my opinion, D-Bry’s is one of the hardest acts to follow in wrestling today.  Reigns did win the match in an impressive fashion by tossing out both Big Show and Kane at the same time (they’re both huge men, so lifting them both up and over the top rope in one fell swoop is an awesome feat indeed).  He also got a big-time assist from his close cousin the Rock (yes, that Rock, the star of all those movies and a legit legend of the squared circle) in fending off a post-match attack from a still-vengeful Show and Kane.  However, because Roman’s ascent came at Daniel Bryan’s expense, neither the crowd nor me and my viewing buddies could really accept the result on that particular night.  I’ve had some time to think about it since then, and I am now willing to accept Roman’s position as WWE’s top good guy if he is ready to fill it.  I have to admit, though, that until this point, I had still been on the fence about whether Roman could ever live up to the hype.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best.

After all was said and done, I’d have to say my 24th birthday was well celebrated!  I’m looking forward to how 2015 plays out for me. I’m still working hard on my various writing projects and will be sharing news on them, as well as anything else I do/come across, with you.  Have a happy and safe new year, and I will see you in the next blog post!

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Uncle Scrooge Review: Lucky Ducky

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
Waitaminit, a Don drawing "Don?" I think I just had an "Inception" moment...

Don Rosa, the creator of this issue, drawing Uncle Scrooge at MegaCon 2012. You can see some of his other Disney drawings on the wall behind him. Ain’t he just ducky?

Starting with this post, I plan on taking a comprehensive look at some of what, I think, are the more outstanding issues in my collection of free comics from this year’s Free Comic Book Day.  This is something I have wanted to write about since I started this blog, and I can’t wait to show you what each new issue has to offer. 

One of my favorite issues thus far has been the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic from Disney and Fantagraphics Books.  This crazy cartoonish comic features two spectacular stories by Don Rosa, a veteran Disney comics writer and artist.  He has been the premier chronicler of the Duckberg denizens’ adventures for over two decades.  Rosa also presents an essay in this issue in which he recounts how he got started in the comics world and explains some of the interesting details regarding the two featured stories. 

(One small correction before we move on: In my previous Free Comic Book Day post, I stated that this issue featured work from Carl Barks, the legendary creator of Scrooge McDuck.  Actually, it’s just Don Rosa for this issue; the last few years have featured Barks’ work exclusively for the Free Comic Book Day issues, so I guess I just had him on the brain.  Still, Rosa is commonly viewed by Disney comics fanatics as the heir apparent to Barks’ lofty throne and, in my opinion, he has done just as much if not more to make the ducks’ escapades some of the funniest, most exciting comics ever published, so we’re still in good hands here, folks.  I do, however, apologize for my slip up.)

The FCBD 2014 US&DD (Yes indeedy!) issue contains two fun Don Rosa tales from the 1990s, a time when Disney comics were not as widely circulated here in America as they were in other parts of the world (Italy, mostly), so for many readers, me included, this is the first time these stories have been widely available.  I can safely say that both of them have been well worth the wait.  The first story, “A Matter of Some Gravity,” involves Scrooge, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie attempting to prevent the evil Magica De Spell from stealing Scrooge’s lucky Number One Dime.  Magica casts a spell on Scrooge and Donald which inverts their personal senses of gravity.  They are forced to walk along walls and across ceilings, as well as desperately grab at any foothold they can find, as they chase Magica down.

This story is very entertaining to me, mostly from a visual standpoint.  Don Rosa employs a clever arrangement for the comic panels: the top half of each page presents events from a “normal” point of view, while the bottom half shows things from Scrooge and Donald’s “gravitationally challenged” (Don’s own words, couldn’t have said any better myself) perspective.  These clashing perspectives were fun for me to keep track of, and I enjoyed seeing how the ducks tackled seemingly simple tasks like negotiating a steep hill and riding a bus, made nearly impossible to complete when one’s perspective has been inverted.  I’ve encountered this same kind of fun in ’60s Superman comics in which science and conventional laws of physics seemed to run amok, and I think Rosa captures much of that whimsical spirit here as well.  I also feel that this story is a fantastic introduction to the Disney duck comics and a great imagination-sparker.

The next story in this issue is a Donald Duck yarn entitled “The Sign of the Triple Distelfink.”  While it was not as entertaining for me as “Gravity,” I think it still provides some fascinating food for thought.  The main character is not the Don himself, but rather his less famous, but no less iconic, comics-based cousin, Gladstone Gander.  According to Rosa’s essay, he wrote this tale for Gladstone’s 50th anniversary, and again, I think it serves as a wonderful intro to this great character.  The gander’s claim to fame is that he has outrageously good luck: he wins sweepstakes, gets out of tough scrapes through wildly improbable coincidences, and generally goes through life with little trouble, a trait that gets on Donald’s nerves.  However, in this story, Gladstone is faced with a day of outrageously bad luck.  It’s his birthday, you see, and every year on this special day, his normally good luck is reversed. 

Donald, Scrooge and various other members of the extended duck family throw a birthday party for Gladstone, but he doesn’t want to attend because he fears his bad luck might cause undue harm to his loved ones.  He spends the majority of the story trying to avoid the party by taking a train, boat, plane, and other methods of travel to escape, but his bad luck interferes every time.  The accidents that pile up and the other characters’ reactions to Gladstone’s bad luck are what made this story stand out to me.  The “bad luck” bits did get a bit predictable, but I thought the way things were resolved in the end was quite clever.  And don’t worry, Gladstone is back to having good luck by the end; no cooked goose tonight!

The Free Comic Book Day issue of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck is one of my favorite issues from this year.  I think it contains a healthy dose of fun and some clever stories from a sound craftsman in Don Rosa.  Even better, there’s a promo in the front of the issue which states there is a new collection of some of Rosa’s other Disney work coming in July!  I can’t wait!

There’s more fun from FCBD 2014 on the way here at Kellog Thoughts!  I do not plan on covering every single issue I collected from this year’s festivities, but I do want to feature the comics which I think are simply outstanding, so stay tuned!  Leave your thoughts on this issue, Donald, Scrooge, Disney, and comics in the comments, and happy reading!

Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

Random Top Five: Attempts at Explaining What Is Funny Through the Cartoon “What Is Funny?”

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
Of course, another way to word this question could be, "Funny, what is?"

I’ve been turning this question over in my head…

Back in the late 1990s, Nickelodeon had a neat cartoon show called Oh Yeah! Cartoons that I loved to watch.  It was an ambitious project in which a large group of animation directors and other personalities, young and old, worked on a series of almost one hundred shorts featuring a wide variety of new characters (fifty-four characters all told; for some strange reason, I want to see all of these guys in a group shot on a T-shirt).  These shorts acted as what is known in the television industry as “backdoor pilots,” meaning that any shorts that got a particularly great reaction from Nick’s executives or the viewing audience (maybe even both if the short was really good) could be turned into a new cartoon series for Nick.  This was how we got such shows as The Fairly OddparentsChalkZone, and My Life As a Teenage Robot (the original short was called My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot; not much of a difference, I’d say).

All of these cartoons are quite memorable to me, but there is one particular short that stuck in my mind long after I first viewed it.  The short What Is Funny?, directed by Will Burnett and Vincent Waller, features a dog named Slap T. Pooch (Anyone wanna bet the T stands for “The?”) who is always asking the question posed in the short’s title while being caught in increasingly bizarre and presumably funny circumstances.  There’s all kinds of humor demonstrated in this cartoon, and in a neat way, it has made me think deeply about what I find funny and why certain things make me laugh.  I’ve wanted to talk about this kind of thing for a long time, and I feel that now is a good opportunity to do so.  The following are five observations I have made regarding What is Funny (Mind if I not use the question mark for the rest of this blog post?  Thanks, it saves me a lot of headache!), what I find funny about it, and why.

1. Funny is simple yet full of detail.

The premise of What is Funny is pretty bare-bones (pun unintended, all apologies to Slap the dog).  Slap wants to find out what funny is and is willing to go to any absurd length to get a good answer (and in just under seven minutes, no less!).  This premise probably sounds very mundane on paper, but that’s the beauty of it in my view.  A lot of cartoons have amazingly simplistic plots: Elmer Fudd, a hunter wants to blast Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to smithereens (I wefuse to type that as “smitherweeens,” bwast it!).  Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner.  SpongeBob Squarepants just wants to work at his dream job and enjoy life in his off time. 

What makes these premises funny is that the way they are achieved is so gosh-darned strange.  Elmer has to deal with a Brookwyn-accented wabbit and a screwball duck who compwains of “pronoun trouble.”  (See what I did there?  I’ll stop now for sanity’s sake.)  The coyote, instead of using his own natural reflexes, relies almost entirely on mail-order products to get his fast-moving dinner (not that he ever gets it, mind you).  SpongeBob works as a fry cook, but he flips his patties in a colorful underwater cartoon fun-land, and the rest of his adventures are certainly not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s the same with What is Funny.  Slap’s exploration of humor is bizarre and takes a lot of unexpected turns.  The question may be simple, but the details encountered in answering that question give this cartoon a strange life of its own that I find fun to explore.

2. Funny could be gross (especially if you’re on Nick in the ’90s.)

One of the first things in What is Funny that had me chuckling was Slap contorting his face into various unexpected shapes, some of which looked really strange (the bit where he had his lips wrapped around his whole head with just his teeth showing and he was singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a laugh riot for me).  This kind of sophmoric “gross-out” humor was quite common in Nickelodeon cartoons during the ’90s, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found it here as well.  Not to mention that Vincent Waller, the director and one of the co-creators of this short, was also a prominent member of the creative team behind Ren and Stimpy, the unofficial king of gross during Nick’s early days; go figure.  To viewers who prefer more sophisticated humor, such visual (and visceral!) material is likely excruciating to take in (or block out). 

Personally, I like this sort of stuff.  I grew up watching it a lot on Nick and Cartoon Network, of course,  but characters squirming and stretching around in bizarre bits of anatomical madness is something that just appeals to me on a base level.  It seems to me that it has always been a part of cartoon culture, too; Daffy Duck was moving his body in all sorts of weird ways from the first moment he “Woo-hoo”ed onto the silver screen, and his signature squirms in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery remain among some of my favorite cartoon visuals.  That traditon is alive and well in What is Funny, and you can still see it in plenty of cartoons today.  Good enough in my book!

3. Funny can be hazardous to one’s health (namely the cartoon star’s health), but it doesn’t seem to leave any lingering effects.

Daffy Duck gets his bill blown off numerous times during Rabbit Fire, but he just puts it back on and continues arguing with Bugs.  The dog in Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie suffers all sorts of physical calamities after the black cat crosses his path, but he recovers by the time the screen fades out then back in for the next gag.  In What is Funny, Slap is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into a wooden tub full of “deadly” stockbrokers (they do work with bulls and bears after all) and suckerfish, which apparently change into thumbtacks and squirrels on Slap’s command (only in a cartoon, I guess).  Even though Slap clearly has a pained expression on his face and says he doesn’t find these objects particularly humorous, the results did elicit laughter from me.

Of course, pain is no laughing matter in real life, so why does it draw guffaws in cartoon form?  I think it’s because the pain in cartoons is usually of the exaggerated kind.  Rarely does one suffer real pain in such obviously outlandish ways.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to affect cartoon characters very much; all that happens is the camera fades away and then comes back to find the characters have fully recovered with no apparent scarring.  There’s also a handful of instances where characters have literally shrugged off the results of their pain and stripped away all the bandages and boo-boos, returning to their usual healthy selves faster than one can say “fountain of youth.”  It seems to me that pain has no real consequences in the cartoon universe other than drawing laughter out of the huge vacuum between fictional injuries and real life.

4. Funny likes terrible puns.  ‘Nuff said.

Come on, what else could I possibly say about a bunch of talking gingerbread men calling themselves “tough cookies?”  That’s just clever right there.  Not since Mr. Peabody has there been such a perfect use of lousy wordplay to great humorous effect.  That’s not just funny, that’s funtastic.

5. Funny never has to explain itself.

Okay, I know this last point probably doesn’t make much sense given the title of this blog post, but there is an element of What is Funny that works in just this way.  Throughout the short, a farmer, a chicken, and a pig keep popping into frame and singing “What is funny?” over and over.  Why they are doing this is never really explained.  It’s just a strange funny thing that is endlessly repeated to the weirdest cartoon music I have ever heard (though it is sort of awesome to me that it sounds almost like the X-Files theme).  There is one thing about it that kind of makes sense in retrospect (the TV Tropes website refers to this type of retroactive realization as “Fridge Logic“; the more you know).  At some point between the second-to-last and final appearances of this strange “Greek chorus,” the pig is turned into bacon and package-wrapped, yet still has a recognizable face and is still singing.  It’s pretty senseless, but I still think it’s neat.

What do you think is funny?  If you watched the What is Funny cartoon yourself, what did you find funny about it and why?  Do you think Slap T. Pooch could have been successful in his own series?  Let me know in the comments, and keep on laughing!  (Oh yeah, one more thing…  Oh Yeah! Cartoons had one of the best theme songs I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was a bit strange that it was always played over the closing credits rather than at the show’s beginning, but it was still one of the most memorable parts of the show for me.  Give it a listen (as well as this longer version) and tell me if it made you go “Oh Yeah” or “Oh No.”)

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a “bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2’s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!

Pop Culture Haikus: Disney Renaiisance Edition

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

When I was growing up during the 1990s, there were a lot of great entertainment options available to me.  Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, and Kids WB all had great lineups of live-action and cartoon shows that could keep me entertained for hours before and after school.  I subscribed to a host of interesting magazines (Nick Mag and Disney Adventures, you will be missed!) and read through an endlessly-growing collection of books.  One of the most memorable entertainment sources for me during this time, though, was the long string of fantastic animated films released by Disney during this time.  This period has become known as the Disney Renaiisance because the quality of the animation, artistry, music, and other elements of these films were amazingly high; I was a bit too young to appreciate such finer details, but I did really like these movies.  As a small tribute to this period from 1989 to 1999, I present the following Pop Culture Haikus, one seventeen-syllable poem for each film released during this time.

The Little Mermaid

Sea girl meets nice boy./Mean witch steals ocean girl’s voice./Witch becomes fish food.  Nice boy is confused./”Why does the nice girl have fins?”/Just kiss the girl, boy!

The Rescuers Down Under

Aussie boy is kidnapped./Cute U.N. mice rescue him./Boy saved by vermin!  This had an eagle/that the Aussie boy flew on./That’s all I recall.  (Still, that eagle ruled!/Come on, a freaking eagle!/I ride eagle next?)

Beauty and the Beast

Girl meets furry boy./Beast defends her, loves her true./Aw, they got married!  Gaston was a jerk./He didn’t treat Belle nice much./Furry boy much nicer!  Feel bad for Gaston, though./Being thrown off cliff must hurt./Hope landing was soft!

Aladdin

Boy meets nice princess./Boy uses magic to impress./Girl likes real men more.  Jafar wants power./Magic makes him more snake-like./Audience: “Boo!  Hiss!”  Genie is funny./True, he turns into weird things./Still, he’s pretty nice.

The Lion King

Mufasa has son,/Dies at hands of jerk brother./Can son become king?  Son gets two new friends./They tell him, “Not to worry.”/I think he should care.  Simba faces Scar,/Surrounded by hot lava./Better than Ali fight!  Peace reigns in Pride Lands/Because Simba won the battle./Life’s circle rolls on!

Pocahantas

Princess meets nice boy./It’s reverse of Aladdin!/Disney recycles plots!  John Smith is nice man./He loves native princess much./Doesn’t quite get girl.  Radcliffe big, greedy./Cares nothing for natives, only gold./He’s a blowhard jerk!  Pokey and John meet,/Get along though differences/Keep them both apart.

Hercules

A kid from the gods:/”Greece is chock-full of monsters./Let me save it, please?”  Hades, big bad guy:/”Jerkules wins, I burn up./Get me an aspirin!”  I like the muses much./Best Greek chorus ever filmed!/”That’s the gospel truth!”  Pegasus was neat./Large white winged horse impressed all./Rainbow Dash still coolest!

Mulan

Legendary girl/Saved China from the Hun hordes,/Also found husband.  Mushu is cute help./He’s rivals with small cricket./They’ll soon get along fine.  Shang is big captain/In fledgling Chinese army./First big test is Huns.  Mulan can help out./She’ll go as a boy soldier./She’s tougher than most!

Tarzan

Legendary man/Raised by apes, king of jungle/Heard this all before?  Terk’s Tarzan’s best friend./Brooklyn accent in Africa?/Normal for Rosie!  “Trashin’ the Camp” song/Backstreet Boys sing great doo-wop!/Too bad the camp’s trashed…  Clayton hunts big apes/Tarzan says, “That’s not okay!/This hunt is postponed!”  Ape man meets Jane girl/Ape man likes Jane girl heap lots/Maybe they’ll elope?

Do you like Disney?/How about these haikus?  Hmm?/Leave comments below.

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  “ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!

Pop Culture Haikus: WWE Edition

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaPop Culture Haikus are the traditional Japanese poem style (remember the syllable rule: “Five for one, seven for two, five for three”) reworked to fit today’s biggest pop culture icons.  For the first edition of this feature, the characters of Marvel’s Agents of Shield were immortalized in haikus.  For this second installment, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my favorite pastimes (since 2006, anyway).  The following haikus are based on some of my favorite colorful personalities of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment; at least, that’s what it went by until WWE decided to simply go by its initials in 2011, but who knows with those guys anymore?).  Links to each subject’s Wikipedia page is provided for those interested in learning more about them.  If you want to see them in action, just search their names on YouTube or Google; trust me, you’ll find more than enough information on each person – more than you would have thought possible!

John Cena

The champ’s moral code:/”Hustle, loyalty, respect.”/Not bad for a start!

CM Punk

Chicago’s toughest/Antihero to many/It’s clobbering time!

3MB

Three men in a tub/Claim to be a real rock band/Can’t carry a tune.

Hulk Hogan

The Three Demandments:/”Eat vitamins, say prayers, train.”/Works wonders, bro!

Randy Savage

“Macho Madness” rules./Adrenaline and chaos/Elizabeth loves!

WrestleMania

The grand stage is set./The players combat gladly./Winner: box office.

Monday Night Raw

A three hour tour/Live, free, quality wrestling/Something for nothing.

Vincent Kennedy McMahon

Wrestling mastermind/From commentator to boss/He’s longest-tenured.

Howard Finkel

Iconic talker/Voice of all the biggest shows/First and still the best!

The haikus are done/What do you think of them, hmm?/Comment below, please!

Pop Culture Questions: Only the Lonely Edition

Friday, October 11th, 2013

question-mark-63979_150I had a sudden flash of inspiration this morning and for whatever reason I have a bunch of new Pop Culture Questions to ask (and answer, naturally).  I also have Roy Orbison’s song “Only the Lonely” stuck in my head at the moment because I was thinking about making this edition all about lonely or isolated characters.  But then again, a lot of these guys do make friends along the way, so maybe they aren’t really all that lonely after all.  Either way, I think they are all great characters and certainly deserving of a little attention, so here’s my two cents on them.

Will Bolt be all right after the events of Bolt?

 Disney’s Bolt tells the story of a dog who is the lead star in a hit TV show filmed in Los Angeles in which he is portrayed as a secret agent.  Bolt has been led to believe that his fictional secret agent life is real (the show’s director surmises that, “If the dog believes it, the audience believes it.”), which has in turn caused him to become intensely protective of his owner, Penny (played wonderfully by Miley Cyrus, years before that whole “twerking” thing got out of hand).  One day, the director decides to set up a “cliffhanger” to increase the show’s ratings, and so Penny is “kidnapped” right in front of Bolt’s eyes (in reality, she is just taken off the set and hidden away from Bolt).  The poor dog is heartbroken and determined to get his owner back, so he subsequently breaks out of his trailer, accidentally gets trapped in a shipping box bound for New York City, escapes his confinement, and goes on an epic cross-country journey to reunite with his owner.  By the end of the movie (kind of a spoiler here, but since it’s a Disney movie, I don’t think it should be much of a surprise), Bolt has reunited with Penny and they both (along with her mom and a few tagalong friends Bolt meets on his journey) retire from acting and move to a ranch house in Oklahoma, far from roving TV cameras and any hint of danger, where Bolt can live out the rest of his life as a normal fun-loving dog.

I love this ending, but I have two major problems with it.  One: Are Bolt and his family truly safe from the TV world?  Who’s to say there isn’t some TMZ-type gossip monger out there looking to do a “Where Are They Now?” segment on Bolt and they’re slowly narrowing down the spots he could be hding in?  I know from experience that once those cameras find him, they’ll just keep on coming and never, ever leave.  In this age of Google Earth and elaborate information sharing and social networking, the odds of Bolt and his family simply disappearing from public view are, in my view, slim to none.  Two: Is Bolt capable of thinking and behaving like a normal dog after all he has been through?  He’s a TV dog who, until just recently, thought he was an action hero.  He’s hard-wired to dodge bullets, subdue bad guys, and routinely perform extreme feats of derring-do.  And you expect me to think that Bolt is just going to forget about all this stuff and go back to fetching a ball and sitting, rolling over, and doing all the normal things other dogs do?  I can easily imagine Bolt one day snapping back into TV hero mode and nearly taking a bite out of the mailman who he perceives as an agent of the “green-eyed man.”  One thing’s for sure, though: he’s definitely going to be the most athletic, agile pet on the block.

Do Garfield’s Halloween plans for this year include crushing loneliness?

Whenever Halloween comes around, I always seem to recall a particular sequence of Garfield comic strips I first came across in one of the orange fat cat’s excellent reprint collections.  It first ran in newspapers from October 23-28, 1989 (check out all six strips in the sequence in this RetroJunk article) and is quite possibly the weirdest and most thought-provoking series of comic strips I have ever read.  Garfield wakes up one fine Monday inside an abandoned, boarded-up version of his house.  There isn’t any food in the house, and more disturbing, Jon and Odie are nowhere to be found.  Garfield looks around a bit and discovers that the house has been sold and that neither he nor his family have lived at the house in years.  By the end of the week, the feline has nearly succumbed to loneliness.  In desperation, Garfield admits that he needs Jon and Odie.  After he does this, things suddenly turn back to normal.  Jon and Odie are back and the house is just as it has always been.  Garfield embraces Jon and Odie and the week ends on a happy note.

These Garfield strips are very special to me.  They are rather insightful about the human condition and the need we all feel (or should feel, anyway, I think) to depend on and help others to survive.  As much as Garfield likes to belittle and tease Jon and Odie, he needs them in order to keep his sanity.  Without them, he is just a cranky cat with a knack for routinely eating every morsel of food near him.  Such a creature couldn’t possibly survive for long without a little help and love.  Good thing Jon and Odie have plenty of love to go around.  (By the way, the article mentions that the Garfield sequence bears a strong resemblance to the “Valse Triste” sequence from the Italian film Allegro non Troppo.  I really like this piece of animation with a ghostly cat wandering around an abandoned house; it makes a perfect companion to the comic strips, so check both of them out and tell me what you think of them.)

Does this Squidward “Alone” sequence from SpongeBob Squarepants truly stand alone as the greatest expression of loneliness in animation history?

Okay, deep breath here: the above clip from SpongeBob episode “SB129” features Squidward Tentacles standing in a white void (well, it’s not entirely white: there are a few colored squares off in one corner and an astonishingly weird series of sound effects filling the void slightly) and expressing satisfaction at finally getting away from the eternal (and yellow, porous, and spongy) bane of his existence.  After he says he is all “alone,” he shrinks down into nothingness while versions of the word “alone” in various fonts, sizes, and shapes pop onto the screen.  All of those “alones” shrink down and disappear, too.  I have seen this sequence literally tens of hundreds of times since it first aired in 2000, and I still can’t figure it out.  Is Squidward literally alone?  Is he just imagining the void and all those people saying “alone” over and over?  Where is this white void, exactly?  What time and space does it occupy?  According to the SpongeBob Wiki, it’s called “Nowhere.”  I don’t know about you, but I sure think this place certainly takes you somewhere all right.  Also, how would you know if you were in the middle of “Nowhere?”

How do you feel about loneliness?  Do you feel better alone or with company?  Do you like the Lone Ranger?  Fill the comment box below with your thoughts; sentences make it feel less lonely.

“Disney’s Think Fast”: A Magical Time with Trivia

Monday, September 30th, 2013
Who's the leader of the club?

Darn, this mouse’s head is everywhere!

You never know what you might find when you go off the beaten path.  For instance, I recently went on a garage sale trip with my parents and came back with a highly unusual game, a trivia extravaganza known as Disney’s Think Fast.  I remember reading about this game on Wikipedia and watching a handful of YouTube videos of other people playing, and wondered if I would like playing it if I ever got my hands on a copy.  Well, I have finally gotten my chance to do so, and I am pleased to report that it is indeed a rapid, fun, magical trivia tussle.

Disney’s Think Fast is a 2008 game for the Wii and PlayStation 2 (I played my version on the latter system) from Disney Interactive Studios in which players get to play through a question-filled game show themed after the wide world of Disney movies.  The set on which the game is played is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, the Genie from Aladdin  is your host, and your selection of contestants includes Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Scrooge McDuck, and even some relatively obscure characters such as Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and even Magica DeSpell (one of Scrooge’s rivals from the old Ducktales TV show, and she’s voiced by her signature voice actress, June “Rocky the Flying Squirrel” Foray!).  One to four players use special game show buzzer-shaped controllers to battle their way through five to seven rounds of regular trivia, Pictionary-type drawings, and quirky mini-games.  Highest score at the end of the game wins!

For my first time playing, I played a seven-round solo game as Goofy and the setting was at London’s Regents Park from 101 Dalmations (you can pick different backgrounds as well including Hawaii from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel’s grotto from The Little Mermaid, and the Pride Lands from The Lion King).  Most of the game was made up of trivia questions as one might expect: a question would pop up with various pictures representing the possible answers.  I picked answers by pressing the corresponding colored button on my controller.  If I chose the right answer, I got points, but if I got the wrong answer, I lost points.  I knew some of the answers, but not all of them.  It was a nice mix of questions, some of it based on Disney, and some based on real-world analogues to Disney characters and locations (Which of these animals is most similar to Lady from Lady and the Tramp?  Choose the picture of the dog for the win!).  The Pictionary drawing round was surprisingly similar to the straight-up trivia rounds: identify the character or place being drawn from a field of choices. 

Things got a bit strange when I  got to the “special guest” round.  I did not expect Lucky from 101 Dalmations to read questions about his movie, but then I thought, “Wow, it’s awesome that there are other characters here I didn’t know about!”  Apparently, other “guests” can appear based on the location you play in, so if you’re in the Pride Lands for instance, Simba will stop by, or if you’re playing in Hawaii, Stitch becomes the guest.  I can’t wait to see what Stitch might be like; he’s one of my favorite Disney characters from recent times, so I think it’ll be pretty cool to see him again!

One mini-game showed up during my solo play.  It involved spotting the differences between a group of Grecian urns featuring the muses from Hercules.  The instructions for this game stated it would get harder as time ticked away, but I did not notice any particular increase in difficulty.  The only major change I noticed was that the muses started wearing sunglasses, which did make them look quite silly to me!  I think the only way that an increase in the level of difficulty might be a major factor is if a young person was playing this game, but, with a little help,  they might do well because the differences are usually very obvious.

Overall, my first time playing Disney’s Think Fast left a very favorable impression on me.  The questions were a nice mix of easy and obscure stuff with a few stumpers that threw me off guard.  The presentation is top-notch with some great shout-outs to different Disney properties, and the Genie makes for a great, if somewhat hyperactive, game show host.  I think this game might be a big winner with my family and friends at parties.  There’s room for up to four players with everyone having their own buzzer controller, so I would not mind having three more human opponents to share the magic with me.  This game gets a big thumbs up from me!

How good are you at trivia games?  What’s the most obscure piece of trivia you have ever heard of?  Let me know in the comments.  Until next time, keep wishing on those stars and always let your conscience be your guide!  (Pinochio is still cool with the kids, right?)