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.

Random Top Five: Favorite Lines From Disney’s “Bolt”

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I caught the last few minutes of the Disney movie Bolt the other night and, having nothing better to do at that particular moment, I decided to watch the heck out of those last few minutes.  This film about a talking TV dog named Bolt, a cynical cat named Mittens, a Bolt-obsessed hamster named Rhino, and their cross-country mission to reunite Bolt with his owner, Penny, has become one of my favorite movies of all time, and my mom really likes it, too.  If I see it playing on TV, I’ll tell my mom about it and we’ll watch it for a few minutes.  It certainly helps that the movie is full of clever and funny dialogue that I often find myself quoting when I am bored.  Here’s five of my favorite lines from Bolt that I’m sure might get stuck in your head as well.  If you want some more great lines to pull out of your pocket anytime, check out Bolt‘s WikiQuotes page.

5.  “This greatly irks me, I am irked!”  (Dr. Calico)

At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is treated to an “episode” of the TV show Bolt stars in.  The plot basically involves Penny’s father being kidnapped by the evil Dr. Calico and Bolt and Penny racing off to save him.  When Calico receives the news of Bolt and Penny’s actions from one of his henchmen, he says the quoted line above.  For some strange reason, my mom and I find this line incredibly funny, even though the movie acts like it’s no big deal.  I think our appeal for this line stems from the fact that Calico says “irk” twice, which is thoroughly unnecessary and absurd.  I view it in the same manner as the classic Monty Python sketch where everyone in a restaurant keeps repeating the word “Spam” in conversation.  It’s unusual to hear the same word repeated multiple times in a row, so I definitely notice it when it does happen, and considering the movie has been very serious in tone up to this point, this line turns on the funny faucet full blast for me every single time.

4.  “I know this dog…no, no, I don’t know.  I thought I knew.”  (Pigeons)

When Bolt begins his journey to find Penny, he is still trying to figure where to go and why none of the superpowers he believes himself to have are working.  Seeking help, he tries talking to a group of pigeons.  The birds, although well-meaning, do not provide much assistance.  In fact, they struggle to even remember Bolt at all, even though they appear to be familiar with him in some way as the above quote alludes to.  Throughout the scene in which the pigeons appear, a series of buses drive by, each having a billboard for Bolt’s TV show on its side with the dog’s likeness prominently featured.  The pigeons fail to notice these, even as it seems they are just about to have a moment of recognition.  These pigeons are some of the funniest characters in the movie, and they turn into a running gag as the movie plays; no matter how many clues are around them, the pigeons don’t ever recognize him.  This is some great, simple stuff that is just plain funny.  What more can I say?

3.  “Now I’m concerned on a number of levels.”  (Mittens)

Mittens is a black-and-white stray cat who joins Bolt early in his trek across the United States.  She tries her hardest to make Bolt reconcile his superpower delusions with reality, often to little avail.  Her attempts in doing so are further fouled up with the addition of Rhino, a hamster who watches Bolt’s show religiously and has become an unabashed fanboy for his favorite hero.  When Bolt and Rhino first meet each other, they become fast friends, formulating plots to get back at Dr. Calico (at this point in the film, both the dog and the hamster think Penny has been kidnapped by the show’s main villain).  Mittens, the most sane member of the main cast at the moment, expresses her unspoken thoughts about the mental state of the group with the above quote.  It’s a blunt statement and based mostly on first impressions, but I appreciate its “in-your-face” nature and how it showcases Mittens’s personality so effectively.  She does become a much nicer, more forgiving character as time goes on, but I think this is my favorite moment with her.

2. “What?  What is this red liquid coming from my paw?””  (Bolt)

As I mentioned earlier, Bolt’s perception of reality is greatly flawed throughout most of the film.  He has existed in a “bubble” for most of his life, never venturing outside of his TV show’s fictional world.  Therefore, it comes to him as a great shock when, after making a reckless jump off a moving truck, he experiences great pain.  More evidence of his mortality emerges when one of his paws apparently starts bleeding (it’s hard to tell since the movie never actually shows the bleeding paw, or any blood for that matter).  This is a great surprise to him, causing him to deliver the above line.  It’s not the line itself that makes me like it so much.  It’s the way that Bolt’s voice actor, John Travolta, delivers the line that makes it a winner for me.  Travolta’s voice registers surprise and a bit of wooziness due to Bolt’s slow recovery from the fall he just took.  He sounds adorably dopey for the few seconds he says this line, in a rare moment of quiet between a big stunt and further plot development.  It’s one of those “blink-and-you’ll miss it” moments you only get in animated films, and one that always gives me a little smile whenever I see it.

1. “Ring, Ring.  Who is it?  DESTINY?!  I’ve been expecting your call.”  (Rhino)

Rhino, the hamster, is my favorite character in Bolt, hands down.  The things he says throughout the film are some of the funniest, wittiest, and most memorable lines I can ever remember hearing for the first time and instantly liking.  There’s a handful of lines from him I could have put in this spot (his “Let it begin!  Let it BEGIN!” is one I’m particularly partial to), but if I wanted to sum his character up with one line, this one would be it.  He takes the mission of saving Penny quite seriously and fancies himself as a secret agent of sorts, the kind you might find most often in the movies.  Naturally, this role entails delivering cheesy dialogue on occasion, something this line does very well.  It’s funny, serious, somewhat cliched, and amusingly original, all at the same time.  Definitely a line worth keeping on hand in my view.

Have you ever found yourself quoting your favorite movie or TV show?  What are your favorite lines and why?  Leave your lines and your stories in the comments.