The Case of National Treasure

Since we’re feeling adventurous this month, we’re welcoming yet another guest to talk about one of his favorite movies! You might remember him from our AYAOTD episode last October. He’s our good friend and fellow podcaster, JD Gravatte! 

We’re really excited to have JD on the show today. He was the one that suggested this episode, and we thought it could be super fun to have him join us as we learned all about it!

It was 2004, a day much like this (but not really; it was considerably colder), that National Treasure premiered. Opening to mixed and negative critical reviews (the film has an original Rotten Tomatoes score of 46%), National Treasure seemed to hold the key to viewers’ hearts. The movie was impossibly fun, with a stellar cast that perfectly displayed the sense of excitement and adventure needed to pull off such a wacky concept. After all, only Nicolas Cage could stoically deliver the line: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence,” and have anyone take him seriously. 

National Treasure is equal parts ridiculous and masterful, making it a perfect family film on a rainy afternoon. So, friends, it’s time to learn all about National Treasure, a film that features a national treasure stealing a national treasure to uncover a national treasure! 

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE 

  • This film would certainly not be National Treasure without The Declaration of Independence. So before we follow the clues to the history of this movie, we’re going to talk about the document’s history. 
  • The Declaration of Independence is on permanent display in the National Archives with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It has been on display there since 1952. 
  • Thomas Jefferson’s original draft was called “A Declaration of the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” After much deliberation and several edits to his work, the document was renamed “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” 
    • One notable change was an omission of Jefferson’s claim that King George was responsible for the slave trade. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves when Jefferson drafted the document, and including this accusation would have been hypocritical. 
  • Congress approved the final version on July 4th, 1776. It was recorded by the clerk Timothy Matlack in iron gall ink on parchment paper. Like they say in the film, parchment is made from stretched and treated animal skin and was commonly used for important documents. 
  • Before congress signed the document, John Dunlap produced about 200 copies. Only 26 copies remain today, and only one final copy with all the signatures exists. This version is known as the engrossed copy, which is the one on display.  
  • It’s a common misconception that the Declaration was signed on July 4th, when in actuality, most members of congress began signing the document on August 2nd, 1776. Some members that signed their names were not present when the document was approved.
  • The document is now 245 years old, and its black ink has faded to brown. The best way to preserve it would be to store it in a dark room, but it remains on display because of how important it is that everyone sees it. 

SYNOPSIS

  • Ben Gates grew up listening to his Grandfather’s stories of a legendary treasure brought over to America by the Freemasons. As an adult, Ben has become a historian and treasure hunter. He and his friend Riley team up with the British adventurer Ian Howe who is also searching for the famed treasure. The hunt seemingly ends when the group discovers that the map to the treasure is on the back of the most famous document in American history. When Ben refuses to let Ian steal it, he turns on Riley and Ben. The two men decide they must take action, concluding that to save the Declaration of Independence, they must steal it.

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • In the 1990s, producer, and writer Oren Aviv came to director Jon Turteltaub with an exciting idea for a film: what if someone wanted to steal The Declaration of Independence? Turteltaub was a big fan of adventure films, especially capers, and met with producer Jerry Bruckheimer about the idea. Together, they felt they could make the idea work on screen. 
    • Writers Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv, and Charles Segars worked on the story, which would change hands a few different times over the years. One of the story’s most significant influences was Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Throughout story development, screenwriters Jim Kouf, Cormac, and Marianne Wibberley addressed various scripting issues. The film was initially scheduled for release in 2000, and because of the delay, the heist portion needed re-working. When the story was in its earlier stages, security for The Declaration of Independence had not been updated since the 1950s, meaning that stealing it would not have been that difficult. However, the events of 9/11 intensified security around the document. 
    • The writers wanted to approach a classic treasure hunt from a different perspective. Usually, the bulk of the adventure happens as the characters hunt for gold. This film dedicates more screen time to securing the map than the actual treasure. 
    • Screenwriters and filmmakers consulted heist specialists that would give insight into how they would steal the Declaration. They used this information to craft a plan that was believable enough for the film. 
    • In the film, the biggest key to Ben Gate’s plan is to steal the Declaration from the preservation room, where there is less protection. This storyline was a little too realistic, and the preservation process changed after the film was released, so no one got any brilliant ideas about stealing it for real. 
  • Directed by Jon Turteltaub, National Treasure was shot over six months, mostly on location. Filming included shots in front of the National Archives, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Independence Hall, and The Library of Congress. The team wanted a realistic touch, which added a historical weight to the story. For example, there’s a scene where characters Ben, Riley, and Abigail bring the Declaration to the signing room in Independence Hall. Ben exclaims, “the last time this was here, it was being signed.” That might actually be true if they were holding the actual Declaration. 
    • In the scene where Abigail (Diane Kruger) confronts Ben (Nicolas Cage) during the Gala, the camera shows her walking across Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol Building behind her. The crew shut down the entire street for the scene. 
    • The film crew was not permitted to film in the actual National Archives, meaning the production crew had to build a replica. It was accurate down to the inch. 
      • Of course, the declaration prop is a replica as well. Designers made it from paper and not animal skin. The crew was given photos of the front and back of the actual document for reference.
  • Production Designers Paul Cross and Norris Spencer had two major issues to resolve. One of these was creating fictional spaces and making them fit into a film filled with realistic locations. The other was building the catacombs, which we see during the film’s climax.
    • One of the early scenes in the film was shot on location in Utah. It involved a major explosion on the icy landscape that involved 600 gallons of gasoline and real gunpowder (Justin Bartha, who played Riley, actually caught fire.) This scene also involved the interior of The Charlotte, an excavated ship. This set was located inside a freezer so that the actors would have red faces and visible breath. 
    • Holy Trinity Church is a real location that does have a crypt. The team was able to go and see it for themselves. To create realistic catacombs underneath the church, they visited many Masonic temples for reference. 
  • The Santa Monica California VFX team of Asylum worked on the computer-generated visual effects for the film. They worked on 350 shots in the movie. Their most extensive sequences were the scenes that showed how the Declaration was kept safe, the dangerous shaft beneath Trinity Church, and the treasure room at the end of the film. 
    • After our main cast discovers a tunnel in the tomb beneath Trinity Church, they follow it to a complicated system of stairs, bridges, and elevators. Although the production team created a massive set, CGI made the shaft appear bottomless. It also added touches that made the danger feel as authentic as possible. 
    • When our heroes finally discover the treasure, Ben (Nicolas Cage) lights a trough that reveals a deep cavern of unbelievable wonders. The SFX team combined over 100 elements to bring this scene to life, including a miniature of the treasure room, shot at ⅙ scale. 
  • Some of us might roll our eyes when talking about the historical accuracy of a Disney adventure film. Still, the creative forces behind this movie wanted it to be as true to history as possible. In many ways, they succeeded. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was a driving force for the realism of the film. 
    • One real-world element of the film is the concept of treasure hunting. Of course, some real people have dedicated their lives to finding treasure. For example, Mel Fisher was a treasure hunter known for discovering the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a famed Spanish treasure galleon. 
    • But what about the other pieces of the film? The connection between the founding fathers and the freemasons is true. Freemasons date back to medieval times, making it the oldest fraternal organization in existence. George Washington was the head of the masons in the New World, and nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were masons. They’re not exactly a secret organization, though they do have secret rituals, and their symbols do appear on American currency, as the film suggests. 
    • The film also references the Knights Templar, formed in Jerusalem in 1118 CE to protect Christian pilgrims after the First Crusade. Legend has it that the knights uncovered a treasure beneath King Soloman’s temple and slowly transported it back to Europe over 200 years. Actor Christopher Plummer details this story at the beginning of the movie.  
      • Afraid that the group was becoming too powerful, the King of France ordered many knights to be captured, tortured, or executed. Many escaped to Scotland and joined Masonic Lodges. Some believe they held treasure at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
      • National Treasure suggests that this treasure was brought to the US, giving us the film’s premise. 
    • Many other historical facts rattled off by our lead character are true. At the beginning of the film, the characters come across a clue that states 55 people signed The Declaration of Independence. Fifty-six people signed the document, but the last person did it in 1781, which would be after the clue was written. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to add a scene that explained this, but it didn’t fit into the final cut. As a result, many audience members took the line to be a mistake. 
    • One of the less realistic moments of the film is the Gala held at the National Archives. Generally, no food or drink is permitted around such essential documents. 
    • Now, of course, the treasure itself at the end of the film is fictional…or at least their version of it is. But the story itself relies on American history, which is impressive. 

THE MUSIC

  • Trevor Rabin scored this film with a beautiful blend of orchestral and rock influences. His father was a first-chair violinist for the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, and his mother was a talented classical pianist. Trevor himself became a big rock star in his own right. The director Jon Turtletaub said that the rock sound was perfect for the chase scene. Trevor is also known for scoring Remember the Titans.

STARRING

  • Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates
    • National Treasure was Nicolas Cage’s fourth film with Jerry Bruckheimer. He was concerned that many of his lines would not come off naturally, as he was often rattling off memorized facts. He reportedly asked for the “greatest actor ever” to play his father. The role of Patrick Gates went to John Voigt. 
    • Voigt noted that Cage liked to be silly on set, keeping up creative energy. He was excited to do the role and be in all the historical locations. Cage was also known to ad-lib a lot of his lines. 
    • The writers never wanted Cage’s character, Ben, to carry a gun. He needed to seem resourceful and be a direct foil to the antagonist.  
  • Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase
    • When Kruger did a screen test with Cage, he seemed a little off his game. She brought the kind of dynamic that they were looking for, and she got the part.
    • Kruger also did a lot of her own stunt work, including a scene where she hangs off the back of a van. She said she was so sore from the scene; she had to take a week off from filming.  
    • She also appeared in Inglorious Bastards
  • Justin Bartha as Riley Poole
    • When test audiences saw the film, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to Bartha’s scenes. So, the editors went back through the footage and added more of his character to the film. 
    • Bartha felt like audiences resonated with his character because he represents the everyday person in these impossible situations. 
    • Bartha also appeared in The Hangover.
  • Sean Bean as Ian Howe
    • Sean Bean has been in many other projects, like Game of Thrones and Wolfwalkers. But, he doesn’t die in this film, despite the joke that his character always dies. 
  • Jon Voight as Patrick Gates
    • Voight joined the production later than the other actors. He was initially going to turn down the role, but when he told Jerry Bruckheimer how he would have played Patrick Gates, they knew they couldn’t cast anyone else. 
    • Jon Turteltaub remarked that Voigt is incredible with character acting. 

RECEPTION

  • National Treasure opened on November 19th, 2004, to mixed reviews. Audiences, however, disagreed, and the film swiftly became a treasure because it stayed at the top of the box office for at least three weeks straight; ahead of Christmas with the Kranks, The Polar Express, and The Incredibles.
  • In 2007, Disney released National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. This film received an even worse critical reception but made over 100 million dollars more than the first film. 
  • Over the years, there have been whispers of a third installment to the franchise, but it seems the studio has been dragging its feet. In an interview with Collider, Jon Turteltaub said, “The script was close, but not so great that the studio [could] say yes. But it’s been good enough that the studio could have said, ‘Yes, keep going. Get closer.'”
    • Even after all this time, there are still firm hopes that a third movie is on the way. Looper posits that it will release in late 2022 or early 2023!

FUN FACTS

  • The film’s first cut was almost four hours long, including a deleted scene where Riley and Abigail run through an empty strip club in the afternoon. According to Turteltaub, most Jerry Bruckheimer films include a strip club at some point. But, the scene was eventually cut. 
  • Many have scoffed at the chemistry in the film, like when Ben and Abigail use lemon juice to uncover invisible ink. In the audio commentary, Jon Turteltaub and Justin Bartha were adamant that this would work. 
  • In the film, the characters uncover a set of glasses that reveal another hidden message on the map. The actors had to stare at a blank piece of paper for these scenes and pretend they saw something extraordinary. 
  • Eddie Yansick was Nic Cage’s stunt double. In one scene, when Cage seemingly jumped into the Hudson River, the crew threw sandbags into the water to make the splash. When he jumped in Cage’s place, Yansick was hooked up to a decelerator and yanked backward before entering the water. Later on, the antagonist, Ian, has a line wondering how Ben survived the fall without any injuries. This may have been a nod to the fact that he likely would have died if he made the jump in real life. 
  • Much like The Goonies, some of the close-up hand shots were not the hands of the main actors. In one shot, the hands were director Jon Turteltaub’s hands!


National Treasure may not be a groundbreaking film, but it achieves what it set out to do. This movie is entertaining from start to finish. It has an exciting premise, a likable leading man, several thrilling chase scenes, and honest connections between characters. National Treasure is the kind of movie you’d take your kids to see at the dollar theatre on a hot day or throw on the TV when you’re stuck inside from the rain or the snow or the heat. No matter how snobby or highfalutin our taste in cinema may be, there will always be a need for movies like this one. These films allow us to turn off our cynicism for a couple of hours and imagine something as unbelievable as stealing one of the most famous documents in American history and using it to find buried treasure. If you let them, silly movies like this can make you feel like anything is possible, and that is a treasure all by itself.

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The Case of Adventure Time

This week we are continuing Adventure August with a special guest: Robin’s sister, Becky! This week, we’re covering a show that is near and dear to Becky’s heart, and we thought she might enjoy geeking out with us. 

The late 2000’s was not the brightest spot in Cartoon Network’s history. The channel had begun to branch out, incorporating live-action shows into its programming in an attempt to compete with other kids’ networks. By July of 2009, this endeavor appeared fruitless, as almost none of the live-action shows proved to have any staying power. The network scrapped their block of live-action and started looking for new ideas. 

In April of 2010, Cartoon Network premiered a new animated series that would quickly become one of their most prominent properties. It followed the adventures of two best friends/brothers, a human named Finn and a dog named Jake. Together, they explored the magical land of Ooo, rescuing princesses, making friends, and going on various adventures. 

Adventure Time was strange and refreshing. Its world was rich with indescribably odd characters and yet completely relatable. Its themes were complex and sometimes dark, with a brightly colored coat of paint and enough humor to appeal to all audiences. It was a show that took the world by storm, knocking down barriers and opening doors for other off-beat animation for years to come. 

So this week, we’re meeting up with Finn and Jake in the Land of Ooo. Come on, grab your friends…because we all know what time it is! It’s Adventure Time! 

SUMMARY

  • Adventure Time centers around Jake the Dog and Finn the Human who, as the title suggests, go on adventures together. In these post apocalyptic adventures they fight evil, protect their friends, make new friends, and learn lessons. 

MEET THE CREATOR

  • Pendleton Ward has always been an introvert. In a 2014 Rolling Stone article, he detailed his experiences as an awkward, overweight child with a bowl cut. He never knew his dad but was raised by his mother, an artist that nurtured Ward’s creativity. 
  • Because he had difficulty understanding people, young Ward would take notes on the people he knew, trying to make sense of the characters around him. He loved Dungeons and Dragons and would roller-skate down to the comic shop. He felt like an outcast among outcasts.
  • When Ward attended CalArts, one of the top animation schools in the country, he found a group of peers that would become friends and collaborators. One of these friends was Adam Muto, a classmate and fellow artist who would join Ward on the biggest project of his lifetime. 
  • In the mid-2000’s, CalArts accepted one of Ward’s animated shorts into an end-of-the-year show called “The Producers Show.” Frederator, an independent animation studio that created TV shows like “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “My Life as a Teenage Robot,” was impressed by Ward’s work. At the time, the studio was accepting pitches for short films. They needed ideas to fill a Nickelodeon block of animated shorts, and they were taking pitches from anyone–even animators without experience or representation. 
  • Ward threw together a storyboard for a 7-minute short called “Adventure Time,” which followed the characters Pen and Jake, a human and dog that were best friends. The short made its way to Nickelodeon in 2007, which later broadcasted it in 2008 on the anthology show “Random! Cartoons.” Watch part of it here: Adventure Time Pilot (Nicktoons)
    • It was directed by Larry Leichliter, Hugo Morales, and Pendleton Ward. Adventure Time (2008) starred a group of actors that would eventually be replaced, except for John DiMaggio as Jake the Dog. John Kassir played the Ice King, and we might remember him as the voice of the Crypt Keeper. 
  • Initially, the short didn’t make a considerable impact commercially, but it earned a nomination for Best Animated Short Subject at the Annie Awards! Because of this, the short had to be available to watch online and was published on YouTube. Although the animated short didn’t win the Annie, something else incredible happened: it went viral.

As the video racked up over 3 million views online, it became clear that it had a far-reaching appeal. Frederator Studios decided to start pitching the show. Pendleton Ward found all of this exciting, but as he told Rolling Stone, “If the show hadn’t been picked up, I would have moved to the Midwest and gotten a cheap apartment. I would have been that guy with a telescope watching my neighbors, getting pizza and putting a sign on the door that says ‘Leave the pizza outside.'”

THE TROUBLESOME BEGINNINGS AND MAKING OF ADVENTURE TIME

  • After creating the original Adventure Time short, Pendleton Ward spent a year writing and creating storyboards for a Cartoon Network show called, “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.” Years later, he would credit this experience with teaching him how to run an animated series. 
  • Ward and Frederator pitched a full Adventure Time series to Nicktoons, and were reportedly rejected 5 times. Once Nickelodeon no longer had the rights to produce the series, Frederator producer Frank Seibert brought the concept to Cartoon Network.
    • As Ward admitted in an interview with Fastcompany.com, it’s a huge risk for a network to put money behind an original idea. Usually, studios like to pick up established properties that have proven to do well, and Adventure Time was a hard-sell in general. In a sense, the show was very open-ended. It was simply about two best friends just having adventures, and there wasn’t much of a hook.  
  • Luckily for Seibert and Ward, Cartoon Network was interested in producing a full series. However, they would only commit to a deal if Ward could prove the short “wasn’t a one-hit wonder”. Cartoon Network asked Ward to submit a sample script for their consideration, but the vice president of Frederator, Eric Homan, convinced Ward to play to his strengths, and create a storyboard instead. 
  • Ward turned to his friends Patrick McHale and Adam Muto, and they began developing ideas. For years after, Ward would explain that the characters he and his co-writers created weren’t just characters. Finn, Jake, and all the others were extensions of the writers themselves, and the people that Ward chose to work with were the heart and soul of the show. 
    • The group’s first storyboard featured Finn and Princess Bubblegum going on a spaghetti-supper date, but Cartoon Network was disinterested in the idea. It was clear that Ward and his team needed to recreate the magic of the original short. So Ward, McHale, and Muto created a storyboard for the episode “The Enchiridion!”, which was their attempt to consciously emulate the style of the original “Adventure Time.” This tactic proved successful, and Cartoon Network approved the first season in September 2008, with “The Enchiridion!” as the first episode to enter into production. 
  • Just as Ward and his team began storyboarding more episodes, Cartoon Network once again became concerned about the direction of the series. Because Adventure Time was one of the only new animated shows on the network, they needed to ensure its success. Compared to other animators, Ward and his colleagues were fairly inexperienced, and production became a little hectic. One issue was finding the right team of animators to work in Ward’s unique and simplistic style. Also, the writers still hadn’t landed on a clear vision of the show.
  • Cartoon Network put production on hold, and hired three veteran animators who had worked on SpongeBob SquarePants. Derek Drymon, who served as executive producer for the first season of Adventure Time, Merriwether Williams, who served as head story editor for the show’s first and second seasons, and Nick Jennings who became the series’ long-serving art director. The team added artists like Phil Rydna and Dan “Ghostshrimp” Bandit, two animators that were instrumental in getting the show off the ground as they were able to draw in Ward’s style. Derek Dryman was able to help the production team storyboard a new episode called “Prisoners of Love,” that would finally ease the anxieties of the network. Four long years after the original short, the show finally premiered on Cartoon Network on April 5, 2010.

SHOW PRODUCTION

  • Growing up, Ward was a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons and The Simpsons. He was able to combine the two to make Adventure Time. Ward told The A.V. Club that the show’s writing process usually began with the writers telling each other what they had done the previous week to find something to build on. He has compared the writing process to creating D & D characters, and playing them in that universe. To Ward and the other writers, they were just animating the campaigns of their assigned characters each week. 
  • Adventure Time was produced using hand-drawn animation. Because each episode took roughly eight to nine months to complete, multiple episodes were worked on at the same time. After the crew got a storyboard approved by Cartoon Network, the board was then worked into a script for the voice actors. The recorded dialogue was then placed under the polished storyboard panels, making a rough cut for the episode that the animators could follow. Then, character and prop designers would meet to see what needed to be designed for the episode. After the design phase, the animation was outsourced to South Korea. The animation was largely hand-drawn, and then scanned into the computer. Once it was completed, the American team looked over the episode for errors, sometimes making minor changes at the last second. 
  • Pen Ward kept an open mind as the showrunner. He would often let his team contribute their own ideas and stories while keeping control of the show overall. 
  • After four and a half successful seasons, Ward decided it was time to step down as showrunner. Although he stayed to contribute every now and then or look over stories, he felt it best for his personal health and wellbeing to step away. The pressures of controlling a massively popular show became too much for his introverted personality. He handed the reins to Adam Muto, his college buddy that helped him develop the show.
    • When Muto took over, the show went in a different direction. Although the show never lost its sense of whimsy, the tone shifted to be more introspective. There were more series’ of episodes, rather than one-off adventures, and the plots became even more complex. 
  • In an article for the LA Times Rebecca Sugar talked about what it was like working on the show, especially the finale. She said, “I wrote a song for the finale called “Time Adventure.” I wanted to write about how even if something ends, it continues to exist in the past, nothing ever really goes away, you only feel like it does because our mind has to process information one moment at a time in order for us to function as humans. I’m so nostalgic for the time that I spent working on “Adventure Time” and I find it comforting to think that I still exist in that office with Adam, working on those stories. I would be so happy to come to work and brainstorm with him and sit down and draw on paper and pitch these stories with Post-its tacked up to the wall, just like they did in the 1930s with the stick and the song and the dance, the most traditional way of doing cartoons.”

CAST

  • In order to create dialogue that would naturally flow between the characters, Adventure Time preferred recording as a group under the direction of Kent Osbourne. 
  • Hynden Walch, who voices Princess Bubblegum, said in a Comic Con interview that, “It’s just like doing a play reading—a really, really out there play.”
  • In order to bring some variety into the voice acting, the team has employed many actors for small roles within the show. Some actors were reached out to but others were fans of the show and asked to be a part of it! In an interview at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con Adam Muto and Kent Osborne remarked that they had a strange goal of getting all the actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Office to voice recurring and minor roles. Kent made it clear though that when someone like Rainn Wilson had asked to guest star, they did not immediately put him in. They have a list of actors that have contacted them and when a character arises that would fit their voice they are brought in.

STARRING

Voice actors typically voice more than one character and so we will mention the main character that the actors voices but know that they voiced several others throughout the series.

  • John DiMaggio as Jake 
    • He is also known as Bender in Futurama.
    • In Paul Thomas’ “Exploring the Land of Ooo,” John DiMaggio is quoted saying, “I was trying to figure out from the beginning what the big deal was. I was like, ‘I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here.’ … You just had these lines that said whatever, and it was like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I said to Tom Kenny once, I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t get this show at all. I have no idea.’ And he was like, ‘Listen, man. Just trust me. This is this generation’s Yellow Submarine. Just leave it at that.’ And he was right. The art direction on the show, the whole world is great—the Land of Ooo is just weird. … It’s just a weird thing, you know. I love doing the show. It’s fun as hell.”
  • Jeremy Shada as Finn 
    • Jeremy is Reggie in Julie and the Phantoms!
    • The character of Finn was originally inspired by another animation by Pen Ward called Bueno the Bear. You can easily see how the style carried over to Adventure Time.
    • Bueno the Bear
    • Jeremy’s older brother Zach was the original voice of Finn
  • Tom Kenny as Ice King 
    • We all of course know Tom Kenny but in case you are not aware he is Spongebob!
  • Hynden Walch as Princess Bubblegum 
    • Hynden often voices Starfire in the Teen Titans shows.
    • Bubblegum was one of the first characters created for the show and was originally named Bettie after Ward’s mother. 
  • Olivia Olson as Marceline the Vampire Queen
    • She has been voices in other shows such as Phineas and Ferb, also played Joanna Anderson in “Love Actually”,  but is best known for Adventure Time
    • Ward got the idea for Marceline from a childhood friend!
  • Nikki Yang as BMO 
    • She also voices Candy Chiu in Gravity Falls.
  • Pendleton Ward as Lumpy Space Princess
    • He works on many Cartoon Network Studios projects as a screenwriter, animator, voice actor, etc.

RUNNING JOKES/ GAGS

  • Snail in every episode
    • Excluding the very first episode and a few others, the snail can be found within each episode. His appearance becomes a running gag as the seasons go on. He is even possessed by The Lich in a few episodes and can be seen with green eyes and an evil appearing expression.
  • Ice King kidnapping princesses
    • Many Fans believe that the Ice King is obsessed with Princesses because his human form, (Simon Petrikov) before becoming the ice king, had a fiancee named Betty. He would often call her princess. This leads those to believe that he is trying to find his princess or at least replace the love that he has lost.
  • Squirrel that hates Jake
    • His most famous words to Jake, “You son of a Bleep, Blop!”
  • Shelby the worm that lives in Jake’s viola 
    • His voice is created by altering Pen Ward’s! He is also specifically labeled as a male earthworm even though earthworms are in fact hermaphrodites. 
  • Finn being able to sing with auto-tune
    • We do not get to see in the show how Finn is able to sing auto-tune, but he says that when he was younger he swallowed a little computer.
  • Peppermint Butler being secretly evil
    • Peppermint Butler is Princess Bubblegum’s trusted butler, advisor, and friend. Throughout the series many instances show how he may have a dark side and past that is unbeknownst to the citizens of the candy kingdom. With this dark side he never turns on Princess Bubblegum and stays by her side making sure she is safe. 
  • The hints at Ooo being in a post apocalypse (Business Time)
    • Adventure Time is set in The Land of Ooo. The land of Ooo began as just a magical land but in the first season it quickly began to have a history emerge. This history does not become the main focus but rather a background to the main characters and their stories.
    • In a USA Today article Ward said, “I never planned it – I just saw this world as a magical place. The show developed organically – someone would add an element to the world, and it would stick. At some point, we did an episode about businessmen rising up from an iceberg at the bottom of a lake (“Business Time”) and that made the world post-apocalyptic, and we just ran with it.”

FAVORITE EPISODES

  • Wizard – Season 1, Episode 11
  • Dungeon – Season 1, Episode 18
  • Rainy Day Daydream – Season 1, Episode 23
  • The Other Tarts – Season 2, Episode 9
  • “What was Missing” Season 3, Episode 10
    • It is the genuine band episode
    • This episode is famous for deepening the relationship between Bubblegum and Marceline. After reading the episode, storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar suggested to Adam Muto that Bubblegum and Marceline had been in a romantic relationship that had gone south, which explains their complicated interactions and the cryptic lines of Marceline’s song. The show liked the idea, but knew that they had to approach it in a very subtextual way. Still, audiences understood what the writers were going for, and the episode sparked some controversy among the fanbase. 
    • Several seasons later in 2018, Cartoon Network aired the final episode which confirmed the relationship. 
  • Jake vs. Me-Mow – Season 3, Episode 16
    • This is a fan favorite because people love Me-Mow.
  • I Remember You – Season 4, Episode 25
  • The Lich – Season 4 finale
    • A big turning point for the show and first appearance of Prismo.

AWARDS/ RECEPTION

  • Although on first look Adventure Time seems to be for children, it has garnered an audience from a wide range of ages. Many teenagers and even adults relate to its offbeat humor and characters. This has caused some of its episodes to obtain over three million views! It paved the way for Cartoon Network after its failed attempts to compete with live action shows. 
  • Adventure Time has won several awards which include eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, three Annie Awards, two British Academy Children’s Awards, two Behind the Voice Actors Awards, a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award, and a Kerrang! Award. It has been nominated for many others as well. 
  • The series was so popular that lots of merch has been made which includes books, video games, clothing, and more.
  • The original series ended in 2018 but with it’s popularity still big, HBO brought it back in 2020. Adventure Time: Distant Lands has three episodes with a fourth on the way. The 42 minute specials explore new and distant worlds based on the universe that Pendleton Ward created.

INDUSTRY IMPACT

  • One example of Adventure Time’s positive impact is the continued careers and success of its crew. Many of the people that worked on the show went on to produce their own shows which include Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, and City of Ghosts. 
  • Adventure Time brought in a new era for cartoons where artists could come together and create a series without holding back. It has inspired countless shows after it with its storyline and animation style. Adventure Time demonstrated that independent artists could not only animate but create interesting and successful stories. 
  • Finn and Jake are so big that they are also now included in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

In the late 2000s, Cartoon Network took a big risk, and boy did it pay off. In a world already overwhelmed with remakes and revivals, they decided to take a different path; a unique path; a weird path. Adventure Time is one of the most important animated shows of the 2010s. It not only gained an unbelievable cult following, it ushered in a new era of animation for Cartoon Network and even some other animation giants. But putting the needs of big studios aside, it’s a show that likely inspired other animators, proving that success isn’t out of reach–even for the weirdos. Adventure Time is out there, and that’s what makes it special. Its humor is off-beat, and not everyone will understand it all the time, but every moment is understood by someone. So, if you’re in the mood for an adventure, go check out the land of Ooo. The fun never ends. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES:

This Case Never Says Die

Summertime is all about adventure, so this August, we’re bringing you three episodes filled with pirates, treasures, and some serious swashbuckling! It’s Adventure August!

We decided to start our month off strong with an episode on Robin’s favorite movie. Now, we’ve been doing this show for almost three years. Why have we waited so long to cover something that we clearly love? Honestly, it’s because this movie is so special that we were a little nervous that we wouldn’t do it justice. Originally, the first episode of this month was going to be something totally different! But, with the passing of Richard Donner, we decided it was finally time to visit Astoria and hunt for gold with The Goonies!

Back in the 1980’s, Steven Spielberg was the unofficial king of Hollywood. After directing and/or producing classics like Jaws, ET, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was clear that the man had a good mind for stories. Legend has it that Spielberg came up with the idea for the film from one very simple question: what kind of adventure could a group of bored kids get into on a rainy day? He brought the concept to Chris Columbus, the screenwriter responsible for Gremlins. Columbus devised a story about a lovable group of misfits, best friends that are about to lose their homes and be separated. All hope is seemingly lost until they discover a treasure map and embark on a dangerous quest to find the legendary gold of famed pirate, One-eyed Willie, and save their neighborhood. 

There is no doubt that The Goonies has a lasting appeal. It’s one of the most popular films of the 1980’s, garnering an intense cult following that only grows with each generation. It was a story with everything: action, romance, comedy, the mob(?), friendship, pirates, a sweeping score, and motivational speeches. Every kid knows the feeling of being stuck inside on a rainy day, longing for adventure. This film defined so many childhoods because it flawlessly captures what it means to be a kid and allowed children everywhere to live out the fantasy of going on the adventure of a lifetime, all while out-witting the bad guys and having the power to solve their own problems. 

So, let’s follow the map to the history of this 1980’s treasure and unlock the gold that is The Goonies! 

SUMMARY

  • It’s a rainy Saturday in the Goondocks, a neighborhood in Astoria, Oregon. A group of friends that call themselves “The Goonies” gather at their friends Mikey and Brand’s house. It’s the last weekend they will spend together, as their houses will soon be foreclosed on and demolished to make way for a country club. Desperate for something to do, the kids explore the attic, filled with treasures from the local museum where Mikey’s father worked as a curator. Among other treasures, the kids stumble upon a treasure map and decide to follow it to the famed treasure of One-eyed Willie!
  • On the way, the Goonies come across bullies, booby traps, and a notorious crime family named The Fratellis, who also have their eyes on the treasure!

THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus pitched the idea for The Goonies, the film was greenlit with a budget of 19 million dollars. Like we said already, Steven Spielberg had some serious pull, so the talent behind the film was enough to earn a sizable budget. 
  • Chris Columbus already had a hit with “Gremlins,” which is referenced in The Goonies! He would go on to write and direct many more successful films in the years to come. Even though Columbus credits Spielberg with the original concept for The Goonies, it was his imagination that birthed iconic lines like, “Goonies never say die,” which undoubtedly helped make the film a classic. Columbus originally planned to set the film in Ohio, where he grew up. He lived in a small factory town where there was not a lot to do. All he wanted to do was get out of that town. He and his friends would go into the abandoned coal mines to search for treasure. 
  • Richard Donner, the man responsible for the hit Superman films of the 1970s, was chosen to direct. 
    • Starting in the fall of 1984, Donner generally shot the film in order of continuity. Of course, it would be impossible to do the film this way in its entirety because of the combination of shots done on-location and in-studio.
      • If you remember from our ET episode, Spielberg also shot that film this way. It’s a great way to shoot with kids because it helps them understand the story, and it builds genuine relationships that they can build off of in ending scenes. 
    • Because Steven Spielberg was passionate about the film, he was a hands-on producer, often appearing on set. Some felt that he should have been named co-director, but others say that Donner was in charge. The two men had known each other for a long time, Donner being an older director. Some have speculated that Donner didn’t enjoy having Spielberg on the set as often as he did, but Donner himself said in the making of documentary that he “happened to love it because [Spielberg] is the biggest kid of them all.” 
      •  There were two scenes that were reportedly directed by Spielberg. They were the scenes in the wishing well when Mikey makes his iconic speech and the scene where the kids bang on the pipes beneath the country club. 
    • Along with the influences from Columbus and Spielberg, Richard Donner certainly left his mark on the film as well. He is credited with taking a wild storyline that uniquely navigates several movie genres and making it a cohesive film. He also added classic influences, like the Rube-Goldberg-style traps and machines that frequently appear in the film. 
      • Among Donner’s greatest achievements was his ability to direct a mischievous band of young actors, who were consistently playing pranks and falling into laughing fits on set. Although he was frequently frustrated with the kids fumbling their scenes, they were always able to make him laugh, and he found ways to bring out the best in their performances.
      • For example, Sean Astin has said that during the scene where he first tells the story of One-eyed Willie, he wasn’t given lines to memorize. Instead, Donner told him the story and had Astin repeat it back as best as he could. The result was a much more kid-like retelling of the story that any adult may not have been able to write. 
        • In the making-of documentary on the DVD, Donner says, “It is the most difficult thing I ever thought I was going to get into. I never anticipated what it was going to be like. Because individually they are wonderful, they’re nuts, they’re the warmest, craziest things that have ever come into my life, but in a composite form, you get them all together, and it’s mind-blowing.”  Later on he said,  “I’ve never had kids, but at that moment, they were mine.” 
      • By the end of the five months, the kids were a grumpy, squabbling bunch. Donner was thankful to finally take his vacation after the film had wrapped, getting a much-needed break from the kids. According to Steven Spielberg, Donner frequently mentioned during his last weeks of shooting that he couldn’t wait to head to Hawaii and get a break. So, Spielberg thought it would be funny to put all the kids on a flight to Hawaii, arriving before Donner. By the time the director arrived at his vacation home, they were all standing in his living room! Martha Plimpton, who played Stef in the film, said that Donner fell to his knees when he saw the kids. 
  • Some of The Goonies was shot in the same location where the film takes place: Astoria, Oregon. In a 2019 interview with the YouTube Channel, “Beyond the Backlot,” Donner recalled scouting out the location for the movie. When they first saw Astoria, they knew that they wouldn’t find anything better. The house used in the film is a real home, perfectly placed at the top of a hill, giving the audience a clear view of the small town. The house is privately owned and off-limits to fans, as any regular person would not want strangers constantly standing in their yard. 
  • Other parts of the film were filmed on location along the coast on Cannon Beach, Bodega Bay Ecola State Park. But, the majority of the movie was filmed on soundstages at Warner Brothers Studios (then it was called Burbank Studios). It was there on stage 16, the largest stage on the lot, that production designer J Michael Riva and the rest of the production crew built a full-scale pirate ship. Originally, the plan was to build portions of the ship and film the scenes in segments. But, Riva’s vision brought One-Eyed-Willie’s ship, The Inferno, to life. The set-piece was remarkably big and completely real, complete with several levels and full-scale masts. 
    • Richard Donner wanted to capture the true reactions of the kids when they saw the ship for the first time. So, the set was off-limits until it was time to shoot the scenes with The Inferno. In the scene, the kids are seeing the ship for the first time. It’s real movie magic. 
  • Special effects in the 1980’s were very different from the effects of today. The Goonies is filled with marvelous practical effects. For example, the bats in the film were a combination of animatronics and paper mache. The gasoline and fire at the very beginning of the film were real! The blender that the Fratellis threaten to put Chunk’s hand in was a real blender, but with a rubber blade. During the scene where Andy must play the correct chords on the piano, the kids were all cabled to a platform 10 feet in the air. On the DVD commentary, they swore it was more like 30 feet!
  • Some of the most complicated effects had to do with the character Sloth and the moving prosthetics under his make-up. The make-up took several hours to apply and had to be re-applied many times during the final battle scenes. 
  • In one scene, the kids all find the ship after riding through a series of water-filled tunnels. The slides were so much fun; the crew even took turns riding them after the film wrapped! 
  • The original cut of the film was 7 hours long, and there were a couple of major scenes cut from the film that were left in some televised versions of The Goonies. Some of the material cut was referenced later in the movie, causing some continuity issues. 
    • As the Goonies follow the treasure map, they find themselves at a restaurant with the Fratellis. At the beginning of this scene, the map that Mikey is holding now has burnt edges for seemingly no reason! This is because there was a deleted scene where Mikey and the rest of the Goonies run into the bully Troy at a gas station. In this scene, Mikey finds a map of Oregon and compares it to the map found in his attic. This map leads the gang to the restaurant. Troy then steals the treasure map from Mikey and lights it on fire! This scene also explained why the two girls Andy and Stef, suddenly appear at the restaurant as well. They were at the gas station with Troy and decided to ditch him after he was so cruel to the Goonies. 
    • In one famous deleted scene, Stef and Mouth are attacked by a gigantic octopus. In order to save them, Data puts his walkman into the animal’s beak while playing the song Eight Arms to Hold You by The Goon Squad. The Octopus then moonwalks away. (The music video for the song has a stop motion octopus!)
    • One even more forgotten scene involved two apes escaping from the zoo because the goonies had messed with the underground pipes. This footage is not available or is said to be lost.

THE MUSIC

  • The Goonies has an absolute killer soundtrack. Dave Grusin, the composer responsible for scoring films like “Tootsie,” “The Graduate,” and “Selena” delivered a score that was equal parts exciting and nostalgic. If you ever find yourself in need of an adventurous spirit, listen to the Fratelli Chase music from the beginning of the movie. 
  • Beyond the orchestral score, The Goonies soundtrack is filled with hidden treasures. First, there’s the Cyndi Lauper single, “The Goonies R Good Enough,” which is used in the film. The cast even did a separate shoot for the music video that took place on The Inferno, with pro wrestlers appearing in the video, like Andre, the Giant. 
  • The soundtrack also featured “eight arms to hold you” by The Goon Squad and songs by The Bangles, REO Speedwagon, and Joseph Williams (of the band Toto.)

CAST

  • One of the things that made The Goonies so special was its perfect casting. Richard Donner remarked that the whole cast was fantastic at improv. While the actors had lines, he could also throw anything at them, a line, an action, practically anything, and the kids and adults would roll with it because they were so in tune with how their characters would react. 

– The main characters are referred to by their nicknames within the movie but we will also mention their “full names.”

  • Sean Astin as Mikey (Michael Walsh)
    • He is also known for Lord of the Rings and Stranger Things.
    • Sean thought he completely botched his audition, forgetting lines and even saying, “shit,” when he made a mistake. Steven Spielberg reportedly walked out of the audition, leaving Astin with Richard Donner, who then consoled him. Astin got the part anyway, and it was his acting debut. He was incredibly nervous, and in one scene, actually calls Brand by his real name, Josh! It’s in the final cut of the movie. 
    • His mom, unfortunately, threw out the original map that was painstakingly made by the production designer J. Michael Riva. She thought it was just a crumpled piece of paper.
  • Corey Feldman as Mouth (Clark Devereaux)
    • We also know him well for Stand by Me.
    • In a People Magazine article, he said that “not a day passes that someone doesn’t bring up Goonies.” and that he still feels like a big Goonie.
    • Corey Feldman was a huge star in the 1980’s and appeared in Stand By Me about the same time as The Goonies. He was a huge fan of Michael Jackson, and for one scene in the film, Steven Spielberg told Feldman that Jackson was coming to visit the set in order to elicit an animated response from him for the scene. 
  • Jeff Cohen as Chunk (Lawrence Cohen)
    • He appeared on Family Ties a few times and is now a lawyer.
    • Some parts of The Goonies have not aged well, including the scene with the iconic “Truffle Shuffle.” Cohen says that he actually got chickenpox just before filming the movie but didn’t tell producers because he was afraid of getting fired. He claims that you can see some spots when he lifts up his shirt. Cohen was self-conscious about doing the shuffle, so Richard Donner cleared the set to make him feel more comfortable. Chunk is always eating during the movie, and because of this, Cohen actually got sick from eating too much whipped cream.
    • In one scene, Chunk cries while the Fratellis threaten to put his hand in a blender. He rattles off a string of confessions to past misdeeds as tears roll down his cheeks. These lines were largely improvised, and Cohen added names of people that he knew, giving them a little shout-out.  
  • Ke Huy Quan as Data (Richard Wang)
    • Also well known for his role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ke has since retired from acting. 
    • In one scene, as rocks begin to fall on the goonies, Data shouts, “Holy S-H-I-T.” Apparently, his mother told him that he could never cuss, not even in a movie, so he spelled the word instead. 
    • A couple of times in the movie, Mikey and Data have a funny exchange about “Booty/Booby traps.” According to Astin, he and Ke came up with that joke themselves!
    • In one scene, the kids are watching The Fratellis carry a dead body out of their restaurant. Data says, “I am wondering, what is in the bag?” The line made the entire cast break into laughter during the DVD commentary, and Martha Plimpton says it is her favorite line in the film. 
  • Kerri Green as Andy (Andrea Theresa Carmichael) 
    • She was also in Summer Rental, but Green has retired from acting as well. 
    • Green was incredibly nervous about filming her kissing scenes, especially a scene with Sean Astin, who was about four years her junior. Green was 18 at the time and felt wrong kissing a young teenage boy. 
  • Martha Plimpton as Stef (Stephanie Steinbrenner) 
    • One of her most recent roles was in the tv series Raising Hope.
    • Plimpton jokes about her role in the film, noting that as the film progresses, she’s in fewer scenes. While filming the movie, Richard Donner reportedly told her that he would give her 100$ if she stopped biting her nails. On the DVD commentary, she brings this up, and Donner rewards her with 100$ from his pocket!
  • John Matuszak as Sloth (Lotney Fratelli)
    • Matuszak was a 6’7″ defensive end for The Oakland Raiders, which explains why he wears a Raiders jersey in the film! Later, he wears a superman shirt in honor of Donner’s earlier films, Superman and Superman II. 
    • He was having back pain and wasn’t supposed to pick up Jeff Cohen playing Chunk, but much to Cohen’s surprise, he picked him up anyway! 
    • He was not able to eat with the prosthesis on. He had to have smoothies through a straw. The other Fratelli brothers would tease him as they were able to eat hamburgers and other fun foods.
    • Although Sloth’s scenes are some of the most troubling in the film, as he is a man that has endured abuse at the hands of his family, the character is beloved by millions of fans. His iconic line, “Hey You Guys,” is synonymous with The Goonies. Matuszak passed away almost exactly four years after the film was released. 
  • Josh Brolin as Brand (Brandon Walsh)
    • This film was Josh Brolin’s acting debut! He has since appeared in No Country for Old Men, Men in Black III, and of course, The MCU as Thanos. 
    • Brolin, son of James Brolin, wanted to be a serious actor. For one scene in the tunnels, he got really into the scene and wanted to start climbing the walls. When he told Richard Donner about the idea, Donner reportedly said, “You could do that…or you could just read the lines.” 
  • Robert Davi as Jake Fratelli
  • Joe Pantoliano as Francis Fratelli
  • Anne Ramsey as Mama Fratelli 
  • Lupe Ontiveros as Rosalita
  • Mary Ellen Trainer as Mrs. Walsh 
  • Keith Walker as Mr. Walsh 

AWARDS/ RECEPTION

  • The Goonies truly gained its popularity after its initial release, but that doesn’t mean that it was initially a flop. The movie was in the top 10 highest-grossing films of 1985, a year that boasted Back to the Future and Beverly Hills Cop. Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars saying, “More things happen in this movie than in six ordinary action films. There’s not just a thrill a minute; there’s a thrill, a laugh, a shock, and a special effect. The screenplay has all the kids talking all at once, all the time, and there were times, especially in the first reel, when I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying. The movie needs to be played loud and with extra treble.”
  • In December of 2020, the cast and Richard Donner reunited via the internet (with some special guests) and performed a live read of The Goonies for charity. Here is the link if you would like to watch it!
    • At the end of the reading, the group invited the audience to recite the goonie pledge, making everyone present an honorary Goonie. 
    • “I will never betray my goon dock friends/ We will stick together until the whole world ends/ Through heaven and hell, and nuclear war/ Good pals like us, will stick like tar/ In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies/ I am proudly declared a fellow Goonie.
  • Throughout the years, there have been talks of a Goonies sequel. 
    • It’s been 36 years since the release of this fantastic movie. It has been almost as long that rumors have swirled about a sequel. In 1987 when The Goonies II video game was released, it followed a new story where the children were kidnapped by the Fratellis. This led to speculation of a new movie. Unfortunately, Spielberg did not find a storyline that he felt would justify a sequel. Jeff Cohen, according to Film School Rejects, has said that Warner Brothers has not been willing to let the property go. This has resulted in budget problems and made it even harder to push for a sequel.
    • Many other projects such as comic books and animated series were planned, but they also did not come to fruition.
    • Corey Feldman said of Richard Donner, “He’s the driving force behind it. He says it’s still alive. But as we all know…When you get to that age, things slow down quite a bit. There is a big possibility that he might not want to keep driving it. So, I think without him, it doesn’t happen. And every day that passes, that he doesn’t do it, there is less and less chance that it is ever going to happen at all.”
      • Unfortunately, with this in mind, there may never be a Goonies sequel as the entire cast, it seems, is too loyal to continue without Donner.
      • The year 2020 hit hard for a Goonies-inspired television series by Sarah Watson for Fox. Even though Spielberg and Donner had greenlit it, we found out in May that it is not meant to be.

FUN FACTS

  • There is a Gremlins reference when the officer is talking on the phone. He mentions little creatures that multiply when you get them wet.
  • The jailhouse that the Fratelli brothers break out of has since been turned into the Oregon Film Museum, where they have memorabilia from movies that were filmed in the area.
  • Richard Donner plays a cameo role at the end of the film as one of the officers that discovers the kids on the beach. The entire scene was filled with cameos, as the kids were permitted to have their real family members appear on the beach. 
  • The film is filled with close-ups of the kids holding items. In every single one, the hands are not the kids’ hands. They would have adult doubles hold the items instead. 
  • In 2010, the mayor of Astoria named June 4th as the official day to celebrate The Goonies! 

To us, The Goonies is the quintessential adventure film. It tapped into the sense of adventure that sits within all of us. This movie runs rampant with the untamed energy of childhood, something that every kid can relate to and that every adult can remember. It’s funny, strange, awkward, exciting, and sometimes even scary. The Goonies feels like a story we might’ve imagined with our figurines as kids or a play we might’ve acted out in our living rooms for our polite and exhausted parents. This film was made with uninhibited excitement and love and has been enjoyed by audiences with that same enthusiasm for over 35 years. 

We don’t love The Goonies because it’s perfect, because, well, it’s NOT perfect. But, this film gives us the chance to stop and imagine a world where the bad guys lose, the outcasts win, and where the greatest adventures are right under our noses. So, I guess what we’re trying to say is, The Goonies R Good Enough, and thank you, Richard Donner, for sharing your treasure with us. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Case of Jim Henson

All month, we have been talking about Jim Henson projects. This week, we’re wrapping up the month with an episode about the man himself; the one and only Jim Henson. 

It was 1954 and the start of the fall semester at the University of Maryland. The Home Economics curriculum had recently added a brand new course: puppetry. The professor was a talented silversmith, who had very little experience with the medium. This wasn’t a problem, considering the fact that the class was mostly made up of seniors that were inexperienced in puppetry, and trying to get their last college credits. It wasn’t a problem, of course, until a tall lanky 18-year-old man named Jim Henson walked in. 

For the last couple years, Henson had been working as a puppeteer on local network shows. Although he didn’t consider himself an expert puppeteer, he had more experience than anyone else in the room, and quickly took over the class. One of his fellow students stood out to Jim, a dry-witted 20-year-old named Jane Nebel. Together, Jim and Jane formed a partnership that would lead to the creation of some of the world’s warmest, funniest, and most familiar characters: The Muppets. 

This was only the beginning. Eventually the two of them would marry, and create a family of five children. Jane would take on more of a familial role, as Jim would carry on his career to new and more exciting ventures. He was a visionary, a true genius that never stopped working. Jim Henson constantly pushed the boundaries of his craft to reach the far corners of his limitless imagination. And when he found roadblocks, he broke through them with boundless creativity. 

Jim Henson’s friends referred to him as a “harvester of people,” a soft-spoken leader that hand-picked his team of collaborators. Everyone on set felt they could approach him. He was mild-mannered, and believed in others–he felt that everyone should love each other for their differences, not their similarities. He touched countless lives with his love of family, friends, and a good story. We still talk about Jim Henson because he made the world a brighter place, and he still continues to do so, 31 years after his death. 

So we felt it was only fitting to end June with an episode celebrating the magic of Jim Henson, and learning the impact that just one person can have. 

FAMILY/YOUNG LIFE

  • On September 24th, 1936, James Maury Henson (or Jimmy) was born in the Mississippi Delta. Shortly after, the Hensons moved to Maryland. This is where Jim Henson spent the first five years of his life. Throughout these years, he learned to talk, developing a slightly nasal and soft-spoken voice; one that generations of children and adults would one-day associate with a certain famous frog. It was also during this time when he saw his favorite film, “The Wizard of Oz.” 
  • When he was in first grade, Jim Henson’s parents, Betty and Paul, moved the family back to Mississippi. Betty was a loving mother with a jovial sense of humor. Paul was a quiet man, but known for his ability to tell a good story. Jim grew up along the swamps, going on adventures with his friends, gathering nuts for his mother to bake into pies. He was interested in animals, birds particularly, and created his own field guide to help identify them. 
  • Jim joined the Cub Scouts and formed a solid group of comrades. On Sundays, he went to church, and on Saturdays, he went to the movies. Jim Henson and his friends loved to soak up whatever on-screen adventures played at the local theatre, known to locals as, “The Temple.” It was these experiences that inspired him to dress up with his friends, building props out of household items. For every game, he discovered a new way to play, a skill he would perfect for years to come. 
    • Gordon Jones, one of Jim’s childhood friend said, “[Jim] had something the rest of us didn’t have–an unusual degree of originality.” 
  • Jim was incredibly close to his grandmother, a supportive and loving woman that everyone knew simply as, “Dear.” Dear often traveled over 1000 miles to see her daughter Betty and her family. She was a talented seamstress, able to sew with any material. She cultivated Jim’s interest in art and reading, and was his best audience when he told funny stories or acted out games. All of these things were instrumental in who Jim Henson would become, and what he would create. But, there was another aspect of Dear’s personality that Jim adopted. It was possibly one of the most important aspects of his life, and it helped him launch his career; it was the unwavering belief that Jim could be anything. Jim Henson always knew he would be successful, because Dear told him so. 
  • Of course books and films had a major impact on Jim Henson’s imagination, but it was the radio that got him interested in comedy. On Sunday nights, he would listen to Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist act that performed on the radio. Bergen was a special kind of ventriloquist. He didn’t focus as much on the art of speaking without using his mouth, but rather he took great care in developing his characters. To even the most dedicated listeners, Bergen’s puppets seemed like real people. For the rest of his life, Bergen would be one of Henson’s idols. It was Bergen that first introduced him to the magic of puppetry, and the freedom of speaking through something else. As Jim Henson would later put it, “things were said that couldn’t be said by ordinary people.” 
  • Eventually, the Henson’s returned to Maryland. Jim spent his teenage years obsessed with a new technology that was changing the world: television. Watching the few channels available in the Washington DC area, Jim knew for certain that TV was his calling. He fell in love with variety shows, a format he would parody several years later with his own puppet creations. 
  • Jim also loved comic strips, and even had one published at the age of 13. Pogo was his favorite, a strip that took place in a swamp, filled with bright and silly animals. Pogo was the level-headed “normal” character that tried to reign in the wacky personalities around him. The strip also tackled social and political commentary. Henson happily referred to Pogo as one of his biggest influences in creating the Muppet characters. 
  • As Jim Henson approached his high school graduation, an opportunity to work in TV presented itself. The local network WTOP was looking for puppeteers. It might sound a little weird to us, but Jim didn’t consider himself much of a puppeteer. But since puppetry was what the network wanted, it was what Jim Henson was going to do. So, Jim did what anyone with limited to no experience would do: he headed to the library to do some research. He and a friend got together, and started building their own puppets for the audition. They had one week to learn puppetry, and although it wasn’t Jim Henson’s first  choice for a career, he seemed to be a natural. Both boys were hired!
  • The show was short-lived, and was cancelled after only three weeks. But, Jim had impressed producer Roy Meachum, and landed a role on another Saturday morning show. This show would also be cancelled, but the opportunity acted as a stepping stone of sorts, as Jim Henson’s work caught the attention of a producer for NBC affiliate WRC-TV, who promptly offered Henson another job. 
  • At this time, Jim was studying at the University of Maryland. Originally, he wanted a fine arts degree, focusing on production design. But, he quickly realized that Home Economics was more interesting. A degree in Home Economics would allow him to take even more art courses, including a puppetry course. It was in this course that Jim met the woman that would soon become his professional partner, and later his wife, Jane Nebel.  

FIRST PROJECTS

  • Afternoon
    • After Jim Henson met Jane Nebel, he asked her for her help in puppeteering for an afternoon variety show called, “Afternoon,” on an NBC affiliate station. Nebel agreed, and on March 7th, 1955, the TV Highlights sections of The Washington Post and Times Herald printed a small notice for the new show:
      • 2:15 P.M. –Afternoon: A new variety program features Mac McGarry and Willard Scott as co-hosts; fashion information from Inga; music by Mel Clement Quartet; vocals by Jack Maggio; and special features by the Muppets, who are puppeteers.
    • The casual reader flipping through their morning paper might not have even thought about that word, “muppet.” They certainly wouldn’t have known that this notice was an important moment for TV history, that this word would soon take the world by storm, and entertainment would never be the same.
      • For years after, there would be lots of speculation over the origin of the word, “muppet.” At one time, Jim Henson said it was a combination of “marionette” and “puppet,” but later he noted that it didn’t make a lot of sense since they didn’t do much marionette work. Author Brian Jay Jones, in his biography on Henson, speculated that the word came from another TV show that aired in the 1940’s. That show was called, “Hoppity Skippity with Moppet Movies.” Moppet is a word that means, “small child,” and comes from the word “moppe” which means, “rag doll.” So, muppet could be a mash-up of moppet and puppet, and allude to the child-like quality of the characters. 
    • For “Afternoon,” Jim and Jane would have to quickly produce new characters. There wasn’t a lot of time for rehearsal, and Jim Henson got familiar with the ability to perform off-the-cuff, a skill he used often in his later years. The two of them only performed on the show for a couple months before they were offered their own show, a 5-minute block between the news and The Tonight Show. It was called, Sam and Friends.
  • Sam and Friends 
    • Sam and Friends aired in the Spring of 1955 and followed a quiet bald character named Sam, and an abstract group of friends that helped him through daily life. The characters were meant to live within Sam, and Jim Henson liked their abstract quality. 
    • Jim Henson was still a teenager at the time, a college kid living in a town he knew very well. Nearby, his grandfather, a man known affectionately as, “Pop,” was dying of heart failure. It was during one of his many visits with his family that Jim sat down with an old felt coat and a ping-pong ball to make his favorite muppet: a milky turquoise creature named Kermit. In his book, Brian Jay Jones wrote, “That was it. From the simplest of materials–and perhaps appropriately, from a determination to bring a bit of order from darkness–Kermit was born.”
      • The simplicity that Kermit was born from, with his soft cloth of a face and body, made him easy to manipulate which gives him a wide range of appearances. Most of the puppets at this time were not meant for television and had rigid faces to be seen from great distances. Jim’s muppets were built to be expressive specifically for tv viewing.
      • At the time of Sam and Friends Kermit was not a frog. He was a blank slate, another one of Sam’s abstract friends that appeared.
        • These friends were made of pliable material such as foam rubber, fabric, and fleece.
    • Puppetry was still often done within a screen and hidden with a set that was a box that had curtains. Jim used television to his advantage. Instead of having a separate puppet box, the television itself was the puppet theatre set. This made it possible for the muppets to even get a close-up right to the camera.
      • As we have learned in photography the camera never lies but you control what it says. That is exactly what Jim Henson did.
        • In order to know exactly what the camera was saying he realized he needed to see what the camera was seeing. Instead of relying on merely checking to make sure he and Jane’s arms and bodies were out of frame he wanted to closely monitor what the camera was filming. Jim began by placing monitors in the two corners of the room but eventually decided on a single monitor in front of where the two were. To Jim it was not merely a way to monitor the characters and the exact movements, but that what was on the monitor defined the entire performance since it is what the audience would be seeing. 
        • Jim would continue to use this technique and improve it over the years to come. It would also continue to help improve the puppeteers performances, including his own. The only trick to it was that, just as when you take a selfie, the image is mirrored! So everything had to be done opposite to how it was viewed.
    • At the time Jim was still hesitant to use his own voice to vocalize the characters and so in Sam and Friends the characters are lip synching to records. Jim would spend hours looking into a mirror with a muppet practicing the most subtle of movements such as the slight tilt down of head as the muppet said something.
    • While working on the show, Jim hired Jerry Juhl, a puppeteer and friend of future muppet performer Frank Oz. Juhl was Henson’s first employee for Henson Inc., and he even filled in for Jane on the final season of Sam and Friends. 
    • Throughout its run Sam and Friends moved time slots and was cut a few times but stayed popular during its entire run. Fans would write in and demand its return when it was cut by WRC-TV, and the Washington fanbase was sad when Jim finally decided to end the tv spot in 1961. It seemed to be obvious to everyone however that it would not be the last time they would see Jim’s talent. The popularity of the show brought opportunities and exposure to his early muppets through television guest appearances and live shows. Jane would continue to stick with him even through continuing her schooling and doing two live shows a day. 

MUPPET INC

  • In 1957, Jim and Jane agreed to formally be in business together. They started out doing commercials, something that Jim Henson would eventually be happy to leave behind. Advertising in the 1950’s was often flat and uninteresting. Jim decided to make commercials that made fun of advertising itself. It was remarkably successful, and soon Jim and Jane were contacted by other companies yearning for their artistic style. 
  • In 1958, the two of them decided to form Muppets Inc, their own business in which they were partners, but as Jane put it, “Jim is the boss.” With the proposal to start their business, Jim also proposed marriage. Although the two of them were engaged to other people at the time, it seemed natural to them that they be married because of their strong bond. 
  • After they were married, the two of them settled together as they continued to work on “Sam and Friends.” Jim started branching out creatively, making what he called, “animated paintings,” out of paper pieces and other material. 
  • Shortly after Jane gave birth to their first child, the Hensons drove to a Puppeteers of America convention in Detroit. There, Jim met some of the people that would remain his closest friends and collaborators for years to come. This was where he met his agent, Bernie Brillstein, and future muppet builder, Don Sahlin. 
  • A couple years later, when Jane was pregnant with their second child, The Hensons once again headed to a Puppeteers of America convention. This time, Jim met someone that would become his life-long friend and fellow performer: Frank Oznowicz (Oz). Oz was only 17 at the time, and he thought of puppetry as merely a hobby. But, two year later Jim Henson would convince him to come out to New York and join him, Don Sahlin, and Jerry Juhl as they embarked on the next adventure. 

INFLUENTIAL SHOWS AND FILMS

  • Some of Jim Henson’s most beloved creations came in the form of muppets on Sesame Street.
    • Sesame Street first aired on November 10th, 1969 on PBS stations.
    • Joan Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett conceived the show in 1966; their goal was to create a children’s show that uses the addictive nature of TV in a positive way. During this time, half the nation’s school districts did not have a kindergarten. Cooney sought out the best in television including those that had worked on Captain Kangaroo. Jon Stone, who had worked with Jim on a Cinderella spoof that was live action and puppetry, recommended Jim Henson and his muppets.
      • Jim Henson was intrigued but reluctant at first; he was very insistent that his puppetry was adult puppetry. He was worried that he and his muppets would be labeled solely for children. With some persuading and after seeing the goals of the Children’s TV Workshop he agreed to do the show with his muppet characters.
      • After two years of research the Children’s Television Workshop received a grant of 8 million dollars from the Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation
    • This was the first television show of its kind to base its content and production values on educational research and the first to include a curriculum. 
    • By 2009, it was broadcast in over 120 countries and 20 independent international versions.  
  • The Muppet Show
    • The world seemed to love The Muppets. For years, Jim and his team of furry friends were making regular appearances on variety shows and in commercials. But, the general consensus from executives was this: puppets are for children. This was a stereotype that Jim Henson has always tried to avoid. And when Lord Lew Grade of ATV in the UK took a chance on Jim, The Muppet Show changed television forever. 
    • After they had been working for a year at SNL, Jim Henson and his team: Jerry Juhl, Bernie Brillstein and others learned a lot about how to produce a variety show. They used this knowledge to fit the muppets into a similarly formatted show that would end up having Kermit as the frustrated stage manager. 
    • You can hear more about it in our Muppet Show episode!
  • The Muppet Movie
    • This film was the reverse of The Muppet Show. Instead of live actors coming to visit the muppet characters, the muppets were venturing out into the living world. It was incredibly ambitious and once again brought the creators new challenges that they were able to face and conquer. 
    • We just released an episode about it so be sure to check that out here!
  • The Dark Crystal
    • This film took about 6 years to create but at the time when it was released it was billed as the first live action film with no humans on the screen! It took about 6 puppeteers to perform each 6 foot tall evil Skeksis character.
  • Fraggle Rock
    • Once again Jim Henson created a fun and colorful world of characters that would be loved for years to come. It was a fun place filled with an array of music and a diverse cast of muppet creatures. Fraggle Rock was meant to display and encourage kindness towards those that look different than you. 
  • Labyrinth
    • Labyrinth was deeply personal to Jim and it explored a timeless story that everyone can relate to. It did not try to be something brand new but instead expanded upon great stories before it such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.
    • We just released an episode about it so be sure to check that out here!
  • The Storyteller
    • The idea for this show came from Jim Henson’s daughter, Lisa, after she took a folklore class at Harvard. Together, Jim Henson and Lisa created the concept of the show and based all the episodes on actual folk tales. 
    • You can hear more about it in our Storyteller episode!

AWARDS

  • Jim Henson was so influential that not only does he have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, but so do The Muppets, Big Bird, and Kermit the Frog.
  • He was awarded many other wins from several different organizations. He shared these wins with those that helped him bring those projects to life. Some examples of these would be the Primetime Emmy for The Muppet Show in 1976, a BAFTA in 1992 for The Storyteller: Greek Myths, a Peabody Award in 1986 with The Muppets, the Daytime Emmy Awards in 74’, 76’ and 79’ for Sesame Street, and many others.
  • Jim also won some awards for how influential and driven he was, some of them posthumously. These awards were a Gabriel Award in 1981, The Television Critics Association Award in 1990 for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming, a Telly Award in 1990 for Public Service, a Visual Effects Society Award for their Hall of Fame in 2017.

HIS DEATH

  • 1986 was a big year for Jim Henson. His latest film, Labyrinth, was a box office flop. His marriage to Jane, one that had been weakened by Jim’s famous wandering eye for women, was officially ending. It was at this time that Jim headed to the south of France, and spent a few days alone. In recent years, it had seemed that his mind had been shifting to deeper themes, and seemed to consider his own mortality. So, Jim Henson decided, for one reason or another, to write letters to his children in the event of his death. He told no one, except his lawyers. 
  • Years went on and Jim Henson continued his work. In 1989, he worked on realizing a dream he had from when he saw “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” at age three: working with Disney. It might be impossible to believe, but there was a time when Jim Henson considered buying the studio when it was at its lowest point. But of course, that never worked out. Now, as Disney sat at the edge of a renaissance, Jim Henson was ready to secure a deal with the company. Although some of his collaborators felt that Disney was getting Jim too cheaply, he himself was thrilled with the idea. He even planned to have a celebration once the deal had been signed. 
  • But, it wouldn’t come to be. Just as Jim Henson was getting ready to make the deal, he came down with what felt like a cold. He was a generally healthy man, always willing to work through any slight sickness. He was the kind of person that never had time to be ill, and simply didn’t allow it. But this was different. Arthur Novell, Henson’s PR director and his collaborator Kevin Clash both noticed something was off with Jim as he struggled to perform Kermit on the Arsenio Hall show. He admitted to them that he might have strep throat, but still felt OK. 
  • On May 9th, Jim sent flowers to his daughter Lisa, who was recently promoted to an executive role at Warner Brothers. He then went with his daughter Cheryl to visit his father for a few days. It was a nice visit, but Jim was still feeling sick. He developed a cough, but didn’t want to worry his family. He and Cheryl took an early flight back to New York so Jim could get some rest. At this point, he was showing symptoms for pneumonia, caused by streptococcus bacteria.
  • When Jim cancelled a morning meeting, and an all-day taping session for Disney, it was clear that something was very wrong. Jane came to see him, and stayed with him as his condition seemed to worsen. His heart was racing, and he started coughing up blood. When Jane convinced him to go to the hospital, she called Arthur Novell. She put Jim on the phone who said, “Arthur…just look after them for me.” 
  • Jim Henson had two families: a family related by blood, and a family he built through work. After he lost consciousness in the hospital, both of these families raced to his side. It all happened very fast, and Jim Henson never awoke. The family said their goodbyes, and he was pronounced dead on May 16th 1990. 
  • The news was baffling. How could someone so healthy, so full of life, someone with seemingly so much more to give, just be gone? Amidst the devastation, the family tried to carry on. They headed back to Henson’s apartment, making calls and consoling each other. The Offices became a gathering place for anyone that worked with Jim, with groups of colleagues gathering for several days, trying to make sense of something so unbelievable. Brian Henson, who was in the UK as his father fell ill and didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, was tasked with meeting Disney’s lawyers and trying to figure out where to go from there. Disney would one-day adopt Jim Henson’s Muppets, but not for 14 more years.
  • As the family started early plans for the memorial service, they got a visit from some legal representatives, bearing letters from Jim Henson. He was gone, and yet, he found a way to reach out from beyond the grave, guiding his friends and family when they needed him most. Jim’s letters gave instructions on what to do with his body, and some requests for his memorial service, like playing, “When the Saints go Marching In,” and no black attire. 
  • The ceremony was emotional to say the least, with heartfelt speeches and performances. Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash all performed a medley of some of Jim Henson’s favorite songs. At the end, they each slipped on a muppet and sang the song, “Just One Person.” 
    • “And when all those people believe in you–Deep Enough and strong enough believe in you, Hard enough and long enough–
    • It stands to reason you yourself will start to see
    • What everybody sees in you…And maybe even you can believe in you too”                                           

POSTHUMOUS WORKS

  • While Jim Henson was alive he had a lot of ideas and projects that he was working on. Being a creator meant that his work was never done and so when he passed away suddenly there were projects that he had conceived or been a part of that had not been finished or released. Here are just a few of those works.
    • The final Season of Muppet Babies.
    • From his death until 2008 Sesame Street continued to use his performances within the show and would go on to use some of his old vocal tracks in updated versions of their familiar songs. One example of this would be the 1993 “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” which featured Aaron Neville. In this version they make use of Jim Henson’s original recording as Ernie. 
    • “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” which was released at the end of 1990.
    • The 1991 series “Dinosaurs”. 
      • Jim had come up with the concept of a sitcom format for Dinosaurs with the general premise in place.
    • The graphic novel “Tale of Sand” in 2012 was developed from an unused  screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl.
    • He helped to produce the 1996 mini-series of Gulliver’s Travels.
    • “Here Come the Muppets” was a stage show that was put on 9 days after Jim’s death where they had to use pre-recorded vocal tracks.
    • The last one that we will mention is a project that he worked on in his last few days and was the last film that he directed. It was Muppet*Vision 3D, an attraction that would premier at Walt Disney World one year exactly after his death. The main feature of the attraction was the 3D film that contained Henson as his characters of Kermit, Waldorf, and the Swedish Chef.

Many of us know the name Jim Henson. He was an innovator, a creative force that was responsible for countless happy moments. He was a man with a plan, a clear vision of his place in the world and what he wanted to do with his time. If you ask the people that knew him best, they’ll say he was an even-tempered, soft-spoken leader that took chances on the ones he believed in. Jim Henson knew that everyone on his team was valuable, no matter their title. And when he suddenly left the living world, every single person that knew him felt an immense loss. 

Jim Henson was a creator. He breathed life into his work. And by all accounts, he was a good friend and loving father. Sure, he wasn’t a perfect person, but he was like every human being in that way. Jim Henson made the world a better place, and planted a seed in every person that was moved by his work, to do the same. And although his final letters were meant for his children, many people have found comfort in his last messages, read at his memorial:

“Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it. Love, Jim.” ALL JIM HENSON EPISODES


SOURCES:

The Case of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

When Jim Henson got the green light for The Muppet Movie, he started quietly working on another film. It was a groundbreaking movie that ambitiously used only puppets as its main actors. He collaborated with artist Brian Froud, and together they developed an entire fantasy world. After six years of work, that film, The Dark Crystal, made it to the big screen. After it premiered, Jim Henson, being the workaholic that he was, already wanted to jump back in to make another film. He contacted Brian Froud, who came up with the idea of goblins. 

Jim Henson loved the idea, and he told Froud that he wanted there to be humans in this film. Suddenly, Froud imagined a baby surrounded by goblins. He painted some concept art, and the idea for Labyrinth was born. 

The Labyrinth was a seamless combination of The Muppets and the deep fantasy of The Dark Crystal. For Jim Henson, it was a deeply personal story of which he was immensely proud. It followed the journey of Sarah, an adolescent girl that has lost her baby brother to Jareth, the Goblin King. It’s also a story of self-discovery, of leaving childhood behind and heading into the wild and winding world of the unfamiliar. With beautiful sets peppered with other-worldly creations, Labyrinth created a unique physical world that still enchants audiences to this day. 

So, as we continue Jim Henson June, let’s follow the Goblin King into the Labyrinth.  

WHAT INFLUENCED THE LABYRINTH

  • In 1939, three-year-old Jim Henson saw what would become one of his favorite movies: The Wizard of Oz. Of course, the only thing he really remembered from the experience was the terrifying MGM Lion. But the story impacted Jim Henson’s imagination, and elements of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world would influence his own fantasy stories for years to come. 
  • As Brian Froud and Jim Henson laid out the story for the film, they intentionally pulled from several different established stories. The idea wasn’t to make something that felt completely original, but instead something that the audience would recognize. This was shown, in part, in the beginning of the film, when we see Sarah’s bedroom. There are pieces that inspired several parts of the story placed all around the room. This also plants the seed of ambiguity in the audience’s mind. Is this all in Sarah’s imagination, or is the Labyrinth real? This is a callback to The Wizard of Oz and another big influence, Alice in Wonderland. 
  • Sarah falls down several “rabbit holes” of sorts all through the movie. Her trip through the Labyrinth is very reminiscent of Alice’s adventures. Some of the set designs and characters were created to specifically call back to Alice in Wonderland, for example the guards that were shaped as playing cards that asked Sarah riddles. 
  • But beyond those two stories, the Labyrinth is filled with nods to classic fairytales and many different kinds of mythology. For instance, the concept of the labyrinth came from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Jim Henson said, “Traditionally, the labyrinth is thought of as the voyage through life–the journey through it is Life and the ultimate center is Death. And re-birth is coming back out again.” 
  • Initially, Brian Froud suggested that there be a labyrinth in the film. He felt that it would not only be an interesting place for her character to be, but also could mirror the convolutions of her own thoughts. Jim Henson added, “After all, life is a kind of labyrinth, with all its twists and turns, its straight paths and its occasional dead ends.” 

SUMMARY

  • Sarah Williams is an imaginative teenage girl. She feels life is unfair because she has to watch her baby stepbrother, Toby, when her father and stepmother go out on the weekends. Once wishing the goblins would take him away she realizes she really does not want to lose him. In order to bring him home she must solve the Labyrinth and reach The Goblin King’s Castle. It is a journey she must take, but not alone. Along the way she finds friends like Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus that help her navigate through the labyrinth.   

MAKING OF

  • The story goes like this: Jim Henson and Brian Froud rode in silence as their limousine left a showing of The Dark Crystal. They stared at each other until Henson started to laugh and said, “The next one will be so much better!”
    • Jim Henson’s daughter was studying mythology at the time, and often telling her father about the folktales she learned. He wanted to do a film inspired by these myths, but since Goblins were more of Brian Froud’s style, they shifted their focus to a story about goblins stealing a child. 
    • Of course, Henson would eventually make something inspired by his daughter’s education in folklore, a TV series called, “The Storyteller.”                                                                                                                                                
  • After the rigorous 5 years spent on creating “The Dark Crystal,” Brian Froud would have loved to take a break. Instead, he and Jim Henson started working on “Labyrinth.”  Although Froud’s title as Concept Director would mean a lot of work, this second film only took 3 years to create. So, Froud still considered it to be a vacation. 
  • The Labyrinth’s story went through many stages. As Jim Henson continued to promote his current film, he filled a notebook with ideas for his next one. One draft featured a king and a jester, and a twisted maze filled with monsters. There were concepts too dark to end up in the film, and some ideas that made their way to the final cut. For example, Jim Henson always wanted an Escher-inspired staircase sequence. 
    • Many critics felt that “The Dark Crystal” lacked the humor that audiences expected from Henson projects. So, Jim Henson made it a priority for there to be humorous scenes in “Labyrinth.” 
    • Brian Froud and Jim Henson met up with writer Dennis Lee, a songwriter for the series, “Fraggle Rock.” They pieced together a story from Henson’s notes, and Froud created some art to capture the look and essence of the film. One of these paintings was called, “Toby and The Goblins,” a beautiful image of a happy child among a crowd of monsters. Lee gathered the notes and drawings, and pieced together a first draft of the story. This novella would be worked into the final draft of the screenplay. 
      • As Lee worked on his draft, Jim Henson searched for a screenwriter. He wanted a comedian, and decided to go with Terry Jones, one of the frontmen of the famed troupe, “Monty Python.” Jones wasn’t just a comedian, he was also a fan of mythology and co-wrote the famous film, “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” Jim Henson wrote to Jones, telling him that his contributions would make the script, “jump to life.” 
        • Dennis Lee provided Jones with a poetic treatment about 90 pages long, and Brian Froud handed him notebooks of concept art. Jones used these references to write his script, but was mostly inspired by Froud’s art. Jones said, “Every time I came to a new scene…I looked through Brian’s drawings and found a character who was kind of speaking to me already and suddenly there was a scene.” 
        • Jones was absolutely taken with Froud’s art and Henson’s ability to make these creatures come to life. While filming, he would not call the creatures puppets. He referred to them as some other form of magic.
      • Jone’s first draft went to another writer for revisions, and then another after that. The script went through almost 25 revisions over a two-year period. One of these writers was Elaine May, who was brought on to polish the script in 1985. Her revisions humanized the characters, especially the lead role of Sarah. Jim Henson loved May’s contributions so much, he decided to start shooting after her edits had been made. 
  • As the concept designer, Brian Froud was responsible for the overall look of the film and its characters. Each puppet was built from his designs, but Froud did not fully develop the characters because he felt that it would dampen the creative process. He wanted the creatures to develop beyond the page, and for the designers to have happy accidents in their creation. 
    • Froud also helped design the costumes in the film. He worked closely with costume designer Ellis Flyte to further develop a complex fantasy world. 
      • They decided to dress the baby Toby in a white and red striped onesie so that he would stand out in every scene. They had to invent a slimmed-down version of his diaper to make the costume look right, but this new version couldn’t hold in a lot of “mess” when he had an accident. 
      • Sarah’s costume was designed to be timeless. The top is modeled after old-fashioned peasant tops, paired with contemporary jeans. The costumes were all meant to reflect several different eras and types of folklore, so the audience could apply the story to any time. 
      • Jareth, the Goblin King, has several costume changes. His look changes as the film progresses, showing the feelings of the character in each scene. He is meant to look almost like a medieval knight, and a romantic lead. His hair was designed to be wolf-like, as wolves are often villains in many fairy tales. But, there were also influences from Japanese theater in his design. At one point in the film, he wears some armor. In another, he wears all white, to signify that he had lost his power. Jareth also carried around a “swagger stick” that also acted as a microphone!
  • In this film, the labyrinth itself is a character. Elliot Scott was the set designer tasked with creating both the complex world of The Goblin King, to Sarah’s American bedroom. The film needed to feel like a true voyage, and had to include several different unique spaces. Scott’s design really helped convey that. 
    • Scott was a gifted production designer that also created the worlds of Indiana Jones and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” 
  • Choreographers
    • Cheryl McFadden
    • Charles Augins
      • They got Charles Augins to help choreograph scenes such as Dance Magic Dance. They wanted the energetic movements that Charles choreographed so well. 
  • The Labyrinth was another groundbreaking film with several complex characters and sequences. Let’s talk about some of the most impressive accomplishments of the film. 
    • Hoggle is an incredibly important character in the film, as he acts as Sarah’s reluctant friend and guide through the labyrinth. 
      • The Hoggle puppet was considered to be the most complicated puppet ever created. He was performed by a total of five people, operating 18 different motors! One person was inside a suit (Shari Weiser) and four people on the outside controlling the mechanical head. The performers were together all the time during filming because it was important they remained in sync with each other. After doing the character for so many months, Brian Henson and the other puppeteers were almost able to improvise. Which is unusual for a puppet of this complexity.
      • Shari Weiser couldn’t see outside the suit and needed a monitor and camera. She apparently hated the system, and the camera in the chest was eventually removed. This meant that she could only see out when Hoggle’s mouth was open. Brian Henson had to come up with reasons to open the puppet’s mouth when Shari was about to run into things. He would often let out loud grunts and scoffs so she could see what was ahead of her. This became part of Hoggle’s character and charm.
      • Brian also performed the voice with the intention that his father was going to replace it, but by the end of filming, Jim said he was keeping Brian’s voice in. 
      • Brian said that he never felt closer to his dad than when they worked on “Labyrinth” together. He was only 20 years old at the time. 
    • As Sarah makes her way through the labyrinth, she falls into a shaft of green, arthritic hands. Terry Jones first came up with the concept of the hands, and Jim Henson called the scene, “bizarre and unusual.” 
      • Jennifer Connolly described scenes like this as a personal amusement park where she got to experience all these cool “rides” even though she was very ticklish! 
        • The shaft was 30 feet deep, filled with 150 pairs of foam latex hands, operated by 75 different puppeteers. In order to make this scene, they lined everyone up behind boards that were slightly diagonal, so the hands would show while their faces would stay hidden. 
        • Jim Henson came up with the idea of the hands making faces to speak. He and some other puppeteers spent hours in front of mirrors, trying to create different ways to imitate faces with hands. 
    • Another memorable piece of the labyrinth was the “Bog of Eternal Stench.”
      • Brian Froud was critical of the scene, thinking that the humor was too childish to be in the film. However, Prince Charles reportedly loved the bog of eternal stench, being the only one to laugh at it during the royal premiere of the film.
      • The water in the bog stayed stagnant long enough that it really was quite smelly! They had a stunt double stand in for Jennifer Connolly so there was no danger of her falling into the gross water. 
    • In Jim Henson’s original notes, he wanted a giant that came out of the wall. It was one of the few original elements that made it into the final cut of the film. During the battle sequence in the final act, a huge monster comes forth from the wall, operated by goblins. 
      • Brian really fought against the idea of a giant monster. So, he ended up making the creature come out of the door, because he did not want a straightforward puppet. He also designed it to look like goblins were operating him, so it was this incredibly advanced-looking technology, but in a very disarming and old way. 
      • The monster was gigantic and mechanical, one of the biggest puppets ever created. It was operated remotely. The machine was real and could cause problems if not operated properly.
      • Polyurethane foam was used and painted to look like armour with the entire project taking 2-3 months to build.
    • Jim Henson knew that a climatic battle sequence would be the best way to get his characters to the doors of the Goblin King’s Castle. 
      • The scene was not meant to be overly violent, as the goblin army is a hapless group, barely able to get their own weapons to work. One of these goblins was Star Wars actor Kenny Baker. In his sequence, a cannon doesn’t fire properly, causing his real-life costume to catch fire! 
      • The goblin army is painted many different bright colors, red, green, orange, and blue. They also have numbers on their heads. This design was actually inspired by Thomas the Tank Engine characters! 
      • Many of the goblins in this sequence are puppeteers in suits. They wanted every aspect of puppetry to be present, from suits, to mechanism, to hand operation. Like the rest of the film, the scene was incredibly complex. 

MUSIC

  • Jim Henson knew from the very beginning that he wanted a big star attached to the project. His son John was a big fan of David Bowie, and Henson noticed a certain other-worldliness to the entertainer. Bowie was immediately intrigued by the idea, and wanted to be able to write songs for the film that would appeal to all audiences. It was a perfect match. 
  • The film’s score was written by Trevor Jones, with music and lyrics by David Bowie.

Opening/Underground

  • The film opens with an owl, created by Industrial Light and Magic. It was one of the first fully CG creatures to appear in film at the time, and looks a little dated now. The owl signifies the night, and eventually turns out to be The Goblin King in disguise. 
  • Underground was the title track for the film, recorded in The Atlantic Studios in New York City around 2 in the morning. 
  • The opening leads us to Sarah, as she acts out a scene in the park with her dog. We’re soon introduced to her home, and bedroom filled with influences for the story that will soon unfold. 

Magic Dance

  • As Sarah has entered the labyrinth and makes her way toward the center, we see she is being watched by the cocky and spoiled Goblin King, from his hall filled with goblins. Then, Jareth sings an upbeat song with the baby, doing twirls in his more casual costume. David Bowie had trouble recording the song, because the baby in the studio wouldn’t make any noise. The baby sounds on the track were made by Bowie! 
  • This scene was one of the first ones filmed. The set had to have several holes within the walls to accommodate and hide the puppeteers. Brian Henson said that the set looked like Swiss Cheese. They were almost worried it would fall apart. 
  • In addition to the puppets there were actors that were on wires jumping around to bring more motion.
  • The song represents the carefree nature of the Goblin King, and his disregard for what he’s done. It also shows off the silliness of the goblins, characters that try to be evil, but just can’t seem to pull it off. 
  • When asked about Jareth, Bowie said, “I think Jareth, at best, is a romantic; but at worst he’s a spoiled child, vain and temperamental–kind of like a rock n roll star!” 

Chilly Down

  • During Sarah’s journey, she encounters a group of Fireys! These are brightly-colored bird-like creatures that live in the forest. At first, she is disarmed by their free-spirited song and dance, but the scene quickly turns dangerous when they want to see if she can remove her head, the way the fireys can remove theirs. 
  • During this scene there are several Firey characters that dance around, bounce their heads, and remove their hands. These characters were modelled directly after drawings by Brian Froud. Even in the drawings their movements were wacky and strange. The team decided to take this and bring it on screen. The rehearsals with these characters informed them a lot. A lot of experimentation was done and each time it changed the configurations and movement of the characters.
  • Since the Firey’s were able to unattach their heads, multiple puppeteers were used to create one Firey. The characters were shot on black velvet with the puppeteers covered from head to toe in black velvet as well. The characters are brightly colored to stand out against the black screen that they were filmed in front of and they were meant to look like traditional muppets.
  • Visual keys were done to match the lyrics. One example:
    • When they say “I shake my pretty little head” their heads are removed and bounced around.
  • This was the first song recorded by David Bowie for the film. 

As the World Falls Down

  • After Jareth convinces Hoggle to give Sarah a poisoned peach, she finds herself at a costumed ball. This scene is absolutely vital in showing Sarah’s progression from a sulky teenager to a young adult. It’s an abrupt transformation, as she’s transported from her regular clothes to a beautiful ball gown, and surrounded by confusing and unfamiliar faces. She gravitates to the only face she recognizes: Jareth, and the two engage in an almost trance-like dance. 
    • The scene meant a lot to Jim Henson personally, because he was able to apply his own emotions as a father of teenage girls, watching them mature into adulthood.  
  • For this scene, the filmmakers tried to create an adult world that Sarah would be simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by, because she’s in that stage between childhood and adulthood. 
    • This adult world was inspired by Venice and is set vaguely in the 18th century. The entire set was supposed to seem as if it existed in a bubble, preserved from the rest of the world. 
    • They took 10 days on this scene and ended up needing more people to fill the room. This caused the costume department to scramble for several more costumes in just a few days.
    • Although Sarah’s character is becoming an adult, Jennifer’s parents were worried about her growing up too much in the scene. So the hairdressers were sure to make her hair not seem too adult; they simplified her design and gave her natural references in her hair. 
    • The scene was Jennifer Connolly’s favorite to shoot because of the costume, and the thrill of dancing with David Bowie. 
  • Jim Henson asked Bowie to write a more traditional song for the scene, and Bowie felt that it was prettiest and most relaxed tune in the film.

Within You

  • With the help of her friends Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus, Sarah finally reaches the center of the labyrinth and must face The Goblin King. As she heads inside, she turns to her friends and tells them that she must face him on her own. The scene was meant to drive home Sarah’s maturity, but also paid homage to the classic fairytale or hero’s journey, as our hero must face their final battle alone. 
    • Sarah’s friends have grown with her, an idea that Jim Henson especially liked. He loved the concept that we were all connected and have a responsibility to each other. 
  • Sarah must now chase down her brother through a complicated mess of staircases, inspired by an MC Escher painting. For this scene, the crew built a complicated set that seemed to defy logic, one that really made you question what was up or down. 
  • Jim Henson wanted the stairs as a way to depict the meeting of real danger and the surreal nature of Sarah’s imagination. The story is never clear as to whether or not all of this happens in Sarah’s mind, and this scene illustrates that completely. 
    • For the scene, Jim Henson wanted to put baby Toby up on a tower, but Brian Froud and his wife were too scared to let them shoot it. Both of them were afraid of heights and they did not want their baby so high.
      • Although it looks like Toby is lost in the complex riddle of the stairs, he was actually just climbing up one or two steps off the floor the entire time. Family members stood around, calling his name and playing music to get him to look and crawl in certain directions. 
  • This song was David Bowie’s personal favorite from the film. He said, “I had to write something that sounded like stone walls and crumbling power; and the all-over effect, with Jim’s visuals, is, I think, very tragic and slightly disturbing.” 

Underground

  • In the final sequence that Sarah shares with Jareth, he’s dressed in white. He looks pale compared to his other moments, like he’s lost his power. He looks this way because he knows that he’s already lost, that Sarah has all the power. He pleads with her because he really is smitten with her and how strong she has proven herself to be. Jareth is lonely. The only companions in his life are those that he controls. But Sarah would be different because Sarah has the power to leave, even if she didn’t realize it until this moment. 
  • At the beginning of the film, Sarah was memorizing the lines from a play. She couldn’t remember the final lines, and she struggles to recall them now. She ignores Jareth, and a look of realization crosses her face. She remembers something she knew all along, a fact that seems so obvious to her now, if only she had remembered sooner. She looks at Jareth and says, “you have no power over me.” 
  • The words are enough to destroy Jareth’s hold on Sarah, as words were the thing that gave Jareth any power at all in the beginning of the film. Sarah didn’t earn or fight for her power. It was always there. 
  • This was Bowie’s favorite scene to shoot. He said, “It’s so sad, I think, because Sarah really likes Jareth, but she must get her baby brother, Toby, back safely, so she has to reject all of Jareth’s pleas for companionship in his pretty lonely world.” 
  • After Sarah returns to her room, she sees her friends in the mirror. They tell their heartfelt goodbyes, and Sarah tearfully tells them that she needs them. Then, the characters all appear, goblins and Fireys alike, to dance together. 
  • Brian Froud disliked the scene. He felt it was unnecessary and cheapened the ending of the film. But, he said he was happy to be proven wrong, as many people liked the addition of this happy scene. 
  • Underground then plays as the credits begin to roll. 

STARRING

  • Jennifer Connelly as Sarah
    • Jennifer Connelly began as a model before acting. She was not sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, maybe a vet or carpenter but she kinda fell into acting. 
    • Since this movie she has been in several things such as Requiem for Dream, A Beautiful Mind, and Spiderman: Homecoming.
    • It was the first time Jennifer was ever in England and she said the whole experience was fun for her.
    • Jim Henson was supportive and very kind to her. He did not have to talk down to her or tiptoe around her feelings. Many members of the team even remarked how mature and professional she was at the young age of 14.
  • David Bowie as Jareth
    • Bowie was a singer-songwriter that would also appear in movies. Some of these were UHF, The Prestige, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
    • Michael Moschen was the amazing performer behind David Bowie, juggling the balls.
      • He was working blind behind Bowie and so every time they had to do several takes.
  • Toby Froud as Toby
    • Toby is actually Brian Froud’s son!
    • He was influenced by what his father did and things like this movie and so he is now a special effects designer, puppeteer, filmmaker, and performer.
  • Shelley Thompson as the Stepmother
    • Shelley is most known now most for her character in Trailer Park Boys as Barbara Lahey. 
  • Christopher Malcolm as the Father
    • He was in things like Highlander, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Never Say Never Again.
  • Shari Weiser as Hoggle
    • Shari was often a suit performer and was in Babes in Toyland(1986), Follow that Bird, and Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.
  • Brian Henson as Hoggle/ Goblin (voice)
    • Brian was about 22 when this movie was made. He has continued on his father’s legacy and is an amazing puppeteer, director, and technician in his own right.
  • Ron Mueck as Ludo(one of the two that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 2/ Goblin (voice)
    • He is an amazing sculptor. His sculptures are very lifelike and have a huge scale. He also voiced a character in The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.
  • Rob Mills as Ludo(the other that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 3
    • He worked for 12 years with Jim Henson’s puppet studio and even started a couple of his own production companies.
    • Ron Mueck was the main actor within Ludo, but since it is such a heavy and difficult character Rob Mills would sometimes take over. 
      • These actors would control Ludo by using one arm to move his head around and one arm to control one of the creature’s arms. Ludo’s second arm hung by itself. Inside with the puppeteer, whether it be Ron or Rob, were two video screens strapped in so they could see what the camera was filming and where they were heading. For a little extra visibility there was also mesh that they could see through, hidden in fur on Ludo’s chest.
      • There were two Ludo heads, one that had a smile and one that had a frown. Both of these heads were animatronic like Hoggle’s and required three people to control. The three people that contributed to this were Francis Wright, Sue Dacre, and Donald Austen. 
    • Jim Henson came up with the idea of Ludo communicating with rocks. He liked the idea of creatures communicating with nature.
  • Dave Goelz as Didymus / The Hat / The Four Guards / Left Door Knocker / Firey 3 (voice)
    • We mentioned Dave Goelz in the last episode as well and has been with Jim Henson’s Company for a long time now and has even voiced the new series Muppets Now on Disney Plus.
    • There were about 4 different Didymus puppets.
      • Didymus is part fox and part dog in an Elizabethan costume that guards the bridge.
      • The first Didymus was essentially a hand puppet, but a little more complicated. In the left hand of the character is a rod that is used as a prop for Didymus, but it is also a clever disguise to assist in control of that arm. Karen Prell aided in controlling the right arm while Dave controlled the mouth and left arm. From afar other puppeteers controlled the eyebrows, eyes, and ears.
      • In the shots where it is just Didymus’s legs a marionette was used and controlled by David Barclay.
      • The third was a radio controlled Didymus that was strapped onto a live sheepdog that was playing Ambrosius.
      • The fourth was a Didymus that was connected to a dog sized puppet where Dave Goelz hand would go up through the dog to get to Didymus’s mouth.
        • Kevin Clash would then control the movements of Ambrosius.

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED/IMPACT

  • The Labyrinth opened at number eight in the US box office charts with $3.5 million, putting it behind other films such as Ferris Buller’s Day Off and Top Gun. During its next weekend, the film dropped to number 13 only earning another $1.8 million. By the end of its run, it had grossed $12.7 million, just over half of its $25 million budget. 
    • According to Variety, it also made another $12 million overseas which would still just fall short of the budget. 
  • The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently sits at a 73% from critics on rotten tomatoes and 86% from audience scores. The general consensus from critics is that while the Labyrinth is most interesting on a visual level, it provides further proof of director Jim Henson’s boundless imagination. 
  • Labyrinth was nominated at the British Academy Film Awards for Best Special Visual Effects and received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film as well as Best Costumes. Lastly it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. 
  • The film is ranked 72nd on Empire’s “The 80 best ‘80s movies’ and 26th on Time Out’s “The 50 best fantasy movies”. In 2019 The Telegraph named it as one of “The 77 best kids’ films of all time”. (Two British publications.)
  • Despite its poor performance at the box office, Labyrinth was a success on home video and later on DVD, and has become a cult classic. 
    • Brian Henson remembered his father as being aware that Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal both had cult followings by the time of his death in 1990, saying, “he was able to see all that, and know that it was appreciated.”
  • This movie continues to be a classic beloved by many. In 2017 McFarlane Toys made a special collectible Jareth the Goblin King figurine and in 2019 made a special Dance Magic Jareth!

Much like the name of the film suggests, the Labyrinth takes the audience on a wild and remarkable journey, with confusing sequences and strange visuals. Like the classic fairy tales on which it was based, it’s a timeless story that can appeal to every generation. This film is rich with visual metaphors, telling a deeply personal story that audiences everywhere can relate to. 

Afterall, life is a labyrinth. We’ve all ventured into the twisting walls of the unknown, gathered our friends, lost our way, and fought our own Goblin King. To many of us, this film is a guide that reminds us we’re all on our own strange and magical journeys. And if ever we should need it, we know where to find it.   

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