The (Brief) Case of The Snowman (1982)

Happy Thanksgiving, Cassettes!

This month, we talked all about movies that were based on books. Since it’s still November, we’re continuing that theme with a British TV special from 1982. 

In September of 1978, children’s author Raymond Briggs published “The Snowman,” a wordless picture book that detailed the story of a young boy embarking on a wondrous adventure with the snowman he built that day. Before that, Briggs had repulsed critics with a picture book called, “Fungus the Boogeyman,” and before that, he published a bestseller about a grumpy old man that didn’t even want to work one day a year. That book was called, “Father Christmas,” and detailed the life of Santa Claus. 

But when Briggs set out to write “The Snowman,” he wanted a story that was so quiet, he didn’t include any words. The book begins with comic-strip-like illustrations, panels that increase in size as the story unfolds, leading up to beautiful double-page spreads. The illustrations guide the reader through a nostalgic tale, filled with the magic of childhood. 

“The Snowman” is one of Brigg’s best-known books, returning to collective memory every holiday season. It wasn’t long after its release that a half-hour animated special based on the book premiered on Channel 4 in Great Britain in December of 1982. 

The short film received commercial and critical acclaim, and according to “The Snowman” official website, it has aired on Channel 4 in Great Britain every year since 1982. So, come join us from wherever you are, in whatever weather, to talk about this classic that has touched the hearts of millions of people. 

MAKING OF

  • Raymond Briggs went to art school to become a cartoonist but eventually found himself writing his own stories. By the time he published “The Snowman,” he had a successful career as an illustrator for at least twenty years. 
  • Because “The Snowman” relies only on imagery, it was more important than ever for the illustrations to make the viewer feel the action of the story. Briggs said, “That’s the essence of good illustrating I think, where the drawer really feels a feeling that a figure in the picture is feeling. You’ve got to feel what it’s like to fly, feel what it’s like to slow down as you land. And yet you’ve got to be outside observing it. Very difficult! I’m thinking of giving it up.” 
  • Producer John Coates of the animation studio TVC became interested in optioning the story for a short film. TVC was a well-established studio that had created the animated film “Yellow Submarine” in the late 1960s. 
    • Coates had two assistant animators, Hillary Audus and Joanna Harrison, buy a dozen copies of the book and start cutting it up to make a mock-up animation. 
  • John Coates brought the idea to Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the Chief Executive of Channel 4 at the time. The channel was brand new, and The Snowman was actually one of the first things they ever did. Isaacs felt it would be a stark contrast from the other programming they had planned for the channel, but it was so delightful that he gave it the green light. 
    • According to the Animation World Network, Coates mortgaged his own house to help pay for the project. 
  • Director Dianne Jackson, who had worked on TV commercials for several years, took over the project and created the storyboard “bible.” This “bible” was not to be changed by anyone except for the director or producer. The animators and the composer, Howard Blake, timed the storyboard and used it as their guide to finishing the final product.
  • They were a small team of about 8 animators and they were all given their own sequence to animate. 
    • The animators started by creating keyframes of movement, filling in more drawings based on the timing of the scene. Each drawing was sent to a coloring artist that used colored pencils to fill in the detail. Each image takes about 45 minutes to an hour to color. 
    • One of the most unique visual elements of “The Snowman” is the look and texture of the backgrounds. A background artist would layer every scene with pencil shading, resulting in no solid colors. Because of this, the texture of the paper shows through, giving the feel of a picture book. 
    • “The Snowman” used cell animation, meaning that artists would draw the moving elements of the short film on cells, which would then be placed on a static background and photographed one by one. 
  • The animators have said that they feel like the snowman wouldn’t look right if it wasn’t hand-drawn. In 2012, Briggs signed off on an animated sequel to the short film which was also hand-drawn. 
  • When the short film made it to the US in 1984, the American broadcasters wanted a new introduction with a famous person. So, they chose David Bowie. 
    • Bowie had already gotten in touch with the studio to work on an upcoming film, and even though the producers were nervous to ask him, he happily recorded a new intro. 
  • For the 20th anniversary of the short, the original animators created an opening sequence introducing the story with Father Christmas. This was done in the traditional hand-drawn style so it would match the animation.

THE SHORT FILM

  • The short begins with the little boy waking up to a snowy day, and he’s so excited that he forgets to put on his underpants before his trousers. Roger Mainwood, the man that animated the sequence, said that the number one question he got from children was, “why didn’t he put on his pants?” Mainwood said it was simply because there wasn’t enough time in the scene for it. 
  • In Brigg’s book, the boy and the snowman sit in the family car and play with the lights. One of the assistant animators, Hillary Audus, was a motorcyclist at the time and came up with the idea that they go for a ride. This way, the story could interact with the countryside and location of the story. 
    • The number on the motorcycle plate was the animator’s house number.
  • Joanna Harrison animated the scene in the bedroom when the snowman tries on false teeth. Harrison actually asked her grandmother to take out her false teeth so she could draw them.
  • Near the end of the short, the boy and the snowman travel to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas. Harrison and Audus were the ones that came up with the idea to incorporate the character, simply because he was a subject from another of Briggs’ books. 
    • Briggs thought it was a corny idea but later said that he was wrong and that it worked out just fine. 
    • The boy also receives a Christmas present in the film with a tag that says “James.” Joanna Harrison wrote the name on the tag because she was dating a man with that name, and it just stuck. The gift is a blue scarf with the snowman on it. Two props of the scarf were eventually made, one given to David Bowie.  
  • The most iconic part of the short, and possibly what made it stick in the minds of viewers, is the scene where James, the boy, takes off with the snowman. The pair fly across the world to a hauntingly beautiful song by composer Howard Blake. 
    • Blake had originally written the tune over 10 years earlier while walking on a beach. He felt the music held the sensation of innocence. Blake was visiting a friend at the studio when John Coates asked him if he would consider writing a song for the film. Blake reportedly said, “I think I may have something.” 
      • Blake scored the entire short film, using music to convey every moment of animation. Blake could play the music and tell you exactly what is happening with each sound. 
    • Peter Auty was a 13-year-old choir boy when he recorded the song for the special. Coates later blamed his lack of agent on the fact that the production forgot to credit him, so audiences weren’t aware that it was him. He went on to be an operatic tenor. 
    • Many people believe that singer Aled Jones recorded the original version because his cover of the song topped the charts a couple of years later. 
  • Of course, all great things must come to an end. When James wakes up the next morning, the score reminds us of the excitement from the day before as he runs downstairs to find his friend has melted. The scene is incredibly poignant, especially as the music shifts quickly to a minor sound. 
    • But, as James mourns the loss of the snowman, he reaches into his pocket to discover that the scarf that the snowman had given to him was real. 
    • Composer Howard Blake remarked, “I think why it touches so many people is, the friend melts, and it’s something we all experience. We lose somebody we’re really very fond of, and he’s absolutely heartbroken. But then he has the memory, and the memory is symbolized by the scarf.” 
  • Briggs has said that it didn’t occur to him at the time that the snowman is like a friend, and children see him as a real person. He received many letters asking him to bring the snowman back to which he replied, “ghastly idea.” 

RECEPTION

  • When “The Snowman” first hit shelves, it sold fairly well. It wasn’t until the animated film debuted that the book started flying off the shelves. 
  • The short was nominated for an Oscar, which it did not win. However, it did win the BAFTA for best children’s program! 
  • “The Snowman” has been adapted into a stage show and ballet! 
  • This classic will be 40 years old next year, and it continues to delight audiences to this day. 

From the moment that “The Snowman” begins, it evokes a special kind of nostalgia. There are elements to the story and imagery that we all can relate to in some way. The film is a perfect marriage of visuals and music, and it poignantly portrays the magical, beautiful, and fleeting nature of life. 

Thank you for joining us from wherever and whenever you are, this is another *brief* case closed! 


SOURCES: 

https://www.thesnowman.com/about/

https://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.4/articles/mcgreal1.4.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/22/how-the-snowman-melted-david-bowies-heart-raymond-briggs

The Case of Frankenweenie

On a rainy afternoon in 1816, a 20-year-old woman named Mary Shelley wrote a story that would change the world forever. It was possibly the first science fiction novel, a book about a scientist that created a living creature from corpses. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus challenged the romantic idea of beauty and explored philosophical themes about the nature of man and the power of creation. 

Today, Frankenstein is a Halloween staple. It’s a story so ingrained in western celebrations of the holiday, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. The story inspired many different adaptations, but one of the strangest and most original was created by Tim Burton in 1984. 

Frankenweenie followed the story of a young boy that uses electricity to bring his beloved dog back to life. Twenty-eight years later, Disney gave Burton the chance to remake this short film in his favorite medium: stop-motion. Today, we’re bringing you through the history of this fun re-telling of a classic tale. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the SHOCKing story of Sparky and his human Victor!

THE ORIGINAL FRANKENWEENIE

  • Based on his films, it’s no surprise that Tim Burton is a fan of horror stories. He grew up watching the Universal Monster movies and Japanese monster films. One of his favorite aspects of these movies was that the monsters were almost never what they seemed to be. 
  • Burton had the original idea for Frankenweenie while working at Disney in the 1980s. 
    • The story came from experience. When Burton was a child, he had a dog named Pepe that he loved dearly. It was his first major relationship and the first big death that he experienced. This, combined with the Frankenstein storyline, created a new kind of adaptation that flipped the original story on its head. The original monster in Frankenstein was cast out by its creator because it wasn’t a product of love. In this story, Victor only attempts to create life because he misses his best friend. 
  • The project was green-lit, and Burton was able to direct a live-action version of the story starring Barret Oliver, Daniel Stern, and Shelly Duvall. Its runtime was only 30 minutes, and it was set to premiere on television. But, the test screenings appeared to scare children, and the short film was pulled. 
    • Years later, Disney released the short film on home video. It quickly became a hit, and today it has a cult following. Now, it can be streamed on Disney+ and can be found on many The Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs. 
  • When Tim Burton was gathering pieces for a Museum of Modern Art exhibit, he came across the concept drawings for the film and decided he’d like to revisit the story again. By now, Burton was an accomplished filmmaker with hits like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas under his belt. So, he brought the idea to Disney which would eventually fund the project.  
    • To Burton, this didn’t really feel like a remake. This time he had the budget and the resources to incorporate all of the personal experiences and monster movie influences that birthed the original concept. 
      • Burton decided the film wouldn’t be live-action, but stop-motion instead! Burton said of using stop motion, “It’s a form that I do love because there’s something that’s very tactile about it, you know, it’s a set and the lights and characters are going in and out of shadows, you see that. There’s something, yes, why I love Ray Harryhausen’s work where you can feel hands on it, you can feel there’s an energy to it.” 
    • When asked why redo an already successful movie, Tim Burton replied to puppet designer Peter Sanders that he wanted more of a performance from the dog Sparky. This would be more possible with a stop motion dog than a live-action dog. 

SYNOPSIS

Victor Frankenstein loves his dog, Sparky. They do everything together, including making their very own monster movies. One day, while Victor is playing baseball, Sparky runs into the street and gets hit by a car. Victor is devastated. After learning about the possibilities of combining electricity with a dead frog in science class, Victor decides to use lightning to bring Sparky back to life! As other students catch wind of the experiment, they want to try it as well. But, things go awry and the town is soon under attack by a group of pets-turned-monsters!  

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Based on an original idea by Tim Burton, the 1984 screenplay was written by Leonard Ripps. John August wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film. 
    • Tim Burton was adamant that the film be in black and white. Thankfully, there was no push back from the studio to produce a color film. It was a nice coincidence that the black and white film The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012 validating the choice for black and white. 
    • In order to give the filmmakers more aesthetic options, it was shot in color and changed in post to be black and white.
  • 3D
    • To keep up with the monster movie tradition, the team knew immediately that the film should be 3D. A test was conducted to make sure that the effects worked well with the black and white aesthetic. After the test was done they saw right away it worked. The contrast of the film even helps to intensify the effect. 
    • Instead of shooting the film originally in 3D the team shot normally and gave the different elements, such as the set and characters, to a visual effects house team. This team then put it all together into a 3D film. 
  • Stop Motion
    • Stop motion is a time-consuming art form that we have discussed before. In order to keep filming going smoothly, Exposure Sheets are used. 
      • Exposure Sheets help to clarify what a character is doing in each frame so that everything can be mapped out. The sheets include frame numbers, the waveform for the score, and the phonetics of the words formed by the characters for mouth movement. Frankenweenie was shot at the standard 24 frames per second. For animators, that meant that for one second of film the puppets must be moved 24 times. Most often one animator is able to animate about 5 seconds of the film a week. 
    • In order to speed up the process animators would be working on different scenes at the same time with the multiples of puppets that were created.
  • Puppets
    • Inspiration for the puppets began from the drawings by Burton. Not only did they have his original concept drawing from the 1984 film, but he drew some new ones as well. The team of artists worked closely off of these and consulted Burton often on the personalities and looks of the characters. 
    • The puppets were cast from sculptures and then cast into foam rubber. All of the clothes had to be hand sewn as the puppets were only about a foot in height, and Sparky was about 4 inches.
    • In total, there ended up being over 200 puppets that needed to be cared for. A special Puppet Hospital was created where there was a team that made repairs for the clothing, limbs, and more.
  • Production
    • The production designer Rick Heinrichs had worked with Tim Burton before on both the short film Vincent and Nightmare Before Christmas. The longtime collaborators had also done well with the 1984 Frankenweenie. When Rick heard that Burton intended to remake the movie in stop motion, he was in from the start. Rick saw opportunities to improve what they built with the original. 
    • Rick Heinrichs was blown away by the animators working on the film. He was thrilled to see the story in black and white again and loved the controlled nature of stop-motion. He said, “When you’re doing a live-action film, you’re dealing with a lot more people and, as much as you want to control the sets and control the lighting, it’s like wearing boxing gloves to try to do something delicate. With stop-motion animation, the cinematographer is lighting the set, and the set decorators and the model makers and the animators are all people you’re talking directly to. You can fix things. It’s on a scale where it’s all fixable, and you can continue to manipulate things until it shoots. It’s a longer process of prep and production as well, so you can really bring more continuity to bear, on the whole process.”
    • The sets were built on tabletops complete with trap doors, similar to the ones we learned about when Nightmare Before Christmas was made! The attention to detail on the sets was incredible. 
      • Art director Sandra Walker, when talking about the sets, said that they strived to create Burton’s version of American Suburbia. What’s strange isn’t the neighborhood, it’s what happens in the neighborhood. Burton grew up in a 50’s/60’s middle-class Burbank-type area.
      • This story takes place in the fictional town of New Holland with a classic-looking windmill near the town. In the climax of the original film, Victor and Sparky become trapped in the windmill at the local golf course. So, the animated film needed to have a windmill for the ending as well. Heinrichs said about using the cultural aspects of New Holland, It was all about having Dutch day, and also about how American communities really take these Old World elements and they turn it into this flat, suburban thing. They knock down all the maple trees and they call it Maple Street. It’s this absconding of things out in the world and making it your own thing. There was something characteristically American and charming about that…To be honest with you, I really think that it establishes a purpose for the windmill.
  • Artists
    • Working on a stop motion film is incredibly physical work. Instead of working in front of a screen, you are constantly moving. One frame of movement would include several changes that would all have to be physically and meticulously moved. It is a very hands-on process that is evident in the final product. 
  • Film references and research
    • Burton believes that references should not be used just to have them there. He enjoys referencing older movies but you should not have to know what is being referenced to enjoy the movie. It should pass by as you are paying attention to the story. 
    • Producer Allison Abbate said that in order to be able to reference these movies, and with a purpose, the animators all watched the classic monster movies, paying special attention to the old Frankenstein movies. 
    • Here are just some of the references that we noticed throughout the film!
      • Frankenstein- Including a character similar to Igor
      • Sleepy Hollow and Frankenstein both have a windmill that burns down as well
      • Rodan- In the short film that Victor created at the beginning
      • Bride of Frankenstein- Sparky’s love interest Persephone ends up with white hair
      • Pet Sematary 
      • Invisible Man- Invisible fish
      • Gremlins-The sea monkeys resemble Gremlins
      • The Mummy- Nassor’s Colossus the hamster, and also when Nassor gets wrapped up and shoved into a large nesting doll
      • The Birds- Phone Booth scene with all the sea monkeys trying to get in
      • Gamera: The Giant Monster
      • Jurassic Park- The mayor tries to hide in a Porta Potty 

SCORE

  • Danny Elfman of course!
  • In an article in Films in Review from 1992, Ken Hanke comments that “Elfman’s scores are far more creative, far more in line with Burton’s combined sense of charm, irony, and absurdity, and generally just better music.”

STARRING

While the actors recorded their lines for the performances, video references were taken. These videos would be watched for behaviors, movements, and idiosyncrasies that could be used in the performance of the puppets.

Burton in an interview with Collider commented on the casting saying “Always, the voices have to be right.  With Martin [Short] and Catherine [O’Hara], they’re so good.  That’s why I had them do three voices each.  To me, there’s a great energy with that.  And Winona [Ryder], I hadn’t seen for many years.  Same with Martin [Landau].  Anything like that just makes it that much more personal.”

  • Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing
    • Can it even be a Tim Burton film without Winona?
    • She is a favorite of Burton’s and was also in Beetlejuice.
    • Van Helsing references Bram Stoker’s character from his novel, Dracula. 
  • Catherine O’Hara as Mrs. Frankenstein, the gym teacher, and the weird girl
    • She was in Beetlejuice but is also well known as the mom in Home Alone.
    • In this universe, there is no Frankenstein story. These people ARE the Frankensteins. 
  • Martin Short as Mr. Frankenstein, Nassor, and Mr. Burgermeister
    • Martin Short is most recently seen in Only Murders in the Building!
    • In the Rankin and Bass episode, we talked about how much Burton enjoyed their work, and so in this film, he pays tribute with the character Mr. Burgermeister. The character is similar in a lot of ways to Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. 
  • Charlie Tahan as Victor Frankenstein
    • Charlie most recently has been in Ozark.
    • You can see in his character’s room a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea poster.
  • Frank Welker as Sparky 
    • Frank is a voice actor that did voices for the live-action Transformers.
    • Sparky is given the classic bolts on the sides of his head in reference to Frankenstein’s monster.
  • Martin Landau as the teacher Mr. Rzykruski
    • This character may look very familiar to you because he is modeled after Vincent Price!
    • Martin was in many films before he passed away, most recently Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game in 2017.
  • Also features the voices of Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, James Liao, Conchata Ferrell, Jon Donahue, Tom Kenny, and Dee Bradley Baker.

RECEPTION

  • There are lots of opinions out there as to whether or not Tim Burton’s films are for children. Burton himself grew up where death was a taboo topic. But, monster movies made him feel more optimistic about it all and reminded him of how life and death go hand in hand. He never felt he had a morbid fascination with death. Frankenweenie in particular was made with kids in mind and distances you from the scary with its emotional storyline, humor, and animation. Animation inherently shows you it is not real and therefore children are more receptive to the scariness. 
  • The film did not do well commercially, but it did make back its budget. 

FUN FACTS

  • There was an “Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition” that toured the world after the premiere. It had a wonderful reception and even came to Comic-Con in San Diego! You were able to tour some of the sets, props, and characters.
  • Burton invited his high school art teacher to the movie premiere.
  • Names of animators’ animals were on the gravestones at the pet cemetery.

AWARDS

Frankenweenie was nominated for a lot of awards, including for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature which it, unfortunately, did not win. It lost to Brave. It did, however, win a lot of awards in different states and Saturn Awards for Best Animated Film and Best Music.

Frankenweenie is a wonderful retelling of a classic story, with an optimistic twist. The original Frankenstein ends with the monster becoming increasingly destructive as he faces more cruelty, and the townsfolk end up hunting down a being that was initially harmless, his only crime being his existence. In Frankenweenie, the townsfolk make this same mistake but have the capacity to learn and grow, deciding to bring Sparky back to life. This concept can be summed up with the line, “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about,” spoken by Victor’s father at the end of the movie. 

In the tradition of the original, this movie explores human nature, the strength of an act of love, and how dangerous an act of fear can be. 

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

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

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


SOURCES:

Some Case Wicked This Way Comes

Well ghosts and goblins, it’s time for part 2 of our month of Disney Halloween! This week, we’re covering one of the scariest and most obscure Disney Live-action releases! 

Everyone knows that the 80s was the scariest decade for Disney movies. In animation, there were dark flops like The Black Cauldron. But live-action was the real horror show. Three of the scariest films ever released by Disney came out during this time, two of which we’ve already covered on this show. They were: The Watcher in the Woods, Return to Oz, and finally now, Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Tonight, we’re taking you to Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival on the edge of Greentown, Illinois. We’ll walk through the mirror maze as we discover our deepest desires…or our greatest fears. Come join us, won’t you? By the pricking of my thumbs…Something Wicked This Way Comes!

FROM SHORT STORY TO SCREENPLAY TO NOVEL TO SCREENPLAY AGAIN

  • In the early 1930s, a carnival came to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois. Among its visitors, there was a young boy that would grow up to be one of the most famous authors of the 20th century; his name was Ray Bradbury. Even as a child, Bradbury was a fan of horror and fantasy. The first film he ever saw was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the main character inspired him, as did Chaney’s other movies. So, gazing at the mysterious oddities of the traveling carnival sparked Bradbury’s imagination, and gave birth to an idea for one of his most popular novels. 
  • One member of the carnival was a man named Electrico, that would shoot electricity through his body every night as part of his show. Electrico took Bradbury around the carnival to meet everyone there. This encounter was so influential to him, that Bradbury later said that Electrico was largely responsible for his career as an author. 
  • Ray Bradbury drew from these influences for a short story published in 1948 for a horror pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. This story followed two boys as they visited a mysterious carnival, with a Ferris Wheel that could change the age of a person by just moving forward or backward. 
  • A few years later, Ray Bradbury met up with actor Gene Kelly. He was really impressed with a film that Kelly had just directed, and Kelly asked Bradbury if he had a story he’d like to make into a film. Bradbury decided to repurpose Dark Ferris into a screenplay. Gene Kelly tried to get funding to make the film but was unsuccessful. So Bradbury re-purposed the story once again into a novel. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962. The novel also followed the story of two boys, and how their lives changed when a sinister carnival came to town. The story focuses on the relationships between Will Halloway and his father, and between Will and his best friend, Jim Nightshade. 
    • Will and Jim complement each other, exhibiting opposite traits while remaining best friends. Will is blonde, while Jim has dark hair. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30th, while Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31st. As they run together through the town, Will speeds up to keep with Jim, while Jim slows down to keep with Will. 
    • Alternatively, Will’s father, Charles Halloway, and the carnival owner, Mr. Dark, are antagonistic foils. While Halloway represents the light in Will and Jim’s life, Mr. Dark represents the evil threatening to snuff that light out. 
  • This coming-of-age tale steeped in darkness was a big hit, and it was only a matter of time before it would be adapted as a film, as that was Ray Bradbury’s intention for the story before writing the novel. Many producers and directors expressed interest, including Steven Spielberg. But, when director Jack Clayton mentioned to Bradbury his desire to adapt the book, Bradbury handed over his hefty 257-page screenplay. 
    • Clayton worked with Bradbury on a new screenplay, cutting down several pages a day. Together they decided to place the story in the 1930s, because as Clayton would later say, “…children, like the ones Ray had written about, just don’t exist anymore. A carnival coming to town used to be a big event years ago, but now what with the advent of television, something like that hardly causes a ripple.”
    • Another big change was the relationship dynamic between Will and his father. Charles Halloway is an old man in Will’s eyes and the film emphasizes how much this upsets Charles. For the film, Clayton and Bradbury portrayed their relationship as a tense one that deepens over time, while in the book, Charles and Will have a sweeter relationship from the beginning. 
  • After finishing the screenplay, Clayton and Bradbury brought the project to several studios that passed. Eventually, they ended up at Walt Disney. Clayton hadn’t directed a film in 9 years and was excited to get back in the director’s chair. Filming lasted 90 days, from October to December, and took place almost exclusively on the Disney lot and the Disney ranch. In fact, the water tower shown in the movie is the Disney water tower, re-painted to say Greentown!

SYNOPSIS

It’s late October in Greentown, IL when a strange carnival comes to town. Best friends Will and Jim go exploring and discover that under its friendly facade, the festival is much more sinister than it seems. As adults in the town start to go missing, the boys realize that the carnival feasts on the desires of men and uses them to do their bidding. 

MAKING OF

Usually, we run through the facts of how a movie is made, but this week we’re doing something a little different. We understand that this movie is fairly obscure, and many listeners may not have seen it–or at least maybe it’s been a long time. So, we’re going to run through some of the biggest scenes in the film while discussing how it was made! Hopefully, this will give listeners more context. 

The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes begins with an ominous and energetic theme, written by the late great composer James Horner. Originally, the score was written by another composer, Georges Delerue. Disney felt that his score was too somber for modern audiences, and made the switch to Horner, much to Jack Clayton’s dismay. But, Ray Bradbury ultimately agreed that Horner truly brought the magic with his score. (Here is a link to some of the original music for you to enjoy!) 
  • The first image on-screen is the train, bringing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium carnival to town. This scene was originally CGI, but it was eventually deemed to be too hokey for the dark and menacing tone of the beginning. Throughout the film, there aren’t very many visual effects. This was due to the fact that TRON was in production at the same time, and took most of the focus in terms of effects. Jack Clayton also fought against the use of too many effects, leaving more for the audience’s imagination. 
    • The title sequence was actually a practical effect, with the letters of the title appearing to look like liquid. It was actually re-dyed milk on a metal plate.
  • “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” When the audience sees Greentown for the first time, we hear a narrator introduce the story. The first spoken line was also the first line of the book’s prologue. When filmmakers decided they wanted narration, they had Ray Bradbury himself record it. But, as Ray himself put it, he “didn’t do a very good job.” 
    • The beginning establishes the main characters and the setting. We see Tom Fury, a lightning-rod salesman, walking down the road with Greentown, IL in the distance. Of course, the town is fictional and not actually along that road. So, the footage of Tom Fury was combined with a matte painting of the town. This effect was used several times in the film. The matte paintings are put onto glass and an area is left open where the live-action shots are projected. It is composited in this manner and filmed together to produce the final result we see. (You can see this in the picture above.)
      • This beginning is meant to seem quiet and mundane. Jack Clayton said,  “You can only make a fantasy – or even a farce for that matter – only provided you root the beginning in reality. Something Wicked starts very normal-ly and from that…it’s just my theory, whether it will work or not we will just have to wait and see.” 
    • The production team built the entire town square on the lot, and Bradbury said it was so similar to the town he grew up in, that he felt like he was visiting home again. Many of the sets were composites, meaning they were actual buildings with several enclosed rooms and floors, and many of them were connected. 
      • Many of the outside scenes were shot in the early part of the day to get a gloomier look. When this wasn’t possible, the production team would “silk” over the top of the set to soften the natural light. 
    • Just after the narration introduced Will and Jim, we see them running through the town, ending up at the library. Many of these shots are continuous, and the camera was mounted on a car so it could follow the running boys. 
  • “But I suppose that this is really the story of my father.”
    • The library that Will and Jim enter was a detailed set, designed to look like the Carnegie libraries donated to many small towns in the 1920s. This scene introduces Charles Halloway, Will’s father, and sets up his dilemma of being a man too old to keep up with his growing son. This is also where we learn that Jim doesn’t have a father, though he pretends that his father writes to him. 
      • Jack Clayton didn’t like doing several takes with young actors because their acting tended to fall apart after saying the same lines over and over again. So, scenes like this have very minimal cuts. 
    • Now that the film has implied Charles’ desire to be young, we see him interact with the other adult characters. This scene sets up their unique wants, as the barber wishes to be with women, the cigar store owner wants money, and the barkeep wishes to be an athlete again. 
    • After this, Charles encounters the first piece of the carnival in his own town, the “most beautiful woman in the world” encased in ice. The red ring on her hand glows, which was one of the many visual effects that producers added after the first cut of the film was too ambiguous. Clayton and Bradbury didn’t initially agree that audiences needed to see effects to understand the magical aspects of the film, but felt that most of the effects added did enhance the story. 
  • The Carnival arrives
    • Will and Jim are safely home in their beds when they awake to the sounds of a train. Their bedrooms were composite sets, and very difficult to film in. So, sometimes the ceiling had to be taken out in order to fit all the filming equipment. 
    • The boys sneak out of their windows and run to see the train. This scene was shot on the Disney ranch, and bright lights were flashed on the boys’ faces to make it appear as if a train was passing by. The moment that the train stops, a carnival appears out of nowhere. 
      • Filmmakers used miniatures to show the carnival as a whole, while individual sets were built for the actors to interact with. 
      • In this scene, we meet the dust witch character for the first time. She’s dressed in a black costume of spider lace. In the book, the witch is more fairytale-like, but in the movie, they combined this character and “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ray Bradbury loved the costume for this character. 
    • After Will returns home from seeing the carnival, he confronts his father who was also out late. This encounter shines a light on the tension in their relationship. Instead of using multiple cameras to shoot this scene, they utilized the lighting to get the audience to focus on specific characters at certain times. The key light is on Charles, played by Jason Robards, because this scene is about him and his regrets. 
  • “It’s just an ordinary carnival” 
    • The boys return to the carnival in the daytime, and are almost disappointed to discover that it is a seemingly ordinary carnival that just looked evil at night. But, while they explore, the audience witnesses the adults become consumed by their own desires. 
    • The boys walk past a tent of dancing women, and Will wants to keep walking. But, Jim peeps through a hole in the fabric to watch the dancing ladies. 
      • Set designers specifically made the carnival appear weathered and broken down, with ripped canvases and unkempt attractions. It added to the creepy aesthetic, but it also proved how old the carnival itself was. 
      • This scene replaces a moment in the book, when Jim witnesses something happening with adults in their bedroom at night. Will wants to keep walking, but Jim can’t tear himself away. This speaks to the difference in their characters and how even though they are the same age, they are at different places mentally. 
    • The boys sneak into the off-limits part of the carnival and run into Mr. Dark, the man that runs the place. At first, his face is shrouded in darkness to symbolize the presence of his evil. 
      • Before sending the boys away, he shows the boys the shifting tattoos on his hands, which seems to be his carnival trick. To achieve this effect, the director projected the image of a kaleidoscope onto Jonathan Pryce’s arm. 
  • The backward carousel
    • Convinced that something strange might happen at night, the boys stay behind and sneak back into the carousel’s tent. They watch as the ride runs in reverse, lowering the age of the man riding it until he becomes a little boy!
    • Filmmakers used a real carousel for the scene that they found on Long Beach. They took it apart and shipped the parts to Los Angeles, where it was rebuilt on the sound stage. 
      • The director overlayed past frames to get the dragging, blurred effect as the carousel ran.
    • The man, Mr. Cooger, is one of the carnival owners in the book. He turns into a little boy to do Mr. Dark’s bidding. The boy that played this role was very young and didn’t really understand what was happening. This helped bring a creepiness to the character. 
  • The talk on the porch
    • After returning home, Will has another talk with his father. It’s in this scene that we realize that Will almost drowned as a younger child, and Charles was unable to save him. Will had been saved by Jim’s father, and Charles has felt like a failure ever since. 
    • This scene was cut up by the studio, making it one of the choppier scenes in the movie. It also has the tightest close-ups in the entire film, as it’s an important moment for both characters. 
    • At the end of the scene, Will challenges his father to climb up the side of the house and into his bedroom window. Charles refuses, because Jack Clayton felt it would build the tension between the two characters. 
      • In the book, Charles rises to the challenge and almost falls. But Will saves him, setting up the final act when Charles must rise to the challenge of saving his own son. 
  • Seeing something they shouldn’t
    • Miss Foley, Jim and Will’s teacher, looks into her mirror and sees a younger version of herself. She so desperately wants to be young again, and suddenly becomes her younger self…but immediately goes blind. 
      • To create this sequence, filmmakers used a sodium vapor technique that predates green screens. It’s a version of matte photography that allowed them to overlay images in a realistic way. 
    • After seeing the magical power of the carousel, Jim also gives into his desire to be grown, and heads to the carnival to make his wish come true. Luckily, Will stops him. The boys discover all the adults in the town under the tent, and Mr. Dark has Tom Fury, the lightning salesman strapped to an electric chair. Mr. Dark demands Fury tell him when the next storm is, for storms wash away the carnival.  
    • The sky in this scene was created by using a cloud tank. The bottom layer of the tank is salt water, while the top layer is freshwater. Various liquids are injected into the tank to create clouds! 
    • From this point on in the movie, a lot of visual effects were added to enhance the story. This involved adding hand-drawn animations of dust, smoke, and glowing objects. A green, hand-drawn smoke follows Will and Jim as they run home. 
  • The Spider scene
    • The first cut of Something Wicked did not do well with audiences. The film went through major cuts, and some re-shoots were done for the ending. Originally, there was a scene that involved a giant hand reaching into Will and Jim’s bedrooms. The hand was animatronic, and didn’t seem to look real enough to keep the scary tone of the movie. 
    • So, about one year after initial filming, the actors that played Will and Jim had to return to shoot a new scene that involved hundreds of tarantula spiders. Jack Clayton had to be careful which angles to shoot the boys from, because it was obvious that they had grown. In fact, the actor that played Will had to wear a wig.
    • The scene features a lot of real spiders, which gave most of the crew a bad allergic reaction. The special effects team also built animatronic spiders, but they didn’t match up to the real ones. So, the spiders under the blankets on the boys’ beds are actually animatronic. 
  • The Parade
    • After experiencing the horrible night terror of the spiders in their beds (a vision sent by the Dust Witch, presumably), Will and Jim are certain that Mr. Dark is searching for them because they’ve witnessed too much. 
    • Mr. Dark leads a parade through the town, and for the first time, we see all the people that he has tricked and transformed, but none of the other townsfolk seem to care. Charles Halloway notices when a young boy shows up, wearing the exact clothes of the barkeep, a man that had lost his leg and arm. The little boy catches a football the exact same way the barkeep would, confirming Charles’ suspicion that something nefarious is going on. 
    • Mr. Dark approaches Charles and asks about Will and Jim, showing him tattooed images of them on his hands. The images were photos of the boys that the make-up department had to draw on Jonathan Pryce’s hands. When Charles refuses to give the boys up, Mr. Dark closes his hand so tightly, that blood drips from it. This effect was achieved with a simple sponge with cosmetic blood. 
  • “By the pricking of my thumbs” 
    • The most intense scene of the film takes place in the library, as Will and Jim hide from Mr. Dark. Charles tries to hold him off, buying the boys more time, but Mr. Dark proves to be too powerful. This was Ray Bradbury’s favorite part of the movie. Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards (who played Charles) were able to act out the scene over and over to give the director lots of different options for the final cut. The scene took a week to shoot.
      • This scene involves pages being ripped from a book. As each page falls to  the floor, it glows. An animator has to use rotoscoping to trace the images frame by frame to add the effect. 
    • This is the scene where the audience learns about Mr. Dark and who he truly is. They are “the hungry ones” that feed off the desires of men. As Mr. Dark attempts to tempt Charles, he quotes the song, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is heavily featured in the book, and Ray Bradbury felt it appropriate for the story. Mr. Dark is mocking the idea of love and goodwill. 
    • Mr. Dark then breaks Charles’ hand, solidifying his defeat. This was a prosthetic hand, and the scene was initially too gory and had to be cut down. Mr. Dark then finds the boys and steals them away, as a Dust Witch gives Charles a “taste of death.” As Mr. Dark pulls the boys away, he shuts off the barber pole in the town, symbolizing the end of life. 
  • The Mirror Maze
    • When Charles awakes, he runs to the carnival to save the boys and gets trapped in a mirror maze. This was another scene that needed to be re-shot. If you look closely, Will is wearing the same wig in this scene that he wears in the spider sequence. 
      • Originally, the scene showed Charles running through a series of mirrors with older men without their false teeth on the other side. This represented his fear of being too old, but the climax didn’t work well with the test audiences. 
      • So, the story was changed, and Charles instead saw the memory of him failing to save his son. Special effects artists added rounded edges to the mirrors so that the audience understood that he was looking in a mirror and not a screen or a doorway. 
    •  Charles is able to break through the mirror and save Will, as Tom Fury defeats the Dust Witch. But, their troubles aren’t entirely over until Mr. Dark accidentally falls victim to his own tricks and is forced to age rapidly on the carousel. 
      • This scene was far too extensive in the original cut, which made the audience laugh. 
    • The scene ends with the carnival being swept up in a cloud that was created with a cloud tank. The miniature carnival was shot upside-down, and filmmakers simply dropped the pieces from the ceiling!
    • After the carnival is swept away, Will, Jim, and Charles all head skipping back to Greentown. The light on the Barber’s Pole flicks on again, and everything seems to be okay. 

STARRING

  • Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway
    • He also played the elder in Mork and Mindy!
  • Shawn Carson as Jim Nightshade
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Diane Ladd as Jim’s mother Mrs. Nightshade
    • Diane has been in many films including National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  • Jason Robards as Will’s father Charles Halloway
    • Jason had several credits, such as Little Big League and Parenthood to name a few.
    • He was Ray Bradbury’s first choice for the character! The two got to know each other well during filming. 
  • Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark
    • Jonathan has also been a well-known actor in things as recent as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Crown.
  • Royal Dano as Tom Fury
    • He was in a lot of things, even Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
  • Pam Grier as the Dust Witch
    • Pam is an influential woman who starred in blaxploitation films in the 70’s like Foxy Brown. She now has an autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. 

RECEPTION

  • When the test audience watched Something Wicked This Way Comes, they did not give it a good reception. According to Ray Bradbury, at least ¼ of the film had to be changed. 
  • The movie was a commercial flop, making only about half of its budget. It’s not available to stream, and is still relatively obscure. But, Ray Bradbury was incredibly proud of it. 
  • The movie won two Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing. It was also nominated for several other awards, including best director. 
  • In 1983 Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars and wrote “It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style…In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes is dark and magical. Pressing play on this film is like opening a time capsule to 1980s Disney, when they weren’t afraid to get truly scary. The film is frightening for children and adults alike, but for different reasons. For children, the fears are literal, like darkness and spiders. For adults, the frights are more abstract: like failure and weakness. And this story makes us all face the question: If you were faced with the chance to fulfill your deepest desires, what price would you pay? 

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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Little Case of Horrors

On the 23rd day of the month of September, in an early year of this decade of our own, the human race not-so-suddenly encountered an informative film podcast hosted by three old friends. 

And this (hopefully) educational episode surfaced, as such indie podcasts often do, in the seemingly most common and likely of places…

The Black Case Diaries!

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The temperature outside is dropping, Spirit Halloween stores are taking over vacant retail spaces, and the evening air is starting to smell like woodsmoke. Summer’s end has come, and Autumn is here! 

And since the end of September is fast approaching, we thought it was the perfect time to talk about something a little…horrifying. In December of 1986, a strange and mysterious plant appeared on theatre screens across America. Cared for by a soft-spoken man named Seymour, the botanical oddity quickly seized the attention of audiences throughout the country. The only problem was that this plant didn’t feed on sunshine and water, but instead craved human blood! 

Little Shop of Horrors is not your average Hollywood musical film. It’s darkly funny, with the gritty texture of the off-Broadway production on which it was based. While musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music featured brightly colored locations and sweeping cinematography, Little Shop of Horrors takes place on the bleak and infamous street called  “Skid Row,” and follows a protagonist that feeds people to an evil plant from outer space.

This wonderfully odd film appeals to the strangeness in all of us and gives a biting commentary (pun intended) on human nature. Not to mention, it’s absolutely packed with hilarious comedic performances, incredible songs, and mind-blowing special effects! 

So, let’s head back to an early year in a decade not too long before our own to explore the seemingly innocent and unlikely origin of the greatest threat to human existence, in…Little Shop of Horrors

Before Little Shop of Horrors became a movie musical, it was a stage musical. And before it was a stage musical, it was a movie! So, let’s talk about the origins of this odd story, and how it went from movie to musical to movie musical! 

  • In the late 1950s, director Roger Corman started experimenting with horror-comedy films. A studio manager that was friends with Corman told him that a film was about to wrap with no projects on deck. This gave Corman a funny idea, and he decided to give himself a unique challenge. He asked the manager to leave up the sets from the previous movie so he could come in and shoot another film in only two days. 
  • Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith brainstormed for a day and developed the general plot of a horror/comedy B-movie about a man-eating plant. Griffith then spent about two weeks writing the screenplay before the film began production with a budget between $15,000 and $22,500.
  • For years, rumors circulated that Corman shot the film on the infamous 2-day deadline because of a bet. Others speculated that he wanted to throw together one last low-budget film before a new rule went into effect, which would require filmmakers to pay actors residuals for their performances after films had been released. Corman has never confirmed this and says it was more of a joke–he did it to see if it was possible.
  • The movie turned out to be a joke in more ways than one. First of all, audiences found the film to be hilarious, including a cameo appearance from rising star Jack Nicholson as a masochist. Second, the two-day filming schedule cemented the film in B-movie history, and it was widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most notorious jokes. 
  • But, as you might’ve guessed, the influence of the film didn’t stop there. For years, the film was replayed on late-night TV shows, which is how a young teenager named Howard Ashman first saw it. 
  • In 1979, Ashman wrote and directed a musical called, “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater,” with musician Alan Menken (it was their first collaboration). The musical was a hit at the WPA theatre where it premiered but hadn’t done well outside of those productions. 
  • Ashman wanted their next project to be fun and remembered the off-beat silliness of Little Shop of Horrors. The next time the film aired on TV, Ashman taped it, and Menken immediately saw the musical potential for the story. 
  • According to Kyle Renick, then-producing director of the WPA theatre where Little Shop of Horrors would eventually premiere, it took the theatre a year to secure the rights to the film, and 8 months for Ashman and Menken to write the musical. 
    • Ashman wrote the book and lyrics, while Menken composed the music. Menken said, “I decided that I wanted the musical approach to come from some early 1960s music—the girl group sound. It has a very dark, menacing ring. You can almost hear whips and chains in the background. There were two ponytailed teenagers in the movie and we decided to turn them into a black trio that functions as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action.” 
    • Although the plot was similar, Ashman made major changes to the story. He cut out characters and changed the ending. Every death in the original movie was accidental, while Ashman’s version showed the protagonist, Seymour, killing people and feeding them to the plant. 
    • The subject matter may seem gruesome, but because of the humor in the show, audiences didn’t seem to mind. 
  •  For Audrey II, the theatre hired Martin Robinson, a Muppet performer known for portraying Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Apparently, Little Shop of Horrors was Robinson’s favorite film, and he had been dreaming of developing the plant for years. He would finally get his chance.
  • In May of 1982, Little Shop of Horrors opened at the WPA theatre to rave reviews. It quickly became a crowd favorite, selling out almost every show. After a couple of months, the WPA was approached by at least 26 different producers that wanted to move the show to Broadway. Eventually, it opened at the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for 2,209 performances. 
  • As the musical’s popularity continued, talks of a major motion picture began to emerge. Producer David Geffen, who helped bring the show to Broadway, signed on to produce a film adaptation of the play. 

1986 FILM SYNOPSIS

  • Seymour Krelbourne is a young assistant at a struggling flower shop in Manhattan. He pines after his beautiful coworker, Audrey, as they both dream of one day breaking free of their financial burdens and escaping Skid Row. One day, Seymour witnesses a total eclipse of the sun and discovers a very strange and unusual plant that he names Audrey II. Just when Seymour’s boss is about the close the shop for good, the exotic plant attracts a great deal of attention to the store, allowing it to stay open. As Seymour cares for the plant, he soon discovers that the only way to make it grow is to feed it human flesh! Although he doesn’t initially want to hurt anyone, Seymour must choose between his morals and his only chance at finding a way out of Skid Row and starting a new life. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Years after producing the Broadway musical and the feature film, David Geffen admitted that he initially thought that a musical version of the 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors was possibly the worst idea he had ever heard. Of course, audiences disagreed, as the show was an undeniable commercial and critical success. 
  • Geffen’s original plan for the film was to not surpass a 6 million dollar budget, and have Stephen Spielberg as a producer, with Martin Scorsese as the film’s director. This plan never came to pass.
  • The film would eventually reach an estimated budget of about 25 million dollars. Instead of Martin Scorsese as a director, Geffen approached puppet master Frank Oz. Oz had previously co-directed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, and just recently finished directing his first muppet film, Muppets Take Manhattan. Initially, Oz wanted to turn down the project, as he was unsure how to make it work. It was actually the concept of the three women that acted as a Greek chorus, narrating the story on stage, that convinced him to take the job. He felt like they were the key to making the story flow, and they added a certain magic and style to the production. 
    • Frank Oz started the directing process by storyboarding almost every scene, especially musical numbers with Audrey II. This way, he could figure out exactly how big the sets needed to be, and how to work around the limitations of the plant. Each scene averages about 30 takes, and sometimes the takes would last only a few seconds. 
    • Oz wanted the film to flow seamlessly between scenes. One way he achieved this was by planning out each scene’s transition. If you watch the movie carefully, you will notice how well the transitions fit together. 
    • In many scenes, Oz utilized tight angles and close-ups to help the audience connect with the main characters. He refrained from using wide shots, because he felt like they made the setting look grand and very “Hollywood.” 
  • Howard Ashman stayed with the project to write the screenplay for the film, and also penned additional lyrics. When Frank Oz was planning scenes for the film, Ashman was there to help him through the process. Ashman told Oz that it wasn’t just the music that had rhythm, but that there was a rhythm to his dialogue as well. Oz said that advice was incredibly helpful. 
    • Ashman also made sure that Oz understood that the musical wasn’t meant to be subtle. Ashman and Menken’s songs don’t ease the audience into the music, the music just starts and the viewer either accepts it or they don’t. The film is unapologetic in every aspect. 
  • The entire film was shot over 6 months at Pinewood Studios in the UK, on the 007 stage. Oz wanted the movie to be a strange hybrid of stage musical and film, so he knew they would have to create their own universe and environment for the story to take place. Many films are concerned with realism, making their environments look as close as possible to real-world situations. In Little Shop of Horrors, everything is real to the characters, and whether or not the sets and backdrops look realistic to the audience is immaterial. That being said, Audrey II is as real as it gets! 
    • Roy Walker was the production designer for Little Shop and is also known for The Shining as well. It took him and his team three months to build a Skid Row replica. Walker created three different sets for the flower shop in the film. One set was for people to act alone. Another set was for people to act with the plant, and the third set was specifically for the finale, when Audrey II destroys the store. 
    • In order to make the set look as American as possible, Walker gathered up huge containers with trash cans to place on the street corners of skid row. 
  • The key to Little Shop of Horrors was Audrey II, and having a director with puppet experience was vital for production. Oz had previous experience working with designer Lyle Conway in Jim Henson’s creature shop. Lyle was the mastermind behind Audrey II.
    • According to Frank Oz, it took Conway and his team 9 months to prepare the plants for the shoot, and they continued to work on them even during production. 
    • Oz said that Lyle researched extensively about plants in order to create the beautiful textures and colors within Audrey II. At the end of production he and his team had created 15,000 handmade leaves, 20,000 feet of vine, and 11.5 miles of cable for all the plants combined!
    • Conway created 7 different sizes of Audrey II, and some that performed different actions for the movie. With each size, more people had to operate the plant. When the plant was small, only two or three people needed to operate it. But by the end of the film, about sixty people stood in a tank underneath the massive plant, looking at monitors as they operated its movement. One person even stood inside the plant’s mouth to make it move, while Brian Henson was camouflaged in a suit of vines and leaves as he helped operate the head. 
    • In order to make vines that would bend seamlessly without wearing down, the filmmakers had to approach the Atomic Energy Institute to research the best metal core to use. 

THE MUSIC

As we mentioned before, Little Shop of Horrors features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. Composer Miles Goodman wrote the score for the feature film. Goodman was a prolific composer who wrote music for films like A Muppet Christmas Carol and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. In this film, he used the foreboding sounds of organ music in his theme for Audrey II. 

PROLOGUE (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) 

  • Little Shop of Horrors opens with a drumroll that leads into the prologue music, followed by an iconic narration, setting up the story. This opening gives off the vibes of a classic horror B movie, much like the one on which it was based. The style of music shifts into a 1960s era number, and as the camera takes us through 16 different cues, we hear the voices of the greek chorus that will lead us through the story. 
  • As we mentioned before, Frank Oz almost turned down this movie. In a 1986 LA Times article he says “I didn’t think I could get my hands around it. There were too many elements. It was a period piece, it was horror, it was comedy, there were 14 songs and a puppet that was going to weigh a ton.” He was finally able to bury these worries and take a chance on the film, and one of the reasons he did so was because of the three muses.
    • The singers bring the camera around the set, introducing the location and characters to the audience as they manage to stay dry during a rainstorm. They provide a type of visual exposition, ending with our main character Seymour. 

SKID ROW (DOWNTOWN)

  • Skid Row is the first ensemble song, and further introduces the setting and intentions of the characters. We hear the two leads, Seymour and Audrey, sing for the first time, and learn more about their characters. 
  • Frank Oz planned “Skid Row” a year before shooting, and the actors knew exactly how many steps they needed to take during the song. 
    • The chorus walks in an off-beat way on purpose, to further drive home the uneasiness and discomfort of their lives. 
  • The song ends with a medium shot of all the actors singing out toward the camera, in a unifying moment. Frank Oz purposely kept the shot tight because he didn’t want the number to feel grandiose. 

DA-DOO

  • Seymour introduces his boss, Mr. Mushnik, to a strange and interesting plant that he named after his coworker and love-interest, Audrey. Immediately after placing the small plant in the window, a man steps into the office to inquire about it. 
    • According to Frank Oz, Christopher Guest (who played the customer in this scene) would play the scene much too seriously. Finally, he gave a over-the-top performance that made it into the final cut. 
  • In the song, Da-doo, Seymour explains that he discovered the plant during a total eclipse of the sun. The song features one of the only optical effects in the film, as a light shines around Audrey II. 

GROW FOR ME

  • After just one day, Audrey II’s presence has boosted business for Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop. However, the plant seems to be wilting, and Seymour stays late to care for it. It’s in this song that he discovers the plant’s lust for blood. 
  • For this scene, only a couple people needed to operate the plant. When Seymour leaves the room, Audrey II breaks through its coffee can and grows. The special effects team achieved this effect by placing the plant behind the coffee can, and just moving it closer to the camera to create the illusion that it was growing. 

SOMEWHERE THAT’S GREEN

  • In this song, Audrey reveals to the audience her true dreams of marrying Seymour and moving into a suburban home with a chain link fence. She highlights the “luxurious” lifestyle she pines for, taken straight from 1950s sitcoms. 
  • For this scene Ellen Greene wanted to make sure that she really felt at home before shooting, and spent time in her on-screen bedroom. 
  • The scenery for this song is an excellent example of how Frank Oz leaned into the theatre and pushed the boundaries. 
  • The scene is packed with visual jokes that, according to Frank Oz, test audiences reacted to even more than they had hoped. One such visual is an animated bird that lands on Audrey’s hand, akin to Cinderella. The scene took immense planning, especially for that effect to work well. 
    • In order to get a real magazine that they liked for the shot, Frank Oz flipped through dozens of old magazines until he found a Better Homes and Garden magazine that had the perfect imagery of homes and appliances that he was looking for. They used the magazine with permission from Better Homes and Gardens.
  • When Howard Ashman wrote the screenplay, he expressed that he wanted a continuous shot from Audrey’s room to the rooftop, leading seamlessly into the next song. To make that happen, Frank Oz needed to put two cranes on top of each other, as there didn’t exist a crane tall enough to film the sequence. 

SOME FUN NOW

  • “Somewhere That’s Green” transitions to this next song, where the greek chorus sings about the “fun” Seymour is having taking care of Audrey II. 
  • Since the muses are up at the top of the buildings, they are surrounded by billboard space. Oz hates product placement, so an art director suggested that they use a product from the 50s that no longer existed for the billboard, hence the Chooz billboard.
  • The scene originally showed more footage of Seymour feeding Audrey II, but test audiences were squeamish, so Oz cut out much of it. 

DENTIST

  • In this song, we meet Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, a dentist played by Steve Martin. The song opens with Martin riding a motorcycle in front of a 3-foot model, composited onto a blue screen behind him. 
  • Before Roy Walker built the set, Oz had counted out how many steps Martin needed to take while filming the number. The steps needed to match up perfectly with the music. 
  • Although he has one of the biggest roles of the celebrity cameos in the film, Martin was only on set for 6 weeks of shooting. Martin brought a lot of hilarious ideas to the role, and worked hard to avoid comparisons with characters like Fonzie.
  • For one shot in this song, Lyle Conway created a gigantic human mouth for Steve to sing into, while holding a huge dental tool to scale. 

FEED ME (GIT IT) 

  • After Seymour sees Audrey ride off with her abusive boyfriend, Audrey II speaks for the first time. It tries to convince Seymour to kill people for plant food, offering him anything he could possibly want. This is the moment when he decides to make a deal with the devil. 
  • Because the plant couldn’t move fast enough to sing along with Seymour (Rick Moranis), Rick was forced to film sequences in slow motion, so they could be later sped-up. When he’s singing alone on screen, he’s singing at a normal speed and the film was 24 frames per second. When he’s singing on screen with the plant, he’s moving slowly and the speed is 16 frames per second! It was like this for every scene filmed with a talking/singing Audrey II. 

SUDDENLY SEYMOUR

  • After Audrey’s boyfriend disappears (because Seymour fed him to Audrey II), Audrey is free to pursue a romantic relationship with Seymour. Suddenly Seymour toes the fine line between funny and sweet, as Howard Ashman meant for the song to be very tongue-in-cheek, yet the characters are taking it very seriously. 
  • The imagery for the scene references Romeo and Juliet, which foreshadows a not-so-happy end for the two protagonists. 
  • At the end of the scene, the actors run up a fire escape and embrace with the sun behind them. The scene took about 36 takes, and they used the final take. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene both got lip burns from kissing. 

SUPPERTIME

  • When Seymour cut up Orin, Audrey’s boyfriend, he was spotted by his boss, Mr. Mushnik. In “Supertime,” Mushnik confronts Seymour, threatening him with a gun. Seymour has the option of leaving town, letting Mushnik take over the plant. But instead, he lets Audrey II eat his boss. 
  • The scene is incredibly dark, but is offset by the quick transition into the next song. 

MEEK SHALL INHERIT

  • After feeding two people to the plant, Seymour has found immense fame and success. But, the plant wants more. Some of the song’s imagery was inspired by “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

MEAN GREEN MOTHER FROM OUTER SPACE

  • In the theatrical release of the film, Seymour confronts Audrey II just after the plant attempts to eat Audrey. The scene escalates as Audrey II reveals that it is being from outer space, here to take over the human race. It’s clear that the plant is too powerful for Seymour to control, and he must destroy it. 
  • This scene was shot in bits and pieces, but pieced together to create a cohesive musical number. At this point, the plant had sixty people operating it, with giant levers and machinery. On set, the music was slowed down so the operators could mouth the words correctly with the song. 
  • The end of this scene is different in the original version of the film, but in the theatrical release, we see Seymour rise from the rubble of the flower shop and electrocute Audrey II. 

After Seymour defeats the plant, we see him and Audrey start their fairytale life…with another Audrey II not far away. 

STARRING

  • Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn
    • We all know him from movies like Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
    • Rick was cast before they even knew he could sing! Geffen had Rick in mind for the role the entire time. He even saw Rick at a concert and told him that he would star in his movie someday. 
  • Ellen Greene as Audrey
    • She has been in films like The Cooler, and Talk Radio.
    • She had performed Audrey on the Off-Off Broadway for 4 years and David Geffen wanted her for the part because he knew she would be perfect. Warner Bros had actually wanted Barabara Streisand for the role.
  • The three young girls that act as a Greek Chorus or muses that lead us through the movie were:
    •  Tisha Campbell as Chiffon
      • She was most notably also in Martin and My Wife and Kids.
    • Tichina Arnold as Crystal 
      • She has been in The Main Event and The Lena Baker Story.
    • Michelle Weeks as Ronette
      • She has not been in much but a TV movie called Norman’s Corner.
  • Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik
    • Known for parts in Moonstruck, Death Wish and more.
  • Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II
    • Most well known for his role as Audry II, as well as Captain N: The Game Master.
  • Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello (the dentist) 
    • A very popular comedian known for roles in Roxanne and Cheaper by the Dozen.
  • Jim Belushi as Patrick Martin
    • Known for many movies including Red Heat and K-9.
  • John Candy as Wink Wilkinson
    • A comedian who we just talked about in our John Hughes episode! 
    • Frank Oz didn’t want any ad-libbing but he made exceptions for some of the comedic actors in the film, like John Candy, who was known to be one of the best ad libbers in the business. 
  • Bill Murray as Arthur Denton (the masochist)
    • Well known for many roles such as Ghostbusters.
    • When Bill Murray came in to do his role, he wasn’t sure about the dialogue. So, even though Steve Martin’s lines are completely scripted, Bill Murray’s weren’t. Every take was different, and the men decided how to end the scene together. 
  • Stanley Jones as the Narrator
    • He is a voice actor most known for his roles as Scourge in the Transformers animated series, and Lex Luthor in the Justice League animated series. 

ALTERNATE ENDING

  • When the test audience saw Little Shop of Horrors, the screening went very well. That was, until the end of the film. In the stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour and Audrey do not end up somewhere that’s green. Instead, Seymour suffers greatly for his deeds, when his true love dies at the hands of Audrey II. Seymour then feeds Audrey to Audrey II, and gets eaten himself. 
    • Then, the muses sing the finale, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” which describes how Audrey II and its clippings spread across the country, eventually taking over. 
  • When he was adapting the screenplay, Howard Ashman felt it was important to keep the original ending. First of all, it drives home the message of the story. Secondly, fans of the musical might be disappointed if the film ends differently. Frank Oz was on Ashman’s side, and convinced David Geffen to let them shoot the ending that Ashman had written. Geffen told them from the beginning that it wouldn’t work, and that they would eventually need to change it. They went ahead anyway, hoping Geffen was wrong. 
  • Frank Oz said in an Entertainment Weekly article in 2017 that, “We [screened] the film the way Howard and I wanted it. The audience was clapping after every number. Then, when Seymour and Audrey died, they turned like an icebox. The reaction was so bad, Warner Bros. wasn’t going to release it. When one dies in the theater, one dies and comes back for a curtain call, but in the movie you don’t come back for a curtain call. The audience was very angry.” 
    • Special effects artist Richard Conway developed a fantastic sequence of the plants, taking over the US. It was dark, yet comical, with groundbreaking visuals and incredible sound design. It was essentially a mini monster movie, ending with a comically large, “THE END?!?” as a plant covered the statue of liberty. 
    • Only 13% of the test audience said they would recommend the film, so Oz and Ashman worked on a new ending and called back the actors for re-shoots. Unfortunately, this also meant that Conway’s effects wouldn’t be seen by most audiences, which Frank Oz felt was the real tragedy. 
  • Oz has said that he learned a very valuable lesson from the experience. While he prefers the original ending (and he knew Ashman did too) he understood that he wasn’t making a movie for him, he was making it for millions of people. 

RECEPTION

  • The film grossed $39 million at the box office which, from the viewpoint of the studio, was considered an underperformer. However, it became a smash hit upon its home video release in 1987 on home video.
  • Roger Ebert said in his review: “All of the wonders of Little Shop of Horrors are accomplished with an offhand, casual charm. This is the kind of movie that cults are made of, and after Little Shop finishes its first run, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it develop as one of those movies that fans want to include in their lives.”
  • The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: one for Best Visual Effects and one for Best Original Song for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”. The song was the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity in the lyrics and also the first to be sung by a villain. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score at the 44th Golden Globe Awards. 

FUN FACTS

  • Heather Henson plays the distraught young dental patient with the headgear on. 
  • Pieces of Orin the dentist’s body were created for Seymour to toss into Audrey II’s mouth, including Steve Martin’s severed head, dripping with blood. This was deemed too graphic, and the pieces were used, but they are covered in newspapers so the audience wouldn’t see them. 
  • The film was originally going to be gorier. For example, there was supposed to be blood on the walls of the dentist office. 
  • If you watch the original ending, there is a scene where Seymour tries to commit suicide after Audrey dies. The scene has no musical score because it became clear that they would not use it in the final cut. 

When Ashman first had the idea to turn a B horror film into a musical, it was because he wanted to make something fun. And boy, was he successful. Little Shop of Horrors is weird and wonderful, with a solid story and killer musical numbers. Its lyrics are heartfelt and hilarious, and its performances are to die for. 

It’s been forty years and yet, this film seems to get better every time we watch it. So if you’re hungry for a good time, turn on this treat of a film. It’s suppertime!

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

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 Wonder Case

It’s been a blast going back to school with you all. This week, we’re finishing up Back-to-school September with a very special episode about a very special TV series and its pilot episode. On March 15th, 1988, the world met Kevin Arnold, a 12-year-old suburban boy growing up in the 1960s. Guided by the voice of Daniel Stern, The Wonder Years took audiences back in time to an era of change and uncertainty and reminded them what it was like to be a kid again. 

Throughout its 5 seasons, The Wonder Years connected with audiences in the late 1980s and early 90s, but many of its themes are timeless. It also made its star, Fred Savage, a household name, and forever made a mark on American pop culture. 

This week, we’re discussing the history of The Wonder Years, with a focus on the pilot episode of the show. Because the show starts with the main character going back to school, we thought it would be the perfect topic to close out our series of school-related episodes! 

Before we go into the events of the episode, let’s talk a little about the historical context of the show. 

THE FIRST TELEVISED WAR

  • The late 1960s was a turbulent time. The war in Vietnam forever changed and destroyed the lives of countless people, including those that lived in stucco houses, nestled safely in American suburbia. Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million American men were drafted to fight in the war. 
  • When America entered the Vietnam war in 1965, it had been less than 20 years since the end of the second world war, and a little over 10 years since the Korean War. The American people were familiar with the pain, anxieties, and struggle of war. Back then, it was common for people to get updates on the conflict through newspapers and newsreels at the local theater. But by the 1960s, a new medium existed to reach wider audiences: TV. 
  • For the first time, the bleak and disturbing realities of war and the names of dead American sons were broadcast daily to audiences across the country. This new exposure further enlightened many to the horror of war, experiencing it for the first time in their living rooms.
  • This and the other major events of the 1960s, like the civil rights movement, the counterculture movement, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, defined a generation. It was an era of immense turmoil and great change. 
  • Because The Wonder Years begins in this decade, the backdrop of the war is important to the storyline, showing the effect it had on American families directly. The show began less than 20 years after the end of the war, meaning that there were writers, crew members, and even actors that had either fought in the war or knew someone that did. 

MAKING OF

  • Shortly after creating the sitcom Growing Pains in the mid-1980s, Neal Marlens felt like he was done with TV for a while. After working on a film with his wife Carol Black, the two of them decided to make another movie told from the perspective of a little boy. The more they discussed the idea, they realized it would be better suited as a TV show. They wrote the first episode in about two weeks. 
    • Marlens and Black understood that what they were creating was unorthodox compared to the usual TV sitcom, as it would feature a single camera and narration. So, they decided to write the script before pitching the idea, so that the producers would have a better understanding of what they were going for.
    • Using their own childhood experiences for inspiration, the couple set the show in the late 1960s. Carol Black said in an interview that she started her childhood watching shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” but as she grew up, the entire country changed. 
    • Since the beginning of the writing process, the creators were certain they wanted an adult narration driving the story forward, so they could avoid writing unnatural dialogue for the child actors. The narrator also made the show work for adult audiences, so it became a show for all ages. 
    • The show was not autobiographical, but it touched on shared experiences of many Americans, and because of that, it felt very authentic. 
  • The house in the pilot episode was a real house on a street in Burbank, California. It was perfect for the show because all of the trees looked young, just like the trees in the recently built suburban neighborhoods of the 1960s. 
  • Daniel Stern received the script so he could audition for the role of the narrator, and showed it to his brother, Dave. Dave then wrote a spec script for the show, and became the first writer hired by Carol and Neal! Just as the show was starting, there was a writer’s strike, so this script was helpful. 
    • All the auditions for the narrator were blind, meaning that the creators did not know anyone’s name or face. They chose actor Daniel Stern solely on his voice and ability to connect with the character. 
    • The showrunners would talk to the kids and sometimes put stories or lines in the script based on their ideas. 
  • When Carol Black and Neal Marlens were interviewing casting directors, almost all of them told them that no matter what they do, they should audition this child actor named Fred Savage. They saw some footage of his work and mailed him a pilot script. Later on, Savage would say that it was his parents that decided that it was worth it to fly to California for an audition. Fred got the part and became one of the biggest child stars of the 90s. 
  • The creators searched for a month to find someone to play Winnie Cooper, the lead female character opposite Fred Savage. Danica McKellar and her sister Crystal were both finalists for the role. For them, acting was just a hobby and not a career, and their mother would normally not allow them to audition for a pilot episode of a show for that reason. However, the role at this stage in development was actually a one-off, so their mother allowed them to audition. Both girls were equally talented, and the role eventually went to Danica, because she had dark hair that matched Fred Savage’s hair. The writers created another character for her sister to play, as well. 
  • When they were writing the parents, Carol and Neal considered the generational divide that was happening between parents and their kids in the 1960s. It’s something that occurs with every generation, but there had been so much radical change throughout the decade, this issue really affected the family dynamic.
    • For Jack Arnold, Kevin’s father, they cast Dan Lauria. The creators were looking for someone who had an “everyman” feeling, a working-class person that audiences would connect to. Jack is meant to embody the classic 1960s father, a man that had sacrificed everything for his family, and just wants quiet at the end of the day. 
    • Alley Mills was cast as Norma Arnold, the peace-keeping matriarch of the Arnold family. The relationship dynamics between men and women had changed so much since the 1960s, many actresses that auditioned for the role played the character “too modern.” Mills understood that her role wasn’t to win the arguments with her male counterpart but to keep the harmony of the household. Mills also had great chemistry with Olivia d’Abo, who was cast as her teenage daughter. 
  • The Pilot episode was directed by Steve Miner with some scenes filmed at John Burroughs High School in California. 

MUSIC

  • W.G. “Snuffy” Walden composed the music for the show, notably the theme for Winnie Cooper. The music for the show is usually acoustic, giving it a more personal feeling. 

STARS

  • Narrated by Daniel Stern as the grown-up Kevin Arnold
    • According to Daniel Stern, he was hired to narrate the show but got fired after recording the pilot episode. Apparently, the show was concerned that Stern’s film career would make him unavailable to record. In his place, the show hired actor Arye Gross and his narration was heard in the pilot that aired on January 31st. Shortly after the pilot aired, the show asked Stern to return as the narrator.
  • Fred Savage as young Kevin Arnold
    • Fred is an actor and director that you may remember as the little boy in The Princess Bride.
  • Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper
    • Danica has since done several Hallmark movies but is also a mathematician who has written several children’s books about math.
  • Josh Saviano as Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer
    • Josh no longer acts and is now a lawyer.
  • Dan Lauria as his father Jack Arnold
    • Dan is an actor that has been in many things such as the tv show Sullivan and Son.
  • Alley Mills as his mother Norma Arnold
    • Alley is an actress and has most recently had a recurring role on The Bold and the Beautiful since 2006.  
  • Olivia d’Abo as his sister Karen Arnold
    • Olivia is an actress that was in Conan the Destroyer as Princess Jehnna.
  • Jason Harvey as his brother Wayne Arnold
    • Jason is an actor and tv producer. He was also in Back to the Future.


THE EPISODE

The pilot episode of The Wonder Years aired on January 31st, 1988, after the Super Bowl. It opened with the song, “A Little Help from my Friends,” sung by Joe Cocker. The show creators felt the song’s combination of vulnerability and levity was perfect for the show. Because they were unable to license anything by the Beatles, they went with the Joe Cocker version. They also felt that Cocker’s version was more emotionally raw. 

  • We see the actors through the silent home movies of the era, introducing the family dynamic and playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s. After the opening credits, we hear, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. Music is often a tool for transporting audiences to specific decades, and that technique is used often in The Wonder Years. For the first time, we hear the narration by Daniel Stern, who introduces the main conflict of the episode: Kevin Arnold’s first day of middle school. He refers to the late 1960s as a golden age for kids. 
  • Eventually, we meet Kevin Arnold, as he plays football on the street with some friends. We’re introduced to Winnie Cooper, the neighbor girl that used to be close with Kevin, and of course, we meet Kevin’s older brother Wayne. In this scene, we also meet Paul, Kevin’s best friend that’s allergic to everything. Paul was based on a real friend of co-creator Neal Marlens!
  • Wayne and Kevin get into a fight, and as Wayne is beating up his younger brother, Winnie Cooper’s older brother, Brian, yells for him to stop. The narration introduces Brian’s character as the epitome of cool, a 19-year-old that never stopped working on his El Camino. Even after he was drafted to fight in Vietnam, the car still sat out on blocks, as a reminder of “who really ran things.” Brian was played by Robert Mitchum’s grandson, Bentley Mitchum.  
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin and Paul eating dinner while we get a glimpse of the news coverage of the war on their TV. We meet Kevin’s mom, who pleads with Kevin not to make his father upset when he comes home from work. Kevin’s dad, Jack, walks in shortly after, exhausted from a long day. Soon we see all of the family at the table, including Kevin’s sister, Karen, and brother, Wayne. Norma, Kevin’s mother, hands his father a vodka tonic as the entire family starts to eat. 
    • Karen breaks the tense silence at the table by announcing that she, a teenager in 1968, is getting birth control pills, and the scene ends with the entire family arguing. 
  • The next scene opens with the song, “Both Sides, Now,” by Joni Mitchell, as we see a montage of Kevin’s summer memories, the last summer of his childhood. The next few scenes focus on Kevin and Paul as they prepare for the first day of school; looking over a copy of, “Our bodies, ourselves,” (while listening to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells) and Kevin attempting to wear the latest styles to the bus stop. Just after, Kevin and Paul encounter Winnie Cooper without her signature braids and glasses, with hot-ironed hair and stylish clothes, and going by the name Gwendolyn. 
  • As Kevin and Paul head into the school, the narrator tells us that the school had recently been renamed Robert F Kennedy High School, as many schools had been rebranded to honor the recently assassinated politician. 
  • Kevin’s first day of school isn’t going very well. In homeroom, a teacher recognizes him as Wayne’s brother, which essentially puts a target on his back. In the hall, a bully tosses a knife and some drugs in Kevin’s locker, threatening him in the process. And of course, his first class was phys ed. 
    • Robert Picardo, a brilliant physical comedian, played Kevin’s gym teacher, Coach Cutlip. He had “the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon.” 
    • Kevin gets called on to explain the jockstrap, as we hear the sound of a plane crashing in Kevin’s mind. 
  • It’s lunchtime, and Kevin and Paul are sitting together when Winnie Cooper comes to join them. Kevin’s nerves start to calm when his brother Wayne spots him and begins to make fun of him and Winnie. Kevin, angry and annoyed, grabs the apple off his tray and heads out of the cafeteria, when the vice principal stops him. He tells Kevin that if he leaves with the apple, he will get detention. When the vice principal stops him again, Kevin considers what Brian Cooper, Winnie’s older brother, would do in this situation. So, Kevin throws the apple into the cafeteria, landing him in deep trouble. 
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin in the vice principal’s office with his mother. It’s clear that he’s in trouble, but he has a hard time explaining why he did what he did. It isn’t until the end of the scene that we find out that Kevin’s father, Jack, is also in the room. Jack cracks his knuckles and says, “I’d like to take him home, now.” 
  • As Kevin rides home with his parents, he considers the fact that a physical punishment is in his near future, and he resolves to imagine that he’s his brother as his dad inevitably hits him for what he did. 
  • When the family arrives home, Karen and Wayne come out the front door to greet Kevin and their parents, looking distraught. There’s a long pause before Karen says the words, “Brian Cooper was killed.” The family stands in a moment of shocked silence, and Kevin’s father, who moments earlier was considering Kevin’s punishment, firmly places his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. 
  • Kevin decides to go for a walk at dusk, and as he heads to the woods, he comes across Winnie, sitting alone on a big rock. Kevin sat down and told her he was sorry. He pulls off his jacket and places it around her shoulders as the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge begins to play. Kevin and Winnie then share a kiss and a hug as the camera zooms out. The episode ends with the narration: “Whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs, or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes with its Dodge parked out front, and its white bread on the table, and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.” 
    • It was the first kiss for the characters and the actors. They were both incredibly nervous, and they had to do six different takes. Someone on the set clapped when the kids kissed, which made them feel even more self-conscious. Danica McKellar says that they used the 6th take because it was the only take when Kevin gently stroked Winnie’s hair. 
    • Fred also noted that he was so nervous that he was picking at the fake rock they sat on for the kiss.

HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • The very first episode aired after Super Bowl XXII on January 31st, 1988.
  • The show was so well-received that even more people tuned in the next week to watch the second episode! In 1988 The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series, and it had only released six episodes. The first episode was so well written that the network wanted to order 13 episodes, but the creators knew they could only handle six. 

THE NEW REBOOT ANNOUNCEMENT

  • In August, ABC released a trailer and officially announced that The Wonder Years was getting a reboot! The reboot is heavily influenced by the original series and takes place in the 1960s. However, the main difference is that the show centers around a black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, and their 12-year-old son Dean. It has Don Cheadle as the narrator and also stars Dulé Hill. It will be released shortly on September 22nd.

Over thirty years later, The Wonder Years continues to connect with audiences. When the show aired in 1988, parents watched it with their children, and today those children are sharing it with their kids. Every actor in the show has expressed nothing but affection for their time on the sitcom, especially Fred Savage, who feels lucky to have been part of something that is so special to so many people. 

The Wonder Years ran for five seasons, but the pilot episode is one of the show’s most iconic moments. The show found a way to appeal to every generation, not just the people that remember the 1960s. All of us can watch The Wonder Years and remember that confusing, magical, strange, and painful time in our lives; when we realized that the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes. We all know what it’s like to grow up, and when we watch The Wonder Years, we’re reminded that we didn’t have to grow up alone. 


SOURCES:

The Case of John Hughes

Good morning/afternoon/evening, class! Thank you for joining us once again for Back-to-School September. Last week, we gave you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. This week, we’re talking about a man that revolutionized the teen comedy genre, connecting with an entire generation of high-schoolers in a way no filmmaker had ever done before or since.

In the 1980’s, up-and-coming filmmakers weren’t jumping at the chance to make teen comedies. Along came John Hughes, a man that saw the current youth films as a means of entertaining adults much more than children. This was a man that never forgot what it was like to be a kid, to be treated as if your opinions are invalid. He remembered the complex social structure of high school, and what it meant to be an outsider. Hughes applied all of this to his films, becoming one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood. Of course, Hughes wouldn’t focus solely on the teen comedy, but it was this part of his career for which he would be most remembered. 

John Hughes is known as the king of the coming-of-age comedy. Even still today you will find teenagers watching his films. No matter how dated the movies become, there still exists a sense of timelessness to these films about teen life. 

Hughes was an autobiographical writer, imbuing his own life experiences into every story brought to the screen. Because of this, each one of his films was deeply human in a way that audiences everywhere could understand. So, come learn with us as we explore the life of this man that brought us so many wonderful movie memories!

FAMILY/YOUNG LIFE

  • John Hughes was born on February 18, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan. He was the second oldest child and the only son. His father was a salesman, and would sometimes struggle to support the family. The Hughes family often found themselves to be a lower-class family among wealthy suburban communities. As a result, class issues would one day be prominent plot points in his films. 
  • The Hughes family moved around often throughout John’s childhood, but stayed most prominently in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. Hughes was a constant observer of his suburban life. He would carry around a notebook and fill it with notes on the people he met, places he saw, and jokes that popped into his mind. He was rarely found without a notebook on his person, and he would use his childhood experiences to help him craft some of his most iconic stories. When John was 13, the family moved to Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago. This and Grosse Pointe would become the basis for Shermer, Illinois, the fictional town in which many of his films were based. John Hughes’ films had their own universe, with characters that John had imagined, but never even put in his films. He knew who lived where, who were friends, and who were related. 
    • In the beginning of The Breakfast Club, one character recites the zip code as 60062. This is the actual zip code for Northbrook, IL. However, as explained in Kirk Honeycutt’s book John Hughes: A Life in Film, the town was originally known as Shermerville, and one of its most prominent roads is named Shermer Road. 
    • Producers began to notice after working with John Hughes that most of the homes in his films had the same layout. Michelle Manning, who produced 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, has said that they were very similar to the home Hughes lived in as a teen. 
  • Hughes was an unpopular teenager, who was considered a problem student and reportedly had a rocky relationship with his parents. He found escape in film, and solace in music. When he got into making movies, he was determined to get the music right. Music was a big part of his writing process, as he often blasted British rock music while crafting his stories. Tarquin Gotch, a frequent music supervisor for Hughes’ films, referred to him as a “modern Frank Capra.” Hughes’ films examined American life, and he wanted the actors to feel involved in the process.
  • After high school, John Hughes attended the University of Arizona but dropped out before graduating. He moved back home and married the love of his life, a woman named Nancy that he had met while in high school. He was only 20-years-old at the time, and the couple ended up living in his parents’ basement until Hughes began a career in advertising. Eventually, he would become the creative director at the Leo Burnett Company, but he never lost his ambition to become a writer. John started ghostwriting for a comic strip called, The Berrys. He started submitting jokes to comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. John also became a freelance writer for Playboy Magazine. On business trips to New York, Hughes would visit the offices of The National Lampoon for assignments. 
    • The National Lampoon seemed to be the perfect place for a young comedic writer. They allowed their contributors to have their own unique voices, and although the magazine was raunchy and hip, it relied on nostalgia to connect with its audience. John became a contributing editor until he was offered a full-time job. John accepted, but kept his other job in advertising. This meant he had to work nonstop, even sometimes catching flights to New York during the workweek. 
  • John kept up both careers until the famed blizzard of 1978 grounded him in his Chicago-area home with his wife and son. John spent those days writing and reflecting on his career. He had seen his fellow writers in advertising become frustrated with their work, losing track of what they wanted to be. When John later spoke of this time, he said, “What if I’m sixty-five and retired with all my stock, my profit-sharing, my money, and I’m sitting on the porch thinking I should have been a writer–I wonder if I could have done it?” So, Hughes quit his advertising job and took a big pay cut to work at The National Lampoon. He continued to write parodies, including issues about family holidays and vacations; stories that would eventually make it to the big screen. 

FIRST PROJECTS

  • Over the course of his career, John Hughes wrote 37 films, produced 23, and directed eight. The first film project he worked on was a Jaws parody called, Jaws 3, People 0. The project was eventually pulled by a Universal Studios executive. Hughes then worked on a screenplay for National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex, but its star, John Belushi, passed away suddenly just days before filming was set to begin. Hughes’ script was thrown out and the film was made by another studio. After that, there was Delta House, a TV spinoff of Animal House, but it only lasted one season. 
  • After attending a high school reunion, John Hughes penned a script that would become his first screen credit. It was a horror/sex comedy called, National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. The film holds a lot of the notes and character archetypes that would become familiar in his later films, but ultimately it was a box office failure. 
  • John continued to write, and struck up a friendship with a young producer named Lauren Shuler (who would one day be Lauren Shuler Donner, as she married Richard Donner!) Lauren had called John to pitch a story, and their friendship led to him presenting her with the pages of an unfinished screenplay based on his days as a househusband when his wife went out of town. Lauren loved the pages and wanted to make the film. Learning from his early experiences in film, John decided to complete the script before bringing it to a studio. He realized that if someone paid him before the script was done, he had less creative freedom. This was how he preferred to work for the rest of his career.
  • This film would become Mr. Mom, a fairly successful comedy starring Michael Keaton. However, John Hughes was fired as a screenwriter during the production process, and two uncredited writers polished the screenplay. The film was not what John Hughes and Lauren Shuler Donner wanted to make, and the experience might have planted the seeds for John Hughes’ famous distaste for Hollywood in the years to come. 
  • While writing for The National Lampoon, John Hughes published a story called Vacation ‘58, based on his childhood family vacations. It followed The Griswold Family and their ill-fated trip from Grosse Pointe, Michigan to Walt Disneyland in California. Marty Simmons, the owner of the Lampoon eventually shared the story with an executive from Warner Brothers, and soon the project was underway with John Hughes as the screenwriter. Because the studio wanted to draw in Saturday Night Live fans, they cast Caddyshack star Chevy Chase as the lead. Harold Ramis signed on to direct, and John adapted his screenplay to match Chase’s comedic delivery. The story stayed generally the same, but Hughes built on his younger characters, giving them more personality. The original ending didn’t do well with audiences, and Hughes was forced to do a rewrite where the family actually did arrive at their destination: Wally World. Because of the rewrite, comedian John Candy was added to the cast, playing a hilarious guard at the vacant park. Candy would become synonymous with John Hughes in later years, and the two were very close friends. The new ending did well, and Vacation was a hit. It essentially created a new genre of film, the family road trip. 
  • Now that Hughes had two major successes under his belt, it wasn’t hard for him to find screenwriting jobs. He quit his job at the Lampoon and was on his way to directing his first feature film. 

A FEW OF HIS MOST INFLUENTIAL MOVIES

  • John Hughes was a rare man in his field. He was a midwestern conservative, working amongst Hollywood liberals. He held a disdain for authority (something he picked up from his youth) and a distrust of Hollywood bigwigs. Instead of filming in Los Angeles like many other filmmakers, John liked to film in Chicago, away from the big studios. He hated studio notes and wanted freedom. A few of his films were filmed in the New Trier Township High School, an abandoned school! Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, and Home Alone were all shot here. Filming in the midwest also meant taking young actors away from their friends and the partying scene in California. But most of all, John Hughes was an autobiographical filmmaker. His stories took place in the midwest because that’s where he was from, and so that’s where they would be filmed. 

So let’s talk about some of John Hughes’ most influential films. We won’t have a chance to talk about all of them. So let us know if we missed your favorite or if you’d like us to cover any of these in a future episode!

  • SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)
    • In the early 1980’s, one of Hollywood’s biggest agents was circulating a script for a teen comedy. Many studios were interested, but the major hang-up was that the screenwriter, John Hughes, wanted to direct the film as well. Producer Michelle Manning mentioned the screenplay while in a job interview with filmmaker Ted Tanen. Tanen liked giving first-time directors a chance, and was interested in the idea. Manning contacted Hughes, and they were able to strike a deal for Sixteen Candles. 
    • When the agency ICM first agreed to represent John Hughes, they gave him a batch of headshots for potential actors in his films. Hughes fixated on one photo in particular, and placed the photo over his workspace as he wrote Sixteen Candles. The photo was of Molly Ringwald, and in John’s mind, she had already been cast in the leading role. Hughes also decided that Anthony Michael Hall, who had appeared in Vacation should play the film’s famous geek character. 
    • Sixteen Candles relies heavily on high school tropes like the jock, the geek, the prom queen, and the wallflower. But, it unexpectedly turned the unspoken rule of the teen comedy on its head. Audiences were shocked and delighted when the quiet girl got the surprisingly sensitive jock at the end, instead of learning some kind of hard lesson. One of the film’s biggest surprises was Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) touching conversation with her father, and the empathy that he shows his teenage daughter. 
    • This was Hughes’ breakout as a director and started his meteoric rise as the king of teen comedy. Of course, there are components in the film that do not pass the test of time. Featured prominently is a foreign exchange student that plays into hurtful stereotypes. It’s also hard for modern audiences to brush aside the casual attitude toward date rape, which seems to be prominent throughout the film.
  • THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
    • True to his style, he filmed this as well in small-town high schools, this time in Illinois. This forced the cast to become closer as there were not many entertainment options in town. The most common things they would do were to go to the Hughes home for dinner or go to see a blues band together.
    • Judd Nelson would stay in character as Bender, even after scenes were shot. This almost cost him the role as Hughes noticed that he would continue to treat Molly Ringwold terribly. Hughes felt responsible for her and therefore wanted Michelle Manning to fire him. It was worked out however when Manning discussed the issue with his manager/live-in girlfriend, Laurie Rodkin. After that it was never an issue again.
    • In order for Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez to understand the divisions between jocks and the outcasts, Hughes sent them back to high school. Nobody seemed to recognize Judd, but unfortunately for the experiment, Emilio was recognized almost immediately. 
    • As the set was being built, the cast began getting ready for rehearsals. John had a few different drafts of the script. After Emilio asked to see them, John brought all of them in for the cast to look through. Each actor read through them and picked out the pieces from each script that they felt connected with their characters. Hughes spent that night cutting and pasting those pieces together and presented a new script the very next morning. 
    • The film was actually shot in continuity, and the Principal was based on a real gym teacher of Hughes’s that did not like his attitude!
    • This film is what brought about the term “Brat Pack.” The term refers to teens that often appeared in multiple movies together in the 80’s. For example, Hughes knew after Sixteen Candles that he wanted Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald to be in this movie as well. The ensemble group of talented kids did not take kindly to the term and even stopped hanging out all the time because of it.
  • WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
    • Directed and wrote
  • FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
    • Directed by and wrote
    • The screenplay was written in just seven days, though Hughes claimed he did it in four. Hughes was famous for writing his stories in short, manic bursts. 
    • The name Ferris Bueller came from Hughes’s long term friend Bert Bueller and the character of Sloane was based on his wife.
    • To help immerse the actors Hughes drove them around the Chicago town, showing them the sights and talking about his life as a high schooler. As he did this he put cassettes into the player with the songs that he intended to run throughout the movie.
    • When Broderick first met with Hughes Pretty in Pink was going to be released soon. As the pair walked and talked Hughes plastered Pretty in Pink stickers on every lamp post. He was brilliant at advertising. Hughes would pen a newsletter, and it would be mailed out to many fans of which he had a database from all the fan mail Hughes Entertainment received.
  • PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
    • Written by
    • John Hughes continued his reign as the teen comedy king with Pretty in Pink, another classic starring Molly Ringwald. It was named after a 1981 Psychedelic Furs song that Hughes liked, and even included in the film. In fact, Hughes selected about 90% of the film’s soundtrack. 
    • This movie continued to explore the difficulties of living in a working class family, surrounded by upper class peers. It also featured one of Hughes’ most iconic ‘80s characters, Duckie, played by Jon Cryer. 
    • Duckie was a classic Hughes geek, a guy that has everything going for him but doesn’t know it. According to Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald was uncertain of his taking the role, she reportedly wanted Robert Downey Junior to play the character. 
    • In the original ending, Ringwald’s character, Andie, ends up with Duckie. But, test audiences didn’t like this ending. So, the crew reshot the ending to have her character end up with Blane, the rich boy played by the dreamy Andrew McCarthy. There were many challenges to the reshoot, including the fact that Andrew McCarthy had shaved his head and had to wear a wig.  
  • PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)
    • Directed and wrote
    • This movie has become the perfect model for future buddy comedies. The two characters are forced together into situations where they must walk in the other’s shoes.
    • When Steve Martin read the screenplay and accepted the part, he noticed that it was a hefty 145 pages. The typical for a comedy would be about 90. When Martin asked what would be cut, Hughes looked at him quizzically and Martin realized that Hughes did not plan to cut a thing!
    • The movie, while only modestly successful at the time, became treasured by Hughes and many others. Roger Ebert even said in a tribute article that it is in his “Great Movie Collection.”
  • SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987)
    • Written by
  • NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
    • In 1988, John Hughes wrote and directed She’s Having a Baby, a deeply personal film and probably his most autobiographical. However, the film didn’t do very well, despite the star power of Kevin Bacon and Alec Baldwin. Some theorize that because this film didn’t find the same success as his other projects, John began moving away from personal stories for films. 
    • In 1989, two of Hughes’ films premiered. They were Uncle Buck and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Both did fairly well at the box office, with Christmas Vacation eventually becoming a holiday staple in many American households. Critics felt that the film lacked the magic of the original, as it had less of a cohesive plot and more of a string of hilarious holiday mishaps jumbled together in a film. This would be the final Vacation film written by John Hughes, though two more would be made–one in 1997 and 2015. 
  • HOME ALONE (1990)
    • After working with Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck, John Hughes thought it would be interesting to have a movie centered around a 9 year old. He had thoroughly enjoyed working with Macaulay after never having worked with that age group before.
    • Chris Columbus, who directed the film, expressed that he was afraid that nobody would give him another shot at directing after his recent flop Heartbreak Hotel. John Hughes, however, had faith in him and liked his style. Chris was originally supposed to direct the previous Christmas movie we just talked about but had difficulties with Chevy Chase. Chevy refused to take direction from him because he saw Chris as too new to know anything about directing properly. Hughes therefore brought Chris on to direct Home Alone! Since Chris was also a writer, the script went back and forth between the two until they felt it was ready. It was then pitched to Warner Brothers, who said that they would make it for the low budget of 10 million dollars. When they inevitably surpassed that budget (though not by much to 14.7 million), Warner Brothers shut down the project. We almost didn’t have this Christmas joy.
      • Luckily Hughes was behind the project as its writer and had secretly met with his friend Tom Jacobson at 20th Century Fox. When Tom and chairman Joe Roth heard the storyline, the 14.7 million dollar budget, and that Hughes was fighting with WB they said they would make it! All they had to do was wait for WB to officially pull the plug because legally they weren’t really supposed to know about the project while another studio owned it. Once the phone call came, those that knew about the switch had to feign sadness and fear before calling up 20th Century Fox to seamlessly continue the picture.
    • Chris Columbus said that John Hughes was a director’s dream, essentially staying offset except when John Candy arrived for his scenes. He was receptive to ideas, and allowed Columbus to add his own touch to the story, giving it more heart to balance out the slapstick humor.     
    • All the sets for the insides of the house were built in New Trier Township High School, including the scene when the house is flooding. The crew knew that the set would leak due to all the water, so they built it right in the school’s empty swimming pool!
    • Hughes’ close friend and colleague John Candy made an extended cameo in the film, appearing on set for 23 hours of shooting. He appeared in the film as a favor to Hughes, and was paid even less than the pizza delivery boy that appears in the early scenes of the film.  
    • Some believe this was John Hughes last greatest film, and in later years he would move away from autobiographical works and films focused on midwestern families. 
  • HONORABLE MENTIONS
    • Baby’s Day Out (1994)
    • Beethoven
    • Flubber
    • 101 Dalmatians

AWARDS

  • John Hughes was the epitome of a cult classic. He wasn’t universally loved in Hollywood, and held grudges that, as Molly Ringwald would later put it, “were almost supernatural things.” But, the man certainly had a following, and still does to this day. Despite connecting with and influencing generations, he didn’t win very many awards. 
  • In 2020, Hughes was posthumously inducted into the OFTA Hall of Fame. In 1991, he won the Showest award for Producer of the Year
  • On a more negative note, Hughes won two “Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.” One was “Worst Resurrection of a TV show” for Dennis the Menace. The other was “Worst screenplay for a film grossing more than 100 million” for Flubber

DEATH AND LEGACY

In August of 2009, John Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting family in New York. He was 59. The news of his sudden death shocked and saddened his collaborators, including the young actors that started their careers with Hughes. Hughes had continued to write until his death, with his last credit being Drillbit Taylor. At the 82nd Oscars, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Matthew Broderick, John Cryer, and Macaulay Culkin all paid tribute to John Hughes. This included a montage of his most well-known films, ending with a classic moment from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast; If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

John Hughes was one of a kind. He didn’t do things the normal way, the popular way. In reality, Hughes was the outsider that he put on screen. He was a man that never forgot how it felt to be a teenager, with all the anxieties of life, but none of the respect of adulthood. He talked to his actors, young and old, as if they were his collaborators and not his employees. And because of this, he created art that resonated with millions of people.  

Not only did John Hughes give voice to the younger generations in his movies, he helped to launch the careers of so many others around him. John Hughes was funny and strange, intelligent and to some, frustrating. But, he made meaningful connections to audiences and his fellow filmmakers that would last a lifetime. In a foreword for Kurt Honeycutt’s book John Hughes a Life in Film, Chris Columbus wrote, “John’s films have inspired a few generations and they will continue to do so for many, many more decades. His work has profoundly changed millions of lives. I know that he profoundly changed mine. Without John, I may not still be directing today. I owe everything that’s happened in my cinematic life over the past twenty-five years to John Hughes.”

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The Case That Went Back to School

We all know the feeling. You’re playing outside on a hot August day, and suddenly a cool breeze hits your face as a yellow bus drives by, running a test route for the coming school year. You go inside and hear a particularly catchy Office Max commercial boasting about their school supplies sale. Your heart falls as a parent hands you a letter from your school containing a message from your new teacher. You look around, wondering where the summer went. 

Well, August is over, and school is officially back in session! So grab your pencils and your composition notebooks! It’s Back to School September! In this first episode of the month, we decided to give you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. 

ADAM’S PICK: SCHOOL OF ROCK 

Synopsis

  • The film stars Jack Black playing a struggling rock guitarist named Dewey Finn. The story begins with Dewey’s band kicking him out for his over-the-top rock and roll shenanigans. Out of a job and in desperate need of money, he disguises himself as his roommate, a substitute teacher, and accepts a job at a prep school. After witnessing the musical talent of the students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-graders under the guise of a school project to attempt to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands.

Production

  • School of Rock was directed by Richard Linklater, produced by Scott Rudin, and written by Mike White. White called up his friend and once-neighbor Jack Black to pitch an idea for a film, partly inspired by the Langley Schools Music Project of the 1970s. Recorded in 1976–77, it is a collection of children’s choruses singing pop hits of the time, from the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. They were found and re-released 25 years later in 2001. So basically, the world’s first Kidz Bop! (Which, by the way, was first released in 2001 as well!)
  • Some additional inspiration came from Jack Black. He said he once witnessed a stage dive gone wrong involving a man named Ian Astbury of rock band The Cult. This story made its way into the opening of the film. 
  • Much of the film was shot on location in New York City. For the interior shots of the school, the film uses the Main Hall at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. According to some of the children in the movie, the different hallway scenes were all shot in one hallway with slight changes to the walls. 

Music

  • The movie is obviously filled to the brim with many well-known rock and roll songs, including top bands and artists such as AC/DC, The Doors, Kiss, Black Sabbath, The Who, Metallica, The Black Keys, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie, and much more. If you are looking for a great selection of rock to jam to, look no further than School of Rock. 
  • Musician James Jr. of the band The Mooney Suzuki and screenwriter Mike White wrote the title track, “School of Rock.” The Mooney Suzuki played as backup for the child musicians on the soundtrack recording of the song. 
  • One interesting thing to note is that the soundtrack also includes “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. For years, the band had been known to be stingy with the use of their music in media. Director Richard Linklater had first-hand experience with this issue, as he wanted to use their song, “Dazed and Confused,” in his 1993 film of the same name. So, Linklater filmed a video of Jack Black standing on the stage used at the end of the film, begging the band for permission to use the song. According to Jack Black, about 1000 extras were chanting behind him. After receiving the video, the three living members of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones) granted permission for the song.

Cast

  • Jack Black as Dewey Finn
    • A very well-known actor who has been in many things. Films such as Kung Fu Panda, Goosebumps, Nacho Libre, and Jumanji: The Next Level, to name a few.
  • Joan Cusack as Principal Rosalie Mullins
    • Cusack is another very well-known actress who has had a very successful career since the 80s. Some of her top movies include, In & Out, Working Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 
  • Mike White as Ned Schneebly
    • Primarily known as a writer for shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Nacho Libre, and the screenplay of Pitch Perfect 3.
  • Sarah Silverman as Patty Di Marco, Ned’s girlfriend
    • Silverman is a comedian who was on Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, Robot Chicken, and more recently provided voices on Bob’s Burgers.

-All the kid cast members had rock and roll names in the movie and throughout production.

  • Miranda Cosgrove as Summer “Tinkerbell” Hathaway (band manager)
    • Unsurprisingly, she went on to have a hugely successful acting career after School of Rock. Especially with iCarly being as popular as it was.
  • Joey Gaydos Jr. as Zack “Zack-Attack” Mooneyham (lead guitar)
    • After School of Rock, Joey quit acting and instead decided to focus on his music.
  • Kevin Clark as Freddy “Spazzy McGee” Jones (drums)
    • Sadly, he passed away in May of this year at age 32.
  • Rivkah Reyes as Katie “Posh Spice” (bass)
    • She still plays bass and is part of the band Sweet Revenge. She has also appeared in several other titles on-and-off since the movie.
  • Robert Tsai as Lawrence “Mr. Cool” (keyboards)
    • He has also left acting and still plays concert piano.
  • Maryam Hassan as Tomika “Turkey Sub” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She is a musician under the name Mayhrenate, and as of this year, she has released a few singles and one album.   
  • Aleisha Allen as Alicia “Brace Face” (lead and backing vocals)
    • Her career as an actor started as the voice of Sidetable Drawer on Blue’s Clues and has been in various other films since School of Rock. 
  • Caitlin Hale as Marta “Blondie” (lead and backing vocals)
    • She took a break from acting to focus on her studies and would later graduate from Arizona State with a degree in journalism.
  • Brian Falduto as Billy “Fancy Pants” (band stylist)
    • He is no longer an actor, but he does sing and is a successful life coach.
  • Angelo Massagli as Frankie “Tough Guy” (security)
    • After School of Rock, he featured in some titles, including Stuart Little 2 and The Sopranos. Also, as a side note, he and Catlin Hale are currently a couple.
  • Cole Hawkins as Leonard “Short Stop” (security)
    • He has been in a few movies before and after School of Rock and has had appearances in Law and Order: SVU.
  • Z Infante as Gordon “Roadrunner” (assistant, lights)
    • They have continued acting and were in the TV series Gotham and the 2016 film Carrie Pilby.
  • James Hosey as Marco “Carrot Top” (assistant, special effects)
    • He has been in a few TV series since School of Rock, such as Boardwalk Empire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Reception

  • The opening in 2003 was well-received, grossing $131 million worldwide on a $35 million budget. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise for Black’s performance and humor. It was the highest-grossing music-themed comedy of all time until 2015 when surpassed by Pitch Perfect 2. Due to this success, a stage musical adaptation was developed for Broadway in 2015, and a television adaptation also made its way to Nickelodeon in 2016.
  • The film received several awards and nominations, including a Movies for Grownups Award for “Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up.” It won Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards and a Grammy nomination for “Best Compilation Soundtrack Album.” Additionally, Jack Black received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and won an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance.
  • In 2013, a 10th-anniversary screening of the film was held in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theatre. Those in attendance included director Richard Linklater, Jack Black, Mike White, and most of the young cast members. The event had a red carpet, a full cast and crew Q&A after the screening, and a VIP after-party performance by the School of Rock band where they reportedly played “School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet),” “The Legend of The Rent,” “Step Off” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

ROBIN’S PICK: DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

  • Why I Chose it: 
    • Middle school was not a good time for me. I was just as weird and awkward as I am now, but in a cesspool of mean and unaccepting pre-teens. Marci and I had just started going to a new school, which is actually how we met Adam! But alas, Adam was one of the few bright spots in this otherwise bleak time. Am I being dramatic? Probably, but I think anyone who was an awkward middle-schooler might relate. 
    • In middle school we had a computer class elective, and were allowed to spend free time on approved websites. One such site was called, “Funbrain,” and was filled with games and comics. This is where I first discovered an online web series that I really identified with. It followed an awkward middle school kid as he navigated the perils of growing up. It was called, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
    • It may sound silly now, coming from a woman who is just south of 30, but this comic really helped me get through school. I actually remember when Jeff Kinney, the creator, hinted that he may someday make a book! About three years later, the first book of the series hit shelves, and the rest is history. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a huge franchise made of 11 books and four feature films. Greg Heffley, the series’ main protagonist, even has a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 
    • In 2010, when I had grown from an awkward pre-teen to an awkward teenager, I went to see the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid in theaters. Of course, I was past the age of the target audience, but I still went with my younger sister and our mom. To my delight, the movie was entertaining, funny, and downright adorable. I still think it is one of the best back-to-school movies out there, so I chose to talk about it today!
  • Synopsis
    • Greg Heffley is nervous for his first day of middle school. As many of his peers have experienced early growth spurts, Greg is one of the smallest boys in school. Determined to have a great year, Greg devises a series of schemes with his best friend Rowley, in an attempt to achieve popularity. As each plan backfires, Greg and Rowley learn more and more about growing up. 
  • Production Behind the Scenes – Diary of a Wimpy Kid 
    • Directed by Thor Freudenthal, Diary of a Wimpy Kid premiered in March of 2010. The film was a faithful adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s bestselling book series of the same name, with some scenes created and staged based solely on the cartoonist’s illustrations. 
      • Thor had worked as a special effects artist and animator before becoming a director, which would be great experiences for him to build on for this project. He wanted to use whatever film techniques necessary to create the feel of a comic-turned-film. This meant blending animation and live-action in some sequences, and finding an animation studio that could bring Jeff Kinney’s work to life, while maintaining its style and charm. 
      • One of his favorite scenes to shoot was the “cheese touch” sequence, which had been planned from the very beginning of the production process. The cheese itself is a character, and its creation was a group effort between the prop designer and the team at Custom Film Effects, who used CGI to update the look of the cheese throughout the film. 
    • Writers Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah all worked on the screenplay. Sachs has said that adapting a book of funny, episodic stories was difficult. The writers had to create a through-line story that connected these silly moments that Greg would write about in his diary. The writers decided to focus the film on the relationship between Greg and his best friend, Rowley, and the challenges young friends face as they grow up together. 
      • The screenplay went through 10 different drafts before 20th Century Fox settled on a final version. 
    • They auditioned 5000 kids across the US and Canada before filming the movie in Vancouver. Zachary Gordon won the part with an audition using the title sequence monologue of the movie. Freudenthal said that he stood out because he was such a likable kid, who really brought a layered performance. Gordon was able to act with a cockiness and snark that clearly masked someone with a lot of insecurities. 
  • Music
    • Theodor Shapiro composed the music for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, crafting a main theme that is reminiscent of Vincer Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy. Shapiro has scored many film projects like Tropic Thunder and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most recently he scored The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+. 
  • Cast 
    • Zachary Gordon as Greg Heffley
      • Writer Jeff Kinney first created Greg Heffley in 1998, the same year that Zachary Gordon was born. Eleven years later, Gordon would be cast as the character. Before the film was even in production, Gordon had read the book and told his mom that he wanted to play Greg if they ever made the movie. 
      • Gordon starred in the next two Wimpy Kid films. He has a recurring role on the TV series “Good Trouble.” 
    • Devon Bostick as Roderick Heffley
      • Thor Freudenthal said on the DVD commentary that Bostick was one of the biggest surprises that came with making this film. He is a very talented actor, and really brought Roderick’s character alive as a gleefully mean older brother. 
      • Bostick had a recurring role on the TV series The 100, and has appeared in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. 
    • Robert Capron as Rowley Jefferson
      • Capron was very popular with the adults on set, as he was much like his character, Rowley. In one scene, he famously dances to the Beastie Boys song, “Intergalactic” with his real-life and on-screen mother!
      • Capron has recently done a lot of voice work, and will reprise his role as Rowley for an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and TV show! 
    • Rachel Harris as Susan Heffley
      • An experienced comedic and dramatic actor, Harris has recurring roles in Suits and Lucifer. She is also known for her role in The Hangover.  
    • Steve Zahn as Frank Heffley
      • Steven Zahn would bring a lot of ideas to his role as Frank Heffley, adding hilarious pieces to his character. He perfectly encapsulated the Frank Heffley of the book, a seemingly angry and annoyed man that, deep down, was off-beat and silly. 
    • Chloe Grace Moretz as Angie Steadman
      • Moretz’s character was not in the book, and was added by the writers to help give the story more depth. Director Thor Freudenthal noted that the book doesn’t have any main female characters, and that most of the girls are all drawn similarly. He read this as an indication that Greg doesn’t understand girls, and therefore doesn’t know how to represent them. The character Angie also serves as a, quote, “jiminy cricket” character to Greg, showing up and questioning his decisions.
      • Moretz recently starred in the film “Tom and Jerry,” but is also known for her roles in “Hugo” and “Kick-Ass.” 
    • Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta
      • Part of the reason that the film works so well is because it focuses on mundane issues, blown out of proportion from a child’s perspective. Karan Brar as Chirag Gupta really sold his scenes by delivering his lines in a dramatic way.
      • Brar had never acted before but has since been in a lot of projects, including the Disney show Jessie
    •   Grayson Russel as Fregley 
      • Russel was perfect for the role of the off-beat and unusual Fregley. He is also set to reprise his role in the animated film! 
  • Reception
    • Although the movie wasn’t highly promoted, it still made well over its budget with a worldwide gross of over 76 million dollars. It also gained respectable critical reviews. Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 out of four stars and called it, “a bright little charmer.” He said in his review: “It is so hard to do a movie like this well. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is a PG-rated comedy about the hero’s first year of middle school, and it’s nimble, bright and funny. It doesn’t dumb down. It doesn’t patronize. It knows something about human nature. It isn’t as good as “A Christmas Story,” as few movies are, but it deserves a place in the same sentence. Here is a family movie you don’t need a family to enjoy. You must, however, have been a wimpy kid. Most kids are wimpy in their secret hearts.”

MARCI’S PICK: BACK TO SCHOOL

  • For my pick we head back to college! It portrays a wilder college experience, especially because it is an 80’s movie version of college. Although some of the humor may be dated it still brings about all the embarrassment, pressure, and fun that school has to offer.
  • Synopsis
    • Thornton Melon is a self-made millionaire that got his riches without attending college. He becomes worried that his son Jason is unsure about finishing college and Thornton therefore makes a deal with him that he will attend college as well. Hilarity ensues as Thornton falls in love with Professor Diane Turner and uses his riches to get through his courses while his son Jason falls for another student and tries to make the cut for the diving team.
  • Production
    • Grand Lakes University was actually portrayed by three different colleges: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Southern California, and California State University.
      • The divers in the movie were expert college divers! They were told to perform their worst as the Grand Lakes University team.
    • Originally the idea was that the character of Thornton would be a struggling father that would need to work and do dishes in order to just be there. The team was having trouble getting the script right and so one night director Alan Metter was talking with Harold Ramis.
      • Ramis said he would rather go back to college after he had all the money and resources so he could just have fun and “get laid.” This led the script to be changed to what it is now.
    • When casting his love interest was a difficult job, they needed someone kind and warm but that set his sights higher than you might expect for a comedy such as this. They talked to so many women but Sally Kellerman really stood out when she came in.
    • They packed the entire movie with jokes!
    • The first scene shot was Rodney walking across the campus in his bathrobe. Metter felt that it would break the ice since everyone was so nervous for shooting.
    • One of the funniest and most impressive things in this movie is when Thornton does The Triple Lindy dive into the pool. This dive was about 6 different dives put together and Rodney of course had a stunt double, Michael Ostovich. He didn’t actually have to land on the other boards. In order to make it look like it was actually Rodney they did a cast of his face to create a mask. They also used foam rubber to make the stomach. Michael Ostovich wore all this and put an old diving suit on to cover the fake belly. The first time getting it all on took 6 hours. Rodney avoided him because it would just freak him out.
    • Rodney was the glue. The talent was all amazing and that helped make this movie great.
  • Music
    • Danny Elfman composed the music for the movie. The director made the condition that Elfman and his band Oingo Boingo must be in the movie. So much to our delight they are in the party scene playing Dead Man’s Party.
  • Cast
    • Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon
      • Rodney took a little while to find his footing as an actor but once he did it was gold. You may know him from other things such as Caddyshack!
    • Sally Kellerman as Dr. Diane Turner
      • Sally appeared in MASH and several other things.
    • Keith Gordon as Jason Melon
      • He is an actor and now a director as well, directing the FX show Fargo.
    • Terry Farrell
      • She plays the love interest for Jason and was one of the last people cast. She was so charming that she got the part. They were only a smidge reluctant because she is taller than Keith Gordon. It ended up being no problem however and the two seemed to enjoy kissing!
      • She is also known for being in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • And plenty of others such as Robert Downey Jr. as his friend Derek Lutz! He at the time was also starring in SNL. Also William Zabka as Chas who is known for playing bad guys but did not want to make this character evil.
  • Reception
    • The Chicago Tribune called it “the surprise hit of the summer.”
    • With a budget of a mere $11 million, it grossed an impressive $91 million in the US making it the second highest grossing comedy of ‘86.
    • Roger Ebert said that “The most interesting thing about “Back to School,” which is otherwise a pleasant but routine comedy, is the puzzle of Rodney Dangerfield. Here is a man who reminds us of some of the great comedians of the early days of the talkies – of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields – because, like them, he projects a certain mystery. Marx and Fields were never just being funny. There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It’s the same with Dangerfield.”
  • Fun Facts
    • Jim Carrey almost got the part of the screaming Professor Terguson but it was decided that he was too young to be the professor and so it went to Sam Kinison instead. Sam improvised to shock the students and it worked, those were real reactions.
    • Dangerfield’s final oral exam room may look familiar as it is also where the dance scene from Flashdance happened!
    • Kurt Vonnegut loved the lines about him and thought they were hilarious.

Well kids (of all ages) we know that the end of summer can be sad, but at least you have these movies to get you through it. Summer will always live on in our hearts, and help us find something good about every season…even the season that makes you go back to school. 

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

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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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’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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The Case of the Animated Hidden Gems

Happy Animation April! Last year, we packed this month with several historical episodes about the beautiful artform of animation. This year, we’re starting the month with something a little different. 

The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, and Toy Story are all beloved animated classics that have stood the test of time. But today, we won’t be talking about any of them. Every once in a while, a beautiful animated movie will hit theaters, and do…okay. They can have great stories, wonderful performances, and innovative design, but people just won’t go to see it. Sometimes it’s because the studio doesn’t have enough name recognition. Other times it’s because of marketing, or because the movie looks strange and took risks, and people like the familiar. Why do you think Disney still makes princess movies? Because it’s what the people want. Why are all the Marvel movies the same; allow me to answer by directing you to my previous sentence.

So today, we each picked a movie that we felt deserved a little more exposure. These are films we love, that if you haven’t seen, we recommend you give them a chance. Here are our animated hidden gems!  

ADAM- SURF’S UP (2007)

SYNOPSIS

  • Surfing means everything to teenage penguin Cody Maverick. Followed by a documentary film crew, he leaves his home in Shiverpool, Antarctica for PenGu Island, site of the Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Cody wants to be respected and admired, and he believes that only winning the competition will bring him that. However, an encounter with washed-up surfer Geek, teaches Cody about what is truly important.

PRODUCTION

  • Surf’s Up is a mockumentary comedy film directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck. Starting production in 2002, it was Sony Pictures Animation’s second theatrical feature film after Open Season. It is a parody of surfing documentaries, such as The Endless Summer and Riding Giants. 
  • Early on in production, one of the first things they did was take the entire crew and actors to the beach to take surfing lessons. It was to get a sense of the characters’ lifestyle as well as to take in the majesty of the ocean and waves. They were looking for a balance between the fun and flair of surfing, with the danger and power of the ocean. 
    • The animators even designed a unique rig just for the waves, so they could be properly realized. 
  • For this movie, the directors wanted to nail the documentary feel. Most documentaries have someone with a camera trying to capture spontaneous moments and it’s often rough and jittery. To obtain the desired hand-held organic feel, the film’s animation team used, an at the time, groundbreaking motion-capture technology that utilized a physical camera and a live operator’s movements. It was a camera that filmed a digital environment through the viewfinder, with another small camera on top that senses the outside room. This allows the camera operation to move around in the virtual space while the digital images stay in their place. 
  • In another unusual move, the directors decided to have voice recording sessions done live in person with multiple actors together. Usually voice acting is done in a small booth with one actor being fed lines to say in various ways. But for Surf’s up they didn’t want the dialogue to sound like it was planned out or being read from a page. This was crucial to creating the documentary, “this is happening right in front of us” feel. 
    • Ash Brannon said in a behind the scenes interview talking about creating real chemistry, “We encouraged them to overlap each other and just be themselves. People recognize real conversation. It just has a different sound to it than a scripted movie. Everything about the way you talk changes when you are talking face to face.” 
    • Shia LaBeouf also recalled being told that they were willing to do three hours of ad libbing for a five second moment on screen. Many of Cody’s (the main character) lines were in fact adlibs. 
  • Real-life surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado make appearances as their penguin surfer counterparts along with Sal Masekela, the announcer for the X-Games. They were originally brought on as consultants for the film, but the directors got the idea to create an in universe sports network to add to the feeling of authenticity, and they were the perfect voices for the job. 

VOICES

  • Shia LaBeouf as Cody Maverick
    • Known for many movies including Holes, Transformers and Disturbia. 
  • Jeff Bridges as Zeke “Big Z/Geek” 
    • Also a well known actor from films like Tron: Legacy, The Big Lebowski and True Grit.
  • Zooey Deschanel as Lani
    • She is in many things such as 500 Days of Summer, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but may be most currently known for her role in New Girl.
  • Jon Heder as Chicken Joe
    • Most famous for playing Napoleon Dynamite he is also in Blades of Glory, and provided a voice in Monster House. 
  • Mario Cantone as Mikey
    • He is an actor that is know mainly for his part in Sex and the City (both the show and movies.)
  • James Woods as Reggie Belafonte
    • A famous voice that we all know from Hercules. But he was also in things like  Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and the 2006 version of E.R.
  • Diedrich Bader as Tank Evans
    • A voice actor for numerous cartoons and games, he was also in Office Space and Napoleon Dynamite.
  • Kelly Slater as the penguin version of himself
    • Known for an unprecedented 11 world surfing championship wins and is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional surfers of all time.
  • Rob Machado as the penguin version of himself
    • Machado has won the Hawaii’s Pipeline Masters (which is called the Triple Crown of Surfing), and the U.S. Open of Surfing, the largest surfing event held on the U.S. mainland.
    • He also hosts and participates in an annual event held at his home reef called the “Rob Machado Surf Classic and Beach Fair” which is an amateur competition for the locals of all ages.
  • Selema “Sal” Mabena Masekela as himself (sports tv announcer)
    • He is an American television host, sports commentator, actor and singer. He was also the voice of the X-games for 13 years, including the time this movie came out.

MUSIC

  • Surf’s Up: Original Ocean Picture Score was composed for the film by Mychael Danna.
    • He also did the recent Onward with his brother Jeff Danna as well as the new Addams Family and The Good Dinosaur.
  • The soundtrack for this film is made up of many popular rock, punk rock, and alternative rock bands from all around North America and The UK. 
    • Ex: Green Day, Pearl Jam, Incubus, Sugar Ray.
    • According to the film’s end credits, the version of “Wipe Out” heard in the film is actually performed by The Queers. The official soundtrack includes this version under the pseudonym “Big Nose”, for marketing purposes. It is to this day, the only song under that name. 

RECEPTION

  • The film was released on June 8, 2007, and received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise for the animation and humor. However, the film didn’t break any sales records, grossing $149 million against a budget of $100 million. 
  • But it was also nominated at the 80th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature! Ratatouille was the winner that year. 
  • A straight to dvd sequel was made in 2017 called “Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania” as a cameo tie in with the WWE.
    • Jon Heder and Diedrich Bader were the only two to reprise their roles. 
    • We don’t talk about this one…

WHY THIS MOVIE IS A HIDDEN GEM

  • With so many CGI animated feature films starring cute animals pouring in year after year, it can be tough to sort through them all and figure out which ones are worth looking at. Surf’s Up belongs in the pile with the good ones. This mockumentary film has a unique humor to it that spins the same old underdog storyline into something fresh that everyone can enjoy. It is one of Surf’s Up’s most admirable traits. There’s enough for the adults without too much material going over kids’ heads and there’s plenty of physical humor that kids will enjoy. The mockumentary style provides a fresh perspective, and there’s also plenty of good values that one would expect from an animated movie focused on a sport: never give up, winning isn’t everything, and the value of friendship.
  • Additionally, the animation is strong. Most interesting is the way the animation is meant to reflect real life as if it were being shot like a live-action documentary. So, it’s very cool in terms of filmmaking, not just a mere concept. It’s unique, sweet and fun to watch. This movie keeps the plot simple but shows it in a new and very interesting way.

ROBIN- THE LAST UNICORN (1982)

Sometimes a hidden gem can garner a cult following, but still somehow avoid the radar of mainstream audiences. The film I chose is certainly popular in some circles, and is still regarded as one of the best and lasting animated films of the 1980’s. But, I personally know a lot of people who haven’t seen it, and some who are unwilling to give it a chance. So, I am bringing it up today in the hopes that at least one person listening has not seen it, and will seek it out with an open mind. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Enq2pFpBz1s?wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1

We all know Rankin and Bass as the team that brought Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman to life. But in the fall of 1982, they produced a full-length feature film that was worlds away from their happy holiday specials. It was based on a popular novel by Peter S. Beagle, and starred Mia Farrow as the titular character: a unicorn who has just discovered that she may be the last of her kind. 

The Last Unicorn is a heartfelt and imaginative story. It is weird, dark, and wonderful. It entertained and horrified an entire generation of children, and aged well with them as it contains messages that only adults will likely understand. 

SYNOPSIS

  • From a riddle-speaking butterfly, a unicorn learns that she is the last of her kind, all of the others having been herded away by a terrifying force known as the Red Bull. The unicorn sets out to find others like her. She is eventually joined on her quest by Schmendrick, a hapless magician, and Molly Grue, a middle-aged woman. Their journey leads them to the castle of the tragic King Haggard, a man who has never known happiness. In order to shield the unicorn from the red bull, Schmendrick transforms her into a human. The three of them stay at Haggard’s castle as they try to find where the rest of the unicorns have gone, and how to save them. They don’t have much time, because the unicorn becomes more and more human each day, as she falls in love with the King’s son. If she forgets her true form, all hope of saving the unicorns may be gone forever. 

PRODUCTION

  • Peter S. Beagle is one of the world’s most celebrated fantasy authors. In 1968, he published The Last Unicorn, a book listed in Time Magazine’s “100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time in October of 2020. The list was curated by a panel of authors, including Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin. 
  • Beagle himself never really imagined the story becoming a film, but it was so popular that filmmakers started approaching early on. Beagle knew he would be devastated if another writer touched and changed his work, so he insisted on writing the screenplay if this were to ever happen. Now, we all know that just because someone is a good writer, it doesn’t mean they are a good screenwriter. But, because Beagle had written the screenplay for the 1978 animated “Lord of the Rings,” the studio allowed him to write The Last Unicorn as well. 
    • Beagle has said that he didn’t have any input other than his screenplay, but that the film stayed remarkably close to what he had written. 
  • According to Beagle, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez (the creators of the Charlie Brown specials) were interested in making the film. But, one of the partners’ wives pulled Beagle aside and reportedly said, “Don’t let us do it, we aren’t good enough.” Beagle didn’t know what possessed her to do that, but Mendelson and Melendez ended up not taking on the job. 
  • Producer Michael Chase Walker bought the rights to the book from Beagle, and optioned it to different animation studios. Finally, Rankin/Bass’s offer was the one they went with, which concerned Beagle. 
    • Like I said before, these were the Rudolph guys. You can forgive Beagle for being a little apprehensive as they tackled this epic fantasy film. 
    •  “I do remember being horrified when he told me that Rankin & Bass had made the deal with him, and screaming ‘Why the hell didn’t you just go to Hanna-Barbera!’ To which he replied ‘They were next on the list.’ That was going to be it.”
  • As we mentioned in our Rank(ing) and Bass episode, the studio always outsourced their animation to Japan, with great success. The Last Unicorn was no different, as Rankin and Bass acted as directors, and employed the Japanese studio Topcraft to bring the movie to life under the production management of Masaki Izuka. A few years later, Topcraft folded and was bought by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, along with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. They built the studio into the magnificent powerhouse that is Studio Ghibli

STARRING

  • When Rankin and Bass set out to cast the film, the animators were able to secure every voice actor they wanted. No one turned down a part, which meant the film had a stellar cast. 
    • Legendary screen and stage actress Mia Farrow plays The Unicorn/Lady Amalthea. 
      • She’s known for many things, including Rosemary’s Baby, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, and Alice. 
    • Jeff Bridges plays Prince Lir
      • After hearing that a friend of his was cast in the film, Bridges called Jules Bass and asked for a role, offering to work for free. Bass hired him immediately to play Prince Lir. 
    • Alan Arkin plays Shmendrick the magician
      • Peter Beagle has praised the performances of the actors in the film, all except for Arkin. He thought his version of Schmendrick was a little flat. Arkin brought an every-man quality to the character, though, as he wasn’t meant to really steal the show. 
    • Tammy Grimes plays Molly Gru
      • While Beagle was critical of Arkin, he seemed impressed with Tammy Grimes’ version of Molly Gru. He said in an interview that Grimes brought something to the character that he himself didn’t add. 
    • Christopher Lee plays King Haggard
      • Lee was a huge fan of the book, and brought his own annotated copy to his recording sessions. When he saw Beagle, he asked for his approval of his vocal performance and offered to do it again if it was unsatisfactory. 
      • Lee was also fluent in German, and loved playing King Haggard so much, he recorded the lines for German version of the film as well. 
    • Angela Lansbury plays Mommy Fortuna
    • Robert Klein plays the butterfly
    • Rene Auberjonois plays the talking skull.
    • And Rankin/Bass regulars Paul Frees and Keenan Wynn played various voices as well

MUSIC

  • Songwriter and composer Jimmy Webb created the music for The Last Unicorn. He’s had many popular songs for artists like Donna Summer, Art Garfunkel, and Glen Campbell. 
  • The songs for the movie were performed by the actors, and the folk rock band, America. 
    • The modern sound of the music, mixed with the medieval imagery adds a timeless element to the film. It’s never specified when the story takes place, and there are modern references throughout. 

RECEPTION

  • Despite the film’s cult following, producers had a difficult time finding a distribution company. Eventually, the now-defunct Jensen Farley Pictures released the film on less than 700 screens across the country. It was rated G, despite scary imagery that would plague children’s nightmares for years to come. According to IMDB, the film’s budget was $3,500,000, and made $6,455,330. But, these numbers are misleading. Fans of the film and internet sleuths have claimed that reporting on the box office numbers stopped after 17 days. If this is true, it would mean that the actual amount earned will likely never be known. They believed that this was because Jensen Farley reported bankruptcy while distributing the film, but according to court documents, this happened later. 
  • Although the film made money, it wasn’t considered a huge success. Some sources claim that the producers didn’t see profits from the film. Peter S. Beagle has said that he thought the film was better than expected, and loves the animation. 
  • The film received favorable reviews. Janet Maslin of the NYT said, ”’THE Last Unicorn’ is an unusual children’s film in many respects, the chief one being that it is unusually good. This animated fable also features a cast that would do any live-action film proud, a visual style noticeably different from that of other children’s fare, and a story filled with genuine sweetness and mystery. Children, except perhaps for very small ones, ought to be intrigued by it; adults won’t be bored. And no one of any age will be immune to the sentiment of the film’s final moments, which really are unexpectedly touching and memorable.”

WHY IS THIS A HIDDEN GEM?

The Last Unicorn is a wonderful movie that showcases the best that 1980’s animation had to offer. It’s not Disney or Don Bluth, and it had an uphill battle all through its creation. It’s a movie that most of us have heard about, but maybe only saw once as a kid or never at all. At times, the story seems like a standard hero’s quest for children, and then it throws the audience a curveball. One moment, you think you’re watching a cute film about a unicorn, the next, you’re watching the comic relief almost get smothered by the breasts of a lovestruck tree. 

The film has sharp edges, and presents truths that will have the adult audience nodding its head in agreement. We watch as an immortal, magnificent creature must seek help from humble, fragile humans. And in time, she’s burdened by the lessons of humanity like love and regret. 

MARCI- THE WIZARD OF OZ (1982)

SYNOPSIS

  • Dorothy is left to tend to the farm alone as her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry go off to run some errands. When a tornado comes she frantically tries to get herself and her dog, Toto, into the cellar. When Toto runs from her because he gets scared Dorothy gets knocked out as she is thrown to the floor of the cabin. When she wakes up it is in The Land of Oz where she meets many characters and tries to find her way home to Kansas. (You know the basic plot of The Wizard of Oz.. lol)

PRODUCTION

  • This little gem was based on L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz and directed by Fumihiko Takayama. The screenplay was written by Yoshimitsu Banno and Akira Miyazaki.
  • It was produced by Banno and Katsumi Ueno for Toho Co., Ltd.  This movie was also made with cooperation from Topcraft Animation!
  • English version came first
    • Although this movie was animated in Japan it was not dubbed for Japanese release until 1986! The English version surprisingly came first. 

MUSIC

  • The music was done by Joe Hisaishi and Yuichiro Oda. Joe would later go on to write music for many of the Studio Ghibli movies like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. There were three songs and the English lyrics were written by Sammy Cahn and Allen Byrns. The three songs were all performed in English by Aileen Quinn and are; “It’s Strictly Up to You,” “I Dream of Home,” and “A Wizard of a Day.” 

THE BOOK, THE 1939 MOVIE AND THIS MOVIE

  • Everyone of course knows Dorothy as this lovely young girl portrayed by the brown haired and pigtailed Judy Garland in the 1939 live action. It is hard for most to see her any other way. L. Frank Baum himself did not give her specific physical descriptors in the first book; instead saying things like how she was an orphan, innocent, and harmless little girl.  In this animated version, however, she had blonde hair tied up into a single ponytail with a simple red ribbon. 
  • Overall this movie is much more similar to the original book than the 1939 version but the one key difference that it kept was the red slippers.
    • One of the closer similarities to the book was that the first witch that Dorothy stumbles upon is the Good Witch of the North and she is not Glinda. Glinda, just like the book, is the Good Witch of the South.
    •  The second similarity would be that each of the characters is shown a different version of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.
      • Dorothy is shown a gigantic green head.
      • The Scare-crow is shown a beautiful angel.
      • Tin-Man sees him as a scary rhino. (In the book it was said to be a great beast, not necessarily a rhino.)
      • Finally the Lion sees the wizard as a great big ball of fire.
    • The final similarity to mention is the appearance of the Kalidahs. Kalidahs are vicious large creatures that appear within Oz.

VOICES

  • American
    • Aileen Quinn as Dorothy
      • She was also Annie in the 1982 Annie.
    • Lorne Greene – The Wizard
      • He is known for Bonanza, Battlestar Galactica, and the movie Earthquake.
    • Billy Van – Scarecrow
      • He was in things like The Hilarious House of Frightenstein and Law and Order.
    • John Stocker – Tin Man
      • He has done for things like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and a couple of the Care Bear movies.
    • Thick Wilson – Cowardly Lion
      • He has done voices for the animated Alf series and he was also in Tommy Boy and The Dark Crystal.
    • Elizabeth Hanna – The Good Witch of the North, Jellia Jamb, The Wicked Witch of the West
      • She has done voices for many different things including Babaar, Little Bear, and Care Bears.
    • Wendy Thatcher – Glinda, the Good Witch of the South
      • She is known for Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, Threshold, and High-Ballin’.
  • Japanese Voices
    • Mari Okamoto – Dorothy Gale
    • Kotobuki Hizuru – Scarecrow
    • Jōji Yanami – Tin Man
    • Masashi Amenomori – Cowardly Lion
    • Naoki Tatsuta – Uncle Henry
    • Taeko Nakanishi – Aunt Em and Jellia Jamb
    • Miyoko Asō – The Good Witch of the North
    • Kaori Kishi – The Wicked Witch of the West
    • Kazuo Kumakura – The Wizard
    • Kumiko Takizawa – Glinda, the Good Witch of the South
    • Shohei Matsubara – Toto
    • Motomu Kiyokawa – Soldier
    • Toshiyuki Yamamoto – Monkey King

WHY THIS MOVIE IS A HIDDEN GEM

  • This movie is not well known, and to be honest there was not a lot of information floating around about it either. It’s beautiful that this movie is able to follow the story of the book just a bit closer and show us some lovely animation. I think what is most charming about it is that they are able to show that each of the characters Dorothy meets essentially already have what they are asking the wizard for. The Tin Man becomes sad over killing a bug which shows he cares and has heart. The Lion distracts the vicious Kalidah, showing he has courage. Finally, the Scarecrow makes plans and has good ideas like cutting a tree to create a bridge which demonstrates that he can think.
  • This is a charming version of The Wizard of Oz and a hidden gem you just might want to check out. 

The best thing about animation is that there is so much of it. Some of it might be a little rough, but some of it is spectacular. For every movie like “The Lion King,” there’s a beautiful hidden gem that deserves a little love. So don’t be afraid to go see the animated movies that you haven’t heard as much about. Worst case scenario, it will be an adventure. The best case scenario, you will find a movie that you might end up loving for years to come. 

So go give these films a watch if you haven’t already, and tell us what you think! Do you have any hidden gems that you would like us to watch or talk about? Let us know! 

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


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