Hello Cassettes, and welcome back to the Black Case Diaries!
Well, today’s episode is actually a fan suggestion! We asked Robin’s sister Becky what she would like us to cover for her birthday this month. She chose the film Penelope starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy because she feels that it has been looked at unfairly, especially by critics. Well, we love giving movies a second chance here at BCD, so we’re excited to talk about it! Spoilers ahead!!
Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 and releasing two years later in the United States, Penelope was not exactly well-received. It currently has a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.7 out of 10 on IMDB. Although critics liked the story’s message, they turned up their noses at this film and felt it was a bit all over the place. Penelope didn’t break any box office records but wasn’t a flop, either. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a bit of a hidden gem relegated to discount bins and free streaming services, just waiting to be discovered!
So today, we will get people talking about the girl born with a pig nose once again. Grab your brightly-colored scarves because it’s time to go exploring with Penelope.
Sometimes, we set out to make an episode on a film and have a difficult time finding information. Penelope is one of those movies that proved to be a challenge in the research department. So, we’ve decided to review the story and give our thoughts on why it deserves another look. Screenwriter Leslie Caveny put together the story to flip the script on the Beauty and the Beast format. She said, “We have enough stories that prove once again that women will love men no matter what and accept them with all their flaws, so I thought we could use a switching of the gender there.” So, here’s the story of Penelope with some making-of information mixed in!
“But local legend had it that a curse was put on the Wilhern Family….”
Penelope begins like any fairytale film should, with narration. We first hear the voice of Penelope, played by Christina Ricci.
Ricci is known for her offbeat characters, gaining popularity as Wednesday Addams in Addams Family in 1991 and as Kat in the 1996 film Casper. She is still a prominent TV and film actress.
Ricci didn’t have to audition for Penelope and was instead approached by Reese Witherspoon for the part. The two women had been friends for years, and Ricci said she was quite flattered that Reese thought of her for the role.
Ricci, as Penelope, tells the audience about a curse placed on her family when an ancestor impregnated one of the house servants and subsequently abandoned her. The woman then committed suicide, which inspired her mother, the town witch, to seek revenge by cursing the family thusly: the next Wilhern girl would be born with the face of a pig. The curse would only be broken when one of her kind, a high society blue blood, learned to love her as she was.
“I’m not the one who ran, mother!”
Flash forward to the modern-day, as a young British aristocrat attempts to woo Penelope through a two-way mirror. Penelope’s mother and hired matchmaker watch through surveillance cameras as Penelope reveals her face to the man, prompting him to run.
Here we see Penelope’s face for the first time, a relatively cute pig nose that in no way makes Ricci look ugly. This detail upset critics, as Penelope’s “ugliness” is a significant plot point. Stephen Holden of the New York Times said of the film, “The movie’s fundamental flaws begin with Penelope’s appearance. She is supposed to be so hideous that potential suitors dive out of the windows of her family’s London mansion at the first sight of her.” But more on that later.
Penelope was Mark Palanski’s directorial debut, previously assisting on films like Pearl Harbor, The Amityville Horror, and The Island. Reese Witherspoon chose Palanksi for the movie after seeing his work. Palanski felt it was essential to use a prosthetic that didn’t cover up Christina Ricci’s face so she could still emote. There was a range of noses that they could have chosen from, so a hideous option was available. Ricci felt that having an animal nose was bad enough. Making the character ugly would be adding insult to injury.
The pig prosthetic took an hour and a half to put on, and Ricci couldn’t speak during the process. The actor told Cinemablend that this was difficult for her, as she’s a self-proclaimed “compulsive talker.”
This scene also introduces Catherine O’Hara as Penelope’s mother, Jessica, a vain and uppity woman intent on finding a man to break the curse while keeping Penelope in the shadows.
Catherine O’Hara is a much-loved comedic actress, recently winning an Emmy for her role as Moira Rose in the acclaimed series Schitts Creek.
Jessica fills the role of the overprotective guardian that shields the protagonist from the outside world under the guise of having Penelope’s “best interest at heart.” In fairytale terms, think of her as a Mother Gothel from Tangled.
Jessica makes Penelope’s curse all about herself, bursting into crocodile tears at the prospect of Penelope (pause for dramatic effect) not finding a suitor (collective gasp). Jessica’s so-called suffering only makes Penelope feel guilt and shame, even though she had nothing to do with the way she was born and has no control over how people will perceive her.
Shortly after this sequence, the film introduces Peter Dinklage as a story-hungry reporter named Lemon, hell-bent on exposing the story of the Wilhern baby born with a pig face. In response, Jessica fakes Penelope’s death, then buries and cremates her to ensure that no one would ever ask about her again.
Peter Dinklage is possibly best known for playing Tyrian Lannister on Game of Thrones, which earned him several Emmy awards. He’s also appeared in Elf (2003) and X-Men Days of Future Past (2014).
After the suitor runs, we see a montage of suitors jumping through windows to escape the horror of Penelope’s face. We learn that until today, the Wilherns have been able to keep Penelope’s “condition” a secret through gag orders, but now a troubled man is headed to the police station to report seeing a hideous pig-woman.
“I believe that man is with me.”
After the local paper reports that Edward, Penelope’s suitor, is having a mental breakdown and claiming to see a pig-faced woman, the man demands that the paper print a retraction. As security escorts Edward out, Lemon invites him into his van, where they two hatch a plan to expose Penelope. Edward is too scared to face Penelope again, so the men hunt down Max Campion, a blue blood gambling addict, and offer him five grand to get a photo of Penelope.
Enter James McAvoy, the love interest for the story. McAvoy is a Scottish actor famous for portraying Charles Xavier in the X-Men films and Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia (2005).
Christina Ricci said that McAvoy is a talented actor and an excellent screen partner, and working with him was a great experience.
In an interview, McAvoy broke down his character by saying that he’s just as trapped as Penelope, and the characters inspire each other to grow and change.
McAvoy, as Max Campion, gets rigged up in a coat that will discreetly take a photo of Penelope when she reveals herself. He heads into some sort of group interview with other suitors. When his camera jacket malfunctions, Max dives behind a couch to fix it. Unfortunately for his mission, but fortunately for the plot, Penelope reveals herself just as Max is hiding. The other men run screaming from the house, but Max stays behind, making Penelope and the family think he already saw her face and didn’t run like the others.
Penelope returns to her hidden room to speak to Max, and the two begin to fall in love. During their first conversation, Max admits that he tried to steal a book because he thought it could be worth a lot of money. Penelope then tells him that there are 300 first editions worth over $50,000. Three-hundred times 50,000 is $15 million—the budget for the film!
Intrigued by Penelope and still hoping to earn his five grand, Max promises to return the next day.
“You gotta get out of there sometime.”
As Max returns to Penelope, we see a delightful sequence where McAvoy badly plays several instruments, as Penelope tries to figure out what his instrument is. The couple plays chess, and Max tries to convince her to show herself. Finally, Penelope steps out of her room to play piano with Max. He’s shocked when he sees her face and attempts to touch her nose. But when he hears the camera take the photo, he recoils, leading Penelope to believe that she repulses him.
In this scene, Penelope’s mother, Jessica, discovers Max is working with Lemon, although he does not intend to give him the photo after seeing Penelope’s face. Max confronts Penelope, trying to explain himself. But, Penelope surprises him by showing how little she cares about his motives and her happiness. She’s willing to settle to break the curse.
Penelope delivers a heartbreaking marriage proposal, telling Max that he will break the curse if he accepts her, and she will be like anyone else. Max asks what would happen if the curse can’t be broken, and Penelope says, “then I’ll kill myself, I promise I will.” Upon hearing this, Max declares he can’t marry her, and he’s forced out before he can explain.
“I love you, and goodbye.”
With Penelope at her all-time low, Jessica wants to continue looking for suitors. So, Penelope breaks out of the house to explore the outside world.
The outside world for Penelope is a timeless and placeless version of London, populated with a mixture of American and British people. Production designer Amanda McArthur developed an urban storybook landscape with locations like the Cloverdilly Pub, which is actually the Crown and Sceptre Pub in London. Here is where Penelope meets Annie, Reese Witherspoon’s character. This film was Witherspoon’s first as a lead producer and actress.
Annie helps Penelope experience life until she accidentally reveals herself as THE Penelope from all the newspapers.
Armed with her mother’s credit card and an adorable cobble-stone scarf, Penelope finds housing, makes friends, and essentially thrives. Of course, it takes her parents almost no time to locate her since she’s using their money.
Lemon and Edward are still willing to pay five grand for a photo of Penelope, and since she loses her income, she decides to sell her own image to them for a profit. When Penelope calls the pair to make the offer, Peter Dinklage’s Lemon has the most visible character development of anyone in the film in the shortest amount of time. One moment he wants to expose Penelope, the next, he realizes the harm he has caused by treating her as a monster.
Just as Penelope declares her independence from her mother, Max willingly walks away from the poker table. Both characters take massive steps toward their freedom and well-being, utterly independent of each other. This flips another romance trope on its head. Instead of bettering themselves for each other, they focus on their individual happiness.
“They’re not running.”
After Penelope’s parents track her down, Penelope has an episode, fainting at the pub and waking in a hospital room. Here she discovers that word has gotten out, and the public isn’t afraid of her. They love her. Remember that issue the critics had with the film? The detail that Penelope isn’t ugly at all, yet men would fling themselves out of windows to get away from her? It turns out, only high-society, well-bred blue bloods are the ones that do that. Maybe the film exaggerated their reactions to prove that perspective is essential and that tradition and bias can lead us to fear things we shouldn’t.
Penelope’s popularity now poses a problem for Edward, as he has spent the entire film telling everyone that Penelope is grotesque and should be locked away. Edward’s father angrily tells him he needs to fix his mistake to put his name back in good standing. So, Edward decides to propose to Penelope.
Jessica, Penelope’s mother, brings her daughter down again. She tells Penelope that she doesn’t have friends, she has fans, and that everyone only sees her as a talking pig. The only way to fix that is for her to marry Edward. So, Penelope reluctantly accepts.
“Sure took you long enough.”
After seeing the proposal in the papers, Lemon checks in with Max Campion for an armed robbery story he heard from a colleague. However, it turns out that Max Campion is actually the hilarious, lovely, and adorable Nick Frost (those are all objective ways to describe him, don’t come at me). Lemon discovers that James McAvoy is playing Johnny Martin, the son of a plumber and former musician who fell victim to gambling addiction. Lemon just thought he was Max Campion because of a misunderstanding.
Lemon tracks down Johnny and asks him why he won’t stop Edward from marrying Penelope. This is where the audience finally discovers that he turned down Penelope because he cannot break the curse, thus not giving her what she wants. So, he lets Penelope marry Edward.
Attempting to undo the harm he’s caused, Lemon tries to stop the wedding by telling Jessica and Wanda (the matchmaker) about the whole scheme and Edward’s involvement. Wanda pleads with Jessica, begging her to stop the wedding now that they know why Max (Johnny) said no because he had to. Jessica refuses, rejecting another chance at redemption for her character. The only thing Jessica cares about is the curse, and not Penelope herself.
“I like myself the way I am.”
During the wedding vows, Penelope rejects Edward, realizing she can’t marry someone she doesn’t love just to break a curse. Jessica chases Penelope back into the house, begging her to go through with the wedding. Finally, Penelope declares that she doesn’t want to change because she accepts herself as she is.
A rush of wind and magic knocks Penelope down, and she touches her face to find that the curse has been lifted. It turns out that one of her kind could be herself–she lifts the curse by loving who she is independent of anyone else.
Christina Ricci said in an interview: “You always fear when you’re making a movie that has a moral to the story that people are going to reject the idea of being taught a lesson. Or you worry that people are going to somehow feel that they’re being talked down to, or that it’s cheesy to make a movie that’s about self-acceptance.” The moral of Penelope is refreshing and ahead of its time. Sure, Penelope accepts who she is, but only after experiencing life for herself. Under the charge of her overbearing and critical mother, Penelope never even considered loving herself. She didn’t break the curse for or because of another person. It turns out that your opinion of yourself matters more than anyone else’s.
And with the curse broken, Jessica has one last chance at redemption, realizing that if she had just accepted her daughter as she was, then the curse would never have been a problem. But, after a very short heart-to-heart, Jessica launches into her critical self again, suggesting that Penelope get a nose job.
“It’s not the power of the curse; it’s the power you give the curse.”
During a narrated montage, we see Penelope move out of the home and start a job as a teacher (how?). We also learn that the butler is the witch that cast the curse generations ago, and she then removes Jessica’s voice before walking out on the family.
Wanda alerts Penelope about Max/Johnny and updates her on why he rejected her proposal. So, she heads to the bar where he works for a Halloween party with Annie to confront him. Even though she’s wearing a pig mask (the Penelope costume is big this year), Johnny figures out who she is. The two embrace, and he’s surprised to see that the curse is broken.
Now, the two of them can be together after growing and becoming complete independently. Neither one needs to fix or change the other, and they are free to start a relationship in a much healthier place than before.
Mark Palanski considered this film “low-budget” with only 15 million dollars. He enjoyed the challenge, as it meant that he had to do some creative problem-solving. Worldwide, Penelope pulled in only about $21 million, making back the budget but not enough money to be deemed a success.
We already mentioned the critical reception to this film, but it bears repeating. Critics hated Penelope. Or at least heavily disliked it. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said, “I can truthfully say that watching this abysmal fantasy-comedy is less rewarding than being slapped across the face with a large wet fish.”
It was challenging to find positive reviews of the film written just after its release, but more recent reviews from independent sources tend to be more favorable. Maybe the world wasn’t ready to embrace Penelope in 2008. Would the film have done better today?
Penelope is what Reese Witherspoon’s Type A Studio billed it to be. It’s a modern-day fairytale taking place in a surreal universe, with themes of love and acceptance. It employs classic tropes from the romance genre, but there’s a fun twist for every predictable plot. The film has a quirky and magical aesthetic, with a brilliant cast and an entertaining story. Sure, it’s not perfect, and critics had some valid concerns. But, just as Penelope’s blue blood suitors over-reacted to her charming nose, critics seemed a bit unfair to this film. It turns out that Penelope isn’t as hideous as they thought.
In 1903, Producer Fred R. Hamlin and director Julian Mitchell had just found success with their stage musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, based on the L. Frank Baum book. Wanting to keep the momentum, the pair wanted to produce another family-oriented musical production. For help, Julian Mitchell turned to Glen MacDonough to help, since he had worked on revisions of the final text for The Wizard of Oz Musical. MacDonough provided an even greater contribution when he brought composer Victor Herbert into the production. The Operetta would be called, “Babes in Toyland,” and it featured some of Herbert’s most well-known works such as “Toyland” and “March of the Toys.” “Babes in Toyland” opened in New York in October 1903.
Soon after the Operetta, Glen Macdonough and Anna Alice Chapin released a children’s book with full color illustrated pages.
The original Operetta follows orphaned siblings Alan and Jane. Their wicked Uncle Barnaby, who has become their caretaker, plans to have them lost at sea in order to steal their inheritance. They are luckily rescued and returned to Contrary Mary’s garden.
Since then it has been made into different forms throughout the years. Each time it is remade the songs and plot change. Some examples are the Laurel and Hardy “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from 1934, a Shirley Temple anthology episode in 1960, the Disney “Babes in Toyland” from 1961, and an animated version by MGM in 1997.
SOME BACKGROUND ON THE MOVIE
The original run-time for this movie when it aired in 1986 was nearly 3 hours long. Since then, it has been cut down to an hour and thirty-five minutes for video and streaming releases. It has not been officially released on dvd which makes it a relatively rare find. There is however the entire 3-hour glorious movie version available on youtube, which we will link to for you.
It was filmed at Bavaria Studios in Munich, Germany.
Most of the original music was cut and a new score and music were put in. It was largely done by Leslie Bricusse. Only a little of Victor Herbert’s music was used, such as “Toyland” and “March of the Toys.”
It is clear when listening to the songs that the young 11-year old Drew Barrymore does not sing her own songs as the voice has a more adult vocal range. According to IMDB, Linda Harmon dubbed the singing voice for Barrymore.
During a heavy Christmas storm in Cincinnati, a young girl named Lisa (Drew Barrymore) is injured in a car accident and is magically transported to Toyland. There she meets the Toyland counterparts of her sister and friends, each one a storybook character. Lisa learns that the evil Uncle Barnaby plots to marry the young Mary Contrary and steal her away from Jack B. Nimble, also barring Jack from inheriting his family’s cookie company.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS
Drew Barrymore as Lisa Piper
Jill Schoelen as Mary Piper/Mary Contrary
Keanu Reeves as Jack Fenton/Jack-be-Nimble
Googy Gress as George/Georgie Porgie
Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Piper/ Widow Hubbard
Richard Mulligan as Barnie/ Barnaby Barnicle
Pat Morita as The Toymaster
Shari Weiser, who was in the Labyrinth as part of Hoggle, plays the Trollog in this movie!
First, let’s talk a little bit about the origin of Santa Claus!
Santa Claus is known around the world by many names. Some of the most well-known are; Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, and Papa Noel. These names and origins should not be confused with the Belsnickel and Krampus. St Nicholas is known to be the patron saint of many things including children, sailors, ships, merchants, pawnbrokers, and some cities like Moscow.
One of the most well-known stories tells of Saint Nicholas gifting three girls dowries in order that they may get married. Due to his generosity and good deeds towards children in life, he became their patron saint and a popular bringer of gifts on his celebrated day of December 6th.
As people traveled and immigrated to the United States the celebrations followed and the legends of Saint Nicholas and the scary and shaggy Belsnickel became mixed to eventually become what we know as Santa Claus. Santa Claus, like the Christmas holiday, is an amalgamation of traditions and practices, and hopefully one day we will go further into detail about Santa’s history.
Much of the details that we have accepted about Santa Claus came from a Clement Clarke Moore poem called, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. But, two years before that story, there was “The Children’s Friend.” It was notable for removing the religious aspects of St. Nick and associating him with the Christmas holiday. Here are a couple of stanzas:
“Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.
The steady friend of virtuous youth,
The friend of duty, and of truth,
Each Christmas eve he joys to come
Where love and peace have made their home”
“Sandy Claws” (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)*
If you need a refresher, The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. It follows Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, as he faces issues with burnout and his own identity. Jack’s purpose in life becomes reinvigorated when he discovers Christmastown and attempts to give Christmas a try instead.
Santa’s voice can be heard at the beginning of the movie during the initial narration. Since the narration doesn’t return, it makes sense that it turns out to be a character in the movie, though this is not immediately obvious to the audience
Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws) appears in this film after Jack Skellington visits Christmastown for the first time. However, the audience doesn’t get a great look at the character until much later, when three trick-or-treaters kidnap Santa Claus and deliver him to the evil Oogie Boogie Man.
Lock, Stock, and Barrell kidnap Santa so that Jack can take his place.
Voiced by Edward Ivory, this is a pretty classic take on Santa Claus. Although Santa is generally depicted as a kind being that only wants to spread joy, The Nightmare Before Christmas gave some more depth to the character by showing how he would react to being kidnapped. Although this version of Santa becomes more and more frustrated (and possibly scared for his life), he never seems to really lose his cool and still recovers in time to save Christmas!
Ivory was not in very many movies but he was also in the film Nine Months (1995), Rampage (1987), and Blood Red (1989.)
The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a well-known and beloved classic, it’s safe to say the film made a major impact on a lot of people. Although the debate about whether it’s a Halloween or Christmas movie will never be settled, you’ll find fans enjoying it during any season.
It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and Best Music
It earned Annies for Best Individual Achievement for Creative Supervision in the Field of Animation and Best Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence in the Field of Animation.
It also won the Blimp Award at the Kid’s Choice Awards for Favorite Movie!
So why did this Santa make it into our top five?
We LOVE the style of this film, and seeing a Tim-Burton-style Santa is an automatic win. Although he has the classic characteristics of many western depictions of Santa Claus (red suit, white beard, black boots) he still has the same unmistakable charm as other Burton creations. Before this film came out, you wouldn’t find a Santa that looks like this anywhere else.
This Santa is inherently good-natured. He withstands being carried around in a sack and is essentially tortured by Oogie Boogie. But, when he realizes it was a misunderstanding and that Jack never intended for him to be hurt, he seems to forgive him almost immediately. He never hesitates to fix all the damage that the Halloweentown residents had done, and makes time to visit them after delivering all of his presents!
We asked our Twitter followers for their suggestions on some favorite Santas! Jacob (@DemChops) suggested Santa Claus from Nightmare Before Christmas, saying, “He was so fed up with the Halloween people but he still gave them some Christmas magic in the end. A true Santa.”
North (Rise of the Guardians, 2012)*
Rise of the Guardians is based on a book series by William Joyce called, “Guardians of Childhood.” Every year the holidays arrive and with them the protection of the immortal Guardians. The Guardians, known as Nicholas St. North, E. Aster Bunnymund, Toothiana, and Sandman, spread light to protect children everywhere from darkness and despair. An evil spirit called Pitch Black plots to overthrow them by destroying the source of their power, which is the faith of children everywhere. Saving the Guardians is left up to a new young immortal by the name of Jack Frost.
This film was directed by Peter Ramsey for Dreamworks Animation
Voiced by Alec Baldwin, North is the leader of the guardians and this universe’s more-secular take on Santa Claus. Although he is far from the traditional depiction of Santa Claus, he is still dedicated to spreading love and cheer across the world and protecting the innocence of children.
Though this isn’t the most popular Dreamworks film, we consider it to be one of their best works. The story is heartwarming and imaginative and encourages children to believe in magic–not just supernatural magic, but the magic within themselves.
Rise of the Guardians received the Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence and the Hollywood Animation Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Festival. The film also won two Annie Awards for Effects in Animation and Storyboarding.
So why did North make it into our top five?
Out of all the entries on this list, North is the most unique version of Santa Claus. Generally, we see an older and less active version of the character in cinema, but here we see a buff Santa with tattoos and a Russian accent (which makes sense because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Moscow). This Santa is much more active and unafraid to use weapons to protect the things he loves. It’s important to see a different take on a character because it shows that even though someone is unconventional, it doesn’t mean they are any less than someone who is traditional. This Santa thwarts tradition and conventional standards.
Every story that includes a Santa storyline begs the question: how does he keep track of all the children and bring them toys in one night? The universe in Rise of the Guardians answers this question with a combination of advanced technology and magic. The approach feels rooted in our universe, so audiences find it easier to comprehend.
Rise of the Guardians provides a completely different perspective on Santa. We’re used to seeing him as he delivers gifts and interacts with children. In this film, we see him amongst his peers (the other holiday guardians) which adds another layer to his character. There are even some comedic moments when he clashes with the Easter Bunny or gets frustrated with his bumbling elves.
This was another Twitter suggestion! You guys really know how to pick your Santas. Mics and Beers (@micsandbeers) said, “Got to go with the Santa with swords.”
Santa Claus (Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974)
Based on a book by Phylis McGinley, The Year Without a Santa Claus follows the story of a sick Santa Claus (played by Mickey Rooney) who may not be well enough to deliver presents this year. His doctor even tells him that he should stay in bed because children don’t really believe in Santa anymore. Mrs. Claus takes action into her own hands and sends two elves with a reindeer out into the world to find Christmas cheer. When they run into some trouble, Santa heads out after them and discovers that the world still cares about Christmas.
The special was written by William J Keenan and animated in Japan, like the other Rankin and Bass specials.
This is a special that returns every year during the holiday season, and inspired a sequel special starring the heat and snow misers! You’ll also find their merchandise in stores at Christmas time.
Mickey Rooney during his lifetime was in over 300 films from silent films from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Phantom of the Megaplex. He also voiced Santa Claus in three other animagic specials, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town. So, it’s probably OK to say that this version of Santa is the same one that appears in the other specials of the Rankin and Bass universe. However, we chose the Santa from this particular special because we liked seeing this side of him. Usually, Christmas movies are about children losing their faith in Santa, but this special was more about Santa losing faith in the world.
This Santa Claus is relatable and hard-working. He seems more mortal than other depictions because he has fallen ill. More often than not, Santa is depicted as a supernatural being, capable of looking in on children at any given time to see if they are behaving. This version of Santa, however, doesn’t seem as powerful.
No matter how awful this Santa feels, he’s never angry or upset with anyone. Sure, he feels unappreciated, but that makes him sad more than anything else. And who could blame him for wanting to cancel Christmas? None of us want to go to work when we’re feeling sick.
This version of Santa also really seems to enjoy his job. Sometimes we get the sense from other versions of the character that he feels like he’s doing the world a huge favor, but here it seems that he gets as much out of Christmas as anyone else.
Klaus (Klaus, 2019)*
Klaus is the most recent entry on our list! Directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez, Klaus is a Netflix original that follows the origin story of Santa Claus, known in this universe as Klaus.
The story initially follows Jesper, the privileged son of the postmaster general, as he’s banished to a cold and freezing island called Smeerensburg. While there, he meets a toymaker named Klaus. Because he needs to meet a quota of 6000 letters mailed, Jesper convinces the children to mail Klaus letters so that he will deliver toys to their houses. Because one act of kindness always sparks another, Jesper and Klaus end up changing the lives of everyone on the island.
Actor J.K. Simmons provides the voice of the stoic and kind Klaus, a toymaker isolated in the woods. This version of Santa is more unwitting than others and is somewhat of a reluctant hero. Early in the film, it’s clear that he wants to make children happy, but Jesper pushes him to start making new toys again.
Simmons is famous for several character roles, like Tenzin in The Legend of Korra and Jay Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films.
Klaus won the 2020 BAFTA for Best Animated Feature
It also received several Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Character Animation, Character Design, Directing, Production Design, Storyboarding, and Editorial.
It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It, unfortunately, lost Toy Story 4.
Number two on our list is pretty high, especially for a character that might not be as well-known or established as some of the other entries. But, we chose Klaus because we love how human his story is, and his immense generosity.
When Klaus first delivers a gift, he does it solely because he saw the sad drawing of a child and wanted to cheer them up. He stays back to watch the child open the gift, and we can see how much it means to him that the child was happy.
One of the most appealing aspects of Klaus is that he’s a regular man and not a supernatural being (to begin with, anyway). He uses his craft to bring joy to other people, inspiring others to do the same.
Klaus is reclusive and uninterested in making friends, but throughout the film we see the character open up and grow, and it’s because others are willing to help that he becomes Santa Claus.
Near the end of his mortal life, Klaus embodies the spirit of Christmas so much that he becomes father Christmas. It’s seemingly a reward for a life well-lived that he can continue to spark kindness across the world.
This was another Twitter suggestion from our friend and listener, JD Gravatte!
Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947)
This Christmas classic follows Doris Walker, a no-nonsense single mother with a young daughter named Susan. While Doris performs her job as the manager of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a kind old man approaches her and points out that the Santa Claus hired for the event is intoxicated. Doris invites the kind older man to fill in as Santa not only in the parade but during the holiday as the Macy’s store Santa. Kris Kringle, as he calls himself, is not only a hit with the children but also with adult customers. He truly embodies the spirit of Christmas by helping them buy gifts, sending them to other stores to find them. Soon, it captures the attention of the store that Kris believes that he himself is the real Santa Claus. This issue gets overlooked until Kris assaults the resident psychologist with his umbrella, causing him to get sent to an institution. All this leads to a public hearing, where Kris’s lawyer, Fred Gayley, must defend him by proving that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.
Doris’s daughter, Susan, has never believed in magic before, but Kris convinces her that magic is real, saving Christmas for at least one child.
While this version of the character was played by Edmund Gwenn, there was a 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. Since it’s the same character, we felt it was worth mentioning!
Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role! He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor!
Miracle on 34th Street is a tradition for many families during the holiday season. It’s heartfelt and engaging, a warm Christmas classic that’s also a legal drama? Count us in!
The film won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor
It also won Oscars for Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay. Finally, it also won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
When we set out to make this list, we knew from the beginning that Kris Kringle was our number one. Throughout the entire film, all the way until the end, the audience doesn’t actually see any proof that Kris is Santa Claus. We don’t see him perform magic or visit the north pole, we only see what the other characters see. And yet, we’re on board the entire time. Why? Because this character is so pure and believable as Santa Claus that it almost seems impossible not to believe him.
This Santa is one of the most wholesome we have ever seen. He has a genuine personality and a great sense of humor and doesn’t get frustrated or upset when people don’t believe him. Sure, he’s got some old-school ideas for punishing naughty people (the umbrella might’ve been out of line) But in 1947, parents were spanking their kids harder than Kris hits that man with his umbrella.
Kris’s interactions with others are heartwarming and memorable. He helps many different characters, from Alvin the janitor to little Susan Walker.
He is able to change those around him for the better with simple acts of kindness, like listening to people and gently guiding customers to where they can find toys so that their children can have a happy holiday.
Whether or not people believe he’s the real Santa isn’t important to Kris. Instead, he just wants to help those around him and only tells them that he is Santa because he’s just an honest person.
Since there are hundreds of movie Santas, we had some honorable mentions:
Santa Claus (The Polar Express, 2004)
Our first honorable mention is the Santa from the Polar Express. Of course, we don’t see very much of this version, but the audience gets enough of him to know that he is a very classic version of the character. This Santa appears at the end of the film when the main character is finding his faith in Santa again.
Tom Hanks voiced this Santa Claus (as he voiced many characters throughout the film).
Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause, 1994)
Played by Tim Allen
While watching his son, Charlie, for Christmas, Scott hears a noise on the roof and goes to investigate while his son follows. After scaring a red-suited man off the roof, the man disappears in the snow but his red suit remains. Scott dons the suit and he and his son are taken to the North Pole where he discovers he will be Santa for the foreseeable future. Problems arise, however, when Charlie’s mother and Step-Father believe that Scott is endangering Charlie’s well-being.
Father Christmas (The Snowman, 1982 & Father Christmas, 1991)
Voiced by Mel Smith
Father Christmas follows Santa on his adventures as he decides to take a vacation in France, Scotland, and Las Vegas. When he returns from his travels to begin preparations for Christmas he finds that he has forgotten something during his trip.
Willie T Stokes (Bad Santa 2003)*
Played by Billy Bob Thorton
Willie T. Stokes only works one season a year. He drinks constantly and is an embarrassment to himself and others. He works as Santa at the malls. On Christmas Eve he and his accomplice Marcus take all the information they have gathered while working during the season to rob the entire shopping mall.
Noelle (Noelle, 2019)
Played by Anna Kendrick
Noelle has always loved Christmas, especially the presents. The holiday is made even more special to her as her father is Santa Claus! At a young age, her brother Nick is given a Santa hat and revealed to officially be the successor to their father as Santa Claus. Noelle wants to be a part of the magic and is tasked by her father to guide Nick and help how she can. Years later after their father passes away, the pressure becomes too much and Nick runs away. Noelle must save Christmas by finding not only her brother but the meaning of Christmas beyond the presents.
Nick (Fred Claus, 2007)
Played by Paul Giamatti
Santa Claus’s older brother, Fred, is jealous of him.
Fred ends up needing help and must live with his brother for financial reasons.
Santa Claus (Elf, 2003)
Played by Ed Asner
Buddy the elf finds his human father and helps him see the spirit of Christmas.
Santa Claus (A Christmas Story, 1983)
Played by Jeff Gillen
You’ll shoot your eye out!
Maybe you believe in Santa Claus, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you call him by a different name. Maybe you think he’s a person, and maybe you think he’s the spirit of Christmas. No matter how you feel about the character, these Santas can all teach us something about humanity. You don’t need magic or a sleigh or millions of helpers to be Santa Claus for someone. As long as humans continue to use their abilities to make others happy, the spirit of Santa Claus will always endure. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlies Brown–wait.
The late 90’s was an interesting time for animation. Amblimation had folded after its third film (as we talked about last week), Dreamworks SKG was gearing up to release its first animated feature, and Disney Animation was winding down from their 10-year renaissance period. Also, by 1999, PIXAR and Disney had released TWO 3D computer animated films, and Dreamworks produced one as well (as their first release!). The medium was changing, and 3D computer animation was becoming increasingly more popular. Today, it’s considered to be the most popular style of animation.
But, three artists in Ireland weren’t jumping on the 3D animation bandwagon just yet. They formed their own studio, focusing on 2D animation. In about 10 years, they had produced their first feature film, which was nominated for an oscar alongside the likes of Coraline, The Princess and the Frog, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Up.
Ever since, they have been steadily producing unique and beautiful animated content, from TV shows to major motion pictures. Last year, they released their fourth film, which has already won several Annie Awards. Each film features masterful storytelling heavily influenced and inspired by history and lore, with uniquely beautiful animation that will take your breath away.
So, this week we are excited to talk about the Irish independent animation studio Cartoon Saloon, as well as their four full-length films!
Ireland has had a vibrant animation scene for several decades. Some of our favorite films and shows were animated there, whether in Don Bluth’s animation studio or at Murakami-Wolf, which produced the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Cartoon Saloon, however, is likely the most well-known independent animation studio in Ireland. Its creators, Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey, and Paul Young were animation students attending Ballyfermot College of Further Education in Ireland.
Nora would be the first to graduate, a year before the others. She spent that year working for a studio called Brown Bag Films, which is now known as the studio that creates shows like Doc McStuffins and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
While in school and after graduating in 1999, Tomm, Paul, and Nora moved together to Kilkenny, Ireland. At this point, they had already started doing small freelance jobs (such as commercials and e-cards) under the name Cartoon Saloon.
At Ballyfermot, Tomm Moore specifically made sure to take courses made by Don Bluth!
Sullivan Bluth opened in Ireland when Moore was a child, and this opened his eyes to the possibility of being an animator.
He was heavily inspired by animator Richard Williams, who believed that animation was an artform.
Tomm Moore later said that starting the studio felt like a way to extend college and continue to work with talented people on animation projects.
Moore has directed or co-directed three of Cartoon Saloon’s films. The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers are what he considers to be a spiritual trilogy. All of them are inspired by the mythology of Ireland.
At this time, many were saying that 3D animation would be the new frontier due to the success of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life. The team believed that 2D animation was still very much in style. They were discovering such treasures as “The Thief and the Cobbler” by Richard Williams and “The Hungarian Folktales” which was an animated series from Hungary. Not long after did they decide on their first movie idea: “Brendan and the Secret of Kells.” This would later be shortened to simply “The Secret of Kells.”
The operation began with about 10 artists, a couple of whom had been members of the Young Irish Film Makers which was run by Mike Kelly and based in Kilkenny, Ireland. When the Cartoon Saloon creators first moved to Kilkenny, Mike Kelly helped them earn a small grant and gave them a small space to work in. There was only one computer between the three of them, and the experience taught them how to budget and split tasks.
As they began developing The Secret of Kells, they released their first television show called, Skunk Fu! This show would be the first to give them a true spotlight. The studio now has four other TV shows. One of the most popular is Puffin Rock, which is an adorable children’s show available on Netflix and narrated by Chris O’Dowd. We are not going to go into depth with these shows but they are: Anam an Amhrain, Dorg Van Dango, agus Cul an Ti.
THE SECRET OF KELLS
The Secret of Kells takes place during the 9th century and follows Brendan, the young nephew of Abbot Cellach. As they prepare for an attack from the Vikings Brendan works secretly with the reverand illuminator, Aidan, to help complete the ancient book of Kells.
This film was directed by Tomm Moore and Co-directed by Nora Twomey. According to Tomm Moore there were about 200 artists that worked on the film. Ross Stewart was the Art Director, and Paul Young produced the film.
As the animators were starting out, they needed to find the money to produce the film. They received help from Screen Ireland, but they also started reaching out to other countries to find producers for the film.
They attended an event called, “Cartoon Movie” in Europe, where they met other producers and pitched their film idea. This is where they met Didier Brunner and Viviane Vanfleteren, producers from France and Hungary that helped produce the film.
The original Story was written by Tomm Moore with the screenplay done by Fabrice Ziolkowski.
The story is based on the origin of The Book of Kells. The book is an illuminated manuscript that now sits in Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.
The film combines Irish history with Catholic tradition and Celtic lore. Some have criticised the historical context of the film, as it places the viking invasions to happen around the time that the book was written.
The beginning of the film was drawn to be very flat-looking in style, to model the look of medieval art.
Another key detail is that while the town was done with ink, the studio thought that the forest should be done with pencil because it is much more organic looking.
Although Abbot Cellach, young Brendan’s uncle, is not a bad guy, he is much stricter and has lost his way. In order to show the difference between him and other characters, his character and the rooms he inhabits are angular and sharper with a Gothic influence (think of gothic cathedrals and how they often come to a point). For example, there is a scene in which he and Brendan are seen in the window, and since they take up the entire space, it is almost as if it is stained glass. In comparison, Aidan and the Scriptorium have more rounded edges with a Romanesque influence.
Evan McGuire as Brendan
The character Brendan was actually based on Tomm Moore’s son, Brendan! They went through hundreds of designs though in order to get his design the way they wanted.
Christen Mooney as Aisling
Aisling’s early concept art and movements were based on Tomm’s sister, whom he claims was a little pest(lol.) She originally had black hair as well as the wolf being black.
Brendan Gleeson as Abbot Cellach
He is known for things like In Bruges, The Guard, and Calvary.
The Abbot’s character evolved from their beginning concepts of him. When they started he was more of a villain but he became more nuanced as they continued to develop the film.
Mick Lally as Aidan
Mick has been in Glenroe, Bracken, and The Secret of Roan Inish.
Aidan Originally was drawn with spiky red hair and was supposed to look like Paul Young, but he ended up looking more like Willy Nelson they said (unintentionally.)
Liam Hourican as Brother Tang/ Leonardo
He is also in Song of the Sea, Murder in Successville, and Sanctuary(2012.)
Paul Tylak as Brother Assoua
He is known for Skunk Fu!, Informer, and Capital Letters.
Michael McGrath as Adult Brendan
He has been in The Interpreter, Changing Lanes and Memphis the Musical.
Paul Young as Brother Square
Nora Twomey did additional voices
Pangur Bán (the cat) is the only character that they told kids was real. Out of all the characters in the film there have actually been stories and a poem written about Pangur Bán.
The music was done by French composer Bruno Coulais, who also wrote the music for Coraline (which was also nominated for an oscar the same year.)
The film also features music from the Irish band Kila!
The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and also for an Annie Award but unfortunately did not win either. It did however win many other awards overseas at several film festivals, one being the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films. It also won best animation at the Irish Film and Television Awards.
Song of the Sea
The story follows a ten-year-old boy named Ben and his younger sister Saoirse. After being removed from their beloved home and father by their well-meaning grandmother, Ben discovers that his sister is in fact a selkie, a being capable of transforming into a seal. Not only that, but Saoirse’s song is the only thing that can save the other fairies of the land as they are all being turned to stone. Ben must find a way to bring his sister back to the sea so she can sing her song before it’s too late.
The film was directed by Tomm Moore, and produced by Paul Young. Tomm Moore wrote the original story, but the screenplay was written by Will Collins, who would later write the screenplay for Wolfwalkers.
Tomm Moore came up with the idea for the story when he was on holiday on the Dingle Peninsula with his family. After arriving, they were saddened to discover that many seals were lying dead on the beach. He spoke to a local woman and tour guide, who told him that the superstitions and stories surrounding the seals would usually protect them from being killed. He said, “She was saying the seals would have been respected – they would have been seen as the Selkies, containing the souls of the dead – the people who were lost at sea.” Moore was inspired by the relationship between folklore and how it shapes and protects the environment surrounding it.
He found the Selkies fascinating, because he understood that they are often a way to deal with loss. So, he began developing the story for a film.
The animation surrounding an Irish story is a concept that was inspired by Hayao Miyasaki. He found it incredible that viewers don’t need to understand Japanese folklore to appreciate the films and their universal themes and characters. Moore admires how Miyasaki depicts Japan from an animator’s perspective, and the more you know about the country and its culture, the more you get from the piece.
Each location in the film is inspired by a real place, or a mash-up of places, but most heavily the Dingle peninsula. Moore took his team to the area to get a familiarity with the landscape. They used real landmarks and scenery, like the statue of Molly Malone in Dublin to ground the film firmly in its location. They depicted the landscape from the perspective of a child, and how they would perceive the country.
When asked about why they chose a hand-drawn style for the film, Paul Young commented that when young children see a hand-drawn film, they come out of the theater inspired to draw themselves.
The studio is famous for its hybrid style of computer and traditional animation. For this film, the animators used the computers to imitate animation techniques that would have been impossible with cell animation. For example, Paul Young said, “We were able to make the clouds, the watercolor layers, actually move. That would have been incredibly difficult to do [without a computer]. You couldn’t put watercolor on a cell.”
Cartoon Saloon coordinated with studios in five different countries to complete the film. This approach has helped them make films on a tight budget, in contrast to major studios that can afford to spend hundreds of thousands on productions.
David Rawle as Ben
Brendan Gleeson as Conor/ Mac Lir
Lisa Hannigan as Bronach
Fionnula Flanagan as Granny/ Macha
Lucy O’Connell as Saoirse
Jon Kenny as Ferry Dan/ The Great Seanachaí
Pat Shortt as Lug
Colm Ó’Snodaigh as Mossy
Liam Hourican as Spud/ Bus Driver
Paul Young did additional voices
Bruno Coulais scored this film as well as Secret of Kells, giving the films a unifying sense in their music. This makes sense since Tomm Moor considers Song of the Sea to be a spiritual sequel to The Secret of Kells.
Song of the Sea was nominated for an Oscar for best animated film, along with several Annie Awards.
Tomm Moore said of the oscar nomination: “With the nomination, I met a lot of people like Pete Docter and Henry Selick, and it really felt like the industry saying, ‘Oh no, this is great. It’s great to see something independent. Keep going. Let’s see more.’ That’s what it felt like. It felt like the industry itself, or our peers in animation, endorsing what we were doing. And that was massive.”
Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, this film takes place in Taliban-controlled Kabul in 2001. It follows 11-year-old Parvanna, a girl that risks her life by posing as a boy so that her family can survive. She is determined to save her father’s life and reunite her family after her father has been taken to prison.
The film was the first Cartoon Saloon feature directed by Nora Twomey, and it was executively produced by Anjolina Jolie.
The screenplay was written by Anita Doran, based on the novel by Deborah Ellis. When Nora Twomey read the novel, she immediately connected with the character, and loved that the story didn’t talk down to its audience. She knew that it would make a beautiful animated film.
Nora understood that to make this movie the best it could be, she needed input from people who understand Afghan culture, and those that might have had similar life experiences to the characters. She loved the challenge of telling a story that would appeal to younger and older audiences at the same time, and chose an animation style that lent itself to that.
The filmmakers looked at the difference between western and Afghan culture, and wanted to depict universal struggles that would apply to everyone.
Nora was also dedicated to finding as many actors from Afghanistan or with a strong connection to the country and its experiences. She not only wanted authentic voices, but she also wanted people that could draw from the emotion of their own experiences.
The animation team was made up of 100 artists spread across three countries.
To give animators an understanding of how the characters would move in each scene, she acted out every scene of the film as a reference point.
Before the animation started, they made three drawings per scene to show what the characters should do, which gives the animator a better idea of how the character is feeling and how the scene should be approached.
Then, they entered the rough animation stage where the animators use quick, rough drawings to bring the characters to life. This is about the general movement of the characters.
Those rough drawings are tidied up after they have been approved. This makes sure that they can be painted easily and that the characters are in the correct style for the film. Animators then start adding shadows to put the characters in the real world, before adding color.
Every color is specifically chosen for a reason. They used the colors to guide the audience and make every scene as clear as possible.
The film consisted of two separate types of animation. The look and feel of the real world that Parvanna inhabits needed to be naturalistic and based heavily on the specific setting. Animators went for a cinematic feeling, based completely on the main character and what she would need. It was physical and immersive.
The story world needed to be bright and colorful, and essentially as limitless as a child’s imagination.
For the story world, the animators met with a paper artist to understand how light works with paper, and how it feels to animate with paper. They then recreated the paper imagery for the film, using the computer. They added shadows and textures, to give the audience a sense of puppetry. The acting of the characters in the scenes was also as theatrical as possible, with bold movements.
Sound designer JR Fountain wanted the sounds of the real world to feel oppressive and overwhelming. He treated the story world as a sort-of “playground,” not with cartoon effects necessarily, but still bringing joyful and playful sounds to the scene.
Much like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, this film weaves the beauty and culture of its setting with a very real world experience. Producer Anthony Leo commented on how much loved that audiences would get to see Afghanistan’s rich culture, art, and storytelling; a contrast to how the country is often portrayed, especially during this time period.
Saara Chaudry as Parvana
Saara felt that the role was a dream come true, and that her role in the film reminded her that there are people out there trying to improve the lives of people like Parvanna.
Soma Chhaya as Shauzia
Noorin Gulamgaus as Idrees/ Sulayman
Ali Badshah as Nurullah/ Talib Security Man
His wife is from Afganistan, which gave him a strong frame of reference to his character. He said he focused on the loneliness his character must feel, as an educated man that has lost his way of life as well as a child and his leg.
Shaista Latif as Soraya
Kanza Feris as Sorceress/ Woman in Courtyard
Kawa Ada as Razaq
He said of The Breadwinner, “The writing in this film, it speaks to Afgan culture as well as that it’s not sentimental. And, I mean obviously there is great heart in it, and there is such a broad scope of the people and even within the story you have all these other characters who are given their due, which I think is brilliant.”
Kane Mahon as Optician/Kiln Owner
Ali Kazmi as Darya/ Fruit Juice Vendor/ Jail Warden
The composers, Jeff and Mychael Danna, used a different approach musically to the real world versus the dream world.
Real world was scored more like a live action film, and it was desolate and serious. In the story world, the music followed what was happening on screen.
The composers knew it was important to honor the afgan traditions so they used afgan artists and instruments, and researched the music of the culture.
The ending music of the film was meant to leave the audience with feelings of hope and beauty, as the story is about love and strength above all else.
Overall, The Breadwinner was nominated for 55 awards, winning 22 of them. It was the third Cartoon Saloon film to be nominated for the Oscar for best animated feature. It was also the first to win the Annie award for the same title!
In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic in nature and an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice huntress, Robyn, comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out a pack of troublesome wolves. But when Robyn saves a wild girl, Mebh, their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transforms her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.Production
With “Wolfwalkers,” the final installment in the trilogy, the studio made a conscious decision to create a larger action adventure. Artistically and narratively, it’s their most ambitious undertaking to date. Initially, Cartoon Saloon shopped the project to Netflix, but when the streaming goliath passed, Apple stepped in.
Written by Will Collins, Wolfwalkers has roots in the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland (Lord Protector is based on Oliver Cromwell) and Irish folklore about the Wolves of Ossory, a tribe of beings who could transform themselves into wolves.
Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart developed the film’s visual style to show a contrast between period Kilkenny, with its blocky look to convey its oppressive nature, and the more fluid, free look of the forest. Both were inspired by 17th century woodcuts. Stewart said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, “[Robyn’s home in Kilkenny] is a cage, and the visuals reinforce that. The linework is very harsh and very black-and-white. There’s high contrast and there’s a lot of geometric patterning, like a kind of a warped perspective.”
Maria Pareja, a production designer on Wolfwalkers, notes that for period Kilkenny, they took creative license but also relied on extensive research, including stops at Kilkenny’s Rothe House, one of the oldest houses in Ireland.
The Rothe House was built between 1594 and 1610 and is now a must see museum and garden dedicated to the life and times of 17th century Ireland.
The film’s signature look is hand-drawn with the help of computers to augment the process. Every frame is still drawn by hand, but with a computer screen and stylus. Moore explains, “We use special digital brushes to look as much like the pencil line that we want. Backgrounds on the other hand, are painted with watercolors and the linework is also done on paper with pencils and pens. They’re combined and photoshopped to make the final background.”
The artists were also heavily encouraged to leave the pencil lines to give it a very two dimensional feel!
Screenwriter Collins’ early research focused intensely on hunters’ lives in and out of Kilkenny during the era of the Cromwellian War. He said that it was important to fill the audience in on it, but not get bogged down by it. For Stewart, the story was the most important thing. There is a time and a place for historical stories and being truthful to the original tale. But that doesn’t mean that everything has to stick to that. Stories have to adapt to the way they’re being told in this century, and they will be different in the next century.
Honor Kneafsey as Robyn Goodfellowe
She has made small appearances in the BBC Sherlock, as well as the Netflix original “A Christmas Prince” film series.
Eva Whittaker as Mebh Óg MacTíre
This is her first full length feature roll (way to start out strong!)
Sean Bean as Bill Goodfellowe, Robyn’s father and town wolf hunter
A well known actor famous for many fantasy roles including Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and the most recent Snowpiercer.
Simon McBurney as Lord Protector
He has been in many films including the 2007 version of the Golden Compass, the 2010 Robin Hood, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tommy Tiernan as the farmer who is put in the stockade, Seán Óg
Known for his roles in many Irish shows such as Derry Girls, Small Potatoes, and Little Crackers
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mebh’s Mother, Moll MacTíre
An actress known for her roles in Outlander, Orphan Black, and Dexter
Released by GKids on 500 screens across the United States and on Apple TV+, the movie has received glowing reviews and has earned the studio another Oscar nomination.
David Ehrlich of Indie Wire said in his review “Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon may not be able to match the impact or consistency of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, but the outfit has gradually emerged as one of the world’s last and most valuable assets against the crude and sometimes soulless nature that has defined the post-“Shrek” era of mainstream animated movies. With Wolfwalkers, we have an animated film that finds new beauty in ancient traditions; a film that fights back against the temptation to surrender what little magic this world still has left.”
They have also done animated shorts and tv series.
We eagerly await their next film in 2022 entitled My Father’s Dragon.
Last week, we mentioned how it can be difficult to succeed in animation without a lot of name recognition. There are so many studios out there, with talented artists, making incredible stories come to life with animation. Cartoon Saloon is just one of them! It’s a studio that has stayed true to itself, and has had remarkable success. Its films are absolutely breathtaking, with refreshing animation styles that are, quite frankly, a balm for the eyes. Cartoon Saloon takes its time with their work, using what they believe to be the best techniques for each particular story. These films are the kind that we watch not just because they are entertaining and beautiful, but because we can see how passionate the animators are about their work.
We wanted to close animation April with Cartoon Saloon because this is a studio that everyone should know. It often seems that in order to be successful, you have to have the most money or be the most popular, or that you need to make certain kinds of films using specific techniques. But in this case, Cartoon Saloon’s success comes strictly from passion, hard work, and a whole lot of talent. They’re an inspiring group of masterful storytellers, and we cannot wait to see what they will do next.
Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, and Linda.
A man in a funny red suit stands in contrast to an all-black screen. He has a young face, with a wild head of hair and sparkling blue eyes. A booming voice calls down to him, asking for an update from the planet Earth. The voice is Orson, and the man is Mork, an alien sent from his home planet Ork to study Earth’s inhabitants. In this episode of “Mork and Mindy,” Mork transformed himself into an old man, to provide company to Mindy’s grandmother after the loss of her best friend. Mork delivers his usual silliness and improvisation, until it’s time to look up at the invisible Orson, and recite the moral of the episode, “Everything else here gets more valuable as it gets older: wine, cheese, furniture, coins…everything except people.”
It was moments like this that turned Robin Williams into a superstar. There was no doubt the man was comically talented, having made a name for himself on stand-up stages across southern California, but mainstream audiences fell in love with the quirky–yet sentimental–Mork.
Over the next few decades, Robin Williams entertained and inspired generations of fans. Not only was he one of the greatest comedic minds of all time, he proved to be a remarkable actor as well. He entertained in a way that no one ever has, or likely ever will. He was a shining light despite the darkness lurking in his own world, a chaotic beacon that millions looked to for warmth and a good laugh.
So today, we’re spending our first biography episode of the year on the incomparable Robin Williams.
FAMILY/ YOUNG LIFE
Born on July 21st, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, Robin Williams was the only child of Robert and Laurie Williams. Robert held a high-ranking role in the Ford Motor Company, and Laurie was a former model and part-time actress. The two of them traveled often, leaving Robin alone for his formative years. To cope with the loneliness, Robin would create characters and voices, and bring to life a vast collection of toy soldiers.
Since both Robert and Laurie had a child from previous marriages, Robin also had two half siblings that he didn’t meet until he was about 10 years-old.
Both of Robin’s parents played a major role in his love of comedy, but he would credit his mother for being the one to show him the joy of making others laugh. She had a sight gag that she would often use at parties, that involved her placing a broken rubber band up her nose and pretending to sneeze. She would then let the rubber string dangle to great comic affect.
Robin would later describe his father as a good man, but a tough laugh. The two didn’t have a lot in common, but sometimes Robert would let his son stay up with him to watch Tonight starring Jack Paar. Robin remembered one time specifically when comedian Jonathan Winters appeared on the show, and made his father burst out laughing. This made Robin take notice of Winters, who would become one of his biggest influences.
Winters was famous for his improvisational skills. Robin loved to recount the time he called Jonathan Winters his mentor and Jonathan said, “Please, I prefer idol.”
Clip of Jonathan Winters on Tonight with Jack Paar
Robin attended an all-boys school, and was on the football team. Any rebellious nature he had, he kept from his parents, showing good grades and manners.
But when he was 17, the Williams family moved to San Francisco. The new environment changed everything for Robin. It was here that he performed for the first time, doing an impression of a particularly animated teacher at his public high school. This quiet, nervous kid now made a remarkable discovery: when he was performing, he could be someone else, and the inhibitions of his normal personality faded away.
After attending an all-boys college to study political science, Robin dropped out and received a scholarship to Juilliard, where he met his long-time friend and roommate, Christopher Reeve
Juilliard gave Robin skills that he would use for the rest of his career. He was a skilled actor with a remarkable memory and ability to project without a microphone. He could form a connection with audiences, and he fell in love with improvisation.
After college, Williams moved back to California, and would perform on the street as well as in comedy clubs like The Holy City Zoo, where he started as a bartender. This would also be where he met his first wife, Valerie Velardi. The two were married for 10 years, and Robin remarried Marsha Garces in 1989. Him and Marsha were together for 21 years, and had two children: Zelda and Cody. In 2011, Robin married his third wife, Susan.
Robin Williams burst onto the comedy scene, forging lasting relationships with other up-and-coming comedic acts like David Letterman and Billy Crystal.
In the documentary, “Come Inside My Mind,” Letterman recounted seeing Williams’ wildly funny and energetic performances, wondering if his own comedy career would soon be over. “All I could do was hold on to a microphone for dear life,” Letterman said, “and he was levitating.”
Williams thrived as a performer in front of live audiences, and it was these performances that got him cast in his first TV appearance.
When producer George Schlatter saw one of Williams’ shows in the late 1970’s, he cast him in a special called , “The Great American Laugh Off.” Robin was a hit, and was later added as a cast member in the revival of “Laugh In.”
We will link to a video of this performance, as he’s seen wearing his classic rainbow suspenders.
In the mid 1970’s, Happy Days was the number one show on ABC. But, producer Gary Marshall’s son remarked that he was no longer watching it. When Marshall asked his son what would make him want to watch the show again, his son said that he wished there would be “space men” in the show. So, Marshall decided to write one in.
When it was time to hold auditions for Mork, a quirky alien from the planet Ork, someone who had seen Robin Williams as a street performer suggested him for the role. Gary Marshall asked if he should really “hire a kid that stands on the sidewalk with a hat” to be on his major TV show, and the person replied, “it’s a pretty full hat.”
So Robin came in to audition, and did so well, he was cast on the spot.
The showrunners knew immediately that Williams was perfect for the role, when they asked him to sit down and he sat on his head (a gag used in Happy Days and later Mork and Mindy). Marshall reportedly said that he was the only alien to show up for the part.
The episode tested well with audiences, and Happy Days brought back Mork for another episode later on.
It seemed to be a no-brainer that Mork should get his own show, so Marshall brought on actress Pam Dawber to play opposite Robin Williams, in a show about an alien that lives with a woman in present day Boulder, Colorado. The show gave Mork a new mission: he was to investigate the strange customs of the inhabitants of Earth, and report back to his superior, a faceless voice named Orson.
The show turned Robin Williams into a household name. He was making more money than ever, and he found a home in front of a live studio audience.
Sometime during the second season was when Robin started using drugs more heavily than he had before. He was friends with John Belushi, who had visited the set of Mork and Mindy on a day when Robin’s idol Jonathan Winters was a special guest.
Robin visited with Belushi on the same night that he passed away from a drug overdose. The absolute shock and devastation of losing a close friend to drugs prompted Robin to get sober.
This is an excerpt from the biography, “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff, recounting the moment that Pam Dawber had to tell Robin about Belushi’s death.
Dawber waited for a discreet moment when she and Robin were walking back from the Paramount commissary: “I said, ‘I’ve got something really terrible to tell you, Robin. He went, ‘What? What?’ And I said that John Belushi was found dead last night.” Robin found it incomprehensible to hear this about someone he had seen only a few hours earlier. “He went, ‘What? I was with him last night! I was with him last night!’” Dawber said. She could see that Robin was in pain but wanted to make sure he did not ignore the larger lesson in all of this. “I said, ‘Robin, if that ever happens to you, I will find you and kill you first.’”
Around this time, Robin’s oldest son Zach was born. This was another incentive for Williams to stay sober.
After four seasons, Mork and Mindy ended. Robin closed the book on the show that made him a star, and set his sights on bigger things. He continued to perform stand-up shows, proving himself as the king of improvisation. He would perform sets that he hadn’t written or rehearsed beforehand, and he felt free to perform without the rules of a Network holding him back.
The end of the show also freed Robin to focus on a newer chapter of his career: movies! Although he didn’t become a movie star right out of the gate, film would be the medium by which many would know him by in years to come. Once he found his footing as a film actor, he didn’t look back. In fact, he didn’t return to TV for nearly 3 decades.
A FEW OF HIS MOST INFLUENTIAL ROLES
Popeye was Robin Williams’ first feature film, and ultimately one that he would consider a disappointment. It wasn’t necessarily a critical darling, and although it didn’t flop, it never reached number one at the box office.
For the next few years, Williams would star in films like, “The World According to Garp” and “Moscow on the Hudson,” but he still felt that he wasn’t winning film audiences over. However the World According to Garp gave him the chance to be in a more serious role where he had to commit to the lines. He was able to build on this and show that he had a wider range than just comedy.
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM
It may seem crazy but there was a time when there were doubts about Robin’s abilities. The movies that he had been in before Good Morning Vietnam had not done well, and so the industry and Touchstone Pictures had their doubts. Barry Levinson, the movie’s director and fellow Comedy Stores Player member, knew that Robin would be perfect for the role.
This was Robin’s first film to do well and be the number one movie at the box office. It was his big break into the movie scene and to move beyond just stand-up and television.
Thirty Three years ago this month Good Morning, Vietnam came to theatres. Hours of material were ad-libbed for the radio scenes.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY
The first director, Jeff Kanew, actually wanted Liam Neeson as the role of Keating but Touchstone Pictures(AKA Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg) wanted Robin Williams. Robin never said yes or no to taking the part of Keating but his deafening silence towards working with Kanew on the project was noticed. Touchstone gambled and had everything set for the first day of shooting with hopes that Robin would show up. He did not. Luckily after a few changes, especially to a new director, he accepted the part and things got rolling.
Director Peter Weir when talking about whether or not Robin could pull this role off said that although he was known as a “funny man,” he had met Robin and the role he wanted him to play would be a mixture of the “real Robin” and a little of his character from “The World According to Garp.”
At first it was hard for him to get into the role, but once he was given a little free reign for improvisation on teaching the boys it all clicked.
Dante Basco who plays the role of Rufio would often discuss The Dead Poets Society and poems with Robin. He was an aspiring poet and so at the end of shooting, Robin gifted him with a limited edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As a result he ended up opening a very successful venue in America called The Poetry Lounge.
On the set of Hook Robin had some funny antics and Thomas Tulak recounts one of the times that Steven Spielberg was trying to address the people on set, “He’s just about got every one calmed down and starts to give instructions, when Robin climbs to the top of the pirate ship, behind Steven, and moons everyone!” Tulak wrote, adding, “Needless to say, Steven lost control of the situation.”
The hardest part for Robin to play in this movie was Peter Banning. Spielberg said that it was the antithesis of who Robin was.
At this time Robin Williams had become a well known star and Ron Clements and John Musker specifically wrote the role of Genie for Robin. They were incredibly inspired by a short called Back to Neverland, where Robin is taken around the world of DIsney Animation by Walter Cronkite and is taken to the animated world of Peter Pan specifically. In order to pay respect and recall back to this short, Musker and Clements had animators draw Genie at the end of the movie wearing the same yellow wild shirt and Goofy hat that he does in the beginning of Back to Neverland.
Robin at first did not want the part because he felt that the Disney contract was too strict. He finally agreed to do the film because Katzenberg convinced him to do it for his young kids so they could see their dad in something. He did however have some stipulations that he gave Disney. Some of these include: Genie could not be in more than 25% of the poster image, they couldn’t use his name or voice for marketing the movie, and that no happy meal toys be made of Genie. One of his goals was to not overshadow the movie that he had committed to first with Barry Levinson called “Toys.” Sadly “Toys” would bomb at the box office and Disney would break their promises of using his celebrity to promote Aladdin. This would lead to his anger at the studio and reason for not appearing in The Return of Jafar.
Fortunately for us however Robin had free reign in this feature and reportedly recorded 16 hours of riffing which the film cut down and brilliantly animated for the film.
When Joe Roth took over for Disney he gave a formal apology from Disney to Robin. This allowed Mrs. Doubtfire to be greenlit.
Anne Fine the author of the book (Alias Madame Doubtfire) that the film is based on, pictured Warren Beatty as the lead. How different the movie would have been!
True to form 2-3 cameras had to be kept on Robin as he moved about freely during filming!
Robin wanted to make sure that his costume for Mrs. Doubtfire worked and so therefore he tested it in a few different ways. One way he did this was to wear it to an adult store to buy intimate objects. It worked and it took the clerk quite a while to finally figure out that it was actually Robin! The other test came when they were casting Matthew Lawrence and Mara Wilson as the children. They wanted to get the kids’ true reactions.
Lisa Jakub who played the eldest daughter said about the movie that “I have had so many people come up to me and want to talk about this because it was so meaningful to them and really helped them get through their parents’ divorce,” said Jakub. “This idea that this might not be the way that you thought your life was going to be, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad or wrong. You’re going to be okay. That’s a really powerful message.”
There were reports that multiple cuts of the movie were made, one for PG, PG-13, R, and even NC-17 depending on what Robin ad-libbed. The final cut they chose was the PG-13, yet I know that lots of kids were still allowed to watch it!
There were two scenes that were also cut from the film for being “too heartbreaking.” We watched them and…yeah, we agree. You can find them HERE.
The director Joe Johnston said that TriStar pictures told them that they would make the movie if they could get Robin to be in it. The first script was passed by Robin and so the team spent an entire night revising the script. Luckily this next screenplay was accepted and he said yes!
Young 12 year old Bradley Pierce had to have make-up put on for 3 hours a day to become the monkey boy. Since Robin had to go through a similar time, recently being made up as Mrs. Doubtfire, he kindly kept Bradley company and gave advice as he sat in the chair.
Bonnie Hunt said of the movie “Kids always remember the first movie that makes their hearts pound. Then that feeling becomes nostalgic, and you want to revisit it and share it with a new generation.”
And boy was it a hit, winning $262.8 million worldwide.
GOOD WILL HUNTING
Good Will Hunting gave Robin Williams his only Academy Award, for the role of Sean McGuire. Although Williams had proved he was a strong dramatic actor (hence Juilliard) this role really proved his range.
It is now one of his best-known performances, and fans of the movie often take trips to the public bench in Boston, where one of the film’s most iconic scenes takes place.
In one scene, Williams improvised a line about his late wife farting in her sleep. The story made Matt Damon and Williams both break into laughter, and if you look closely, you can see the camera shaking because the cameraman was laughing as well!
Robin says that the quietest person in the room is the one to look out for. The line in Good Will Hunting where his character grabs Damon by the throat and says I will end you came from when Robin saw a large guy at a bar picking on a smaller dude and the smaller dude was quiet until he had enough. He pointed and said “I will end you” and the larger guy walked away.
Patch Adams was a way to show Robin’s care for children, especially those fighting cancer or other ailments. It was a way to show that laughter really can be the best medicine.
Cameron Brooke Stanley was only 7 year old, undergoing treatment for her kidney in real life, and cast with a speaking role. She remembers Robin fondly as he cared for the children’s comfort and well-being first and foremost. As of 2014 she was 22 and living in San Jose free of cancer.
Patch Adams, after hearing of Robin’s passing, had this to say to Time Magazine, “I’m enormously grateful for his wonderful performance of my early life, which has allowed the Gesundheit Institute to continue and expand our work. We extend our blessings to his family and friends in this moment of sadness. Thank you for all you’ve given this world, Robin. Thank you my friend.”
His last roles were; “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” and a voice part in “Absolutely Anything.”
CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICAN CULTURE
When performing, Robin had a lot of energy and would move freely about in the space that he was given. He was very unpredictable. Due to this, he is the reason that a fourth camera was brought into the sitcom format during Mork and Mindy. They brought it in specifically to capture Robin, because he was not hitting his marks!
Robin Williams did lots of charity work, he helped where he could. Here are just a few organizations that he put his time, money, and talents towards.
You may remember him doing ads for St. Jude’s Hospital. We would often see them at the theatre before they played the trailers! He was a big supporter and would spend whatever time he could to visit with the children and families.
Since he was a close and personal friend with Christopher Reeve he committed 4 years of his life on the Board of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He went to several of the fundraising events and made sure to talk to as many people as he could. The foundation raises money for research towards spinal cord injuries. Robin would financially support this foundation as much as he could.
Comic Relief was a special telethon organized by Bob Zmuda that had Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams as the hosts. It’s purpose was to raise money and awareness to homelessness and health care services. The three of them would host a total of 8 of the telethons starting in 1986.
He was always willing to go and visit the soldiers overseas with many performances over his 12 years of involvement with the USO. He would pose for so many pictures with troops that he would often have to be practically dragged away from them.
Here is a list of some of the awards that Robin Williams won throughout his career
Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2005
Golden Globe winner for his roles in: Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, and Mork and Mindy
Emmy Winner for roles in:
ABC Presents: A Royal Gala
Carol, Carol, Whoopi and Robin
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for his roles in One Hour Photo and Aladdin
American Comedy Awards: Mrs. Doubtfire, Comic Relief III, Comic Relief ‘87, Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams Live at the Met
In 1988 and ‘89 he won Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic and in 89 he also won Funniest Male Performer of the Year
He won these along with several others and many more nominations! He even won a few Grammy’s like one for the soundtrack for Good Morning Vietnam.
HIS DEATH AND LEWY BODY DEMENTIA
Robin Williams had an unparalleled mind. He relied on his ability to think on his feet, as well as his extraordinary memory that he inherited from his dad. Near the end of his career, Robin was still getting steady work. He starred in a sitcom called “The Crazy Ones,” and made appearances in all three of the “Night at the Museum” films.
But despite outward appearance, Robin and his wife Susan noticed something was wrong. In October of 2013, around the time of their two year anniversary, Williams started experiencing what his wife would call, “a firestorm of symptoms.” Among these were paranoia and memory loss. For months there were no answers on what could be causing these issues. Susan Schnieder Williams remembers her husband calling her while he filmed the final “Night at the Museum” movie. He was having a panic attack because he couldn’t remember his lines. A month later, he was given the devastating diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms would change and worsen as time went on. Robin was confused and distraught. He seemed to be losing his ability to judge depth, and at times he would get caught in a frozen stance, unable to break out of it.
On August 11, 2014, Williams’ assistant found the comedian unresponsive in his home. He had died of an apparent suicide.
The news of Robin Williams’ death shook his fans from all over the world. It was an unbelievable loss. Robin Williams was the kind of person that seemed untouchable, invincible.
President Obama said of his death: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”
His manner of death sparked many discussions on mental illness, more specifically depression. The incident seemed to highlight the importance of seeking help, and destigmatizing mental illness.
In the fall of 2016, a neurology journal published an essay by Susan Schneider Williams called, “The Terrorist Inside my Husband’s Brain.” Which we will link to in the blog. https://n.neurology.org/content/87/13/1308
It was revealed that after Williams’ autopsy, medical professionals discovered Lewey Bodies on his brain. These are lumps of protein known to cause dementia. Robin Williams had a unique and advanced case of Lewey Body Syndrome (LBD) that was likely a major factor in his suicide.
In the essay she wrote: “I will never know the true depth of his suffering, nor just how hard he was fighting. But from where I stood, I saw the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life.”
Susan Schneider has continued to educate the public about the little known brain disease that affects about 1.4 million Americans.
In her essay, Robin Williams’ wife wrote, “Robin is and will always be a larger-than-life spirit who was inside the body of a normal man with a human brain.”
Robin Williams was truly remarkable. There was something in him that we all see in ourselves, yet he was utterly unique. He spoke to us, made us laugh, made us cry, and made us laugh again. On stage, he was lightning personified, striking in unpredictably amusing ways. In life, he was quiet, loving, and at times, lonely. He shared with the world, the magic of his inextinguishable spark. And although he may be gone, his light will never leave us.
Since they have been around, humans have been utterly fascinated by the idea of life after death. Some believe in heaven and hell, while others believe in reincarnation. And some believe that spirits can roam the earth after leaving their bodies.
According to a 2019 YouGov poll, 45% of Americans believe in ghosts. It’s a fear that has plagued the nightmares of many, the idea that there are unseen spirits among us. But what if you found out that the ghost in your house isn’t mean? Would it change your mind if the spirit just wanted to be your friend?
In the mid 1940’s, Paramount’s Famous Studios produced a short called, “The Friendly Ghost,” starring a cute little spirit named Casper. Casper went on to star in many other cartoons and comics, and in 1995 he starred in a major motion picture alongside Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci!
So, if you’re the kind of person that believes in ghosts, this is the story of Casper. And if you’re the kind that doesn’t believe in ghosts, well, this is the story of Casper anyway!
So before we start talking about the movie, let’s talk about Casper’s history!
The Friendly Ghost, the first Noveltoon to feature Casper, was released by Paramount in 1945.
Casper, the friendly ghost (the friendliest ghost you know.)
If you look at the original animation and subsequent comics, it’s tough to figure out exactly where Casper came from. But, in the real world, he was created in the late 1930’s by Joe Oriolo and Seymour Reit.
The story behind Casper’s origins was disputed between the co-creators. Joe Oriolo’s family says that he created the character to help his daughter overcome her fear of the dark. Reit claimed that he wrote the story, but Oriolo drew up the images of the character. Let’s just say they were both correct and call it a day!
Casper was originally designed to be a spirit in a bedsheet. The idea of a ghost in a white sheet dates back as early as the 15th Century, when people in England would report seeing apparitions wrapped in shrouds.
The idea stems from the fact that many people of lower economic status couldn’t afford coffins, and were then only buried in their burial shrouds.
By the time of Shakespeare, reports of people impersonating ghosts by wearing sheets were becoming somewhat common–it seemed a popular disguise for criminals.
Over time, this became the most iconic image of a ghost, and would become a popular Halloween costume.
Casper’s creators were animators, working for Max Fleischer! Originally the concept was for a children’s book, but that didn’t pan out. The project was put on hold as Reit served in the military during WWII.
During the war, the Fleischer Studios was purchased by Paramount, and was now called, “Famous Studios.”
Because of this, all rights to Casper were sold to Famous Studios for $200.
Some sources say that Oriolo sold the rights to the book while Reit was fighting in the war.
In 1945, Casper made his debut in a Famous Studios short called, “The Friendly Ghost.”
The short introduced audiences to a sweet little ghost named Casper, who didn’t fit in with his ghostly counterparts because he didn’t like to scare people. In fact, he wanted to be their friend. You can even see him reading the famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
Between 1945 and 1959, 55 theatrical Casper shorts were released.
According to Dark Horse Comics, publisher St. John’s created Casper comics starting in 1949. In 1952, Harvey Comics took over and gave the ghost much of his iconic qualities, and animators that had developed him on screen, also worked on the comics as well.
There has been much debate about where Casper himself comes from. In one of the Famous Studios shorts, Casper can be seen sitting by a gravestone, which would imply that he is the ghost of a deceased child.
In the comics, however, Casper was born a ghost. Ghosts in the comic universe are treated like any other supernatural beings, being born as what they are and not something another creature can become.
Casper’s parents were ghosts when they were married, so ghosts can procreate in the Harvey comic universe.
One theory for Casper came from a Simpsons episode in 1991, where Lisa theorizes that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich, another Harvey comics property.
Casper wasn’t intended to be the ghost of Richie Rich, as he was created years before the Richie Rich comics were published. But, comics don’t usually follow strict timeline rules, so if you want to believe this theory, more power to you.
In 1963, The New Casper Cartoon Show premiered as an ABC Saturday morning cartoon. It featured many of the characters from the comic books, like Wendy the Good Witch, The Ghostly Trio (which have had a few different names over the years), and Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost.
Although Casper was a popular comic, the cartoon show really enhanced the character’s popularity and made him recognizable around the world.
In 1995, almost half a century later, Casper returned to movie theaters in the first-ever live-action film with a CGI character as the lead role!
Casper (1995) has a main cast of four humans and four ghosts. When the snobby Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) inherits Whipstaff Manor, she and her male companion Dibbs (Eric Idle) soon discover it is haunted by malevolent spirits. They hire Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) a ghost therapist who has been traveling across the country, claiming to be able to help ghosts move on from their haunting places. He brings with him his young daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci).
After moving into the house, Dr. Harvey and Kat become acquainted with the ghostly trio (Fatso, Stretch, and Stinky) and their young “nephew,” Casper. Casper is infatuated with Kat, and they form a strong friendship that can withstand life and death.
Produced by Stephen Spielberg, with Amblin and Dreamworks, Casper was the first-ever hybrid animation/live-action movie made with Universal Studios.
Brad Silberling, who would later go on to direct “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” took on the role of director.
He was a TV director, and this was his first time directing a full-length feature film! He said that Stephen Spieberg was supportive as a producer, and let him make his own creative choices–this reminded me of the comments people made about Tim Burton as the director of Nightmare Before Christmas .
Silberling also has no experience with special effects, which would prove to be a huge component of the directing experience.
Originally, Alex Proyas (iRobot, The Crow) was hired as director, but left just before production began.
His plan was for the movie to be a darker take on the children’s cartoon, with influences from The Wizard of Oz. It would have been different, but we still wouldn’t mind seeing that movie if he still wants to make it!
The Screenplay went through various changes throughout the movie process, but it was written originally by Deanna Oliver, Sherri Stoner, with an uncredited rewrite by JJ Abhams!
Deanna Oliver was also a writer on The Brave Little Toaster, and she played the main character! Sherri Stoner is also a prominent screenwriter who has worked on The Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures.
The rewrite seems to have happened after Proyas left the film, to make it more light-hearted, and focused on the emotional connection between Kat, a grieving teenage girl, and Casper, a soul that mourns his lost life. Years later, Proyas remarked that the movie was a missed opportunity, and the attempts at emotion were forced.
SET DESIGN AND SPECIAL EFFECTS
Almost the entire movie was shot on a soundstage! The set with Whipstaff manor was three levels high, which was rare. Brad Silberling notes that usually directors are lucky to get to work with one level of a set, let alone three.
The set was designed by Leslie Dilley. The crew was careful not to make the house appear to be like any other haunted house, so they modeled it after the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.
Spirals in ceilings and other set pieces were references to the Harvey comic characters, like Casper and the Ghostly Trio, with their swirly heads.
The set was also inspired by the notorious Winchester House, with winding hallways and endless rooms. Scenes where Kat explores this were cut for time, but we can still get this feeling watching the movie.
The designers also wanted the sensation that “Dr. Suess Threw Up” with all the color, odd shapes, and various strange props that filled the house. It looked as if it had come straight from the comic books that Casper was known for.
There are cracks in the set that give it an old feel, like a broken-down house. These cracks were real! There had been earthquakes leading up to the shooting, and the set was damaged because of it. It was still safe for the actors to use, but they added to the realism of the set.
The crew also used hot resin guns that shot out spider webs to place all over the set!
The groundbreaking special effects were done by Industrial Light and Magic!
This Visual Effects company founded by George Lucas has worked on films like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Young Sherlock Holmes, Jumanji, and so much more. At the time when they were approached their Senior Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Director Dennis Muren was not sure if Casper would be a big enough spectacle after the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. Once finished however, it was clear that Casper was different and a spectacle of his own.
The animation took 2 years and 28 terabytes (19 million floppy discs)!
Compared to Jurassic Park’s 6.5 minutes of screen time for effects, Casper and his Uncle’s have a glorious 40 minutes!
The Special Effects team was well over 100 people, including about 30 animators and technical directors that would match the lighting of the characters to the lighting of the set.
The company needed fully edited scenes for them to add the ghosts, meaning that the actors had to act with only references to where the ghosts *might* be, based on Brad Silbering’s direction. Also, the film editor had to choose a lot of scenes with seemingly nothing happening in them during the editing process–it would be hard for him to understand at times what exactly was happening in the scenes he was editing.
The first edited scene sent to the company was the scene in the kitchen, where Casper makes breakfast for Kat and Dr. Harvey.
Because this was their first scene, you can see how the ghosts are animated differently here than they are in other scenes of the movie! The filmmakers didn’t like the way the characters were lit, as they seemed to look more like cell animation than the realistic CGI that they were going for.
They had to research more lighting techniques to get the translucent imagery that they were going for.
Previous films like, “Poltergeist,” and “Ghostbusters” used a combination of live-action and special/visual effects to make their ghosts. Casper had an entirely new look.
What made Casper and The Ghostly Trio appear more real, was their relationship relative to light. These CGI characters casted shadows and refracted light, something that made them stand apart! Casper also has subtle body language and facial expressions, avoiding the over-the-top depiction that many animated characters have. Audiences have no trouble believing that he was once a living human, because he looks authentic.
Although computer graphics may seem faster and easier than traditional cell animation, each sequence was painstakingly animated at a high-resolution Silicon Graphics work-station.
Artists had to choose shape, color and density, while maintaining correct lighting and camera perspective. A new model had to be created by an animator for each shape that Casper took. There are various scenes where the ghost becomes a shirt, a superhero, and a pillow. This had to be crafted each time, and the more creative the scenes were, the more difficult the animation.
There were perks over traditional animation, however. For example, animators were able to simulate objects that the ghosts would manipulate–rather than having to use actual props for the ghosts to move. Usually if a ghost is holding something, it’s actually CGI. When the Ghostly Trio first appears, Stretch is holding a CG newspaper; When Casper delivers pancakes, they are completely graphic as well!
There was originally a musical number shot for the film that did not make the final cut, because the animation would have been so expensive and hard to pull off, that they completely cut the scene. The song was called, “Lucky Enough to be a Ghost” and was sung by The Ghostly Trio.
Animator Phil Nibbelink was on the set of the film, standing by to render reference animation for the actors as they performed each scene! If you remember from our Space Jam episode, they employed a very similar process. Space Jam came out one year later in 1996.
There were also some practical effects used in the film, for example, in the construction scene, a wrecking ball hits a range rover–that’s a real wrecking ball and a real Range Rover! Also, lots and lots of fishing line was used to simulate the ghosts as they would interact with humans–the scene where Casper carried Kat away is an example.
The original Casper theme song is incredibly famous, and it was written by too wonderful songwriters who gave us a lot of classic themes over the years. They were Mack David and Jerry Livingston, and because both men were capable of lyrics and melody, it’s not entirely clear who wrote which. They worked together on Disney classics like, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland!
The film also included a cover of the song by Little Richard, and it’s a certified bop.
In 1995, composer James Horner scored Braveheart, Jumanji, Apollo 13, Balto, and Casper. Of course he wrote incredible scores for many more films throughout his career, but with Casper, he excelled at bringing forth child-like innocence and wonder, married perfectly with emotion.
I will never agree with anyone who thinks that Casper lacks emotion, simply for this score and the track, “Casper’s Lullaby.”
On the site “Movie Wave,” they say this about Casper’s lullaby: “it’s truly wonderful, one of the most lilting and beautiful of all James Horner themes. With two distinct parts – the first usually heard on piano, the second usually heavenly wordless choir – it is woven throughout the score and always makes a mark, but especially in its album arrangement late on. As fashions changed, later in his career Horner was frequently criticised by film critics for going too far with the emotional manipulation; back in 1995 it was still considered to be one of the primary purposes of film music and none did it better.”
Brad Silberling was absolutely blown away by his actors and their ability to react to characters that weren’t there in the scene with them. The sets were being constantly manipulated, so everyone knew where the ghosts were supposed to be–almost convincing themselves they could see them. Silberling referred to this as “collective delusion.” The eye contact between the actors and the ghosts is what really sells the story, and the main cast delivered better performances than he could have hoped for.
Christina Ricci as the young girl Kat.
She is also well known for being Wednesday in the 1991 Addams Family. She has appeared in other things like Ally McBeal, Saving Grace, and was Penelope in the movie Penelope.
She originally met Stephen Spielberg as he was casting Jurassic Park, but she was too old for the role–but this was how she got her hands on the script for Casper.
Silberling believed that she was a genius performer, who really grounded the film as a strong, female character with a no-BS attitude.
The year of 1995 was referred to by Newsweek and The Christian Science Monitor as the year of the woman, or rather girl. It was dubbed this because up to that year many of the movie releases would feature boys or men as the main protagonists. In 1995 there was a bigger surge of movies with girls being the leads. This included A Little Princess, The Babysitters Club, Clueless, and more. While Casper is named for the boy ghost and is of course the title character, Kat fits into this role of the main girl because she is the living protagonist.
When you look at it Kat and Casper are on equal grounding, helping each other. Kat’s character brings the emotional weight, providing her perspective as a young girl without her mother, who has been uprooted and forced to watch her father cope (unhealthily I might add) with the loss of his wife.
Kat is the one that reminds Casper that he once lived, bringing up the memories of his life that he had forgotten–and gives him the one thing he’s always wanted: a friend.
Bill Pullman as Dr. Harvey
Many different actors were considered for the role of Ghost Therapist Dr. Harvey, but Brad Silberling was ecstatic to work with Bill Pullman.
Silberling was a huge fan of Bill Pullman’s subtle comedic ability, which he had seen in Spaceballs, and the 1992 film “Singles.”
He was looking for someone to be quote-on-quote “The Jimmy Stuart of the 90’s”–someone that could really anchor the audience and sell this universe and story so that it would completely believable, an everyday man.
Stephen Spielberg was not familiar with Pullman’s work, but told Silberling that it was his movie and he trusted his judgement for a leading man.
After he had been cast, Pullman starred in While You Were Sleeping, and was cast in Independence Day! By 1996, he was a huge star!
Eric Idle as Dibs
He is of course of Python fame and you can hear more about him in our Monty Python and the Holy Case episode.
Silberling was thrilled to work with him as a Python fan, and he was able to improvise a lot in the film with his acting mate, Cathy Moriarty.
Cathy Moriarty as Carrigan
She has been in many other things including Raging Bull, Analyze That, Soapdish, Kindergarten Cop, and Tales from the Crypt.
Her Tales from the Crypt credit is funny, since the Crypt Keeper actually appears in Casper!
Devon Sawa as the onscreen live Casper
He has been in things like Final Destination, Now and Then, and Nikita.
In “Now and Then,” he was Christina Ricci’s love interest as well!
Malachi Pearson as Casper
He is known for being Rambo in Family Matters and Eric in Suburban Commando.
Joe Nipote as Stretch
Known for portraying Frankie Waters in Viper and Boomer in Meatballs II.
Joe Alaskey as Stinkie
He is a voice actor that has since taken over many of the voices that Mel Blanc used to do. He has done voices for Roger Rabbit, Avatar the Last Airbender, and he was Grandpa Lou Pickles in Rugrats.
Brad Garrett as Fatso
He was the brother Robert in Everybody Loves Raymond, Eddie in Til’ Death, and has had many other roles as well.
Dan Akroyd as a Ghostbuster (clever)
Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci
He has played characters with this name before on SNL, Sin City Spectacular, Unhappily Ever After, Married with Children, Blossom, and many others. He can also be found as the voice of Vinny in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
He also improvised nearly all of his lines as this character!
When he walks out of the mansion with his head screwed back behind him, it was a reference to the black comedy, “Death Becomes Her” as Meryl Streep’s character suffers a similar fate with VERY similar effects.
He appears as one of the faces in the mirror that Dr. Harvey sees along with the next three actors.
In order to convince Eastwood to be in the movie, Speilberg told him that he himself would be in the scene as well. So, they did shoot a scene where Stephen also appears in the movie, but they cut it out.
Rodney Dangerfield is thought to be the “human” version of Fatso–each actor that appears in the movie is thought to be what that ghost looked like when alive.
Gibson is Stinky’s counterpart as well!
The Crypt Keeper/ John Kassir
Jessica Wesson as Amber who wants to have the party at her house
If you are a Boy Meets World fan then you may recognize her but she was also in Home Improvement and Judging Amy.
Silberling said that her role in the movie was meant to be similar to Stephen King’s Carrie, as she plots to ruin the main protagonist’s life at a school dance.
At the box office, Casper was a success. It made over $100,000,000 in the US alone, earning the title of a summer blockbuster. But, critically, the movie didn’t do so well.
Many critics felt that even though the movie attempted to achieve a certain level of emotion, it fell flat. The general consensus was that it was a popcorn flick, something to entertain the kiddies with sometimes-funny humor that was lost on more sophisticated audiences. One critic did not agree with Silberling in regards to his actors, feeling that Bill Pullman often looked dazed, as if he didn’t know where the ghosts were supposed to be in the scene.
One thing that audiences didn’t expect was the romantic element of the story, between a ghost that has been dead for 100 years, and a living teenage girl. When Silberling first worked on the project, he felt that Casper was a bit too soft and androgenous. He and the other crew behind the story felt that they needed to add the layer of him as a 12 or 13-year-old boy who has the chance to hangout with a girl for the first time. The line, “There’s a girl…on my bed. Yes!” was fairly controversial, and the family that owned Harvey comics was not pleased with this interpretation. You see, before the movie, no one had ever given Casper a backstory as a dead boy, and the comics firmly believed he was born a ghost.
Another famous line in the film, “Can I keep you?” may have missed its mark with some audiences, but for others it rings in an unbelievably sad expression of loneliness. Casper asks this as Kat falls asleep, unsure if she truly hears him. At the end of the movie, Casper gets one chance to be a human boy again, and he uses this time to dance with Kat. He asks again, but this time the line holds a different meaning. Casper asks this question, knowing that the answer is no. But, he wants Kat to know that he loves her enough to ask. In a Refinery 29 article, writer Anne Cohen took a look back at the movie to “write the wrongs” of the past critics. She spoke about the line, saying, “Casper stands as a powerful childhood introduction to the complex realities of death, and the need to let go of loved ones — even if, to echo those swoon-worthy four words, we keep their memories with us forever.
John Lassetter had a stuffed Casper doll as a child, with a pull-string back. This was the inspiration for Woody’s design in Toy Story!
Stephen Speilberg would appear on set a lot, but Silberling didn’t let him sit in his chair and watch. He would ask him to do various tasks for the movie–in one scene, he’s dangling a lighbulb in front of the camera as Dr. Harvey and Kat hide in a closet. In another, he was the one to throw a huge glob of pudding on Dr. Harvey!
In order to sell more VHS copies MCA/Universal teamed up with a few companies to make the purchase more appealing. One promotion was that if you bought it you would receive a free 12-pack of Pepsi and another movie title. Pepsi would help further by running a Casper themed commercial for two weeks. It is shown to the right.
Baskin Robbins also got in on the action by having a special Casper Halloween Polar Pizza Ice-cream and a flavor called Red, White, and Boo.
The team behind Casper took a ghost from 1940 and placed him firmly in 1995. They even incorporated the show, “Hard Copy” to establish the time, and set the tone for a cheesy, yet beautiful film. Casper makes great use of believable characters, who interact with ghosts the same way you or I might. It introduces young audiences to the concept of death–even the death of a child. Romantic subplot aside, it represents a strong, beautiful friendship between Kat and Casper, and shows the healing journey of Dr Harvey with the unlikely help of The Ghostly Trio. Almost every character experiences growth (maybe with the exception of the two villains), meaning that this movie added a new depth to familiar characters.
With great acting, a unique story, and incredible score, Casper is real to anyone, even those of us who don’t believe in ghosts.
Tonight we are joined by two new friends, JD Gravatte and Brett Wilson! Thank you for gracing us with your spooktacular presence, guys!
This week, we are wrapping up our SNICK-tember and heading right into the spookiest month of the year with a special episode on the iconic show, Are You Afraid of the Dark?!
Back in the early 90’s, Are You Afraid of the Dark anchored the 8-10pm SNICK block with its bone-chilling 9:30pm timeslot. The show was geared toward pre-teens and teenagers, and featured an awesome anthology of scary tales told by a group of friends called, “The Midnight Society.”
Sometimes the stories were refreshingly original–like one story about a carnival clown that stalks a young boy after he steals its nose. Others featured well-known monsters and existing lore; such as vampires, poltergeists, goblins, and even a leprechaun. Co-creator and showrunner DJ Machale has even been quoted saying that Nickelodeon asked for stories that had literary references, as a possible way to placate upset parents.
Are You Afraid of the Dark was a show that not-only ignited the imagination of its viewers, it emphasized the power of a good story. Tonight, we’re taking a look at specifically three episodes (although there were many and we could do multiple episodes on this topic) that provided young audiences with new takes on well-known stories and folklore.
Before we launch into the episode, we want to take a minute to talk about our guests! Brett and JD are HUGE fans of AYAOTD. So huge in fact, they are actually here to promote a very special kickstarter connected to the show!
The first episode we will talk about tonight is often listed as the fourth episode of season 1, but it aired as a special pilot of AYAOTD on October 31st, 1991: The Tale of the Twisted Claw
This tale is told by David, one of the more soft-spoken members of the group. When he speaks up to tell the story, Kristen says that it’s been a while since he has told a story. If you follow the order of the episodes on the DVD, this doesn’t actually make sense since he told the story in the previous episode.
Shows like this, that don’t follow a singular narrative, are not often shown in the order that the episodes were shot–or even in the order the creators intended. This is something we came across with The Muppet Show, where the networks got to decide the order and it was out of Jim Henson’s hands once the episodes were handed over.
The story begins with Dougie and Kevin, two young boys out playing pranks on Mischief night. They target Miss Clove, a woman who lives alone in a creepy house and is rumored to be a witch. After spraying shaving cream in her face, she knocks over a vase and the boys take off.
The next night, while trick-or-treating, the boys return to Miss Clove’s house. She invites them in, and offers up an enchanted claw as a reward. Miss Clove explains that the claw will grant them three wishes, and she warns them to be careful what they wish for.
The boys quickly discover that Miss Clove was indeed telling the truth, as each wish they made was swiftly granted–even in ways they didn’t like or expect. Each wish turns progressively worse, and when one of the boys accidentally wishes his dead grandfather alive again, the boys make one final wish that they never broke the vase–and all returns to normal.
This episode was written and directed by DJ Machale, though he used the pseudonym “Chloe Brown” as the writer. According to IMDB, that is his cat’s name.
What the Story is Based On
This episode is a modern re-telling of the 1902 short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.
The story follows the White family, who receives the paw from a traveling soldier that came to dinner. Mr. White initially wishes for $200, and gets it as a consequence of his son’s tragic and violent death while at work. He uses the second wish to hastily undo the first wish, bringing his mutilated son back from the dead and knocking at their door. Finally, he uses his last wish to undo his second wish.
The story became incredibly popular, with adaptations beginning as early as 1903. The first film version of the story premiered in 1915, and beyond that, it has been referenced in visual and written media countless times since it was first published. The story is considered a literary classic, and performing it has become somewhat of a tradition (much like A Christmas Carol, which we discussed approximately 1000 years ago in our first episode.)
At the time, the concept of three wishes was hardly new. Jacobs lifted the idea from The Book of 1000 and One Nights, which one of his characters even mentions in the story.
Jacobs also reveals the moral early in the story–that it’s impossible to find happiness through wishing. The paw was created to punish those who use it for attempting to alter fate.
The number 3 is also a highly common and significant number in storytelling. The rule of three dates back to ancient Greece. The idea is that concepts presented in threes are easier to remember and more interesting to the audience than with any other number. Most of us use the rule of three without even thinking about it!
This is often attributed to the idea that humans want to make order out of chaos. Taking events and placing them into a short sequence makes a story much easier to follow. Three is also thought to represent time and magic, and is a sacred number in many religions.
Differences and Similarities
Both stories actually have a lot in common, from the structure of the story to the actual events that take place.
Besides both stories including a magical object that grants wishes, they both have incredibly similar final acts.
The scene where the two boys fearfully await the arrival of Dougie’s deceased grandfather mirrors the suspenseful climax of the original story.
Someone has been brought back from the dead and at their door. One of the wishers tries to open the door and greet them, while the other grasps the paw/claw and makes a final wish to undo the last wish.
The differences between the stories stem from the different settings and audiences (for example, the boys don’t wish for money because they are kids. Instead, one boy wishes to win a race at school.)
In the original story, only three wishes are made overall, which worked well in service of teaching the audience the harsh lesson of, “be careful what you wish for.”
But, in the AYAOTD version, each boy was allowed three wishes. This gave the characters more time to understand the consequences of their wishes, as they write off the first wish granting as coincidence.
The Twisted Claw also has a much happier conclusion, as one of the boys uses his last wish to fix the vase they broke in the beginning of the episode, effectively erasing all the wishes.
In AYAOTD, the claw was a device used by Miss Clove specifically to teach the boys a lesson–while in the original story it was an item that Mr. White willingly took from an old friend.
Why the Story Works as an Episode of AYAOTD
The Monkey’s Paw drew from popular literary sources to create a tale that was both relatable and unsettling. Although the story has been told in various forms time and time again, it still sends chills up our spines–especially during its first telling. This episode was likely the first introduction that many kids had to the classic story.
Writing a short-form story for television is harder than it seems, and using the structure of an already-existing story can be helpful as a baseline. However, it’s not easy to take an already established story and have it relate so well to a new audience that they felt like it was for them all along.
The Tale of the Twisted Claw has a strong beginning, middle and end. It has relatable characters, a creepy vibe, and a strong moral.
THE TALE OF THE MIDNIGHT MADNESS
The second episode we’re covering tonight, is from the beginning of season 2: The Tale of the Midnight Madness! This is one of our all-time favorites, and we’ve read this is DJ MacHale’s favorite episode as well.
This horrifying tale comes to us from Frank, the “bad boy” of the group. In it, he brings back the recurring character Dr. Vink, played by Aron Tager. Aron Tager was also married to Ann Page, who portrayed Miss Clove in “Twisted Claw”!
Although the episode wasn’t a direct adaptation of another story like Twisted Claw, Midnight Madness pulled from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and used images akin to the infamous Dracula knock-off: Nosferatu. Although many episodes of the show deal with vampires, this one gave young audiences a look at the classic movie vampire.
The Realto Theatre is in trouble. One of its employees, Pete, loves the local landmark and is willing to do what he can to save it. One day, a strange man named Dr. Vink arrives with his own silent film and a proposition. Dr Vink guarantees the manager that this film, a silent vampire movie, will fill his theatre with people. There’s only one catch–in exchange for showing his movie, Vink wants one night a week to show his other films. Pete plays the film to a disgruntled audience, after another movie malfunctions. To everyone’s surprise, the audience loves it and the theatre has seemingly been saved. But, when Vink comes to cash in on his deal, the theatre manager refuses.
Pete soon discovers that there’s more to the movie than he thought, when the vampire walks out of the screen. When Pete and his coworker/crush go to check on the manager later on, they find him passed out, and they are trapped in the theatre with a blood-thirsty vampire. Pete lures Nosferatu back into the movie and defeats him by exposing him to sunlight.
After all seems well, Vink returns to alert the staff that he now owns the theater, and there are a lot more movies where this comes from.
This episode was written and directed by DJ MacHale (though he used the Chloe Brown pseudonym again.)
Literary and Film Sources
This episode is special, because it doesn’t only draw slightly from literary references, but it’s also deeply rooted in classic film.
The biggest literary reference would be Dracula, a horror novel written by Bram Stoker in 1897.
When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he didn’t really consider it to be fiction. He did extensive research, and used eye-witness accounts of actual events as inspiration for major plot points of the novel.
In Wallachian, a dialect of Romanian, Dracula means DEVIL. In a Time article, bestselling author JD Barker wrote, “Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.”
After his publisher initially passed on the book, for fear that it would create panic, Stoker made drastic changes and it was released as fiction. Not only were there narrative changes, but the first 101 pages were cut!
However, Bram was able to get his original preface and parts of his original novel published in an Icelandic first edition. It translates into, “Power of Darkness.” There is also a short story called, “Dracula’s Guest” that holds pieces from the original, and of course Bram left behind his notes and other first editions for fans looking for the “truth.”
In “Midnight Madness,” the name Dracula is never mentioned. However, the male protagonist in Vink’s movie appears to be Jonathan Harker, the main protagonist of the novel. Another reference would be sensitivity to light (though light would not kill Dracula), and a coffin.
1921 Dracula’s Death
Midnight Madness also pays homage to the infamous film Nosferatu (1922), which we will get to in a minute. But one year earlier, in 1921, a film called “Dracula’s Death” tried to convert Brom Stoker’s novel to the screen. There is not a lot known about it, for it is considered to be a lost film, but there are a few pictures from promotional items and the general plot is known. The premise was that a young woman visits a mental hospital where one patient claims to be Count Dracula. She experiences awful visions afterward and has trouble distinguishing whether or not these are truly just visions or if they were real.
AYAOTD seemingly takes inspiration from this piece by having Frank in the beginning preface his story by saying “But sometimes the movie seems so real, that it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s make-believe and what’s really there.”
Nosferatu has a bit of a controversial beginning. It’s creator F.W. Murnau did not obtain the rights to make a Dracula movie. Instead of obtaining rights he changed the names of the characters and a few plot points. One of the most important being that instead of a stake to the heart to kill the main antagonist, it is the sunlight. A bit of a dramatic way to get the villain to turn into a flame that burns out.
Stoker’s widow sued Murnau, and saw to it that as many versions of the film be destroyed as possible. Dr. Vink’s movie isn’t the same, but maybe he has one of the only copies?
Obviously AYAOTD uses the name Nosferatu for the vampire character, but in the original film, the vampire’s name is Count Orlok. Dr. Vink’s movie is actually called, “Nosferatu: The demon Vampire.”
In this way, Vink’s movie seems to be a mash-up between the original Dracula and Nosferatu
The similarities between Nosferatu and Midnight Madness are highly evident in its visuals. The scenes where Pete and Katie are running from the vampire mirror the actual movie scenes in an eerie and wonderful way. The shadows Nosferatu casts along the wall, his long, white fingers as he reaches for the door, and even the reactions from Pete and Katie are all reminiscent of the film.
This tale is a love letter to silent film and monster movies. There tends to be more media focused on the dracula-style vampire, a talkative count that can take the form of a bat. It should be noted though, that this style comes more from the 1931 film adaptation of Dracula than the book. The image of Nosferatu is much more terrifying visually, and is less-often used in stories of vampires.
This episode struck a chord with most audiences. When we watch a scary movie, we take comfort in knowing that it is indeed, just a movie. But, what if the movie was real?
THE TALE OF THE MIDNIGHT RIDE
The last episode is another modern-day adaptation of a classic story: The Tale of the Midnight Ride!
Season three of AYAOTD starts out strong with the introduction of Tucker, Gary’s little brother. Tucker has to tell an initiation story to be accepted into the group, and he delivers a tale based on Washington Irving’s The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
The story follows Ian, a teenaged boy who just moved to the New York town of Sleepy Hollow. The Halloween dance is coming up, and when he asks a girl named Katie, Ian becomes the target of ridicule from her jealous ex-boyfriend Brad. After a confrontation at the dance on Halloween night, Brad convinces Ian to go into the woods and retrieve the Headless Horseman’s pumpkin as part of an initiation ritual. While in the woods, Brad poses as the Horseman and scares Ian.
After the dance, Ian walks Katie home. In the woods, they come across a mysterious man (that sounds a lot like Mr. Ratburn from Arthur). They give directions to the bridge of souls so he can find his way home. After the man disappears, Katie goes home and Ian heads back to the school to get his bike.
While Ian is at the school, he discovers he’s being stalked by the real headless horseman, and he must find a way to cross the bridge of souls before he too will lose his head!
This episode was written by Darren Kotania, who also wrote, “The Crimson Clown,” and “The Dream Machine.” It was directed by DJ MacHale.
What the Story is Based On
So this episode is different from The Twisted Claw in that the story relies heavily on the fact that it’s an adaptation. Every character in the story knows about the legend of sleepy hollow, and it’s a major plot point.
The idea of a headless horseman was not completely original. There’s actually an Irish legend of the Gan Ceann (gon ke-yon) , a grim reaper that carries its head. Because Irving weaved actual locations and family names into the story, some believe that he based the headless horseman on an actual Hessian soldier who lost his head near Halloween in 1776.
Other possible influences could be, Sir Walter Scott’s The Chase (a translation of The Wild Huntsman by Gottfried Burger), The Brothers Grimm, and tales of headless riders from the middle ages
Tucker starts the story by re-capping the original for the audience at home, a smart idea since a lot of children might not know the specifics of the story. He explains that the ghost was a soldier that lost his head to a cannonball during the revolutionary war–something that is directly lifted from the original story.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow actually turns 200 this year! It was written by Washington Irving in 1820. The story follows Ichabod Crane, a new schoolmaster in the area, who starts to fancy the beautiful Katrina Von Tassel. Katrina’s other suitor, Brom Bones, does not take kindly to the competition.
Midnight ride does not only exist alongside the original story, with characters referencing it, it also adapts it. Ian is Ichabod, Katie is Katrina, and Brad is the brash Brom Bones.
In the episode, Brad is the one to tell Ian the story of the headless horseman, just as Brom is the one to spook the schoolmaster with the tale in the original version.
The episode also follows the lore of the Bridge of Souls, the one bridge the horseman cannot cross.
Brad also dresses as the headless horseman to scare Ian, and one theory of Sleepy Hollow is that Brom Bones dressed as the Headless Horseman to frighten Ichabod.
The key difference between the two, however, is the definitive existence of the headless horseman. In Irving’s story, he leaves it up to the reader to decide if Ichabod was indeed spirited away by the Headless Horseman, or if he was killed–possibly run out of town–by Brom Bones.
Why the story works as an episode of AYAOTD
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is considered to be one of America’s first ghost stories, so it’s absolutely perfect to tell around a campfire. It was designed to be repeated, and the story itself references the oral tradition. Even if you don’t know all the details, or can’t quote the story verbatim, most of us can tell the story by heart. But somehow, this incredibly well-known piece of fiction has continued to capture our imaginations for 200 years.
Even children watching AYAOTD are most-likely familiar with the story, so seeing it applied to their issues (school bullies, crushes) made it even more compelling to younger audiences.
OTHER EPISODES (NOT ALL) NOTABLE FOR LITERARY REFERENCES AND LORE:
Jake and the Leprechaun (spoiler: lookout for a briefcase solely on this episode, around St. Patrick’s Day possibly?)
Nightly Neighbors, Night Shift, Vampire Town, any episode with vampires, really
The Tale of the Final Wish
Tale of the Full Moon
Thank you so much to JD and Brett for coming on the show! If you are a fan of AYAOTD, please consider supporting their kickstarter! Their content is incredible and hopefully with your support, we will see a lot more from them in the future!
In the spring of 1991, even before SNICK existed, Nickelodeon premiered its first live-action show with a female lead. It starred (a fairly unknown) Melissa Joan Hart, and became a massive cable success, paving the way for many shows like it to follow.
Clarissa Explains It All followed the lives of the Darling family, told from the perspective of young teenager, Clarissa. Tackling subjects like crushes, grades, and annoying siblings, the series struck a chord with young viewers and their families, and would go on to headline the SNICK line-up.
So, if you’re wondering how this show came to be, don’t worry, we’re here to explain it all for you!
THE FIRST FEMALE-LED SITCOM FOR NICKELODEON
Created by Mitchell Kriegman, Clarissa Explains it All was a multi-camera sitcom filmed in Nickelodeon Studios. Every episode, Clarissa addresses the camera in a very honest and charismatic way, catching us up on her current life issues.
In TV, this is often known as breaking the fourth wall. But, Kriegman didn’t see it this way. In an interview with Vulture, he said that he doesn’t feel like there really is a fourth wall in TV, and Clarissa wasn’t talking to a camera, she was talking to us. We were meant to feel as if we were in the room with her, like a friend and not an audience.
Kriegman had a major hand in 90’s Nickelodeon, having worked on Doug, Ren and Stimpy, and Rocko’s Modern Life. He also created the 2000’s Nick Jr TV show, Bear in the Big Blue House!
When he pitched Clarissa to the network, he had been a writer for SNL, and helped develop two shows on the Comedy Network. He got the idea for this new sitcom from the other shows he had helped produce. Sadly no one seemed interested in it at the Comedy Network so he brought the idea to Nickelodeon.
At the time, Geraldine Laybourne was the head of Nickelodeon, and was working to lead the network into its golden era. She was a bit of an iconoclast herself, and wanted to try things that adults were telling her wouldn’t work with kids. She also was interested in building a network that appealed to kids more than toy companies or parents.
So, when Kriegman pitched the show, she gave it a chance. There was only one sitcom on Nickelodeon at the time, Hey Dude, but this new show would have a completely different style. Laybourne also gave Kriegman access to the studies that she was looking at as a guide to creating the show, and that was when he decided that his lead needed to be female.
Kriegman said, “For a variety of reasons, I decided that a girl would be better than a guy. I felt they wouldn’t let a guy be smart enough, sensitive enough and different enough. I’ve had a lot of real experience with programmers having problems with boys being articulate, still to this day. ‘Clarissa’ was a kid’s story more than a girl’s story, and that orientation was really effective with their audience.”
At the time, TV networks seemed to struggle with creating realistic teen girl characters. Many teen girl characters at the time were unrealistic or just not relatable. Of course there were exceptions, but it seemed to be an issue across the board.
Kriegman’s goal was to create a character that personified Nickelodeon and what the channel stood for. He read teen magazines and consulted his wife who was an editor for Seventeen Magazine for help with portraying a modern teen girl.
He knew it was important to have a character that young girls could look up to and identify with, but that boys would enjoy watching too. The result was Clarissa Darling, an outspoken teen that defied labels. She wasn’t exactly girly,and she wasn’t really a tomboy. Clarissa was a girl that enjoyed fashion and programming her own computer games. She had a best friend that was a boy, but he wasn’t a boyfriend. The topics of the show were things that were universal to kids, not something that would appeal to either gender specifically.
On March 23rd, 1991, the world met Clarissa: a bright blonde girl in mis-matched clothes and black squares painted over her pink papered walls. The show opened with her introducing herself and immediately expressing that she hated her own name. That was, in part, why Mitchell Kriegman chose Clarissa Darling as her name. He knew it was a name that the audience could believe she hated–and Darling was lifted straight from Peter Pan.
Clarissa was a hit! Here was a girl that, at first glance, would fit into the basic stereotypes of a young teen girl–and then she subverted them almost instantly.
At first, producers did not like Clarissa because they thought she was rude for doing things like speaking her mind and talking back to her parents. Kriegman defended the show’s portrayal of Clarissa, saying that producers wouldn’t have issues with these snarky comments or jokes if they came from a lead male. This is an issue that still carries on today, though shows like Clarissa Explains It All really helped show young girls that it’s okay to speak your mind–but don’t be disrespectful. Clarissa got in trouble in the show, just like any teen girl. Portraying a lead teen character that never gets grounded would be laughable, so of course Clarissa messes up every once in a while.
Kriegman rounded out the cast of characters by creating Sam, Clarissa’s neighbor and best friend who appears in her window at any given time.
He also added Ferguson, Clarissa’s annoying younger brother.
In the same Vulture article that we referenced before, Kriegman said, “Clarissa was going to be this wildly creative person. It stood to reason that Ferguson was going to be this “stick.” A really rigid stick of a person who was extremely competitive. And that made perfect sense from a character/show point of view, more than anything else. Ferguson had to be something utterly contrasting to her. I wanted that red-headed obnoxious little kid.”
The iconic theme song for the show was created by Rachel Sweet, someone that Mitchell Kriegman had worked with in the past. In fact, he had even worked on a parody show where Sweet would explain things! (Sound familiar?) So, it was only fitting that she collaborated with him again and gave him the intro to Clarissa.
If you’re unfamiliar with the catchy earworm, it consisted of a lot of Nah-nah’s with interjected Way Cool! and All right! All right! throughout.
Sweet said “I didn’t want to do the typical sitcom theme song where it kind of tells a story or tries to convey what the show is about. I just wanted it to be something fun to listen to. Like ear candy. I had been recording for many years and was very into 60’s pop, and girl group stuff like the Shondells and Ronettes.”
But, the theme song was more than its music, it had great visuals as well! It introduces each character without saying who they are, but the audience immediately gets the idea.
If you’re a 90’s Nick fan you might also notice the similarities between this opening and the opening of Doug! Both characters write on the screen in some capacity, and the other characters are introduced through action instead of words. Doug came out several months later in 1991, and Kriegman worked on that show as well.
ON SCREEN GRAPHICS
Today, we take screen graphics for granted. They’re much simpler to create. Obviously it still takes skill and a flair for design but there are a lot more programs to help with this.
But, when they were filming Clarissa Explains it all, they had to hire a news graphics artist. His name was Don St. Mars and he had to use a specific computer called the Quantel Paintbox, which at the time cost about $150,000.
Don St. Mars created these designs that appeared on screen as Clarissa talked, and sometimes wrote. The designs had to appear as though Clarissa created them with her style but also look a tad better than what she would actually create to keep the aesthetic of the show.
WHAT MADE CLARISSA, CLARISSA?
One of the most unique things about this show is Clarissa’s fashion. Her outfits never matched. They were always a cool conglomerate of patterns and textures. Mitchell Kriegman even said that they could tell the show was popular because kids started to dress like Clarissa!
The two geniuses behind these looks were Lisa Lederer and Bruce Marshall.
If Melissa Joan Hart was uncomfortable in anything they would change it for her. Although not a fashionista herself, Melissa enjoyed the outfits overall, saying that they made her just feel like a kid. They chose outfits that were not sexy or too tight. She didn’t even have to wear heels! She personally loved the combat boots.
She revealed in an interview with Elle magazine that she kept every single piece that she wore for the show and has it all in a theater closet in her basement. She is also very possessive of it because her sister tried on the blue combat boots with a Betsey Johnson top and she told her she couldn’t take it.
There were also episode plots centered on Clarissa’s fashion and need to express herself. In one episode, for school picture day, Clarissa argues with her parents about what she can wear. It turns out at the end of the episode, Clarissa has started a trend and she’s horrified to find that she came to school dressed just like everyone else.
Some of Clarissa’s style choices and antics were inspired by Mitchell Kleigman’s days as an artist–Clarissa is a creative character just like him.
A special little Easter Egg for everyone is that Melissa Joan Hart liked to wear a key lock on one of her shoes and so they let her do that in the show too. So if you look closely there should be one in every episode on one of her shoes!
Also, while you’re watching the show, look for the color purple. Kriegman arbitrarily eliminated the color purple from the set and clothing. Of course, he couldn’t completely eliminate the color, and you can see it in patterns every once in a while.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: video games are not just for boys. But, it was and is still a commonly held belief that video games are more of a “guy” thing. Clarissa subverted that expectation once again by not only playing video games, but by coding her own games to play.
Tim Burns is responsible for the video games that Clarissa creates within the show.
Sibling Rivalry wasn’t just there for plot reasons, it was deeply ingrained in the framework of the show. Kriegman intentionally created siblings that were different in every way, and he wanted their fighting to be always present, a fact of life that never had to be explained. When Clarissa walked in the room and insulted her brother, and he gave a nasty reply, it felt like an authentic portrayal of the kid experience.
This was another groundbreaking part of the show, and it made sense because kids don’t have fully developed emotions yet–and sometimes–they really feel like they hate each other.
One of the most ground-breaking parts of the show was the relationship between Sam and Clarissa. It’s a common TV and movie trope that the boy and girl best friends will one day become romantically involved. But their relationship was totally innocent. Sam never even knocked, Clarissa always knew when he was coming up by the sound of his ladder hitting the window.
There is one episode where Sam and Clarissa explore romantic feelings, but it ultimately ends with them realizing that they are just friends and it never comes up again.
Today shows contain a lot of diversity but unfortunately this was not always the case in the early 90’s. Clarissa, while being an amazing way to expand on the life of a female teenager, does fall short in this aspect.
Melissa Joan Hart as Clarissa Darling
Clarissa is the main star of course that explains her life to us.
In the show bible that Mitchell Kriegman wrote for Clarissa Explains it All, he described the main character as “The Ferris Bueller of Girldom.”
Melissa Joan Hart was also auditioning for a character on Blossom at the same time she auditioned as Clarissa. She decided that Clarissa was the right character for her, but Kriegman still had to choose between Melissa and another girl. Kreigman later said that the other girl really had the coolness of Clarissa, but Melissa lit up the screen so much with her personality, he decided she was the one to go with.
She started with small parts in things like commercials and shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark. Clarissa Explains It All was her first starring role on TV. She is also well known now for her role as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Melissa and Joey.
Jason Zimbler as Ferguson Darling
Ferguson is Clarissa’s annoying and tattle tale little brother.
Jason Zimbler started his own theater company in 2007 and has worked for HBO as a software designer since 2009.
Elizabeth Hess as Janet Darling
Janet is her loving mother who likes to cook healthy food and save the planet.
Elizabeth Hess has had small roles on other shows like All My Children and Law and Order.
Joe O’Connor as Marshall Darling
Marshall is her loving father who usually refers to her lovingly as “sport.” He is an architect that designs strange buildings for houses and companies.
Joe O’Connor has been on a lot of different things including Friends, Melrose Place, and Blue Bloods.
Sean O’Neal as Sam Anders
Sam is Clarissa’s best friend, and was described by Kriegman to be a “Tip of the Iceberg” character (everything he says has a backstory that doesn’t get explored.)
Sean O’Neal wasn’t the first person chosen for Sam, as another actor played the character in the pilot episode. During his final audition, Kriegman asked Sean to leave and come back with his hair messed up. Sean did as he was told, and when he returned to the audition, Kriegman told him he got the part.
He has acted in a couple roles since the show, but is still most well-known for playing Sam
FAMOUS GUEST STARS:
James Van Der Beek known for Dawson’s Creek
Melissa Joan Hart’s first on screen kiss was James Van Der Beek and she didn’t want to kiss him! She said she was more into the dark haired “skater dudes” like Pauly Shore and Johnny Depp. They had given her head shots of boys and asked her who she would be ok kissing and she remembers pointing to his and saying that she didn’t want to kiss him, but… it ended up being him anyway.
Michelle Trachtenberg known for Pete & Pete, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Gossip Girl
She guest stars as a young girl that can be a handful that Clarissa babysits.
Megyn Price for many roles on sitcoms like Rules of Engagement
She plays Lisa Welsh, Clarissa’s cousin.
A lot of fans remember Elvis the Alligator, Clarissa’s pet, but he didn’t last past the first season because he was too boring to cut to. So, in the show Clarissa says that he “grew longer than his size in the catalog” and had to go.
Kriegman has also said that he got the idea for the alligator from a college girlfriend who had a kiddie pool with turtles.
The series ended with her wanting to be a journalist, and there was a planned sequel series that would follow her on a news internship.
In 1994 Melissa Joan Hart recorded an introduction for a recording of Peter and the Wolf recorded by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She did this intro as Clarissa Darling.
The show had some incredible writing talent, including Suzanne Collins who would write The Hunger Games trilogy! Some of the other writers worked on such shows as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Friends,” “Daria,” “The Simpsons,” “Roseanne,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and many more.
CONTINUATIONS AND REBOOTS
As Melissa Joan Hart got older the show naturally ended. Although there was the possibility of doing a continuation titled Clarissa Now, it never came to be. The creator Mitchell Kriegman wanted to continue Clarissa’s story into the teen years. However Nickelodeon did not agree with everything Kriegman wanted for the show. He was surprised to find that they hired a new writer and took out most of what he wanted in the show. Nickelodeon’s reasoning was that audiences supposedly did not like talking to the camera and fantasies. It caused Mitchell Kriegman to ask “What did you buy? Why did you do this?”
In 2015 the creator Mitchell Kriegman wrote a novel called Things I Can’t Explain, that continued Clarissa’s story as a young adult in her 20’s trying to figure out life.
In 2018 it was revealed that Nickelodeon was in talks with both Mitchell Kriegman and Melissa Joan Hart for a Clarissa reboot. The early reports said that Clarissa would be the mother of the family much like Topanga and Corey were for the Disney sequel Girl Meets World from 2014.
When asked about Clarissa being rebooted Melissa Joan Hart said, “I like the way we left Sabrina. I think Sabrina ended on a really great note, and I don’t think you want to go back and explore that. At the same time, I think Clarissa ended on a note that could be explored again, because it didn’t really have an ending — it sort of ended.”
In 2019 Melissa Joan Hart revealed to US Weekly that the production on the reboot has stalled. She was not able to give any details but instead said that it is up to the writers, producers, and network.
In a lot of ways, Clarissa Explains it All was a game-changer. It spoke to young girls in a way that no other kids show had before. Of course, shows like Blossom did a lot for young female representation, but this show broke so many molds, even just within the sitcom format.
Clarissa Explains it All was a trailblazer. It’s a show that’s made a lasting mark on American pop culture, whether we realize it or not. And, if you watched the show, you don’t need anyone to explain why.
Way back, in the ancient time of 2018, we started our podcast. Back then we were a different show. We did less research, almost no scripting, and we also had only one microphone. This was how we recorded our second episode: The Case of Second Chances.
If you never listened to it, the three of us each brought a film that we believed deserved a second chance. This could mean two things: a movie we saw once and hated, but enjoyed the second time–OR a movie that was unpopular with critics and viewers, that we think deserves a second look.
Well, that was a long time ago. So, we’re giving that episode a second chance with new equipment, new research skills, and new movies that deserve another watch!
The Idea for the episode
Everyone should see every movie at least twice. Why? Well, because context is everything. Maybe you were in a bad mood the first time you watched something? Maybe you had unrealistic expectations based on all the hype surrounding the movie? Maybe you were in a different place in your life, or recent events swayed your opinion.
Of course different people have different tastes, but if you hate something, you should have reasons why–and maybe those reasons could be affected by another viewing.
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (MARCI)
In 1993 a movie called Sleepless in Seattle came out. It was directed by Nora Ephron, who had already become known for the classic When Harry Met Sally from 1989. The story follows two main characters and how they find each other and fall in love. The first is Sam Baldwin who is a widower with a young son named Jonah. The second is Annie Reed who is a recently engaged reporter in Baltimore. The young boy Jonah calls into a radio show where he tells Dr. Marcia Fieldstone that his dad needs to remarry. When Sam ends up on the phone, and thus on the radio, the women of the country fall in love with him but especially Annie who writes and asks them to meet her on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day.
Film producer Gary Foster brought Nora Ephron on to direct Sleepless. There was already a script but he knew that she could rework it and make it magic, just as she had put her own spin on When Harry Met Sally. In order to accomplish this movie she brought in her sister Delia to help.
Why I didn’t like it the first time
Sleepless in Seattle is a movie I believe I received as a gift from my brother Greg and sister-in-law Janeen. I think I was in high-school when I watched it. Of course it is one of those classic romantic movies that everyone hears about. How could you not? It has Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as the leads.
When I think about it, I believe that one of the reasons I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped would be because Annie and Sam really do not spend time together in the movie. They are mostly separate, and are explored individually until the final scene when they officially get to meet each other.
I would be remiss if I did not say that it bugged me that Bill Pullman was the man that Meg Ryan leaves. Up to this point I had watched movies, such as Spaceballs and While You Were Sleeping, which had him as this handsome leading man. It felt wrong that he was the allergic, sneezing, and almost unlikable fiance in this movie.
Why I gave it a second chance
So one of the things you may or may not know is that Sleepless in Seattle is like a soft retelling of An Affair to Remember. (Fun fact this would be the first of two retellings that Meg and Tom would take part in, the next would be “You’ve Got Mail” which is “The Shop Around the Corner.”) Not only does it have a similar story-line but it also references An Affair to Remember several times. When I found out later, probably in college, that An Affair to Remember was an actual movie— I had to watch it. I checked it out at my local library and gave it a watch. Once I had watched it, Sleepless made more sense. I then re-watched Sleepless in Seattle and here we are. My mind was changed, and I got a new perspective on what the movie was. Even watching it a third and fourth time there is more to get with each watch.
For anyone who does not know what an Affair to Remember is, it is a movie from 1957 (During the time of the Hays Code.) It stars Cary Grant as Nickie Ferrante and Deborah Kerr as Terry McKay. They are both engaged to other people but meet on a cruise from Europe to New York. They fall in love and agree to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in 6 months if they still feel the same way about each other. Tragedy strikes however when she is not able to make it because she is in an accident that cripples her. She is too proud to ask him for help until she gets better, and he is too angry and hurt to ask why she did not show. It is a really dramatic but beautiful movie and what leads the motivations for love in Sleepless in Seattle. A great example of the dramatics in this movie is when Terry says the famous line “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories… we’ve already missed the spring!”
Why I was wrong/ What is Special about it
The Stars in it!
This movie continued the magic of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chemistry.
Ross Malinger as the son.
Rita Wilson as Sam’s sister, and Victor Garber as his brother-in-law.
Bill Pullman as Annie’s fiance.
Due to watching An Affair to Remember I was able to reconcile with Bill Pullman and this movie. He is very much like the fiance in An Affair to Remember. He does not want to be the one someone settles with. He is a strong character for this, especially because he does not hold it against her.
Rosie O’Donnell as Annie’s Friend.
And Rob Reiner as one of Sam’s friends.
What is really special about this movie is that there is a lot to unpack. This is a movie that is as much about how movies shape our ideas and thoughts about love, as it is about finding love. The director’s sister Delia Ephron said in the movie featurette that “This isn’t a movie about love. It is a movie about love in the movies.”
The fact that movies are a part of everyone’s lives is pointed out many times throughout. Some other movies mentioned are Fatal Attraction and The Dirty Dozen.
Sam Baldwin : There is no way that we are going on a plane to meet some woman who could be a crazy, sick lunatic! Didn’t you see “Fatal Attraction”?
Jonah Baldwin : You wouldn’t let me!
Sam Baldwin : Well, I saw it, and it scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!
There are actually a lot of amazing lines within this movie. Here are just a few….
Annie: “Now that was when people knew how to be in love. They knew it! Time, distance … nothing could separate them because they knew. It was right. It was real. It was …”
Becky (Rosie O’Donnell): “… a movie. … You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.”
Jay (Rob Reiner): “Well, this is fate! She’s divorced, we don’t want to redo the cabinets, and you need a wife. What do they call it when everything intersects?”
Sam: “The Bermuda Triangle.”
Sam Baldwin (Hanks): “It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together, and I knew it. I knew it the first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I’d ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew it. It was like magic.”
I picked this movie because I did not like it upon first watch. I was probably in the minority on this being that..
It currently has a 6.8/10 on IMDB, 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 72% on Metacritic. At the box office worldwide it made around $227 million. So even though it came out around the time of Jurassic Park, it did pretty well for itself.
Even Roger Ebert had this to say about it, “”Sleepless in Seattle” is as ephemeral as a talk show, as contrived as the late show, and yet so warm and gentle I smiled the whole way through.”
Lydia Ruth, the spokeswoman for the corporation that runs the Empire State Building, said that after the movie was released people kept calling to ask if the heart could be displayed on the sides of the building like in the movie. Unfortunately they could not, because it had been computer generated for the movie.
The final scene at the Empire State Building almost did not happen. They had been turned away from shooting at the building. Luckily the director Nora Ephron was able to pull it off because she knew the publicist for the building’s owner. The owner, Leona Helmsley, was currently in jail for tax evasion but allowed them just 6 hours to shoot those final shots.
As far back as 1999, Pixar of all companies had an alleged interest in creating a sequel to the 1982 film TRON after it garnered a cult following. Rumors further ignited after the 2003 release of the video game TRON 2.0. But it wouldn’t be until 2005, when Disney would finally begin a somewhat lackluster effort to devise that sequel. They began by hiring Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal as writers. Then Joseph Kosinski was brought on to direct two years into the project. As he was not very optimistic about Disney’s Matrix-esque approach to the film, Kosinski filmed a high-concept, which he used to convey his version of the TRON universe and convince Disney to fully greenlight the film.
After a 5 year production, TRON: Legacy premiered in Tokyo on November 30, 2010 and was released worldwide on December 17th of the same year. Upon its release the film received mixed reviews. Critics praised the visual effects, production and soundtrack, but criticized the character development, cast performances and story. Despite this, TRON: Legacy would gross $400 million during its theatrical run, making it a box office success. It was also nominated for an Academy award for best sound editing (lost to Inception.) In the end, like the original TRON before it, TRON: Legacy has been described as a cult classic.
Garrett Hedlund stars as Sam Flynn, a primary shareholder of ENCOM who, while investigating his father’s disappearance, is transported onto the Grid.
Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, the former CEO of ENCOM and creator of the popular in universe arcade game Tron, who disappeared in 1989 while developing “a digital frontier that will reshape the human condition.”
Bridges also portrays Clu (Codified Likeness Utility), a more advanced version of Flynn’s original computer-hacking program, designed as an “exact duplicate of himself” within the Grid.
Olivia Wilde as Quorra, an “isomorphic algorithm,” a new life form born from the Grid. The last of her kind, an adept warrior, and confidante of Kevin Flynn.
Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley, an executive consultant for ENCOM, and close friend of Kevin who, after receiving a cryptic page from the office at the shut down Flynn’s Arcade, encourages Sam to investigate its origin.
Boxleitner also portrays Tron.
Michael Sheen as Castor, a flamboyant supermodel program who runs the End of Line Club at the top of the tallest tower in the system.
James Frain as Jarvis, an administration program who serves as Clu’s right-hand man and chief intelligence officer.
Why it is widely disliked
Imdb – 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes – 51%
Metacritic – 49%
The biggest hook for TRON: Legacy is the special effects. There are over 1500 visual effects shots in this movie, all of which blend a variety of CGI techniques. This includes everyone’s favorite computer-generated Jeff Bridges. The problem is you can’t make a film solely on its CGI potential (looking at you James Cameron).
While TRON: Legacy brings great visuals, it has little in terms of thematic or character depth. It takes itself incredibly seriously but lacks any motivation other than, “he’s my dad” or “I’m blue and he’s red so he must be the bad guy”. Now for some, amazing visuals are enough. However, by 2010, audiences were used to the huge amounts of CGI in films. Another big issue with TRON: Legacy is that it comes across as a disappointing waste of potential.
In 2010, video games had become a mainstream norm, and a major part of pop culture. They have helped shape decades of storytelling and creative expectations. Stories about the omnipresence of technology and its growing grip on our daily lives make up a significant portion of science fiction. Think Terminator or Black Mirror. So TRON: Legacy has all of these fascinating angles to explore yet it does nothing with them.
Why I like it
I am a sucker for visual effects and I am easily transported to new and interesting worlds. I believe TRON: Legacy did this, and did it well. As soon as Sam enters the Grid, I am instantly put in the “aw man this is so cool” mindset. I find myself even now wanting to attempt a TRON: Legacy cosplay one day.
The music is absolutely amazing and I continually listen to the soundtrack. Daft Punk were able to capture the sound of a dark and mysterious electronic dystopia that mixes old and new, while also giving their iconic electronic sound an orchestral twist.
Jeff Bridges is also one of my favorite actors and he brings it as both Clu and Kevin Flynn. Say what you want about the CGI young version, but that wasn’t on him. Clu is still a wonderfully acted and intimidating villain. It’s also fascinating to see how Flynn handles being a prisoner in his own creation.
For me the film does enough to entertain. I’m not going to hold a thin plot against it. The story is still compelling enough for me to want to move forward and see the next great visual set piece.
Why it should be given a second chance
So I cannot lie and tell you that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that TRON: Legacy’s enduring popularity among cult fans was because of its Oscar worthy plot. Its focus was clearly less on story and more on visual uniqueness. Something that would help it stand out in a crowded market of “Star Wars knock-off” sci-fi while Disney tried to find its way in. Disney would simply go on to purchase Lucasfilm instead. Still, what TRON: Legacy did have, was real forward momentum and a great blend of retro and modern. It’s a classic hero’s journey full of tasks Sam must complete to save the day, mixed with the boundary-pushing technology and art direction.
We all love a good popcorn flick every now and then but TRON: Legacy also stands out in one particular way that makes it worth watching. While re-watching this movie for this episode, I was struck with an idea for a term that I couldn’t shake. That being “calm action”. This movie has a certain flow to it that is unlike anything else I can think of. During some of the most action-heavy scenes, what is happening can actually be seen on screen and is able to be easily followed and understood. It lacks the hundreds of quick cuts that many big budget action movies are filled with. Even the climax of the film is a great example of a chilled out action scene where everything down to the very movement of the vehicles are long, slow, and smooth. This is what I mean by “calm action”. To the characters living it, the action may be hectic and intense, but to those of us watching, we are able to observe like a true audience.
You can see that TRON: Legacy did a lot of important things really well. It expanded the original concept of the Grid into an entire realm filled with endless possibilities, while still remaining true to the source material and its characters. It gave us an awesome new character in Quorra, who is a great mix of naivety and ass-kickery. AND on top of that some absolutely brilliant atmospheric Daft Punk tunes.
Overall TRON: Legacy is a well done sci-fi movie with an interesting world that can be built on and explored even further. It is a visual marvel and musical masterwork. So if even just for a taste of original TRON nostalgia, it deserves a second chance.
Back in 2011, an R-rated comedy smashed the box office and took the world by storm. At the time, raunchy buddy comedies were all-the-rage (ie The Hangover, Role Models, Hot Tub Time Machine) which proved that adult audiences craved more grown-up humor. But, there was another reason this particular movie was making headlines–and history. It was written by and starred WOMEN. That’s right, I’m talking about Bridesmaids.
If you’re unfamiliar, (you’re probably familiar) Bridesmaids follows Annie (Kristin Wiig) as she struggles through her adult life alongside her bestie Lillian (Maya Rudolph). When Lillian announces that she is getting married, Annie agrees to be the maid of honor. After meeting the rest of the bridal party, Annie soon discovers that she must compete with the beautiful wife of the groom’s boss: Helen. Helen majored in passive-aggressive in college, and she quickly takes over and out-shines Annie at every turn. Will Annie be able to hold it together and guide her best friend down the aisle, or is she in danger of losing her best friend forever?
When Judd Apatow directed his 2007 movie Knocked Up, he was impressed with Kristin Wiig’s comedic acting. He approached her and asked her to write a movie of her choice for him to produce.
Wiig asked her friend and fellow castmate at Groundlings Theatre School, Annie Mumolo to co-write a screenplay.
From the beginning, the idea was to write an ensemble comedy, simply because they themselves knew so many funny women. (They say to write what you know, right?)
After the first draft was written, Apatow contacted his friend Paul Feig. Feig had been looking to create a female-led comedy since he felt that the formulaic Rom-coms weren’t giving funny women the right roles to show off their comedic abilities; and that male-led comedies weren’t very relatable.
With Apatow, Feig, and a few actors chosen for the cast, the group did its first table read. After a few years and lots of script changes, the movie finally moved forward
Wiig and Mumolo had a different style of humor than Apatow and Feig, and they reportedly argued over the type of humor in the movie. The women wanted to go with a more natural humor that played on everyday moments–while the men wanted slapstick.
The incredibly famous dress-shop scene when all the women get sick was added to appease the producer and director.
The film starred Kristin Wiig as Annie. Although she was already well-known for SNL, this was her first starring film role. Annie is meant to be the most relatable character in the film–a woman in her 30’s who feels like she doesn’t know where her life is going.
Maya Rudolph was cast as Annie’s best friend Lillian. Feig specifically brought Rudolph into the casting process because he wanted Wiig to play off someone that she was actually friends with. Rather than saying how long the women have been friends in the script, the movie relies on the actors’ chemistry to show the audience how close they are.
Rose Byrne had recently been in the comedy, “Get Him to the Greek” when she was cast as Helen. Feig realized her potential for the role when he brought her in to play off of Wiig. The women were both funny, but in completely different ways that really worked for the characters.
The first thing they shot with Rose was the engagement party–particularly the scene where she turns around in her elegant floor-length gown. This is also the scene where she and Kristin Wiig keep one-upping each other with speeches, passing the mic back and forth.
While they were filming the scene, Paul Feig let the women go back and forth improvising ways to surpass the other one. Rose stepped in and pretended to speak a Thailand proverb. Everyone thought it was so funny that they made her learn an actual proverb and speak it in the movie!
Ellie Kemper was known for playing Erin on the US version of The Office when she was cast as Becca. Originally she read for the part of Megan–the part that originally went to Melissa McCarthy. She later said that before shooting, Paul Feig met with each actress about their characters and she used emails from real brides that she knew as inspiration for her character.
Veteran comedic actress Wendi McLendon-Covey of “Reno 911” was cast as Rita. She was perfect for the role of the older, frustrated mother of teenage boys. She said she was shocked when she got the part, but her comedic charm perfectly balances with other characters–most notably Ellie Kemper’s character Becca.
When Bridesmaids took off, the obvious stand-out was Melissa McCarthy. The movie made her a household name for her strange and hilarious portrayal of Megan–a part that was almost cut when Feig and Apatow had trouble finding an actress for the part.
When McCarthy read for the part, Feig didn’t originally understand where she was going with the part. It was a weird and different take on the character. McCarthy has said that she based her performance on Guy Fieri.
Another stand-out moment for McCarthy was the speech Megan gives to Annie to get her back on track later in the movie. Originally the speech was written for a bill collector who would urge Annie to get it together over the phone. But, the writers realized that the scene would better suit a character that the audience already knew.
McCarthy also got the chance to work with her husband! He plays the Air Marshal on the plane.
Although it’s only one scene, co-writer Annie Mumolo appears next to Wiig in the airplane scene as a stressed passenger.
It was easy for her to appear in the scene, as she was on set for sudden re-writes. She was also very pregnant at the time.
Hamm plays Ted, Annie’s original love interest and “fuck buddy.” Hamm is actually uncredited for the role, at his own request. He was afraid that his name would make audiences think that the film was more dramatic than it was, thus hurting it financially.
Jon Hamm was also Ellie Kemper’s acting teacher at one point in time!
Chris O’Dowd plays the lovable Irish cop, Nathan Rhodes. Originally, O’Dowd was meant to put on an American accent, but the filmmakers liked the authenticity of his Irish voice, and they even re-wrote the character to be Irish for him.
Bridesmaids made $169,106,725 in the US and $288,383,523 worldwide. Its obvious success paved the way for more R-rated female-led comedies and films in general. It seemed to answer the question, “can women be funny?” with a resounding yes. Of course, if you listen to our Todd and Pitts episode, it’s clear that women were always funny.
IMDB – 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes – 90% from critics 76% from audiences
MetaCritic – 75
Why I didn’t like it the first time
This is always a difficult question to answer. Bridesmaids was SO popular, I kept my dislike for it quiet. I think it was a combination of things: too much hype, and it wasn’t really my brand of humor. I loved Chris O’Dowd, though. That’s one thing that never changed.
I had just graduated high school, so I didn’t really relate to what was happening–and yet, I almost related too much at times. The scene where Annie gives the speech at the engagement party gives me terrible second-hand embarrassment. It was really hard for me to watch her be so insecure in their friendship, and get pushed away from her best friend by this seemingly horrible woman.
I also didn’t appreciate how she treated Chris O’Dowd. After the scene where Annie and Lillian fight at the bridal shower, I turned the movie off. I was furious that Lillian kicked Annie out of the wedding in the first place, and that she didn’t even consider that “Helen-the-horrible” could be causing distance between them. I told myself that they would figure it out, and I moved on.
Why I gave it a second chance
Back when we recorded part one, I mentioned that another movie that I didn’t like was Bridesmaids. My friend, Sarah, listened to that episode and actually wrote us a letter telling me that I should re-watch it. It’s the only fan mail we’ve ever gotten, and it’s actually hanging in our studio! So, thanks Sarah you’re the best.
Of course, I waited almost another two years to give Bridesmaids a shot. I went into it with an open mind and heart, and tried to view it through the eyes of an adult woman in 2011.
Why I was wrong
While I was researching the movie, I found a quote from Kristin Wiig, where she expressed that the women making the movie didn’t understand what a big deal it was at the time. I can relate to that, because even though I knew there weren’t a lot of raunchy female comedies, I still didn’t understand how this movie could change Hollywood.
But even all that aside, I barely gave the movie a first chance. It hit close to home in a way that made it hard for me to watch. Being a teenage girl who just graduated high school, I had had enough of bitchy women to last a lifetime. So, I could not stand to watch Annie and Lillian fight, I had such a hard time when Helen stepped in and took over. I was tired, SO TIRED, of women being compared to each other, of this constant competition, and that’s what I saw in this movie. That’s why I turned it off.
But I was wrong to turn it off. In fact, the last act of the movie is undoubtedly my favorite part. When Helen can’t find Lillian on the day of her wedding, she comes to Annie for help. Up until this point I genuinely could not tell if Helen was just a heartless woman, hellbent on destroying a lifelong relationship, or just a lonely person who took charge just because she’s used to running the show.
When she needs Annie’s help, Helen isn’t too proud to ask for it. She apologizes for what she’s done, and although the apology was way overdue, it seems sincere. Helen isn’t a bitch. Helen is alone, she was on the defensive, and she saw Annie as a threat just as Annie saw her as one.
The way these women can mend their differences in a matter of minutes in a (mostly) adult way, really impressed me. I can see how this movie broke new ground in Hollywood. Not only because these women subverted expectations by performing raunchy (and sometimes crude) humor, but because it showed how women can come together without the typical “catty” stereotypes.
When it comes to anyone–woman or man–shitting in the middle of the street, it’s still not my brand of humor. But, that’s one scene. When Annie drunkenly struts into first class on the airplane and hilariously delivers the now iconic line, “help me I’m poor,” that’s funny.
The movie was funnier for me the second time. It still made me cringe, but so does Planes, Trains, and Automobiles–so does The Hangover. And as an adult woman, I’m grateful that this movie was made to pave the way for more female-led stories.