Power Rangers

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In 1992, cartoons ruled children’s Prime time programming. This was especially true at Fox Kids, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series, and Bobby’s World. So, the head of Fox Children’s Network, Margaret Loesch, started looking for something a little sillier, a little campier than the regular toons. She took a meeting with a man named Haim Saban, a cartoon music producer and composer. Saban had an idea for a children’s show that he had been pitching to anyone who would listen for the last eight years. Loesch was the first person to take him seriously. 

The show was, “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” and it would go on to become one of the most popular programs on the network. 

Today we are taking a look at the history of The Power Rangers, and the making of the original series that launched the franchise into a phenomenon. 

History

  • Haim Saban first got the idea for the show in 1984, while visiting Japan. While he was in his hotel room, he saw a show about teenagers that fought monsters. The show was “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger,” and was the 16th installment of the Super Sentai Franchise.
  • Because the kids wore suits and masks, Saban realized that anyone could be fighting the monsters. He knew that action sequences are normally the most expensive part of shooting a show, and came up with the idea for a program that would use this footage and shoot the rest of the story-line in America
    • Saban not only thought that this would be a smart way to make a cheap show, he believed in the project. He knew that the show in Japan was incredibly popular, and that there had never been a similar live-action American show.
      • It must be said however that at the same time in 1984, an animated show had similar visuals and concepts, called Voltron.
    • Saban bought the show immediately and brought his concept back to the US to pitch to studios
    • As we said in the beginning, eight years went by before the head of Fox Kids, Margaret Loesch, saw something that no one else did. 
  • According to an LA Times Article from 1993, Loesch was the only person at Fox that thought The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was a good idea. Her colleagues even asked her what her plan was for damage control once the show would flop.
  • But, Margaret was struck by the similarities the show had to old-school Godzilla movies.
    • Up to that point, everyone that had turned Saban down explained that the show was too cheesy. But this was exactly why Loesch wanted it for Fox. She knew a lot of people loved the old movies with fake-looking monsters, obvious effects, and un-synced lip dubbing. There was something classic about the style that she knew would resonate with audiences and that children would latch onto.
  • After Saban screened a pilot episode for Loesch, she ordered the first season to premiere in 1993. They immediately started shooting 40 episodes for the first season.
  • As shooting began in the US for the live-action sequences of the rangers without their helmets, Saban was involved in every part of the process.
    • According to Saban, once the show had been produced, the CEO of Fox and its affiliates declared that the show was horrible and they weren’t going to air it.
    • So, Loesch decided to air the show in the summer for 8 weeks with 40 episodes (7:30 am time slot). 
    • The show premiered on August 28, 1993 and it was an instant success.
    • By week 2, it was beating Batman for views even though Batman was at the better time slot of 4:30 pm. So she switched it to a better time. 
  • For the 2-11 age group, there was almost no competition from other shows. At its peak, the show reached 4.3 million children, making it as popular at The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Making of

  • Saban wanted kids that other kids could relate to and see themselves in. They wanted an ethnically diverse group. At the end of all the casting calls, they ended up with two groups: One that was the taller model-esque group and the other which is the group they went with.
    • It was also important to Saban that the girls in the show were featured as much as the boys, and just as important character-wise.
    • He felt that young girls didn’t have a lot of action characters to look up to, and he was right .
  • When Fox announced that they were gonna back the show, they didn’t like the original name for the show, which was “Dino Rangers.” So, in 10 minutes, the crew came up with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. 
  • Every script had a theme based around the look of the monster in the stock footage for the week.  For example when the monster was a big pig monster that would eat everything the episode was about a bake-sale.
  • They shot about 4 episodes a week, so it was a very rigorous work week for everyone.
  • The guys would go in about 5 AM but the girls would go in even earlier for hair and makeup.
  • A lot of time was spent in the ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) room to redo audio because of wind, planes, etc.
  • The feel of the show was a Combination of Voltron and Saved by the Bell essentially, which were two of the most popular shows before Power Rangers came around.
  • The theme song was written by Ronald Aaron Wasserman, who also wrote songs for the series

Popularity

They did mall tours, TV shows, etc for publicity. They did lots of promotional materials and were even DARE ambassadors.  This was done in all in different countries too.

They drew a large crowd at Universal Studios filling the studio with about 35,000 people in one day. They were basically the “Beatles” of kids television. 

Toys

  • Bandai America released a series of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers toys to coincide with the new series. As Mighty Morphin’ was carried over from Zyuranger, the result was a mix of re-purposed items and new items.
  • The most popular being the 8” figures of the rangers and villains. They were later re-released during season two as “auto-morphin’” figures where the characters head would flip from their face to the helmet with the press of a button. 
  • The multiple Zords were also extremely popular and were by far the largest toys produced for the series. There are versions that are one piece and ones that come as their smaller form but can be combined to create the Megazord. 

Synopsis

  • The LA Times described the show as: a live-action superhero series that bears a distinct kinship to old, low-tech “Godzilla” movies: Cheesy alien costumes, mismatched lip movements and dialogue, and clumsy battles between the monster army of Rita Repulsa, Empress of Evil, and dinosaur robots controlled by the Power Rangers, who are teen-age karate experts in crayon-colored space suits.
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is about five average teenagers (with attitude) who were chosen by an inter-dimensional being named Zordon to fight against the evils of the universe. The villainous Rita Repulsa has escaped a space dumpster on the moon, and intends to destroy the Earth with her horde of putty patrollers. 
  • As the show progresses, the rangers pass on their powers to new people, and meet more villains such as Lord Zedd.
  • In the original show, each ranger had their own “Dino Zord” and together it made up one Megazord.

Starring

Original Rangers:

  • Thuy (pronounced Twee) Trang (Yellow Ranger)- Trini
    • Her family came over to America to escape from the Vietnam war. She died at 27 from a car crash.
  • David Yost (Blue Ranger) – Billy
    • He was 24 at the time he was cast on the show, so he was the oldest ranger.
    • Years later he revealed that he was bullied on the set for being gay. 
  • Walter Emanuel Jones (Black Ranger) – Zach 
    • Originally cast as the Billy the blue ranger.
    • He is missing the middle finger on his left hand.
  • Austin St John (Red Ranger) – Jason
    • He was a regular high school student that taught martial arts on the side. Even though he disliked cameras and was uninterested in acting he was bet by a friend for $20 that he would not be wasting his time to try out.
  • Amy Jo Johnson (Pink Ranger) – Kimberly
    • After sharing the pilot with friends they said “Well, you know, your next job will be bigger or better.”
  • Jason David Frank (Green Ranger that came later) – Tommy 
    • The green ranger was originally meant to only be a temporary character, but became highly popular with audiences.
    • Tommy transitions to be the group leader and Jason David Frank ended up being on the show longer than any other ranger.
    • He also became the White Ranger.

Other characters

  • Paul Schrier as Bulk
  • Jason Narvy as Skull
  • David Fielding as Zordon
  • Richard Horvitz as Alpha 5- He loved playing evil Alpha
  • Machiko Soga as Rita Repulsa (and voiced by Barbara Goodson)
  • Ed Neil as a recurring Putty Patroller
  • Bryan Cranston
    • It’s worth noting that Bryan Cranston got a lot of voice work playing villains on Power Rangers before he made it big. This was why he was cast as Zordon in the 2017 reboot film 

Sources:

Avatar The Last Airbender

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Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, well, 15 years ago, Nickelodeon premiered a TV show that is still considered to be one of the best animated shows of all time: Avatar the Last Airbender. In the era of Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, and Drake and Josh, this show stood out for its animation style, intense storyline, and unique characters. 

Although it aired on a children’s network and is widely considered to be a children’s show, Avatar appeals to many different audiences and age groups. It’s a series of breathtaking animation and detail, funny quips, and heart-felt moments. 

 

How it came to be

  • In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon was shifting its focus to include shows that explored more mythical and legendary storylines. Eric Coleman, the Vice President of Animation Development approached Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and asked them for a show pitch. The men returned one month later with the early concepts that would become Avatar: The Last Airbender. 
  • The original Aang was a bald kid with no arrow, though he was drawn with a robot cyclops and and polar bear that both had arrows. The robot monkey was the first inspiration for Momo, while the polar bear became Appa. 
  • Inspired by documentaries about antarctic exploration, the team developed a show concept about nations of people, based on the four elements. One of the key pieces of the puzzle was how to create an action show without too much violence. So, they created the idea of bending elements instead of weaponry. They pitched the story to Eric Coleman two weeks later, and the team started working on a pilot. Bryan went to Korea for a few months to work with artists there on the initial eleven minute episode. 
  • The characters were complex, and animators would sometimes spend as much as 15 hours in the studio, trying to complete the pilot in time. Once the pilot tested well, the show was greenlit for 13 episodes!
  • The tricky part about the show being picked up meant that they now had more work to do with pretty much the same deadline. Bryan and Mike put together a large team of writers, animators, and musicians to get the job done. 

 

The Making of Avatar

  • The martial arts
    • The team was dedicated to learning traditional Chinese martial arts styles, so they sought out Sifu Kisu, a martial arts teacher who helped them develop the individual fighting styles of the four nations.
    • Another martial arts teacher, Sifu Manny, came in to help develop a different style for Toph. Because Toph is a blind character, her fighting style would be different than other characters in the show. Sifu Manny’s method was rumored to have been created by blind warriors on a remote island. 
      • The style worked for Toph because it could be achieved without having to look at an opponent. 
    • Brian and the director would take the script for each episode and choreograph the fight scenes with live actors as reference for the animators.
  • The Animation
    • The creators wanted an expansive view of the universe, with wide shots of beautiful landscapes.
    • The variety of imagery made the show much more dynamic than many other animated children’s shows at the time; with wide, medium, tight, and detail compositions that gave the viewer a strong sense of the universe
      • They wanted it to be cinematic.
  • The Music
    • Jeremy Zuckerman and Ben Wynn were the track team that created the music for the show.
  • The story
    • In a world of elemental magic, there are four elemental nations: The Northern and Southern Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The Avatar, the one person who can control all elements, upholds the balance of the nations. The Avatar is reincarnated into a young boy named Aang, who is reawakened after being frozen in ice for 100 years, to embark on a dangerous journey to fulfill his destiny. With the help of friends he meets along the way, he will have to fight to bring peace to the world.
    • The success of the show came from how well it was made, but what truly connected with fans was the story and characters.
    • The story was meant from the beginning to have a finite ending, with three seasons and 61 episodes.
      • No matter how upset it made creators and fans, Bryan and Mike were consistently clear that the show would end, and building toward that ending was what made the story so solid.
    • Aang
      • Played by Zach Tyler, Aang is a young monk from 100 years in the past.
        • Michael and Bryan initially imagined Aang to be from 1000 years before the events of the show, from a more advanced civilization. In early drawings, he had a futuristic staff and robot sidekick.
        • The air nation, which Aang is from, was inspired by Buddhist and Tibetan societies. 
        • Aang is a cute, fun-loving 12-year-old kid that was thrust into an impossible situation with immense responsibility. He is a skilled martial artist, and as the Avatar he is the most powerful bender in the world. But, because of his nature and upbringing, he is hesitant to use that power to hurt others.
        • Aang goes through a lot of change in the series, though he never abandons his beliefs, even when everyone tells him he should.
    • Appa
      • Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, Appa is Aang’s best friend and flying bison. The artists were inspired by manatees and bison to draw Appa. His six legs were a direct reference to the Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro from Hayao Miyazaki.
      • Originally there were going to be 20 bison, which was broken down to just a small family of two adult bison and their calves. Eventually they settled on only one.
    • Momo
      • As we said before, Momo was originally a robot! But, his name was Momo-3. The show slowly became less sci-fi and the creators transformed a talking robot to a cross between a ring-tailed lemur and spotted bat.
      • Momo was almost dropped from the story, but instead Aang finds him at the deserted air temple as a symbol of hope for the future.
      • Momo was also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
    • Katara
      • Voiced by Mae Whitman, the creators considered Katara to be the heart of the show. In a parody episode called “The Ember Island Players,” the show jokes about Katara’s infatuation with hope. But, this was a big part of her character.
      • To the creators, it was important that there would be a strong female lead to appeal to young girls watching the show. The show itself was targeted to boys, but Bryan and Mike always knew that young girls would also be interested in an action-adventure epic as well.
      • Katara’s original name was Kya, but there was a video game character named Kya and it had to be changed. Her second name was Kanna before they settled on Katara. Kya is Katara’s mother’s name and Kanna is her Gran Gran.
    • Sokka
      • Played by Jack De Sena from the All That reboot, Sokka was very clearly the comic relief of the show. He was created with Katara to have a sibling rivalry, and was meant to appeal to the audience as an everyman.
      • Sokka has one of the best character arcs in the show, as he transforms from a brash kid that hides his insecurities with humor, to a confident leader of Team Avatar.
    • Toph
      • Voiced by Jessie Flower, Toph is the toughest character and one of the most powerful benders on the show. Toph comes from a rich, pampered background where she was forced to be someone she wasn’t. Although she was born blind, she learned earthbending from blind badger moles. 
      • Toph was originally a male character, until one of the head writers, Aaron Ehaz of Dragon Prince fame, suggested they make her female. Aaron argued for a long time until finally he won over the creators. The idea of taking such a huge, brash personality and placing it in a cute young girl really worked with the character.
      • Jessie Flower originally voiced a character in one episode of season one, and the creators liked her so much that they asked her back to play Toph.
      • Even though they thought including another female lead would connect to girls, the most comments about Toph came from young men who cited her as their favorite character.
        • Seugn Hyun Oh, a supervising director was quoted in saying, “She is blind, but I don’t know how to express in English, she just won.
    • Zuko
      • Voiced by Dante Bosco (Hook) Zuko is a fan favorite. He undergoes possibly the most change of any character in the show, and introduces the audience to the concept of a villain you can root for. Zuko has a complicated past that the show reveals over time, and acts with a sense of purpose. The show begins with him knowing exactly who he is, and we watch him become more and more unsure over time.
      • Originally, the show only had one villain: the Firelord. Zuko came about when Eric Coleman asked about a character that actively pursued the avatar and Zuko was born.
    • Uncle Iroh
      • Another fan favorite, Uncle Iroh was voiced by Mako and later Greg Baldwin. 
      • The creators initially thought Iroh would just be a teacher, but then they decided it would be more interesting if he were related. Aaron Ehaz described him as a man trying to enjoy his retirement but was forced to watch his nephew instead. It was Mako though, the original voice actor, who gave uncle the level of wisdom and personality that made fans fall in love with Iroh. 

 Also Starring

  • Jennie Kwan as Suki
  • Grey Griffin as Azula
    • Azula is one of the most complicated and layered characters in the show. She is a villain audiences loved to hate, and she shoots blue fire to stand out against Zuko’s orange fire. 
  • James Garrett as Avatar Roku
  • Mark Hamill as Fire Lord Ozai

The finale is a rare accomplishment, ennobling the characters and bringing a satisfying conclusion to both its world and Aang’s spiritual struggle between his beliefs and the violence the world wants from him as the Avatar.

Awards

  • Primetime-Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation in 2007
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Cartoon in 2008
  • Peabody Award in 2009

Drink of the week:  The Jasmine Dragon

Here’s a link to the documentary:

Sources:

The Case of Movie Dinosaurs

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This week we dive into a subject Adam has been waiting to discuss… Dinosaurs!!!! We know Adam has been periodically inserting facts about Jurassic Park in many of our other episodes, but this time we discuss the history of dinosaurs in film. We also talk about some of the most well known and loved dinosaurs in these movies by ranking the top five.

History of Dinosaurs in Movies

The word “dinosaur” was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841, and means “terrible lizard”. The modern meaning is more along the lines of, humongous monster that tramples the getaway car and eats all the supporting actors. Dinosaurs fit perfectly into the role of movie monsters. Many of them were huge, or had good monster characteristics such as spikes, horns, claws and big teeth. It’s not surprising that the history of movies featuring dinosaurs goes back more than 100 years.

  • The first dinosaur movie ever was Prehistoric Peeps in 1905. However Prehistoric Peeps unfortunately is now lost to history much like the dinosaurs it portrayed. Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, in 1914. Gertie is far more famous, and she has the honor of being history’s first dinosaur cartoon.

  • But the real origin of dinos in the spotlight is Brute Force, also from 1914. Brute Force debuted just two months after Gertie did, but Brute Force is live-action, and it contains the origins of every dinosaur special effect to be implemented for the next 60 years. The movie is a short silent drama directed by D. W. Griffith. The film was shot in Chatsworth Park, in California. It is a story of cavemen and dinosaurs, and is a sequel to Griffith’s earlier film, “Man’s Genesis” (1912).
  • It took all the way until 1925 for the first full-length movie to feature dinosaurs to hit theatres. The Lost World. Based on the 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it tells the story of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Sculptor Marcel Delgado made dinosaur models for the film based on the work of a leading paleontologist of the time. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien brought these extinct animals back to life using animation. After that, dinosaurs rampaged through popular culture, and for nearly forty years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life.
  • So stop motion may have been king of the dinosaur world, but moving a puppet frame by frame is very time-consuming and expensive. Movie producers were looking for ways to cut corners so along came the “slurpasaur” (AKA a lizard in a dinosaur suit).
  • One of the earliest slurpasaurs appears in “The Mysterious Island”, made just four years after The Lost World. Slurpasaurs continued to offer a low-cost alternative to stop motion into the ’50s and ’60s. Even Willis O’Brien consulted on costumed iguanas for the 1960 remake of The Lost World.

  • Dinosaurs are the beginning DNA of the much broader subject of creature effects. Almost every technique for movie effects that we discussed in a previous episode have been used to make dinosaurs; people in suits, puppetry and animatronics, computer generated images, and more. To top them all it was Stan Winston who finally achieved the impossible when he created full-scale dinosaurs that not only looked incredible, but delivered great performances too.
  • With the addition of truly convincing CGS creatures, Jurassic Park set a new bar for movies as well as visual and special effects. By the time the T. Rex brought the house down, literally and figuratively, at the climax of the film, audiences could believe that dinosaurs really do rule the Earth.

Top 5 Dinosaurs

  1.       Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)
  • The Tyrannosaurus rex of Jurassic Park was nicknamed Roberta in Phil Tippett’s storyboards for the first film, but most fans call her by her novel nickname Rexy.
  • Rexy has made three appearances in the franchise. Debuting in Jurassic Park, then reprising her role in Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. She is also rumored (basically confirmed) to return in the final Jurassic World film in 2021.
  • She is most well-known for saving the main characters at the end of the first film and Jurassic World, although inadvertently. This makes her something of an anti-heroine.
  • Mark McCreery created the design of the T. rex that was used in the film. Before the film was greenlit, McCreery was working on Terminator 2. Stan Winston moved him from that project to create sketches of the T. rex in order to generate interest in Jurassic Park from Universal Studios.
  • (We talked about the animatronic two weeks ago in our Special Effects episode)
  1.       Littlefoot (Land Before Time)
  • Littlefoot, originally voiced by Gabriel Damon, (and many others since) is the main character in the Land Before Time film and television series. He is the main protagonist in the series and is one of only three characters to appear in every piece of media. The other two being Ducky and Petrie.
  • He is an Apatosaurus, (aka “Brontosaurus”) which are referred to as “Longnecks” by the other dinosaurs in the Land Before Time universe.
  • He can easily make friends with other creatures, however his friendships with other animals outside his species is often viewed as a taboo, as many of the dinosaurs practice racial, or species based, segregation. (Mainly in the first movie)
  • Littlefoot is intelligent, playful, and adventurous. He acts as a leader to the other main characters. Pushing them to move forward in difficult times, (most notably in the original The Land Before Time) and is their voice of reason.
  • According to a blog post by Mark Pudleiner, an animator who worked on the original film, Littlefoot was originally going to be called “Thunderfoot”. But it turned out that there was a Triceratops in a children’s book with the same name. His name was Thunderfoot all throughout production, only changing after the movie was finished and had to be dubbed over! If you look closely you can see that whenever a character says “Littlefoot” the animation doesn’t quite match!
  1.       Rex (Toy Story)
  • Rex is a supporting character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex who is voiced by Wallace Shawn.
  • A running gag throughout the Toy Story movies is that Rex is insecure about his lack of ferociousness.  Rex’s worst fear is that Andy may want another, scarier dinosaur to replace him. “But what if Andy gets another dinosaur, a mean one? I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection!”
  • In the original story pitch for Toy Story, Rex’s personality was mostly the same as in the final film, except that he also was to get very angry and even vengeful when it’s revealed Woody threw Buzz out of the window on purpose. All the toys do this to some degree in the final film.
  1.       Arlo (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Arlo, voiced by Raymond Ochoa, is the protagonist of the 2015 Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.

  • He is a young Apatosaurus living with his parents and older siblings, Buck and Libby. He is the last and the smallest of the three children to hatch out of his egg. Despite hatching from an egg bigger than the first two.
  • In this universe, the asteroid that is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, never struck Earth. So, over the course of the movie, Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
  • In terms of animating Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion. Thompson stated: “One of the most intimidating things to animate is a quadruped, because there’s so much to them and there’s so much to manage. Locomotion is all about efficiency, a lot of times you think, ‘We’re animating a big, heavy character. We should slam those feet. That’ll make it feel heavy.’ The truth is, that’s not efficient.”
  • Just some cool trivia, Arlo is the youngest Pixar protagonist to date. And in total The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space.
  1.       Aladar (Dinosaur)
    • Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Aladar is an Iguanodon that is first shown as an egg. The opening of the movie shows a ridiculously lucky egg traveling across the ocean where the lemur inhabitants find him, and he soon hatches.
    • Throughout the movie, Aladar butts heads with Kron, the leader of a large herd. In the herd, “only the strongest survive.” So Aladar does everything he can to help weaker dinosaurs. He later falls in love with Neera, Kron’s younger sister, who is considerably more compassionate than her brother. Aladar also seems to be a natural leader, which fueled his rivalry with Kron who feared he was trying to take his place.
    • In an early concept for Dinosaur, Aladar was going to have grandparents and be called Noah, but this was changed due to some similarities to The Land Before Time.
    • Aladar’s story is very similar to Tarzan’s story. Both have adopted families, and both lose their biological mothers to a predator. However, both end up killing their enemies during their adulthood, where they meet their love interest. They even go as far as to both have male figures in the family who initially don’t want them.
    • Just an extra bit, the film score was composed by James Newton Howard and he was nominated for an Annie Award and a Saturn Award for Dinosaur in 2000.

Honorable mentions:

  • Butch, Ramsey, and Nash (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Barney (Barney)
  • Unknown dinosaur (T.rex?) (Fantasia)
  • Big Al (The Ballad of Big Al)
  • Blue (Jurassic World)
  • Indominus Rex (Jurassic World)
  • Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park 3)
  • The Big One (Jurassic Park)
  • Carnotaurus (Dinosaur)
  • Momma (Ice Age)
  • Tiny (Meet the Robinsons)
  • Rex (We’re Back)
  • VRex (King Kong)
  • Red Ranger DinoZord (Power Rangers)
  • The rest of the Land Before Time crew

Sources

The Case of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Picture it: You’re in second grade, coming off a rigorous school week. You open your eyes to a quiet house on a Saturday morning, and sneak downstairs. No one else is awake, and the TV is all yours. You have a seat with a bowl of cereal and turn on your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon…

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If you grew up in the 1960s, maybe you watched Magilla Gorilla, the Flintstones, or Johnny Quest. If you were a 90s kid, maybe you watched Captain Planet, Recess, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No matter the programming, Saturday Morning Cartoons was a tradition that spanned nearly 6 decades. It’s a shared experience had by children of multiple generations, which makes it pretty special. Today, we will discuss the history of the Saturday Morning Cartoon, and highlight some of our favorites from our childhood. We will not be able to cover many shows from other decades, but maybe we will do another episode down the line!

What do we mean by Saturday Morning Cartoon? Pretty self explanatory. Cartoons that aired on Saturday mornings, usually during time slot of 8am to 12pm. This tradition would flourish from the late 1950’s to the late 1990’s. There are still a few remaining cartoon shows on the major networks on Saturday mornings, but not many.

 

History:

  • The first cartoon produced for television aired in 1950 and was called Crusader Rabbit. It consisted of 5 minute long episodes and ran for three seasons. Created by Alexander Anderson and Jay Ward, its main characters were Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger, or “Rags”
    • In the late 1940’s, a producer named Jerry Fairbanks sold NBC on a new concept: a TV show meant solely for TV. Networks were looking for kid-friendly content to show on Saturday mornings, but no cartoons had been created specifically for this purpose
    • Since the days of radio broadcasts, the peak time for children to tune in, was between 10am and noon on Saturdays.
    • Even though Crusader Rabbit was moderately successful, many networks stuck with kid-friendly live-action programs instead.

  • The success of Crusader Rabbit inspired many more television cartoon character packages. And Jay Ward would even go on to produce The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
  • Until the late 1960s, a number of Saturday-morning cartoons were reruns of animated series originally made for prime time. The first true “Saturday morning cartoon” was Mighty Mouse Playhouse. We all know who Mighty Mouse is, a cartoon version of Super Man (was even originally called Super Mouse)
    • Mighty Mouse was a gamble for CBS back when they brought it to their Saturday Morning line-up in 1955, but it was the incredible success of this show that ushered in a new era of made-for-TV cartoons.
  • The character first appeared in 1942 in many theatrical films, however,  what really brought the character into the mainstream was television. Mighty Mouse Playhouse ran on CBS for 12 very successful seasons.

In order to cut costs, animators made sure to use cost-cutting techniques that would also save a lot of time. Hanna-Barbara was well-known for these techniques. They would often use similar character models for shows.  They designed characters with wide collars so they could easily animate them turning their heads, would only move characters’ mouths when they were talking and nothing else in the frame, and so on. The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Johnny Quest all come to mind when we think about these techniques. 

Where animation might have been lacking, the shows would make up for with wit! The shows were well-written with some adult humor to appeal to the whole family. 

The Shows:

  • Pepper Ann (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • Created by Sue Rose and aired on Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC. New episodes ran until 2000 and reruns ran for another year after.
    • Pepper Ann was the very first animated television series for Disney to be created by a woman and would be until 2015!!
    • Tom Warburton served as lead character designer for the series. He would later go one to create Codename: Kids Next Door.
    • The show is a comedy about a 12-year-old Pepper Ann who manages to put other kids off by her slightly-nerdy behavior, constant bad timing, and insistence on trying to be cool. And to make matters worse, she’s just started middle school. Which we all know is a nightmare!
      • Pepper Ann voiced by Kathleen Wilhoite.
        • Twin Peaks
        • Family Guy
        • 24
        • Gilmore Girls
  • Recess (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • The show was created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
    • Recess premiered in 1997 on ABC, as part of the One Saturday Morning block, and ran for 6 seasons. The show was successful enough to be syndicated to other channels including Toon Disney (now Disney XD) and the Disney Channel.
    • Recess follows the lives of six fourth graders, Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler, Vince LaSalle, Ashley Spinelli, Mikey Blumberg, Gretchen Grundler, and Gus Griswald, as they go about their days at Third Street Elementary School.
      • TJ voiced by Andrew Lawrence
      • Vince voiced by Rickey D’Shon Collins         
      • Spinelli voiced by Pamela Adlon
      • Mikey voiced by Jason Davis
      • Gretchen voiced by Ashley Johnson
      • Gus voiced by Courtland Mead
    • A major point of the show is that the students at school represent a microcosm of our society complete with its own government, class system, and even a monarchy. They are ruled by a sixth grader named King Bob, and the society has a long list of rigid values and social norms.
  • Animaniacs (Fox, 1993-1995; The WB, 1995-1999)
    • Animaniacs was created by Tom Ruegger. It is the second animated series produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation, after Tiny Toon Adventures.
    • The show first aired on Fox as part of its Fox Kids before moving to The WB. It initially ran a total of 99 episodes and one movie.
    • Most episodes were composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters. (Think Saturday Night Live style).
    • Hallmarks of the series included its music, memorable catchphrases, celebrity caricatures, and humor directed at an adult audience.
    • A reboot of the series was announced by Hulu in January 2018, with two seasons to be produced and are expected to air starting in 2020.
      • Yakko voiced by Rob Paulsen
      • Wakko voiced by Jess Harnell
      • Dot voiced by  Tress MacNeille
  • The Bugs Bunny Show (CBS, 1978-1985) AKA Looney Tunes
    • This went by many names over the years
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show
      • The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show
    • The show was originally broadcast as a primetime half-hour on ABC in 1960, featuring theatrical Looney Tunes cartoons with new linking sequences hosted by Bugs Bunny, produced by Warner Bros.
    • After two seasons, The Bugs Bunny Show moved to Saturday mornings, where it remained for nearly forty years.
    • In 2000, the series at the time (The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show) was canceled after the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies television rights became exclusive to Cartoon Network.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (syndication, 1987-1990; CBS, 1987-1996)
    • The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series came from wanting to make toys based on the characters. However, because the comic-book characters only had a small following, the company Playmates Toys was uneasy about moving forward. They requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures 1988.
    • The show was in Saturday morning syndication from 1988 to 1989 and became an instant hit. The show was expanded to five days a week and aired weekday afternoons until 1991. Starting in 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its secondary run on CBS’s Saturday morning lineup. The full series ran until 1996, when it aired its final episode.
    • The show helped skyrocket the characters into the mainstream and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. By 1990, the cartoon series was being shown daily on more than 125 television stations, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.
  • Captain Planet (TBS 1990)
    • Captain Planet and the Planeteers is an animated television program created by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle that focuses on friendship and environmentalism. 
    • The show aired on TBS in 1990 and ran for two years, then came back under the title, “The New Adventures of Captain Planet”. This version aired from 1993 to 1996. 
    • Pyle cites that the inspiration for the five Planeteers came from real people that she met during the show’s pre-production. 
    • The show’s intro theme was composed by Tom Worrall. “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!”
    • The show may have only lasted 6 years, but the impact it had on society has lasted much longer. The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was founded in 1991, when series producer Barbara Pyle negotiated a percentage of the show’s merchandising revenue to empower young people.
      • Captain Planet voiced by David Coburn
      • Kwame voiced by LeVar Burton (earth)
      • Wheeler voiced by Joey Dedio (fire)
      • Linka voiced by Kath Soucie (wind)
      • Gi voiced by Janice Kawaye
      • Ma-Ti voiced by Scott Menville

Honorable Mentions:

Proud Family

Little Bear

Babar

Berenstain Bears- Michael Cera voiced Brother bear

Voltron

Sources:

IMDB

History of Saturday Morning Cartoons

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/30/saturday-morning-cartoons-are-no-more/

https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/the-greatest-saturday-morning-cartoons/

How the Grinch(es) Stole the Case

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Christmas Case Diaries! This month we’re focusing on Christmas TV specials, but this episode is EXTRA special because we will be talking about movies as well. The 1960’s was a decade that brought us a lot of classic Christmas specials. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (1969), and tonight’s topic: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)!

 

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The Origin of Grinch

  • Theodor Suess Geisel, AKA the beloved Dr Suess, first used the word Grinch to describe a bird in his 1953 book Scrambled Eggs Super! The bird was called a Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch.  
  • In 1955 he published a short 32 line illustrated poem in Redbook, which was a woman’s magazine at the time.  The poem was entitled “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Although this poem does not contain the same Grinch we know and love it, brings about the same issue of commercialism. In the poem the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub a simple green string by making it sound like it is needed and thus goes on to say that the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub similar items every day.
  • Finally Suess used Grinch in his hit Christmas book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which was released in 1957.

Many believe that the Grinch was Dr Suess’s alter ego, even Suess himself.  There were many reasons for this. In a 1957 interview with Redbook he stated “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

  • To add to this Suess was 53 when the book was released, the same age as the Grinch and he was also quirky and disliked large crowds.
  • And finally to show favor to the character he even had a Grinch vanity license plate!

Making of

The director of this special was Chuck Jones. You may know Jones because he is a famous  animator, filmmaker, cartoonist, author, artist, and screenwriter.  Most well known for his work in Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Tom and Jerry.  He and Suess knew each other due to working together during WWII on the animated propaganda called  Private Snafu. Suess was a writer and Jones an animator. Jones was the one to convince Suess into making an animated short for his How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Story drawing by Irv Spector.

*During production however, Phil Roman (one of the animators) said that Suess was only there 3 or 4 times but that he had been there for the storyboard beforehand.

  • In the original book, there are only three colors: black, white, and pink/red. So, where did the iconic green Grinch color come from? Apparently Chuck Jones was inspired to use it after renting cars that were that color. 
  • Dr. Suess felt like the main character more closely resembled a Chuck Jones character than the original Grinch drawings.

Time magazine in 2013 named it one of the top 10 greatest Christmas specials from your childhood, along with a movie we just discussed last episode called A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965. While both of these masterpieces took a lot of money to make, Charlie Brown pales in comparison. It took a little less than $100,000 to create Charlie Brown but Grinch was finally able to garner  $300,000 from an organization called The Foundation for Commercial Banks after pitching to companies such as Kellogg’s and Nestle.  

Not only did Grinch receive funding to make the 30 minute special happen, but CBS paid $315,000 for the right to air it twice on their network; once in 1966 and once in 1967.

The music for the special was done by Albert Hague.

  • Dr. Suess wrote the lyrics to all the songs, including “Fahoo Foraze” which was meant to sound like classical Latin. Apparently it tricked some viewers, and people called to find out the translation. It turns out it was just classic Suessical Gibberish 
  • When Hague later recalled his audition for being able to compose for the special he said, “Afterward, Seuss looked up and said, ‘Anyone who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.’ The whole thing took three minutes,”

Voice Actors

  • Boris Karloff as the Narrator and the Grinch
    • Dr. Suess was concerned that casting Boris Karloff would make the character too scary. But, Chuck Jones chose him after hearing him narrate other works. 
    • Originally, there was no difference between the narration and the speaking voices in the special, so sound editors removed the higher pitches from his voice in post. That is why when The Grinch speaks, he sounds different from the narrator. 
  • June Foray (uncredited) as Cindy Lou Who
  • Dal McKennon (uncredited) as Max
  • Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) as the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
    • AKA Tony the Tiger!
    • He was also the voice of Kirby in the Brave Little Toaster!
    • Dr. Suess attempted to fix the fact that he was uncredited by sending letters to every major columnist in America! Well, we know now. 

Grinch (2000)

  • The original special aired on December 15th, 1966! So, why did it take so long for it to get remade? Dr. Suess himself was reluctant to bring his works to the big screen. But after his death, the rights to his stories went to his widow. 
  • This was the first time a Dr. Suess story was turned into a full length feature film
  • Before she signed off on Jim Carrey playing the role of The Grinch, she had to visit him on the set of another movie to see if he was right for the part. 
    • The movie was “Man on the Moon” and Jim Carey was so deep into character that he had to do an impression of himself playing the Grinch
  • Directed by Ron Howard, he not only wanted it to be an adaptation of the book, but an adaptation of the original special as well. This is why he kept The Grinch’s green color, even though the character is white in the book. 
  • The movie did not receive a lot of critical acclaim, some believed the story and themes were too adult for a movie marketed to kids.
    • Jim Carey himself seemed to regret the amount of adult jokes in the script and wished that he had done more to stop them.
    • He maintains that all of his jokes were age-appropriate, and Ron Howard even removed some even raunchier jokes from the script.
  • What the critics did like was Jim Carey’s performance as The Grinch as well as the beautiful film score by the late James Horner.

Starring

This movie included many stars but here are just a few…

  • Jim Carrey as the Grinch
    • His costume was incredibly uncomfortable, including the yellow contacts that he was forced to wear. Apparently he even spoke with a former CIA agent about coping mechanisms for torture, as the suit was THAT uncomfortable and took an hour to take off.
    • He improvised a lot of lines in the movie, “Dinner with me, I can’t cancel that again!” 
  • Josh Ryan Evans as the young Grinch
  • Christine Baranski as Martha May
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Mayor Augustus Maywho
  • Molly Shannon as the mother Betty Lou Who
  • Bill Irwin as father Lou Lou Who
  • Taylor Momsen as the little girl Cindy Lou Who
  • With Anthony Hopkins as the Narrator

Grinch (2018)

Where the 2000 Grinch was too adult for children, the 2018 film fixed that issue. This movie is meant to appeal to children, with some older jokes and references. 

Voices of

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch
  • Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who
  • Rashida Jones as Donna Who
  • Tristan O’Hare as Groopert
  • Keenan Thompson as Mr. Bricklebaum
  • Sam Lavagnino as Ozzy
  • Ramone Hamilton as Axl
  • Angela Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle
  • Scarlett Estevez as Izzy
  • With Pharrell Williams as the Narrator

Sources:

IMDB

https://magazine.uc.edu/famousalumni/tv/grinch.html

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/12/24/ccm-grad-wrote-iconic-music-grinch/2287627002/

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/12/10-greatest-christmas-tv-specials-from-your-childhood/

This one has great pre-production and production artwork

https://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/grinch-stole-christmas-50-years-old-today-still-great-146646.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvujUS8xfDk

https://seussblog.wordpress.com/tag/grinch-and-the-hoobub/

https://groovyhistory.com/story-behind-grinch-stole-christmas

A Disney Halloween Case

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Back in 1982, The Wonderful World of Disney aired a Halloween special comprised of animated clips from some of their spookiest works. With about a 60 minute run-time, Disney’s Halloween Treat was hosted by Hal Douglas, an unseen narrator, with a few appearances from a talking foam pumpkin. 

  • Hal Douglas is known for narrating thousands of movie trailers. You’ve heard his voice so many times, and this performance is incredible.
  • One year later, Disney premiered a newer version of the special, this time 90 minutes long. It omitted parts from the original special, but included pieces from a 1977 special called, “Disney’s Greatest Villains” 
    • This version excluded a clip from Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the skeletons in the beginning were green instead of orange. 
  • Some versions also include an opening with Michael Eisner, the then chair-man of Walt Disney Studios. This opening was most likely added for the VHS release of the special. 
  • Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, Disney ran this special on its channel every Halloween season. A Disney Halloween was released on VHS in 1985, though the original Disney’s Halloween Treat was never officially released (of course, Robin has a version taped off TV).

Segments of the Special

In this episode we talk about both specials. We cover clips from both, where they are from, and what we love about them. 

So buckle up! It’s gonna be a REAL treat 😉 

Part 1

  • The opening sequence
    • As we said before, the original special, “Disney’s Halloween Treat,” came out in 1982. It opens with clips from Disney cartoons, most prominently “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)
      • The Skeleton Dance was a “Silly Symphony.” Silly Symphonies were animated short films set to music, that Disney released over a 10 year period. The Skeleton Dance is one of the most popular, along with “The Three Little Pigs” 
      • In this version, the skeletons have been colored orange. In the original short they were black and white. 
    • The theme song for this special was written specifically for it! The music was by John Debney, a well-known film composer. Debney wrote the music for Hocus Pocus, which we talked about earlier this month! 
      • The lyrics were written by Galen R Brandt 
    • In A Disney Halloween, the skeletons are green, and this is how we could tell which special we were watching from the beginning.

Part 2

  • Night on Bald Mountain 
    • The narrator (Hal Douglas) wastes no time leading us into the first clip, a piece from Fantasia (1940). This image is very familiar to many, as the horrifying Chernabog ascends from the mountain to summon his minions. 
    • This piece of classical music was written by Mussorgsky, and this is one of the most famous animations from Fantasia 

Part 3

  • In A Disney Halloween, we get a clip from “The Sword in the Stone” (1963) with an emphasis on Mad Madam Mim. This particular scene features the wizard duel and the death of Mim.
  • Mim was voiced by Martha Wentworth, who also voiced the nanny in 101 Dalmatians (1961). This was her last acting credit. 

Part 4

  • The Old Mill 1937
    • Another silly symphony, this short is anything but silly. 
  • This clip comes from a 9 minute short about various animals: such as owls, mice, and bats that move into an old windmill.  Nearby the songs of frogs, crickets, and fireflies can be heard. The climax comes when a storm puts in peril all the creatures in and around the mill.
    • The beautiful thing is that even though the creatures do not speak you feel for them though the music and their actions.
    • This is one of the saddest and most touching pieces in the special.

Part 5

  • Mickey Mouse 
    • Pluto’s Sweater (1949)
      • We get a very short clip from this short film, but the transition is pretty seamless!
    • Mickey’s Parrot 1938
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short where an escaped parrot comes into Mickey’s home just as he learns that the dangerous convict Machine-Gun Butch has shot his way out of jail. Thinking that the parrot is Butch, Mickey and Pluto cautiously try to find him.
  • Donald Duck
    • Donald Duck and the Gorilla 1944
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short about Ajax, the killer gorilla who has escaped from the zoo! Donald Duck and his three nephews prank each other, making them think that Ajax is in their house. 
      • There’s a twist, when the real Ajax appears and tries to attack Donald! 

Part 6

  • Heffalumps and Woozils 
    • Next, we get a segment on nightmares! This clip is another part added to the new special, taken from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (1977).
    • In the film, Winnie the Pooh goes to sleep on a stormy night and dreams of the infamous Heffalumps and Woozils! Evil creatures out to steal his honey (or whatever else he wants).

Part 7

  • Pluto’s Judgement Day

    • This part is very interesting! For this section, animators cut three different Pluto adventures together to create one cohesive story. Those stories are: 
      • Puss Cafe 1950
      • Cat Nap Pluto 1948
      • Judgement Day 1935 (notice the 15 year difference between two of the shorts) 

Part 8

  • This segment is a wonderful piece, that really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the special. It comes from another Wonderful World of Disney episode called, “The Great Cat Family”! It came out in 1956. 
  • This part educates the audience on the beginning of superstitions, and also uses some imagery from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which Disney cut from the second version of this special. 

Part 9 

  • To continue the theme of cats, we have a clip from “Lady and the Tramp” (1955)
    • Here we have Si and Am, the trouble-making cats from the film. The song was originally sung by Peggy Lee. 
    • The song is widely considered problematic,and in the 2019 version, this song will be “rewritten” and performed by Janelle Monáe

Part 10

  • The next segment of “A Disney Halloween” was taken from yet another Wonderful World of Disney episode called “Disney’s Greatest Villains” from 1977
    • This was an updated special following another version called, “Our Unsung Villains” in 1956.
    • It featured Hans Conried as The Magic Mirror. Conried had died when this segment was added to A Disney Halloween, but the footage was used anyway. 
    • Conried was a prolific actor whose voice was used in the animated “Hobbit” (1977), as the Grinch in “Halloween is Grinch Night,” but he was also the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan.
  • Disney’s Greatest Villains 1977
    • Peter Pan (1953) – Hook
      • This scene with Captain Hook was included in the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, and is the first clip introduced by The Magic Mirror.
      • It shows the defeat of  Hook.
    • The Aristocasts (1970) – Edgar
      • Shows when Edgar drops the kittens while he is being chased by the dogs Lafayette and Napoleon.
    • Mickey and the Beanstalk – The Giant
      • This piece is from “Fun and Fancy Free” (1947)
    • The Jungle Book (1967) – Kaa
      • Voiced by the talented Sterling Halloway 
      • Kaa is interrupted during his hypnosis of Mowgli by Shere Khan.
    • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – The Evil Queen
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, we get a full look at the evil queen, from her transformation to the moment she poisons Snow White. We also see her meet her doom at the edge of a cliff! 
    • Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Maleficent 
      • We get to see Maleficent in all her glory!
  • After Maleficent, the magic mirror briefly mentions:
    • Cinderella – Lady Tremaine 
    • 101 Dalmatians (1961)- Cruella De Vil
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, Cruella gets the full treatment, with a clip from the movie showing her ultimate defeat.
    • Alice in Wonderland (1951) – The Queen of Hearts
    • The Rescuers (1977)
      • At the time of “Disney’s Greatest Villains,” Medusa was the newest villain in Disney’s catalog. For this reason, this is the final villain featured by the magic mirror before he says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of here!” 

Part 11

  • The narrator uses the mirror’s disappearance to bring us into “Lonesome Ghosts” (1937)
    • This short film was originally released 3 days after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
    • It features four bored ghosts that play pranks on Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. In this episode, the trio are ghost exterminators from AJAX, the fictional Disney company equivalent to ACME in the Looney Toon Universe.
    • Features Clarence Nash as Donald, Pinto Colvig as Goofy, and Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse.

Part 12

  • Trick or Treat (1952)
    • The final piece of “A Disney Halloween” is a piece from “Trick Or Treat” in 1952.
    • This short features the wonderful June Foray as “Witch Hazel” and an uncredited appearance by Thurl Ravenscroft as the Jack-O-Lantern!
    • Clarence Nash is the voice of Donald and his three nephews.
    • The music was written by Paul J Smith! A well-known Disney Composer (Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella).

Part 13 

  • Ichabod Crane and Mr Toad
    • In the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, it ended with a clip from “Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949).
      • This film covered two stories: The Wind and the Willows, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
    • In this clip, we see the thrilling end of Ichabod Crane. It starts with an edited version of the ghost story scene, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. It then cuts to Ichabod cautiously riding home in the dark before being attacked by the Headless Horseman. It ends just as the story does, with the image of a shattered pumpkin on the bridge of souls. 

This is how the original special ended, and it’s how we will end our Halloween special as well! Happy Halloween, everyone! 

See you tomorrow. Maybe.

The Watcher in the Case

Woods Patreon

We’re in week three of our Disney Halloween series! This week we’re talking about the 1980 film “The Watcher in the Woods.” This is a supernatural, sci-fi thriller set in England. 

The story preys on two classic fears: The Woods, and being watched. I know it sounds silly when you think of that and the title of the movie, but it’s true. There are a lot of supernatural ties to the woods. It’s a place where many feel close to nature, but it’s also a place that holds terrifying tales of people losing their way and never being seen again. 

 

When we’re in the woods, we feel small. The trees tower over us, and the foliage blinds us from seeing long distances. Even if we venture in alone, we know we are surrounded by so many unseen animals and insects. So, the belief that there are mythical beasts or wandering spirits in the woods has been around for centuries. This is why the woods are a great place to tell scary stories. Even when we sit around the campfire, we’re not safe. We can be seen, but we can’t see beyond the flames. 

 

The other fear is being watched by an unknown person or thing. This is also known as scopophobia. We use the threat of observance to trick children into behaving; we tell them that Santa or his elves are watching every move they make. None of us like to feel that we are being watched, and it gives us a strange and creepy feeling, much like most of this film. 

 

Movie Beginnings:

  • Near the end of the 70’s moviegoers seemed to want more mature content.  Disney decided that they wanted to begin dipping into this latest craze. They began with The Black Hole (a sci-fi space adventure) and then proceeded with The Watcher in the Woods. Both of these films were meant to be PG in order to attract the audience to their new direction.  The Watchers producer Tom Leetch had told the head of the studio Ron Miller that “This could be our Exorcist.”  
  • It is based on a book by Florence Engel Randall which was turned into a screenplay by Brian Clemens.  Later though, Disney decided Clemen’s version delved too much into darkness and so they had revisions done by Harry Spalding, Rosemary Anne Sisson, and Gerry Day.
    • There are small differences, like Jan finds exes in mirrors instead of triangles
      • The presence in the woods reaches out to Jan’s father and shows him why its trapped
      • Instead of using Karen’s friends, it’s Mrs. Aylwood, Jan, and Ellie that have to complete a “triad of power” to bring Karen back
    •   The biggest difference is that the book ends before the seance with the girls heading into the woods. There is a cliff-hanger that doesn’t get resolved. 

 

Plot:

  • An American family moves to the British countryside with their two daughters Jan and Ellie. The family encounters Mrs. Aylwood, an old woman plagued by the mysterious disappearance of her daughter Karen 30 years ago. Jan and Ellie start to notice strange happenings in the house. Ellie hears whispers and music that she assumes comes from Jan, while Jan keeps seeing the image of a young girl trapped in mirrors. 
  • Jan learns that Karen disappeared during an eclipse, and that one is about to happen again. She tracks down everyone who might know what happened the night of her disappearance and demands answers. 
  • When Ellie becomes possessed by The Watcher, an unseen entity that has been communicating through her, Jan plans to hold a seance and bring Karen back. 

 

Starring:

  • Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylwood the mother of missing Karen
    • A very famous leading lady among those in Hollywood
    • One of her most famous roles being 1962’s drama What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    • The release of this movie was to be set with Bette Davis’s 50th anniversary in the motion picture business which rushed the production of the films ending. 
      • This was her 85th feature film
    • She had expressed interest in playing a young Mrs. Aylwood and the present day Mrs. Aylwood.  John Hough therefore shot the scenes with her wearing makeup but afterward he privately told Davis that the scenes just didn’t work because nobody would believe she was in her forties.  She reportedly then looked him in the eye and told him “You’re goddamned right.”
  • Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan Curtis 
    • The part was announced publicly to originally be portrayed by Diane Lane but ended up being Lynn-Holly 
    • She rose to fame by her figure skating in the mid 70’s which led to her first movie Ice Castles where she plays a partially blind skater who is trying to make it to the Olympics.  
  • Kyle Richards as Ellie Curtis
    • She was a young child star that had a recurring role in Little House on the Prairie
    • She now is known for her tv personality on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills since 2010.
  • Carroll Baker as mother Helen Curtis
    • The now retired actress who had roles that ranged from innocent to bold which allowed her to be classified as a pin-up and a serious actress.
  • David McCallum as father Paul Curtis
    • Known now as Ducky from NCIS
  • Ian Bannen as Karen’s friend John Keller
  • Richard Pasco as Karen’s friend Tom Colley
  • Frances Cuka as Karen’s friend Mary Fleming
  • Benedict Taylor as Jan’s love interest Mike Fleming 

 

Making of the Movie:

  • Directed by John Hough and Vincent McEveety, The Watcher in the Woods was filmed at Pinewood Studios in England
  • After it’s premier in New York in 1980, it was pulled from theatres after 10 days because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews 
    • When Disney pulled the film from theatres, they replaced it with Mary Poppins and re-shot the final scenes
    • In the original version, the film shows a physical depiction of the Watcher, a horrifying monster that wraps itself around Jan and transports her to a different dimension 
      • Audiences hated the apparently unfinished graphics and practical effect of the watcher
      • The original ending was also confusing, making the story more clunky and hard to explain. We find that the watcher is an alien that suspended Karen in time and space when it was accidentally transported to our world in its place
        • In this version we also get an explanation of the Watcher, a creature from another dimension that “turns people into negative images”
      • In the new version, we don’t see any of this. The watcher appears as a beam of light. Jan disappears, and then reappears with Karen. The scene ends there with no explanation and we don’t see the reunification of Karen and her mother. 
  • The film also had an alternate beginning, with a girl playing with a doll in the woods. The watcher scares the girl, causing her to drop the doll and run away. There’s a burst of light that catches the doll on fire and the titles play over the melting doll’s face
    • An executive at Disney refused to allow the original beginning to be released on the DVD because it wasn’t in line with Disney’s brand
  • Many of the filming locations were used in “The Haunting” based on the book by Shirley Jackson. You might know this story, as it was adapted for a Netflix show as “The Haunting of Hill House” 
  • The movie was re-made in 2017 for Lifetime. It was directed by Melissa Joan Hart and Angelica Huston played the role of Mrs. Aylwood

Sources:

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/26186974/globegazette/

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/26187061/the_los_angeles_times/

https://web.archive.org/web/20091027052528/http://geocities.com/ditcin4/watchermystery.html

https://www.retrojunk.com/article/show/243/the-watcher-in-the-woods