Monday, September 25, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW


   The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show was one of a number of popular television adaptations of radio series. Basically, the show detailed an exaggerated version of the everyday lives of the famous comedy team. Situations would arise due to misunderstandings involving level-headed straight man George, his scatterbrained bride Gracie, their neighbors the Mortons, and befuddled program announcer Harry Von Zell. On one level, it was a typical sitcom about showbiz personalities. On another level, it was often quite surreal. George could speak directly to the audience (as he did on stage) and frequently made jokes about the show being a show. Eventually, his character got a television set which played The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show and gave him supernatural awareness of what the other characters were up to. He would even joke about casting, and the need to extend scenes right in the middle of them! Of course, the real linchpin to the series was Gracie. Her mixed-up spitfire would take the most innocent remark and misunderstand it to cartoonish levels, such as hearing Harry note that he could save $300 on his income taxes if he were married, and taking it to mean he would pay her $300 to find him a bride! Early episodes were kinescoped live, but the long run was shot on film and edited before a screening for a studio audience to record the laugh track. Episodes usually ended with a live-shot routine with George and Gracie doing one of their stage bits. Their son Ronnie joined the cast as a regular, playing himself as a heart-throb and wanna-be dramatic actor. The Mortons were originally played by Bea Benaderet and Fred Clark. This version of Mr. Morton was a skinflint opportunist with an endless appetite. Eventually, Larry Keating took over the role and Morton became an intellectual CPA who tried to rectify bothersome situations through his gentle prudence. Bea remained Bea throughout. Gracie eventually tired of doing the show and wanted to quit, but George was handling the contracts and kept renewing her commitment to the series. He got away with this until 1958 when, after 292 episodes, Gracie finally got to walk away from what was still a wildly popular show. It lived on in syndication, and became a TV staple for decades. It still airs on stations like MeTV.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Video Cheese: End of the World double feature

Note: These reviews were originally written for Video Cheese, a feature of www.jabootu.net. They have been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg. They've also been held back for a long time because I didn't want anyone to mistake the theme as some sort of political commentary. Given that it's Fall now, though, I think I can make the joke a connection to the change away from my favorite of seasons... Unplanned, but interesting, is that this also coincides with another date that's been set for the Rapture by people who continue to overlook the fact that scripture spells out that no human being can know the date beforehand. Anyway, on to our double feature...

HOLOCAUST 2000 (1978 - color)
   "Kirk Douglas vs the Antichrist."

    From the title, I expected a science fiction epic. What I got was a knock-off of THE OMEN!

    I've noted it before, and I'll note it again: devil movies tend to be more aggravating than entertaining, because so few of them are written by anyone with any spiritual knowledge. Because of this, I have never bothered with THE OMEN, or any of the multitude of rip-offs and cash-ins produced in the film's wake. Oh, a few such films have crossed my path, but as rule I don't go out of my way to see them. In that light, HOLOCAUST 2000 is probably the best of the lot. I had mixed feelings about it, but in general I felt it was a pretty good picture. Intriguing and well-made, with a fine cast, it keeps you interested until the end. (No pun intended!)

    The film is built around a Revelation prophesy about a seven-headed monster with ten crowns who rises from the sea in the End Times. Given power, the beast sways the nations and persecutes the people of God. This beast is followed by another beast which acts as a puppet to the first. Both are working for the Anti-christ, in a war against Israel and God's chosen, swaying the unlearned, bringing war and destruction to the world. (Fortunately, the book includes the ending, one rather happy for those who choose Christ over the world and the devil.)
Most Bible readers, myself included, interpret this monster to be a conglomeration of nations opposed to Israel.

   HOLOCAUST 2000 interprets the monster as a proposed nuclear plant to be built in the Holy Land (how exactly the construction of this plant is to bring about the end of the world isn't clearly communicated, so I guess they just assumed the audience would be anti nuclear power). As we start, industrialist Kirk Douglas is blasting clear the site for the proposed project, right in the heart of spiritually significant land.

   Prior to detonation, Kirk shows a lady reporter, Eva (Virginia McKenna) a cave discovered under the blast site, where has been found an inscription carved into the wall which is simply the Hebrew word for "Jesus."  Eva takes a picture of Kirk standing next to the inscription on the cave wall. Later, when developed, the photo shows a cave painting behind Kirk, an apocalyptic image of a seven-headed monster. The exact same image is found on a canvas painting seen in a book, a picture painted hundreds of years later by an artist who couldn't have seen the cave painting.

   Opposition to the nuclear plant is strong, and an Arab assassin attempts to knife Kirk at a party thrown to raise support for the plant. Kirk's oh-so-angelic-looking-young-man of a son intervenes and saves Kirk's life, but kills his mother in the process. Her death will be the first of a series of bizarre murders and accidents of anyone who opposes the building of the plant. Kirk finds every obstacle clearing the path to build his plant, but he also becomes increasingly concerned as he begins to see prophecy coming true....

   Honestly, I don't know how much to say, as the film is best viewed without spoilers (granted, a pretty big one is patently obvious from the start). I have to say something, though, or else I'm just slacking on my duties here.

   The cast is full of familiar faces. Adelfo Celi drops by, for example. Who will ever forget his cycloptic SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo from THUNDERBALL, still The Biggest Bond Of All? Another 007 vet seen here is Geoffrey Keen, who replaced Bernard Lee as M, after doing a couple episodes as one of M's associates. Simon Ward plays Kirk's son, given the hopelessly absurd name of Angel Cain!

   Ultimately, not too bad -though no masterpiece by any stretch. It's a rare feat to make a devil movie that doesn't insult the intelligence of Christians (which should be the target audience, if you think about it), but this picture manages to be interesting enough to hold itself. Not the greatest thriller, but well worth a view if you're looking for a more intelligent than usual 70's occult horror opus. 


   Evidently, it was issued under a number of titles. The digital antenna channel Comet ran it recently under the title RAIN OF FIRE.


FUTURE HUNTERS (1986 - color)
   "A hunt for a powerful artifact crosses the borders of several countries -and film genres."

   FUTURE HUNTERS is actually a video title, but I can't uncover the original title of the film, so it will have to suffice.

   Interesting experience. The film is mostly a collection of themes cribbed from other films, and yet the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. There's a mixture of elements from THE TERMINATOR, THE ROAD WARRIOR, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, Hercules, James Bond, Hong Kong action and kung fu films, Rambo, ROMANCING THE STONE, just a hodge-podge of just about anything you can imagine. Yet the film manages to be quite fresh and entertaining. I'd give it a good solid B in the action/adventure category.

   We open on a typical post-apocalypse world where bad guys drive around in old muscle cars (painted black and mounted with weaponry), who chase their intended prey into quarries, just like we've seen in 19,000 Italian movies from the 80's. And yet, this is done 19,000 times more competently than we're used to seeing. I knew something was weird when these threadbare elements were producing a shockingly gripping sequence. The first five minutes are more entertaining than the entirety of nearly every other movie I've seen use these same props. I couldn't figure out why this was the case, either, as they didn't seem to show ANYTHING that was different from all those other films.

   This opening also starts with some narration to bring us up to speed. This was done in such a fashion, though, as to make me think this were a trailer for another film before the feature presentation. It sounds like Don LaFontaine reading the ad copy for the latest science fiction epic. This intro clues us into the fact that this won't be the typical ROAD WARRIOR knock-off.

   As is genre SOP, a nuclear war has reduced the earth to a big desert with isolated tribes battling for survival. There's an evil government force that rules with an iron hand. Some rebels believe that the only hope mankind has is to return to the past prior to the war and stop it from happening. The key to this is the Spear of Longinus that pierced Christ after his Crucifixion! Somehow, wielding it will transport a man through time! Enter the one man who can save the world, a warrior named Mathew....

   The first reel or so shows Mathew's adventure as he is chased by the bad guys (Mathew has his own black muscle car, although it bites the dust when his opponents bring in tanks!) and kills off an impressive number of armed soldiers. Despite the efforts of the governing body, Mathew makes it to the ruins of an old church. There he finds the head of the spear just as the enemy forces obliterate the building. (To make their tanks more future-y, they've swiveled the turrets around and are driving the tanks in reverse!)

   Mathew wakes to find himself in 1986, in the same church, days before the nuclear holocaust that created his world.

   A young woman, Michelle, and her fiancĂ©e, Slade (a young Robert Patrick in his first film, already getting top billing some years before his star-making role as the T-1000), are examining the church, and the paintings upon its walls. Some bikers pull up, beat up Slade, and try to rape Michelle. Matthew intervenes and saves Michelle, but gets shot in the process. Before expiring, Matthew tells Michelle and Slade they must carry on his mission. And thus we witness the exit of Mathew, the coolest, but  shortest-lived action hero I have ever met. 

   That's right, Matthew was just there to set things in motion. The real story will revolve around this pair of bickering lovers!

   While game for an action lead, I note Robert Patrick is pretty green here. He'd grow into a much better actor (although some of his stiffness here may be the fault of the director), and I find myself wondering what he thinks of his first film in retrospect.

   The pair now has the spear head, which Michelle saw turn one biker into ashes when stabbed by Matthew. Slade doesn't want to have anything to do with it, but Michelle has made up her mind to honor Matthew's dying request. Although reluctant, Slade decides to tag along with Michelle when thugs try to beat her up to gain possession of the artifact.

   The spear must be connected to it's shaft and placed in direct sunlight, as the two objects on their own and left in the dark have apparently perverted their power. Evil forces are after the spear, and if they get it, so begins the nuclear war! (Actually, the spear was sought by Hitler, as he believed whomever possessed the spear would be unbeatable. It was his obsession with the spear which inspired the Third Reich's quest for the Ark of the Covenant in Steven Speilberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which in turn inspired this little adventure.....)

   Matthew mentioned a scientist named Hightower, so Michelle and Slade go to see him. They find his assistant, who tells them Hightower's exact whereabouts are unknown. So starts a journey across the world, first stop being China. 

   In China, Slade picks up a sidekick played by Bruce Le (but the credits list as Bruce Li, the other Bruce Lee impersonator. One wonders what Le thought upon discovering this little boo boo). Since we're in China, the film suddenly morphs into a Chinese one. First, Slade and Le wander into a sacred temple watched over by an old master who promptly beats up both parties. Le fights back, though, and makes sure to remove his shirt so he's seen wearing nothing other than those baggy black pants like Bruce Lee wore in ENTER THE DRAGON! He even produces a pair of nun-chucks! So we get a fight scene that's pretty neat, despite it's being completely out of place! The battle ends when a sniper, aiming for Slade, takes out the monk.

   Michelle, having just finished a shower, is attacked by Chinese gangsters! (From kung fu movie to crime picture in less than a minute! They even make sure to rip open Michelle's robe and flash her breasts to make the aesthetic complete...) Slade and Le return and mop up the floor with the bad guys before they can harm Michelle. 

   Our heroes learn that Hightower has fled to Manila, and we leave China. Weirdly, we also leave Le! It was looking like he was going to be Slade's sidekick for the rest of the picture, but I guess he fulfilled his obligations by reminding us of Bruce Lee and beating up a few guys, because he drops out of the picture completely!

   In Manila, everything becomes clear. The Fourth Reich is after the spear, and they manage to steal the blade from Slade and Michelle. A bound Hightower is on hand, but he'll not survive the movie. The Nazis blow up their headquarters, taking out Hightower. Slade and Michelle escape, though, and the pair take off after the bad guys as they fly into the jungle. 

   Their continuing adventures involve Mongols, pygmies, and Amazons! (Amusingly, Michelle relates the legend of some amazon women-like warriors, but the line comes out emphasizing "woman-like" and I had a lot of fun picturing woman-like warriors. Also, ever notice that movies tend to be fond of the phrase 'Amazon women' as opposed to just saying 'Amazons'? I think Michelle would still have gotten her point across had she called the tribe Amazon-like, but what do I know?)

   Considering there's hardly a single original idea to be found here, I was pretty amazed at well it all holds together! Even the thematic style seems to change frequently, as if a number of different films were spliced together in random order. It goes from a Mad Max movie to a kung fu movie, to Hong Kong action thriller, to James Bond movie, to ROMANCING THE STONE, to Indiana Jones, and then to Rambo, then to Allan Quatermain..... It keeps you guessing what direction they'll go in next! Yet, the final result is actually a pretty entertaining picture. Weird film.

    One thing I must mention is one of the wildest continuity/editing errors I've ever seen in my long career as a videonaut! There's a scene toward the end where some characters are trying to dig through a pile of rocks, and our leading couple runs over to help them. We see the pair enter shot and move away some stones, then we cut over to the pair STILL STANDING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SET! They then step forward and begin moving the stones! It's like they were having a vision of what they were about to do!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Quick Look: CALL ME BWANA (1963 - color)

 
   James Bond was being spoofed (by his own producers, no less) before his second screen adventure began production. Filmed in 1963, CALL ME BWANA parodies a lot of elements familiar to the spy craze to come a couple years later. Bob Hope plays the author of a famous series of safari adventure journals -the source material coming from the real diaries of his long-gone uncle. Bob, as you might imagine, has about as much practical jungle experience as does Zsa Zsa Gabor! However, when an experimental spy satellite comes down in the most savage part of the African jungle, Uncle Sam recruits the hapless Hope to recover it from the dreaded Ekilee tribe. On the safari, Bob must contend with not just the perils of the jungle, but with enemy agents dogging his every step. Red femme fatal Anita Ekberg is right in his own camp, in fact! One of my favorite Hope movies, and one of the first of his 60's output that I saw on television, CALL ME BWANA is a delightful send up of the jungle genre and international relations/espionage of the Kennedy era. From EON, which produced the Bond films, the movie's poster was even prominently featured in an important scene of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

A Quick Look: THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES (1963 - color)


   Given that Disney stars helped create the Beach movie, it seems only appropriate that Walt would offer his own take on the material. Annette and fellow Beach regular Tommy Kirk took the form to more academic surroundings in at least four episodes of The Wonderful World Of Color. These episodes, in turn, were edited into a pair of feature films: THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES and THE MONKEY'S UNCLE. The second film even brought in the Beach Boys to do the title tune with Annette. These films were every bit as charming as one could hope for, and set the groundwork for the Dexter Reilly movies of the early 70's. In our first adventure, Merlin Jones (the scrambled egghead) happens onto a process for mind reading and thinks a murder plot is afoot! The second film finds our hero trying to develop a flying suit. (On a personal note, I finally found both films on those rare white-case cassettes from the 80's. THE MONKEY'S UNCLE I actually found at a local general store! Sadly, the store recently burned to the ground. Providently, nobody was hurt. The dedicated videonaut, however, will be saddened to hear that a number of rare Disney videos did go up in smoke.) Both films had new title tunes recorded by Annette Funicello. You'll hum them for days after you hear them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Quick Look: MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (1965 - color)


   MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? is another delightful comedy, this time starring Rock Hudson as a fishing expert who has never actually been fishing. When obnoxious promoter Paula Prentiss suggests Rock's entry in a big fishing tournament, the boss thinks it's a wonderful idea. Rock soon finds himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of nature, trying to catch a winning fish based on his book-learning rather than practical experience. Paula tags along, and nearly drives Rock crazy before he has a chance to fall in love with her! Super fun stuff, with a number of gags that really drive home the charm -such as Rock literally running on water when he finds himself standing next to a bear. Norman Alden steals the show as a conman Indian who puts on a Tonto routine for the tourists. Miss Prentiss is absolutely adorable (in an often irritating way), and this was the first film in which I saw her. Worth a look.



A Quick Look: 8 ON THE LAM (1967 - color)


   8 ON THE LAM was, I think, the first Bob Hope movie I taped off of one of the movie channels back when we got one of those small, digital dishes, after a three year or so drought without broadcast television. (Things sure changed in those scant three years, good movies like this had become frighteningly hard to find on the tube.) Hope plays a bank employee with a house full of kids he can barely afford. One day he discovers a money clip filled with cash. After nobody has claimed it for an acceptable time, he begins to spend the wad on his family. Unfortunately, it's right at this time that someone frames him for skimming from the bank! The family is soon on the run, and the fun takes off! Shirley Eaton is Bob's girlfriend, Phyllis Diller his house-keeper (probably Diller's funniest work is found in this picture), and Johnathan Winters is the befuddled cop trying to track Bob down. Jill St. John also stops by to play the girl who knows who's really responsible for the missing bank notes. A swell picture, tons of fun. Might make a fun double bill with the Hope/Frankie Avalon/Tuesday Weld vehicle I'LL TAKE SWEDEN.

A quick Look: THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1965 - color)


   I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to find a good shot from THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, given it's fairly well known (or was for many decades due to fairly regular television rotation). Charming Space Age comedy finds brilliant scientist/industrialist Rod Taylor falling for Doris Day, one of his employees. Unfortunately, everybody else is convinced that Day is an enemy spy! Quite the cast in this one, including John McGiver, Edward Andrews, and Eric Fleming. Dick Martin plays Taylor's skirt-chasing best friend, Paul Lynde the suspicious security man, and Dom DeLuise is the cuddliest spy on the block. Arthur Godfrey makes his feature film debut. Robert Vaughn has the best celebrity cameo ever put on film! A delightful picture!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Quick Look: THE LONG, LONG TRAILER (1954 - color)


   For all intents and purposes, THE LONG, LONG TRAILER was the feature version of I Love Lucy. In it, Desi and Lucy get married and buy a gigantic trailer home so the two don't have to live apart whenever Desi is on assignment as a construction engineer. The complications of owning such a massive rig make the perfect launch pad for comedy. The film also features some amazing scenery in splendid Technicolor. The film was a massive success, as you might imagine, and another Lucy/Desi feature was short in coming. Unfortunately, FOREVER DARLING, originally written as a Groucho Marx vehicle, lacked the charm of THE LONG, LONG TRAILER. The film didn't fare as well financially, which was a blow to Desi -the film was his first as a producer. The couple would split in a few years, preventing any further features as a team. No longer restricted to the grind of television scheduling, Lucy made a come-back in pictures (frequently opposite Bob Hope, with whom she'd worked before) before again plunging into the smaller screen. Reportedly, Desi and Lucy remained close despite the end of their marriage. I believe I heard that Desi would even do audience warm-ups before filmings of The Lucy Show in the 60's.

A Quick Look: GIRL HAPPY (1965 - color)


   Though it would be tough to pick a single one, I'd say my favorite Elvis vehicle is GIRL HAPPY. In this one, Elvis plays a lounge singer who cons his boss into sending him to Florida in order to keep an eye on the boss' daughter during her break. What seems a simple excuse to head south turns into a real job when the prim young lady blossoms into a bikinied Shelley Fabares. Lot's of great stuff in this one, including a nice turn by Gary Crosby as part of the King's gang. I would love to have a house as nice as the hotel the group stays at, complete with huge swimming pool which includes a floating artificial island. Great songs, great scenery, great fun. Could easily've been re-worked into a movie for the Saved By The Bell characters, as Zack Morris seems based on nobody so much as Elvis in this film. Sheer, undiluted fun. My strongest recommendation.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Quick Look: THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH (1965 - color)


   Although American International Pictures invented the Beach movie and made the most entries in the genre, other studios naturally tried to cash in. Paramount Pictures made my favorite of the genre, THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH. In this one, a trio of guys tries to impress a trio of girls by telling them that they know the Beatles. What the boys don't know is that the girls are part of a sorority in desperate need of rent money, and they're looking for musical entertainment for a fundraiser. In short order, the girls are under the impression that the Beatles are going to perform for them! Lori Saunders (of Petticoat Junction fame) is one of the girls, unhappily pitching in to collect some beauty contest winnings. It's the talent competition that secures the trophy, as Lori's character goes into an uncontrollable gyration of the hips whenever she hears harem music! Also on hand are Lesley Gore and The Beach Boys. The film may feature the most beautiful collection of girls I've ever seen in one place (only HOLLYWOOD OR BUST comes as close).

A Quick Look at TV: ALF and SAVED BY THE BELL


   ALF was a popular 80's sitcom about Alien Life Form Gordon Shumway, who crashed into the garage of a suburban LA family and was forced to live with them or risk being captured and dissected by the authorities. Though basically an update of the Bill Bixby/Ray Walston sitcom My Favorite Martian, ALF had a somewhat more aggressive edge. Alf lived with the Tanner household, and frequently brought chaos to their lives. Willie Tanner (Max Wright) tried to keep Alf in line, but was mostly straight man to Alf's clowning. Wife Kate (Anne Schedeen) had the most antagonistic relationship with Alf, as she was the least tolerant of his breaches of the family's privacy. Daughter Lynn (Andrea Elson) and son Brian (Benji Gregory) got along the best with the furry Melmacian, though even their patience could be strained -particularly Lynn, who had to put up with Alf while also being a teenage girl! The show was a hit, and soon Alf was spun off into at least two Saturday morning cartoon series (A.L.F., which told of life on Gordon's home planet Melmac, and Alf Tales, which spoofed popular stories with Alf and his friends in the parts), as well as hosting the Saturday morning line-up bumpers right from the set of the prime time series. The animated Alf even joined a multitude of characters like Bugs Bunny and Garfield for the cartoon anti-drug special Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue. Alf even did an episode of The Love Boat! A special hour-long ALF episode saw Alf hosting The Tonight Show! There was also a special TV Christmas movie, and a preview special in which Alf and Brian explored a haunted house and told about the upcoming new shows for NBC! By the fourth season, ratings began to slip and the network pulled the show -despite the writers attempting to force them into re-upping by ending the series on a cliffhanger that saw Alf in the clutches of the USAF. Though it took a few years, fans did get resolution via the TV movie PROJECT: ALF. Though funny, the movie lacks any of the Tanners, and thus feels disconnected. Paul Fusco continued working the Alf puppet for some commercials, and even did an in-character appearance on The O'Reilly Factor before TV Land brought the character back for ALF's Hit Talk Show, which wasn't a hit and left the tube fairly quickly. Those seeking more Alf antics can find skits on the menus of the ALF DVD releases, but be warned the episodes are the truncated syndication prints. The original show used a lot of popular songs, meaning that copyright issues for the uncut episodes are problematic. Interestingly, though, the original versions sometimes get broadcast on commercial television!


   As a kid, one of the only contemporary sitcoms I regularly watched was Saved By The Bell. After recently revisiting the series, I see there's no wonder I turned out the way I did! Few shows, particularly those aimed at teens, were so crammed with glamorous cheesecake as was this series. It began life as a Disney Channel series called "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" starring former child actress Haley Mills. It concerned the misadventures of a teacher in the midwest, along with her Principal Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins) and wiseguy student Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) -and his dopey sidekick Screech (Dustin Diamond). The show lasted but a few episodes before Disney cancelled it, but executives at NBC thought the show had potential and revamped it as Saved By The Bell (and incorporating the "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" episodes as flashback stories). Now set in the California beach town of Bayside, the series became a sort of teen-age version of the original The Phil Silvers Show. Zack Morris ran scams and get-rich-quick schemes with the aid of Screech and their circle of friends, while Mr. Belding tried to stay on top of things -which he rarely was. Zack spent much of the early seasons pining for the impossibly beautiful Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen), and even won her, before the characters broke up and remained independent of each other for the rest of the run. Other players included Mario Lopez as studly Army brat A.C. Slater, Lark Voorhies as suburban princess Lisa Turtle, and Elizabeth Burkley was leftist lunatic Jessie Spano. The show was so popular that one season was extended to show the gang doing Summer work at a Malibu beach resort (a series of episodes in which Zack found a new love interest in snooty resort assistant manager Stacey Carosi -played by future sitcom starlet Leah Remini). A TV feature took the kids to Hawaii in SAVED BY THE BELL, HAWAIIAN STYLE. This showed just how green the cast really was, as they're blown out of the proverbial water by Dean Jones, who plays Kelly's resort hotel-operating uncle. That's not to say the kids are bad or anything, and they would continue to develop their craft through the run of the series. Even after the show ended, it was still doing so great in ratings that a new block of episodes was ordered up, and shot despite the lack of certain cast members who had moved on to other things! To replace the absent Theissen and Berkley, the writers introduced tough biker chick Tori Scott (Leanna Creel). Tori became Zack's love interest, but she was quickly forgotten as the graduation episode (which featured the original cast) was broadcast last! Saved By The Bell: The College Years caught up with the characters as they sought higher education, but this prime-time series failed to find it's audience and was abruptly cancelled. Saved By The Bell: The New Class struggled through several seasons, but failed to find it's footing (despite Richard Haskins and Dustin Diamond being on hand to play their familiar characters). The established characters, meanwhile, returned for one last hurrah in the TV movie SAVED BY THE BELL: WEDDING IN VEGAS, which showed Zack and Kelly finally get married (they had fallen back in love during The College Years, and that series ended with Zack proposing). Fun stuff a lot sharper than usually given credit for.

The girls: all-American Kelly, princess Lisa, and nutcase Jessie


Thursday, September 14, 2017

MILYY


       Some roughs from the pencil sheets for a new graphic novel I'm working on. MILYY is the story of a dancing circus bear who isn't a bear at all. Aimed more at kids, this story should be intriguing for all audiences. 




Friday, September 1, 2017

Oddball Film Report: ROCK-A-DOODLE (1990 - color)


ROCK-A-DOODLE (1990-color)

The Short Story: A child enters a magical world of cartoon animals to rescue his family from a flood, believing that the only thing that can save them is a story-book singing rooster who can make the sun to rise.

The Details:

   I've noticed a tendency among internet critics to be rather harsh on animator/producer/director Don Bluth. While I admit styles and aesthetics of animated films prompt different levels of affection from viewers, I remain puzzled over the almost universal disdain this crowd has toward the lush technical beauty and magic so often found in Bluth's work. 

   And that there may partly be the problem. Disney was noted for strong characterizations as well as technical accomplishment, with stories that captivate and prompt deep emotional connection from the viewer. Bluth's films, like those of earlier Disney employee-turned-independent producer Ub Iwerks, often place technical proficiency above character and story. The frequent result is beautiful, technologically complex animation with heart but little emotional meat. 

   Bluth was an animator at Disney in the 70's. Tiring of working for producers lacking Walt's imagination and abilities, Bluth and a number of animators left the Mouse to form their own animation studio. Their first major big screen work was a short segment of the bizarre musical XANADU. In the early 80's, though, their long-in-production science fiction fantasy THE SECRET OF NIMH finally hit theater screens and enchanted audiences with it's bold and imaginative visual style. This story of super-intelligent rodents secretly living on a rural farm wasn't a boxoffice titan, but it was well-received and developed a following of loyal supporters. 

   The film convinced some video game producers to hire Bluth and his team to create line-art visuals for the arcade game Dragon's Lair (followed by a sequel game and the space opera Space Ace), which is cited as saving the arcade game industry from collapse. The rest of the 80's saw Bluth creating some of the most popular animated films of the era, including the immigration drama/comedy musical AN AMERICAN TAIL and the dinosaur adventure THE LAND BEFORE TIME. Of course, Disney wasn't creating a lot of competition during this period. All that changed in 1989 when THE LITTLE MERMAID became a massive hit that re-established Disney as the giant of animated movies. (Earlier in the decade, the Mouse tried to copy the then-popular Bluth aesthetic with THE BLACK CAULDRON, a boxoffice dud which promptly faded from view.)

   The 90's saw a slide for Bluth. Popular films like ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN quickly gave way to misfires like our current subject. The decade ended with the lavish, Disney-esque CinemaScope musical ANASTASIA. Though a great film (and a financially successful one), it didn't prevent the studio's eventual fade from view (although it did sire a charming direct-to-video prequel/spinoff, BARTOK THE MAGNIFICENT), and the 21st Century found Bluth reduced to a bit of a footnote as trends moved away from traditional animation into all-digital. Back in the early 90's, though, Bluth was still a force to be reckoned with...

   ROCK-A-DOODLE seems partly Bluth's answer to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, with it's mixture of live-action and cartoon animation within the context of a story focused on showbiz and the inclusion of a cheesecake character. The film is largely a play on the life of Elvis Presley, though this is one of those strange musicals where the songs are almost exclusively background noises and the characters are allowed to chatter during their play. This remains true both when a musical number is in the context of a stage performance and when a song is done in the surreal out-of-nowhere frame of traditional musicals. Even so, there's enough charm here that the picture sort of works even though it seems unfinished most of the time. This is largely due to the incredible voice cast assembled to play our protagonists. 

   Most prominent is Phil Harris, who established himself a fixture with child audiences voicing jolly, rough-and-tumble bears for Disney in both THE JUNGLE BOOK and ROBIN HOOD. Of course, adults knew him for so much more, from playing conceited sidekick to Jack Benny to recording novelty tunes like "The Thing" and "That's What I Like About The South." This was his final film role. Shortly after, he was hired to voice Baloo the bear in the Saturday morning cartoon series Tail Spin. He did one recording session but his voice was shot and he had to be replaced. ROCK-A-DOODLE, therefore, is kind of a send-off for one of the great performers of the 20th Century. Happily, Phil even provides a tune for the end credits: "Just Like Tying Your Shoes." This may not be his best work, but it is charming and it's timeless qualities are enhanced by back-up vocals from the Jordanaires -Presley's back-up vocal group from the glory days.

   In addition, the film sports such made-for-animation voices as Sandy Duncan, Eddie Deezen, and Charles Nelson Reilly. Ellen Greene, using a breathy voice similar to the one she used in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, is the sexy chorus girl who comes to love our animated hero voiced by actor and country crooner Glen Campbell. Christopher Plummer is the villain. 

   Things open in outer space, setting a tone of celestial beauty and lurking menace as narrator Harris notes how the world once came near ruin because the sun didn't rise. This leads to our introduction to singing rooster Chanticleer. This introduction shot is really impressive for animation buffs, featuring as it does swirling camera movements and pans which take us from high over the farm to mere inches from Chanticleer's face. He's belting out the first song of the picture, "Sun Do Shine."

   Chanticleer is a barnyard rooster tasked only with bringing up the sun by crowing each morning. The rest of his time is spent singing to the delight of the other animals. Harris is Patou, an aging hound dog still learning to tie his shoes (which he wears due to a nasty case of bunions). Patou will be our host for these events, and in this block of narration notes that the genial Chanticleer wasn't the brightest fella, but was blessed with a powerful singing voice.

   Since Chanticleer is so closely tied to the rising sun, this puts him at odds with the creatures of the night -specifically the Grand Duke of Owls. One early morning, the Duke sends a henchman to tussle with Chanticleer. Chanticleer wins the fight, but the scuffle has lasted long enough for the others to see the sun come up before being called forth by Chanticleer's crowing. Chanticleer is labelled a fake and becomes disillusioned as the other animals laugh at his expense. He hangs his head and leaves the farm as the sun pulls back and sets again. The sun out of the picture, torrential rains begin to flood the farm, much to the delight of the Grand Duke.

   Pulling back, we find this yarn has been the subject of a storybook a young mother is reading to her child, Edmond. The first mingling of fantasy and reality is intoned when Edmond points to the Duke's picture and we see the glass of the owl's monocle crack. Weirdly, though Edmond seems to be well familiar with this story, he keeps asking his Mom about the characters and events. When Dad rushes in, he notes that trouble is close and he needs Mom's help. She quickly puts Edmond to bed, but as is so often the case, Edmond remains wide awake. He's also upset over the fact that he isn't able to physically help his family in the manner that his older brothers can.

   The master plan of the Duke seems to've spilled back into reality, as flood waters are rising around the farm where Edmond's family struggles to stack sandbags. His parents in danger of being swept away by the rising river, Edmond begins loudly calling for Chanticleer to intervene. A claw-shaped tree-branch is broken loose by a lightning strike and crashes into the house and destroys the room. Edmond survives, but is taken aback to find his cries for help have been answered by the wrong party.

   The Duke steps into the room, stating his anger with Edmond for breaking his monocle. "You stuck your finger in the Duke's face." More to the point, the Duke is angered that, after all the trouble it took to get Chanticleer off the farm, someone has had the nerve to try to call him back. Magical forces spewed forth by the Duke transition us back into the world of animation as the real world laps back into the fantasy world of Edmond's book. The Duke prefers his meals even smaller and more helpless than Edmond, so the owl uses his magic to transform Edmond into a cartoon kitten. Edmond's life is saved when Patou rushes in and clamps onto the Duke's leg. 

   The Duke retreats when Edmond grabs a flashlight, much to the relief of Patou. Owls in this universe are so light sensitive that they blast away from a flashlight as if sucked out of an airlock. Edmond discovers his condition ("I'm all furry!"), notices that he's now naked, and quickly clothes himself in the buckskins worn by one of his dolls. He then finds himself falling victim to instinctive feline behavior like licking himself and wanting to hunt mice, however this tendency quickly passes and not much else comes of it. What remains a fact is that Edmond is still diminutive. So much so now that he doesn't think he can help anyone in the shape he's in.

   The rising waters bring other storybook animals up to Edmond's room, chiefly spunky mouse Peepers and her antagonistic friend/foe Snipes the magpie. Edmond is convinced the only thing that will save the farm is Chanticleer crowing to raise the sun. Chanticleer has left for The City, though, and his whereabouts are unknown to his now remorseful friends. The flood waters now reach the upper floor and all must take refuge on anything that floats. Using a toy chest as a boat, Edmond sets out to reach the city and find C. Patou, Peepers, and Snipes join the expedition, as the other animals collect in the remains of Edmond's room and huddle for protection on a floating bed. The flashlight will protect them from the hungry owls.

   As our heroes take off in "the USS Toybox" we find the Owls back at the Duke's secret lair. The increasingly bad weather is due mostly to their machinations. In what seems to be a combination of science and magic, gloomy clouds are released into the atmosphere by a gigantic pipe organ. Some sort of vague electrical apparatus is also employed. The scene offers a little number which establishes the motives of the owls before we're introduced to Hunch, the Duke's tiny nephew. Though gung-ho about his work, Hunch* is about as effective as a villain as a cotton ball is dangerous. 

(* Actually, he seems to be called by several names throughout. I can't be sure if it's Hunch, Dunch, or Punch.)

   Still, Hunch and his fellow hench-owls attempt to stop Edmond and the gang from reaching The City. They succeed in detouring the makeshift boat into an aqueduct pipe, but this of course only sends them straight to the outskirts of The City. The journey through the pipe, however, is fraught with peril as Snipes reveals himself to be claustrophobic and in his panic pecks the toybox full of holes which let water spill in. Still, it ends with our heroes alive and well and gazing upon the metropolis. We notice that it isn't raining over the city, and it's later established via a newspaper headline that the rains are mysteriously limited to the farmlands.

   Hunch reports his victory to "Uncle Dukie" and sharp-eyed viewers may spot a continuity jump in this scene. Apparently shot was a short sequence in which the Duke places a living baby skunk into the contents of a pie before baking it! As the film now exists, we can get a glimpse of what could be the cage containing the animal as the scene opens in long shot. As we cut closer, the cage is gone and the Duke is working on the crust of the pie. The story goes this scene was removed not for it's nightmarish depiction of predation, but because a recent report had established that most cases of child abuse occur in the kitchen. What one thing really has to do with the other is something of a mystery.

   At any rate, Hunch learns of his mistake and is ordered to follow our heroes into the city and kill them before they can reach Chanticleer. A pair of sunglasses will protect the diminutive bird of prey from the big city lights. 

   In the city, the good guys are unable to locate Chanticleer, although he isn't as far from them as they imagine. His hair dyed black, Chanticleer has become The City's biggest singing star as The King. The gang finds themselves sitting right in front of the theater he's currently playing! (And here we get the actual "Rock-A-Doodle" song, as the King dances around a massive stage made to look like a record player. Too bad we hear so little of it, as it recalls the Elvis numbers of the 50's rather effectively.)

   The King is escorted from the building by a group of bodyguards who prevent anyone from getting close to the obviously depressed star. This prevents Edmond from getting Chanticleer's attention, but it also thwarts Hunch's assassination attempt. The gang will have to catch the King at another performance. Edmond also calls the farm to find the animals there are in danger of being eaten by the Duke and his goons the moment the batteries in the protective flashlight finally die out. Fortunately, some replacement batteries are dug up this time around.

   Though highly successful as an entertainer, The King feels lonely. His manager, Pinky (in cahoots with the Grand Duke) seeks a method of keeping the King in line -as the Duke makes it clear that it's best for all parties if Chanticleer remains in the city. The adoring public and their excited chants are small consolation for the lack of actual friendship, and the King continues to sulk.

   Pinky's answer is sexy singer Goldie Pheasant, who has taken the King's arrival in bad spirits and believes the spotlight is rightfully hers after having worked her way up from the chorus (though somewhat peripheral, I think the idea is that Goldie was about to headline, but the King's arrival has pushed her back into the chorus line). Pinky knows that Goldie can keep Chanticleer's mind occupied, and talks her into wooing The King in exchange for sharing his spotlight. Though self-concerned when we first met her, Goldie does have a caring nature and desire to do what's right. Pinky uses this and convinces her that Edmond and his friends are seeking to do the King ill. Reluctantly, Goldie agrees to decoy the King's attention away from what she believes to be a villainous kitten.

   Pinky also releases a notice that no dogs, cats, birds, or mice be allowed into a theater where the King is playing. A quick-thinker, though, has been renting out penguin costumes to dogs, cats, birds, and mice who want to see the show. (Wouldn't penguins fall under the "bird" classification anyway?) 

   We catch up to our heroes just before the King is due to hit the stage. They're wearing penguin suits, and Snipes has discovered the joys of lasagna. Edmond and the gang write a letter to Chanticleer and try to find a way to get it to him during the act. Edmond shapes the letter into a paper airplane, but it gets stuck on one of the props moving about the stage. Also, the gang's cover has been blown and Pinky's thugs chase them onto the stage.

   There's so much going on here that much of this particular music number -"Treasure Hunting Fever"- is lost in the commotion. That's a shame, since this number is one of the best recorded for this movie, very evocative of the Presley numbers we used to hear in his 60's movies. Given a nautical theme, the stage is set like a sunken ship. The prop which snags the paper airplane is a glittery shark which circles the stage on a mobile with three other prop sharks. The back-up singers are dressed as starfish. They really go all out here, but as noted the song is largely lost in the goings on.

   Edmond manages to get the letter literally into Chanticleer's hand as the number finishes. Before the King can read it, though, Goldie marches out and vamps him. Her short little song keeps with the nautical theme: "Deep, deep, the trouble you're in./I've thrown you to the sharks, and you can't swim." Goldie grabs the letter away from Chanticleer as our heroes look on in despair. They'll have to try again. 

   Chanticleer has a pad atop a skyscraper, a little farm house structure complete with a rather dangerous-looking swing. Perched there, Goldie and the King get better acquainted. The closest our heroes can get is the roof of the next building over, and they yell to get Chanticleer's attention, but Chanticleer only has eyes and ears for Goldie. Fortunately for all involved, Goldie falls in love with Chanticleer for real.

   Edmond decides "If I can't talk to him, I'll talk to her" and sneaks onto the film studio where Goldie is about to co-star opposite the King in the first feature of a six picture deal with Pinky. Edmond finds Goldie in her trailer, but she still believes what Pinky told her and chases Edmond out. The farm animals are netted by Pinky before Goldie realizes she's made a mistake. Between takes on the set, Goldie tells the King what's up, even producing the letter she took from him "the night we first met." Chanticleer is at first upset by Goldie's betrayal, but he quickly sees that Pinky is holding the cards. Pinky threatens to give a bad time to Chanticleer's friends if he doesn't cooperate and finish the movie. "That's blackmail!" Chanticleer shouts. "That's showbiz!" Pinky counters.

   Prior to the camera rolling, with the two of them seated on a motorcycle, Goldie tries to apologize, but the King isn't wanting to hear it right now. "Shut up," he rather harshly tells her, "I'm thinking." Chanticleer asks Goldie where the hostages are, which turns out to be Pinky's opulent trailer. Seeing the open stage door, Chanticleer tells Goldie to hang on and they both escape by driving the motorcycle off set.

   In Pinky's trailer, the gang has been tied up. Hunch attempts to take advantage of this and kill them while they're at his mercy, but a series of Roger Rabbit-like accidents find Hunch in considerable pain and the potential victims free. Unfortunately, Patou brains Chanticleer with a frying pan when the characters catch up to each other. "Oh no, I've killed him!" Chanticleer's alive, but must be dragged into the back seat of Pinky's monstrous modified Cadillac. As Goldie tends to the King, the others start the car and attempt to flee. Pinky and his gang are in hot pursuit, chasing them all across the movie studio. 

   Peepers tries to get Edmond to use his cat abilities to crawl down to the trailer hitch and release the gigantic trailer. Edmond doesn't think he can do it, however, and Peepers does it herself. She succeeds, but is carried away by the trailer as it crashes into the studio's water tower. Edmond turns the car back to find her. This results in Pinky's goons chasing our heroes up the water tower. 

   When the tower starts to collapse, Pinky's helicopter flies in and catches the falling characters. It's Peepers at the controls, and the gang heads back to the farm. Once there, the copter's spotlights save the rest of the animals from being devoured by the owls. Hunch makes a final attempt to make good the assassination of the animals and sets off another accident which ends in the copter crashing to earth.

   Our heroes manage to reach safety, having escaped the crash and finding footing on an island. Chanticleer finally comes out of it (the rain washes the black out of his hair during this), and is given a quick rundown of why he needs to crow. Chanticleer, though, has forgotten how to crow. "I don't know if I ever did." he admits. The Duke delights in hearing this, and uses some magic to torment Chanticleer further. Using a ghostly manifestation of a clown hammer, the Duke drives Chanticleer into the ground like a tent spike.

   Edmond chants our hero's name in an effort to raise Chanticleer's spirits, which causes the Duke to attack him. When it appears Edmond has died, Patou begins to lead the other animals in the chant of Chanticleer's name. The Duke responds by using his powers to grow into a colossus, in the process pinning Chanticleer underwater. Although it isn't clear what makes this possible (possibly only the knowledge that he's loved), Chanticleer finally recalls his abilities and bursts off like a skyrocket (he too seems to've gotten some magical aid, if the sparks of glowing red light around the hole he's trapped in are anything to go by). Crowing as he circles the Earth, Chanticleer indeed calls forth the sun and the Duke is badly injured when he's struck by a bolt of sunlight. His magical powers backfire and he's reduced to a pathetic little bird the previously much put-upon Hunch now towers over.

   As Hunch chases the former kingpin of evil into the distance, the sun comes out and immediately causes the waters to recede and the buds to bloom. The animals gather around Edmond's lifeless body as he regains his human form, and all are sad that they can do nothing for him. 

   As you might expect, though, Edmond awakes to find himself back in his (live-action) room. The sun is out and the family is repairing their farm. Edmond asks his mother where Chanticleer and the gang made off to, and Mom tries to explain to him that it's just a storybook. Knowing better, when left in his room, Edmond again speaks to Chanticleer by holding up the book. If the following is a dream sequence or Edmond being physically brought into the storybook animated world again, it isn't clear. 

   What we see though is live-action Edmond having the time of his life on the animated farm as Chanticleer belts out his signature song "Sun Do Shine." In this instance, we actually get to hear the full song without interruption. Some little scenes here and there include Snipes and Peepers getting along, Patou finally learning to tie his shoes, and Goldie having joined the animals on the farm (and given some particularly adorable farm duds). We fade out and discover that the credits last something like nine and a half minutes! For the original VHS release, these credits were sped up to make them shorter -though at the loss of some nice exit music. More recent releases have restored this sequence to it's original length.

   Though undeniably charming, amusing, and fun, the fact remains that ROCK-A-DOODLE is one weird movie. Admittedly, it negates some issues with it's it-must-have-been-a-dream ending. This certainly helps some elements if they're just dreams, such as the overlap of animated animals into the real world, the highly-stylized city, Edmond's recurring feeling of helplessness due to his small size and overcoming of it, etc. Of course, we're talking about a children's movie about a rooster that sings like Elvis Presley, so I don't know how much thought we're really supposed to put into it!

   Live action and animation had been combined effectively into a feature film* at least as far back as Walt Disney's utterly delightful (though mysteriously maligned) musical SONG OF THE SOUTH in 1946. Other prominent examples include MARY POPPINS, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. Most all of those remained focused in the live-action world with detours into majority-animation segments. ROCK-A-DOODLE reverses this by sticking mostly to the animated world with two live-action segments more or less bookending the story. This makes some sense, as Bluth was primarily an animator, and this was his only live-action directorial work. Indeed, the live-action scenes show a cleanness and directness which go straight to the point. Though brief, the sequences hit their marks.

(* Of course, animation had been mixed with live action in short subjects. An early success for Walt Disney was a series of cartoons based on Through The Looking Glass in which a live-action little girl was shot against a white background and combined with animated Wonderland characters. And of course, Betty Boop and Koko the Clown had interacted with their live-action creators. Most every cartoon star mixed with live-action footage at one point or another, from Daffy Duck to Popeye the Sailor.)

   The opening storm scene, with the over-flowing river washing away sandbag levees and endangering Edmond's family, is expertly precise -as is the evocative brief glimpse we get of the storm's aftermath through Edmond's window. When we transition from Edmond's dream back into reality, we're treated to a flawless in-camera effect using a bright red light and quickly-fading smoke. It looks simple enough, but similar effects in much more expensive movies have required rather more effort and teams of effects artists armed with the best optical (or in more recent cases, digital) equipment. Adding to how impressive this shot is, the camera is also moving: pulling back from a close up of Edmond's face as it pans around to take in the rest of the room and show Mom enter.

   As an animated film, the visuals are quite beautiful, beginning with the Disney-esque sun-drenched farmland and transitioning to the bright lights of the big city as rendered in a retro-modern design sense which recalls the experimental animation Disney was doing in the 50's, as well as some work Chuck Jones was doing in the 60's. The color schemes are bold and vibrant, and the animation smooth and accomplished. As is typical of Bluth's work, lighting effects are expertly pulled off.

   The animators also do an impressive job of depicting characters of varying size working together. Patou dwarfs Peepers, but the group interacts comfortably without the smaller figures ever getting lost in the action -which must've been a challenge for the overall designers of the picture. The character design is rooted in traditional cartoon animal aesthetics, with some animals more resembling their real-life counter-parts than others. Most are more exaggerated forms which wear clothing (sometimes only a collar or vest, sometimes an elaborate dress or suit). All assemble comfortably (although the more animal-like animals seen in the first reel are missing from the main action) and perfectly fit the voices given them. 


   Goldie Pheasant in particular is an impressive invention, as Bluth's team has managed to create an attractive female character who happens to have a beak. Even if she tends to look better when in motion than when seen in still form, Goldie is a noteworthy accomplishment. Pretty female cartoon characters are often challenging, particularly if the features of the animal being anthropomorphized are too far removed from those of a human being. Mammals with short snouts tend to work best when creating a female character the audience should accept as classically beautiful. That these guys could do it with a bird is doubly impressive, and done mostly by limiting her avian features to her face and a feathery tail. Her body is a streamlined depiction of a human form, and two reference models are credited. A rather huge ponytail and bangs add to the cutesy aspect.  Greene's vocalizations (small, child-like, yet breathless and cooing) certainly aid the design. Word has it she was considered a little too sexy during the test screenings and Bluth was required to tone down Goldie's cleavage.



   If Goldie was made to work by making her body as human as possible, the other characters remained more firmly rooted in the animal kingdom. The roosters occasionally take flight, their arms morphing into wings which reshape themselves when the characters are back at rest. Snipes wears gloves, but his wings are fully wings. All other birds have wings with dominant feathers approximating fingers. Most of the animals are designed cartoon-style, though Patou seems to've been modeled on a real dog much of the time.

   As a villain, the Grand Duke of Owls is a suitably menacing figure, if somewhat under-developed. We never learn very much about him, beyond his gleeful villainy and dry sense of humor. He does show some smarts in employing multiple schemes simultaneously, and he's constantly active. In between threat sessions, we see him baking a pie, doing needlepoint, and noodling on the pipe organ. His magical manifestations appear to be occult in nature, though not overtly so, and this holds to themes long a tradition in animated films. 

   Animated films as we know them were born in the 30's, and as such reflected the times. A wave of revival was spreading across the States in defiance of the harsh conditions of the Depression (and as is usually the case during a period of revival, the era saw a great pop interest in spiritualism and general mysticism, Egyptology in particular was still hot). It was a time when average Americans were admittedly spiritual and Church was one of the main family activities. Americans also engaged in gallows humor which included depictions of good and evil. Movie producers at the time were more interested in playing to average American audiences, since they were the ones buying tickets. The result was that evil characters in cartoons were a bit more blatant about the source of their evil, and evil powers. Though much watered down, this tradition remains a subtextural element in children's films.

   One sign here is that magic vapors contain depictions of tiny stars and planets, though this was reportedly done because Bluth felt children would find solid colors in these manifestations a touch too disturbing and the astronomical shapes helped defuse that. More on point is when the Duke puffs some magical vapors at Patou and they take the shape of winged demons.

   Within the animated segments, characters are never depicted as human, though they act like it. The city is populated by humanimals of every species imaginable, most keeping their relative sizes (the one exception here are the henchman frogs, who tower over most everybody else). As is often the case, this works better the less one thinks about it. Though based in the animal kingdom, most of these characters are but depictions of human beings. Countering this, the farm animals are by and large completely animals -the line between more humanoid and more traditional creatures being less defined the closer we get to civilization.

   The timeline depicted here is, at best, problematic. The events occurring on the farm seem to happen over the course of hours, those in the city over several days. From the time we catch up to Chanticleer, having quickly achieved fame as a singer, he does several shows, meets Goldie, woos her and falls in love, is signed to a motion picture contract, and begins filming before he returns to the farm. Possibly this is intentional, reinforcing the dreamworld aspect of all this. When she confesses to the King, Goldie notes "the night" they first met and indicates the passage of several days at the least. The animals huddled in Edmond's room hang on long enough to drain the power from two flashlight loads of batteries in continuous use, but that would be a full 24 hour day at the most, would it not? It'd be rather depressing to think of the group spending that long cowering on a floating bed in a flooded room.

   I'd never pieced it together, but there are those who think the film is meant to be a period piece. The only real indication of this that caught my eye was an antiquated radio seen during the opening live action segment. I always figured the film was going for a timeless feel by adopting a lot of 50's designs and elements, like Pinky's heavily modified 1959 Cadillac. While there are a lot of retro aesthetics here, nothing really screams Period Piece. (The poster above, though, does have a 1959* license plate in clear view.) This is probably because there are plenty of generic items (like clothing) that fit fully within the late 80's production period. The live-action segments are set on a rural farm, and as such we don't expect to look overly modern. Certainly Edmond's storybook looks like it were printed a lot closer to 1990 than 1959. And there are bits of technology spread throughout the film that suggest a more modern era as well, no matter how many 50's-style television sets we see. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if it's a period piece or just carries a timeless aesthetic that plays to nostalgia. It has no bearing on the story itself.

(* During the chase across the studio lot, the vehicles pass through a Colosseum set meant to recall the main setpiece of BEN-HUR, which was released in '59. Again, though, this doesn't seem designed to establish an actual date.)

   The King's night club performances were done on massive and complex stage sets. One was made to look like the interior of a giant jukebox, another like the bottom of the sea. During these numbers, the King is always in motion -spinning around poles and swinging from ropes and the like. What we see of the filming of the King's movie is by contrast very small scale, with a motorcycle stationary on a treadmill in front of a very shabby revolving background drape. If this is supposed to be significant, I'm not sure how. Pinky is paying for both, and expecting massive returns in each case. Why splurge for a stage show and skimp on a movie guaranteed to be a blockbuster?  

   In terms of Bluth's film, why hire Glen Campbell to record a number of songs which we don't really get to hear? This is particularly problematic for the scene where Goldie and the King court each other while seated on a swing high atop a skyscraper. The number "Kiss And Coo" appears to be a fairly complex and subtle piece, a duet between Campbell and Greene which explores both characters' changing attitudes. Thing is, only about three lines remain audible minus distraction. Harris narrates over the sequence, largely laying out the same information. And when Harris isn't narrating, his character is explaining to Edmond what's going on! This seems to be a rather beautiful number, but it's almost completely buried! 

   Reportedly, there was a soundtrack album released in 1992, the year of ROCK-A-DOODLE's US release. I don't know how rare these albums are, but I'd love to have one!

   The film passed through theaters quickly (though a younger version of myself did happen to catch the film on the big screen), the first Bluth film in a long time to tank. The film did slightly better on home video, but even then it remained largely overlooked. Unless it was frequently shown on UHF stations, I don't recall it getting just a ton of play on television. I didn't see it again until it popped up on one of the movie channels about ten years ago. Obviously taken from the DVD source, the airing was scope, and it's the one I taped and still have. 

   The film marked the beginning of a slide that Bluth's studio was never quite able to stop (though a brief upswing was granted by the success of ANASTASIA, Bluth's glory days had sadly passed with the coming of a new century -a condition I take no delight in noting). Part of the problem may be that ROCK-A-DOODLE feels so rushed. Running 77 minutes (and the last reel or so of that was credits), it feels more like 50. We basically hit the ground running, explain very little, and rush from one scene to the next. Reportedly, Phil Harris' narration was added last minute to help fill in some of the gaps. (Thus giving me mixed feelings, since it would've been nice to hear the songs minus the narration, but on the other hand it's wonderful to spend more time with Phil.) The film's failure is evident in the lack of any direct to video sequel or spin-off.

   Just the same, the film is wildly entertaining and emotionally satisfying. (The moment where Patou begins to chant Chanticleer's name as the freshly struck-down Edmond had been doing, has full emotional charge.) One wishes the film had been a little less rapid, and taken a minute or two to really soak in what's presented to us. Mostly, one wishes the musical numbers would've been better exploited. If the idea is to do a play on Elvis movies of the 50's and 60's, ROCK-A-DOODLE overlooks completely that the whole point of those films was to showcase Elvis singing. Glen Campbell provides some very evocative tunes (aided no end by vocal accompaniment by the Jordanaires), but we hear little of it through all the voice overs. The one song we do hear uninterrupted, "Sun Do Shine" is relentlessly catchy.

   In the end, a fun (if obscure and very strange) animated film that breezes by and leaves one feeling good. Not much logic, of course, and it's tragic legacy is as the beginning of the end of a movie studio that had barely found it's legs. ROCK-A-DOODLE seems to be the single point which begins the rapid downfall of Sullivan-Bluth. Not helping was a string of hugely successful Disney animated features which helped shove aside the plucky independent.

   But the final word on ROCK-A-DOODLE is that ultimately, it's very fun and charming. It's hard to ask much more of an animated film.