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Jan 182017
 

Sesame Street has yet another musical feature. Sesame Street: Sing, Hoot and Howl With The Sesame Street Animals focuses on songs about different animals with Big Bird as the host. Many animals come to a barn house called the Sing, Hoot, and Howl Club and request animal songs. Even though a wolf, who looks a lot like Jackman Wolf from Sesame Street Rock and Roll, plays piano the songs are all featured in segments.

These segments are from Sesame Street Old School, though most of them use live footage to coincide with the song, like Hardworking Dog and Stardust. These kinds of segments used to be hard for me to follow because they tend to run long. Looking back now, these segments are pretty good. One thing’s for sure. You will never find clips like this on Sesame Street today.

Still I prefer the songs that were performed by Sesame Street characters. Some of those include Proud to be a Cow by Gladys the cow, Cluck Around the Clock by Chrissy and the Alphabeats, and Baa Baa Bamba performed by Luis (Emilio Delgado) and some animals.

The subplot is mostly about the lion trying to request a song, but keeps getting interrupted by other animals giving their requests, especially Gladys the cow. Eventually, the lion gets his request but had to use his loud roar to scare everyone to make it happen.

One song that was really beautiful was We are All Earthlings, performed by a group of animals. Elmo also sings with the group with an unknown character that sounds much like Gobo Fraggle.

This was a good feature with another creative theme. I guess it goes to show that animals love music as much as people do.

Jan 042017
 

For a long time I have really enjoyed fantasy films from the 80s like Legend and Willow. Another one I can remember is The Last Unicorn, which has the same style of animation used in fantasy classics like The Hobbit and Return of the King.

In this story, a lone unicorn, simply known as the Unicorn, (voice of Mia Farrow) discovers that she is the last of her kind. So she goes on a quest in search of other unicorns that were chased off the edge of the earth by a demonic creature called the red bull.

She learns this from a Butterfly (voice of Robert Klein) that talks in riddle, songs, and poetry. Why couldn’t he just tell her straight? I mean, the way the Butterfly was carrying on was like he wasn’t paying attention when the Unicorn asked him about anything.

Throughout the Unicorn’s search, many of the people she meets mistake her for a white mare because her horn is invisible to them. It appears that only users of magic can see the unicorn for what she truly is and hear her speak, like Mommy Fortuna (voice of Angela Lansbury). She is a witch who runs a traveling Midnight Carnival, showcasing mythical beasts. Of course, the Unicorn is caged among them.

There, the Unicorn also meets the magician Schmendrick (voice of Alan Arkin). I can tell by his presence and persona that he is not an advanced sorcerer but is still learning.

After Schmendrick sets the Unicorn free, he joins her on her quest to search for other unicorns. All they have to go on is that the red bull comes from the seaside castle of King Haggard (voice of Christopher Lee), thought the connection between the king and the bull is unclear.

Along the way, they meet up with Captain Cully (voice of Keenan Wynn) and his band of outlaws. Although they seem to be a good group, the only one who joins Schmendrick and the Unicorn on their journey is the cook Molly Crue (voice of Tammy Grimes). She’s non-magical but does believe that unicorns are real and has for some time.

After getting to the castle, the red bull arrives and goes after the Unicorn. The only way to save her was for Schmendrick to turn her into a human girl, but that only causes complication. On the bright side, the Unicorn finally has a name, Lady Amalthea.

Image result for last unicorn amalthea

To make matters worse, King Haggard’s son Prince Lir (voice of Jeff Bridges) falls in love with Amalthea. If only he knew the truth about her.

I should also point out that there is also a talking cat that has an eye patch, a wooden leg, and an earring. It also talks like a pirate, which makes you wonder, but there’s no mention of where this cat came from or if King Haggard is its owner.

This was an interesting movie with exciting adventure and an excellent soundtrack that makes it a true 80s fantasy film. It was a great decade for that genre. Am I right?

Dec 212016
 

When it comes to old school clay animation, the kind that mainly comes to mind, next to Gumby, is the Claymation works of Will Vinton from such films as The Adventures of Mark Twain and Rip Van Winkle. Here’s a DVD that contains three holiday specials called Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Plus Halloween & Easter Celebrations.

Since Christmas is coming soon, let’s start with A Claymation Christmas Celebration, naturally. I can remember when this first premiered back in 1987 all that was advertised about it was the California Raisins performing. However, that was very misleading because this special wasn’t just about that.

Talking dinosaurs, Rex and Herb, host a variety of segments based on different Christmas carols while other folks walk by and sing Here We Come a Wassailing, but keep getting it wrong because no one really knows what “Wassailing” means. I can’t blame them since that’s not a common word used in simple conversation.

Image result for claymation christmas

The first segment is about We Three Kings. At the time I found the song difficult to understand, but what made it more interesting was when the camels, who were wearing tennis shoes, sang the chorus with a more upbeat tempo. That sure kept my attention.

Next was an instrumental version of Carol of the Bells with Quasimodo as conductor, which is appropriate if you think about it. The main focus is the dopey bell in the corner among all the classy ones. He’s always messing up his parts. Other than that, the music is beautiful.

After that was several slower paced, but very creative, segments based on O’ Christmas Tree, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Joy to the World. By this point all I could think about is where the California Raisins are. It’s just like in Fantasia, when the main highlight you look forward to is Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but you also have to sit through a bunch of other segments that feel long and boring, even if they are short and colorful.

The last segment is about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and finally we get to see the California Raisins sing. I guess they were saving the best for last. The waiting period was unnecessary but it was worth it because those singing raisins were awesome and still are.

The other two specials are about the misadventures of Wilshire Pig, who is always scheming to get rich. In The Claymation Comedy of Horrors (1991), Wilshire finds a diary that leads him to Dr. Frankenswine’s monster at a monster convention.

Then in A Claymation Easter (1992), Wilshire kidnaps the Easter Bunny so he can become the Easter Pig. These specials were good, but I never found Wilshire Pig likable as a protagonist.

Image result for little prince claymation

There were quite a few other Claymation features over the years, many of which were short films. The only other one I know of that’s at least on VHS is The Little Prince (1979). As creative and colorful as it is, the story line is pretty boring. I always prefer the 80s animated series to any other version of The Little Prince.

Though it has been a long time since I have seen these holiday specials, they are still classics. In fact, seeing these again inspired me to look up other Claymation features. Unfortunately, they can only be seen on YouTube. Do you think they’ll ever release them on DVD someday?

Nov 022016
 

Sesame Street has done it again with classic segments grouped together in a musical theme. This time Sesame Street – Sing Yourself Silly! is about, well, silly songs. After almost every song, a random Sesame Street character comes out and says; “Now that was silly”.

There’s no subplot in this feature, but there are quite a few classic segments that I remember well. For instance the opening song The Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree features one of the first appearances of the Dinger. Like the Honkers, he doesn’t talk but sure stands out since there are no other Dingers around.

Another interesting segment I recall is James Taylor performing Jelly Man Kelly on his guitar with some kids. I never understood the lyrics, but I liked the relaxing setup.

One Banana was very creative. It’s about how bananas always grow in bunches and never alone. It also relates to how people grow with friends and family. As silly as this song is, it has some realism too.

Now who remembers Don Music? He’s that song writer that seems elegant, but when he gets stumped on a lyric, Don slams his head on the piano saying that he’ll never get past his writers block. At times he can be too emotional and give up too easily. It’s funny at first, but after a few times it’s hard to watch.

In this segment, Don works on Mary had a Little Lamb. With Kermit’s help, Don makes a new song called Mary had a Bicycle. While performing it, the members of Little Jerry and the Monotones suddenly join in. Where did those guys come from?

The last big highlight is Hoots the Owl and his band performing Put Down the Duckie as Ernie tries to play the saxophone. It’s a catchy song (Despite that it was already on Sesame Street: Put Down the Duckie) that features many celebrity cameos, including Pee-Wee Herman at his playhouse. It’s interesting that Ernie’s only problem was not to hold his rubber duckie while playing the sax. You’d think there would be harder things about playing the instrument to consider.

This was another great feature with classic Sesame Street segments. It’s the kind of material that makes you look forward to the next Sesame Street Old School DVD set, if there are any more coming.

Aug 102016
 

Sesame Street – Put Down the Duckie is a feature I remember well long before it was released on DVD. Back in 1988, it was advertised as The Sesame Street Special and premiered on Prime Time. When I first heard about it, I couldn’t wait to see it, despite the fact that the network had a telethon that ran through some of the time slot. Don’t you just hate that?

The special starts with Gladys Knight and the Pips performing the extended version of the Sesame Street theme, then Phil Donohue interviewing the people on the street. Of course everyone wants to speak. It was enough for Phil Donohue to take off. I remember Phil Donohue having a popular talk show back in the day but never understood it.

From here on out, this feature is all songs and segments from previous episodes of that season. The highlights include the Monsterpiece Theater segment The 39 Stairs, Grover as a singing and dancing waiter in a Spanish restaurant, and the Jellyman Kelly song.

Of course the biggest highlight in this feature is Hoots the Owl and his band performing Put Down the Duckie as Ernie struggles to play the saxophone while holding his rubber duckie. As an extension to the catchy song, various celebrities join in like Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Madeline Khan, Paul Simon, Jane Curtain, Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens), and bunch of others I didn’t recognize.

Speaking of celebrity guest stars, in another segment Bob (Bob McGrath) sings People in your Neighborhood, which features Barbara Walters getting the scoop on Bob and Linda’s (Linda Bove) relationship and Ralph Nader practically destroying Bob’s sweater as he inspects it. This segment seems much different compared to past versions of this song because it’s not as innocent as before when comes to describing each person’s job.

I can also remember back in the day when Robert MacNeil was a news correspondent on PBS. He appears on this feature to investigate a missing cookie story by talking to Cookie Monster. Kermit the frog also appears as Cookie’s lawyer.

The final segment is called Pretty Great Performances, which features an all animal orchestra performing Italian Street Song with Placido Flamingo. Who remembers this character? Looking back now, he sounds just like Wayne from The Muppet Show, especially when he sings.

This was certainly a classic Sesame Street feature, especially since it was only on TV once. You still won’t find this feature on cable because it’s now part of Sesame Street Old School. By the way, when do you think they’ll release Sesame Street Old School: Volume 4 on DVD?