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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.

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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?

May 212013

The Smurfs were big favorites of mine back in the 80s. You can definitely tell by the old merchandise I have collected over the years. Does anyone remember any of this stuff?

Since the cartoon series ended in 1990, they had not been seen or heard from in a long time until their triumphant return in The Smurfs movie back in 2011. They were also on Robot Chicken, but that’s another story.

In this modern feature, the evil but hilarious wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) plots to capture the Smurfs as usual, but this time he has an edgier plan to use their blue essence to become the most powerful wizard in the world. Meanwhile, Papa Smurf (voice of Jonathon Winters) receives a vision about the Smurfs’ impending doom and Clumsy (voice of Anton Yelchin) is responsible. Clumsy is like the underdog in this movie because nobody believes he can do anything right for he is always clumsy.

Soon, Gargamel finds the village and the Smurfs manage to escape. However, Papa Smurf, Clumsy, Smurfette (voice of Katy Perry), Brainy (voice of Fred Armisen), Grouchy (voice of George Lopez), and new character Gutsy (voice of Alan Cumming) get separated from the others and end up in a portal to modern day New York City. If that wasn’t bad enough, Gargamel and Azrael follow in pursuit. I guess that means we don’t get to see Jokey (voice of Paul Reubens) use his exploding boxes more than once.

While the Smurfs figure out how to get back home, they meet Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) after traveling on top of a taxi. Actually, the Smurfs traveled that way several times but always manage to blend in because there always happens to be a blue ad on top of the cabs. What are the odds of that?

Patrick is a father to be and the new vice president of marketing at a modeling agency, who struggles with self-doubt. His job is on the line because his strict boss Odile (Sofia Vargara) demands a new ad campaign in two days. The Smurfs try to help Patrick out whether he likes it or not, but it’s really Papa Smurf who helps Patrick understand that true success comes from the heart.

Meanwhile, Gargamel sets up a headquarters at an old castle. Azrael manages to get some of Smurfette’s hair for Gargamel to use, despite that it was from a hairball he hacked up. In fact, Azrael is hilarious with his many cat-like behaviors he never did before like licking his butt and jumping on the dinner table during a meal.

Papa Smurf comes up with a plan to get back home. First get a stargazer and then find a book of spells to make the full moon blue in order to open the portal. Such things are hard to find in this world, but the Smurfs manage to find them while dodging Gargamel and other people.

This was a great film with these classic characters. I heard that a sequel is coming out this summer. I wonder if it will feature other reoccurring villains from the cartoon series like Big Mouth, Hogatha, Clorhydris, or allies like Yohan the knight and his squire Pee-Wee. Only time will tell.

Dec 132010

I can remember Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991). This old Saturday morning series is about Paul Reubens as that classic quirky character Pee-Wee Herman and his playhouse filled with talking furniture. I even have the old playset along with the talking Pee-Wee and Chairry doll for him to sit on. Some of my favorite characters include Chairry the talking arm chair, Mr. Window the talking window, and Globey the talking globe, who is very knowledgeable about geography.

The animation is neat also. Like when Pee-Wee plays connect the dots with Magic Screen. Pee-Wee becomes part of the adventure. There’s also clay animation with the dinosaur family, the food in the refrigerator, and the fast-paced Penny cartoons.

Another classic character was Conky the robot. He provides the secret word for each episode and plays music on occasion. However, the record player is on edge. How does the record stay on there? Maybe if Conky were updated, he’d have a CD player. Now that would be cool.

The King of Cartoons (William Marshall) always stops by to show old cartoons from the 30s and 40s. It used to be with a film projector, and then it became more convenient with the little TV on wheels. I just recently realized that William Marshall also played Blacula in the Blacula films. Other big stars who have been on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse include Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, Phil Hartman as Captain Carl, and S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the mail lady.

Pee-Wee is also creative when it comes to having fun. One of the main items I can remember was about wearing giant underpants on his head. Man, I still think that’s hilarious.

One of my favorite gags from the earlier seasons was the Salesman bit. This guy with a giant head says, “I’m going door to door to make you this incredible offer…” Pee-Wee growls and shouts, “Salesman!” I’d like to see how he reacts to telemarketers.

During the series run, Pee-Wee Herman had two films. His first one was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Pee-Wee was funny and witty, but I found it disappointing because none of the other Playhouse characters were in it. The change was way too drastic.

As for his other film Big Top Pee-Wee, Pee-Wee was great once again, but there were still no other Playhouse characters featured. Yet I began to like it better when I found out about Vance the talking pig. He’s no Pteri, but the character works.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is a fun and creative series. It’s just too bad that it ended because of a celebrity scandal. You know what I’m talking about.

Dec 212009

Christmas is a very special time of year. It’s about togetherness and doing good for others. As children, we mostly saw Christmas as a time for Santa Claus, who gives gifts to all of the good children of the world. That’s nice too, but when I was a kid I saw Christmas for something else also. Being off school. Of course there’s always still a chance of having homework assignments over the break because it’s technically not the end of the semester yet. Don’t you just hate that?

Anyway, here is my top 25 list of Christmas specials that help me get more into the holiday spirit.

#25) Shrek the Halls: This takes place shortly after where Shrek the Third left off. Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and his family are at the swamp house near Christmas time. As Donkey (voice of Eddie Murphy) and friends arrive with Christmas cheer, Shrek feels out of place because he never celebrated Christmas before. Embarrassed to tell anyone, Shrek goes into town and gets a book titled “Christmas for Village Idiots”. He follows it exactly, but things go out of control when the others don’t celebrate by the book. Shrek soon confesses to the others about how he doesn’t know about Christmas, but everything works out. This special has a great message about Christmas traditions. It doesn’t matter how you celebrate. Christmas is about togetherness and good will while having a good time. That’s what’s truly important.

#24) Little Drummer Boy: Based on the Christmas carol, a young boy named Aaron travels the countryside in Jerusalem with his toy drum. His only friends are BaaBaa the lamb, Samson the donkey, and Joshua the camel. Long ago, Aaron’s parents were killed by bandits and that caused him to hate all humans. He thinks they’re all bandits. Talk about stereotyping a species. That all soon changes when Aaron arrives in Bethlehem, meets the newborn king, and plays his drum for him. In Little Drummer Boy: Book 2 the story continues thereafter as Aaron goes with one of the three kings to fulfill a prophecy, which involves the newborn king and silver bells. Due to unfair taxes, the Roman Emperor takes the bells and it’s up to Aaron to help get them back. Aaron loses his drum to those greedy tax collectors, which leaves him heartbroken. Then realizes that his accomplishment was worth it.

#23) Sonic Christmas Blast: It’s Christmas time in the world of Mobious and Santa is retiring. Taking his place is Robotnik Claus. Sounds kind of suspicious, don’t you think? Especially since Robotnik Claus wants everyone to give him presents. Meanwhile, Sonic and Tails go Christmas shopping, but all of the stores are empty. It also turns out that Robotnik has captured Santa. It’s a race against time as Sonic and Tails try to defeat Robotnik and save Christmas. No problem for Sonic the Hedgehog as he goes through all sorts of adventurous perils.

#22) The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold: Here’s an interesting special I had discovered recently. On an island inhabited by leprechauns, a cabin boy named Dinty goes ashore and digs up a Christmas tree. Only to find out that a wicked banshee named Mag the Hag was kept underneath it. Now the banshee is on the loose bringing bad luck with her tears. Banshees can take any form in order to persuade the leprechauns to give them their gold. There is one flaw in that tactic. Banshees can’t hide their tears. That’s right. Their eyes are always leaking. Personally, I prefer the version of banshees from that episode of Charmed better. It’s much more edgy. The story line didn’t seem like much, but there’s something about Irish music that just makes you feel good inside.

#21) Fat Albert’s Christmas Special: This is unlike any other special I’ve seen before. As Fat Albert and the gang prepare for a Christmas pageant, Tyrone, a junkyard owner, threatens them to move out of their clubhouse. They also find a homeless family and try to help them out. The father was laid off and his wife is about to have a baby. Fat Albert explains the situation to Tyrone, but he refuses to listen. He’s like a Scrooge. “No class.” Mudfoot talks some sense into Tyrone. Soon, good deeds conquer all. Doesn’t that make you feel good inside?

#20) ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Based the classic Christmas story, a human family known as the Trundles and a mouse family are worried that Santa will never return to their home town Junctionville again after everyone’s letters to Santa return to their senders. As it turns out, Albert, an intelligent mouse, wrote a letter to Santa mentioning what a phony he is. His father sets him straight when Joshua Trundle (voice of Joel Grey) , a clock maker, makes a huge clock to make Santa happy again. Fascinated by the clock, Albert accidentally wrecks it. It then becomes a race against time to fix it up again before midnight. It’s a good story about miracles and believing in what you can’t see or touch. Like Santa Claus and his baby reindeer. Baby reindeer?


#19) Charlie Brown Christmas: The Peanuts characters I remember very well. I found most of their specials depressing, but this one is funny and heartwarming. Lucy gets Charlie Brown to direct the Christmas play, but no one takes him seriously. They all just dance repetitively to Peanuts music. Who really dances with their shoulders up or sleepwalks in place? Soon Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree. Of all the trees to choose from, he had to pick the smallest wooden tree. No one else likes it at first, but thanks to Linus, it becomes a great tree. Yet it still makes me wonder how the play turns out.


#18) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 version): This was one of the greatest Christmas specials of all time. Considering that it’s on cable every year along with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Also a classic. It starts with the Grinch hating Christmas and the Whos. I’ll tell ya. That Grinch has some nasty teeth when we see them up close. And that big sinister smile. Don’t get me started. As the Grinch describes what he hates about the Whos, it seems like musical instruments are the most popular types of presents. Most of them look complicated to play, but those Whos make it all look so easy. Even the little guy playing the drum on a highchair. The Grinch disguises himself as Santa Claus and his dog Max as a reindeer. That harness does look a little tight, don’t you think? The Grinch arrives in Whoville and steals everything in order to keep Christmas from coming. Things like presents, decorations, and the feast. Even ice cubes, camera film, and flower pedals. Talk about not taking any chances. Sheesh. And here’s something a little ironic. The moral of this story is that commercialism isn’t what Christmas is all about. Yet the Grinch is a highly merchandised character during the holidays. Ain’t that something?

#17) Pee-Wee’s Christmas: This one is a favorite because it sure give me a funny perspective on fruitcake. Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) has a long list for Santa Claus. Yet he keeps getting fruitcakes from his friends for Christmas. Yecch! At least he finds a great use for them. They make great bricks to build a new room for the playhouse. There were also cameos from various celebrities. One of my most favorites was when Charo sings “Feliz Navidad” while Pee-Wee tries to break a piñata. Another favorite was when Dinah Shore sings “12 Days of Christmas” over the picture phone, which goes to 500. No wonder Pee-Wee had to sneak out.


#16) Smurfs Christmas Special: Let’s face it. The Smurfs have always been a terrific group. In this story a villainous stranger seizes two children who are lost in the forest. He gets Gargamel to find them in exchange for a powerful spell to destroy the Smurfs. Luckily the Smurfs find the children, who think Papa Smurf is Santa Claus. He does kind of look like Santa if you think about it. There’s also a memorable song, “Goodness makes the Badness Go Away”. It comes in real handy when the stranger captures the children and Gargamel. It’s hilarious when Gargamel tries to sing it too. “Goodness… Yecch!”

 Frosty the Snowman#15) Frosty the Snowman: Who could forget the original special that helped make Frosty the popular icon that he is. It starts on Christmas Eve where a group of children watch Professor Hinkle, a crummy magician, perform his magic at their school. Seriously, what kind of school has class time on Christmas Eve? The children build a snowman, which comes to life after Hinkle’s rabbit Hocus brings his hat and puts it on him. Frosty becomes a playful snowman, but the fun gets cut short when the temperature goes up. Since the only place Frosty would never melt is the North Pole, it becomes a quest to get him there. Train tickets are too expensive and Hinkle wants his hat back. He’ll stop at nothing to get it. Thanks to Santa Claus Frosty’s problems are solved. No, not with presents. Frosty becomes part of the Christmas community at the North Pole. Frosty has other adventures too. In Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, Frosty gets married to a snow woman named Crystal and becomes friends with Jack Frost. And Frosty Returns, which is more of a winter special, is very relatable. The kids love the snow, but the adults hate it. Nobody likes to spend their snow days shoveling driveways or driving in slush. I know I don’t. It’s also funny. The teacher, Miss Carbuncle, gripes while plowing her sidewalk. “Before you know it this darn snow turns into slush. And when there’s slush, there’s ice. And when there’s ice, there’s broken hips. And when there’s broken hips, there’s substitute teachers. …It’s no winter wonderland when you’re skidding into a telephone pole.” That cracks me up.


#14) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964): Now this is a Christmas special I remember from when I was a kid. Rudolph is a reindeer who was born different. Even his father Donner is ashamed. Rudolph was declared a misfit because of his nose. Luckily Rudolph finds a friend, Hermie, an elf that wants to be a dentist instead of a toy maker. They both run away and find adventure at the Island of Misfit Toys. I still remember the main ones like Charlie in the box, Spotted Elephant, Cowboy riding an ostrich, and so on. When the ornaments from this special started to come out each year, I’d recognize them easily. Even King Moonrazor. What was that pretty doll’s name? Another character that’s memorable to me is Ucon Cornelios. He’s a prospector with a sense of humor. He likes to throw his pickaxe in the air. Then picks it up, sniffs it, and licks it. That’s not sanitary, but I always found it amusing. Yet I couldn’t understand why he does that at all.


Then of course there’s the abominable snow monster. He’s one scary dude, but Ucon and the misfits were able to stand up to that brute. It’s a great story about accepting misfits for who they are. And let’s not forget that Burl Ives sings in this special. His music is on the P.A. systems at the different stores during Christmas every year. It gets a little annoying after awhile. And like Frosty, Rudolph has other adventures as well because he’s like the Hercules of reindeer. In Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, he searches for the Baby New Year who ran away because of his big ears that make everyone laugh at him. His latest adventure was Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys. Although everyone loves Rudolph for his nose now, he still doesn’t feel accepted as anything more than a novelty act. At least Hermie the elf dentist continues to see him as his true pal. Rudolph even considers a nose job, but he realizes that he should keep it for that’s what makes him special.


#13) Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: Dr. Elmo bases this special on the hit song that was on The Dr. Demento Show. A young boy named Jake loved his Grandma, who runs a general store. The very pretty cousin Mel only cares about money and she wants Grandma to sell the store. Grandma refuses. Later that night, Grandma gets run over by Santa’s reindeer and she disappears. Jake is the only one who believes what really happened. Mel soon tricks Grandpa into selling the store and giving her power of attorney. Jake feels that only he can find Grandma and stop the sale from happening. After finding her, Mel and her attorney I.M. Slime make sure that Grandma stays missing. This special is about as funny as the song and a nice story too.

Neat, huh? The list got so big, I’m gonna have to end this one here for now. Not to worry. Check my blog real soon for Part 2, where I talk about the top 12.

Sep 182009

Five years before the series premiered, Buffy the Vampire Slayer starred Kristy Swanson as the high school cheerleader turned kick butt vampire slayer, chosen to save the world from a vampire threat. None of the other characters from the series were in this film, even the watcher was different. Of course, this was back before Buffy transferred to Sunnydale.

I met Kristy Swanson at MegaCon 2008. She didn’t say much. She asked me if I was a Vinnie, like Vinnie Barbarino. I said yes. She smiled and that was it, pretty much.

One part of the movie that really stuck out was when Benny (David Arquette) uses a hotdog to play a trick on Buffy.  Then she takes out a knife and cuts it quickly. That used to creep me out, but not anymore. Other actors I’ve recognized were Hillary Swank and Paul Reubens.

When the vampires get killed, they don’t turn to dust with a neat effect, like on the series or the Blade trilogy. I’ll tell ya. What a rip off. I’ve got to hand it to Pike (Luke Perry) though. He fights vampires about as well as Xander does.

This movie had an interesting concept, but the story line could’ve been better. I heard that Joss Whedon didn’t even want anything to do with the movie after the producers changed his original script.

Personally, I would much prefer a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie based on the series.

Kristy Swanson