Sunday, February 08, 2004

Welcome to the Rambler. Why the Rambler? Because I hadn't thought of a name until I was already half-way through the registration process.

And keeping with my unblemished record of poorly prepared and incoherent activity, here's a long-winded essay on a subject nobody really cares about.


Worst Children's Videos Ever

Being a parent provides many joys. Watching children's videos not one of them. True, there are many, many wonderful family movies: The Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away, Chuck Jones' Grinch (not the putrid Ron Howard version), anything Pixar has released. These are the exceptions.

Science fiction great Theodore Sturgeon once noted that 95% of anything is shit. He was right in general but woefully shy on "family entertainment." As the recent Cat in the Hat movie proved, no matter how bad a kids' movie might be, lazy parents will use it as a two-hour baby-sitter. Producers have no real incentive to even try to make a good film since parents take their kids to garbage. (Note: my wife bought all of the following movies, including Pokemon even after seeing how horrible it was in the theater.)

Animation legend Ralph Bakshi claims that most executives in charge of children's programming want to do something else, "move up" to sitcoms, soap operas, or another "more important" area of show business, and are only biding their time on "kiddie crap." This attitude explains the following atrocities:

5. Pokemon: The First Movie

August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
November 14, 1999, Japan unleashed Pokemon: the First Movie on the U.S.
Advantage: Japan

Japanese animators can create works of absolute wonder. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and even anime like Akira all use a stylized view of the world to present animation as art. Pokemon is anime at the hands of Sauron: twisted, broken, devoid of all that is good.

Now that Pokemon has infested the world like the AIDS epidemic of the animation world, it's probably unnecessary to explain these poorly drawn, poorly written, poorly translated visions from some mediocre hell. But back in 1999 when I took my step-daughter to see this film, I was completely uninitiated. I may forget some day where I was on September 11, 2001. I will never forget my first dose of Pokemon, no matter how I try.

I could go on for hours about the god-awful plot, the absolute lack of characterization, or the overall artistic abyss that is this movie but I'll limit myself to a single point.

Apparently the goal of a Pokemon trainer is to catch wild Pokemon against their will, keep them as slaves, and have his captive Pokemon beat up other trainers' Pokemon. Okay, a hyper-sensitive type could complain that no real consideration is given if one of the creatures gets hurt. True, but it's a cartoon and I don't mind. But the movie's villain, Mew-Two, a upright panther with a huge butt, plans to do something hideous and unspeakable. He's captured Pokemon, made clones of them, and now intends to MAKE THEM FIGHT!

"Pokemon aren't supposed to fight this way," whines one of the characters, although she didn't seem to object when her buddy's yellow rat electrocuted several other Pokemon earlier in the movie. Apparently they're supposed to fight for human enjoyment, not for some feline version of J-Lo.

You could read racist, elitist, and all sort of other undercurrents in the movie but why bother? It's just plain horrid. And yet, God help us, it's the best on this list.

4. Gordy

Back in 1995, Hollywood churned out two talking pig movies. One of these was Babe, maybe not the greatest kids' movie, but entertaining and well-conceived. The other was Gordy.

While Babe has moments that are scary to small children, it's up-front and honest. Babe's story begins in a factory farm, giving the movie a dark feel from the start. Kids catch on quickly that bad things happen to pigs unless they can do some sort of amusing trick. By contrast, Gordy starts out light and goofy then twists to end up in the slaughter-house where the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre hung out.

Gordy is full of gags like the pig becoming a country-western singer and performing CPR (not at the same time unfortunately). I know you're thinking to yourself, "That's got to be funny." But it's not.

Once I was in a no-budget horror movie, playing a dumb cop who hassles the investigative journalist hero. As an element of comic relief, my character was eating powered donuts at the crime scene where a Satanic cult ripped the heart of a naked girl (again, unfortunately, not at the same time).

For the first take, I held up the powered donut and made a big show of it. Mike Fox, the director, stopped me. "If it's going to be remotely funny, it can't be that obvious." Gordy needed Mike Fox on production.

Think of the end of Dr. Strangelove when Peter Sellers needs a quarter to make the phone call that will save the world. In the face of nuclear annihilation, a soldier balks at having to shoot up a Coke machine to get the necessary change: "You're going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola company for this." He takes his ridiculous attitude with complete seriousness. Same with Monty Python's reaction to the Holy Hand Grenade or Leslie Nielsen with about anything. They don't seem to notice the absurdity of their surroundings. That doesn't necessarily make things funny but it's a good first step.

In Gordy, characters react, "Tee, hee, that pig just performed CPR. Tee, hee, did you in the audience get it?" This creates a humor black hole, and situations that you would think would have to be funny aren't even remotely.

The creators of Gordy claim they were not copying Babe. I believe them. Even a bad imitation of Babe would be better than the terrible mess that is Gordy. This film could be shown to PETA members to induce them to eat pork.

3. The Secret of NIMF II: Timmy to the Rescue:

Do I need to even describe the plot of this hideous sequel of the original Secret of NIMF (which wasn't exactly a masterpiece to begin with)?

What demented collection of idiots made up the committee that settled on a title like "Timmy to the Rescue"? Make no mistake: this is not some kind of sly parody; the movie really is all about Timmy going to the rescue.

Animator Don Bluth worked on the original NIMF and while it was rough and unbalanced, it's a testament to his ability that without his influence, the series devolved to this. Eric Idle appears in this movie and manages to cancel out all the originality and humor of Monty Python in less than 70 minutes. Dom DeLuise also appears. Need I say more?

Timmy to the Rescue is the worst offender in a genre of children's entertainment: the unnecessary sequel. In efforts to squeeze every potential nickel from an audience, studios crank out continuations of stories that by all rights should have ended with the original. True, this happens with adult entertainment (not just Deep Throat II: To Hell with Gag Reflex, but Men in Black II and Alien Resurrection) but even the worse movie geared to adults (and, yes, I'm considering Lucas) has some degree of respect for the original.

The sequels of Balto, Peter Pan, and Hunchback of Notre Dame took movies that were at the least adequate and reduced them to mindless drivel. Others like Jungle Book II and Cinderella II were the cinematic equivalent of digging up Walt's corpse and sodomizing it on video (for the record, Walt is buried in Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California, not cryonically preserved). Then there's the sickening Tarzan and Jane with animation so crude that my four-year old could do better with crayons on the back of discarded napkins. But I limited myself to five movies so let's move on to. . .

2. Digimon: the Movie

During World War II, the Japanese military conducted hideous experiments on POWs and civilians in a program known as Unit 731. One of their most monstrous practices was to rape a Chinese woman until she was several months pregnant, then vivisect both mother and fetus. The only explanation for Digimon is that the Japanese were trying to outdo themselves.

Digimon might not be a horrible imitation of Pokemon. It looks like it but I'll give them benefit of the doubt. Maybe it's possible to create something as god-awful as this without imitating an existing evil. Still, if Pokemon is the spawn of Sauron, Digimon is orc squared.

The scenario is so convoluted that before the story begins, two characters spend 15 minutes explaining the mechanics of Digimon and their backgrounds. It didn't help. Apparently Season 1 of the Digimon cartoon revolved around one set of characters and Season 2 had another. Neither group are compelling enough to carry even half a movie (and think about it, how compelling are Fred, Thelma, and Daphne?) but sticking with the same characters would have made the plot a little less painful.

Basically the movie is an 83-minute series of flashing lights and rhythmic chanting (or possibly what the Japanese consider rap—if so, damn, white folk have nothing to be ashamed of) with periodic fight breaks which are so poorly animated that they make Hong Kong Phooey look like Enter the Dragon. The only reason this isn't the worst of the lot is that the creators put some basic thought into the design of the individual Digimon, unlike—

1. The Care Bears' Movie:

Back in 2001, when Andrea Yates forced her five young children under the water of her bathtub, she became the second worst mother in America. The worst is my wife for buying the Care Bears Movie.

If you've ever seen religious programs for children like Veggie Tales, you know they can be didactic, sometimes to the point of pomposity. But no matter what you think of Christianity, at least it's something on which you can legitimately be didactic about.

The Care Bears try to be didactic about, uh, something. It's an hour and a half sermon about nothing; not a Seinfeld's funny sort of nothing, but a wasteland of sense, entertainment, and reason. And while the people behind Veggie Tales inject a certain degree of humor into their stories, the Care Bears are deathly serious about uh, caring (and again, not in a humorous way like I brought up in Gordy but a sick, obsessive vendetta). Even Jonathan Edwards, author of "Sinners at the Hand of an Angry God," would want to yank the rod from their asses.

Digimon is godawful for its seizure-inducing bastardization of post-modernism but Care Bears comatose-glacier pace is so much worse. I can't think of a war atrocity sickening enough to compare to Care Bears. It's like the entire history of man's inhumanity to man rolled into 73 minutes with a few decades of cruelty to animals as well. If scientists ever create a sentient species out of vomit and fecal matter, their theater may sink to the levels of Care Bears. But I doubt it.

Special mention: Anything with Scrappy Doo.

Lives there a man with soul so dead that he hasn't thought of Sauron's obvious influence on Scrappy? Using elves to make orcs, ents to make trolls, Scooby to make that sawed-off sack of shit.

I can't think of Scrappy without getting angry (by comparison, I can think of the above abominations with an even temper). Scrappy is personal. Saturday morning cartoons still had an air of magic to them when Scrappy came on the scene. Sure, there were cartoons I didn't like but it hadn't occurred to me that television execs could ruin something that I loved as quickly as Scrappy turned Scooby (which realistically was always pretty moronic) into a crap-fest.

At least Hanna-Barbera realized their mistake. Today, DVD cases and video boxes rarely mention Scrappy so unsuspecting consumers buy his garbage by accident. If there were any fairness in the world, any cartoon with Scrappy would be digitally altered, erasing and replacing him with any other character. Fred Flintstone, Jabberjaw, Apache Chief from the Super Friends: any one of them would be better than Scrappy. A Digimon, a Care Bear, Manson, Hitler, Satan. Anybody. Anybody. Anybody.

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