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What are you doing? Well stop it and sit down because we are going to talk about Rimini Riddle. If you don’t know what this is then I apologise in advance for the dark secrets I am about to impart, if you DO know what I’m talking about I see you there trying to tab out and you can knock that off right now BECAUSE WE ARE DOING THIS. YES. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT RIMINI RIDDLE. YOU KNEW THIS WAS COMING. YOU’VE ALWAYS KNOWN. YES, YOU HAVE.
This is what we know.
Between 1992 and 1994 (or ’95?) RTÉ 1 (or maybe Network 2?) aired a children’s television programme called The Rimini Riddle. It was one of those shows that nobody seemed particularly crazy about, but everyone had seen at one time or another. In Ireland in the nineties most of us only had two channels so it’s not like we were spoiled for choice. It ran for around ninety episodes (ish) across three seasons and then it ended.
Twenty five years passed.
Then, almost in unison, an entire generation of Irish thirty somethings woke up in bed and yelled “Wait a minute. WHAT WAS THAT SHOW ABOUT?!”
The future is the present, but moreso.
This is has been the guiding principle of futurist science fiction since the genre was invented; take the current status quo and extrapolate logically and presto, you have a plausible future setting for your story. Early British sci-fi is all about the ethics and difficulty of maintaining a vast empire (don’t worry lads, won’t be a problem long term). Star Trek had space hippies and an interstellar Cold War. Eighties sci-fi is really worried about these Japanese guys. Trouble is, the course of history is less an elegant upward line and more like a panicky chihuaha on meth that keeps running off in different directions. For example: The USA and USSR are locked in an inexorable arms race that can only end with nuclear anni…
Well, the Japanese economy is an unstoppable behemoth that will crush its Western rivals and establish a new world order of corporate hegemony…
Awesome, history is over and now America as the world’s lone superpower will rule over an endless long peace…
Ah jeez, America has moved inexorably to the right and the Republicans will maintain dominance for generations, slowly turning America into a paranoid police state…
Racism is over everybody! Peace love and kumbaya for all!
This is why it’s almost impossible to write science fiction that accurately predicts the future, because the present won’t sit long enough to have its picture taken. Even the works that do get props for accurately predicting the future tend to only get certain details right while getting the rest very wrong. William Gibson came damn close to predicting the internet, but he also predicted that the world would be ruled over by several competing mega-corporations when of course in reality it’s only ruled by one.
Which is why, as a good rule of thumb, if you’re writing sci-fi you should set it far into the future so that when you are inevitably proven wrong, you’ll be long dead and no one will be there to laugh at you (unless they use their futuristic magic tech to resurrect you purely so they can laugh at you which would be incredibly petty and, going on current trends, entirely probable).
Strange Days was released in 1995 and sets its tale of sci-fi dystopia in the misty far off time of…December 1999. That’s ballsy.
And yet, it honestly feels more prescient than any science fiction film I can recall seeing.
Yeah, so I realise the movies I’m been reviewing lately have been a little more racy for a blog that rarely reviews fare rated harder than PG. Truth is, this is a review I’ve been trying to find the time to do for almost three years now (it’s one of the Joanna VR requests). This is one my friend Roger Courtney requested because he feels that it’s a ridiculously under-appreciated movie that I should review and everyone should see.
It is, I did and they should.
Let’s take a look.
I was once a mouse of honour.
Once I had a code.
My very first post on this blog, half a goddamn decade ago, set out some rules that I swore I’d follow come hell or high water:
No direct to video Disney sequels.
So here we are. Come and witness as my last scrap of virtue is torn away. Today, I review a direct to video Disney sequel, the cinematic equivalent of hiring a prostitute to dress up like your high school sweetheart, something beautiful and pure rendered tawdry and mercenary.
Oh come, come, Mouse, I hear you cry. Are they really as bad as all that? Well…
Okay, real talk time. None of the direct to video sequels made for the canon movies are as good as or better than the movies they are based on. Not one. By definition, really. I mean. If Disney Toons had somehow made a sequel to The Little Mermaid that was even better, they wouldn’t have released it straight to video, right? They’d have given it a full theatrical release and made it an official entry in the canon like The Rescuers Down Under or Winnie the Pooh (is Winnie the Pooh still in the canon? Disney?)
But, y’know. I’m fair. I’m a fair mouse. Everyone says so. Believe me. And while all of the Disney cheapquels are objectively worse than the movies they were based on, that doesn’t mean that they were entirely without merit. In fact, let’s play the game that’s taking the globe by storm, Mouse Says Nice Things About Disney Sequels For As Long As He Can!
Return of Jafar: Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) not as good as Aladdin but it actually did some interesting stuff plot wise by giving Iago a character arc and actually leaving a real, lasting change to the status quo by having him become a hero. Maybe not a great movie but a very decent pilot for a better than decent TV show.
King of Thieves: Robin Williams back as the genie, some much needed delving into Aladdin’s backstory and a fairly satisfying conclusion to the story of the Agrabah gang.
Lion King 1 ½: As a sequel it busts the original’s continuity straight to hyena infested hell buuuuut…great cast, really nice animation, some genuinely funny gags and Diggah Tunnah is honestly a good enough song that it could have been in the original movie (and a good song in a Disney sequel is a rare, precious thing indeed).
Bambi 2: Patrick Stewart as the Prince of the Forest. It’s truly sad when a Disney Sequel is making better use of Patrick Stewart than the actual canon movies.
Cinderella 3: A Stitch in Time: Faced with the task of making a second sequel to Cinderella and with the imminent closure of their studio, Disney Australia went all in on a batshit insane time travel caper. They went out fighting. They went out weird. And we salute them.
And as for today’s movie…
Okay, look. We need to take a minute to talk about the plight of a certain persecuted minority. A proud people who have suffered indignity after indignity in the face of a hostile and uncaring majority.
I refer, of course, to Pocahontas fans. And I am sorry that I must add to their legacy of suffering, because the truth is this:
I prefer Pocahontas 2 to the original.
No, I’m not joking.
No, I’m not just trolling you.
No, I’m not being contrarian.
No, I haven’t suffered some kind of head injury.
Here’s the thing, if you love Pocahontas you probably love it for the music and the animation and I’m obviously not going to pretend that Pocahontas 2 holds a single solitary candle to the original in either of those categories. But in terms of story…
Okay. It’s not perfect. It’s not even particularly good. But. This is the story of a young Native American woman who most leave her home, travel across the sea and navigate the intrigue of a strange and hostile foreign court with the survival of her entire tribe hanging in the balance. And that, to me, is automatically more compelling than the warmed-over Romeo and Juliet plot of the original.
Let’s take a look.
Before I start this review I feel like I owe an apology to Martha Brady, who donated to Joanna all the way back in 2015 and requested this review. And the truth is, I think I may have put this one off a little too long. I would have been a happier mouse if I had not lived to see the day when I posted that I was going to be reviewing Once More With Feeling, possibly the most beloved episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a significant number of readers had not responded with:
No no no.
You bloody millenials with your avocado toast and your auto-tune and your trigger warnings GET OFF MY LAWN! HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHO BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER IS? WHAT YEAR IS THIS?! HOW OLD AM I?! WHO’S PRESIDENT NOW?!
Alright, sit your asses down while I explain some things to you. You like TV? Well, it used to be crap. And then Buffy the Vampire Slayer came along and now it’s good. That sounds like hyperbole but..it’s kinda…not? Buffy, a never hugely successful (in ratings at least) TV spin-off of a pretty terrible movie on an also-ran network with no name actors was an unlikely avatar of the current television Golden Age ™. But in terms of impact on how TV is made, written and discussed it’s probably one of the all time most influential shows. It inspired a generation of TV writers, begat a slew of imitators, began a slow and steady move towards female-led drama in network series, turned Joss Whedon into a bona fide geek God, birthed the “actually this is a real goddamn thing” academic field of “Buffy studies” and helped move nerd culture firmly into the mainstream. Apart from the Simpsons, it’s hard to think of a show that has had a bigger impact on how dialogue is written for TV, with the show’s snarky, pop-culture laden patois instantly setting it apart from the pack when it premiered. And it is responsible for a website so dear to my heart, with TV Tropes actually beginning its existence as a Buffy fansite. The premise is this: You know the blonde cheerleader who gets killed by the monster in every horror movie ever? Well, what if she was actually the latest in an ancient line of demon hunting warrior women? Buffy Summers, outwardly an ordinary if not particularly popular California high school student, battles the forces of evil in her home town of Sunnydale. She is aided by her mentor and “Watcher”, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), sweet-natured nerd/witch Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brandon) whom Wikipedia describes as “a classmate of Buffy’s with no particular skills or abilities”. Which, firstly, harsh. Secondly, incorrect.
In its early years, Buffy‘s central gimmick was literalising the expression “high school is hell”, putting a supernatural spin on the trials and tortures of trying to get through your teenage education in one piece. The girl who nobody notices becomes literally invisible, a teacher who preys sexually on her students is actually a giant praying mantis, the foreign exchange student is actually an evil mummy instead of just an evil foreign exchange student. That kinda thing. As the series progressed it started delving deeper into Slayer lore and fleshing out its world to tell an epic tale of good versus evil. It also got increasingly experimental, with episodes with almost no dialogue, or music, or even basic narrative logic.
And undoubtedly the most ambitious episode the show ever did was Once More With Feeling, an extra-long episode that was a comedy horror…musical. Now, Buffy was not the first or last show to do a musical episode. Ally McBeal, The Cosby Show, Xena, hell, I Love Lucy did one all the way back in 1956. But they rarely go this “all in”. This is not simply an episode of a TV show where the characters sing a few songs, this is a fully scored musical with over a dozen original songs and fully choreographed dance numbers which the cast had to learn and rehearse while also making every other episode of the TV series. It was, by all accounts, an absolute ordeal. But did Whedon’s ambition overshoot his talent? Was this musical a Hamilton or a Spider-man: Turn off the Dark?
Let’s take a look.
Do you guys plot against me?
Do you sit in darkened rooms and tent your fingers and cackle darkly that “Yessssssssss, this shall break him?”
Because with these requests, you are officially taking the piss.
Guys, I review cartoons and superhero movies. That’s what works for me. That is my comfort zone. What made you think an austere, melancholy arthouse film like Where the Wild Things Are was a good fit for me? People, this movie is fancy. To review a movie like this you need to know about… like…shots…and…sound mixing and…mise en scenes and shit.
I mean, what’s next? A wacky Unshaved Mouse review of Andy Warhol’s Empire?
Heading into this review I feel like so many screenwriters who’ve tried to adapt Maurice Sendak’s 1963 classic children’s book must’ve felt; “How do I get a movie/review out of that?!”
But, I’m proud, I’m stubbourn and I’m too damn dumb to quit so let’s do this.
Where the Wild Things Are wasn’t really part of my childhood growing up, (we were a Dr. Seuss and Narnia fam), but I’ve come to appreciate it as an adult since it entered MiniMouse’s story rotation. In less than 200 words it tells the story of Max, a young boy dressed in a wolf costume who acts so wild that his mother sends him to bed without dinner. Then his room changes into a jungle, he goes on a journey, meets some monsters, becomes their king, has a party, has a moment of reflection where he wonders what he’s even doing with his life and returns home to find his dinner waiting for him. That’s it.
But it’s not. Or maybe it is. Where the Wild Things Are is one of those books that’s just begging to be interpreted. It’s like, it’s there on your bookshelf, taunting you: “What could I mean? Oooooh, what could I mean? There’s a boy, in a wolf costume. Is he a metaphor for wild, unchecked masculinity? Look at my gorgeous art, am I not dripping in symbolism? What about the Goat Boy? He’s got to represent something, right?”
Couple this with Sendak’s weird, elegant, ever so slightly off prose and you have all the elements of a cult classic: It’s pretty, it’s weird, and no one knows what the fuck it all means. It also sold like gangbusters, which put it in the company of books like Watchmen and Cloud Atlas, books that everyone wanted to make into a movie while having absolutely no idea how. It presents a unique problem to any adaptation; there’s simultaneously too much and too little. Disney worked on an animated adaptation for a while back in the eighties before finally throwing their hands in the air. But it was Maurice Sendak himself who finally decided that the best person to bring his story to the big screen was Spike Jonze, director of such modern classics as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and the single greatest thing ever:
Am I wrong?
Production began in 2006 and finished three years later, massively over-budget and dogged by rumours that its own studio hated it. How did it turn out? Well, we’re going to find out. On this blog. Where I review it. Because somebody thought that was a good idea.
Alright, this series of reviews that was supposed to last for one month has been going on since August so it might be a good time to pull the car over and try to figure out how we got here before the cannibal hillbillies come back. We started with animation in the silent era before moving to the dawn of integrated sound. We then had animated shorts as visual accompaniement and advertising for music and then as wartime proganda. Moving into the fifties we had the Golden Age of Warner Brothers shorts, the ignoble end of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies in the sixties, the advent of more adult themed animation in the seventies and the first glimmer of the Pixar era in the eighties. So that brings us up to the nineties, a decade I am old enough for it to still feel like it was ten years ago. Refresh my memory, what was happening in animation in the nineties? Oh that’s right! The renaissance!
No, no, no. The ACTUAL renaissance.
So, exciting times. Great time to be an animation fan. Disney’s back, kicking ass and taking names, animé is more readily available in the west than ever before and even Western TV animation has stopped eating paste and is becoming increasingly not-awful. What changed? Well, the generation of kids who had grown up watching classic Disney movies and Warner Bros shorts were now adults and working in the film industry and wanted to bring the medium back to its former glory. Foremost amongst those kids was a guy called Steven Spielberg. Now, I say the word “Spielberg” and, depending on your age the first image that pops into your head is:
But you probably don’t immediately think of animation. Nonetheless, Steven Spielberg is like the Forrest Gump of American animation post-1980. Practically every pivotal moment involved him somehow. Don Bluth? Spielberg produced his earliest films. The Disney Renaissance? Wouldn’t have happened without Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The drastic improvement in TV animation? Would have looked very different without Tiny Toons, Animanaics and Pinky and the Brain. Dreamworks? Whaddya think the “S” in “Dreamworks SKG” stands for, hombre?
So in the wake of Roger Rabbit’s incredible success, Spielberg’s production company Amblin and Disney partnered to bring the long defunct animated theatrical short roaring back to life with a series of high budget, high quality Roger Rabbit shorts. And my God, you just need to look at the calibre of talent attached to these things to see how serious they were. Rob Minkoff, who would later go on to direct the single greatest canon Disney movie of all time I said it it’s official no one can disagree it’s over I won, super producers Don Hahn, Rob Marshall and Spielberg himself of course, Charles Fleischer and Lou Hirsch as Roger and Baby Herman and they even got Kathleen Frickin’ Goddamned Turner back to voice Jessica Rabbit even though she only averages three lines a short. So, before we go any further there’s two things you need to know about these shorts.
1) As animation, they are absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
2) As cartoons, they don’t really work.
That’s not to say that they’re complete failures. Anything this beautifully animated fully justifies its existence. But they are a fascinating example of the whole being less than the sum of the parts, and why sometimes fans of something are not always the most qualified people to make a new version of that thing. I’ll get back to that in a second. Only three shorts were made, with a fourth cancelled in pre-production and they very closely follow the formula established in Somethin’ Cookin’, the opening short in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The formula is as follows:
1) Mommie Dearest leaves Baby Herman in the care of Roger Rabbit, warning him that there will be dire consequences if anything happens to him.
2) Baby Herman wanders off into danger.
3) Roger loses his goddamn shit and screams like a Bedlam inmate.
4) Roger has to protect Baby Herman while suffering violence upon his body normally reserved for the Christ.
5) Gratuitous Jessica Rabbit cameo.
6) Gratuitous Droopy cameo.
7) Roger ruins the take and bursts through the fourth wall into the real world and everybody hates him for being a screw up.
So let’s see how that plays out in practice with Roller Coaster Rabbit, the second short and by far the strongest.
Townshend adapted the story into a musical, the rights of which got picked up by Warner Bros, which had just swallowed Turner Feature Animation whole, along with most of its animators. One of those animators was a likely lad named Brad Bird, who has worked on some animation in his time and is generally understood to know what he’s doing. Bird was put in charge of adapting Townshend’s musical, which he did by making it…not a musical. ‘Kay. Regardless, when it was screened for test audiences the response was absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately, Warner Bros had neglected to prepare any kind of marketing campaign for the movie because Quest for Camelot had tanked so badly the year before. This had convinced the excecs that audiences weren’t going to go see animated films that weren’t made by Disney.
Goddamit Warners. Quest for Camelot didn’t tank because audiences wouldn’t take a punt on non-Disney animation. Quest for Camelot tanked because sometimes God pays attention. So of course, released into theatres with zero publicity The Iron Giant crashed harder than a giant alien death machine falling from the sky. In the years since, it has become one of the most critically beloved animated American films of the 1990s. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.
Anyway, flashforward a thousand years and David Xanatos (Jonathan Frakes), billionaire playboy philanthropist has Castle Wyvern disassembled, and rebuilt, brick by brick, at the top of his Manhattan skyscraper just to see what would happen. The spell is broken and Goliath and his surviving clan of gargoyles become the defenders of New York from all threats both human and supernatural.
I went back and forth over just how to approach this review. At first, I was going to do a general review of the whole series before remembering that there were 65 GODDAMN episodes.
And that’s not even counting the third season that never happened and which we shall never speak of again.
I then thought about reviewing one of the story arcs like “The World Tour” or “City of Stone”. But “City of Stone” focuses more on two side characters than the main Gargoyles and also there’s a lot of flashback stuff that would get really confusing and probably be boring to read. And as for “Word Tour”, I had (again) forgotten that Goliath and Eliza were putzing around on that damn boat for nineteen episodes so once again…
So finally, with the deadline approaching like an oncoming walrus on a bobsled I decide to just review one single episode which I think encapsulates the things that I most loved about this show.