You win. Good day sir.

In 1964 British-Norwegian author Roald Dahl published Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I wouldn’t call it the greatest Dahl novel (I actually prefer the sequel, believe it or not) but it’s a fun romp nonetheless where you the reader get to enjoy one of the most scabrously funny writers of the twentieth century sit an entire generation of children down and say “Listen up, you little bastards. Here’s why you suck.”

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Wonka_Book_8934.jpg

However, it has to be said that the ending is objectively terrible. Willy Wonka finishes the tour of his factory, glances over his shoulder and sees that Charlie Bucket has survived his gauntlet of death by dint of having no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, and essentially says “yes, you, bland cipher child, you shall inherit my chocolate factory!” And that’s it. That’s the ending.

Now, a mere seven years later the book was adapted into Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory directed by Mel Stuart and starring the late great Gene Wilder in the title role. The screenplay is solely credited to Roald Dahl but around 30% of it was actually written by David Seltzer, including (I’m pretty certain) the scene I want to discuss. It’s a movie that I love with all my heart and soul and consider one of the very best literary adaptations ever made. I love this film. I love the performances, I love the songs, I love the gags. Those weird, Monty Python-esque skits where the whole world goes nuts looking for the Golden Tickets? I love ’em. And, in my opinion, it improves on the novel in every single change that it makes.

Removing Charlie’s Dad? Makes Charlie more sympathetic and gives Mrs Bucket more of a focus. Having each child only bring in one parent to the factory? Trims the fat. Making the Oompa Loompas little orange dudes instead of Arican pygmies?

But these are all mostly minor, cosmetic changes. There are two scenes added to the story that drastically change the meaning of the story and the character of Willy Wonka. The first interpolation happens between Violet Beauregard being turned into a blueberry and Veruca Salt being sent to the furnace (man, this movie is a fun time). Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe steal Fizzy Lifting Drinks and almost get chopped to pieces by a ceiling fan. They belch their way to freedom and rejoin the tour, with Wonka seemingly none the wiser.

Now, a lot of people hate this addition and I can definitely see why. The whole point of Charlie is that he’s not like the other kids. He’s supposed to be the good one. And, you could argue that by stealing the Fizzy Lifting Drinks Charlie is actually worse than the other kids. I mean, it’s definitely worse than Augustus Gloop drinking from the chocolate river. Wonka just let those kids loose in a chocolate world and told them to go nuts, so why wouldn’t Augustus drink from the river? Why is the river off limits but not anything else? Mike Teevee was definitely out of line but I think the real blame is on the Oompa Loompas for shrinking him. Violet Beauregard may have taken the chewing gum against Wonka’s advice, but at least she was upfront about it and didn’t steal it behind his back! And Veruca…

Okay, Veruca just straight up trashed the egg laying room like the Rolling Stones trashing the Miami Hilton.

ROCK AND ROLL!

He’s not worse than Veruca but, other than the upper echelons of the Nazi party, no one is.

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Darkwing Duck: Just Us Justice Ducks

Wha’ happen?

If, like me, you were unfortunate enough to grow up in a third world nation untouched by the beneficent glow of the Disney Channel then your only way of experiencing TV shows like DuckTales and Darkwing Duck was the sporadic VHS releases that Disney deigned to let drop from their table. In the case of DarkWing Duck, this meant that the only contact I had with this show was the two-parter Darkly Dawns the Duck which we’ve already looked at and this, Just Us Justice Ducks. And going from one to the other is a bit like watching Iron Man and then following it up immediately with Endgame.

WHO THE FUCK ARE ALL YOU PEOPLE?!

In these episodes Darkwing puts together a superhero team of former super-powered enemies and rivals to battle his arch-nemesis Negaduck who’s put together his own Legion of Doom of Darkwing’s most dangerous foes. The trouble is, thanks to Disney’s insistence on releasing episodes in an order dictated by tarot cards and the phases of the moon, many of these characters hadn’t even been formally introduced yet. Hell, considering that Just Us Justice Ducks consists of episodes 18 and 19 and Darkly Dawns the Duck was episodes 29 and 30, you could argue that Darkwing himself hadn’t been introduced yet.

Anyway, Darkwing is preparing to go on a date with Morgana MacCawber, a Transylvanian sorceress who was a villain but who he’s now dating (this fucking show). Unfortunately, their date has to be cut short because two of Darkwing’s villains, Megavolt and Crackerjack, have attacked the local power station. Darkwing tries to stop them but Morgana turns him accidentally turns him into a pudding and the villains, having him at their total mercy, just laugh and leave him there. They then install an “electro slave” device in the power station and Darkwing just…leaves it there.

Later, after he’s been returned to normal, Darkwing races to the police station which is being attacked by two other villains, Bushroot and Liquidator. He also runs into Stegmutt, a genetically engineered dinosaur duck hybrid with the strength and intelligence of a car-compactor. The villains get away by convincing Stegmutt that Darkwing’s on fire and telling him to put him out.

“Puny god.”

Bushroot causes a massive bean stalk to grow up under the police station and they am-scray back their hideout where we meet the leader of the villains: Negaduck. Ohhhhh boy and I gotta explain him now don’t I?

So this Negaduck is Darkwing Duck from an evil “Negaverse” which would only be introduced 17 episodes after this one aired. Oh, and I said this Negaduck because there was also a Negaduck introduced in the episode “Negaduck” who was the result of Darkwing Duck being hit by a beam by Megavolt that split him into good and evil versions. And, despite that Negaduck being considered the “first” Negaduck the episode where that happens is actually the last one in broadcast order.

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Darkwing Duck: Darkly Dawns the Duck

Wha’ happen?

Darkly Dawns the Duck originally aired as a one hour special on the Disney Channel, introducing the main character and his supporting cast and setting up the status quo for the series going forward. That was a smart thing to do. Disney then took this one hour special, re-cut it into two episodes and made them episodes…30 and 31 of Season 1 on Disney Plus. That was a very stupid thing to do and I have no idea why they did it. In fact, the entire running order is batshit insane. Characters appear in episodes as a known quantity only for Darkwing Duck to meet them for the first time twenty episodes later, it’s crazy.

“We’re experimenting with avant garde forms of non-linear story-telling you philistine clod!”

Unfortunately, this means we also miss a pretty fantastic sequence of Darkwing hunting some criminals through the streets of Saint Canard to the strains of the immortal theme tune sung by Jeff Pescetto who also sang the theme for Ducktales and Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers. The Disney Plus version just cuts to Darkwing delivering these hoods to the local police station and bemoaning that he can’t get no respect around here and he needs to start taking on some big time criminals.

He gets his wish when Taurus Bulba (Tim Curry) a crime boss who’s been running his empire from his prison cell, sends his goons to steal the Ramrod, an anti-gravity cannon, from a military train. DW fails to stop Bulba’s men (technically sentient farm livestock) despite and assist from Duckburg’s own Launchpad McQuack.

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Darkwing Duck: Introduction

Can we just take a minute to appreciate how deeply weird DuckTales is? How would you even explain that show to someone who’d never heard of it?

“Richie Rich if he was an old duck?” That’s not even a premise, that’s a meaningless Mad Lib. And yet, DuckTales was a massive, massive deal. It ran for one hundred episodes, kickstarted the modern era of high quality TV animation and spawned a veritable multimedia empire. What gives? How did a show with such a weird, clunky premise achieve that kind of success? I think it comes down to a few different factors:

  1. Carl Barks was given a job drawing funny little Donald Duck cartoons and decided to use that opportunity to write the Great American Novel. His duck universe cartoons were used as the basis of DuckTales and that’s some damn strong source material.
  2. Mark Mueller’s theme song is so insanely catchy that I can just type “Ducktales!” and your brain has already gone “Woo hoo!”
  3. Scrooge McDuck is basically the Doctor.

Here’s what I mean. The reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is that it’s an inexhaustible premise. There is an alien with a box that can go anywhere in time and space. You will never run out of stories to tell with that setup. In the same way, Scrooge McDuck has something almost as powerful as a Tardis: A metric shit-ton of money.

And this is why the show was able to run for 100 episodes. Scrooge is so rich he can basically buy his way in to any genre you can think of. Over the run they did space-opera, western, time travel, romance, pulp adventure, giant mech battles, horror. That’s the beauty of Scrooge McDuck; he’s a strongly defined character who nonetheless can slot into almost any kind of story. Case in point: the time they made him a superhero.

Right, so in Season 3 Scrooge gets so sick of the lying or “fake” news media making people think that the gold-loving billionaire is a bad guy so he decides to become a vigilante and wooooooow this hits different in 2021. Anyway, in order to improve his public image he becomes a superhero called the Masked Mallard.

Stop sniggering in the back, please.

Okay, fast forward a year after DuckTales ended and Disney are prepping a new reboot of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show only to discover that they don’t actually own the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“That story makes no sense.”
“Back in the nineties there were still things Disney didn’t own. It was nuts.”

So a hasty, last minute replacement had to be found and they decided on expanding the Masked Mallard concept into its own TV show. The Mallard was re-worked into “Darkwing Duck”, a fedora wearing, cloaked, nocturnal crime-fighter clearly modelled on…

“Don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman, don’t say Batman…”
“The Shadow.”
“Never doubted you.”

And so, as the first stop on our look at Disney cartoon animation for Shortstember, I’ll be doing mini reviews of four episodes of this childhood classic. Let’s get dangerous.

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #59: Raya and the Last Dragon

Before we get into the review, I want to address something. Certain commenters (who shall, by virtue of me being the bigger mouse, remain nameless) stated in my last review that I have been “negative” and “harsh” on the Disney canon of late.

Let’s call this out for what it is: VICTIM BLAMING.

It’s a pernicious practice, and I will not tolerate it particularly if I’m the victim. Have I been harsh on Disney recently? Scathing? Even cruel? Yes. But who threw the first punch?

Exactly.

Raya is a historically significant film and definitely represents a demarcation point in the history of the canon. This is, after all, the first canon movie to go straight to streaming (although it did receive a restricted theatrical run). It also, to me, represents the irrevocable “shrinking” of movies. There are no big releases any more, there are no big unifying cultural moments. A few years ago I remember walking home one night and hearing a group of girls on the other side of the road spontaneously bursting into a chorus of “Let it Go” but it kinda feels like that kind of culturally ubiquitous megahit can’t happen any more. There’s too much content. We’re all watching different things. A movie being released in the cinema was kind of an imprimatur of significance, but the cinema might not have survived the decade even without Covid shoving it into a shallow grave. Gloria Swanson was right, she was just off by half a century.

Sorry, this is all frightfully maudlin. I guess for me Raya is less a movie and more a totem of a strange and tragic moment in history.

Also, I don’t really want to talk about it because it sucks and apparently that’s a dangerous opinion. Lindsay Ellis talked shit about this movie and I’m pretty sure she’s dead now or in witness protection or something.

Anyway. Raya and the Last Dragon. Thank you Covid, for sparing me the price of a cinema ticket. I don’t care what they say, ya ain’t all bad.

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Book Launch (Last one, I promise)

On 27 July 5 PM (Irish Time), Trilby Black, Daniel Bensen and I will be celebrating the birth of our book triplets! Join us for chat, readings and raffles! Entry is a mere $5 which will go towards your next purchase from Magers and Quinn! Link HERE.

About Interchange: A year ago, Anne Houlihan uncovered a wormhole to Junction, a patchwork planet of competing alien biomes. Now, she and Daisuke are going back to investigate “The Howling Mountain,” the possible location of a wormhole into space. Her mission headed by an eccentric millionaire, Anne believes she will have a chance to learn more about the origin of Junction and its varied ecosystems. The mission has purposes beyond what she knows, however, and so does the planet. As the expedition tears its way across the alien landscape, Anne must fight to protect its lifeforms, herself, and the Earth.

Daniel M. Bensen writes science fiction, alternate history, and fantasy. He is the author of Junction, its sequel Interchange, the comic book First Knife, and the Sidewise award-winning short story “Treasure Fleet.” He resides in Sofia, Bulgaria with his daughters, wife, and in-laws in the Balkan Tower of Matriarchy.

About Finnegan’s Awake: Since birth, Rain Wooten has been trained by her secret-agent parents to hate and destroy the enemies of America. But when a pizza delivery turns into an armed kidnapping gone wrong, she is thrust into the world of normal people, where right and wrong are no longer so clear, and reality is even harder to determine.

Trilby Black is an academic science editor who previously worked in astronautics, blue-sky research, and academia, with stints between running a wooden passenger ferry, teaching math in the local youth prison, and raising two children. She has lived in Colorado, France, Texas, and the UK. Currently, she works and lives with her family in Suffolk, England. Finnegan’s Awake is her first novel.

About When the Sparrow Falls:

“JESUS CHRIST WE KNOW!”

Hercules and Xena: The Animated Movie-The Battle for Mount Olympus (1998)

Firstly, I have to thank regular commenter Lupin the 8th for sending me the media file that allowed me to finally (finally) cross this review off the old list.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring Kevin Sorbo was a TV series that ran from 1995 to 1999 that dared to ask the question: what if Greek mythology was Baywatch?

It was an occasionally entertaining, perenially stupid mid-nineties hunk of cheese now best remembered it’s much more influential spin-off show. Lucy Lawless appeared as a villain in Hercules before audiences said “More hot lady in the leather who kicks ass please” and Xena the Warrior Princess was born. Basically think “Distaff Hercules with more nineties ‘tude and the blatant homoeroticism delivered with a saucy wink instead of a slack-jawed stare”.

It was, simultaneously, a hugely important and influential chapter in the history of women in television and a queer cultural touchstone and dumb as all hell. This was the show that depicted Abraham and Julius Caesar as contemporaries despite the fact that Abraham was more ancient to Julius Caesar than Julius Caesar is to us.

Together, these two shows formed a kind of mini-television universe…

“Three shows.”
“Whazzat?”
“There was also a prequel series called Young Hercules.”
“What?”
“What?!”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”
“Uh, Mouse, the review?”
“What? I’m just supposed to CARRY ON?!”

Okay, focus. Focus.

The final, second-least weird part of this mini multimedia franchise is today’s movie is the animated feature Hercules and Xena: The Animated Movie-The Battle for Mount Olympus or HXTAMTBMO for short. This movie came out in 1998, which I find significant because the previous year saw the release of a certain other, beloved, animated depiction of Hercules. Oh yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.

Oh Golden Entertainment, you utter whores.

Seriously though, while you might be tempted to view HXTAMTBMO as a cheap cash in on Disney’s Hercules there was actually some talent behind this one. It was directed by Lynne Naylor who was one of the co-founders of Spümcø animation (the Ren and Stimpy lads) and who worked on Batman: The Animated Series. It was produced by Sam Raimi, had the main cast of the show on hand to voice their roles and scripting duties were handled by John Loy who wrote for Pinky and the Brain. Okay! Not a bad bench of talent. This could be good? Right? Right?

Sigh.

Guys, let me level with you. I’ve spent four years trying to track this movie down. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about animated movies it’s this; cartoons are like a politician’s tax returns. If someone’s trying to hide them, it’s not because they’re just so damned good.

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CrimeReads Article, Chicago Review of Books Review and Cory Doctorow

Hi all! Here’s some more links (I swear I will be posting an actual movie review soon).

Here‘s an article I wrote for CrimeReads.com about George Smiley, a huge influence on my own character Nikolai South.

Here is a really nice, in-depth review from the Chicago Review of Books for When the Sparrow Falls.

And as a reminder, I’ll be having an in-depth conversation with author and journalist Cory Doctorow about the themes and world of the book on July 10th 2PM, Pacific Time. He’s a fascinating guy, it should be a fascinating talk and you can reserve your tickets HERE.