Sunday, November 22, 2020

Animated Cereal Mascots That Didn't Catch On

Here's a question for you - if you've got a product, how exactly do you get it "out there", so to speak? Answer: through marketing, of course! You make commercials, you make billboards, things like that. And with marketing a product, there's no better way to do it than with a mascot. A mascot helps put your product in the public eye.

From left to right - A&W's Great Root Bear (get it?), the Kool-Aid Man, and Charlie the Tuna
of Starkist fame.

For example, when you think of Energizer, what's the first image that pops into your mind? If I had to guess, I would say that it would be the pink rabbit banging a drum. When you think of Charmin, you likely think of the bears, not the toilet paper itself. When somebody mentions Pillsbury, you probably don't imagine the cookies they produce, you think of the Pillsbury Doughboy (or rather, Poppin' Fresh, which is his real name).

This is something that cereal companies like Kellogg's and General Mills know very, very well... or at least they did. For years, the rule was that if you had a new cereal that you were going to give the public, it needed to have a great mascot. Preferably an animated one. A mascot that kids would see, take a liking to, and be tempted to try the cereal. After all, if a cartoon toucan tells you that a fruit-flavored cereal is really good, who are you to argue?

And then at some point in the 2000s, some people - who specifically, I don't know, but apparently their opinions were considered very, very important - started whining that having cartoon characters sell fast food, cereal, basically any food that happened to have sugar in it was bad for kids. Characters like the Trix Rabbit, Ronald McDonald, and the Kool-Aid Man were blamed for the childhood obesity problem. Thus, companies starting getting rid of these mascots in order to appease these people who were getting bent out of shape over the fact that a cartoon rabbit craved a sugary cereal.

But apparently these people are perfectly fine with having animated mascots that are just knockoffs of the Minions from Despicable Me - small, hive-minded, babbling idiots who shout really loud and speak gibberish. Which is why Ronald McDonald got replaced by THIS hideous thing.

I invite anyone who thinks Ronald McDonald is creepy to look at this guy.

I'm going to quote the great Bob Bergen, who lent his voice to many a McDonald's commercial as a talking container of French Fries, on this matter: "Funny, these ads didn't seem to damage me and the generations before me for, oh, decades! But we can sleep well knowing that it was commercial mascots that was the catalyst for kid's eating habits, and not the responsibility of proper parenting." Thank you, Bob.

Still, over the years, before those uptight fellas decided to blame their children getting fat on cartoon characters, a lot of cereal mascots appeared on the screen. And the majority of them were animated. And for every cereal mascot that DID become a phenomenon, there was a cereal mascot that DIDN'T, instead winding up getting sent to the Island of Misfit Product Mascots and having to bunk with Sergeant Twistable and the sock puppet from Pets.com.

Today, we'll be shedding some light on animated character who appeared on cereal boxes all over the country and yet didn't become the next Cap'n Crunch. But first, let's set some ground rules...

RULE 1) No live action characters. Though I don't think there are all that many live action cereal mascots anyway.

RULE 2) No characters from pre-existing movies, TV shows, what have you. As in, I'm not going to put the Cat in the Hat on the list simply because there was a Cat in the Hat cereal with his likeness on the box at one point.

RULE 3) They have to be cereal mascots. No fast food restaurant mascots, no store mascots, no pharmaceutical mascots, etc.

Let's begin!

Wally the Bear (Honey Smacks)

Honey Smacks, or Sugar Smacks as it was originally called, or just Smacks as it was apparently called in the 1990s, has actually gone through several different mascots. There was a seal at one point, then a mule/kangaroo hybrid called the "Smackin' Bandit", then two kids in boxer shorts and boxing gloves... at one point they even had Quick-Draw McGraw be the mascot. And then, in 1972, the world was introduced to Dig'Em the Frog, the cereal's current mascot... though I'm honestly not sure if he's appeared in a television commercial since the 1990s.

However, at some point in the 1980s, I guess somebody at Kellogg's said, "Hey, this is a cereal with 'HONEY' in the name. Bears are known for eating honey. Why the heck isn't the mascot of this cereal a bear?!" And thus, Dig'Em was briefly usurped by a cartoon bear by the name of Wally.

I like Wally - I like his design, he's animated very well, and I love the voice. He actually appeared in more commercials, I've read - his shtick was basically just badgering kids to let him have some Honey Smacks, but they won't let him because, as many other commercials for many other cereals show, kids in cereal commercials are jerks, especially towards cartoon animals. I have no idea who provided the voice of Wally or who animated him. Wikipedia claims that the ads were animated by Kurtz and Friends (I've talked about them before, you might recall), and I think it's a pretty good possibility as Wally DOES look like a character that Bob Kurtz would design, but you know how Wikipedia is...

So, why didn't Wally stick around? Well, for one thing, apparently people thought that his commercials were too similar to the Trix Rabbit's commercials. Of course, that didn't hurt Chip the Wolf and his pursuit of Cookie Crisp. On top of that, people just wanted Dig'Em back. Students on a college campus staged a day-long demonstration to get him back. Kellogg's even got a letter from some group called "Frog-Aid". Thus, Dig'Em took his rightful place as the Honey Smacks mascot.

Tusk the Elephant (Cocoa Krispies)

Elephants are actually a popular choice of animals to be made cereal mascots. Twinkles, another breakfast cereal, had an elephant for a mascot, and one of Cap'n Crunch's "co-stars" was an elephant named Smedley who shilled for Peanut Butter Crunch. And then there's one of my personal favorite animated cereal mascots that didn't catch on, Tusk the elephant of Cocoa Krispies fame.

Before Tusk, Cocoa Krispies had another elephant on the box - a pink one named (creatively enough) Coco.

In 1963, Coco was replaced by another pink cartoon animal, Snagglepuss.

Then for a while the mascot was a caveman named Ogg who looked like a really ugly Cabbage Patch Kid.

And before any of THEM, the mascot was a monkey named Jose, who apparently got the axe because Mexican-Americans thought he was an ethnic stereotype.

1973 saw the introduction of Tusk, a small brown elephant voiced in at least one commercial by the magnificent Paul Winchell. His shtick was singing, "It's time for Cocoa Krispies, they are so chocolatey... and when I get a taste of them, I trumpet happily!"

Alas, Tusk ended up getting replaced by Snap, Crackle and Pop because I guess Kellogg's decided it would be easier to just have the mascots of Rice Krispies also be the mascots of Cocoa Krispies. I understand it, but I would've liked to see Tusk stick around. Maybe they could bring him back at some point. They could get Jim Cummings to do his voice!

On a side note, some countries (where the cereal is called "Choco Krispis") still use an elephant as the mascot. He's a space-fighter elephant named Commando Melvin (and please do not make any "going commando" jokes. I want to keep this site PG).

Apple Jack (take a wild guess)

I'll be honest, for a while I thought that the only reason Apple Jacks were called that when they didn't taste like apples was so they could have commercials where some character complained that they didn't taste like apples only for the other characters to ignore that because of how good they were. Eventually, I found out that Apple Jacks do indeed have apple in 'em. Which begs the question as to why the ads spend so much time having characters complain that they don't taste like apples, but eh...

Anyhow, when you think of Apple Jacks mascots, you probably think of the Jamaican stereotype that is CinnaMon and the apple who was initially a bad guy but then became CinnaMon's buddy.

But before those guys, Apple Jacks was represented by this fella with an apple for a head and Apple Jacks for eyes, apparently named - wait for it - Apple Jack. In commercials, he was voiced by Paul Frees, no stranger to voicing cereal mascots as he also provided the voice of Toucan Sam. I'm honestly not sure why Mr. Apple-Headed Guy didn't stick around...

Maybe it's just me, but doesn't having a giant apple for a head sound like a pain in the derriere? How would you ever walk through a door? Wouldn't you hit your head on the door frame? How would you buy hats? How would you find a pillow big enough for you to put your head on when you sleep? Heck, how would you be able to hold your head up?

Come to think of it, maybe the reason Apple Jack didn't stick around is because he got tired of the inconvenience of having a giant apple for a head and got some plastic surgery?

The Triple Snack Giraffe (Kellogg's Triple Snack)

Why didn't the Triple Snack Giraffe catch on? Because Triple Snack ITSELF didn't catch on. I haven't even heard of this cereal until recently. Apparently, people didn't like Triple Snack as much as they liked Kellogg's other cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms. It contained roasted peanuts, sugar puffed corn and sugar puffed wheat. I'm allergic to nuts, so I wouldn't be able to eat the cereal even if it was still around.

But I still love the Triple Snack Giraffe. I like how confused he is as the boy starts up the musical number. But is it just me, or does the song sound kind of threatening? "If you don't like the peanuts, watch out for the Triple Snack. Triple Snack will get you if you don't watch out..." I'm sorry, but what do they mean by "TRIPLE SNACK WILL GET YOU"? Do I have to worry about a cereal somehow coming after me simply because I don't like the peanuts? It's not MY fault I have allergies!

Side note, this is yet another cereal that had a Hanna-Barbera character for the mascot at one point. Apparently, before the Triple Snack Giraffe came along, the cereal featured an image of Yogi Bear's pal Boo-Boo on the box.

Waldo the Wizard (Lucky Charms)

Yes, believe it or not, at one point General Mills actually got rid of Lucky the leprechaun. Lucky actually got replaced as the mascot of the cereal that SHARED HIS NAME. Why? Well, apparently kids got tired of Lucky. For some reason.

So they decided to replace him with Waldo the Wizard, who proved less popular than Lucky. It wasn't his fault, poor guy, it's just that Lucky did not need to be replaced. Thus, Lucky regained his place on the box just a year later. The lesson here? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Fun fact: Waldo was designed by Disney animator Phil Mendez, who also worked on such cartoons as Kissyfur, Foofur, and The Lionhearts, as well as animated movies like FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Quest For Camelot, and the 1992 Tom and Jerry movie.

Sorry, no commercial this time - I couldn't find an ad featuring this guy.

The Sprinkle Spangles Genie (Sprinkle Spangles)

Speaking of cereal mascots with magic powers, 1993 saw the release of Sprinkle Spangles cereal from General Mills. It consisted of star-shaped sweetened corn puffs sprinkled with... well, sprinkles. It didn't last very long.

Regardless, the cereal also allowed the Genie from Aladdin to get some work in-between the first movie and the direct-to-video sequels... oh, wait, that's not the Genie from Aladdin. It's just a blatant knockoff of him. But he's purple instead of blue, so apparently Disney didn't care.

"You wish it, I dish it," he would say in the ads, and then grant children, according to the side of one box, "what they want most." Apparently what kids in these commercials wanted the most was a cereal with sprinkles on it. I guess cereal with CHOCOLATE wasn't enough for 'em, huh?

But on a positive note, the voice of the genie was provided by none other than Dom DeLuise. And a character being voiced by Dom DeLuise makes them impossible to truly dislike.

The Freakies (Freakies Cereal)

Why didn't these characters become as iconic as other cereal mascots like the Trix Rabbit and the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee? I'll tell you why - because they're HIDEOUS. I know, I know, they're called "The Freakies", so I guess that's to be expected, but still... UGH. Next mascot!

Simon the Quangaroo (Quaker Oats' Orange Quangaroos)

While I don't think Quisp and Quake have ever reached the same level of fame as, say, Toucan Sam, they seem juuuuuuuuuuuuuust famous enough to avoid getting a spot on the list. Alas, the same can't be said for the mascot of Quake's spin-off cereal, Orange Quangaroos.

What's a Quangaroo? Well, it's like a kangaroo... but it's orange. That's pretty much it, really. It's an orange kangaroo. So why don't they just call it an orange kangaroo? Probably because "Orange Kangaroos" isn't as catchy a name for a cereal. Simon is a Quangaroo, hailing from a land known as "Orangeania", a fitting mascot for an orange-flavored cereal.

Simon starred alongside Quake in ads, mainly because Quake's cereal had recently been discontinued before Orange Quangaroos came onto the scene. Why? Well, in commercials, Quake was pitted against Quisp over whose cereal was better. In 1972, Quaker Oats held a vote to see which cereal was better, and the public chose Quisp, so Quake got the axe. However, Quisp's being so popular let to Simon's downfall, as Quisp was selling better than Orange Quangaroos in stores, mainly because consumers couldn't agree on whether or not the cereal tasted good. So Orange Quangaroos became discontinued too. Orange you glad you know that now?










My apologies for that awful joke.

Waffleo Bill and His Horse (Ralston Waffleos)

A rule with cereal mascots seems to be that if they're from a cereal not from Kellogg's, General Mills, Quaker Oats, or Post, they're probably not gonna be the next Cap'n Crunch. Case in point, Waffleo Bill and his horse, who shilled for Ralston's Waffleos.

Waffleos made their debut in 1979, a sweetened cereal with artificial maple syrup flavor. I guess the cereal didn't catch on because kids didn't see a point in eating a cereal that tasted like waffles for breakfast when they could actually eat waffles for breakfast. Presumably, this is also why there aren't any pancake-flavored cereals.

As a result, this goofy cowboy with a mustache that gives even Yosemite Sam's a run for its money and his guitar-playing horse ended up on the Island of Misfit Product Mascots. Waffelo Bill and his horse were voiced by Bob Sarlatte (also the voice of Dirk the Daring in the Dragon's Lair Saturday Morning Cartoon show) and Rick Cimino respectively.

Bixby Beaver (Kellogg's Crunchy Loggs)

Bixby here was the mascot of a 1970s cereal known as Crunchy Loggs, a strawberry-flavored corn and oat cereal. I don't know why this cereal didn't catch on. Maybe because kids didn't think eating logs sounded particularly appetizing?

So that's ten animated cereal mascots that didn't catch on. For various reasons. For those that read this whole post and now have a craving for cereal, my apologies. Especially if the cereal that you're craving has been discontinued like at least half of the cereals on this list.

Hopefully, someday, animated cereal mascots will make a comeback. Every so often I do see the most iconic ones (Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, etc.) in new ads, so there's THAT, I suppose. Though hopefully they don't redesign them all for no reason. Y'know, like they did with Toucan Sam...


Please, please, PLEASE be a temporary redesign...

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Let's Watch This - An Episode of "Geronimo Stilton"

When I was younger, while on a trip to the library (if I'm remembering correctly) I was introduced to a book series about a mouse called Geronimo Stilton. I liked it. I got a few more books, and I liked those too. However, I haven't actually READ a Geronimo Stilton book in years. Maybe I should reread them sometime.

Anyhow, at some point years after I stopped reading the books, I discovered that in 2009 they actually made a TV show based on Geronimo Stilton. The show managed to get three seasons before ending in 2017. The show's premise isn't too different from that of the books - Geronimo is a journalist and head of a newspaper called "The Rodent's Gazette" and he has adventures with his sister Thea, their nephew Benjamin, and their cousin Trap. There are some changes, however... I already posted a picture of book Geronimo, but here's TV Geronimo...

As you can see, TV Geronimo is thinner and lacks the glasses. Why they decided to alter the design, I don't know. Today, we're going to watch an episode of the show and see if it's any good. Because that's what we do in "Let's Watch This" - watch obscure animated things and see if they're any good. The episode we'll be watching is the very first one - "Operation Shufongfong".

We begin with Geronimo and Benjamin at the New Mouse City airport. Uh, New Mouse City? That's... that's not even a pun. You just replaced "York" with "Mouse". "York" and "Mouse" don't sound anything alike. Hence, not a pun. That's Family Guy making fun of The Flintstones levels of laziness.

Anyway, Geronimo (voiced by Brian Drummond) and Benjamin (Erin Matthews) are there because the reclusive Prince Nagooda or however you spell his name is making a visit to New Mouse City. Geronimo wants to interview him, despite Benjamin reading on his iPhone or whatever the Geronimo Stilton equivalent of an iPhone is called that Prince Nagooda never does interviews. Alas, when Prince Nagooda gets off the plane his bodyguards immediately pick him up and carry him to a limousine. So much for that interview.

Also, at one point one of the bodyguards punches somebody and sends them flying off-camera. That did get a laugh out of me.

Throughout all of this scene, by the way, stereotypical Indian music is playing in the
background. Y'know, just in case you couldn't tell that this guy was supposed to be Indian.

However, just before he drives off, Prince Nagooda gives Geronimo a note telling him to meet him at his hotel and then he can have that interview. Huzzah!

"Dear Geronimo, I think your book series went downhill after the one where
you went to Transylvania. Also, I liked you better when you were fat and wore
glasses. Oh, and tell Trap to ditch the ponytail."

Then we get the show's intro. The theme song's not half-bad, but it sounds like some sort of spy theme song (a la the ones that Carl Wheezer sings) and I've never really thought of Geronimo as a spy. I think there was ONE book where he was a spy, but the rest of the time he's just a bumbling newspaper company head guy... er, mouse. Also, at one point the song calls him "Cheddariffic". How lame is THAT?

Back at Geronimo's headquarters, Benjamin asks his uncle what sort of questions he's going to ask the prince. "Oh, the usual things," Geronimo replies. "Ask about his country, what he likes, hobbies, his favorite foods, customs..." Benjamin then pulls up a video on his iPhone (which is shaped like a Dorito by the way) of these lizards that Geronimo identifies as the Shufongfong. The Shufongfong are a species of lizard so rare that there are only two left in existence - and those two are currently on display at the New Mouse City Museum! Zhe odds, vhat are zhey?

I suppose I should mention that the voices for Geronimo and Benjamin sound absolutely nothing like the voices that I personally imagined them having while reading the books. I mean, I'm not criticizing the show for it, I know the producers of the show obviously had no way of knowing what I thought the characters sounded like. I just find it really jarring, that's all. Benjamin doesn't even sound that much like a little boy, he sounds like a woman with a sore throat.

Also, I could be wrong about this, but I'm preeeeeeeeeeeetty sure that no, there is no actual species of lizard known as the Shufongfong. I looked it up, and all I could find was stuff about this episode. Apparently they're just a made-up species like Sneetches and Chickeraffes and Zaxes.

They even kind of have Dr. Seuss-ish designs...

Benjamin asks if they can go see the Shufongfong, to which Geronimo says that if they hurry they should have enough time before the interview to do so. "Slammin'!" Benjamin exclaims, because apparently kids were saying that in 2009. But before they can leave, Trap (Richard Ian Cox) barges in and demonstrates that he's the show's wacky comic relief character who gives Geronimo migraines by doing a magic trick that involves tying Geronimo up, making the knot disappear, and then realizing that he doesn't know how to make the knot reappear. Oh, Trap, thou are so humorous with your wacky antics!

"Hey, Geronimo! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"

We then cut to Geronimo and Benjamin at the museum... with Benjamin's whole class. As they approach the Shufongfong, Geronimo shares some fun facts about them: they're gentle creatures, they eat flowers and plants, and they can change their colors to camouflaged themselves a la chameleons.

Good thing the Shufongfong are vegetarians... some lizards actually eat
mice, which would likely be a problem for the citizens of New Mouse City.

Suddenly, the lights go out, and Geronimo is suddenly beaten up! When the lights come back on, HE'S the one in the display, and the Shufongfong are gone! HORROR OF HORRORS!

Geronimo Stilton - he's so "Cheddariffic", he defies the laws of gravity
and physics!

Geronimo then smells disinfectant, and promptly spots a big fat mouse wearing a black suit and a gas mask and holding the Shufongfong in a cage! Geronimo and Benjamin give chase, but the mouse gets away. And for whatever reason there are no security guards around to nab the guy. Oh, and at one point Geronimo accidentally tears the mouse's sleeve. Remember that, it's very important.

Geronimo realizes that now he's late for his appointment with the prince and heads off to the hotel. Prince Nagooda tells Geronimo that his reputation makes him the one reporter that he trusts and would allow an interview with. Alas, he must leave now because he has been called back to his palace in some far-off jungle. Geronimo says that perhaps he could come to the palace in said far-off jungle and interview him THERE. Benjamin then mentions that said far-off jungle is the most dangerous in the world. There are poisonous snakes, giant insects, and man-eating flowers... that last one shouldn't be a problem for Geronimo since he's a mouse and not a man, but nonetheless, he's still nervous. And as he and Benjamin are leaving, he notices that one of the prince's bodyguards has a torn sleeve.

Coincidence? Geronimo thinks not. Back at his headquarters, he tells Benjamin that he thinks Prince Nagooda and the stolen Shufongfong are connected. He brings up that he smelled disinfectant at the museum after the lizards were stolen, and at the hotel he noticed that the disinfectant the prince's servants were wiping things down with smelled veeeeeeeeeeeeery similar to it. Combine that with the torn sleeve, and there's enough proof to go off of. Just then, Thea enters and says that she's there to fly Geronimo to the jungle.

"Hey, bro, I'm here to fly you to the jungle and turn on all the furries in
the audience!"

And then Trap shows up and announces that HE'S coming along too. Yaaaaaaay, that means more wacky antics from the ever-so-humorous-one known as Trap. He's basically the Pinkie Pie/Joey Gladstone of the show - we're supposed to find him hilarious, but he's not hilarious. Nor is he even remotely funny. Instead, he's just unbelievably obnoxious. You know, just like Pinkie Pie/Joey Gladstone.

Geronimo's expression sums up my thoughts on Trap pretty well.

Soon all four of them are in a helicopter flying over the jungle. Trap continues to be obnoxious. Thea says that they're ready to land, but this is as close as she can get so they'll have to walk through the jungle from there. This makes an already-frazzled Geronimo pretty much wet his pants. Once they're on the ground, he gets hit by a branch and then winds up running into a snake.

And snakes - or at least SOME snakes, don't know if ALL snakes do it - eat mice,
just like some lizards, so I really don't blame Geronimo for being freaked-out.

He makes a run for it, only to meet a giant bug...

Honestly, I'd react that way too if I saw a dragonfly THAT big...

I was expecting him to run into one of those "man-eating plants" next (allowing me to make another Little Shop of Horrors reference), but instead they arrive at Prince Nagooda's palace.

That's not a palace, that's a resort hotel. Or maybe it's actually a Cheesecake Factory,
I don't know...

Geronimo has somehow wound up in the snake's clutches again, but fortunately one of the prince's bodyguards saves him. "I hate the jungle..." he moans.

Really digging the barfing mouse-headed dragon statue. Where'd he get that,
a Chuck E. Cheese?

"You gotta hand it to this prince," Trap says as they look around the palace, "He lives in STYLE!" Prince Nagooda greets Geronimo, then sees Thea and immediately gets all hot for her (just like the furries in the audience). He doesn't give a crap about the interview anymore, instead he wants to give Thea a tour of the palace. That's fine with Geronimo, though. "This will be easy cheese!" he tells Thea. "You can keep the prince occupied." Thea refuses, but Benjamin says that it'll give them the chance to search the palace for the lizards. With a sigh, Thea replies, "Fine..." Turning to Geronimo, she adds, "But after this, YOU OWE ME!"

We then cut to Prince Nagooda screaming at his servants to "find it, NOW!" After that, he heads off with Thea, allowing Geronimo, Benjamin, and Trap to search for the lizards. But how will they get past the bodyguards? Answer: with that magic trick of Trap's from before... which he promptly screws up.

Trap, you had ONE JOB!

Geronimo and Benjamin do some snooping around and eventually spot one of the Shufongfong. They give chase, and then the bodyguards (who were still laughing over Trap being an idiot) hear an alarm going off. They immediately find Prince Nagooda and whisper something in his ear. "Something urgent has come up," he tells Thea, just before telling his bodyguards, "Stay with her!"

Geronimo and Benjamin manage to nab the lizard, and discover a large painting with an opening behind it, allowing them to hide from the approaching prince. Speaking of the prince, he tells his bodyguards to "find them" and "dispose of them". "But, don't make a mess," he adds.

Mr. Ratburn was evil the whole time?! I'll never be able to watch Arthur the
same way again...

In the secret room, Geronimo and Benjamin find the other Shufongfong - plus hundreds of other animals stuck in cages. As it turns out, Prince Nagooda is a regular Percival McLeach!

Calling it - it's gonna turn out that Prince Nagooda isn't even a prince at all,
he's an infamous animal smuggler who was disguised as a prince so as to
not raise any suspicion.

"These are some of the rarest animals from all over the world!" Geronimo exclaims. And wouldn't you know it, Prince Nagooda shows up just as Geronimo is listing all of the different animals that he's stolen. "I see that you have found my little collection!" he snarls. "And now YOU will become a part of it!" Before Geronimo knows it, he and Benjamin are trapped in a giant birdcage. And for those of you who were wondering about Trap, he's still tied up. Prince Nagooda admits that the Shufongfong being in New Mouse City were the whole reason why he came there in the first place - he loves unique and rare things, and by stealing them and locking them up in a secret room he can keep them all clean. "Since you are also one of a kind, then you and your family will also be fine additions!" he snaps. Then, just as he and his bodyguards are leaving, Trap finally manages to escape... only for Prince Nagooda to push a button that causes a large cage to fall on top of him, too. Wah wah wah wah waaaaaaaaah...

Oh, and then Prince Nagooda reveals that he's going to marry Thea. In fact, she's being readied now... or so he thinks. Actually, Thea is throwing things at one of his servants. But eventually she agrees to it when Prince Nagooda tells her that he'll hurt her family if she doesn't. Fortunately, when Prince Nagooda returns to show Thea that he has her brother, nephew and cousin locked up, Geronimo comes up with a plan to snatch the keys from him. The plan involves sneezing a lot and telling the prince that they all have some sort of disease, which makes him freak out, and as he's freaking out Geronimo swipes the keys. One thing leads to another, and soon all the animals are free. How pathetic of a villain do you have to be to be defeated by SNEEZING?

They all manage to escape the palace, but on their way to the plane that pesky snake shows up and traps Geronimo in his coils.

I really hope that snake starts singing "Trust in Me"...

Fortunately, he's saved by one of the Shufongfong and manage to get to the helicopter... where Prince Nagooda is waiting for them. How did he get there before them? I don't know, but who cares, the episode's almost over.

"GIMME DOZE LIZARDS!"

Geronimo tells Trap that perhaps the prince would like to see his magic trick. Trap ties Prince Nagooda and his bodyguards up, the Shufongfong are returned to the museum safe and sound, and Geronimo tells the audience that "What started out as an interview with the mysterious Prince Nagooda ended up being an even bigger story... one that his highness won't soon forget! And that's today's hot scoop from Geronimo Stilton! Question, investigate, and learn!" Oh, wait, that was actually just a news report on TV... wait, I thought Geronimo ran a newspaper company, not a news show on TV. Oh, and Prince Nagooda is in Alcatraz. Or, since this is a show where all the characters are mice and they live in a place called "New Mouse City", perhaps he's actually in Alcatratz.










That sounded much funnier in my head.

The end.

That was... okay. Not good. Not bad. Just okay. The animation's good. The jokes are somewhat funny. However, it doesn't have the same charm to it as the books. Trap can also get really grating. Still, I think fans of the books would probably like it. If you haven't read the books, I'd recommend reading them first, and if you like 'em, give the show a try. As for me, I'll just stick with the books.

Thus concludes another edition of "Let's Watch This". Next time, be sure to pop some popcorn and get a front row seat, because we'll be watching another movie - Triggerfish Animation Studios' Khumba!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Let's Watch This - "Mad Monster Party?" (1967)

We're having an infestation, everyone. Ghosts, goblins, monsters, vampires, witches, werewolves, zombies, and other strange and spooky characters are popping up in our neighborhoods, stores, and restaurants. This can only mean one thing - that Halloween is on its way.

I'll be honest with you, I've never been much of a Halloween fan. I haven't gone trick-or-treating in years, so the whole "getting free candy" aspect of the holiday goes out the window, and that was a large chunk of the holiday's appeal to me. I'm a cowardly fella - I don't like being scared - so a holiday dedicated to getting scared just doesn't feel like my kind of holiday. But there are some good things that come with Halloween, one of them being that the TV networks start airing movies and TV specials about Halloween, or at least about Halloween-y things like ghosts and/or monsters. You know, stuff like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Nightmare Before Christmas and the Hotel Transylvania movies.

Much like with Christmas TV specials, there are a lot of obscure Halloween TV specials out there. For example, there's this...

And there's this...

And this (yes, there's a Shrek production that qualifies as "obscure")…

As far as Halloween MOVIES go... animated ones, I mean (since this is an animation-focused blog)... well, I already mentioned The Nightmare Before Christmas, which isn't obscure... there's also Coraline, but that's not really obscure either... I suppose ParaNorman and Frankenweenie might count as obscure, but I could be wrong... how about Corpse Bride? Does that qualify as obscure? Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit? Monster House is pretty obscure, right? I suppose Igor and that recent Addams Family movie could qualify as well?

Gosh, there's actually a LOT of obscure animated Halloween movies. I'll have to keep these in mind for future reviews I post on this blog around Halloween. But for now, let's talk about Mad Monster Party?.

This was the creation of none other than Rankin-Bass Productions, the guys behind such beloved Christmas specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. It was released in 1967... specifically, MARCH 1967 (which was a good few months before Halloween, but eh, Coraline was released in February so...), distributed by Embassy Pictures, and featured the voices of Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, Gale Garnett, and Allen Swift. It's described on Wikipedia as "a spoof of horror themes, complete with musical numbers and inside jokes". Today, it's one of Rankin-Bass' lesser-known productions. And we're here to look at it today!

So, let's get started. This is Mad Monster Party?.

The movie begins with the camera zooming in on an island that I believe King Kong once took residence in on a dark, foggy night. Eventually, we arrive at a castle where a creepy dude in a lab coat is hard at work on some type of potion. This is Baron Boris Von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff - fitting that a Dr. Frankenstein-esque mad scientist is voiced by one of the first actors to play Frankenstein's Monster).

I think even the Swedish Chef would be jealous of those
eyebrows.

Boris tests the potion on a nearby raven, causing it to explode. And if blowing up a bird isn't animal cruelty, then I don't know WHAT is. "I've done it. Created the means to destroy matter!" Boris tells the audience. "They must all know... know that I, Baron Von Frankenstein, master of the secret of creation, have now mastered the secret of destruction! The invitations must be sent at once!"

He walks over to a cabinet where he has some bats, who he plans on having deliver the invitations a la Hogwarts' owls. He tells his monster - who, natch, is big and green-skinned - that they're going to have themselves a mad monster party. So as the credits roll, we see the bats flying around delivering invitations to all of cinema's most popular monsters... Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll (or rather his monster form, Mr. Hyde), the Creature From the Black Lagoon, even a pre-Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Wouldn't twisting your neck like that HURT?

Then we cut to this guy. You might remember him from that classic horror film, Attack of the Glasses-Wearing Soda Clerk.

You ever notice that in cartoons, male characters with glasses
almost always have reddish-brown hair?

This is Felix Flanken (voiced by Allen Swift). He works at a drugstore run by a grouchy old dude named Mr. Cronkite (also Allen Swift) - no relation to Walter. He, too, gets an invitation to Baron Von Frankenstein's big shindig, but Mr. Cronkite is reluctant to give him that week off. However, after discovering that Felix has very powerful sneezes, which combined with his clumsiness makes a mess of things at his store, he relents.

He kind of reminds me of the Head Elf from Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer
.

You know, the big one with the goatee who says, "WHY
WEREN'T YOU AT ELF PRACTICE?!
"

Back at the Baron's castle, we see his monster again. His name as Fang, and at the moment he's being chewed out by his mate (Phyllis Diller). She's basically the precursor to every other "nagging wife" character from every other sitcom from the last fifty years.

She's even got Frankie Heck's hairdo.

His mate starts singing a song for some reason. I guess they just thought they were obligated to give Phyllis Diller a song. After the song, we cut to the Baron receiving mail from this woman who apparently works for him... or maybe she's his daughter or something, I don't know. She's a proto-Jessica Rabbit.

"I'm not bad... I'm just sculpted that way..."

Proto-Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Gale Garnett) tells the Baron that there's only one monster who they haven't received a reply from - a monster known as "It". Who is "It"? Well, it's possible that they're talking about this guy:

Actually, the Baron says that "It" wasn't even invited. He's not much fun at mad monster parties. On the contrary, he's quite destructive. They've also got a letter from Felix (remember him?) - though apparently he doesn't quite know what he's getting into and thinks he's getting a vacation at a beach resort. Von Frankenstein tells the redhead (and us) that Felix is his nephew. He's been invited so that Von Frankenstein can teach him the ways of the mad scientist and then quit the business.

Suddenly, the world's most disturbing cuckoo clock goes off...

Where did he get that clock from, Beetlejuice?!

And the redhead says that she won't just LIKE Felix - she'll love him to pieces. Whatever THAT means.

Then we cut to a sea captain (Allen Swift) and his first mate (Allen Swift - are you noticing a pattern here?) trying to make sense of their role in the plot - to get all of those monsters to Hotel Transylvania... err, I mean, the Baron's castle, which is apparently located on the "Isle of Evil". Sounds like a charming place, doesn't it? Bet they don't get a lot of visitors there.

"Look, ca'pn, it's a rejected Muppet."

After Quasimodo arrives, they're approached by Dracula (Allen Swift), who looks very similar to Count Von Count from Sesame Street. Aside from the green skin, they're practically twins.

"TWO! That's TWO characters in this film that look like
Muppets! Ah, ah, ah!"

Then Felix shows up. Amusingly, after their encounter with Dracula, the captain and his first mate are intimidated by Felix after he says that he's going to the Isle of Evil as well. The Werewolf is also able to climb aboard just before the ship sets sail. Once the ship is at sea, we get a gag where Felix drops his glasses - and since he can't see without them, he winds up encountering the Wolfman and the Invisible Man without realizing that they're monsters.

Much of the next few minutes consists of wacky antics involving the monsters, and the first mate about to wet himself upon seeing them. Felix runs into Dr. Jekyll (Allen Swift)… whose Mr. Hyde form ALSO looks like a rejected Muppet.

Then again, a lot of Rankin-Bass characters do have sort of a
Muppet-y look to them, so...

At midnight, the monsters all sneak off the ship and head for the Isle of Evil. Dracula refers to himself as "the original Batman"... kinda surprised that joke hasn't been done elsewhere. Seems kind of obvious.

Back at the Baron's place, he's giving orders to his army of zombies, all of whom are dressed in spiffy bellhop outfits. The Hotel Transylvania comparisons just keep making themselves, don't they?

In fact, do you think Genndy Tartakovsky watched this film
for inspiration?

One of the zombies is named Yetch (Allen Swift), and he looks and sounds like Peter Lorre. He also has the ability to talk without moving his lips. And he's hot for the redhead, whose name is revealed to be Francesca.

"Helloooooooooooooooooooooooo, nurse!"

The zombies' job is to patrol the island in old-fashioned flying machines, just in case "It" shows up. "You really think that 'It' would dare to come here uninvited?" Francesca asks the Baron. "I don't know. 'It' is capable of anything," Von Frankenstein tells her.

Soon all of the monsters are showing up in the castle. First Dracula swoops in. Then the Wolfman... or rather, the Werewolf, as Von Frankenstein tells him. Then the Invisible Man (Allen Swift). Then the Mummy and Quasimodo. Then Dr. Jekyll, who upon arriving becomes Mr. Hyde. Then the Creature From the Black Lagoon. What, no Purple People Eater?

What kind of monster is that supposed to be?

Yetch drops by the kitchen to check on how dinner's coming along. First, the cook (Allen Swift) has whipped up a poisonous salad, then move on to appetizers - lizards and spiders and things like that, moving on to octopus soup (with a live octopus in the pot), and for the main course? Boar's head, roast vulture, and minced hyena casserole (surprisingly, they don't make a "it tastes funny" joke).

Once everyone's seated at the dinner table, Von Frankenstein introduces his matter-destroying formula. Francesca wants to make the doctor's secrets HERS before he bestows them on Felix... with Dracula's help. Too bad the monster's mate hears her inner monologue telling us that.

After Mad Monster Party?, both of these characters went on
to star in episodes of Scooby-Doo.

Dracula and Fang's mate both start making plans to become Von Frankenstein's successor themselves, then we're treated to the swingin' sound of a Beatles-esque skeleton band.

Didn't these guys also appear in Corpse Bride?

Francesca and Dracula sneak out to the balcony so Francesca can fill him in on her plan to take care of this Felix fella. Apparently he didn't hear her inner monologue from before. Little do they know that Fang's mate is eavesdropping. Oh, and then we get another musical number.

After the song, Francesca and Fang's mate tear off each other's dresses (this was supposed to be a kids' movie, right?) and have a CAT FIGHT. I'm not making that up. They have a cat fight. With cat noises and everything. Meanwhile, Fang deals with Dracula, but then the Werewolf gets involved, resulting in WHACKY SHENANIGANS!

We haven't had a screencap of the Creature From the Black
Lagoon yet, so here's one now.

Soon everyone's asleep, and we get some more quick gags. The Creature From the Black Lagoon squirts water out of his mouth onto Dr. Jekyll as he snoozes. The Invisible Man is woken up by the Werewolf's howling.

Remember to wear a mask, folks!

Meanwhile, Felix finally arrives at the Isle of Evil, where he is greeted by Von Frankenstein and Francesca. They take him to the castle, then Francesca meets up with Dracula so they can start making plans.

Step One is for Francesca to take Felix on a "picnic tour". Step Two is for the Werewolf to scare Felix off... but it doesn't work (Felix has a way with pets). Then the Mummy tries to grab him, but that fails too. Then Dracula makes the attempt to swing down and bite him... and fails. Repeatedly. Felix, by the way, still hasn't caught on to the whole "surrounded by monsters" thing.

Afterwards, Von Frankenstein shows Felix his laboratory and tells him that he'll be taking his place as the head of the "Worldwide Organization of Monsters" (or W.O.O.M. for short). Then Von Frankenstein summons some... imps? Demons? I don't know what they are, but they start up another musical number.

"I don't think I'm cut out for the role of mad scientist, Uncle...
science was my worst subject in school."

"I would like to think it over," Felix admits after the song. He decides to go fishing, since he does his best thinking while he's fishing. As for Francesca, she's chewing out Dracula for failing to take out Felix. Oh, and then she finds out that Dracula plans on double-crossing her with Frank and his mate. "We can't let her go, babies! She'll go straight to Dr. Frankenstein!" the mate says as she, Fang, and Dracula corner Francesca, only for her to escape via a trapdoor.

Francesca plots to get her revenge on those meddling monsters. She writes a note, then channels the Wicked Witch of the West and sends out a bat with it.

Meanwhile, Felix is fishing. "Gosh..." he says, "Felix Flanken, chairman of the Board of Monsters Incorporated." Wait, MONSTERS INCORPORATED?

Could this have actually been another prequel to Monsters Inc.?!

Anyhow, Felix still doesn't want to take over for his uncle. Fang, his mate, and Dracula follow Francesca down the trapdoor. She holds them off with wolfsbane and a torch.

"People might forget about YOU characters after this movie,
but I'LL live on! People will draw inappropriate pictures of me
and post them on DeviantArt! It'll be disgusting, but at least I'll
be remembered!"

She escapes them again, but she still has to deal with crocodiles in the lagoon... which honestly look more like giant rubber bath toys. Fortunately for her, she's saved by Felix. Fang's mate makes Painfully Unfunny Wisecrack Then Laughing At Her Own Joke Number Seventeen (I didn't bring that up before, but she does that A LOT). She suggests gathering the monsters together and having them gang up on Francesca and Felix.

Francesca blames Felix for everything that went wrong, but then immediately falls in love with him. We get another song, then Francesca tells Felix that they have to get off the island before the monsters find them.

"Are we monsters, or are we mice?!"
"I like cheese..."

Dracula enlists the help of the other monsters to take care of Felix (though Yetch takes some convincing), and they all head off to find him and Francesca... who, at the moment, have run afoul of a Venus Flytrap.

"FEED ME, FELIX!"

Felix defeats the Venus Flytrap with vitamin pills, but the other monsters are catching up. The Werewolf manages to grab Francesca, then Dracula, Fang, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Quasimodo surround him. Fortunately, Felix discovers the matter-destroying potion in his pocket. Unfortunately, guess who finally shows up?

Donkey Kong, is that you?!

This, ladies and gentlemen, is "It" - he's a King Kong parody. He scares off the other monsters, then heads to the castle so he can get revenge on the Baron for not inviting him to his mad monster party. But once he arrives, he spots a framed photo of Francesca and falls for her. All giant gorillas have a thing for human women, apparently.

Must be because there aren't that many female giant gorillas
around. In fact, I think ALL giant gorillas in movies are male.

Whatever happened to the Baron, anyhow? We haven't seen him for a good chunk of the movie now.

Meanwhile, Yetch and the Werewolf have tied up Francesca, and Yetch seizes the opportunity to finally plant a wet one on the redhead's lips. But "It" is all "THAT'S NOT OKAY!" and sends the little sleaze flying. Then the ape grabs Francesca and carries her off just as Felix arrives. Felix is so bummed that he wasn't able to save her that he decides to - I am not kidding here - commit suicide. Fortunately, then the Baron finally shows up and tells Felix not to do it... to which Felix says that he only said that because he didn't think anyone could hear him. The Baron tells Felix to make a run for the boat, because he has a plan to save Francesca.

Now "It" has Francesca in one hand and all the other monsters in the other. The Baron and his zombie bellhops fly to the rescue in their flying machines, just in case you didn't get that this was supposed to be a parody of King Kong. The Baron gets "It" to put Francesca down, allowing her and Felix to escape in a boat. Now that they're safe, the Baron chews out "It" and the other monsters for all the trouble they've caused and blows them, and the Isle of Evil, up. Alas, this means the Baron gets blown up as well. Too bad, he was the best character in the movie.

Looks like the Baron's going out with a BANG.

Get it? BANG? Because... yeah, okay.

Smoke and fireworks clear the air, and Francesca reveals to Felix that they can't get married because she's not a human being. She's a robot.

Felix reassures her that "None of us are perfect." Then he starts repeating himself in a mechanical fashion accompanied by robot-esque noises. Soooooooooo... he was a robot the whole time, too? Is he just acting like one to let Francesca know that he still loves her even if she's no more human than C-3PO? Was this not a prequel to Monsters Inc. as I initially suspected but rather A.I.: Artificial Intelligence or something like that? Why is there a question mark at the end of this movie's title? Will we ever get an answer to any of these questions?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "No".

Mad Monster Party? is certainly one of Rankin-Bass' more out-of-the-box productions. Quite a film it is, with a delightfully macabre atmosphere that would make even Tim Burton proud. Boris Karloff is great as the Baron, and major props towards Allen Swift for voicing almost every other character. I wouldn't put it on par with their more popular Christmas specials, but it's certainly worth watching at least once. Dunno why it doesn't get aired on TV around Halloween, surely Freeform could find a place for it in their "31 Nights of Halloween" lineup...

So, that's three movie reviews in a row. Next time, I'll do a review of a show to make things less monotonous.