Monday, November 30, 2009

Rudolph Restored: Don't Call It Claymation

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest-running, most highly acclaimed special in the history of television. It's been on every year since 1965; as such I'm only a year or two older myself, and I've seen it just about every time it's come around. I've hesitated about getting a video copy for years. Having a special available all year round makes it somehow...well, less special. But there have been years when I've only seen part of it, and sometimes missed it altogether. So last year when I saw The Original Christmas Classics (Limited Keepsake Edition) on sale I bought it, to have a fail-safe resource on hand. The set includes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, The Cricket on the Hearth, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and Frosty Returns, along with a CD of songs from the specials.

I had seen Rudolph on TV that year, so payed little attention to the DVDs at the time. But when Thanksgiving rolled around this year I went looking for stuff on The Mouse On The Mayflower (always hoping for a DVD release), and that led me to a website dedicated to The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass. What I learned there sent me scrambling to my copy to check it out. It turns out that this is a restored version, including material that hadn't been seen since the original airing.

The original version ended with Rudolph, Santa, and the other reindeer flying off. After protests from viewers wondering about the fate of the misfit toys, a new epilogue was added with Santa picking them up and dropping them off (via umbrella) to new homes. Space had to be made for this: the original duet of Rudolph and Hermey the Elf singing "We're A Couple Of Misfits" was replaced by the much shorter "Fame and Fortune," and several lines of dialog were cut near the end.

After Santa takes off, Clarice proclaims, "He'll be a hero after this!", to which Rudolph's mother replies, "Yes, our hero!" "That's my buck!" Donner says proudly. Yukon Cornelius points out the departing team to his own mis-matched sled-dogs (who have resolutely refused to pull his sled the entire show) and says, "Now...ya see how it's done!! Waaaahooooo!"He throws his pick in elation, it falls, and he tastes it. "Peppermint!" he exclaims. "What I've been searchin' for all my life! I've struck it rich! I've got me a peppermint mine! Waaahooooo!" Hermey smacks his forehead and falls back into the snow.*

Last year many of the original "Rudolph" puppets were found. After the original production they were given to a member of the staff who took them home, who over the years had placed them under her Christmas tree. Her children and grandchildren had been allowed to play with them, and they had been stored under no special conditions in her attic. Some of the figures were in extremely poor shape (apparently Sam the Snowman and Yukon Cornelius had melted together). But over the past months the Rudolph and Santa figures have been meticulously restored, using museum preservation grade care. These figures are not "claymation," like Gumby or the California Raisins. They are special puppets with articulated metal joints that are moved in tiny increments and then filmed, giving the illusion of motion; the same process that produced the original King Kong and The Nightmare Before Christmas. These metal joints had corroded away, but now the figures are fully restored, posable, and Rudolph is even wired for nose-blinking action. The picture above shows how they appear today.

For more details on Rudolph, Rankin/Bass, and childhood wonder in general, go to Rankin-Bass-Historian at People like Rick Goldschmidt who have the time, resources, and tenacity to pursue and preserve our childhood memories deserve our thanks and praise. I know his books are now on my wishlist.

*This peppermint mine is referenced in the unfortunate Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good News, Everyone!

The latest pair of Futurama action figures are out: Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (along with Nibbler figure!) and Hermes Conrad. Both figures come with Build-a-Robot pieces for Roberto, the craziest, stabbiest, robbingest robot of them all. I've been waiting for a Professor Farnsworth figure since the series first started. Next in the series are Chef Bender and Mom, the rapacious head of the future's most be-tentacled conglomerate, Mom's Friendly Robot Company.
I got those figures at Hastings; the other's I picked up a month ago at the latest Eckman's Card, Comic, and Toy Show. The Saruman is not exactly an action figure, in that it is not articulated. The staff is removable. The Ephialtes (from the movie 300) was only three bucks, and comes with spear, shield, and alternate head for the traitorous, malformed warrior. The Death Variant action figure is a tie-in with a comic, Dawn, that I've never read: I just like the figure's style. He comes with an axe. I already have an Albert action figure from Corpse Bride, but I kept that in its package; this one was only three dollars so I bought it to open and enjoy. The pipe is attached to his hand. Where's the fun in that?
But the oddest thing we picked up was a devil mask, the very same make and model that our oldest brother wore at a Halloween over forty years ago. It was a memory, but also something of a childhood trauma; that mask scared us away from messing around in the toy closet for a long time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not Exactly Ten Books

This is a list (with short descriptions) of books that have come into my library since I finished my last "10 Books A Day" post. So here's what I've been reading and reviewing lately.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. In which the wizards under Mustrum Ridcully must field a soccer team in order to secure a hefty financial bequest for their college, two star-crossed lovers from opposing soccer clubs alike in gracelessness and indignity try to get together, and goblins are getting the same Pratchett makeover that his trolls have benefited from. I'm still in the middle of reading this and enjoying it enormously.

King Arthur and His Knights (compiled) by Elizabeth Lodor Merchant. Apparently edited from Blanche Winder's great edition, with doses of verse from the likes of Tennyson thrown in for good measure. A good but odd sort of volume.

The Mammoth Book of the Supernatural by Colin Wilson. Another chunky overview of the field by Wilson, who knows how to get to the meat of a matter, present it , and give his idea of what the implications are without being a mystagogue.

Wizards by John Matthews. I cannot resist the subject, especially when presented in a lavishly illustrated edition with pictures ranging from medieval manuscripts to the latest movies. Though I wish they used less purple, orange, and bright green on the cover.

Wizards: A History by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. A much more scholarly approach to the subject of the figure of the wizard, as distinguished from the witch. You can tell right away it's serious because it has a) footnotes and b) only illustrations in black and white.

The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel. This is the paperback tie-in for the movie, a reprint of the 1975 edition that I read in middle school so many years ago. Keel is great, and greatly suggestive, in that he never declares he has figured out what is going on. He never says that aliens are real, that aliens are false, that aliens are something else entirely from extraterrestrials. He basically says that there's some weird s**t going on, something is messing with us, and make of it what you will.

Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia by Carol Rose. A companion volume (and published before) her Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia. This book takes on the more ethereal denizens of the mythical realms. Scholarly but not boring, full of great old illustrations, and more complete than lesser compendiums (covering more world mythologies than simply European), this is a beautiful browser that any folklore lover should have.

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin. Part of a juvenile series about winged cats.

Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary. I had this book in grade school. Has great illustrations by Louis Darling. The amazing Beverly Cleary is 93 years old now. I was never much into her books, but kind of nibbled around the edges.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrations by Ernest H. Shepherd. Who of course illustrated The Wind in the Willows and the Winnie-the-Pooh books. This and the last two books were all from a grade school teacher's garage sale, and carry the nostalgic scent of the class room on them. This book is an elderly one, and has the particularly hardy covers and re-inforced spine necessary to last over much handling. I never had a copy with the Shepherd illustrations in it, so it fulfills several criteria for collection for me.

Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Ian Summers, and Beth Meacham. This book has been hovering around my awareness for thirty years or so. I've always kind of wanted a copy, but not enough to expend hugely on it. So when I saw this one at a garage sale for ten cents I snapped it up, and it now sits next to my Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy. It's main feature is of course Barlowe's solid illustrations of aliens of various kinds, presented in an almost textbook format, with scale showing how they compare to humans and other aliens.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hobbit Casting Announcement

Dateline: Wellington, New Zealand.--Security and silence has been extremely tight around both script and casting for producer Peter Jackson's new project The Hobbit, a follow-up (actually a "prequel") to his enormously popular and profitable The Lord of the Rings films, explaining how Bilbo Baggins came to acquire the cursed Ring while helping a band of dwarves destroy a dragon. However, a minor breach of this security (involving a portion of script being left in the ladies' room of a prominent Wellington restaraunt) has prompted Phillipa Boyens to make a preemptive revelation of certain script details and casting. In an impromptu press conference Boyens announced that the British actress and writer Dawn French has been tapped to portray Bombur, a prominent dwarf in the band of thirteen that accompanies Bilbo on his quest.
"It's all an attempt on our part to 'girl up' our movie," she declares. "If there was very little female presence in The Lord of the Rings, there is practically none in The Hobbit. It's a real sausagefest. Fortunately Professor Tolkien himself provides us with an out from this difficulty." Although all the dwarves are referred to as "he" in the book, Boyens points to a footnote in the trilogy as the source of her inspiration. "It says that Dwarf women look exactly like the Dwarf men, beards and all, and that they only travel abroad in times of great need or danger. Well, what need could be greater than re-establishing the Kingdom Under The Mountain?" Boyens states that the robust character of Bombur put her immediately in mind of Dawn French, who has long been one of her inspirations and role models.
"Dawn will naturally bring her enormous comic talent to this role. Bilbo never knows that Bombur is a she, of course, and when Dawn turns her part of the Unexpected Party into a flirtatious feast, Bilbo thinks it's all part of an eating contest. There will be this undercurrent all through the films of Bombur having a little crush on him and Bilbo being totally oblivious to her. But Bombur will not only be just a fat funny dwarf. She will be a deadly warrior, one of the best of Thorin's Company, and Dawn is already taking lessons with Polish axe-master Lev Czernog to give her the skills to dazzle her way through the Battle of Five Armies."
When pressed for further details on the eagerly awaited film, Boyens merely smiled enigmatically. "You'll just have to be patient. It's a long, complex process, and fraught with contingencies. This was just a fluke; greater caution will be taken with scripts until we're ready to make more announcements. And in the meantime, some people will have to remember to flush twice."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Favorite Quotations: Dethklok

Senator Stampingston: Gentlemen, it's clear we're in a universally precarious situation. Dethklok has summoned a troll.

General Krosier: That's impossible. There's no such thing as trolls.

Senator Stampingston: Then how do you explain the dead unicorns?