Nostalgia Zone: The Adventures of Pete and Pete

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I remember when Nickelodeon announced their 90’s are All That a few years back. The idea was to bring in all the old Nick shows many of us who were/are college age had grown up with. I remember my brother and I got psyched because we were thinking “Yes, the return of Pete and Pete.”

Sadly, we only got an overplay of about 3 “classic” shows and an episode here and there of Hey Arnold.

If you haven’t heard of the show or need a refresher the Adventures of Pete and Pete aired for 3 seasons from 1993-1996 and was created by Will McRobb and Christ Viscardi. The show revolved around two brothers both named Pete who lived a small town called Wellsville. Older Pete (who’s in high school) typically narrates the show by telling a story either about his little brother or himself. The short lived series is quirky, surreal, original, and comedic. It was stapled into my mind as a kid and through a recent discovery of episodes on Youtube, I found that the show still holds up pretty well.

There was so much I had actually forgotten which made my re-watch oddly refreshing, but familiar enough to give me that sense of nostalgia. Sure, there are scenes that are a bit too gimmicky along with a noticeable loss of quality in season 3, but that doesn’t steer it away from being a fantastic show. The narration reminds me a great deal of a Christmas Story – usage of long words, looking fondly back on childhood memories (even though the events usually take place a day or two ago), and talking about the kid world as a separate entity from the adult world, yet still giving the adult characters development and arcs. There’s something in there for everyone and even my dad got excited when he saw there were episodes up online because he loved watching it just as much as my brother and I.

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I think what truly caught my eye was the surrealism. It sounds strange saying that about a show geared towards kids, but the style is there and it doesn’t try to hide itself from the audience. The show has a nice variety of odd characters all living in this small, seemingly normal town. There’s Mr. Tasty, the ice-cream man, who never seems to take off his mask so no one knows his real name or face. He’s an enigma who travels the world in his spare time while still never taking off the mask. It’s weird, but it works for the show. It’s goofy, but interesting. There’s an episode about the hottest day during summer where the temperature is so high that people are hallucinating. During this we see Mr. Tasty in front of what looks like the Apocalypse and it’s comedic while still holding onto the oddity that is Wellsville.

There’s another episode that focuses on a mysterious payphone out in the middle of nowhere that rings every day and has been for almost 3 decades. It drives the residents nuts, but no one has enough courage to answer the call. It’s a legendary mystery that haunts the town so much that there’s a call center to comfort anyone who is losing their mind to it. Eventually younger Pete decides to answer and the viewer gradually learns just who this call is for and why. It’s all done in a comedic fashion, but it’s still an original plot that I can’t say I’ve seen handled before. At least, not in this fashion. Strange phone calls are a norm in scary movies, but this ringing payphone at the edge of town was something entirely different. It’s plots like this that give the show a voice – a creative one. A voice that may not be for everyone, but one that’s amusing and authentic.

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It’s also quite sweet in that it shows the relationship between siblings, friends, and being more than just friends. The age difference between the two brothers is important because older Pete is growing up. He cares more about dating, driving, and becoming an adult while younger Pete is still clinging onto childhood because he knows that time is dwindling. He’ll be in his brother’s shoes before he knows it, but for now his world revolves around a set of separate ideals. Still, they try to adjust to the difference and keep a strong bond that I found genuine. The character’s plots may not always intertwine, but older Pete is still there to talk about what happened with his little brother the other day. This tells the audience that  even if they don’t do everything together anymore, they still tell each other about their day if something bizarre happens (which is often). It’s a nice dynamic and, again, presents something for people of all ages to follow. Older kids can relate to the high school life of big Pete and younger kids can relate to the middle school adventures of little Pete. Even older audiences can look back at both characters and think, “Yeah, I remember thinking about that when I was around that age” or “I used to worry about that or imagine that.”

And of course the unique and insanely endearing characters like Artie (the strongest man…in the world), Bus Driver Stu, whatever Mr. Tasty is, and so on, give the show something special to make it stand out. It’s comical and real (for the most part) plots through an imaginative and somewhat dreamlike mindset make it entertaining and memorable. It makes it a classic and it’s a shame it didn’t make it into the 90’s are All That line up. It’s even more of a shame that only the first 2 seasons were ever released on DVD and the rest has to be found somewhere on Youtube. At least it remains reachable in some form.

If you’ve never seen an episode or haven’t watched it in years, I’d highly recommended looking one up on Youtube the next time you need a break or you’re looking for something new to watch. It’s charming, strange, and nostalgic. A series you won’t soon forget.

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Every Villain is Lemons

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No hero is complete without a good villain. They’re the one who challenges and transforms them. The villain is that uncontrollable element that stands in the way of a “happy ending” – an unpredictable force between point A and point B.

Personally, I have a soft side for villains. I guess you could say it’s more of a soft side for anti-heroes since I lean toward the ones who aren’t all that bad.  I think some of us like to watch villains because they can do something incredibly bad-ass which gives the audience that wow factor. More often than not they get to do the kind of stunts that the hero can’t. For example – the Joker blowing up a hospital in the Dark Knight. Was it a good thing? No, but it still rendered a “whoa” moment. The villain can get away with that sort of thing because they’re not supposed to be the good guy. It makes for good entertainment and the ultimate success of the hero all the better.

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I like villains for a little more than just the “whoa” factor though. Usually I find them more interesting and layered (not to say the hero can’t be both of those). The way I see it, most characters start out inherently good. They have a blank slate at the beginning and more often than not they have to be part of the light side before heading over to the dark side. The hero is still good when the story begins and  the audience knows that the hero will remain good until the end, give or take a few slips to warrant suspense. On the other hand, the villain has already fallen and it’s the audience’s job to determine what triggered that fall.

They know the villain was good at one point, but there is an evident story behind their behavior. A side story that most the time the viewers are only given hints of and left to piece together themselves. I love that stuff. I love seeing a fall from grace because the aftermath can be heart wrenching, horrifying, and even understandable. It’s compelling to see why a character turned down the wrong path. Although a hero struggling to accept responsibility and stay on that right path is in no way dull. I just find myself more invested into the secret origins of one who detoured away from the light.

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It’s scenes like this that give the villain an immense amount of depth. The scene is from Once Upon a Time in the West and shows the antagonist’s back story.  All of a sudden the “bad guy” is understandable and, well, human. In case the link doesn’t work, you first see a close up of the villain’s face and when the camera zooms back out he’s a child again. A harmonica (one he carries with him throughout the film) is shoved in his mouth. The camera continues to zoom out and you begin to see that there’s another person standing on his shoulders. The person is hanging by his neck and is also the villain’s older brother. He’s finally forced to move and his brother dies from the lack of support. It’s heartbreaking and stunning when you’re seeing it for the first time. It’s a scene like this that makes the villain entrancing. They stay with you, possibly even become a favorite character.

Think of Loki’s pivotal scene in Thor, Prince Zuko in Avatar the Last Airbender, Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Ben Linus in Lost, Magneto in the X-Men films, heck even Shadow from Sonic Adventure 2. Sometimes these back stories stay with the viewers longer than the hero’s. They’re something to chew on and they also give room for redemption. As cliche as it might be, there is nothing I fall for more than seeing a villain become the hero. In Dragon Ball Z there were two villains who turned over gradually and ended up becoming two incredibly heroic characters. Vegeta would end up sacrificing himself for his son and wife – something he wouldn’t dream of doing back in season 1. Then Piccolo would become a second father to his former enemy’s son and act as a guide for him. We also get villains like Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb who’s wildly sympathetic and actually quite likeable. He’s not that bad of a guy and has demonstrated countless that times that he’ll always put the people he loves above himself.

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There are also movies like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-ALong Blog where the protagonist is a comic book villain, but he’s a good person. Meanwhile the classic hero is the antagonist and also a bit of a jerk. It toys with the idea that the villain sees themselves as a hero and might not always be as evil as they’re made out to be. Billy, our lead, even states at one point that “the world is a mess” and that’s why he wants to rule over it. He wants to put it into order and when it comes down to having to murder someone to get what he’s always wanted, he struggles with it. Even Wreck-It Ralph dealt with the notion that being a bad guy doesn’t make you a bad guy.

Can villains still commit unforgivable acts? Definitely and you don’t always have to love them or even like them. Just like a hero, villains come in all forms. It’s those antagonists who tug at the heart strings, earn redemption, honestly believe their doing the right thing, or are simply not that all that evil that make a presence. There can be a great deal of depth to them and it’s not a rare occurrence for them to make the story. They’re fun, play outside the rules, and can be more human than we think.

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“In the old days villains had mustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be throw n at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.”Alfred Hitchcock

What is the Best Adaptation of Lord of the Rings?

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What is the best adaptation of the Tolkien classic: Lord of the Rings? Well, I’m here to give my odd opinion because I’ve been feeling the need to discuss Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature of the Fellowship of the Ring. First released in 1978 and first seen by me somewhere amongst the 90’s, this film has always been my preference when it comes to Lord of the Ring adaptations.

The first Tolkien related movie I ever saw was the Rankin Bass production of the Hobbit. I remember liking it as a kid because it had catchy songs and a colorful appearance, but I knew there was something special when my dad brought home Ralph Bakshi’s vision of the novel.

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First off, the film is aesthetically refreshing. It’s rotoscoped which has the ability to appear beautiful and eerie simultaneously. For the most part the animation seems smooth and almost flawless, but since this footage has been traced over, the character’s eyes will move oddly at times and their mannerisms come off as otherworldly. Most would see this as just an error in the technique, but it kind of works to Bakshi’s advantage. It makes this fantasy world a little bit darker and a little more memorable.  This movie strays away from the playfulness of Rankin Bass and from the heavy action of Peter Jackson to find it’s own middle ground.

The film has it’s share of light hearted moments and uses songs and poems found in the source material. The audience gets to see Frodo dancing on the tables at the inn singing happily and pieces of the backdrop are soft and welcoming.

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Those lighter moments are for the most part balanced with good action sequences and moments that terrified me as a kid. It was a mix of everything and while it had it’s flaws, I enjoyed the combination of softness and grittiness. I’ve said this on a previous post, but I’m a fan of Grimm’s Fairytales because I’m attracted to that sort of atmosphere in fiction. I like the fantasy and hints of a pastel world fusing itself with dark images and quirkiness. That’s what Ralph Bakshi has to offer here – a somber fairytale environment.

Another element that draws me to this film is the characterization of Frodo. As much as I applaud Elijah Wood as an actor, I’m not a fan of his portrayal of the hobbit. I’ve always found him to be a little too helpless. This Frodo is cofident without turning cocky. He’s positive, cautious, caring, and gradually grows weary while still maintaining a sense of duty and dealing with it the best he can. It’s still evident that the ring is draining him, but he only reveals that side when his guard is let down. He allows himself to be vulnerable to the audience, but still makes the choice to march on despite the ring breaking him down little by little. When I think of Frodo I think of this version.

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There’s a scene where he confides in Sam about getting to Mt. Doom and he says, “Just to get there, Sam. Just to get there. The ring is so heavy now.” He has this somber moment where he admits that he’s struggling and that the ring is too much for him. He just wants all of this to be over and yet the way he says it shows a great deal of strength. He’s still doing his best to keep up a brave face for Sam and smiles soon after when Sam looks concerned. It’s moments like those that give this film such heart and make me care more and more about the protagonist.

But with every good characterization there comes a…not so good one. This would be the portrayal of Sam. They make him out to be the village idiot and a source of comic relief to the extent that he has no other persona. There are no layers to him – only a bumbling idiot. It’s a shame because Sam is my favorite character and one thing I loved about the Peter Jackson films was Sean Astin’s Sam. He showed courage, weakness, humor, solemn emotion, and became a hero in his own right. I’m someone who buys into the theory that Sam is the true protagonist of the trilogy. I always saw him as the stronger one – almost like Frodo’s guardian angel. Rankin Bass does a good job with Sam’s role in their adaptation of Return of the King, but it’s a shame he was resorted to such a pitiful state for this film.

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Unfortunately the story goes slightly over into the Two Towers territory before cutting off and never picked up again with any sequels. Rankin Bass tried to complete it while paying notice to their Hobbit film with Return of the King, but needless to say it wasn’t the same. Also, I’m not a fan of Rankin Bass’s Return of the King.

Ralph Bakshi’s spin wasn’t without flaws. Sometimes the animation differed with itself when one drawing would be traced almost realistically while others remained more cartoonish within the same panel. Sam’s character was off and at times the movement of the characters came across as unsettling. Still after a recent re-watch I remembered why I always enjoyed this version and why I prefer it over Peter Jackson’s take. Ralph Bakshi is good at creating a haunting outlook in his work and it fit for the Fellowship of the Ring. It had a gloomy fairytale emotion to it that was only increased by the rare use of rotoscope. The writers did an amazing job on Frodo’s character as well as Aragorn’s which I didn’t mention yet. Aragorn is less of a sad, puppy love stricken man and more of a tough, slick mentor. He’s a great deal of fun to watch especially in battle scenes and while I do like Aragorn in the live action trilogy, I prefer his animated counterpart primarily for his relationship with Frodo.

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Also, we have a nice Golem. Who wouldn’t love that face?

The film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve never seen it I would highly recommend giving it a try. Sadly, Tom Bombadil still isn’t present, but he’s with us in spirit.