March 25, 2017

GREMLINS CEREAL

GREMLINS CEREAL

Ralston

            Chris Columbus got the inspiration to for Gremlins after hearing what sounded like a “platoon of mice” in his loft scurrying about. He wrote the script as a show of his skills for potential employers. The idea to actually make it a film didn’t happen until Steven Spielberg got ahold of the script and felt it was the most original thing he’d seen in a long time. Tapping Joe Dante to direct and Warner Bros. to produce the film along with his Amblin Entertainment, the film was a horror-comedy centered around a family’s acquisition of a mogwai: a cute, furry little creature. That is, as long as three rules were followed: 1) don’t expose it to strong light, 2) don’t let it get wet, and 3) never feed it after midnight. Of course, these rules get violated and a horde of ugly, savage gremlins end up on the loose; terrorizing the small town of Kingston Falls. Gremlins opened on June 8, 1984 and became a box office hit.



            As part of the promotion for the film, Ralston licensed the right to make a cereal based on it. Gremlins Cereal came with pieces in the shape of the film’s star, Gizmo (Howie Mandel), who also graced the box and was featured in the commercial for it. Incidentally, the commercial also starred Jonathan Ward as one of the kids eating the cereal, who would go on to appear in a Dante-directed Twilight Zone revival episode. With two proofs of purchase from the box and $9.95, people could send away for a plush Gizmo doll. Each box also included one of 11 different collectible stickers. The cereal was a limited edition and stayed on the shelves about as long as the film’s original theatrical run.

THE KING KONG SHOW

THE KING KONG SHOW
(ABC, September 6, 1966-March 4, 1967)


Videocraft International, Toei Animation


MAIN CAST:
Susan Conway – Susan Bond
Billie Richards – Billy Bond
Bernard Cowan – Professor Bond
Carl Banas – Captain Englehorn
John Drainie – Unknown
Alfie Scopp – Unknown
Paul Soles – Dr. Who


            Filmmaker Merian C. Cooper became interested in primates when he was a young boy. By the time his career took him to RKO Pictures, he wanted to make a “terror gorilla picture.” He would become inspired to make the gorilla giant-sized after seeing a plane flying over a tall building in New York City and imagining the gorilla fighting warplanes while on top of it. He was also further inspired by William Douglas Burden’s adventures chronicled in his book Dragon Lizards of Komodo and wanted his gorilla to fight a giant Komodo dragon.


King Kong concept art.

            Willis O’Brien and Marcel Delgado handled the initial design of the gorilla. Cooper wanted the gorilla to be gorilla-like, but O’Brien wanted to add human-like features to make him more sympathetic to the audience. After several versions were designed, the gorilla eventually took a streamlined version of its natural shape while also retaining some human characteristics, such as walking upright most of the time. Cooper decided to name his creation “Kong,” liking the strong sound the “k” gave it and the mysteriousness it encompassed. While deciding on the title for the film, he wanted it to be simply Kong to focus on the central character. Producer David O. Selznick feared that audiences would mistake the one word-titled film for a docudrama like Cooper had earlier made and added “King” to the title to differentiate it.



            King Kong was written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, and was directed by Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film centered on filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) chartering Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) to take him to Skull Island where he would film his latest picture. There, they encountered the giant Kong and other dinosaurs. Denham captured Kong and brought him back to New York City to put on display. Kong soon escaped, kidnapped Denham’s star, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and took her to the top of the Empire State Building. Kong and the other creatures were created with a combination of stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection and miniatures, as well as large-scale props. 



            The film opened on March 23, 1933 and became a box office success. RKO quickly put a sequel into production. Son of Kong was released that December, again directed by Schoedsack and written by Rose with Armstrong and Reicher reprising their roles. The film was done as more of a comedy, returning Denham and Englehorn to Skull Island where they encounter a smaller, friendlier albino version of Kong. The film was a modest success, making only three times its budget and earning mixed reviews.


Concept art featuring Dr. Frankenstein's giant monster (left).

            In the 1960s, O’Brien had come up with an idea for pitting Kong against a giant version of the Frankenstein Monster. After securing permission from RKO to use Kong, producer John Beck began shopping the idea around for a studio to make it (RKO no longer was a production company by that time). The cost of stop-motion animation kept domestic studios away from the idea, and Beck turned overseas. Around that time, Toho Co., Ltd. was planning a return for their Godzilla character. Always wanting to do a Kong film, Toho purchased the script written by George Worthing Yates and had it rewritten by Shinichi Sekizawa; replacing the Monster with Godzilla. Director Ishiro Honda had toyed with the idea of using stop-motion to emulate the earlier Kong movies, but budgetary concerns had Kong join Godzilla in the realm of rubber suits worn by actors.



            King Kong vs. Godzilla debuted on August 11, 1962 and became the fourth-highest grossing movie in Japan, as well as the largest grossing film in Toho’s Godzilla franchise to date. Beck had retained the rights to produce a version of the film for non-Asian markets and had American actors intercut into the footage to explain the origins of Godzilla and narrate the action, as well as alterations to the original footage. His version of King Kong vs. Godzilla premiered on June 26, 1963 and earned $1.2 million against the $200,000 Universal Pictures paid to release the film. 


King Kong, dinosaur fighter.

            After Rankin/Bass Productions (known at the time as Videocraft International) had created the successful Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, ABC approached them to make a traditionally animated television series for children. Co-founder Arthur Rankin eventually saw that as an opportunity to work on a film property he grew up loving and secured the rights from RKO to make a King Kong cartoon, with the option to make a full-length feature film. With writers Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan (who also provided voices) and Ron Levy, Videocraft centered the series around a friendlier version of Kong that befriended the family of scientist Professor Bond (Cowan) after they had come to explore Mondo Island (sometimes Skull Island). Like the original King Kong, the island was full of dinosaurs, but there were also additional human threats; in particular, the mad scientist Dr. Who (no relation to the British time-traveler, voiced by Paul Soles) bent on world domination and Kong’s destruction. Natural disasters, aliens and the military occasionally played a role to oppose Kong. Returning from the original film was Captain Englehorn (Carl Banas), who was made a friend of the Bond family.



            Each episode consisted of two 6-minute King Kong segments. In between, Videocraft included an original segment: Tom of T.H.U.M.B. Inspired by the story of Tom Thumb, the segment focused on a three-inch tall secret agent named Tom who worked for T.H.U.M.B. (The Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau). He and his equally-tiny Asian sidekick, Swinging Jack, were shrunk by an experimental ray and their division was created so that they could continue to serve their country. They were sent out on missions by their boss, Chief Homer J. Chief, to foil the fiendish plots of the evil organization, M.A.D. (Maladjusted Antisocial and Darn mean). The segment was a spoof on the spy genre.


Dr. Who captures the Bond family.

            The King Kong Show premiered with an hour-long pilot establishing the premise of the series; later broken up into two episodes for reruns. It aired in primetime on ABC on September 6, 1966 before the show made its Saturday debut on September 10. The series was the first to be created in Japan for broadcast in the United States, as all the animation duties were handled by Toei Animation (then Toei Doga). The animation, however, was cruder compared to other anime made at the time. Rod Willis, Paul Coker and Jack Davis handled all the initial character designs, and the music was composed by Maury Laws and Jules Bass. The show aired its last original episode on February 18, 1967 but ran an additional two weeks by splitting the pilot up into two episodes. While ABC didn’t order any additional episodes, it did put the show into syndication and kept it on its schedule well into 1969.


Mechani-Kong strikes!

Toei also put their own money into the show’s production in exchange for the Japanese distribution rights. The pilot aired on Nihon Educational Television Co., LTD (now TV Asahi) on December 31, 1966 as King of the World: The King Kong Show (Sekai-no Osha Kingu Kongu Taikai). The series proper debuted on April 5, 1967 as King Kong and 1/7th Tom Thumb (Kingu Kongu 0001/7 Oyayubi Tomu). 



In the meantime, Rankin had decided to exercise the film option by adapting a concept introduced into the show: Dr. Who’s mechanical copy of Kong, Mechani-Kong. The script was submitted to RKO at the same time that Toho pitched their own Kong film. RKO liked the Videocraft script better, and allowed Toho to make a film based off of it (Toho recycled their rejected script as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster). RKO liked The King Kong Show and asked that Rankin be included to supervise the production as their representative. While it retained Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong, the Bond family was dropped from the story in favor of new characters and retained no continuity with any of the previous films. King Kong Escapes (called Counterattack of King Kong in Japan) was released on July 22, 1967 in Japan and June 19, 1968 in the United States. Paul Frees, one of the Rankin/Bass regulars who worked on The King Kong Show, provided the English dubbing voice for most of the male characters. Although Toho wanted to make another Kong film, their rights to the character expired shortly after the film was released.


Kong on DVD.

In the intervening years, King Kong was remade twice: once by Dino De Laurentiis in 1976 (which updated the climax with the use of the Twin Towers), and the second time by Peter Jackson and Universal in 2005. Another reboot of the franchise came in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island, which exists in a shared universe with Legendary PicturesGodzilla. As part of the promotional campaign for the Jackson film, Sony Wonder released 8 episodes of The King Kong Show across two DVDs in their entirety. In most cases, the episodes also contained their respective commercial bumpers. The pilot episode was also included, broken up in its two-episode version across both sets. 



EPISODE GUIDE:
“King Kong” (9/6/66) – The Bond family discovers Kong on Mondo Island and brings him back to the US for study, which ends up putting him in trouble with the military.
Split into the episodes “A Friend in Need” and “The Key to the City” in syndication.
 
“Under the Volcano / For the Last Time, Feller...I'm not Bait! / The Treasure Trap” (9/10/66) – The Bond family is captured while investigating a dormant volcano. / Tom and Jack recover top secret plans from a sunken ship. / An earthquake traps Bobby underwater as he explores a sunken ship.
 
“The Horror of Mondo Island / Hey, that was a Close One World! / Dr. Who” (9/17/66) – Bobby dresses up Kong to scare off a mining corporation looking for a rare metal. / Tom and Jack have to disarm a MAD doomsday weapon. / An evil scientist kidnaps Kong.
 
“Rocket Island / I was a 9 12 oz. Weakling Till One Day... / The African Bees” (9/24/66) – Dr. Who disrupts a capsule launch in order to hold the US ransom. / MAD puts Tom and Jack in a miniature city. / Kong must protect Professor Bond and a millionaire from a swarm of bees.
 
“The Hunter / I Was a Starling for the USA! / The Space Men” (10/1/66) – A safari hunter uses Bobby as bait to trap Kong. / Tom and Jack infiltrate a flock of birds to learn which of them are MAD agents. / Aliens land on the island to collect specimens before they invade.
 
“The Jinx of the Sphinx / Cool Nerves and... Steady Hands / The Greeneyed Monster” (10/8/66) – The Bonds and Kong travel to Egypt to investigate Sphinx attacks. / Tom and Jack have to diffuse a public pool filled with nitroglycerine. / Kong gets jealous when Bobby takes care of Englehorn’s dog.
 
“The Top of the World / All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps / The Golden Temple” (10/15/66) – Dr. Who heads to Alaska in order to melt the ice and cause the tides to rise. / Tom and Jack must befriend an alien before he can join MAD. / Professor Bond is sucked into a whirlpool while investigating a sunken temple.
 
“The Electric Circle / Mechanical Granma / Mirror of Destruction” (10/22/66) – A scientist decides to make the island a nuclear missile base for his country. / Tom and Jack use a mechanical grandma to infiltrate MAD. / Dr. Who steals a heat device in order to kill Kong.
 
“Tiger Tiger / The Day We Almost Had It / The Vise of Dr. Who” (10/29/66) – Professor Bond accidentally revives two frozen sabretooth tigers. / Tom gets amnesia after disarming a bomb. / Dr. Who lures the Bonds and Englehorn into a trash compactor trap.
 
“King Kong's House / Tom Makes History / MechaniKong” (11/5/66) – A hunt for fossils traps Professor Bond and Bobby in a cave with a tyrannosaurus rex. / Tom and Jack time travel to save George Washington. / Dr. Who creates a robotic duplicate of Kong and unleashes it on New Guinea.
 
“The Giant Sloths / Tom Scores Again / The Legend of Loch Ness” (11/12/66) – Kong faces off against a pair of giant sloths. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / The Bond family takes Kong to Scotland to investigate the Lock Ness Monster.
 
“Dr. Bone / Blow, Jack, Blow! / No Man's Snowman” (11/19/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Desert Pirates / Tom and the TV Pirates / Command Performance” (11/26/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Sea Surrounds Us / The Girl from M.A.D. / Show Biz” (12/3/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Wizard of Overlord / Just One of those Nights / Perilous Porpoise” (12/10/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Trojan Horse / Runt of 1,000 Faces / The Man from K.O.N.G.” (12/17/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Caribbean Cruise / Hello, Dollies! / Diver's Dilemma” (12/24/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Great Sun Spots / Pardner / Kong is Missing” (12/31/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“In the Land of the Giant Trees / Beans is Beans / Captain Kong” (1/7/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Statue of Liberty Play / What Goes Up... / Pandora's Box” (1/14/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Thousand Year Knockout / Our Man, the Monster / Desert City” (1/21/67) – A trip to France puts Kong against a reanimated gargoyle. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.  / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Eagle Squadron / Never Trust a Clam / The Kong of Stone” (1/28/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Murderer's Maze / Drop that Ocean, Feller / The Great Gold Strike” (2/4/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“It Wasn't There Again Today / Plug that Leak / The Mad Whale” (2/11/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The King Kong Diamond / The Scooby / Anchors Away” (2/18/67) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

REVIEW: SABAN'S POWER RANGERS



Director: Dean Israelite


            Saban’s long-running Power Rangers franchise joins the ever-growing list of Hollywood reboot mania with the franchise’s first theatrical film in 20 years.

The original Power Rangers.

            The series began in 1993 as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The series utilized footage from the continuing Japanese Super Sentai series interspliced with new footage starring an American cast and became a worldwide phenomenon. The series focused on five “teenagers with attitude” selected by a being named Zordon to utilize Power Coins to turn them into Power Rangers. As Rangers, they defend the Earth from evil space witch Rita Repulsa and her minions as they try to either destroy or conquer it, depending on her mood.

Cyler, Scott, Lin, Montgomery and G.
            The film is a more serious take on the familiar story. It still centers on five teenagers from the city of Angel Grove—disgraced football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery); autistic genius Billy (RJ Cyler); formerly popular cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott); self-proclaimed crazy Zack (Ludi Lin); and private loner Trini (Becky G.)—discovering Power Coins left by Zordon (Bryan Cranston, who actually worked on the original series) for the next chosen group of Power Rangers to be found (although the choosing aspect of that is debatable). However, their newfound powers and identity come with a catch: the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), once defeated by Zordon, has returned and they have only days to stop her from destroying the Earth; starting with Angel Grove. Fans of the series will be happy to know all the elements are present: Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), the Power Coins (which looked more like encrusted gems but were still called “coins”), the suits, the Zords, the Mega Zord, and the giant monster fight.

Jason holding a Power "Coin".

            As far as “teenagers with attitude” go, these kids have that in spades (except maybe for Billy, who doesn’t quite have the chip on his shoulder as the others do despite his own hard-luck story). Even Zordon isn’t above a ride on the ‘tude train, as he’s presented as less of a mentor than his TV counterpart and more as someone who doesn’t really like kids but is forced to deal with them. One place the story is lacking, however, is in character development. Jason gets the most focus in the story, with Billy a close second. We’re told Kimberly became a “mean girl” when she betrayed a friend’s trust, but the designation isn’t really given a satisfactory justification beyond the ambiguous offense. Zack and Trini’s characters get the least development (and a lack of last names, neither ever once uttered on camera unlike the other three). It’s eventually revealed that a sick mother drives Zack to spend times skipping school and acting out. Trini’s backstory is shown only in a singular quick scene of awkward family interaction, and a later attempt at context fails to adequately explain what it was we were seeing.

Banks as Rita Repulsa.

            The one who benefitted most from the movie’s changes was Alpha 5. While many weren’t happy with his design when it was first revealed, the character has become a bit more competent and less annoying. They did manage to work in at least one instance of the trademarked declaration “ay yi yi yi!”, but it made sense when it happened (and was just one of many Easter eggs peppered throughout the film for longtime Rangers fans). He still served as the film’s primary comic relief, but the comedic moments throughout the film were relatively subdued (while some moments just fell purely flat). Rita and her Putties were made to be a bit more menacing than their TV counterparts; with Rita’s early appearances in Angel Grove verging on satisfactorily terrifying. And fans who guessed the story behind Rita’s design ended up being correct in their assessment, which could play nicely into future films.

The new Ranger suits.

            As for the story itself, overall it was entertaining enough to keep a viewer interested. Despite the flaws in their characterizations, the actors themselves managed to carry the story—and they had to. Those expecting a lot of action are bound to be disappointed as they spend a good portion of the movie not being Power Rangers. Yes, this is another one of those “superhero origin stories” that spends most of its time world building and doesn’t get to the nitty gritty until the final act.

Rita and her army of Putties.

The final act also ends up being the weakest of the film. The tone of things becomes comparatively lighter to all the teenage angst we had been subjected to thus far. Rita, who was building up to be a genuine threat, left too many opportunities for the Rangers to get the upper hand on her. The Rangers, who spent a good portion of the film learning how to fight without their Zords, are thrown into battle with them and clunkily work their way into the fight without even the least bit of guidance from Zordon or Alpha 5, who had been training them. The film was also littered with those convenient and cliched contrivances often found in these types of movies: the main characters all end up in the same place at the right time, instant knowledge on how things work, someone important to a character ends up stupidly in need of rescue, etc. The CGI, however, was well done as was the stunt work, and the fights were decent, though brief and too few.

Superhero landing!

Overall, Saban’s Power Rangers is one of the better reboot efforts to come through in a sea of reboots that barely resemble or make fun of their source material. Power Rangers satisfactorily takes the over-the-top Japanese elements that made the original show a comedy and grounds them in reality to give us a more serious attempt at the franchise. While the plot is littered with clich├ęs and contrivances to help the story move forward, and is decidedly sparse on important character development and Rangers action, it does present an interesting story that will keep audiences engaged. There are actually some moments which makes it hard to believe they consider this to be a family film, but it never goes as dark as the 2015 short film by Joseph Kahn. Fans of the franchise should come away satisfied enough to look forward to future installments (set up in a mid-credits scene, so stick around), which have a decent enough base to improve upon here.


RATING: 3 out of 5 Zords. A decent start to a new franchise that isn’t much deeper than a typical popcorn flick, but should be found enjoyable by most audiences. 

March 19, 2017

BERNIE WRIGHTSON DEAD AT 68



You can read the full story here.

Wrightson was an artist and the co-creator of DC Comics' Swamp Thing, who later had his own brief animated series. Wrightson had just announced his retirement from art due to health issues not long before his untimely death.

March 18, 2017

DESPICABLE ME CEREAL

DESPICABLE ME MINIONS MADE CEREAL

Kellogg’s


            After two successful movies and a spin-off, a third was inevitable. Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment announced Despicable Me 3 in 2013 and set out on production for a 2017 release. The film follows reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) as he encounters a former child star-turned-villain and his long-lost charming, cheerful and more successful twin brother, Dru (also Carell).




            As part of the promotional marketing campaign for the film, Kellogg’s licensed the rights to the characters to produce the second Despicable Me-themed cereal: Despicable Me Minions Made Cereal. Interestingly enough, the first was made by General Mills in promotion of the then-upcoming Minions spin-off film. Like that cereal, this one also focused on the Minions (primarily voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin); the popular diminutive servants of Gru. The cereal featured squared cereal pieces flavored with vanilla and a hint of brown sugar, as well as marshmallows in the shape of Minions, bananas and oranges (their food of choice being fruit). The boxes feature various arrangements of the primary Minions—Bob, Stuart and Kevin—as well as games and comic strips on the back.




MINIONS CEREAL

MINIONS CEREAL

General Mills


            In 2010, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment released what would become the first film in a franchise: Despicable Me. The movie centered on supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) who adopted three girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), as a means to further his own sinister plans against rival villain, Vector (Jason Segel). But, when Vector kidnapped the girls, Gru had grown to realize he genuinely cared for them and set out to rescue them.  While the sequel, Despicable Me 2, would continue the adventures of Gru and his new family, there was no doubt that the breakout stars of the film were Gru’s little yellow minions—known as Minions (primarily voiced by Pierre Coffin, who also co-directed the films).


            The Minions are smaller than humans, have one or two eyes, and primarily wear goggles, overalls, boots and gloves. They speak in nonsensical “Minionese,” derived from Bahasa Indonesia, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Hindi, and serve only to serve someone else. Serving as the primary comic relief of the Despicable Me films, the Minions became the mascots for the franchise; used in promotions, merchandise, commercials and more. In 2015, the Minions got their own movie, Minions, which showcased their lives just before they met Gru.

Road trip!


            As part of the promotional tie-in to the film, General Mills acquired the license to produce a limited-edition cereal based on the characters. Minions Cereal was a banana berry flavored cereal comprised of square pieces with images of the primary Minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob (who were also featured on the box), stamped onto them (although, the stamps didn’t always come through clearly). The flavoring, while could be said to have been partially selected due to the Minions’ coloring, actually fit the characters’ love of fruits. While other General Mills cereals featured free Minion toys, Minions Cereal itself had no premiums. Instead, it came with a “spot the difference” game on the back of the box showing two images of the Minions in New York City.