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HEY...WHERE'S PERRY? HE'S ON THIS NEW DVD
Blog, TV
Posted on Jun 21 2012 by Greg
If you've never watched, the Disney Channel animated hit Phineas and Ferb, you're missing some inspired cartoon fun, expertly dished up. Speaking analytically, each half hour show generally consists of two story self-contained segments, each with two or more original (and very eclectic) songs.

Each segment has at least three story angles: brothers Phineas and Ferb come up with a very elaborate idea/enterprise/invention and their sister, Candace, is the "Mrs. Kravitz" who tries to expose them, while at the same time their pet playtpus, Perry, gets a mission to save the world in his secret identity as "Agent P" to thwart evil but feeble Dr. Hans Doofensmirtz's plan to conquer the world (and/or the tri-state area).

That's a lot to get into a short cartoon, but with the kind of wit, savvy and pacing that made Rocky and Bullwinkle a classic, the creative team does it amazingly well -- tying the subplots together in either cleverly surprising or knowingly coincidental way.

The new DVD, The Perry Files, is a collection of seven show episodes -- so fourteen individual cartoons in all -- that best showcase the adventures of Agent P. My favorite is called "Misperceived Monotreme," which is highlighted by a Yellow Submarine-like surreal sequence with more inventive touches than some TV shows have in an entire season.

I would have liked another fun documentary or a commentary in the bonus features, but there is a nice "Tour Inside the Playbus" and a collection of clips called "Nerves of Teal."



Inside the DVD package is a neat little "Activity Pack" containing character stickers with a background scene, a postcard, a "find the clues" card, mood magnets and even a 48-piece mini jigsaw puzzle! There's also a digital copy so you can watch on your mobile device.







DICK BEALS MEETING MORE "ANGELS"
Blog, TV, Records
Posted on Jun 01 2012 by Greg
Tim Hollis and I met Dick Beals several years ago at a Lum and Abner convention in Arkansas, which featured a radio show reenactment in which he did his famous Speedy voice.

We share his loss with his friends, family and the many fans of his enormous body of voice work for commercials, cartoons and records -- for us, it was especially records.

Dick wrote a book called "Think Big" in which he chronicles his attitude to life and career, and the various "angels" who always seemed to come along to help him when he needed it. Dick was a little person who loved sports perhaps more than anything else, and was proud to call games for his college.

He was low-key and formal, yet very open to answer questions. I asked him about a particularly disturbing Suspense radio show in which he played a person who stayed a child throughout his life. He said he just took a script and did the work and didn't think about it. Professionalism was tantamount to him.



Like many boomers, I also grew up with his voice work on Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but particularly the HBR records: "Pixie & Dixie and Mr Jinks Tell the Story of Cinderella," "Winsome Witch in It's Magic," "Doggie Daddy Tells Augie Doggie the Story of Pinocchio," "The Story of GI Joe" and especially as the singing voice of Jack in "Jack and the Beanstalk" with Gene Kelly.

Recalling Jack and the Beanstalk, the 1967 Hanna-Barbera live action/animated TV special, he wrote that, even though young Bobby Riha sang the Cahn/Van Heusen songs for the capably, it was decided that Dick could sing them better and he looped them after the filming. Riha's stage mother was apparently incensed when Dick went public with that fact, since she was marketing her son as a triple-threat performer. He also wrote that he did initial voice work for Peanuts animation and no one realized he was adult, but when it was discovered, Charles Schulz insisted that the actors be children, nonetheless.

Dick also did a lot of work for Disney, including stints as Chip and/or Dale and Donald's nephews for records and cartoons.

If the voice of Dick Beals brings back memories for you, look for a multi-CD set called Peter Absolute on the Erie Canal in which he plays the lead.









YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS ANOTHER "AVENGERS"
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on May 06 2012 by Greg
Saw Marvel's The Avengers over the weekend and don't have to even look at the box office -- if it's not #1, it will be very surprising. The whole family enjoyed it thorougly, especially since we've been watching how the other recent Marvel films weave the storylines together. (Don't miss the very last scene after the end credits!)



But as every baby boomer knows, there was another Avengers. It was the only imported TV series to ever become a major primetime hit without being recrafted for American TV (like, say, The Office or All in the Family). The British producers of The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, made the show specifically to appeal U.S. audiences by presenting an England that Americans imagined, from James Bondian fantasy/adventure to dotty eccentrics, quaint villages and sweeping countrysides.

This version of the TV show was actually the third version. The first was a live crime drama starring Ian Hendry as a crimefighting doctor with Macnee in a more mysterious incarnation of secret agent John Steed. Hendry left the show to pursue movies and instead of replacing him with another man, the producers created a landmark icon by bringing in Honor Blackman as a strong, feminine crimefighting sidekick for Steed.



If that kind of female character seems commonplace today, that's because it was done many times since then. But The Avengers did it first. Even ABC's Honey West was the result of a American TV bigwig seeing the British series and doing an American "tribute" to it a year before it hit the states.

Honey West lasted a season. The following year, Britain's shiny, colorful Avengers came across the pond and was a sensation -- and a breakout for Blackman's replacement (she had gone into movies, too).

Diana Rigg was -- and still is -- a Shakespearean actor of extraordinary talent and astonishing beauty. Every actor who's donned a catsuit since Dame Diana owes her a curtsey. Some of these performers have done quite well (including, I must say, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow).



Some don't quite reach the heights of Ms. Rigg as the unforgettable Emma Peel. And I don't mean to slight her successors: I adore the wonderful Linda Thorson (who is too often unappreciated) and the infinitely versatile Joanna Lumley (who had a hit series of her own with Absolutely Fabulous).

The Avengers was also made into a movie. Although there were plans to film a feature with Rigg and Macnee, it never happened, but an unsuccessful film with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes came and went in 1988.

There's room in this world for two Avengers and we're all the more fortunate to enjoy both.

But of course, there's only one Steed.







PETER PAN RETURNS TO THE DVD SCREEN
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 12 2012 by Greg
Jake and the Never Land Pirates combines a tot's-eye-view of make believe pirate games (where pirates have pop music dances and tea parties) with the Peter Pan setting -- plus a morsel of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, a dash of Dora and the coins of Mario Bros.

What is doesn't always have is Peter himself, except in this "feature" special now on DVD (actually a hour long episode) in which he does appear and the gang help him regain his gift of flight and happy thoughts. (Fans of Walt Disney's original 1953 Peter Pan might get a kick out of his reverse angle song, "I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly, I Can't Fly."

Adam Wylie, who costarred as a child on Picket Fences and has become a veteran of stage, TV and voice acting (as well as a magician at Disneyland), voices Peter with a good feel for Bobby Driscoll's performance. The show really doesn't try to recapture the film, but instead take a colorful preschool approach, with simple characters designs and lots of peppy songs. There's even a live-action pair of singing pirates in each episode (similar to what Filmation did back in the early '70s with The Hardy Boys).

The breakout star of every show is Captain Hook, played brilliantly by Corey Burton completely for comedy and minus the menace. To keep true to the source material, Hook, Smee and his crew are never familiar with the more contemporary materials that Jake and company enjoy, calling anything modern a "thingy" or some such. Scooby Doo fans take note: more than once, Hook refers to the young pirates as "meddling swabs."



The DVD is generously supplied with other episodes in addition to "Peter Returns" with ten additional segments, or the equivalent of five half hour shows -- including one featuring Hook's mother, voiced by Sharon Osbourne!







"OH, YES IT'S TRUE. IT'S TERRIBLY TRUE. ENGLAND DOES SWING LIKE A PENDULUM DO."
Blog, TV, Records
Posted on Feb 29 2012 by Greg
That's one of the strange but funny lines spoken by Davy Jones on the iconic '60s series The Monkees, a show which completely fabricated a pop band for TV yet ironically, in catching the lightning in a bottle, launched a real, albeit dysfunctional, pop legend.

One fourth of that lightning, perhaps the most assured and polished one -- aka the "cute one" -- was Davy, the Manchester-born song-and-dance man who, according to several accounts, would "do forty-five minutes if the refrigerator light went on."

Already a contract actor/singer with Columbia Pictures (he released his own album on the Colpix label before The Monkees), Davy was the first signed for the series. Another experienced young actor (and emerging singer), Micky Dolenz, was combined with musician/composers Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. With some improv training and backed by Don Kirshner's dream-team of music writers and producers (including Neil Diamond, Carole King, Harry Nilsson and other icons), The Monkees burned up the music charts and the TV ratings right out of the gate.

In about a year, the eager young performers rebelled against Kirshner, asserted themselves as a genuine group and became one -- almost following a Beatles-like rise and fallout about half the time. Their albums went from hook-driven solid gold to eclectic, experimental head-scratching curios, but always fascinating and beguiling. Their sole movie, the free-form Head (co-written by Jack Nicholson), literally featured the "pre-fab four" leaping off a bridge to a suicidal end, symbolically drawing a curtain over the original group as it was first concocted.

But Davy Jones remained the most accessible in the ensuing years, from appearances on The Brady Bunch to in-jokes on Spongebob Squarepants. He'd always be one of whatever three or sometimes four Monkees who reunited. He wrote his biography and kept recording albums for his own label, many of which are found on his website.

I was privileged to interview Davy for various Disney Parks articles, as he was an annual fixture performer at the Flower Power Concert Series at Epcot (he was scheduled to appear this May). He was a wonderful talker, his mind moving so rapidly that his thoughts would overlap. The Epcot audience adored him and the feeling was mutual, not only during performances, but for autograph sessions at The American Adventure. Much what he told me wasn't just about himself and performing, but about his wife and his daughters.

The Monkees TV show, like the original TV Batman, still holds up astonishingly well, for sheer, fearless, brash lunacy. Even though The Monkees' show owed much to Richard Lester's Beatle films, watching a show every week, or every day in syndication, is different than watching movies, especially when you also have records to listen to between broadcasts. That was life as a kid in the mid-sixties. My friends and I sat around and listened to Monkee records, watched the show, collected Monkee bubble gum cards and so on.

Seeing them in concert for the first time in 1986 was like seeing the cast of Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie live on stage. And the songs held up a hundred times better than the show.

Davy soloed on several of the biggest hits, particularly Valleri and Daydream Believer. These and other Monkee songs have been remade by other performers, and likely will last so long that few will even realize there was a "pre-fab four" that struggled for an artistic level and peer respect that always seemed a little out of their reach. But that didn't matter to the public, who love them and always well.

Davy's career, of course, encompassed more than The Monkees (his TV appearance as Broadway's Artful Dodger in Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show occurred, surprisingly, on the same night that The Beatles performed). But to most of us, he'll be the one who, when asked to stand up, would say "I am standing up" as a running Monkees gag. He never seemed to mind poking fun at himself or looking silly, as long as he was entertaining.

Somewhere up above, a refrigerator light has just lit up.












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