Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Real Ghostbusters: "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis"

                  

Premiered November 2, 1987.  

It's the day before Thanksgiving in New York City.  At their headquarters, the Ghostbusters are cleaning their Ecto-1 car so it'll look good when they drive it in in New York's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Peter Venkman (Lorenzo Music) is looking forward to the parade, since he thinks it'll be a great place for him to meet women.  


Later that evening, a work crew at a warehouse is rushing to finish a balloon in time for the parade.  They're being supervised by Anne Lawson (Amy Hill), one of the organizers of the parade.  It's a balloon of Murray The Mantis, star of a cartoon series where he protected a garden from bad guy bugs.  Anne is glad the balloon will be ready, but she gets a bit unnerved when she learns the warehouse used to be a morgue.  


At the parade, Egon (Maurice LaMarche) and Ray (Frank Welker) are excited to see the Murray balloon, since they're big fans of the cartoon.  Venkman, on the hand, has never heard of Murray or his show.  


The parade is going well until suddenly, the Murray balloon turns into an actual giant Praying Mantis!


It wrecks the parade and sends spectators fleeing in terror.  The Ghostbusters snap into action and attack the big bug.  Ann informs them the Murray balloon was made in a building that was once a morgue.  Ray figures that the balloon must have picked up "death force energy" from the old morgue, which made it come to life.  



After chasing the mantis to Central Park, the Ghostbusters realize they won't be able to defeat Murray by themselves.  Winston Zeddemore (Arsenio Hall) says if they want to take down Murray, they'll need help from "the Big Guy "- The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!  The Ghostbusters stopped Stay Puft from destroying New York (as seen in the Ghostbusters movie) and he's been held captive in their containment unit ever since.  


If they release Stay Puft, he might be able to help them beat Murray.  However, there's also a possibility that he could destroy the city.  Is it worth the risk?  

Will Murray The Mantis ruin Thanksgiving?

J.A. Morris says:

This is a solid Thanksgiving episode of a good 1980s cartoon.  In earlier reviews, we/ve talked about how the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is just a big as part of Thanksgiving Day as turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberries.  "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis" puts its entire focus on the parade and we don't get the usual Thanksgiving tropes like culinary disasters or annoying relatives.  


The story here is pretty basic Ghostbusters stuff.  A parade balloon comes to life, animated by "death energy" and the Ghostbusters jump into action to stop it.  The addition of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man makes the episode feel more connected with the original theatrical film, something you can't say about every episode.  Slimer, another ghost who appeared in the movie also helps them control Stay Puft.  


When I was a kid, there always seemed to be balloons that featured characters who had fallen into obscurity and my only point of reference for them was the Macy's parade.  Linus The Lion Hearted is a good example.  I believe Murray is meant to represent cartoon characters who have faded from public memory, since Peter Venkman has never heard of Murray or his old cartoon.  


The Real Ghostbusters featured a great voice cast and they all do fine work here, even if they don't sound much like their movie counterparts.  Frank Welker does double-duty as Ray Stantz and Slimer


If I had any problems with "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis," it's that the series' low budget undermines the story, especially its action scenes.  The episode features a fight between Murray and Stay Puft, two giant monstrous characters.  However, we don't really ever see both characters in the same shot.   The closest we get to seeing Murray and Stay Puft onscreen simultaneously is when Ray watches them through his binoculars.  I understand it's a cheap cartoon from more than 30 years ago, but it's still disappointing.   


"The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis" is an enjoyable tribute to the Macy's parade that features likeable characters, fun action scenes and great voice-acting.  It's recommended to all fans of the parade and especially recommended to Ghostbusters fans.

J.A. Morris' rating:








3 pumpkin pies.


RigbyMel says:

I remember watching a fair bit of The Real Ghostbusters back in the mists of the 1980s, partly because my youngest brother was really into the show, but I have no memory at all of seeing this Thanksgiving themed episode until checking it out in recent years.  


The action essentially boils down to the Thanksgiving day parade being interrupted by a kaiju battle between the possessed Murray The Mantis balloon and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  High concept!


I like the balloon/kaiju mayhem idea very much but, as J.A. Morris points out above, I do feel that the low-rent animation makes the overall impact a bit...underwhelming.  


Still, "The Revenge of Murray The Mantis" is enjoyable enough to appeal to Thanksgiving day parade and Ghostbusters fans alike, even if it's not a "classic."

RigbyMel's rating:









2 and a half pumpkin pies.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Book of Life


Premiered October 17, 2014.

In the small Mexican town of San Angel, three childhood best friends musically inclined Manolo, free spirited Maria and aspiring hero Joaquin have adventures and get into mischief on the Day of the Dead.  There are also the stirrings of a love triangle as Joaquin and Manolo compete for Maria's attention. 


They are observed by two gods La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who rules the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten.  


The two supernatural beings decide to make a wager over which of the two young men will eventually marry Maria.  La Muerte backs the kind-hearted Manolo, while Xibalba prefers the bold Joaquin.  If Manolo wins Maria's hand,  Xibalba agrees to stop interfering in the lives of mortals, but if she marries Joaquin, La Muerte will have to swap realms with Xibalba.    Xibalba decides to cheat a bit and secretly provides Joaquin the Medal of Everlasting Life which grants invincibility to its owner. 


After an incident where the children cause mayhem by freeing animals destined for slaughter,  Maria's father General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui) decides to send her to Spain to be educated.   


Several years pass and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) has grown up to become a military hero (with aid from Xibalba's gift).  


Meanwhile Manolo (Diego Luna) has trained to follow in his family tradition and become a bullfighter.  He would much rather follow his musical aspirations, but his father Carlos (Hector Elizondo) disapproves.  


Maria (Zoe Saldana) has returned from Spain a well educated and accomplished young woman. She arrives back in San Angel just in time to see Manolo's first bullfight.  Manolo defeats the bull, but refuses to kill it, infuriating his father and impressing Maria.    


However, Maria's father pressures her to marry Joaquin in order to ensure that San Angel is protected from the bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro).   


Both Manolo and Joaquin compete for Maria's affections, but it seems that she and Manolo are destined to be together.  


As the young couple profess their love (on the Day of the Dead),  Xibalba - not wanting to lose his bet - sends a  two headed snake to bite Maria, apparently killing her!  


Manolo is devastated by Maria's apparent death and allows Xibalba's snake to bite him twice, in the belief that he will be reunited with his love in death.   


Manolo finds himself in the Land of the Remembered where he is reunited with his deceased mother and many other relatives but Maria is nowhere to be found!    


They travel to La Muerte's palace, but encounter Xibalba - who smugly explains that he won the bet with La Muerte and reveals that Maria did NOT die from the snake bite (she was only bitten once, but Manolo was bitten twice).      


Manolo must journey through multiple realms where he encounters the Candle Maker (Ice Cube) and La Muerte.  In order to have a chance at being restored to life, he will have to face Xibalba's trickery as well as his greatest fears.  


Back in the mortal world, Maria and Joaquin are about to be married when the ceremony is interrupted by the Bandit Chakal and his thugs.  Chakal is seeking the Medal of Everlasting Life for himself and is willing to destroy the whole town to get it. 


Will Manolo succeed in his quest through the afterlife?  Will the citizens of San Angel save their town from destruction?   Will La Muerte learn of Xibalba's interference with their bet?   


RigbyMel says: 

Being a big fan of animation and of movies having to do with holidays,  I went to see The Book of Life in first run with my esteemed co-blogger.   We enjoyed it then and continue to enjoy it. 


The movie serves as a lovely way to teach children -- and adults -- about the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.   


The idea of teaching and learning also manifests in the film's framing device which involves a museum docent (voiced by Christina Applegate) telling the story to some mildly delinquent kids who are on a field trip. 


The movie also happens to be quite visually stunning with a saturated color palate and nods to Mexican folk art and Dia de los Muertos imagery


The characters are stylized to look like wooden puppets and a few even bear a resemblance to Picasso's cubist paintings.  


I also quite like that the female characters are strong and capable and there to push the action along rather than just needing to be rescued all the time.   Maria is fiercely independent, an animal rights activist, and skilled at both word and sword play.   La Muerte is a badass anthropomorphic personification of death and her wager is most definitely an inciting incident. 


My only real complaint involves the interpolation of pop songs into the early 20th century setting of the main story, which I found a bit irritating.    That being said,  yay for Diego Luna doing his own singing in the film.   


Overall, The Book of Life tells an engaging story and works well as a gateway to learning more about the Day of the Dead as well as aspects of Mexican culture in general.   It's worth watching if you are a fan of holiday films and gorgeous animation. 

RigbyMel's rating: 







.5


3.5 sugar skulls 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Muppets Haunted Mansion


Premiered October 8, 2021.

One hundred years ago, on All Hallows' Eve, the a magician known as the Great MacGuffin disappeared in a haunted mansion.  In the present day, on Halloween night, Gonzo The Great (Dave Goelz) and his friend Pepe the King Prawn (Bill Barretta) are participating in a fear challenge in the very same mansion, which is believed to be the most haunted mansion in the world.  Gonzo is especially excited about this, since MacGuffin is his favorite magician.  Pepe is along for the ride because he believes the mansion will be filled with partying celebrities.

At the same time, their friends Kermit the frog (Matt Vogel) and Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) are hosting the Muppets' annual costume party.  They're disappointed Gonzo and Pepe won't be attending. 

Upon arrival at the mansion, Pepe and Gonzo are greeted by the caretaker (Darren Criss) and several ghosts. 

Inside, they meet their "Ghost Host" (Will Arnett), who gives them a tour of the mansion and explains the terms of the challenge: Inside the mansion's walls, they must face all their fears bravely.  Pepe and Gonzo must stay in the mansion all night but if they fail to do so, they will be trapped inside forever!  The host says the house is filled with spirits that will respond to their "sympathetic vibrations."  

Throughout the evening, they will encounter lots of interesting characters, including:

Madam Pigota, the spirit of a psychic medium who speaks in rhymes.  She gives clues to Gonzo and Pepe that may help them find a way out of the mansion.

Gauzey the Hat Box Bear (Eric Jacobson), a comedian who performs at the mansion's vaudeville show.

Constance Hathaway (Taraji P. Henson), who tells Pepe she wants to marry him. 

And John Stamos


Unbeknownst to Pepe, Constance has killed all five of her previous husbands and their ghosts are now stuck in the mansion.  She plans to kill Pepe after marrying him.  Gonzo figures this out and tries to intervene.

However, Gonzo has his own problems.  The ghost host informs him that if he wants to survive the night, he must go to room 999.  Inside that room, Gonzo must face his greatest fear.

Will Gonzo and Pepe make it through the night?  Or will they be trapped in the Haunted Mansion forever?

J.A. Morris says: 

Since the Jim Henson's death, the Muppets haven't always been handled well.  Muppet movies and TV have been very inconsistent in recent decades.  What Henson and his collaborators understood was that Muppets programming needed a combination of child-like sentiment and a little bit of edgy humor.  I'm happy to report that Muppets Haunted Mansion reminds me a lot of the humor of The Muppet Show and the early Muppets films.  

Gonzo and Pepe get the spotlight here, instead of usual "leads" like Kermit or Miss Piggy.  Dave Goelz (of the the original Muppeteers) and Bill Barretta do a nice job carrying the special.  All the other Muppet performs are good as well, especially puppeteers who play the Electric Mayhem band.  Their performance of "Dancing In The Moonlight" is a nice moment.  

The human actors in Muppets Haunted Mansion are also entertaining.  Will Arnett brings just enough spookiness and mystery as the mansion's ghost host.  Taraji P. Henson is great as the murderous Constance Hathaway.  Most of Henson's scenes feature her interacting with Pepe.  It takes a lot of talent to believably interact with a king prawn.  

Lots of famous actors make cameo appearances as ghosts.  I don't have the time or space here to name of all of them, but it's worth noting that the late Ed Asner plays one of the ghosts.  It's one of his final roles and it was nice to see him here

The only problem I had with Muppets Haunted Mansion was the performance of the song "Grim, Grinning Ghosts," a song that originated at Disney's Haunted Mansion theme park attraction.  It's one of the best original songs written for their parks. 


I didn't have a problem with Darren Criss' performance of the song, I just thought "Grim, Grinning Ghosts" deserved a bigger number than what we get here.  The special's major production number is reserved for the original song "Life Hereafter," which I also enjoyed.  


I enjoyed Muppets Haunted Mansion more than any recent Muppet production and I hope it's the start of a new "golden age" of Muppets film and TV.  It's highly recommended to fans of Muppets fans of every age and it's something I figure I'll watch often around Halloween in the future.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns!


RigbyMel says:

Having a nostalgic affection for both the Muppets AND Disney's celebrated Haunted Mansion dark ride, I was quite intrigued when this Muppets special was announced for Disney+.   I was also a little bit nervous about it because, as J.A. Morris points out above, post-Henson Muppets output has been on the uneven side.  


It turns out that this new special contains enough Muppet mayhem and Haunted Mansion spookiness to make my nostalgic heart very happy indeed. 


Not only was the story fun, but there were all kinds of cool little Easter eggs (Halloween treats?) sprinkled throughout.   


For instance, we see Mah Na Mah Na candelabra in the stretching room near the beginning of Gonzo and Pepe's adventure. 


When Statler and Waldorf show up, they heckle the proceedings from a "Doom Buggy" - the mode of transit park guests take during the actual Haunted Mansion dark ride


There are also appearances by some pretty old school Muppets like Wayne and Wanda.   


Plus the "casting" of the Muppets in various ghostly Haunted Mansion roles was pretty darned inspired -- and we even get non-sequitur screaming goats thrown into the mix for good measure!


It is quite evident from all the clever meta-humor and an optimal balance of spooky and funny that the writers (Bill Barretta, Kirk R. Thatcher, and Kelly Younger) love the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion and they've done a great job of bringing the spirit of Jim Henson and his creations to the screen in this special. 
 

Muppets Haunted Mansion is the Muppets/Halloween/Haunted Mansion (monster?) mash-up we didn't know we needed and is recommended viewing for Muppet fans and Haunted Mansion fans of all ages. 


RigbyMel's rating: 


4 jack o'lanterns!