Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yankee Doodle Cricket

"It wouldn't sound quite right would it? A cat, a mouse and a cricket started the revolutionary war."
-Harry the cat

Premiered January 16, 1975 on ABC.

Yankee Doodle Cricket is the third special in a trilogy produced by Chuck Jones starring Chester Cricket (voiced by Les Tremayne) & friends that began with A Cricket In Times Square. We reviewed the second special, A Very Merry Cricket, here.

We open with Tucker the mouse (voiced by Mel Blanc) discovering that the Declaration of Independence was co-written by a mouse. He goes to tell his friend Harry the cat (also Tremayne) about this and we flash back to 1775.

Tucker's ancestor writes the 'Declaration of Interdependence between cats and dogs', which brings peace between cats and dogs. It states "all cats and mice are created equal". He runs it over to his friend Harry (an ancestor of his friend Harry) to sign it on behalf of cats. On his way to Harry's house, he almost runs over a snake. The snake tells Harry "don't tread on me", which gives Tucker the idea to create the Gadsden flag.

It turns out Harry is Thomas Jefferson's cat. Jefferson is working on the Declaration and having trouble with the ending.  He tries out several phrases "Speak softly and carry a big stick", "Two chickens in every pot","54-40 or fight"-all famous political slogans from another time.  He is helped by Tucker (or an ancestor of Tucker?).  Tucker emerges from his mouse hole to help Jefferson come up with "We hold these truths to be self evident...".  Jefferson steps away for a break, when Tucker arrives and shows Harry his 'Declaration'. Harry is impressed with ending, which says "we hold these truths to be self-evident" etc. He leaves Tucker's Declaration on Jefferson's desk, which gives him the idea he needs to help him finish the Declaration of Independence.

The animals need a song everyone can sing to unify the colonists in their fight for Independence. They hear a cricket making music and ask if he'll compose the song. Chester (the great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather of the "present day" Chester) composes 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'. The three stars travel all around the colonies and teach all the animals how to sing and play 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'. And the rest is history!  At least, it's "history" in the context of this special.

While promoting the song in Boston, they learn the man who is supposed to light lanterns in the Old North Church is unable to do so. So Tucker, Harry and Chester team up to make sure the lanterns are lit.

J.A. Morris says:

I'm a huge fan of Chuck Jones (his work on 'Looney Tunes' and How The Grinch Stole Christmas make him animation royalty in my book), but this is easily the weakest of the three 'Cricket' specials. It's entertaining, but most of the jokes fall flat. Worst of all is the recycling of animation. We see the some of the scenes used 3-4 times in a 26 minute special. It could be a good way to introduce to history to children though. That, plus the voice of Mel Blanc is what makes me give this special a mild recommendation (we also get a voice "cameo" from the legendary June Foray as Marsha the firefly, which helps a little).
My rating:
2.5 flags.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Merry Christmas In July!

Yesterday, RigbyMel and I attended a Richmond Flying Squirrels Baseball game. The game was host to a celebration of 'Christmas In July'.

They had a local band singing songs like 'White Christmas' and 'Winter Wonderland' at the stadium entrance, and Santa was present too, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and posing for pictures with children.

The Flying Squirrel's mascot Nutzy played "Santa Nutzy", he was kind enough to help me record a "commercial" for this blog!:

And Santa also "endorses" this blog!

We had a great time at the game, and it was a nice reminder that as of today, Christmas is only five months away!

If you live in a town that has a Major or Minor League baseball team, check their schedule this week, they may also be celebrating 'Christmas In July!


Friday, July 8, 2011

The Great American Fourth Of July And Other Disasters

Here's a holiday special featuring Jean Shepherd as narrator, Ralphie Parker, the Old Man and Flick, but it's not A Christmas Story as you might have come to expect. Instead, it's:

The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters
is a 1982 tv special that first aired on PBS as part of the "American Playhouse" series.

The special features a teenaged Ralphie Parker (as played by a young Matt Dillon) and tells of adventures had on a long ago 4th of July full of "gut-thumping explosions", marching bands, parades, picnics, maniacal drum majors, sack races, blind dates, wash rags, and of course, fireworks!

Our story begins with a framing device, Jean Shepherd is driving a Rolls Royce down present-day (for 1982) I-95 which leads him to South of the Border the venerably tacky roadside attraction in South Carolina which features a vast array of fireworks of varying lethality for purchase. As he fills a shopping cart full of recreational explosives ("just like the A&P"), he thinks about how much "the Old Man" would have loved a place like South of the Border and how "the Old Man's" 4th of July fireworks displays were reknowned which leads us down memory lane to teenaged Ralphie and friends in Holman, Indiana.

We learn that Ralphie plays sousaphone in the local marching band which is getting ready for the big 4th of July parade under the direction of Wilbur Duckworth, a drum major with "the soul of a true storm trooper". The band, frankly, isn't all that great and are further stymied by swirling midwestern dust and colliding sousaphone bell, but Wilbur insists on rehearsing them to the brink of exhaustion in preparation for the big parade.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Ralphie's family - his long suffering mother, his brother Randy "whose art form was the whine" and the Old Man himself (as played by James Broderick - Matthew Broderick's old man in real life) who is looking forward to 4th of July festivities while being puzzled as to an amusing subplot involving mom and wash rags. We also encounter Ralphie's friends Schwartz (Jeff Yonis) and Flick (William Lampley) - Flick seems to have turned into a not-very-nice teenager (maybe getting his tongue stuck to that flag pole embittered him?).

Schwartz's mom has set Ralphie up on a blind date, which Ralphie is not looking forward to at all. But as tends to happen in Jean Shepherd's stories, the date doesn't quite pan out the way Ralphie anticipates.

We are also introduced to Lud Kissel (Babe Sargent) , the town drunk - you can tell he will be important later because of the "Jaws Theme" that plays in the background whenever he appears on screen.

The 4th of July dawns bright and hot and the day's festivities get underway. The parade has interesting consequences when Wilbur Duckworth's double baton act goes terribly wrong, but folks recover from that shock and go on to enjoy the town picnic. Ralphie and Schwartz have trained for the sack race in anticipation of winning a pair of shiny transistor radios but that also winds up not going according to plan due to Flick's machinations.

Lud emerges from a darkened bar (due to parade consequences) to join in the fun. He produces a massive, black and menacing firecracker that wrecks havoc on the unsuspecting citizens of Hammond and on Mrs. Kissel's front porch, thereby ensuring his place in town folklore.

The evening ends with the Old Man's much anticipated fireworks extravaganza and a good time is generally had by all. Ralphie and the Old Man share a nice moment together at the very end of the evening, talking about what a great day it has been.

We then return to present (1982) day Jean Shepherd, back in his Rolls on I-95 to wrap things up with some lovely philosophizing about how holidays are "like mileposts in the picket fence of the years that stretch on and on through our lives."

This is great, funny special in the best Jean Shepherd storytelling tradition. The effects are low-budget, but that makes it all the more charming. It is a pity that The Great American Fourth Of July And Other Disasters isn't commercially available at this time, but if you can get your hands on a copy, it is well worth your time.

Rigby Mel says - my rating:

4 waving flags


J.A.Morris says:

I agree with Rigbymel on this one,'The Great American 4th Of July' should be on tv every July. I watched this when it was brand new, I didn't realize until years later that it featured the same characters from 'A Christmas Story'. I'm guessing that licensing difficulties regarding some of the background music(like the aforementioned 'Jaws' theme) are preventing an official dvd release. Dillon and Broderick are especially great in their roles.
My rating:
4 flags!

Since it's never been released commercially, here's a link to Part 1 of the special on Youtube:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Muppets for the 4th of July

Ok, a bit later than the 4th, but I figure we here at "Holiday Film Reviews" can stay in the spirit all week if we feel so inclined (and I assure you, we feel inclined).

We were traveling home from July 3rd fireworks (a new Richmond area tradition, that I rather hope continues - we watched from Oregon Hill rather than Brown's Island on the grounds that it would be less crowded, but still fun) and listening to one of our favorite programs (Can't Stop The Music) on one of our favorite local radio stations (WRIR 97.3) while an Impressive Thunderstorm crackled all around us. The program was devoted to quirky, somewhat off the beaten track music in honor of the 4th of July for the evening and they played this:

It's a 2008 clip of the Muppets' take on Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" march and it was brilliant, so I am sharing it with you, dear readers, now.

More 4th of July fun coming later this week!