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DVD REVIEW: Springtime with Roo & Recommendations
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music
Posted on Mar 21 2014 by Greg


While practically every cartoon character ever created has, at one time or another, saved Christmas, there are precious few animated specials or direct-to-videos with a springtime, Easter or even an Easter Bunny.

This made-for-TV Disney Winnie the Pooh animated feature is one of the few. It makes sense for spring to be a cherished part of life in the Hundred Acre Wood, with its rolling landscapes, shady trees and colorful flowers.

There is so much niceness among Pooh and his pals -- and this is a good thing in this age of "edgy" cynicism, even in children's entertainment -- we can still look to Eeyore for lovable, relatable gloom and to Rabbit for lovable, relatable angst and neuroses. In other words, they're for us adults in throws of life's drama.

Rabbit adopts a Scrooge-like role in this story, which features original songs and overall is a very attractive production. David Ogden Stiers is a marvelous narrator, by the way. Very Sebastian Cabot.



Only one extra feature is basically a song player -- I would have liked to see a few episodes from the Emmy-winning "New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series.

Other recommendations for Springtime family viewing:
***** Here Comes Peter Cottontail - Danny Kaye (All-time fave)
***** It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
***** Easter Parade - Judy Garland and Fred Astaire (MGM classic)
****   The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town
***     The First Easter Rabbit - Burl Ives, Robert Morse (Mad Men)
**       Yogi The Easter Bear - Hanna-Barbera







DVD REVIEW: The Red Skelton Show - The Lost Episodes
Blog, TV
Posted on Mar 13 2014 by Greg
Red Skelton is a giant of comedy. Like many comic masters who rose up from stage to movies to radio to television, he is among several greats who should be celebrated more today, instead of reducing a description to his idiosyncracies.

Many in the industry, including fellow comedians, believed that only Skelton could laugh during and sketch and make it work. Harvey Korman also made it work on The Carol Burnett Show in his sketches with Tim Conway. Most recently, both Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, now heading their own late night hits, were able to pull off laughing in sketches. When it's done correctly -- and often it is not -- the laughs draws the audience into the gag. And it saves cornball jokes.



Skelton was a master mime, as you can see in this collection, particularly in the monologues. These programs are edited because of music rights (the theme song, "Holiday for Strings," is not included) but the funny parts are there. Even if you've never seen Skelton's show, you will be drawn into his style within a few shows.

His characters have subtle differences, but they are indeed not all the same. George Appleby is a mild-mannered suburbanite drawn into Twilight Zone-style predicaments, his wife played by guest stars like Vivian Vance and Eve Arden, San Fernando Red is a dishonest Senator Claghorn (or Foghorn Leghorn). Clem Kadiddlehopper is a dimwit who finds himself in important positions. And his signature character, Freddie the Freeloader (based on his father's clown character) is a hobo who makes the best of life in surreal ways.

This is pure, silly, escapism. There are some tame political jabs (from the Kennedy era in these episodes) but overall the material is like a classic cartoon, complete with gags involving gadgets built into the sets.

Relax, chill out and chuckle. Everybody can use some silly old laughs.







DVD REVIEW: Minnie-Rella
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 27 2014 by Greg
Well of course it had to happen eventually--Minnie Mouse doing the glass shoe thing. Actually, Minnie has played a princess before, like in the classic short "Brave Little Tailor." But this is the context of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, so Minnie and Mickey have to ask the viewer a lot of questions...then pause...the resume the story.

There's just no way this DVD can miss with kids who love princesses, especially fans of Sofia the First. It's a half-hour segment from Season Four, which is reportedly the last season of the series. Fortunately, it's uniformly well done, as is the rest of this high-quality preschool series.



Each of the episodes has something to do with fairy tales:
Minnie-Rella (February 14, 2014, Season Four)
Pluto's Tale (January 20, 2012, Season Three)
Mickey and the Enchanted Egg (November 20, 2009, Season Two)
Daisy's Pony Tale (April 15, 2013, Season Four)

In addition, there are ten short "interstitial" episodes from season 2 of "Minnie's Bow-Toons." Also, there is a nice little Castle play set to unfold and put together. They can't do that sort of thing enough.
 
I find "Daisy's Pony Tale" to be the most amusing thanks to the extra comedy provided by the dependable Professor Ludwig Von Drake, voiced by the extraordinary Corey Burton. The voice cast, by the way, is a Hollywood who's-who: Russi Taylor, April Winchell, Will Ryan, Bill Farmer and so many more.

As per the series' style, there is a lot of visual gimmickry through wacky contraptions, a fine balance of adventures so each character gets to shine, and of course all that interaction that kids do play along with (I've seen it and it's adorable).








DVD REVIEW: Hazel - The Bizarro Season (The Fifth & Final)
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 13 2014 by Greg


TV's beloved version of Ted Key's newspaper gag cartoon, Hazel was one of those cozy shows that was just there for comfort, like a carton of ice cream or mom's leftover soup. It wasn't groundbreaking or earth-shaking, but is was better than it gets credit for, largely due to its gifted star, Shirley Booth.

Booth was an unlikely movie and Broadway superstar, winner of Oscars and Emmys (for Hazel) and the narrator of one of the all-time most loved Rankin/Bass holiday specials, The Year Without a Santa Claus. Short and plump with a voice like Betty Boop's, Booth was ideal in the lead role of her series. She reveled in its nuances (yes, Hazel had nuances).

For the first four years of the series, which was also a long-running hit in syndication, Hazel was the live-in maid to the affluent Baxter family. The dad was played by Don DeFore (who also starred in the wonderful Christmas B-movie It Happened on Fifth Avenue and also an owner of one of Disneyland's first restaurants). Mom was played by lovely Whitney Blake (mother of actress Meredith Baxter and co-creator of One Day at a Time). Bobby Buntrock played little Harold with the skill to tear your heart out when he cries about losing his dog or some such--the hallmark of a great child actor.

Season Five was bizarre-O because suddenly mom and dad moved to Saudi Arabia because dad had a business deal...? Harold was left behind to continue in school, to be cared for by dad's younger brother and his young wife. They also had a daughter, giving the lad someone with which to get into wacky adventures.

Hazel was still there for Harold (which seemed to suit him fine, since he always seemed most partial to her). She moved in to a somewhat fancier house with young Steve and Barbara. If you think this sounds convoluted, watch the first episode of season five and set your timer for how long it takes it all to be explained!

Anyway, Steve is sort of like a pre-perm Mike Brady, if he fell asleep at his drafting table and his face stayed pushed in. Barbara (Lynn Kellogg) is like Samantha's little sister with a sing-song voice but without magic powers. Adorable Susie is adorable (visit stusshow.com to download an exclusive interview with grown up Julia Benjamin, who played Susie). Also appearing regularly was Ann Jillian as Steve's teen secretary.

Hazel lost none of her crusty-but-benign common-sense nor her fresh-baked gumption. She was constantly butting into people's business and coming up with wacky schemes to help others or herself, always in a loving and sensible way. She was the mom we never had -- or the mom we did have minus all the baggage.



There are some great episodes in season five, including one in which she mistakes a great painter for the house painter; Hazel tries to overhaul a roadster; Hazel markets her homemade chili (a surefire sitcom staple); Steve tries to win a perfect boss contest; and my favorite of the season, in which the adults aim to get the boys to give up that surely-to-go-away "rock and roll fad" by dressing and acting like hippies and groovers (it's always fun to see how '60s sitcoms treated the youth movement).

By the time that episode was made, Ray Fulmer, who at first had lacked the charm and warmth of Don DeFore, had become more comfortable and loose in his role as Steve. The chemistry between Steve and Hazel was different; Hazel couldn't chide this thinner, younger man about his weight or his age. Film veteran DeFore never lost his charm, even when he was furious. Stage actor Fulmer, who later derided the Hazel show's writing, became a soap actor, for which his dour demeanor was better suited.

Steve and Barbara are like a sitcom version of Don and Betty Draper, a couple that looks like the top of a wedding cake, trying to ascend the ladder of what was defined as success in the Wonder Bread world of early sitcom suburbia.

The later shows in Season Five of Hazel are the strongest. The cast begins to connect and storylines are less about real estate and more about the people in and around the Baxter home, particularly sister-in-law Deirdre, a social shark played masterfully by TV and radio veteran Cathy Lewis (the original Jane on My Friend Irma). She's the perfect Margaret Dumont to Hazel's Groucho. Once familiar faces return, the season swings into gear.

There would have been a sixth season, since the series was still getting great ratings (this year it had moved to CBS's strong Monday night lineup), but Booth's ill health prevented it. Too bad, the world always needs its Hazels -- especially in the late '60s.

How would Hazel Burke have dealt with protestors? She'd probably pick up a sign, march with them, totally embarrass Mr. Steve, enrage Mr. Steve's stuffy business associates, then whip up some hot, juicy roast beef sandwiches and home-fried donuts (all the while claiming that "they ain't up to my usual") -- which would soften everyone's heart so much that all the troubles would go away.

Until next week.







DVD REVIEW: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis - The Complete Series
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 12 2014 by Greg


What’s better for a Valentine’s Day treat than the classic series about a guy who hasn’t met a girl he doesn’t love? Dobie Gillis falls madly in love in almost every episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a landmark CBS sitcom based on the famous short stories by Max Shulman.


In addition to being girl-crazy, the Dobie as depicted in the stories was also a hapless and mildly sneaky young man who was a teen, college student or whatever Shulman wanted him to be at a given time. The Dobie stories was also adapted into a splashy MGM movie that often runs on TCM.


The series took the stories and expanded them into TV’s first teen-focused prime time comedy, starring Dwayne Hickman, fresh from playing a similar role on The Bob Cummings Show. What made the TV show extra-special was the flexibility of its format and its remarkably talented, revolving cast, particularly Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, Sheila James as Zelda Gilroy and Frank Faylen as Dobie’s dad.


Even though show left the series, Tuesday Weld made a few appearances in later shows, but for the most part she was replaced by a succession of young ladies who had some of her attributes but lacked her quirky charm; they were mostly one-note females of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. They were certainly not shining examples of today’s social mores.


Neither for that matter was Dobie, who tried to pick up young ladies with some pretty cringe-worthy lines, most frequently calling them “my great tawny animal.” Even the girls in the series generally find his lines more than smarmy.


Hickman clearly soaked up his youthful show business experiences like a sponge. His performance, as he has himself noted, veers between Bob Cummings and Jack Benny and it makes him a superb straight man. The episodes in which he is not the sole protagonist are the ones that hold up best.


Bob Denver created two pop culture icons with Maynard and Gilligan. They are similar but not identical. Denver is better than he gets credit for. Maynard is more introspective, witty and ironic than Gilligan. Both Maynard and Gilligan are like innocent children, both chatter incessantly, but Maynard is about 14 years old inside while Gilligan is about 9. Like Jughead in the Archie comics, Maynard doesn’t mind girls as friends but would rather not get involved in a relationship that would tamper with his precious weirdness.


The language of the Dobie Gillis show is legendary, from Maynard’s squeal of “WORK!” beginning in season one to the movie that seems to be playing at the theater for five years, The Monster That Devoured Cleveland. The characters names are almost Seussian.


As Dobie’s dad, Faylen is a crusty but benign owner of a small grocery store filled with quaint, low 1960's prices. Like Archie Bunker, he often mentions his WWII service (including a good conduct medal). Florida Friebus, as Dobie's mom, gets little to do for the series run except for a few second season episodes. It's a shame because she was a stage veteran (she co-wrote a Broadway version of Alice in Wonderland with Eva LaGallienne) and of course, was the lady who knitted on The Bob Newhart show.


The character I would have liked to see more of was Zelda Gilroy, the determined pursuer of Dobie. Zelda is constantly proven to be capable of a lot more than Dobie, perhaps an early comment on the limited choices women had over 50 years ago. She could be Dobie’s booster but seemed not allowed to boost herself at least until she became a recording star (which was never followed through).


Fans of the show know that the real life Sheila James Kuhl became a highly respected State Senator. It would have been interesting to see how the fictional Zelda and Thalia in particular might have changed with the times as the ‘60s progressed.


As you enjoy each season, look for familiar faces. William Schallert, also known to TV buffs as Patty Duke’s TV dad, plays Professor Pomfret. When the characters enter college, their new professor is Dr. Burkhart, is played by Duke’s TV mom, Jean Byron, who gets far more to do on the Dobie show than on the Duke one.


Also popping up in episodes are Ryan O’Neal, Marlo Thomas, Steve Franken, Mel Blanc, Verna Felton and even silent film star H.B. Warner.

Special mention is due to great studio singer Gloria Wood, who provides the vocal jazz scats used in the early theme songs and as incidental music. Wood was a member of the famed Modernaires, sang on the Bing Crosby Show, made the hit record of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” with Kay Kyser, voiced numerous cartoons and cut records for Disney. Maynard casually drops Wood's name in the episode “The Big Question.”


The format of the show changed itself frequently to avoid becoming stale. Dobie and Maynard would occasionally appear as recruits in the reserves. Occasionally, the show would delve into fantasy in the Disney wacky comedy vein. Somehow it worked and the clever wordplay was the hallmark.



Extras abound on the complete set, some thanks to Stu Shostak of stusshow.com, where you can download several hours of audio programming featuring Dobie cast interviews not available anywhere else. The neatest extra to me was a Coca-Cola music special in which Hickman and Denver introduce Annette (even though we don’t get to see her).










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