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OK, but a missed opportunity
This film is all right. It more or less makes sense, there's nothing really terrible about it, and I didn't lose my rag while watching it. The problem is that it's an Indiana Jones plot that's been given an enema made of classic cartoon characters.

I was never really a fan of Scooby Doo. I certainly saw them but the characters never really resonated with me. That's not to say they weren't good cartoons, as from what I remember they were more mature than most of the stuff at the time and the point was a sort of reverse X-files, that the characters would investigate and disprove things like hauntings and ghosts. Considering ghost stories have not been a big thing for a while (apart from the remake of Ghostbusters which was too bad to count) and the problems with disinformation and misinformation and hoaxes that are part of life today, this idea seems ripe for reinvention. Only they didn't do that and the plot has nothing to do with it, and is an Indiana Jones fantasy McGuffin collection quest race. The fans of the original show who are complaining are justified in doing so.

Then, rather than featuring the characters from Scooby Doo, they pretty much disappear, to be replaced by some superhero team thing. There's a stupid superhero (and I mean, like, incompetent and intellectually disabled and unlikely to be able to function independently in normal society, and I hate it when there's a character like that in a film just to give the scriptwriters and the antagonist/protagonist an easy ride) and a token black female character and Elastidog or whatever it's called. I don't recall ever seeing any of these characters originally so can't really comment on the source material.

Then there's Dick Dastardly who's been reinvented as a supervillain. The villain actually isn't bad and is one of the high points of the film, but he doesn't resemble the original motor racer with a pathological addiction to cheating either in appearance or in personality much. He looks more like the Red Max with severe curvature of the spine, and he's an evil genius/inventor who's built a small army of robot minions and a giant atmospherically unfriendly airship.

All these mixed-up characters mean that none of them really get sufficient screen time for them or the relationships between them to be developed. Shaggy is a coward who loves his dog and Velma is studious/pedantic/dogmatic. Dick is evil/noble/clever. The superhero is stupid. Everyone else is nothing apart from an occasional line.

Too bad. :-(

Wacky Races

The Original and Best
I loved Wacky Races as a child, and funnily enough I still love it as an adult and I don't think it's aged badly. It's one of those things that gets criticized for having stereotypes in it and too much violence, but many of the characters are a lot more nuanced than they look, and all the violence is karmic and mild and generally involves Dick Dastardly's schemes backfiring in a world where being run over is just a minor inconvenience and explosives simply make you dirty and mess up your clothing.

Penelope Pitstop is the character most frequently vilified as being sexist, but any of that is a really minor aspect of her and is overshadowed by her strengths. She's shown to be a competent driver who wins races on her own steam, doesn't get distracted or intimidated by the interests of most of the male characters, and is mechanically adept and mends her car at one point using her hairpin. She seems to have designed and built all those gadgets she uses to put on her make-up while she's driving, which takes serious brains and skill and puts her in the same league as Professor Pat Pending. She's ditzy and she loves pink and silly girly stuff, but there's nothing wrong with being a girly girl. On occasion she is the damsel in distress who calls for help and gets rescued, but it doesn't happen that often, and in fact, Dick Dastardly ends up in a mess and calling for help more often than she does (Muttley, DO something!).

And Dick Dastardly and Muttley, what can I say? Some people would dismiss Dick as being just a generic villain with a moustache, but he goes much deeper than that. He and Muttley have a real camaraderie, despite they way they treat each other. Dastardly is shown at one point begrudgingly tickling Muttley, and Muttley is faultlessly loyal to his master (to the point that in one race where he gets left behind following a successful act of sabotage on another competitor, he desperately runs after the Mean Machine and tries to climb back on board, damaging the car in the process). Dastardly, far from being a born loser, is a competent and reasonably intelligent character who drives the best car in the race, and of course the running joke is that he spends every episode putting his foot down to generate an enormous lead so that he can stop and lay excessively elaborate traps that go wrong for him, and ultimately loses for that reason. He's something akin to a tragic hero in this respect (or at least a tragicomic antivillain) and this is the reason why Wacky Races is rather more complicated than a lot of people give it credit for. It's hard not to feel sympathy for Dastardly and Muttley and hope that they might win just one race, but also easy to laugh at them when they lose again.

Peter Perfect might look like a stereotypical hero, and he never cheats, and is chivalrous and kindhearted and keen to help Penelope Pitstop (and Dick Dastardly as well and probably anyone else in a mess), but he's also a bit of a pansy and not that skilled a driver, and the running joke is that his 'Turbo Terrific' frequently falls to pieces, usually to his utterance of quaint euphemistic expletives such as 'Fiddlesticks!'

Rufus Ruffcut is a musclebound lumberjack with a pet beaver, but manages not to fall into the trap of being portrayed as all muscle and no brain. He's not above underhand tactics, but he is shown to have quite a strong sense of fair play and will intervene if he thinks someone is abusing an advantage.

Pat Pending is an inventor and sometimes helps out other competitors and foils Dastardly's schemes. He cheats almost as much as Dastardly himself, although his methods tend to be less dangerous, not that it seems to matter much considering the physics of explosives and their negligible effect on human anatomy in this particular cartoon.

The Ant Hill Mob are seven dwarf Noo Yoick gangsters in a 1920s car (oddly named presumably after the Lavender Hill Mob, a film about London crooks pulling off a heist). They frequently break away from the race by trying to escape the police, but help out people they find in trouble.

The Slag Brothers, the Gruesome Twosome, and the Army Surplus Special are more stereotyped and less developed, with the Slags being two cavemen overwhelmed with body hair in a car made out of rocks, and the gruesome being a small vampire creature and a Frankenstein's monster in a hearse with a dragon in the roof. The Army Surplus are two soldiers in a tank.

The last two who are also pretty undeveloped and probably haven't aged well are Red Max, a German WW1 pilot in a car that looks like a Fokker, and an elderly impoverished redneck called just 'Luke' driving a car cobbled together out of his kitchen furniture with a live bear on it.

With Disney apparently redoing all their old cartoons there seems to have been an interest in recent years in film companies attempting to resurrect Wacky Races or the characters in it. A 2020 Scooby Doo film cast Dick Dastardly as a super villain, the villain being pretty cool in himself but looking more like Red Max than Dastardly and dissimilar in character, missing the point that the character's pathological addiction to cheating was his downfall. An attempt in 2017 to remake the original disappointingly omitted most of the original characters and ruined the ones it did use by stereotyping them, changing Peter Perfect into a dumb, vain jock, Penelope Pitstop into an obnoxious Mary Sue by removing her likable character flaw of bumbling dizziness in the name of anti-girly-girl bowdlerisation, . Even more ironically and disappointingly it had even worse violence than the original, with not only cartoon explosives but more disturbing, nonsensical, and not at all amusing violence mainly inflicted on Dastardly not as a result of his own actions, such as a character in one episode incessantly punching him in the face and him being tied up and beaten with sticks by a mob in another. I would love to see the original recreated in modern higher-budgeted animation in a way that does justice to what the characters and idea originally were, but after what I've seen I'm not hopeful for it.

Wacky Races

Cruel and Unusual remake
What's good about this? The Mean Machine and the Turbo Terrific are faithful to their original models, and it's really fun to see them animated in this style and driving around. The episodes that follow the original format in which there is a race and Dick Dastardly and Muttley cheat and end up losing because of it are often enjoyable, and sometimes they even win, although it tends to be a pyrrhic victory. The design of the original characters in most respects is OK and they're recognisable.

What's bad about it is that most of the characters from the original have been left out (in the case of the redneck driving a car made from his kitchen furniture and the German WW1 pilot in a Fokker, that might be understandable, but not for the others). New characters that don't match the style of the originals and are either irrelevant or annoying have been added, such as an irritating self-proclaimed 'genius' child/midget riding around in a flying robot nanny car that gets far too much air time, a man and woman who stand around talking at the start of the programme wasting time that could have been used to show Dastardly plotting something, and pirates in a novelty car that are drawn in such a simplistic and bland style they look to have been borrowed from a preschool cartoon. The main three characters of Dastardly/Muttley, Pitstop, and Perfect have been changed from what they originally represented and it's not an improvement, and the Gruesome Twosome (the only other team from the original to make it in) aren't that interesting and their vehicle doesn't resemble and has none of the charm of the original. The episodes that aren't about racing are frequently so bad as to be completely unwatchable.

Dick Dastardly in the original Wacky Races worked really well as a classy camp villain protagonist because the joke was that he was reasonably competent, drove a great car, and would probably have won had he not spent every episode generating a huge headstart and then squandering it by trying to cheat. Although he and Muttley did not treat each other well, they were shown as having a real camaraderie, and even though they were sympathetic and you wanted them to win, when Dick lost or humiliated himself, it was always because of his own actions. You didn't resent the other well-meaning competitors who also occasionally cheated but for the most part helped out each other and often the villains too. Penelope Pitstop was ditzy and in some ways a bit of a sexist stereotype, but she was shown to be competent as a driver and mechanically, and a strong autonomous character. Peter Perfect was a kindhearted and chivalrous competitor who never cheated, but he wasn't very competent and the running joke was that his car would fall to pieces.

Unfortunately in this series, Dastardly gets recast as either an antihero who is sort-of friends with the other racers or an Arnold Rimmer-type psychological trainwreck (the flanderised version from the later series and not the more three-dimensional Rimmer from the earlier and better-written series). Often bad stuff happens to him that isn't his fault, or he tries to do something good and bad stuff happens anyway, and the other characters don't care and ridicule or ignore him, or even deliberately cause the bad things happening to him. At best this comes across as him being an underdog excluded for his lack of competence or just who he is, and at worst it comes across as the other characters bullying him, and it actually makes his bad behaviour seem justifiable. Dick Dastardly in this incarnation is too sympathetic and you feel really sorry for him and end up disliking the other characters because of how they treat him. Pitstop and Perfect have been recast as an obnoxious Mary Sue heroine and a dim jock hero respectively and come across more as antagonists to Dastardly. Some of the design choices are questionable -- making Dastardly's costume purple instead of its original colours and replacing his functional white goggles enormous misshapen pink ones with sequins.

When Dastardly unintentionally causes an accident and begrudgingly helps the others while resolving it, they decide to 'work together as a team' while leaving him and Muttley behind to sort themselves out, and then at the end, Penelope Pitstop says something about teamwork being great and then in his earshot says something unkind about him having BO, which is a really terrible moral. In probably the worst episode (because I found it so disturbing I couldn't watch any more after this point) Dastardly is dressed as a clown and is hosting a children's television programme, and it's explained he's being forced to do this for no other reason than he is unpopular with the audience. He then gets strung up on a rope and beaten with sticks until he's visibly badly injured. This was vile and undeserved, and suggests whoever came up with it had some sort of disturbing perversion. It's particularly bad because a complaint frequently levelled at classic cartoons and given as the reason why they have to remake them is against violence that was generally karmic and benign, such as Dastardly being run over because he stood in the road and getting up unharmed with a tyre track on him, or putting a bomb in his pocket that explodes leaving him merely looking dazed and dirty with dishevelled clothing. This version is considerably more violent and in more inappropriate ways than the original, and it's a spiteful and nasty sort of violence that doesn't respect the meaning of the original.

The other thing that I really don't feel is appropriate for a programme for kids made in 2017 is that Dastardly or sometimes Perfect are frequently depicted wearing drag badly or ridiculous costumes in a demeaning way. The Two Ronnies was a long time ago and it just isn't funny or right to do this when a lot of young people, boys especially, feel under pressure to be macho and are insecure about being perceived as flamboyant. I don't think it would be a bad idea to reimagine Dick Dastardly as being a flamboyant Liberace-like antihero, or to have a modern drag artist in a cartoon, but if they're going to do that he needs to have allies who are more accepting and supportive of him. Or they need to just stick to the original idea of him being the sole cause of his own misfortune.

All this is a shame because there is potential that might have been better met if they'd just included a couple of characters like Rufus Ruffcut to be a macho hero and Prof. Pat Pending as a woman character to even out the ratio (benefits of a unisex name) that would have allowed the characters to have kept more of their nuance and fun, and stuck to the original ideas of the characters. Unfortunately this means it'll probably be another 50 years before anyone will think of making another Wacky Races that might do the original justice.

The Glo Friends

Doesn't always set a good example
Whenever I have a cold, I pass the time by finding and watching 80s cartoons from my childhood. Some of them are almost as good as I remember them, and some are pretty terrible in many respects.

First of all, if you've not seen any of these before, watch the 'Save Christmas' special before any of the other episodes. There is much more to like there, although the protagonists are as bland as ever.

'Glo Friends' were a brand of insect-themed night-light cuddly toys. They had plastic heads that lit up and looked pretty creepy. The series was obviously intended as promo material for the toys, and it's rather restricted by the mould in which it was cast. A lot of 80s cartoons have villains that end up upstaging the heroes because the designers of the characters seemed to feel it was necessary to make the protagonists sickly cute goody-goodies. In this case the antagonists don't have to try very hard. There are rather a lot of protagonist characters, as presumably there was a large line of these toys, and most of them are interchangeable. There's one who's an artist and one that looks like a spider, and a token female one who's snivelly and useless. While reliving this childhood memory, I quickly fell into the routine of skipping to the parts with the villains in.

On to the villains, whom I guess are supposed to be moles, with some artistic licence taken, the most unfortunate being how their noses are drawn. Their noses look like… I don't think I ought to say it on here considering it's a programme for children, but they look like a totally different body part that shouldn't be revealed on daytime TV, least of all a children's programme. The leader of the villains is Starnose, the odd one out, being as he is named after a real mole rather than something to do with groundworks. Starnose is a violent, hectoring thug, other than towards his partner Nails. Nails has a grey pompadour and wears a pink ballgown and gold jewellery. She's shown to be vain and ungrateful, and is in a relationship with Starnose (it's shown they aren't husband and wife, as Starnose mentions a wish of being a king, and Nails agrees she'd like to be a queen, and Starnose complains that he's said he will think about it). Then there's Excavator, an inventor. Rather than the mad scientist trope, he's shown to be more of a burly, practical sort with a propensity for flowery language. And there's Scoop, another female villain, who doesn't agree with the villains trying to enslave the protagonists, yet wants to fit in with them and be accepted (really quite deep for such a minor character in such a cheesy TV series). There are more after this, but it becomes a case of too many cooks, as the others are pretty interchangeable. While they're not particularly imaginative as a whole, Nails and Scoop have some interesting details to their clothing and hairstyles that children might enjoy drawing. There's also Rook, a bird who starts off as quite an unpleasant and competent villain, but is quickly reduced to a buttmonkey for Starnose.

The thing that strikes me as most inappropriate about this (other than how the Moligans' noses have been drawn) is that on several occasions characters who are supposed to be protagonists insult Nails by calling her fat or ugly. Nails is shown to be angry or upset by this, at one point crying and needing a cuddle from Starnose. It's a truly awful message for children who are not going to grasp well that it's never appropriate to make unkind personal remarks about someone's appearance. There's also a double standard as both Starnose and Excavator are decidedly portly and one of the other minor characters is very misshapen and odd looking, and this is never remarked upon. The 'good' characters are in some instances really not good at all, playing tricks on the villains and using them as servants, writing insulting material about them in a magazine, and destroying their meal.

I could go on more about the Glo Wees, some other saccharine characters introduced in a few episodes. But fortunately there's a word limit, as I've been sick in my mouth just thinking about them...

The GLO Friends Save Christmas

Some fun ideas firmly grounded by being promo for a line of toys
Ah, the 80s. An age when producers of children's programmes frequently overestimated the appeal of saccharine protagonists and let the antagonists run away with the resulting mess.

In this case, the protagonists are the stock character of Father Christmas and a line of insect-themed night-light toys. I remember the toys as well, and they were pretty naff and a bit creepy. Unsurprising, considering the rather restricted territory, that all the available effort seems to have gone into the design of a couple of original characters. I can't imagine anyone over the age of 5 is going to care about the protagonists at all. In fact, you'll likely want to skip their parts.

The primary antagonist is Blanche, the Wicked Witch of the North Pole. It's very easy to assume this would be another stock witch character with green skin and a tall hat, but Blanche actually has been given a really cool design. She seems to have some Inuit- inspired features to her costume and it looks realistically like what someone who lives in a cold climate would wear. She also has a dead fox scarf of the sort wealthy old ladies are often depicted wearing, only in this case it's a living arctic fox that talks. It doesn't have a name and it doesn't do a great deal, other than argue with her in a falsetto death metal voice, but quite a clever touch. Blanche is shown as competent, powerful, and ambitious, so although the story fails the Bechdel test miserably, it's nice to see a strong female villain.

The other fresh character is the eponymous Moose. Moose has a design that's really very appealing and cute, with daft dewy eyes and a soft-looking nose. He starts off apparently being Blanche's henchman and seems to be a bit of a social pariah who wants to feel accepted, but he turns against her instead of going along with her doing things he considers wrong. That's not a bad character arc at all for a kids' programme, and the ending suggests he makes some friends after all.

In summary there are some strong and original aspects to this little animation, but only very young children are likely to have any appreciation of the characters who are supposed to be the heroes.

The Dreamstone

The Dreamstone
The Dreamstone's original premise seemed to take a great deal of inspiration from Tolkien and was about a Hobbit-like creature called Rufus who travelled and faced adversaries in order to confront a Sauron-like villain (Zordrak/Nasta Shelfim/Satan Himself) over a One Ring-like trinket (The Dreamstone) for the benefit of a Gandalf-like character (the Dream-Maker). The original two-part pilot stuck fairly closely to this idea, with beautifully designed and imaginative worlds and characters. It had the benefit of sympathetic and more developed villains than most cartoons of this era. As the series went on, the villains were more like antiheroes in contrast to the characters who were supposed to be the goodies, and as others have noticed the goodies are unsympathetic and unlikeable just by virtue of being pitted against these characters, which for reasons that never make sense are treated as total pariahs even though the heroes seem to be fully aware that they are slaves belonging to an evil overlord who kills them at the drop of a hat.

The protagonists I suppose are perfectly acceptable as stock fantasy heroes and in anything lesser with comparable stock villains this would have been an unremarkable and forgettable children's cartoon. Some of the less frequently seen protagonists, in particular Wildit (wonderfully voice acted) and Spildit and the gardener are a lot of fun. The Noops who are the main characters are just irritating goody-goodies who run to the Dream-maker, and in a lot of episodes Pildit, who are depicted with deus ex machina powers that really do nothing to avert the antagonists' underdog status or make the protagonists in any way sympathetic.

I recall when it originally aired, The Dreamstone replaced another science-fantasy cartoon, which from what I remember and what I've been able to trace was a Spanish cartoon called La Corona Magica (The Magic Crown) dubbed into English. I've been unable to find the English dub, but what made both these cartoons stick in my memory was the development of the villains. Corona Magica had a villain character called Zohak and the series was pretty much about his fall from grace. Despite the excellence of the antagonists in The Dreamstone, no character arc develops throughout four series. Every episode is pretty much the same plot and the Urpneys are being sent to the Land of Dreams to try to cause the goodies (whom we don't care about anyway) to have bad dreams, and failing through bad luck when we really want them to succeed and the goodies are laughing at their misfortune or beating them up, and then they go home and get beaten up again. Sergeant Blob is bossy and arrogant and speaks in malapropisms, but is loyal to his subordinates (and inexplicably to Zordrak), Frizz is neurotic, and Nug is this sort of sweet, philosophical, slightly hippieish sort of guy. Urpgor is insane, power- mad, and totally conceited and self- obsessed, and he does sort of toy a few times with the idea of going rogue, which is as close as it ever gets. It's kind of depressing that they never try to get out of this miserable and abusive situation and make something better for themselves. All four of them have amazing voice actors… well, Urpgor's original voice actor is amazing, but he gets replaced with someone rather less talented.

In some of the episodes, the villains carry swords, but are never seen to use them. More absurdly, each of them has what appears to be two spikes on the tail. They never use these for self defence and their tails are often shown to be inadvertently jammed in objects or bitten by adversaries, or used as a grappling point for enemies larger than them. They also wear metal breastplates, shoulderguards and helmets which doesn't seem to be very effective at protecting them (and although they have hair in the initial episodes, they're later depicted as having shaved heads exactly the same shape as their helmets). This is more wasted potential, as at least showing the antagonists to be intimidating would have gone some way to addressing the underdog syndrome.

Likewise the protagonists remain stuck in a rut and they don't become any more likable and their situation and their desperation to have nice dreams does not become any more sympathetic, and their overpowered elders never become powerless and leave them to suffer real peril. It's not really the best message for children -- that you can be a good person in some ways, but if you're an Urpney life will treat you badly regardless and you're not entitled to anything, and that if you're a Noop, you're entitled to treat people badly just because they're Urpneys, and can insist on petty things like not having bad dreams.

Another thing that bothered me even as a child was the Urpneys getting squashed flat, inflated, etc. in pretty much all the episodes other than the pilot. It was a sophisticated animation with great designs and music. This sort of stupidity is beneath it and really doesn't fit, and isn't funny. Considering in the pilot someone was killed for real by being dumped in a pit full of carnivorous beasts and someone else was assumed dead because rocks fell on them, it just doesn't make sense at all for normal rules of biology not to apply.

This has come out as a bit of a moany review. While we tend to forget and have little to say about television offerings that are genuinely poor in every respect, the ones that are memorable and have many great aspects we tend to notice the faults with. There really is a lot to love about The Dreamstone. As it is, it's superlative for it's time and gets off to a strong start in the pilot episodes, but it's hard not to see the wasted potential and how it could have been something epic.

The Charmkins

Glad to have finally tracked down what this was, although not really anything out of the ordinary
I remembered seeing an 80s cartoon I did not remember a great deal about, other than that the villains in it had a weed theme and one of them was a skunk-like creature. I was glad to finally track it down and watch it again, but like most 80s cartoons it's a bit sickly and formulaic.

The goodies have a flower theme, and in their favour they are reasonably proactive and their main protagonist/leader is competent and female. There's a character called Poison Ivy who is ambiguous and doesn't seem to fit into a hero/villain category. On the other hand, they are pretty saccharine and holier-than-thou and their behaviour is sometimes not much better than that of the villains, and the floral theme is not exactly well done, with the characters not resembling their namesakes, and obscure references being chosen. A bit of a pity, because something really inventive and clever might have been developed from this idea.

The chief villain Dragonweed gets most of the good lines, and the sidekick Skunkweed is more nuanced than most, and comes across as rather sweet and naive. Some of the other sidekicks don't seem to be developed much and have dull character designs.

The main reason the protagonists dislike the weed characters seems to be just that they *are* weeds and the characters think they are not as good as them and dislike the place they live. Not the most inclusive message to have in a children's cartoon. The baddies don't exactly seem to be unkind to each other asides from occasional teasing of Skunkweed about his odour and pushing each other into the swamp water (which it seems they use for a swimming pool) and Dragonweed seems to have an almost fatherly relationship with Skunkweed. The weed characters are never invited to the flower characters' parties, which causes them to feel resentful and jealous. Skunkweed's design is pretty inventive, and Dragonweed and Briarpatch are not bad, but they could have really gone to town with the weed theme. Dragonweed is supposed to be 'King of the Weeds' and they could have made him look superbly shabbily regal with viny robes and a thorny crown, instead of a gorilla-faced orange-paletted thing with a weird quiff as he has come out. I'm not exactly sure what Briarpatch is meant to be and what he is wearing, but he doesn't look very horticultural either.

The villains rescue a dancer they have seen at the party from which they were excluded, from a life-threatening situation (although admittedly the dancer would not have been in this situation in the first place had it not been for the villains, although it wasn't exactly their fault outright, and the dancer was not aware of their involvement). The dancer character is rather rude and not at all grateful towards the villains for rescuing her. Dragonweed asks her to dance for him and she refuses. The baddies lock her in a cage in an effort to make her do it. While it's wrong to imprison someone because they won't do as you ask, it's neither particularly right to be ungrateful to treat badly someone you don't like because they're a 'mean old weed' and not a flower, who has helped you out of serious trouble, and it's not as though a lot is really being demanded of the character, when it's considered she is presumably a professional dancer.

I didn't remember this cartoon very well as a child, but I can remember sympathising more with the discriminated-against villains than the protagonists! There's a lot of wasted potential in terms of the character design, and not the best message for children. The baddies are wrong for imprisoning someone, but the goodies are not much better in the disdainful way they treat the baddies.

Josh Kirby: Time Warrior! Chap. 1: Planet of the Dino-Knights

Time Woyer
I watched this series as an undergraduate student on the long summer holiday, with my father. It is an American children's programme that seems to have been made on a limited budget in the 90s (although it is rather lurid and 80s-looking). We started watching it for laughs assuming it would be a cheesy, naff, American show, but as it went on we actually began to enjoy it.

The special effects are not very good. There's a character called 'Prism' that's supposed to be an alien creature or something of the sort. It looks like a Troll Doll. Other special effects are people or objects flailing on what I guess is a blue floor with the blue replaced with acid-trip colours. One of the other characters pronounces 'warrior' as 'woyer' and acts sword-fighting most unrealistically. The overall premise and setup is a pretty unremarkable blend of SF and fantasy -- the protagonist teams up with a time-traveller to save the world and discovers he is a 'time warrior' and has nondescript magical powers.

Despite all of these hindrances, the series is inventive and fun, and has an ambition reminiscent of Doctor Who in its golden age, another low-budget series that often showcased poor acting. In order to explain its strongest point, however, I'm going to have to use a total spoiler: towards the end, the protagonist discovers that the time-traveller he met at the start and teamed up with, is in fact the main antagonist, and the assumed villain they have been trying to defeat is really the hero, and the protagonist has been aiding and abetting the villain and obstructing the hero in his efforts to save the world. When the real villain is finally defeated, it's revealed that he did wrong because he believed it would lead to a better world overall. This sort of nuance in children's programmes that are dominated by black-and-white, good-and-evil narratives, is really unusual, and what makes it more enjoyable is that hints are scattered throughout the preceding episodes (the most immediately obvious one being why in the 90s a good- looking black man would cast as a sinister baddie!).

I think it is important for children to understand that there are two (or more) sides to every story, and this series explores this concept particularly well, and I recommend it for that, as well as being a silly and light-hearted bit of entertainment that doesn't take itself seriously, and which adults looking for something non- challenging might enjoy too.

*batteries not included

Charming fairytale with an '80s twist
I remember this film from the '80s and recently bought it on DVD, and it is still an original and fresh idea and a very sweet story. The main characters are an elderly couple Frank and Faye. Faye is unfortunately suffering the early effects of dementia and her husband Frank is her carer. These two characters are very sympathetically written and acted and have a believable backstory -- they have lived all their married life in the ageing city building they are in the story, where they run a café, but now developers want them out so they can demolish the building. The other characters are less developed and not so interesting, a retired boxer, a painter, and a pregnant woman who has a long-distance relationship with the father of her foetus, so the focus is really on the elderly couple. It is refreshing to see a film about this kind of relationship, rather than yet another soggy romance or a generic story about kids as a character backdrop to this kind of fantasy story.

The *other* characters in the story are a pair, and later a family, of benevolent biomechanical creatures who construct a nest out of junk on the roof and start repairing broken items about the place and eating others. Some people in other reviews have identified these creatures as 'aliens' or 'spaceships'. While it is speculated initially by the other characters that the creatures may be spaceships for 'tiny aliens' or come from other worlds, when one of them is studied under a magnifying glass by a character, he sees lots of little circuits, and not 'tiny aliens' and since the creatures mate and give birth to offspring this would suggest they are living organisms in their own right. There is also not really anything to support the idea of them being of extraterrestrial origin, and it's probably more likely they are something that came about as part experiment, part natural evolution on Earth, although the question of where they come from is never addressed.

A few people have also claimed this film rips off ET and a film called Cocoon. 'ET' is a story about a boy finding an alien creature. I have not seen 'Cocoon' so I read a synopsis of it, and it is a story about elderly people finding a fountain of eternal youth created by aliens. 'Batteries Not Included' to me is nothing like either of these. It is an urban fantasy version of the 'pixies down the garden' trope with an '80s twist on the pixies. And I enjoyed it when I first saw it, and I enjoyed it again more recently. It's a sweet, quirky story and a clever idea.

It's a shame it isn't a better-known film, but I suspect there are reasons for that, and there are some problems with it as a film meant to appeal to family audiences. Firstly, the story about Faye's Alzheimer's, even though it is a refreshing change, is by its nature grim. Although the story ends happily, I am left with the expectation that Faye's condition will inevitably deteriorate soon to the point that Frank can no longer care for her and they can't continue to live together in the home they have spent their life in. A similarly grim theme is that when the biomechanical mother gives birth to her 'chicks' one of them is stillborn, although it is later revived by one of the human characters, which is sweet, but young children may get upset or not understand the birth scene.

The second problem is the main antagonist, a thug hired by the developer to evict the residents of the property, in that he is extremely violent, breaking into the property wielding axes and cudgels and threatening the residents and smashing up their property. Halfway through the film he unprovokedly attacks, and apparently kills, the father of the little biomechanical family (although he is later repaired by his mate) in a scene that would likely be deeply upsetting for young children, and towards the end he violently assaults a man and sets fire to the building, before somewhat redeeming himself by rescuing Faye from the burning ruins.

In summary, this is a delightful film, but may be unsuitable for young or sensitive children due to the violence in what would otherwise be quite a gentle story, and some darker themes.

La corona mágica

Very unusual cartoon with mediocre heroes and cool villains
An English-dubbed version of 'The Magic Crown' was broadcast on the ITV channel in the UK sometime in the early 90s. It is a Spanish animated series that combines a premise similar to Blake's Seven (a band of people fighting to overcome a female dictator in space) with the addition of magical powers. While I would usually find mixing high-tech SF ideas with stock fantasy fodder a recipe for disaster, I have to say in this instance I did not find it particularly obtrusive. Most characters seem to have these magic powers (or at least enough of them on each side to make it even) and they serve more as a simplified replacement for laser guns and similar weapons and probably make the story that bit more accessible to younger children. I have searched the Internet for the dubbed version, but can only find the original Spanish. I would love to be able to see the English version again.

As with many children's animations of this era, the heroes are dull and unsympathetic. In The Magic Crown, this is only compounded by extremely bland character design. I suspect this is strongly responsible for the series languishing in obscurity while programmes with more memorable, imaginatively designed characters such as Dangermouse and The Dreamstone continue to be remembered and have small cult followings. Rahman, the central goody, is a Gandalfesque wizard in a blue robe. Prince Zalk is a space adventurer in a Lycra suit. The token female goody is Shaila, a red-haired woman in an ugly pink dress. All of these characters are drawn in a basic, approximately anatomically correct way that makes them look more like diagrams in a Health and Safety manual. The only character with a modicum of originality is a boy called Hanstor, whose face is much more characterised. The heroes are also accompanied everywhere by two small alien animal pets that sit on their shoulders, one green and lizard-like and the other brown and monkey-like. These don't really add anything or have personalities of their own.

Fortunately, this is compensated by fun and reasonably well-designed villains. Queen Idun is similar to Blake's Seven's Servalan, a powerful and ruthless woman who wears revealing clothes, in this case a tunic with holes in (one of them dangerously close to her pubic area) over a pair of green stockings. But who the story is really about, in my impression, is Grand Vizier Zohak and his fall from grace. Zohak is a goblin-like character with blue skin who wears a monocle and a knife tucked inside the belt of his robe. As a stark contrast to the goodies, he is far more stylised and developed in his design. At the start of the series, he seems to be Idun's right-hand man and is responsible for changing her appearance from a withered old crone to the younger look she sports for the rest of the cartoon. Things rapidly start to go wrong for him, mainly due to the actions of the heroes combined with his scheming nature. He uses a combination of magic and chemistry to make himself look like Zalk and tries to seduce Idun. When this goes wrong, he gets marooned on a wild planet. There seem to be some rather sophisticated politics and subplots going on in the scenes with the baddies, with conspiracies and planned coups and stuff going on among various army characters and Idun's subordinates, although I don't fully understand it as I've been unable to find the English dub.

This series is worth watching if you can find it. It's an unusual film in that it came from a country not known particularly well for its television exports or science fiction output. Some of the characters are poorly designed and the animation probably equal to other animations of the time. The backgrounds are fairly uninspired but do improve to a degree as the series progresses. The baddies go a long way towards spicing it up.

Sekai meisaku dôwa: Hakuchô no mizûmi

An old-school Japanese anime with fun baddies
I've seen both the original Japanese version of this film with subtitles and the English dub with David Hemmings and Kay Lenz, and I would recommend the English version solely for these voice talents and the wittiness of the script. The background sounds and music are the same on both, good in the case of the Tschaikovsky music and the gloomy echoing in Rothbart's abode, not so good in the case of silly squelching sounds when squirrels jump.

The film draws its inspiration from the story in the ballet Swan Lake and is somewhat limited by this, although it adds the requisite happy ending (at least so far as the goodies are concerned) instead of the ambiguous or downright tragic ending usually seen in the ballet performances. Siegfried and Odette's characters and design are bland and generic, with Odette malingering in her captor's jail waiting to be rescued and not showing much inventiveness in finding a solution to her situation, and Siegfried abandoning his responsibilities as the leader of his kingdom because of the way he feels about her, but the characters of antagonists von Rothbart and his daughter Odile steal the show.

Rothbart and Odile can both shapeshift into owls. In human form, Rothbart can probably best be described as a 'metrosexual ogre' -- a green-skinned, burly figure with antenna-like eyebrows and medieval- fantasy-boy hair/beard and cloak. Odette is pale and slight with blue hair and dominatrix-style gloves and corset. The English dub manages to inject a surprising amount of camaraderie and humour between them that isn't present in the original Japanese. Odile teases Rothbart and winds him up and he tells her to shut up, but there's a feeling underneath it that they care about each other and enjoy being partners in evildoing. At the end they both meet their demise and Rothbart dies calling out to Odile to help him. These characters came across as having more of a real father-daughter relationship that was far more relatable to than the stiff romance between the protagonists.

Unmemorable and slightly annoying are two squirrel characters that seem to have been incorporated to make what is essentially a mature and somewhat dark premise more child friendly. They perform only a single relevant act to the plot when they unlock Odette's prison, allowing her to escape to Siegfried's ball. I tend to skip through these scenes when watching the film, and I think it would honestly have worked better had they not been included, and it would have bettered Odette's rather weak character had the scriptwriters come up with a more proactive way for her to escape.

The animation does show its age, although the backgrounds and some of the character designs make up for it. This is an old school anime, and if you liked the more moderate Japanese style of animation before it got all cutesy and exaggerated and disturbingly sexualised, this one is for you. It probably will not have a great deal of appeal to modern children, but adults will probably get a chuckle out of the Rothbart/Odile scenes while rolling their eyes at the squirrels.

The Flight of Dragons

Beautifully animated film
I remember watching this film as a child, and I was captivated by the gorgeous Eastern artistic style of the dragons and the explanations of how their physiology worked. I also remember crying when Smrgll fought to protect his friends and died from his injuries. Rewatching it as an adult, it still mostly works, and the style is still beautiful and imaginative.

The start of the film is pretty strong, and introduces the 'Four Magic Brothers' each of whom rides his own dragon. The brothers seek a solution to their survival and that of their art in a world where Man is becoming increasingly reliant upon science. Three of the brothers reach an agreement, but the other, Ommadon, turns renegade and swears to twist Man's science and use it to destroy him, before storming out.

Carolinus the Green Wizard represents nature and the earth. He travels forward in time to find someone who can defeat Ommadon. He finds Peter of Beacon street, a nerd who designs board games. He brings Peter back to his own time, where we are introduced to Carolinus's dragons Smrgll and Gorbash. Smrgll is an elderly and somewhat cantankerous brown and orange dragon who wishes he could still serve Carolinus rather than enjoying his retirement; Gorbash is a younger green dragon, cocky and overconfident, training as Smrgll's replacement. Rather less well developed are Melissande, token naff woman character, referred to both as Carolinus's adopted daughter and a princess (?), and a boorish knight who is to accompany Peter and Gorbash on the quest.

That night Ommadon's dragon attacks and a magic spell goes wrong, leaving Peter in Gorbash's body. Peter spends most of the quest learning how to be a dragon from Smrgll as the group fights various beasts and baddies. They are also joined by a sort of Robin Hood woman, an elf, and a talking wolf. I was rather less keen on these characters as they didn't really add anything to the story. It does manage to come to a satisfying conclusion despite their interruption, with Peter defeating the villain using logic and scientific facts.

In summary, this is film is unusual and attractive in its artistic style. Most of the characters are reasonably well developed. Although the main premise of good vs. evil is nothing new, the addition of scientific ideas and a boffin protagonist was handled well and made a refreshing change from fantasy simply involving unexplained magic and beasts defying the laws of nature. More logical-minded kids will love it, and adults will enjoy the animation style.

Freddie as F.R.O.7.

Animation and voice talents spoiled by silly premise and unlikeable characters
In a magical kingdom in France (?) there lived magic Prince Frederick with his magic dad the king. The king's sister (who is also magic) shapeshifts into a cobra and spooks the king's horse, killing him. Later she turns the prince into a frog and tries to kill him, but he escapes from his aunt and is helped by the Loch Ness Monster (?).

Things don't necessarily have to be logical or sensible in kid's films when magical kingdoms and sorcerers are involved. But after this point it gets progressively sillier.

Freddie becomes a giant anthropomorphic frog, a lecherous and complacent French caricature in a beret and a leather jacket who talks rot about overcoming violence with 'the powers of the mind' and drives a ridiculous car with eyes and lipstick that emits hearts instead of exhaust fumes. Meanwhile, his aunt, perhaps having been belatedly informed that France is a republic and she thus can't be queen of it, turns back into a snake and goes and hangs around Brian Blessed's neck (more on this later).

Meanwhile, in England, various architectural landmarks and national monuments float away under mysterious weather conditions. There are some scenes of this happening, including one with offensive crows who talk like black Americans. The 'Brigadier' presumably meant to be the head of MI5, requests the help of FR07 to solve the problem. We meet a dumb Scottish character with a huge chin and a tartan coat who has a thick Scottish accent and uses a haggis as a weapon, and who unsurprisingly is called Scotty. And we meet 'Daffers', who is introduced as some kind of martial arts and gadgets person, but who spends the remainder of the film dressed like a tart, flirting and shrieking and needing to be rescued from baddies. Less importantly, we meet a simpering double agent, Trilby.

Freddie is given orders to get on with the mission but decides to go to a racecourse instead. Some henchmen turn up and try to kill Freddie, but he beats them up and overhears their conversation, revealing that Big Ben will be attacked that night. Because Freddie is an arrogant prat, he deceives the people he's working for by telling them the target is Windsor Castle.

Meanwhile, in Brian Blessed's secret hideout, an army of Nazis and Ku Klux Klan and other people in strange costumes perform a dance and the snake aunt sings a bad song. Brian Blessed's character's history and motivation are never explained: he is simply a fat bearded villain in a blue jersey. Brian Blessed's voice talents are however excellent as usual.

Freddie and his stupid accomplices hide in Big Ben and get captured. Brian Blessed uses his shrinking ray on Big Ben and then monologues about how he has a box that sucks 'energy' out of the stolen architecture and uses it to make a pink cloud that makes everyone in Great Britain fall asleep. He throws Freddie and Scotty into a subterranean lake filled with monsters. The Loch Ness Monster returns and rescues them and introduces Freddie to her family and there follows another lousy musical interlude. Then the Loch Ness monsters tie Brian Blessed's submarines up with seaweed.

Freddie and Scotty return to Brian Blessed's hideout and defeat soldiers with machine guns by kicking and punching them. Freddie breaks Brian Blessed's machine, and when the villain tries to kill him with a sword, it is revealed he is impervious to blades and can hurl people across the room using his magic powers, throwing into question how and why he allowed himself to be overcome earlier in the story. His aunt shapeshifts into various animals, most of which Freddie overcomes by simply stepping out of the way. Then there's a party and Daffers kisses Freddy and there's a heart-shaped blackout and a frog noise.

The things that really struck me both as a child and an adult were how unlikeable the characters are, particularly Freddie and Daffers, and how the film lacks any coherency. It tries to be both a magical fantasy and a high-tech story about villains and secret services and manages neither. It sucks that Freddie is so 'up himself' and defeats his enemies not by careful planning and organisation, but by deus ex machina magic powers and coincidence. This is kind of a shame because the animation is good for the era and the voice acting (particularly Brian Blessed, whose character seems to have been designed for him) is top notch. The background music (not including the interruptions by characters singing) is not bad either, and some of the characters designs -- the snake and Scotty, plus the caricature-like people in the Brigadier's club -- are pretty damn good. The idea of a big fat villain with a pony-tail and a cobra draped around his neck is awesome, and it's just a pity they couldn't give him a bit more depth and provide him some more worthwhile protagonists to go up against.

There are a couple of mildly amusing one-liners and jokes, although these are likely to be lost on children. Great children's films do often have more complicated humour and undertones that would be expected to fly over the heads of their target audience, and these films can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. In the case of this film, adult viewers are likely to be put off by the unlikeable characters and the ludicrous premise that only gets stupider as the story progresses. In all, this is probably worth watching for the animation and the voice actors, but as a whole the film is weak and even borders on being offensive in its use of unflattering national stereotypes.

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