Monday, January 26, 2015

CARTOON REVIEW: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was a success in the theaters and one year later, it was followed up by an animated series. Back during this part of history, movies tended to get a lot of animated adaptations aimed at kids. Sure, you had obvious stuff like The Real Ghostbusters and Back to the Future... but then you had kids' shows based on adult stuff Robocop, Rambo, and Highlander! Sometimes the shows were a complete waste of time, like that Wizard of Oz cartoon that revived the Wicked Witch of the West.

This series would prove to be a well-handled follow-up to the original movie... or at least the first season, anyway.

SEASON 1 (Hanna-Barbera, CBS)

One of the major boons was the voice talent. Alex Winters, Keanu Reeves, and George Carlin reprised their respective roles for the cartoon. No jarring voice differences for the people who opted to go from the first movie into this show. Granted, not every single actor returned, but those three did more than enough. Even the guest stars weren't anything to sneeze at: they included Phil Hartman, Jonathan Winters, Kenneth Mars, and Little Richard (playing himself!).

Another good factor was not tampering with the Bill and Ted premise. In cartoon adaptations in the past, it was common to change settings: Gilligan's Planet was just Gilligan's Island in space, Laverne and Shirley in the Army was exactly what it sounded like (plus an anthropomorphic pig), Mork and Mindy went to high school, the cast of Happy Days became time travelers... it sounds like it would make for a friggin' host segment on Mystery Science Theater 3000! In this show, nothing is changed: Bill and Ted are two adolescent metal-heads who have a time-jumping phone booth.

"But National Father-figure-type dude, these are the Grimm Bros.!"

Basically, every episode involved the Wyld Stallyns going back in time to counteract a problem that they accidentally cause. But the thing is: sometimes they don't go directly to the time period they ultimately resolve the problem in. Remember, they weren't exactly book-smart, so they wind up in different places first. Here are a few examples:

Birds of a Feather Stick To the Roof of Your Mouth: The Wyld Stallyns house-sit for a man and accidentally let his cat eat a rare bird in his possession. They find a replacement when helping introduce Dr. David Livingston to Henry Stanley, but not before helping Admiral Richard Byrd find the South Pole (they looked up "bird" in the Circuits of Time Phone Book). 

This Babe Ruth "Babe" Is a Dude, Dude!: Bill and Ted's coach punishes the duo by making them clean a bunch of trophies; they accidentally ruin a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth. They learn that Ruth was a Yankee and fail to find him on the front lines of the Civil War... they do help General Abner Doubleday invent baseball, though! They eventually find Ruth... and give "blibber blubber" a better name.

A Most Excellent Roman Holiday: The Prestons and Captain Logan are upset that Bill and Ted's class schedules are nothing but several "Study Hall"s and one "Girls' P.E.". As a result, the duo are forced to take Latin, but their nerdy classmates are a light-year ahead of the Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted look up "Latin" in their phone book (in order to get help in translating the inscription on a Roman coin from Julius Caesar's era) and wind up in Latin America before the arrival of Columbus and nearly get sacrificed.

And before you ask, yes, they also get the names of the historical dudes screwed up like in EA: they call Marco Polo "Mr. O'Polo", for instance.

The history wasn't always perfect. For instance, in The More Heinous They Are, the Harder They Fall, the Wyld Stallyns go back in time in order to find a tough guy to make this bully leave Deacon alone. They visit King Henry VIII, who turns down the duo's offer and recommends that they get Ivan the Terrible. The problem with this is 1) Bill and Ted go to England and Russia in 1534, 2) Ivan the Terrible would not become the first czar until 1547, 3) which was ten years after Henry died. Then again, this kind of stuff can be easily forgiven. It's chiefly a comedy, unlike The Mouse on the Mayflower, so a little "theme park history" can go into it. A scene where the Wyld Stallyns are forced to build the Great Wall of China in 1295 (even though it had been around for hundreds of years at that point in real life) can get a pass for the sake of being a joke, too.

They also go to Transylvania in 1460 at one point and meet Dracula, who is depicted as vampire rather than the historical one (but they got the correct time period, though!).

But then again, this is probably my degree talking again.

"United you stand; divided, you take a dive!"

The plots were pretty good for that period of kids' TV, but not always. For starters, in Pocket Watch Full of Miracles, the Wyld Stallyns forget to pick up Mr. Preston's birthday present (a pocket watch) from the jewelry store. The store closes and they use the time machine to recover an identical one he'd lost when he was a kid. After numerous misadventures, they get one from Queen Victoria; this one turns out to be the very one Mr. Preston lost: it even had an inscription reading "Time is money" on the inside. This would be okay... if that same watch wasn't destroyed on the railroad tracks when Bill and Ted went to see John Henry!

Also, in the episode A Black Night in San Dimas, the Wyld Stallyns obtain a collectible cup from the Circle K Kozy Korner, travel back to the Third Crusade, and run afoul of the Black Knight and Saladin ("the Salad Dude"), both of whom think the cup is a "silver chalice". The Stallyns escape and go to England to pick up the princesses for their only appearance in the entire series. Saladin operated in 1192; Joanna and Elizabeth lived in the 1400s. The Black Knight somehow jumped to from the time of Saladin to that of Henry VI (based on an educated guess as to which Henry was king, EA never specified)... 279 years at the very most (being generous here) with no time machine. Though to be fair, the episode doesn't specify that this is 15th century England, the caption just reads "Medieval England: The Duke's Castle". Maybe it was changed just for the cartoon?

TED: "Excuse us, most grief-stricken French babe..."
BILL: "...but are you not one of the famous Crepe Suzettes?"
Other than those points, it's a fun little outing. Sure, you may have Ted talking with Bill's voice and other animation errors, but it's alright. The animation isn't Miyazaki by any stretch of the imagination, but it suits the Stallynverse.

In addition to that, there were some pretty good gags as well (keep an eye out for Rufus examining a George Carlin album!).

HB did so many things right that the first thirteen episodes feel like a continuation of EA. Heck, they even kept the Stallyns' Cheers-style "Rufus!" for whenever Rufus shows up!

SEASON 2 (DiC, FOX)

After success on CBS, the cartoon was renewed for another season in 1991. For some reason, the animation would be done by DiC Entertainment and moved to FOX. Also, they had the idea to expand the phone booth's abilities so it could travel through books, movies, and television in addition to time. Not a bad concept. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

While DiC got the rights to make the second season, they failed to get Winter, Reeves, and Carlin to come back. As a result, they got Evan Richards and Chris Kennedy to play Bill and Ted, respectively (and we'll discuss them again in the future). They at least tried to sound the part, but they failed to fill the shoes of their movie counterparts.

Rufus got off a lot worse. The funny lines are absent and he takes on a more blase personality: outright telling the Wyld Stallyns where they are and stuff like that. The charisma and humor from EA and Season 1 are nowhere to be seen.

The animation style also tends to blend in with a good chunk the shows that DiC was pumping out during that period. The HB season had a sense of personality, this was just another early-90's cartoon.

SPOILER ALERT: These are the antagonists of the final episode. When the
episode culminates in a whodunit subplot near the end, the cartoon practically
TELLS you that these two are the guilty party. 

But for me, the biggest blow to Season 2 was the writing.

A little bit ago, I mentioned DiC expanding the phone booth's abilities; it was barely utilized. One episode, they try to help improve a mock-up Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, wind up getting the host fired, and try to get him back. In another, they go into a Leave It To Beaver stand-in and bring Not-Wally and Not-Beaver to their time. In another, the Stallyns shrink down, Fantastic Voyage-style, and journey through the body of their morbidly obese coach. There were also brief instances where they went into The Sound of Music, a Sherlock Holmes story, and Rodan. That's about it. The fact that this season didn't last very long wouldn't see much more utility.

But what about time travel? The Stallyns visit Leonardo da Vinci (previously met in Season 1, but now the conditions surrounding him are different), Christopher Columbus (who they'd earlier inspired to sail west), and Abner Doubleday (and they have to invent baseball again, too). Did DiC run out of ideas of where to send them? Or were the writers just as historically illiterate as Bill and Ted themselves?

They DID go to a couple of new times, though. They met Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 during their failed attempt to change the American national anthem. Here's a game for that episode, should you watch it: whenever "The Star Spangled Banner" is played (as an instrumental or sung), take a swig.

Other times, the very scripting yielded logical problems:


Goodbye Columbus... and America: The Wyld Stallyns' fathers make them do chores and they use the booth to go on a cruise aboard the Santa Maria. Their shenanigans make Columbus give up his expedition. With America a sylvan wilderness, Rufus shows up as a Brit and explains everything that happened.

QUESTION: How does Rufus even exist in the altered timeline, or even Bill and Ted? He makes a shaky explanation that his family never immigrated from England, though. However, it doesn't explain the time machines or why the Stallyns' didn't vanish when Columbus turned his ships around to go back to Spain.

The existence of phone booths in this alternate timeline raises further questions.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in Babysitting: Bill and Ted go back to the 1970's in order to procure Mr. Preston's old guitar and wind up babysitting themselves.

QUESTION: What about the rules about interacting with yourself (or your relatives) in the past? Sure, it happened in EA, but that was purely by accident and resulted in a Pre-Destination Paradox. In the latter episodes of Season 1, there was concern about adverse effects that would occur when one intentionally screws around in his own past. As such, that action was deemed off-limits.


Even the jokes suffered. You had half-hearted Siskel and Ebert parodies who hated Leonrado's artwork and a Sherlock Holmes who is obsessed with the Hound of the Baskervilles. Probably the best one of the season involved Not-Mister Rodger's manager not finishing school.

HB may have had that one egregious plot hole in Pocket Watch and a few historical goofs here and there, but there was at least competence. DiC's output would tend to seem like the staff just didn't care about what they were doing.

Season 2 would only last for eight episodes before succumbing to the Curse of FOX. I have explained this phenomena during my review of the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon.


VERDICT

Season 1 had so much going for it that the dissolution of those factors really hurt during the transition to DiC. It wasn't always perfect, but it was appropriate as a Stallyns outing. Season 2, well, if you don't watch and just let it play on your iPad as you lay down in bed... it can help you get to sleep. It worked with me three out of four times. 

I say give it watch, you can Hulu it and if you don't like that, there's always YouTube. Definitely check out the HB episodes; skip Season 2 unless you're very patient or curious.




I'm DLAbaoaqu. Be excellent to each other.
DLA will return with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey




Bill & Ted are owned by MGM/UA

Thursday, January 15, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

DISCLAIMER: The text of this review was already completed before the insertion of images. In doing so, I discovered that my personal DVD copy of the movie was screwed up and my laptop wouldn't play it. As a result, I had to make do with third-party stills (and one snapshot via my phone) . Please excuse the varying quality.



Waiting to upload stuff for the Mario retrospective according to the schedule gets a little boring. As a result, I thought I'd pass the time by doing some more reviews for this blog. For the next few entries, I'm taking a look at one of the franchises that defined the 80's/90's Transitional Period: Bill and Ted.

Back in my ICBINAVGN days, you probably noticed that I used a few clips from the movies (Bill's "WHAT!?" and Ted's "Whoa..."). Suffice it to say, I like those movies and I want to give my own take on the most triumphant outings of the Wyld Stallyns. We start with the first movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. 

But before we begin, a brief bit of background.

BACKGROUND

The idea of Bill and Ted started out back in 1983 when Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson were in an improv workshop and came up with a trio who clearly couldn't grasp current events; the characters were called Bill, Ted, and Bob. The Bob character was quickly phased out and the trio became a duo.

The concept was also retooled: it became about them going back to historical events they didn't understand and inadvertently causing numerous historical disasters (for instance, sinking the Titanic), but such ideas were deemed too dark and were abandoned. The duo got a particular speech pattern as well: it wasn't Valley speak or Surfer lingo, according to Solomon and Matheson, but something independent of those dialects that could easily be mistaken for either. The ideas for Ted's pot-smoking big brother was also given the ax.

The first draft was ready in 1984, but it would take five years before the concept would be fine-tuned enough for the public. We will cover a little more trivia like this as we press on, but we need to get on to the main course.

CHARACTERS

TRIVIA: Originally, Bill and Ted's names were "Smith" and "Williams",respectively.
Bill S. Preston, Esq., (Alex Winters; left) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves; right) are a pair of metalheads collectively known as the Wyld Stallyns. They want to be a great band, only one problem: they suck. Hard. Their obsession with getting their band off the ground comes at the expense of their grades.

TRIVIA: Rufus was first envisioned as a 28-year-old High School student.
Rufus (George Carlin) is a man from the year 2688. He is sent seven centuries back in time to help give the Wyld Stallyns an edge with their history assignment.


Missy (I mean "Mom") Preston (Amy Stock-Poynton). Despite being only three years older than the two, she is Bill's stepmother. She's pretty much the hottest woman on the planet. Everyone oogles her: Bill, her husband, former teachers, Napoleon, the list goes on!


Captain Logan (Hal Langdon) is Ted's father and member of the San Dimas Police Department. He is very disappointed in Ted, to the point that he is threatening to ship him off to military school.


Deacon Logan (Frazier Bain) is Ted's younger brother. He is given the task of babysitting Napoleon while the Wyld Stallyns do their "research".

SUMMARY
(SPOILERS AHEAD)

We are introduced to Rufus in the 27th Century. In the future, you see, virtual paradise was achieved but it was nearly averted by an incident involving two teenage boys from San Dimas, California: Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan. Rufus' job is to make sure they stay on track. Somehow, the duo forms the basis of his world.
`
"I spoke to Col. Oats this morning. He's anxious to meet you, Ted."

Bill and Ted have spent so much time playing rock stars that their grades are suffering (they think that Caesar was "a salad dressing dude" and that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife). They have but one assignment left: the final oral report asking how certain historical figures would view 1988 San Dimas; if they don't get an A+, they flunk. It doesn't help that Ted's father is planning to send his son to Oats Military Academy in Alaska because of this, killing Wyld Stallyns in its cradle.

TRIVIA: Did you know that time travel in the film was supposed to be done via van?
While working on the early drafts of the movie, Back to the Future hit theaters. To
avoid legal problems, the time machine became a phone booth.

After getting kicked out of Bill's house by Mr. Preston (who wants to get it on with Missy), the two study at a Circle K, they meet Rufus, who shows up in a phone booth. He tells the duo that he wants to help them with the history report, but they're clueless as to how.

"If you're really us... what number are we thinking of?"
"69, dudes!"

Then another phone booth appears... with another pair of Stallyns, who tell the originals what they're going to do. These are the Bill and Ted of the near future, come to convince the present ones that everything they're seeing is real. As they leave, they bring up princesses and... well... I won't spoil the joke.

Rufus takes Bill and Ted to Napoleon Bonaparte's (Terry Carmilleri) 1805 invasion of Austria to show what the phone booth could do.

Rufus departs, leaving behind the phone booth... and Napoleon! A mishap in his camp sent "the short, dead dude" (which is the only thing Bill could identify him as) to 1988 with the boys. Because of this, they hatch a plan: they have one historical person with them, they can get more to speak at the report that's due.

Bill and Ted leave Napoleon in the care of Ted's little brother Deacon; after a run-in with Ted's father (a chewing-out cut short by a prank call from Bill) the duo go to the Old West and save the life of Billy the Kid (Dan Shor).

"Dust. Wind. Dude!"

Next, it's off to ancient Greece. They snag Socrates* (Tony Steedman) after "philosophizing" with him. Wanna know where Socrates came up with "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives"? The lyrics to "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas.

"How's it going, Royal Ugly Dudes?"

The next stop is at a castle in medieval England. Remember what Future!Ted said about princesses? They're here, and the dudes fall for them like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, their kingly father says "no dice" and tries to execute the duo. Billy and Socrates manage to save the two when all hope seems lost and they escape.

The group winds up in the 27th century, where everyone seems to worship the ground they walk on. They leave shortly after getting there ("We'd take you with us, but it's a History report, not a Future report.").


The duo go up and down the time stream, collecting numerous figures: Sigmund Freud** (Rod Loomis), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Ludwig von Beethoven*** (Clifford David), and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron) among them. Eventually, the booth's antenna breaks and they get stranded in the prehistoric San Dimas area. Through the magic of bubble gum they get it running again.

They wind up back in 1988, only it's still the past. Remember the earlier scene where the Stallyns meet their future counterparts? The same scene occurs... only now, Present!Bill and Ted have assumed the roles (and lines) of Future!Bill and Ted. It turns out they came to the wrong time because... well, explaining it would ruin the joke.

"This is Dave Beeth-huvvin, Maxine of Arc, Herman the Kid, Bob Genghis
Kahn, So-crates Johnson, Dennis Frood, and... Abraham Lincoln."

They return to their correct time, and Missy hardly bats an eye when a phone booth randomly falls on her garden hose and the Stallyns come out with a parade historical dudes.

After doing some chores, Bill and Ted leave the group in the Food Court of the San Dimas Mall while they run off to fetch Napoleon. Unfortunately for the Stallyns, Deacon did not have a good time with Napoleon and ditched him at the bowling alley the night before! Bill and Ted find the Little Corporal, who now has an undying love of water parks!


While all that's going on, the other historical dudes wreak havoc at the mall as they discover the modern stuff they love. Beethoven plays the keyboards at a music store (creating a crowd); Genghis Khan wrecks a sporting goods store; Lincoln is accused of stealing a stove pipe hat and beard (his own) from a portrait studio; Socrates, Billy the Kid, and Freud get chased for reasons that aren't exactly clear; Joan of Arc takes over an aerobics class. As you'd expect, they go to the pokey because of this chaos they've caused.

Now, the Stallyns' objective is to bust the historical dudes out of jail. The problem: they don't have any time and Ted lost his father's cell keys. Fortunately, they have the phone booth! Once they do their report (and likely fail), they use it to find the keys and put it behind the sign of the station... among other useful things! The whole scene makes me wonder about how much trial-and-error the duo went through before pulling it off successfully.

They free the historical dudes (and several criminals, unavoidably) and just barely escape the police station (thanks to one booby-trap).

"PARTY ON, DUDES!"

The Stallyns get to the school auditorium in the nick of time so they can do their report. They talk briefly about what modern activities and stuff the historical dudes did and their relation to history. Also, by this time, they get Socrates and Freud's names right. It all ends with Lincoln giving a variation of the Gettysburg Address! The school's reaction to the report is akin to a concert -- lighters and everything!

A lot more epic than the alternate ending where the report happens in Bill and Ted's classroom!

Yeah, not quite as awesome, huh?

The Stallyns got A+'s, but feel like it's time get a little more serious in terms of improving the band. Then Rufus shows up... with the princesses! The best way the boys can thank him is with their autographs. Rufus' mission was to make sure Bill and Ted passed their history class:


Had they failed, Captain Logan would have shipped Ted off to Alaska. As a result, Wyld Stallyns never gets off the ground and it would usher in the end of the world. The music of Bill and Ted, you see, eventually brings about universal peace and ends starvation and poverty... or should I say, their latter music. According to Rufus, "They do get better."

Works a little better than the original ending:

TRIVIA: The movie, in all previous drafts, ended with
the Wyld Stallyns and the princesses going to the prom.
This was changed during production so more focus could
be given to Bill and Ted's efforts to start their band.


END SPOILERS



VERDICT

This was not the first of the Wyld Stallyns duology that I saw. I will get to the sequel in the future.

Bill and Ted's characters are almost impossible to hate. In many ways, they're kinda like Son Goku: sure they aren't exactly the brightest crayons in the shop, but they aren't completely stupid. They may have zero talent at what they like to do, but you can't help but applaud their enthusiasm. Furthermore, if you take notice of the way they behave around the historical dudes, they get no special treatment. Most people, you see, would go into nuts if they met Abe Lincoln or Joan of Arc in this day and age; the Stallyns treat them no differently than anybody else.

This might sound funny, but their speech pattern can rub off on others with ridiculous ease. I didn't use "dude" in a sentence very often before seeing these movies; now, it's somewhat common. Heck, I've used the word quite a few times as I typed this review! I also tend to use "most" instead of "very" when the situation demands. I don't know why, it just happens. 

Speaking of ease, I find it funny how the historical dudes adapted to both time travel and 1988 culture. Sure, Socrates and a few others were taken aback by the booth's journey up and down the circuits of time... but by the end, they were big on billiards, baseball, and Bon Jovi!

Another big boon to the film? The soundtrack! The music has so many great tracks from artists like Shark Island and Tora Tora. Probably tied for my favorites are "Do You Want To Play" by Extreme (where the historical dudes obliterate the San Dimas Mall) and "The Boys and the Girls Are Doing It" by Vital Signs (plays during the water park montage). "Two Heads Are Better Than One" by Nelson is no slouch either!

Then, the atmosphere of when they're in 1988. The Waterloo water park reminds me of the ones down in Surfside Beach and Myrtle Beach (though no castle gate). But my favorite scenes are the ones at night -- especially the Circle K scenes. I don't know what it is about this era, but even when it's dark, it's still colorful; this same kinda thing happened with the UHF review (which, coincidentally, came out the same year). But this whole part's just me.

I also kinda like how we go into the duo's own little world by way of Bill's bedroom. It's probably the posters and the lighting. I kinda like it. Plus, there's this weird leprechaun in there. What's that about?

The disc was so FUBAR that I'm amazed that I got this image.
My only regret is that the laptop wouldn't read it.

There are some weird parts though, like somehow learning Rufus' name despite him never introducing himself. Can someone explain this? Also, the king orders the Stallyns to be put in an iron maiden (which the two think is the band Iron Maiden)... but the duo is sent to get beheaded. Maybe these are just mistakes I just happened to run across, but in the long run, don't really hurt the movie much,

All things considered, this is a must-watch! Name one other movie where you hear Napoleon say "water slide"?




I'm DLAbaoaqu. SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!

DLA will be return with the Bill & Ted Animated Series


Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) is property of MGM/UA, formerly of Orion.



*They pronounce his name as "So-Crates".
** Pronounced "Frood", according to them.
*** Pronounced "Beeth-huvin", to them

Saturday, January 3, 2015

CLASSIC MARIO RETROSPECTIVE 1: Donkey Kong (Back-up)

video
All that construction site needed was Popeye chasing 
a runaway Swee'Pea, Buttons and Mindy, and
Tom and Jerry going after that freakin' baby
and the place would come full circle!