THOUGHTS IN SPACE
Taking a break from cartoons, it should be noted that the spat of sitcoms and live action drama television shows also liberally celebrated Halloween – and sometimes with crass cross-over commercialism at their ghoulish heart. Take, for example, the Different Strokes / Ghosbusters mash-up.
Yep, that’s Arnold dressed as ghostbusters. I think Gary Coleman was full on forty-plus by the time this filmed.
This episode aired in September of 1984, about three months after the hit film was released. In it, Arnold and Sam hear about a local house that is haunted so they decide to do some investigating to determine if ghosts are real. It makes sense that they go as ghostbusters because either the show got a kick back OR the producers decided the best way to boost ratings was ape a hit summer flick that was taking the country by storm.
Not sure kiddos today would get much out of it, but boy does Different Strokes bring back some memories. And, not all of them good. Like, I am fairly certain I watched this episode as a kid when it first aired and was more than likely thinking, at the tender age of nine, why am I still watching this junk?
But it would be interesting to see what my oldest thinks of what passed as mainstream Halloween entertainment back when I was a kid – can’t shield kids from all bad things, right?
Anyway, for those similarly interested, here's a clip of the pertinent part, because life is too short to watch the ENTIRE episode - once was quite enough!
Like all kids growing up in the 1980s, I read and laughed at Garfield, so I was pleased when my own child discovered and found humor in the fat orange cat. (Hey, at eight-years-old, the dad jokes of Garfield are great!) And like most kids, I vaguely remember watching Garfield cartoons, but I have zero memory of the Garfield Halloween Special – The Garfield Halloween Adventure.
Turns out, for kids, it is pretty spooky. You have a freaky clown, freaky looking trick-r-treaters, and, then, the old man. My oldest had a BLAST watching this, but my youngest, two-going-on-WWF-wrestler, got quite spooked, which kind of bumped it up on my list of cartoon Halloween specials because being scared about Halloween is a formative event (or series of events) in a young kid’s life!
I love Halloween. Not because I still get dressed up and try and go trick-or-treating – myself, I certainly do make the rounds as a father monitoring the kiddos – but because it has become my binge time for horror movies.
I love horror movies: slasher films, with lots of gore pre-torture style films; Hammer films; Universal Monsters; horror classics like Psycho; and “modern” classics like Pet Cemetery 2, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child's Play. My wife, however, does NOT like horror films, and my children are nowhere near old enough to partake in my love of these films, so I rarely take the time to watch them. But this time of year it is too hard to resist.
I developed a love of horror films probably around eight-year-s old, the age my oldest is now. It was the height of the VHS / Beta wars, and Friday nights meant going down to the local video cassette rental store with my father and brother to pick up 2 or 3 movies to watch over the weekend. My older brother was into horror movies, which meant I got to see more than my fair share – even if I wasn’t old enough. Throw in the early days of cable TV and HBO and, well, let’s just say my kid doesn’t watch even a tenth of what I saw at his age. (I still don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!)
But Halloween isn’t just for me, I want my oldest to enjoy cartoons and films that take him to the edge of being scared. Question is, what? What is appropriate for kids these days? Clearly he isn’t going to watch Poltergeist or Psycho or even Mr. Boogedy. And, I don’t think he’s ready for Goosebumps yet; he has a strange, strong fear of mummies and skeletons and ghouls. So, maybe I need to reach even further back and find some classic early 80s cartoon Halloween specials – anything and everything BUT Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, which for some reason I just can’t stand.
So what should I show him? Over the coming days, I will do my best to dig up and showcase some classic old kid’s cartoons. And, in that vein, I’ll start off with one of my all-time favorite spooky animated shorts, one that I distinctly remember being shown over and over again on a reel-to-reel projector in elementary school:
When my eldest was the age of my second child, bedtime often meant not just reading but bedtime stories. It was here that I would happily weave tails of backyard shenanigans, space travel, oafish circus animals and more. It was a blast. I didn’t realize it at the time, would never have understood, but back then I had a luxury of time that has all but vanished since my second arrived.
Maybe it is my schedule, maybe it is the five-plus-year age difference, maybe I am just old and cranky (I mean, tired). But, whatever is causing it, I miss it. They were fun bedtimes and my oldest got a huge kick out of it. I sometimes wonder if I am short-changing my second.
Then again, everything with my second has run along against different timelines, so, maybe, this whole bedtime story phase is yet to come.
Actually, now that I think about it, maybe this is for the best. I could use the extra time to come up with new stories of backyard shenanigans, tales of travel and goofy animals.
Each deserves their own world of bedtime magic.
My how Star Wars has changed.
Back in June of 1995, a new Star Wars juvenile book series was launched by Kevin J. Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta: Star Wars Young Jedi Knights Book 1: Heirs of the Force.
Although I was not a huge fan of Anderson's other Star Wars writing, what with the yokel characterization and campy plots, I was an obsessed Star Wars fan and a voracious reader, so, reflexively, into my brain Book 1 went, along with most of the books that followed.
I stumbled across the book recently while unpacking, and seeing it gave me considerable pause. Sure, thanks to the Disney era of the Star Wars franchise, this "sequel" continuity no longer exists. But, a book can't be wiped out, and I wondered, as a die-hard fan irritated by Disney’s sequel take, and as a father looking to get his own voracious reader into the world of Star Wars, how well, if at all, does this book stand up?
Turns out - yes, very much so.
The plot is about what you would expect. Twenty-three years after the events of A New Hope, Luke Skywalker has started a new Jedi Knight Academy on Yavin 4, the moon housing the secret Rebel base that launched the attack that resulted in the destruction of the first Death Start. Han and Leia’s two teenage kids, Jacen and Jaina, are students at the Academy and they, along with a friend named Tenel Ka, are excited when their father stops by for a visit and a deliveries Chewbacca’s nephew, Lowbacca, to the Academy. The group of young teenagers get along famously and before long are involved in some hijinks in the jungle surrounding the Academy involving a wrecked TIE Fighter and a mysterious figure.
If it sounds like the set-up to a bad after school special, that’s because it is – complete with ridiculous dialog, references to “funny” moments in the original trilogy, and a C-3PO version of Dr. Theopolis (Bee dee Bee dee - look it up, kids). Although not the worst thing I read in my “youth,” I recall not being enthused with it back in 1995. The paper-thin plot and repetitive identifying character traits were rough, but, again, it was Star Wars so I slogged through it.
As an adult, I can’t say my critical reaction differs much. The kids have no real personality beyond two-dimensional sketches of Jaina is a tom boy and Jacen is a quiet animal lover who cracks bad jokes. I can now see that the plot is akin to a Hardy Boys mystery where the kids’ collective curiosity gets them into trouble, and so they have to band together, and bond, in order to save each other and the day. Pretty mundane stuff that doesn't add much to the characters or the Star Wars universe at large (although, this changed in later years the characters grew up and had MAJOR impacts across the now defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe).
But, again, as an adult, while reading this, I realized that I am not the intended audience. And from the perspective of an eight-year-old, or older, I can see how this book, and the series, would be a blast. Kids exploring the world around them and earning each other’s trust, learning how to be responsible on their own, facing danger together – the stuff of classic juvenile fiction. Sure, the writing is crackerjack thin, but if Harry Potter taught us nothing else it is that excellent prose is not always required to have a rip-roaring yarn for kids.
But the true gem of this book is that it is leaps and bounds better than what has replaced it; the recycled, tired stories that the franchise is cranking out via the Rebels cartoon, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. Unlike the current crop of stories, Heirs of the Force doesn’t rest on the original trilogy franchise, merely uses it as a springboard to tell its own story, and for that it is was well worth the read.
Which leaves me a bit shocked. For as much as I recall disliking this book, clearly time has healed all wounds, and I look forward to sharing the book with my son.
If you have a child who might be a budding fan, or is a fan, I highly encourage you to track down an inexpensive (used) copy on Amazon or eBay and blast off to a bygone era of ... better Star Wars.