Friday, July 16, 2021

Green Phoenix - 8 Nearly Forgotten Childhood Films

From the earliest days of my childhood, film and television have had an indelible impact upon me. Films like The Lion King, Toy Story, Jurassic Park, and The Indiana Jones franchise have continued to thrill and excite me even into adulthood and drive me into a pleasurable nostalgic haze.

And yet, there have also been those films that, for one reason or another, I can remember watching only after being prompted or otherwise reminded. Regardless of the quality of the film, some pieces of my childhood were locked behind some vague glance at my old VHS tapes or a mention by some online film reviewer.

Today's article is honor of those films. Irrespective of their quality or my personal opinions on the films, this list is intended rather to be an exploration and retrospective on films that I remember that have, for one reason or another, fallen under the radar of my generally excellent sense of nostalgia. Some are films I enjoyed watching that I simply have forgotten, others are so vague that I can remember only small sections or parts.

Without further ado, let us take a quick retrospective look at 8 Nearly Forgotten Films from my Childhood.

***
***

COUNTDOWN RULES

  1. The Quality of the Film will have no bearing upon its inclusion on this list.
  2. I will try to vary up the films on this list, so as to avoid filling it with too many films from any single director or production (with respect to Don Bluth).
  3. While all the current list include films which are predominantly animation, that was not a prerequisite for inclusion on this list.

***

COUNTDOWN

1. Rock-a-Doodle

This 1991 Don Bluth production, based very very
 
loosely on the 1910 play Chantecler, was actually the inspiration for this entire countdown list. Growing up, I was periodically plagued by a nightmare of an animated owl attacking a small child. This dream always stuck with me and, for the longest time, I had thought that I had made it all up.
 
It was only years later as an adult, that I happened across a YouTube video of someone discussing Don Bluth films that I happened across Rock-a-Doodle. Suffice it to say, that I was rather stunned to realize just how much of this film I had managed to recall and impact upon my subconscious. The owl from my nightmare was, in fact, the villainous Grand Duke of Owls that opposes Chantecler's efforts to raise the sun in order to take over the rooster's farm. I can recall a weird scene of the protagonist child teaching some of the characters to tie their shoes. And yet, for all that. Rock-A-Doodle remains surprisingly vague to me.
 
That's actually something of a pattern among many of Don Bluth's films for me. I was a Disney kid growing up and it was those movies that tended to be remembered and rewatched. I enjoyed watching many of the films and really appreciate them far more as an adult than I did as a child, especially The Secret of NIMH, but I ultimately think that the late-era Don Bluth films suffered from a debilitating flaw that crippled their overall memorability in my mind.

They tried far to hard to be like Disney movies. You see, the early Don Bluth films like The Secret of NIMH and The Land Before Time all outperformed their Disney rival films at the time, as Disney was still reeling from the financial fallout of The Black Cauldron. These films felt distinctly different from the usual Disney fare and it really helps to instill a sense of memorability. But as the Disney Renaissance really hit its stride in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bluth was increasingly pressured by his producers and financiers to make his film more Disney-like to compete. This resulted in films like Thumbelina, Anastasia, and I think Rock-A-Doodle.
 
In a sense, Rock-A-Doodle was something of a victim of the Disney Renaissance, though its loss has led to its inclusion as the first entry on this list, so I think that ought to count for something?

2. The Pagemaster

Most folks were likely introduced to Mackuley Culkin through the Home Alone series. For me however, it was Culkin's role in The Pagemaster that first placed the actor on my radar. The 1994 live-action/animated film produced collaboratively by Fox Family Films and Turner Film Animation was a really strange film that was panned upon its release.

Essentially designed as a motion picture to inspire children to read, The Pagemaster followed a young neurotic boy scared of everything who is thrust into an animated adventure when he is transported into a series of classic novels, such as The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and Treasure Island, upon visiting his local library. Joined by a triplet of living books (Horror, Adventure, and Fantasy), the young man seeks out the legendary Pagemaster to escape from the literary world.

Though this film is on this list, as I write this article, I am actually kind of stunned at how saturated my childhood was by this film. I remember so much of the various scenes and characters, was enthralled by the music, and while the animation is a little weird with regards to Culkin's animated form the rest of the film is excellently done visually speaking. I even remember owning The Pagemaster book and Super Nintendo Game growing up.

This film in reality, might be the most memorable forgotten childhood film on this list. I think it was largely the negative response from other people and the lack of general knowledge of this film that caused me to forget it in the first place. Suffice it to say, I may have to touch upon this film in greater detail with its own article down the line.

3. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland

For all that I remember about The Pagemaster, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is an near mystery for me. I remember only vague scenes and characters and a general animation aesthetic, and I've always found that very strange.

A 1989 Japanese-American animated musical (I didn't actually know it was a musical because I remember no music) is based off of a comic strip called Little Nemo in Slumberland. The story involves a young boy named Nemo who finds himself drawn into a magical land known as Slumberland by the will of the king in order to become friends with the princess of Slumberland. Along the way, Nemo accidently releases an evil being known as the Nightmare King who is hellbent on destroying Slumberland. Nemo must then work with the Princess and a strange band of friends to defeat the Nightmare King and rescue the king.

I am struggling to remember anything about this film beyond vague memories of a train chasing Nemo and memories of a strange black sludge that I think was the Nightmare King. I also remember a court jester of some sort that was kind of a villain and kind of a good guy (the film is very weird). Mostly I remember this film feeling almost like a Miyazaki film in terms of animation, though I may be confusing scenes from Kiki's Delivery Service which I also remember watching as a child and could very easily have made this list.

On the whole, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a film recalled only in vague patches, much like Rock-a-Doodle actually.

4. The Care Bears Movie

I defintely watched this movie as a child. I know that for a fact. However, if you asked me to tell you anything about this movie beyond its villain, I would be hard pressed to give you any kind of detail. Truthfully, I am more familiar with the legacy of this film as a film junkie than as an actual viewer.

Released in 1985, The Care Bears Movie was based on the widely successful Hasbro toy line of the same name. In the film, the eponymous Care Bears head to Earth to help a trio of children, including a young Magician's apprentice who is being manipulated by an evil spirit. This film is important because it was released on the same weekend as Disney's The Black Cauldron and outperformed it so spectacularly that Disney seriously considered ending their animation department entirely. In other words, The Care Bears Movie was the film that nearly killed Disney Animation (and was precisely the kick in the pants needed to eventually lead to the Disney Renaissance).

As stated earlier, I remember nothing about this movie except for the villainous book spirit. I recall how creepy the animation looked whenever she was on screen and the effect she had on the Magician's Apprentice only aided in that creep factor. I wish I could say more about the film but honestly this was released at a time when expectations for childrens movies were at an all time low and the general attitude towards toy brand films was selling more toys rather than telling good stories.

The Care Bears Movie it seems will be known more for its place in cinematic history, than its own cinematic merits.

5. Timmy's Gift

I am willing to bet money that most of you don't even know that this film exists. Hell, I can barely find any information online that this film existed in the first place, only that it was narrated by Roddy McDowell of all people. Based on Precious Moments, a catalog company that creates a set of figurines of angels and other child-like characters that have been sold at Hallmark stores for decades, Timmy's Gift is a Precious Moments Christmas special that was released in 1992.

The films plot is actually quite thin. Timmy is an angel that has been tasked by Heaven to deliver a gift to a very important newborn Prince (Jesus). That's it. Timmy has a set of minor setbacks along the way and has to give up something very personal to complete the task.

I know I watched this film and I know how it ends, because it ends exactly how you think it will end if you've ever watched any Christmas special involving the birth of Jesus. Don't really know what else to say. I don't even really remember the animation all that much. This is a film that really just didn't leave much of an impact on me and I imagine that I only saw this film in the first place because my mom worked for Hallmark for nearly 20 years and Precious Moments played a major part in her daily workload.

Not all that much left to say to be honest.


6. We're Back: A Dinosaur Story

Now this film, unlike Timmy's Gift, I actually remember quite well once I was reminded of it. Stellar animation and really memorable voice acting, We're Back: A Dinosaur Story was a 1993 animated film based on the children's book of the same name.

The film follows the exploits of a group of dinosaurs that are modified by a well-intentioned scientist's eating brain-enhancing cereal and sent to modern day New York to help teach children about dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum and fill them with joy and wonder. Along the way, they must avoid causing a panic, assist a pair of runaway children, and avoid the machinations of the scientist's evil brother, Professor Screweyes, who runs a macabre circus that is powered by people's worst fears.

The film really was a blast to watch as a kid and I am thinking upon it with great fondness as I write this article. Yes, the child characters are a little annoying and stereotypical for the early 90s, but its so well-meaning and good-hearted that I can't even fault it for its simple moments. Of particular note, Professor Screweyes really is an incredibly memorable villain and I'm almost mad that I've never really touched upon this film in the past, the Screweyes circus is its own unique brand of creepy and peculiar that sticks with me to this day.
 
Much like The Pagemaster, it may be in my interest to further look into and discuss this film and its memorable villain at a later time.

7. Madeline: Lost in Paris

My childhood was filled with waking up on weekend mornings to watch Playhouse Disney. I remember watching shows like Rolie Polie Olie, PB&J Otter, and Madeline. It is the cinematic outing of this last one that is the subject of this section of my article. Madeline was based on a series of French children's stories starring the titular Madeline, an inquisitive and imaginative orphan girl who lived in an orphanage with many other young girls run by a Catholic nun.

The film outing involved Madeline being taken from the orphanage by a man claiming to be her father but is in fact in league with a woman who is running a secret child sweatshop that creates lace clothing. Madeline must survive the intolerable conditions while waiting for her friends at the orphanage to find and rescue her.

As a child, this plotline didn't really draw too much attention to me. It is only now as an adult with a wider perspective on the world around me and the atrocities being committed around the globe that I now understand how dark and twisted this movie actually is. In all honesty, the film is basically a long version of the original TV show but I remember quite vividly some of the much darker elements of this film. It speaks of slave conditions, blindness from poor work conditions and open cruelty towards children. It's really a disconnect from the usually whimsical adventures that the original series explored but that honestly helps it to better stand out in my memory.

Because without these moments, I'd likely remember as much of the movie as I do of the show, which isn't a lot to be honest.

And that's all there is. There isn't anymore.

(Those who know will get the joke).

8. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command

My final entry on this list comes with a story. The Buzz Lightyear of Star Command TV show aired on Disney Channel from October of 2000 to January of 2001 and the movie was essentially a compilation of the first three episodes of the show as a single standalone film. The story details the adventures of Buzz Lightyear, a skilled Space Ranger who must team up with a group of misfit rookies to stop the evil Emperor Zerg from utilizing a weapon that could allow him to bend the entire galaxy to his will.

Now I actually had a VHS of this "film" as a child. It was the very first film that was bought specifically for me and I loved the hell out of this series as a child. However, I was attending a daycare at the time and I brought the film with me to view with the rest of the kids there. After watching the film, I put it back in my cubby and went about my day.

The damn thing was stolen by somebody during the course of the day and since my sister and I were always the last kids to get picked up, I didn't even know it was gone until it was too late. It still pisses me off when I am reminded of that film.

I really did enjoy watching the show and while it was very short lived, with only a single season of 65 episodes. The movie is fun and a little silly, its definitely a beloved part of my childhood. Which makes it a shame that I do often forget about it on occasion, only being reminded when I happen to go on a nostalgia trip.

***

CONCLUSION

Nostalgia is a powerful force. While most movies have the capacity to be deeply transformative upon first viewing, I think it is the films that are nearly forgotten yet recalled upon occasion which might have the most surprising impact upon us.

This list was a long time coming and I do genuinely apologize for the delay in getting it out to you. I hope the quality of the article more than makes up for it and I may very well return to the subject of nearly forgotten childhood media in the future.

If nothing else, the ability to look back upon my past and relsih upon the stories that filled that childhood with fun once again may very well be worth the price.

In fact, next time we will take a little retrospective on a series of animated shorts that helped define my childhood and my love of music and learning.

***
I would like to thank my monthly Patrons for their support of all of my content. You can join my Patreon for Behind-the-Scenes, Polls, and other fan interactions here.
 
MONTHLY PATRONS
 Cendoo

1 comment:

  1. Woo. Pagemaster brings me back. I remember wanting to see "That movie with the home alone kid" very badly as a youngster. Never did get to see it though. Perhaps the time has come to track it down and give it a watch with my kids.

    ReplyDelete