Building Bridges

Ruby Bridges is an earnest portrayal of race relations from The Wonderful World of Disney. I grew up learning all about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but I don’t recall learning about Ruby Bridges. At only 6 years old, Ruby Bridges was the first black child to attend a desegregated all-white elementary school in the deep south. She was also the subject of a famous Norman Rockwell painting. My brother watched the movie when he was younger and really wanted me to see it. Most original Disney TV movies that premiered on ABC are hard to find, but Ruby Bridges was important enough to include on Disney+.

Ruby is a precious little girl who’s very smart for her age. Her high test scores get her noticed by the NAACP. US Marshalls have to protect her when idiots protest her attending the school. Most of the movie intelligently deals with how everyone copes with the decision. Ruby’s mother stays by her side and teaches her to pray for the misguided. Ruby’s father can’t be by her side while also dealing with losing his job and friends. Ruby’s friends and siblings can’t relate to her situation, but she isn’t alone in her struggle.

Penelope Ann Miller plays Ruby’s teacher who stands alone while all the other teachers push back. Kevin Pollak plays Ruby’s child psychiatrist who helps her deal with all the things she doesn’t understand. This is far from a run of the mill Disney Channel kids movie. Similar to Remember the Titans, Ruby Bridges is mature, but not heavy handed like a lot of recent Disney movies dealing with prejudice. Ruby Bridges builds bridges to a better future.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges’ mother takes her to school

Getting Incorporated

Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is just another Scooby-Doo mystery in a live-action package. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins had the intrigue of being a made-for-TV prequel with a new cast. Curse of the Lake Monster sounds like something that could’ve been a random direct-to-video animated movie. Not that my brother and I didn’t once again watch the premiere on Cartoon Network. The prequel-sequel follows Mystery, Inc. as they get summer jobs and attempt to become incorporated.

The entire cast obviously returns since it was only a year after the previous movie. Nick Palatas is given more attention as Shaggy, but I constantly asked “Scooby-Doo! Where are you?” I get that his CGI is expensive for a TV budget, but he’s barely relevant to the mystery. As the title suggests, the mystery is who’s behind the Lake Monster that haunts the beach. The humanoid toad monster is controlled by a witch with an obvious identity.

Honestly it’s not as memorable as the movie’s summer love subplots. Robbie Amell and Kate Melton are unsurprisingly paired up as Fred & Daphne. They even get a cute joke of them wearing their cartoon accurate outfits. More surprising is Shaggy being paired up with the brainy Velma when he literally falls for her. Hayley Kiyoko is also given more screen time as Velma that makes it obvious she’s the brainwashed villain. Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is a mostly serviceable kids movie that probably won’t leave an impression.

4. Scooby-Doo Curse of the Lake Monster

Mystery, Inc. at a country club

Preceded by: Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins

The First Mystery

Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins isn’t that bad considering its TV budget. After the failure of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, a third live-action movie was cancelled. It was eventually replaced by a sort of prequel that’s both contemporary and has a completely different cast. My brother and I actually watched The Mystery Begins when it first aired on Cartoon Network. Although it lacks the so bad it’s good crudity of the theatrical films, I can’t really refer to it in the same way. Most faults are understandable for a made-for-TV kids movie.

Not counting shows like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, it is kind of fun to see how many unique personalities became lifelong friends and detectives. Nick Palatas does an admirable job with Shaggy as an awkward high school slaker. The rest of the iconic characters are off, but mostly excusable. Robbie Amell nails the dumb jock with a heart side of Fred, but he isn’t blonde. Kate Melton is a mostly plain looking Daphne with a love for theater. Hayley Kiyoko is the first non-white actress to play Velma, but her braininess and silly walk are very much in tact.

Although voiced by Frank Welker, Scooby-Doo is given rough CGI that makes him look more like a cartoon. Scooby finds a home with Shaggy and the rest of the gang become friends Breakfast Club style. The mystery itself is a very ametur Coolsville High mystery with obvious fakeouts and a more obvious villain. Meanwhile, ghosts are the usual pesky poltergeists. The Mystery Machine ends up being Daphne’s old family van and Scooby Snacks are the homemade treats Shaggy makes. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins is barely a mystery worth discovering, but it’s a harmless addition to the franchise.

3. Scooby-Doo The Mystery Begins

Mystery, Inc. in the Mystery Machine

Followed by: Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster

The Rise of Wicket

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor continued to force Ewoks on unsuspecting Star Wars fans. An animated Ewoks show also began to air in between Ewok movies. George Lucas once again had a lot of involvement in the TV movie sequel. Turning The Battle for Endor into yet another children’s fantasy that couldn’t be more different than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” The Battle for Endor was just as lackluster and initially difficult for me to find (also currently on Disney+), but it was somewhat less painful than Caravan of Courage. That’s not saying much.

The child actress who played Cindel Towani has matured slightly and she can now carry entire conversations with Wicket. Which is just as cheesy as it sounds. At least Warwick Davis gets his paycheck. Although her starcruiser is finally ready to leave Endor, Cindel’s entire family is murdered out of nowhere. A band of lizard alien marauders lay waste to the Ewok village and kidnap everyone except Wicket and Cindel. It’s still a kids movie, but the opening is really dark. Any trace of science fiction is lost the moment they made the villain’s base a castle and his henchwoman a literal witch.

Terak and his sorceress Charal are more hands on threats that want Cindel to unlock a power source or something. The weirder part is a grumpy Wilford Brimley being the adult lead who looks after the girl and her Ewok. Between this and the Holiday Special, I really don’t understand these actor choices. Noa Briqualon lives on Endor with the very annoying furry speedster Teek. The titular Battle for Endor can’t compete with Return of the Jedi. The Battle for Endor killed live-action Star Wars projects for over 14 years. “May the force be with you.”

Ewoks The Battle for Endor

Cindel talks with Wicket

Preceded by: Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

Return of the Ewoks

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is further proof that the Ewoks were only made to sell toys. Arguably the only downside of the Original Trilogy, George Lucas was so confident in their appeal that he allowed a spin-off TV movie to be made. Unlike the despised Star Wars Holiday Special, Lucas is fully to blame for The Ewok Adventure. This is what he chose to follow up Return of the Jedi. It’s not buried like The Holiday Special (since it’s currently available on Disney+), but Caravan of Courage was initially difficult for me to find.

I knew the Ewok movies existed, but I needed to see them to comprehend it. The Ewok Adventure feels more like a children’s fantasy than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Narration takes us through the daily lives of Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor. They’re every bit the dead eyed tribal teddy bears they were before. Except now they use magic and live amongst ordinary non-alien animals. Nothing feels like Star Wars apart from Warwick Davis continuing to play Wicket. The plot feels like a lousy TV budget version of Lord of the Rings.

The human Towani family crash their starcruiser on Endor where the parents are kidnapped by an alien beast. Cindel and her older brother Mace (not Windu) are the child protagonists. Between the terrible child acting is a kid friendly adventure led by a caravan of magical Ewoks. Along the way, they fight giant stop-motion rat creatures, a giant spider, and the crappy looking Gorax that took their parents. There’s also an unexplained Tinker Bell light fairy and Wicket learning to speak. Caravan of Courage is a lackluster adventure that blue milks the Ewoks for all they’re worth. “May the force be with you.”

Caravan of Courage An Ewok Adventure

The Towani family with the Ewoks

Followed by: Ewoks: The Battle for Endor

Happy Life Day

The Star Wars Holiday Special is universally agreed to be the single worst thing to ever bear the Star Wars name. Happy Star Wars Day everyone! May the 4th be with you. Today I thought I’d review one of the most notorious TV specials ever made. Believed to be myth by even the most dedicated Star Wars fans, The Holiday Special was the very first follow up to A New Hope in 1978. It only aired once, but it was so unbelievably bad that George Lucas has been trying to bury it ever since. Thanks to fanmade video recordings and underground bootleg copies, The Holiday Special will never disappear. For once, Lucas wasn’t fully to blame for the specials failure. The entire original cast returned to appear in what was essentially a 2 hour variety show. One so bad, I have to talk about it separately.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… – The paper thin plot is strung together by Chewbacca needing to come home in time for Life Day. Life Day is the Star Wars stand-in for Christmas. I have no idea what the meaning of the holiday is supposed to be. Harrison Ford clearly doesn’t want to be here as Han Solo and is mostly seen with Chewie escaping TIE fighters in the Millennium Falcon.

Kashyyyk – The first baffling decision was having the opening 12 minutes be nothing but horrific Wookiee growls (with no subtitles). That decision can be blamed on George Lucas, because it was literally his only contribution. The Holiday Special features the first appearance of Chewie’s home planet Kashyyyk. Along with an entire awkwardly named family no one needed to see. There’s Chewie’s wife Malla, grandpa Itchy, and son Lumpy. It’s only between growls that unbearably long variety segments are watched by the family.

Circus hologram – Lumpy first watches a truly bizarre hologram of a colorful alien circus for no apparent reason. The whole segment ties into nothing and feels more like a drug trip.

Message from Luke – That’s followed by Malla and Lumpy reaching out to Luke Skywalker accompanied by R2-D2. All he does is work on an engine in his X-Wing uniform and give Chewie’s family encouraging words. It’s especially awkward given the fact that Mark Hamill has a stiff tan and stares directly into the camera without blinking.

Trading Post – The first major celebrity in the special is Art Carney of all people. He plays a Rebel trader named Saun Dann who services an Imperial guard. He’s also a friend of the Wookiees who gives presents to Chewie’s family. The only worthwhile part of this extended segment is an appearance from Darth Vader aboard a Star Destroyer. Although it’s clearly James Earl Jones overdubbing a scene from A New Hope in order to tie-in to the plot. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers are thus sent to Chewie’s home to search for them.

Cooking with Gormaanda – The first “comedy” segment is Harvey Korman playing one of three different characters. He plays the brown faced four armed alien Julia Child Chef Gormaanda in a segment where Malla follows her cooking video in the kitchen. It’s easily the worst part of the special, but it’s so ridiculously bad that it’s laughable. Especially for the “Stir whip stir whip whip whip stir” line.

Itchy’s fantasy – Itchy’s Life Day present is the point in the special when you really start to question what you’re watching. Chewie’s father literally watches a pornografic virtual reality simulator. By pornographic, I mean that he gets turned on by Diahann Carroll fulfilling his fantasy by singing in a trippy psychedelic acid trip. The first of far too many endless original songs is “This Minute Now.” It’s uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop.

Message from Leia – That’s followed by Princess Leia and C-3PO giving their own message to Malla about her missing husband. This segment is exactly the same as the Luke and R2 message. Except that Anthony Daniels is actually playing 3PO. Unlike Kenny Baker who had no involvement. You can tell Carrie Fisher was definitely out of it while filming.

Jefferson Starship music video – When the Empire breaks in, one of the Imperial officers smiles while watching a Jefferson Starship music video on a holographic device. The band is only in the special because they have “Starship” in their name. The song “Light the Sky on Fire” is catchy, but they play the entire 5 minute song for what feels like an eternity.

The Story of the Faithful Wookiee cartoon – Lumpy later watches a starlog that is easily the only highlight of the awful special. It’s significant for being the very first animated Star Wars project and first appearance of fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett. I’d go so far as to call it worthy of being cannon if the 70’s animation wasn’t so crude. The adventure picks up where A New Hope left off. Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 make contact with Han and Chewie as they crash into the system Panna. They’re searching for a talisman that infects humans with a sleeping virus. Boba Fett has a great introduction atop a giant beast that he leads with a prod. Fett’s friendly partnership soon reveals him to be working with Darth Vader. His appearance was possible due to an uncolored image of the bounty hunter before The Empire Strikes Back was released. It’s all downhill when the cartoon ends.

Instructional video – The most mind-numbingly boring segment features Harvey Korman playing another unfunny character. This time he’s an Amorphian android instructor with frequent malfunctions. Lumby uses his instructional video to build an entire fictional transmitter from scratch.

Cantina closing – Bea Arthur is about the furthest celebrity from Star Wars you can get. Yet she’s given an entire segment and song that doesn’t tie into anything. It’s just Arthur playing Cantina bartender Ackmena on Tatooine before getting shut down by the Empire. Harvey Korman once again holds us hostage by playing a flirtatious alien with a disturbing drinking hole on top of his head. The song “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” goes on forever as she slowly closes up to the tune of the Cantina song.

Life Day – The special is brought to a merciful end when Chewie finally makes it to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day. Han defeats the Stormtroopers and very awkwardly interacts with the Wookiee family. Chewie’s reunion is filled with tender growls that lead up to the actual Life Day celebration. Which consists of unexplained balls of light that take the family to space wearing vaguely cultish red robes. More Wookiees are seen in red robes that were obviously used to cut down on fur bodysuits. The life tree ceremony unites Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 for a final cheesy Christmas Life Day message. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they actually force Princess Leia to sing to the tune of the Star Wars theme song.

In conclusion, The Star Wars Holiday Special was absolutely painful to watch. I never knew it existed until I saw a poster in a Star Wars book of mine. I’m glad I could find the special on YouTube, because it really needs to be seen to be believed. The decisions are so wrong that it’s a miracle Star Wars continued to be the success it was. Variety shows are barely relevant today, so I was more bored than anything. I can’t say that I was angered by it since none of it is cannon. Although parts of the special have been referenced and/or repurposed throughout the years. Kashyyyk is practically identical to how it appears in Revenge of the Sith. Chewie’s family is never seen again, but I’m pretty sure Solo was hinting at their existence. Boba Fett’s inclusion was likely forgotten by the time he appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn’t until episode 1 of The Mandalorian that Life Day was overtly mentioned in cannon. More surprising is The Story of the Faithful Wookiee being added to Disney+ separate from the special they choose to ignore. The Star Wars Holiday Special is like a fever dream that messed up the franchise before it was cool. “May the force be with you.”

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Leia, Luke, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 celebrate Life Day with Chewbacca

P.S. I’ve supplied the full movie underneath for those brave enough to watch it.

What a Woman

Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman is the unnecessary remake to an already cheesy cult classic. A B movie concept like this can only go so far in the 20th century. Director Christopher Guest goes for a slight campy tone, but still expects it to be taken seriously. Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman became a TV movie released on HBO. Despite the R rating, there’s only one instance of nudity and an F bomb. The blue tinted 1993 remake follows a lot of the same beats as the original.

Daryl Hannah goes from timid Nancy Archer to confident sexual goddess over the course of the movie. The aliens arrive in a conventional flying saucer that eventually turns her into a giantess. The enlarging effects obviously look better in the 90’s. They just take more cues from The Amazing Colossal Man by including a giant needle and a mundane activity like bathing in a swimming pool. The ending is more like the original when Nancy starts screaming for “Harry!”

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is playing at a drive-thru to make it more obvious. The biggest difference is the more feminist slant they give it. None of the female characters are made to look bad. Harry is still a cheating jerk (played by a Baldwin), but Honey is more redeemable. Nancy’s father is also included to show someone else putting her down. Her psychiatrist and the comical deputy are also changed to women. I was mostly on board until the drastically altered ending. Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman is a fine, but forgettable remake.

Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman

Nancy Archer baths in a swimming pool

Remake of: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

One Ring to Bring Them All and in the Darkness Bind Them

The Return of the King is the final animated adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. Since Ralph Bakshi was overwhelmed by the response to his incomplete version of The Lord of the Rings, Rankin/Bass jumped at the opportunity to finish it. Sadly, The Return of the King was very much a sequel to The Hobbit (that’s not confusing at all). A Best Picture winner of 11 Academy Awards this is not. Since the TV special was every bit the crudely animated unnecessary musical that The Hobbit was. Scenes from the 1977 film are used along with Orson Bean voicing both Bilbo and Frodo.

The 1980 film actually starts with elderly Bilbo celebrating his birthday after the One Ring was already destroyed. A very annoying minstrel sings the story of Frodo and his nine fingers. We pick up right where The Two Towers ended, but neither Bashki, nor Rankin/Bass depicted Frodo’s encounter with Shelob. Instead Frodo is already kidnapped by overly cartoony orcs. Leaving a fairly dignified Sam to come to Frodo’s aid. It really feels like a Hobbit sequel based on how much attention is given to the hobbits in comparison to everyone else.

Despite the title, Aragorn is barely in the movie to return as the king of Gondor. Legolas and Gimli are surprisingly never seen. Arwen is still absent, but at least Eowyn gets her female empowerment moment. The Battle of Minas Tirith is vaguely intense with Gandalf, Pippin, and eventually Merry fighting off orcs. It’s just Frodo and Sam avoiding Sauron’s eye atop Mount Doom that takes up most of the 1 hour & 38 minute runtime. The green Gollum from The Hobbit attacks Frodo, but his accidental destruction of the Ring is due to clumsiness. Frodo then departs to the Grey Havens in an ending with almost no weight to any of it. The Return of the King tries its best, but thankfully Peter Jackson came along to make the story a masterpiece.

The Return of the King

Frodo uses the power of the Ring

The Greatest Adventure

The Hobbit is the first on screen foray into the world of Middle-earth. Long before Peter Jackson brought J. R. R. Tolkien’s work to life, Rankin/Bass of Christmas special fame created their own animated TV special in 1977. My brother remembers seeing the movie, but my memory is practically non-existent. The Hobbit is a simple adventure just as the book intended. Not bloated into three overly long 2 hour movies. Although Rankin/Bass created the special, the very crude animation was done in Japan. By the company that would become Studio Ghibli no less.

The Hobbit simplifies a lot of the original story while remaining very faithful to the book’s British pleasantries. The animation meant keeping it kid friendly with musical songs from the book. Orson Bean voices Bilbo Baggins and John Huston voices Gandalf. If you know The Hobbit, then following the 1 hour & 30 minute story is easy. Bilbo is very quickly sent on an adventure with Gandalf, Thorin, and his Company of Dwarves. When Gandalf disappears we never know where. Their adventure takes many familiar stops in the Shire, Rivendell, Goblin-town, Mirkwood, Lake-town, and their final destination at the Misty Mountain.

Where they hastily battle hungry trolls, fearsome goblins, vicious wargs, and the magnificently eloquent dragon Smaug. Bilbo also has an extended confrontation of riddles with Gollum where he finds the One Ring. Gollum and most of the creatures have a very unique design, but nothing is more strange than their green interpretation of the woodland elves. When Smaug is quickly defeated by the man Bard, the Battle of the Five Armies is mostly implied. Ending with a hint of Lord of the Rings to come. The Hobbit has a crude charm that’s interesting to revisit after seeing three big-budget adaptations.

The Hobbit 1977

Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Company of Dwarves

Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the forgotten first live-action appearance of Marvel’s famous spy. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was intended to be the pilot of a TV series that never aired, because it was so bad. Unlike most people nowadays, I’m old enough to remember the real Nick Fury. The brown haired white templed caucasian Nick Fury created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. First appearing in the 1963 war comic Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos before transitioning into the spy comic Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The psychedelic outings pushed boundaries and changed the face of the Marvel universe. Since S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury himself would come to connect many superheroes. David Hasselhoff sounds like the perfect choice to play the eye patch wearing cigar chomping loose cannon Nick Fury, but he hams it up every chance he gets. Fury is out of S.H.I.E.L.D., then brought back to face the terrorist organization HYDRA. Like the comics, the sultry Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine is his love interest. She’s just American for some reason. The rest of Fury’s recurring characters appear with the same kind of odd alterations.

There’s Dum Dum Dugan, Gabriel Jones, Alexander Pierce, and a psychic Kate Neville. Baron Wolfgang von Strucker is frozen, but his evil daughter Viper plans to unleash a deadly virus on New York. With the help of an elderly Arnim Zola. A Life Model Decoy is also used. Even with this many references to the comics, the TV movie is just cheesy, melodramatic, and forgettable. Plus the Helicarrier looks ugly. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. will solely be remembered for featuring the only classic attempt at Nick Fury.


Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.