Thunderbirds are Go 1.21 – Comet Chasers

Okay, so hands up, who knew that Thunderbird 3 had a whacking great drill inside it to make for locked landings on comets? We didn’t.

Two really big bits of “brand new information” for you: first, I bought an external DVD drive for my laptop so that I can at last get screen caps for Region 2 programs, and second, our son, for the first time ever, announced that Thunderbirds are Go is “cooler” than the original. Now, mind, he’s five, and language is very fluid with him. For example, as Scott flies a pod into Halley’s Comet to rescue some dingbat trillionaire excitement junkie, our son declared that this was not cool at all, because he was worried for Scott’s safety. Then at the end, he clarified that it’s actually the load-in to Thunderbird 3 that’s cooler than the original. I actually half-agree with him on that point.

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Isis 1.13 – Girl Driver

The previous season, they did a Shazam! where Butch Patrick is all whiny because some icky girl is trying to play sports. This season on Isis, the prospective auto club president is equally whiny because another icky girl can drive real well and work on engines. She’s played by Susan Lawrence, who would play B.J. in Dr. Shrinker the following season. Lawrence had a very short career in Hollywood, lasting only about six years, but she had several high-profile TV appearances before she retired.

My son was pretty sure that the girl would win the rally to prove she can be auto club president because the boy cheats. He watches a Nick Jr. cartoon called Blaze and the Monster Machines and that’s the plot of pretty much every single episode: one of the whiny, naughty cars cheats and loses, as he explained to me at hilarious length after we finished. I appreciate these shows trying to have a moral or two, but my son’s breathless, amusing recaps of Blaze’s last few adventures were a lot more entertaining than the original cartoons!.

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Ark II 1.5 – The Balloon

A part of me is enjoying this blog experience for the fun of noting the credits of actors that we might not otherwise really know about. Guy Stockwell I know of, of course. The late brother of Dean Stockwell, Guy was omnipresent in the 1970s, guest-starring on just about everything. But I might never have noticed Christopher Juttner, who was twelve years old when he made in this episode. Juttner also had small parts in several other shows and movies from the period that we’ll be watching in the future. Looks like he only worked in Hollywood for about nine years, but he stayed pretty busy. And I certainly wouldn’t have noticed Del Monroe, because I don’t know anything about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – he played Kowalski and was in almost every episode – and he’s wearing a mask here.

This installment is about an isolated village that’s run by a xenophobic leader (Stockwell) who doesn’t want any help from anybody, even if they’re like the Ark II team and have a vaccine to help with an epidemic that’s ravaging his community. It’s the sort of story that will end whenever somebody in charge comes to his senses, which will happen with about four minutes before the end of the episode. The most interesting thing, though, is that Hollingsworth Morse, after years of working for the Kroffts and Filmation, finally got to pull off a big special effect sequence when Ark II’s heavy-duty laser is used to clear “fifty tons” of rock from a mountain pass. It’s certainly dated, but it looks about as good as this effect would have looked on even a higher-budgeted prime-time program in 1976. I guess we’ll have to look at some prime-time shows at some point soon to make sure.

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Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Earlier today, Daniel got his second trip to a movie theater to see the new Pete’s Dragon, which you can very easily believe is a sequel to the original. Who knows how long dragons live, anyway? Elliot was probably fluttering around North America for the last couple of hundred years helping out kids in need. It’s just chance that two of them were named Pete.

Live action Disney films are a good deal leaner and meaner these days than in the heyday that we’ve been watching for the blog. This is a good half an hour shorter than the original. There’s an economy of storytelling here, with ample space for the spectacle, but no time wasted on musical numbers or forced humor that doesn’t go anywhere. There are certainly a few amusing moments in the film, but they all serve the plot in obvious ways and do not linger. I was very, very impressed with the script, especially how the two antagonistic brothers, played by Karl Urban and Wes Bentley, are mostly left to the actors’ body language to define.

While the last twenty years of deeply dopey shows and TV movies on the Disney Channel might lead you to suspect the studio forgot how to cast anything, the studio bosses clearly know what they’re doing on their big features. Pete and his new friend Natalie are played by terrific young actors named Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. Bentley and Urban are both very good, but the heart of the movie is shared by Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford, and Redford just makes every single thing look effortless, doesn’t he? They’re both wonderful and believable.

Elliot sounds – and looks, of course – more like an animal than he did in the original, but he still grumbles and sneezes and makes oddball noises and looks at cows with bemusement, so the old fellow’s just as charming as ever. His human foes have slightly greater firepower than they did when we last met, and I was very concerned with how my son would react to a bigger threat to Elliot than Shelley Winters and some hillbillies.

He did really well, and was silent for a good 99% of the movie, which was better than some of the rest of the audience. I think that it’s probably a movie that will frighten grownups more than it will children. It opens with the explanation of why Pete has spent six years living in the Pacific Northwest without any human company, and I was worried about that as well. But that didn’t faze him, and nor did the nighttime scenes of Elliot defending his territory, nor the scenes of Elliot’s capture. (Tranquilizers are used rather than bullets.)

In fact, I only noticed him getting worried just once, and that was during the climax, when a truly exciting scene that had him smiling and hopping in his seat suddenly turned a little dark, and Howard and Bentley’s characters are shown to have been endangered by Elliot. He recovered well, and pronounced the film “pretty cool.” We had a great time.

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Thunderbirds are Go 1.20 – The Hexpert

I believe I’ve only mentioned this once before, so I’d like to reiterate how much I appreciate the producers of Thunderbirds are Go bringing back David Graham as the voice of Parker. Many of the people who worked on the original series fifty years ago are no longer with us, and Graham is in his nineties himself, so I appreciate them reaching out. Parker is such a great character, and I love the winks toward his criminal past. One tiny change in the continuities that’s mentioned here is this: in the original, it’s implied that Lady Penelope herself gave Parker a second chance. This time, Parker mentions that it was Lady Penelope’s father, which I think is nice. It suggests that Parker’s been on the side of the h’angels for a little longer.

This episode was written by Kevin Rubio and Charlotte Fullerton. They’ve each written many episodes of American action cartoons like Ben 10 and The Clone Wars. Rubio is the fellow who co-wrote and directed that lovely parody film Troops twenty years ago. Good to see he was able to parlay that into a career.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the image to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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Isis 1.12 – Funny Gal

“I didn’t know Captain Marvel spoke bird,” said Daniel, who was, again, thrilled to see the two superheroes crossing over.

This time out, Isis sends her pet raven, Tut, to find Marvel because she’s not able to stop a big storm over the ocean while also getting a stranded ship to shore. One of the students, an eccentric girl named Carrie, has taken out Rick’s fishing boat as a very odd publicity stunt for her class election campaign. So Isis works her magic while Marvel tows the boat home, and maybe later the two superheroes got a cat out of a tree or helped an old lady across the street.

But seriously, the lesson of the week is that you should always care for yourself and not put yourself down. Carrie compensates for thinking herself fat and ugly by dressing outlandishly, acting melodramatically, and driving a rusted, junkheap 1950s car around while lamenting that pretty girls get all the luck. Then, in the way of television, the producers cast a perfectly attractive young actress named Sandra Vacey, who was certainly neither fat nor ugly.

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Ark II 1.4 – The Slaves

The guest star in tonight’s episode of Ark II was Michael Kermoyan, who was principally an actor from stage and theater. He was best known for playing either the king or the kralahome in many performances of The King and I, even taking over from Yul Brenner during Brenner’s vacation from the role in the 1977-78 Broadway revival. Playing the villain, Baron Vargas, in this episode was almost like auditioning for his big TV part in the next season, when he’d play the evil Dr. Strange in 1977’s Mystery Island serial, which Hanna-Barbera made for CBS.

And as the villain, he gave Daniel one of his first genuine shocks in a while. Baron Vargas keeps a small group of superstitious slaves under his thumb via some telegraphed-to-any-adults-watchingly obvious fake magic. He warns Jonah that he will turn him into a chicken, and hocus-pocus, alakazam, with a trap door and a blast of smoke, Jonah is replaced by a chicken. “I don’t want to watch this,” Daniel grumbled and crawled into Mommy’s lap. “I’m pretty sure it’s just a trick,” she assured him.

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Thunderbirds are Go 1.19 – Extraction

Cry Wolf” was one of the episodes of the original Thunderbirds that angered our son Daniel the most when we first watched it. It rapidly became one of his favorites and he has rewatched it several times, but the bits where the Hood puts those two kids in jeopardy – even throwing a bomb in a cave to bury them alive! – just infuriated him.

Tonight’s episode opens with a kid showing his dad a backyard Thunderbird 3 rocket that he’d built, instantly evoking “Cry Wolf.” And while the Hood does not show up, the boy still gets buried alive with his dad, sending Thunderbird 4 up some underwater caverns to reach them. He admitted that this episode was the scariest that he’d seen of the new show, since a child was in danger, but Gordon and Thunderbird 4 are his favorites. If anybody’s going to save the day and reassure him, it’s that little yellow submarine.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the image to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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