It’s Schoolhouse Rocky,
that chip off the block
Of your favorite schoolhouse,
Learning comes in all forms. Some people are visual learners. Some auditory. Some need to get their hands in the thick of it to grasp concepts the best. I’m of the belief that regardless of what kind of ways you learn best, we retain the most concepts when we’re having fun with those concepts. Sometimes it’s a project in school that got you jazzed to be taking part in, or a teacher that made you laugh while you learned. The association with your enjoyment brings back and retains the knowledge you gained along with it.
And I think that’s why Schoolhouse Rock! has been a reference point for so many of us from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and to my surprise, beyond.
In case you weren’t around during any of its original run or its encore, the Emmy award-winning Schoolhouse Rock was a series of short animation segments that aired in between various Saturday morning cartoons on ABC. With humor and catchy tunes, they taught elements of history, civics, grammar, science, math, and more. Its initial run lasted more than a decade, from 1973 to 1984, and came back with a mix of new and old episodes for a few years in the early 1990s.
To my generation, they’re classics, but they’re the sort of thing I’ve always felt would end up being just a fond memory of our childhood when we look back on those halcyon days of Saturday morning lineups, a box of cereal, and toy commercials that flood through our nostalgia-soaked minds. So imagine my surprise when I recently walked into the living room to find all our children laughing along with the series, courtesy of Disney+!
Since the series was released on the streaming platform earlier this month, they’ve watched them over and over again, quickly weeding out their favorites, viewing them (and singing along) again and again.
There’s certainly no shortage of great entries in the Schoolhouse Rock series, but in no particular order, I present to you our kids’ top three Schoolhouse Rock installments to both educate and earworm!
I’m Just a Bill
The 1976 classic still gets a lot of play in our home, and its influence already has our 7 year old discussing the process of lawmaking in discussions. Spoofed dozens of times over the years, this one stands out as probably the most famous of School House Rock entries, with a walking, talking bill explaining to a small boy why he’s sitting on Capitol Hill, hoping he doesn’t die in committee, and can one day become a law. History rock that makes an impression – for any generation!
Hey! Wow! Yeow! Hooray! They show emotion! They show excitement! Sometimes with an exclamation point or a comma if the feeling isn’t strong. A wonderful 1974 entry in the grammar themed segments, whether it’s a great grade on a report card, a shot in the bum by the doctor, or losing the big game, this drives home with various scenarios how much the words we use can express ourselves when used correctly.
The Tale of Mr. Morton
One of the later entries into the series, this one comes from the early 90s but is no less catchy and fun.In the story of shy Mr Morton, the song teaches the grammar elements of subject and predicate. Our kids quote its small bits of dialogue all the time and I find myself walking around singing part of its chorus “Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, he does.”
What about you? Were you a Schoolhouse Rock fan? Any favorites on your personal playists? Feel free to share them!
I think about Russi Taylor a lot.
I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.
It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.
In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.
She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.
She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.
With three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.
That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.
And yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.
The crinkle of leaves, the windy nights.
You can go ahead and enjoy all the pumpkin spice whatever you like. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin other than decoratively.
For me, other than the aesthetics of a neighborhood or roadways lines with multi-colored leaves, the thing I look forward to the most this time of year is Halloween specials. I’m not a horror movie guy, so Jason, Freddy, the rest of you will have to sit this one out. The old, original Universal crew of Dracula, Frankenstein and friends? Okay, those I’ll get behind. And maybe one day I’ll talk about the wonder that is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Or how I have to watch Arsenic & Old Lace with Cary Grant at least once a season.
But beyond those, there’s something I really, really dig this time of year on the same level of those classics, and that’s watching family-friendly Halloween specials with the kids. I love it. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every year. Sometimes it’s a weekend, nighttime treat with a big bowl of popcorn for all of us and some apple cider to sip on. Or, it’s just a spur of the moment afternoon viewing because it’s Autumn and why not?
Either way, Fall and Halloween specials with the kids are my bag, and I wanted to pass along some of my personal favorites to recommend for anyone looking for some non-scary, but intensely entertaining treats for the eyes of your little ones, or even just you.
So, let’s hope into this leaf pile of nostalgia and spooks, shall we?
The Skeleton Dance, a Walt Disney short from 1929, in all its black and white glory, is simply that – a group of skeletons that come out of the cemetery when the sun goes down and dance the night away, with macabre music made on their very own bones.
Lonesome Ghosts is a 1937 Disney short featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghost hunters tricked into an old house by a group of mischievous ghosts looking for some entertainment. This one, in full-color, is another Disney classic.
If you possibly get iffy at times about the use of firearms in old cartoons, as I tend to be a bit wary of, know Mickey does bring a shotgun with him into the home. Standard for cartoons of the day, it’s good to know upfront should you want to put it into both a historical and safety context for any young ones, as I’ve tried to while we enjoy. Or, if unlike me, you don’t care about that sort of thing, then enjoy all on its own.
Capping off the Disney trio is my favorite of the three – Trick or Treat from 1952, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie enlisting the help of a witch named Hazel (voiced by the late, great voiceover legend June Foray) for some Halloween comeuppance against their Uncle Donald, who proves to be the worst uncle in the world with the tricks he plays on the boys.
The opening and closing song of “Trick or Treat” will get stuck in your head, but it’s so much fun to sing, you won’t mind.
I’m always intrigued by the fact that the Grinch was one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular characters, but only appeared in that one published tale when he stole Christmas. Other than that, he’s been relegated to screen appearances, perhaps fueled by the adage about small doses. With its typical Seussian rhymes, it focuses on a young Who from Whoville who confronts the Grinch on Halloween/Grinch Night in an effort to stall him from making it to Whoville and scaring the entire population.
There’s familiar canine companion Max, and a lot of bizarre, surreal elements during the scare-sequence that might seem like something out of a Dali painting brought to life, but in the end, this sing-song tale of facing your fears is a fun Halloween romp that was actually written by Dr. Seuss himself! Minus Karloff this time around, Hans Conried, a familiar face to TV audiences in the 50s/60s and prolific voice-over actor, brings his refined diction to the titular Grinch.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Come on, does this one really need much of a write-up? This one has been a classic for decades.
Though no matter how many years go by, you can’t help but ask why this group of kids are so incredibly mean to poor Charlie Brown (and in this case, Linus, too).
Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive on Halloween night, while the rest of the Peanuts gang go trick-or-treating in ghost costumes, where ol’ Chuck gets nothing but rocks. While yes, moments in it serve as a great reminder to not be so mean to people (what is your problem all the time, Lucy?!) the classic animation and characters still make it a fun tradition each and every year.
Curious George Halloween Boo Fest
I refer to this as a contemporary classic and it’s quickly become one of my staples of the fall season.
Seriously. I will watch this whether kids are in the room or not. And it’s not just because the Man in the Yellow Hat is my spirit animal.
Taking place primarily at the Man’s country house (my favorite setting for the PBS Kids Curious George TV series, which alternates between their city apartment and the man’s family home in the country), George is intrigued by the neighborhood tales of No-Noggin, the scarecrow whose head disappeared years and years ago and now comes back at Halloween to kick off people’s hats and take them as his own.
Great songs, great characters, and just enough spooky Halloween atmosphere without being scary, this has become such a favorite of mine that when it recently came off of Netflix, I had to go out and buy a copy on DVD so we could have it.
So there’s your homework this season. To enjoy some fun viewings with your little ones or on your own that still stand the test of time in my opinion and are the perfect on-screen companion to the month of October.
Grown-Up Bonus Viewing: Send the kids to bed and delight in all the kitsch of 1970s pop culture with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, where Mr. Center Square himself guffaws his way through a haunted castle with Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton at his side and cameos by everyone from Betty White, to Florence Henderson, to KISS and H.R. Puffenstuff’s Witchiepoo.
The Ducktales video was followed by an announcement of a reboot for the show, something I had been pushing for quite some time. Well, not so much a reboot as taking advantage of the audience desire and much of the voice cast still, thankfully with us. Unfortunately, it since has been stated that Disney is not going to be using any of the original Ducktales voice cast, which is quite saddening.
Look, I can understand wanting to give Alan Young, 95 and June Foray, 98 (Scrooge McDuck and Magica DeSpell, respectively) a bit of a rest. And yes, we’ve lost some actors like the great Hamilton Camp (Fenton Crackshell/Gizmoduck) and Hal Smith (Gyro Gearloose and Flintheart Glomgold). But come on, Disney. Terence McGovern, the only voice of Launchpad McQuack, is only 73. Russi Taylor, who voices Huey, Dewey and Louie is only 71. Frank Welker, who voices some of the Beagle Boys is still actively working on Curious George, Scooby Doo and many other television shows at 69.
We’re big Disney Afternoon fans in our house. They made up after-school viewing when Meg and I were growing up and our little guy is just as much a fan, from Rescue Rangers, to Ducktales, to Darkwing Duck (also discussed recently for a possible reboot if the 2017 Ducktales relaunch goes well). There’s just something about those adventures and derring-do that’s still just as captivating today as it was a few decades ago.
I wager this recent video means we’ll be getting news about the previously announced Rescue Rangers CGI/Live Action Feature Film soon.
You would think the media giants were reading this blog (or my mind) with the pop culture news coming out this week, tailor-made for those of us who grew up watching cartoons in the era of John Hughes movies and Balki Bartokomous.
Some time ago, I wrote about my disappointment when childhood favorite Inspector Gadget disappeared off of Netflix‘s streaming service.
Even more recently, I wrote a bit of a public rally for Disney to jump on the wave of nostalgia as my generation becomes parents with kids of their own, to revive such great animated shows as DuckTales or Darkwing Duck.
Well, this week, word came out that Disney IS in fact working on a revival of DuckTales.
“An all-new DuckTales series is coming to Disney XD in 2017! The Emmy Award-winning series from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s is absolutely treasured by our generation, and we are so excited that “every day they’re out there making DuckTales” again,” stated the announcement on Oh My Disney.
“DuckTales has a special place in Disney’s TV animation history, it drew its inspiration from Disney Legend Carl Barks’ comic books and through its storytelling and artistic showmanship, set an enduring standard for animated entertainment that connects with both kids and adults,” said Marc Buhaj, Senior Vice President, Programming and General Manager of Disney XD. “Our new series will bring that same energy and adventurous spirit to a new generation.”
The announcement went on to say that all the familiar faces would be there – Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Donald Duck, Duckworth, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica DeSpell, Poe, Ma Beagle, the Beagle Boys, Mrs. Beakley, and Webbigail Vanderquack.
Not sure who is more excited – me or my son, who has taken quite a liking to some classic DuckTales I have at home. Who am I kidding. It’s me who’s more excited. I just hope he’ll watch them with me when 2017 rolls around.
There’s no word yet on the voice cast or format (traditional animation or CGI), but I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a selfish dream that at some point the mucky-mucks at Disney were wise enough to lock Alan Young in a soundbooth for a day to record every phrase and word known to man so it can be plugged into a computer and he can remain the voice of Scrooge McDuck for all time. 🙂 While we’re at it, let’s get June Foray (Magica DeSpell and Ma Beagle) to do the same thing.
Young is 95. Foray is 97. Now would certainly be the time.
Who else but Terence McGovern can voice Launchpad McQuack? I say get McGovern on the horn, pronto! (And maybe get him prepped for a Darkwing Duck revival while we’re at it. 🙂
Hamilton Camp (Fenton Crackshell and Gizmoduck) and Hal Smith (Gyro Gearloose and Flintheart Glomgold), are, sadly, no longer around. Side note – Hal Smith, who also voiced Owl in Winnie the Pooh, and Pooh himself at times, was once a DJ at a radio station in my hometown.
If that morning hadn’t blown up Twitter and Facebook, the additional news in the afternoon that very same day was likely to break the internet, as they say. Netflix announced that Inspector Gadget AND another childhood favorite, Danger Mouse, would be getting revived series via their streaming service.
The new Danger Mouse is slated to appear in Spring 2016 and Inspector Gadget much sooner, in March 2015.
The plot of the new Inspector Gadget show is said to revolve around the villainous Dr. Claw reactivating M.A.D., his global crime syndicate, and Inspector Gadget is tasked with coming out of retirement to stop him.
There is sadly no more Don Adams with us, but I’m hoping that someone did their due diligence and found someone who can like him for this new series. After all, Adams made that character what he is, and you really can’t ‘go in a different direction’ when the entire character’s existence has been formed from that performance.
So, as they say, what’s old is new again. The characters and adventures I grew up loving are back, and I really, really look forward watching them with my own little guy.
Needless to say, I’m excited. Very excited.
Yeah, me neither. Until I had a two-year old that it is.
The little guy has been quite a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – an affection not just limited to this time of year. He’s requested to watch it pretty regularly since Summer, actually. It’s started a love of “Unca Scrooge” that has transitioned into flipping through many of my old comics (and any new ones we can find for him) featuring the World’s Richest Duck.
But it’s also made him familiar with characters that, through the Disney-Mickey interpretation, he might otherwise be completely unaware of – at least at two and a half years old, that is.
He talks about Tiny Tim, he talks about Scrooge, and he talks about the Ghost – most importantly, Marley’s ghost. He narrates the special for us, telling me “Marley ghost is comin.” or “Giant ghost in Scrooge’s room!” mere seconds before it happens on screen.
And not just limited to Dickens, it has made me appreciate how interpretations can resonate with audiences and individuals far more than the original source material. While he has to inclination to want to pick up a copy of Dickens’ classic – even if it were in board or Little Golden Book form, he knows this story, its themes (“Scrooge mean”…”Scrooge bein’ nice now,” as he says) because of this particular interpretation of the story.
Literary Purists might balk at this, but honestly, I find it wonderful that a toddler is understanding the characters, themes, and story in such a morality tale, thanks to it being told to him through characters he likes and understands.
With that said, that affection and familiarity seems to transition far out of the TV screen. This entire Christmas season he has been putting blankets on his head and walking around the house saying “me a ghost!”
The other night, he made me hide under the blanket with him. There I was, in darkness, with the face of my amazing little boy, also sitting under the blanket, staring right at me with a huge smile.
“Dada, we play game?”
“What game could we play under here, buddy?”
“We play Jacob Marley game.”
“How do we play the Jacob Marley Game?”
(i pretend to be frightened and his giggling ensures)
There’s that song lyric about the ‘scary ghost stories’ of Christmas’ long, long ago.
Well don’t call it a comeback. If you ask this kid, they never left. 🙂
The snow was falling for the first time this season, a cold chill in the air, and the heat rising from my car as SiriusXm’s Holiday Traditions played some classics out of the radio (Yes, I’m one of those people listening to holiday music already. It puts me in a good mood as the snow falls, so I make no apologies).
Making our way through some of our usual routes, the little guy pipes up from the back seat, navigating.
“Turn here, dada.”
“This way, dada.”
“You got it, buddy.”
Then, some time later, as I’m waiting at a stop sign, I hear something I’ve never heard before.
“For Pete’s sake, let’s go. Come on, dada.”
He’s two but some days I feel like I’m chauffeuring a teenager around.
I suppose in many ways a toddler is very much like having all the emotional volatility of a teenager and no filter or way to fully communicate it.
Okay. So it’s not that I’m totally unaware of where it comes from. He’s been very, very, very into watching Mickey Mouse Christmas specials as of late and in one of the vignettes, a Goofy one about waiting for Santa to arrive, neighbor Pete hears something out his window and shouts “what in the name of Pete is goin’ on out here, for Pete’s sake?!”
As for the “come on,” well, Meg’s caught herself saying a few times, only to have it repeated back to her by our little human tape recorder.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere, that toddlers are sponges. They are true mimics. And whether it is what they see from the characters they watch, or what you say or what you do, they will look to you for their words and actions.
So make sure they’re the best ones you can muster.