1. Our Friend the Atom - In 1956 the Disney propaganda machine and the Disney futurist machine held hands and created Our Friend the Atom, a book and documentary that really is Disney at its best.
Our Friend the Atomwas a joint effort with the German physicist Heinz Heber to position nuclear energy as a constructive tool that could be used for good – not an easy job in an era where the effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had given the atom a pretty bad reputation. The documentary and book both rely heavily on both Heber’s clear explanation of the science and Disney’s expertise at…everything else. The animation, illustration, and production of both book and documentary are top-notch. The story relies heavily on a parallel drawn with an old fable about a fisherman who unleashes a wrathful genie. He quickly outsmarts the genie, tricking him back into the bottle so that he can be contained. It’s interesting that they position nuclear energy and nature as something that needed to be “tricked” in order to harness it.
Here are some of my favorite images from the book – it’s a layout dream:
And here’s the special itself. It sounds weird to say, because all of the videos I post here I feel are worth watching, but this one is really something great.
1. Nintendo Arm Wrestling - Nintendo had a unique arcade cabinet set-up in the 1980s. Their Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! cabinets had two screens, a prelude to their later success in the handheld business. It’s debatable whether both screens were necessary – the top screen served little purpose but to show your player’s stats or play time remaining to anyone standing behind you – but the cabinets stood out.
In 1985, following up on the success of Punch-Out!, Nintendo explored the next level of combat, a more intimate level of combat.
Arm Wrestling was basically Punch-Out!! with arm wrestling as the activity instead. That’s not a bad thing. The roster of opponents was unique and memorable, the graphics looked great, the voices were adorably bad, and the challenge was…well, challenging.
1. Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space – This 1983 Atari 2600 and 5200 title is pretty serious business. It’s a flight-sim program for the Space Shuttle that might be the deepest title released for these Atari systems.
Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space tasked players with piloting the shuttle to a satellite, docking, and returning home, requiring them to use not just the joystick but the switches on the console itself as command inputs. If you could successfully dock four times and return with a certain amount of fuel left you could send a photograph to Activision and receive a Patch for your achievement.
The marketing was gorgeous – all of the box art and design of these stands above the already-high bar set for videogame box art of the time:
As you could guess, this game wasn’t for the normal Atari customer. It stands as less of a nostalgic gameplay experience and more of a testament to what the Atari was capable of. Not bad!
Here’s some gameplay – it’s gorgeous and serene, not an easy thing to pull off in those days! The serenity is probably a necessity, given how many hours of frustration you’d probably rack up with this thing!
1. The Return of Halley’s Comet (1985) - I’ve mentioned before that I had a slight obsession with Halley’s Comet in 1986, devouring any book or TV show on the subject that I could find. And there were plenty; it seemed like Halley’s Comet’s return provided either a window in which you could make countless gobs of money with a related product or a window in which many companies thought you could make countless gobs of money with a related product. I don’t know how it all shook out for them, but they certainly got my parents’ money.
I came across a video from 1985, The Return of Halley’s Comet, that prepares kids for the comet’s triumphant return the next year. It’s bad. It takes a ten minute subject and stretches it into thirty. That said, I remember seeing this thing multiple times as a seven-year old. The animation is super crude, like barely even animation, and the video effects are awful, too. Some of that’s due to the VHS rip, sure, but they didn’t really have great source material to work with. Still, there are some unintentionally beautiful design elements in this video. Like these:
This one is from a song in the middle of the video about how the excitement of the comet is “hypnotizing”:
Here’s the video. The real victory here is the last two minutes, starting at around 26:00. This is a song that was also on my Return of Halley’s Comet book-and-tape that I’ve been trying to track down for about thirty years. I finally did it. It’s so cheesy, but I wore that song into the ground in 1986.
1. NASA’s Spinoff - in the late 1970s, NASA began providing a report to the public regarding the technological advancements gleaned from the Space program in an attractive, easy-to-read format. Called Spinoff, this wasn’t the first attempt at a report of this nature but it was definitely the most digestible. And the most stylish.
What is it about 1970s-era NASA that’s so slick? Pretty much everything they did from that decade is a font-and-layout-lover’s dream.
The reports seem to focus on NASA’s current work among the stars, their aims for the future, and then trickle out to the practical everyday uses of their findings. Some of them are pretty obvious, like solar panels, and it’s neat to see how some of the ideas have manifested 25 years later:
Others were practical, smaller enhancements to our lives, ones that flew under the radar:
And some became the sustenance of dorm kids around the world…
1. Friendly Giant - Before the BFG, before Andre, the original friendly giant was… The Friendly Giant. This charming little CBC show ran from 1958 to 1985 and trickled out to a few US markets, but mostly stayed in Canada.
Bob Homme played the titular Giant, who played music or told stories in his castle with his rooster pal Rusty and his giraffe pal Jerome. Each episode opens with a slow pan across a miniature village until the Giant was revealed. The design of the miniatures and the Giant’s castle are quite charming and it’s got a real simple sedate, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood feel to it.
There’s something about the writing of this particular opening that I really love. Now, for some full episodes:
For better or for worse, they really don’t make them like this anymore .
1. Howard Johnson’s 2001 Children’s Menu - A lot of words come to mind when I think about 2001: A Space Odyssey, but “child-friendly” isn’t one of them. It’s not like it’s filled with questionable or mature content or anything, I just have a hard time believing that kids could sit through a movie like that and be able to digest it. Howard Johnson’s – who had a presence in the film – thought otherwise, and maybe it’s a good thing they did – I would have killed to be one of the kids featured in this “shut up and sit quietly” restaurant comic book. Courtesy of Dreams of Space – below are some of my favorite pages but be sure to head there for the rest:
That’s an odd thing for the cover to feature, that aspect of the movie. It’s not like the movie’s about that. The copy is a little odd, too but as you’ll see in subsequent panels they really go out of their way to explain the movie and the science to kids.
Here’s where I start taking issue. These kids are at a fancy movie premiere and they’re discussing/summarizing what’s happening on screen! I would not be smiling like those people are if I were the one seated behind them. I do love that they call it the “atom-powered spaceship”, though. Also their “here’s the part” summary covers like 30 minutes of the film!
“I can hardly wait for the year 2001 so I can be a space stewardess!” Yeah, that’s a cringer.
A great story about a great story. Actually the illustrations of movie scenes are pretty gorgeous, so there is that. Also, the comic ends with this kid’s menu:
The votes you didn’t know you were making all year are in, and here are the top Five Things that the visitors to Timid Futures enjoyed in 2014. Most of these I could have seen coming, but there are a couple of surprises! Thanks for visiting, reading, commenting, voting and sharing – I have a blast putting it together every week and it’s great to see that I’m not alone in loving this stuff.
We’re going to go in reverse order this time, counting down to the most popular Thing of 2014. Isn’t that dramatic!
5. Nightmare on Elm Street Video Rental Ad - (originally posted 9.1.14) – This “commercial”, targeted to video rental store owners and starring Robert Englund himself, does a pretty great job of showcasing just how popular the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was at the time. It also shows just how into the role Englund himself was and is a great example of that ’80s cheesy-marketing-tie-everything-into-everything strategy. It actually works and is cringe-worthy at the same time.
1. The Hilarious House of Frightenstein - Canadian kid’s television is its own sort of weird, beautiful monster. There’s not really a better example of that fact than The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, a 1971 sketch comedy show that incorporated familiar horror and pop culture elements to make something that was truly unique.
The show was hosted by Count Frightenstein, an exiled descendent of Dracula who was tasked with animating a monster named Brucie, Frankenstein-style. If he was able to do that, he’d be accepted back into Transylvania. At least, that’s how Vincent Price lays it out in the show intro.
The Count’s task was the backbone of the series, but there were tons of other elements in there too. Like a Wolfman DJ that played top-40 hits of the day, Wolfman Jack style:
The show also took the opportunity to teach kids about things like grammar, animals, and science with regularly occurring segments for each. There were a ton of side characters on the show, most played by Billy Van who played the Count. 130 episodes were produced over 9 months (wow!) and the syndication run lasted quite awhile. There’s a chance you could still see them today!
Here’s a full ep.
Another fun fact: Vincent Price recorded all of his bits for the show (400 in all) over 4 days!