Bill & Ted was the franchise that kept on giving; it spawned not only a theatrical sequel but a pretty good computer game, a mediocre NES game, a short-lived live action series, and a cartoon which then spun off its own cereal.
It’s Lucky Charms, but with musical notes as the marshmallows. And cinnamon. That sounds pretty great, right? Well, if you believe Wikipedia (WHO WOULDN’T), the box and potentially the cereal itself were stolen from an art student’s final project in 1990. Is that true, or was some college kid looking to cash in on a hundred-dollar idea? Who knows!
Here’s Arsenio Hall and Alex Winter discussing the cereal in 1991 on The Arsenio Hall Show. 1:45 in.
It’s 1982. Pac Man’s a pretty big deal. So big that they didn’t just make a Pac-Man cartoon, NBC centered its 1982 Saturday Morning Preview Special around it.
Pac-Man is the carrot that Dick Clark dangles for forty five minutes through this awful special, held on the set of American Bandstand. Like the free movie tickets that come at the end of a Timeshare presentation, you have to through clip after clip of unoriginal, derivative cartoons based on existing properties. When you’re not doing that, you’re watching Dick Clark have a hamfisted time around some children. Seriously – he doesn’t know what to do with these kids. Not 90 seconds into the special, Clark is admonishing a child for talking when he’s talking. On mic. To the camera.
The special tries to be interesting – ventriloquist Willie Taylor does a solid three minute set.
Scooby and Scrappy-Doo costumed characters show up for a clunky appearance.
Henry Winkler and Frank Welker do a table read of a scene from the Laverne and Shirley cartoon. Kids love seeing voice actors!
After a ten-minute long “clip” of The Lil’ Rascals cartoon we finally get about a forty-five minute preview of Pac-Man! Then we’re sent out of the special with a rockin’ dance party.
Seriously, there’s so little effort here. Give me a sloppy narrative or a musical act or some actual star power! At the very least, I guess it’s heartening to see a studio full of disappointed kids make the best of things. Here’s the special.
Ward’s 1971 Microwave Oven
Love that dinosaur puppet! The flaming arrow into the conestoga, not so much…
FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Watch a cowboy with dementia peddle a cereal based on stale waffles to a couple of overacting kids!
The Long Walk Artwork
“The Long Walk” is one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King. This promotional artwork really catches the story, from the illustration to the red background to the font choice. Beautiful.
Guys, I don’t think this conversation actually happened, but I love the layout of this ad.
Tom Hanks’ first movie role wasn’t a comedy, like you’d think. It was barely a drama. His movie debut took form in the role of Human Robbie/Cleric Pardieu in the 1982 TV Movie Dungeons & Dragons Scare-Film called Mazes and Monsters, a movie based on a hastily written book loosely based on inaccurate facts about the disappearance of a teenager who was interested in D&D.
The movie starts out with a flash-forward to a crime scene – someone’s in trouble and we don’t know who. We’re told that the incident involved a role-playing game called Mazes and Monsters and not much more.
Flashing back to the true start of the movie, we’re introduced to a bunch of priveleged kids who attend school together. There’s JJ, the eccentric party boy who wears a rotating lineup of goofy hats.
Then there’s Kate, the beautiful collegiate who is way-too-fashionable to be a Dungeons and Dragons fan in the 1980s.
Boring Daniel wants to be a videogame designer, but doesn’t have his parents support.
And finally Robbie, played by Tom Hanks. Kicked out of one school as a result of his obsession with Mazes and Monsters, he transfers to the school that JJ, Kate, and Daniel attend with the promise that he won’t play again.
That promise lasts about five minutes, as Robbie falls in with the gang and the foursome become best friends over sessions of Mazes and Monsters. Turns out Robbie’s got a pretty rad character from his obsessive other-college campaign.
Robbie and Kate become an item. Robbie confides to Kate that his little brother ran away when he was younger and he hasn’t seen him since, a strange thing to bring up. JJ gets isolated from the group due to their relationship, and plans his suicide in a nearby cavern. He then quickly changes his mind on this plan, for some reason, and decides to create a Mazes and Monsters campaign in the caverns for his friends to enjoy instead.
The group goes out for their first session in the cavern and have a pretty good time. Robbie, however, has an episode where fiction and reality become blurred, and a switch ‘flips’ inside of him. He sees an actual monster, and fights it.
From that point on Robbie more or less becomes his character, the healer Pardieu. He abruptly breaks off his relationship with Kate, has dreams of his missing younger brother, designs elaborate maps referencing “The Two Towers” and “The Great Hall”, and eventually disappears completely.
While the gang tries to find details of his whereabouts, the police get involved as well. The police learn that Robbie had a history with Mazes and Monsters, and the gang hides their involvement so as not to be implicated. The police somehow learn of the cavern campaign, and a detective poses to Daniel the theory that one of Robbie’s fellow gamers killed him in the cavern.
Daniel says, “That’s pretty far out.”
The detective replies, “Mazes and Monsters is a far out game.”
The gang realizes that Robbie’s mentions of “The Great Hall” are referring not to a place but to his missing brother who was also named Hall. We see Robbie in New York City, still in character, looking for The Great Hall. He’s chased by some local toughs and ends up in an alleyway. Reality and Fiction fall on top of each other and he accidentally kills one of them.
He calls Kate in a panic, who tells him to head to JJ’s family’s house in the City to wait for them. Robbie doesn’t follow this advice and continues to amble around. The friends arrive in New York and quickly realize that “The Two Towers” refers to the World Trade Center, and that Robbie is heading there to jump off and join his brother, “The Great Hall”.
They all run into each other on the roof of the World Trade Center and, in character, talk Robbie down. JJ uses his authority as dungeon master to convince Robbie that this is a game, and Robbie snaps back to reality. And gives the first of what will be many classic Tom Hanks sad faces.
Epilogue: three months later. Kate is basically writing Mazes and Monsters: the book of the TV Movie. The gang visits Robbie at his family’s house, where he is taking time off of school to get his head straight. They meet him in the backyard and prepare for a special reunion….only to learn that Robbie is still trapped in his character. They play the game one last time.
This whole movie seems like it was written by somebody who read the sensationalist headlines of the day regarding the dangers of Dungeons and Dragons and not much more. It’s an interesting interpretation of the form that someone’s concerns about losing a child to D&D might have taken in the 1980s. It’s also interesting because, despite the hokey story, Tom Hanks is actually pretty good in this. He makes it worth watching.
Roll for initiative and see for yourself.
SEGA Game Gear Commercials
How do you sell your superior handheld device if you’re not Nintendo? Throw a bunch of jabs at Nintendo! These ’90s SEGA Game Gear commercials are quick to push their full color and game library, but don’t necessarily bring up their four-minute battery life.
An alien race called the Moonbeams are mining moonstones from our Moon. The Moonbums are trying to steal the recipe for the moonstones. Do you need recipes for things that are mined? This is a really complicated cereal.
Watch Out For The Munchies
I could use this ’80s anti-snacking PSA’s reminders on a half-hourly basis.
In 1993 Pioneer released a sort of megadevice that combined CDs, Laserdiscs, video games, and interactive karaoke CDs. Called “LaserActive”, it retailed for just under $1000 and in a result that shocked nobody, was largely unsuccessful.
This 1993 “issue” of Zoom, the “Video Magazine” (what?) features the ins-and-outs of the LaserActive. It’s a showcase of the technology itself, the software featured, and an awkward technical section that describes how to set the thing up. Not sure that last part is “video magazine”-worthy but hey, I’m not a “video magazine” editor.
This video is about 40% content and 60% stock ’90s introspective flash and graphics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The LaserActive software is impressive; games like Pyramid Patrol, Quiz Econosaurus, and I Will demonstrate the different types of game options available, and the quality of the (then) high technology is evident.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually a pretty impressive machine. In the early-to-mid nineties, in the aftermath of the VHS/Beta war, in the middle of the CD/Laserdisc/VHS landscape, and on the cusp of DVD’s entry into the foray (not to mention minidiscs and mp3s), a device that could do it all was a pretty novel idea. And in that light, $970’s actually a value. Still, that’s a high price point to rationalize.
An interesting experiment, albeit a failed one. What do you think? Here’s the “video magazine”.
In my day, Cap’n Crunch battled the Soggies. These white, wet embodiments of too much milk goofily tried to thwart the Cap’n and his child companions, to no success. In the 1970s, though, the Cap’ns nemesis was a fellow pirate named Jean LaFoote. He had his own cereal, Cinnamon Crunch, years before Wendell and the bakers would come along and stake a claim on cinnamon-flavored cereal with their Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Here’s LaFoote’s finest hour.
EPCOT Horizons Commercial
It’s not often that I come across something about Horizons that’s new to me, so I’m excited to share this sedate 1980s EPCOT commercial focused entirely on Horizons. Everything about it is great, but for some reason the music doesn’t feel like a total match. Still, so good!
Mason Shoe Recruitment
This ad ran in men’s magazines in the 1960s, recruiting would-be door-to-door salesmen across the country.
1940s Band-Aid Commercial
This commercial features a fascinating and unsettling proof-of-concept, testing the band-aid’s adhesiveness on an egg. That glue is way too powerful.
Way too powerful. Man was not meant for this level of adhesion.
It should come as no surprise that MC Hammer, he of the pop charts and the parachute pants and the very-safe-edginess and the runaway early-90s success, had his own cartoon. Hammerman ran on ABC in 1991, and only lasted one season.
(My computer keeps trying to correct Hammerman to Hamilton. Guessing this is the only time those two shows have been compared.)
Hammerman follows the adventures of Stanley Burrell, a youth center worker who becomes the superhero Hammerman when he wears a pair of magic shoes passed along from aging superhero Soulman.
This is all explained in what is perhaps the laziest theme song ever rapped. That includes the end credits of Leprechaun in the Hood.
Hammer hosts each episode with a live action intro and outro, and the episodes usually focus on some issue relevant to kids or a larger societal issue. A villain pops up and Stanley has to turn into Hammerman to put the villain down. The background music gets to dip into the MC Hammer library, which is probably the only standout feature of this series .
It’s a pretty lazy effort all around – this sort of thing should be right in my sweet spot, but it’s really tough to watch all the way through. It’s remarkable in its laziness, though, and maybe that goes to show both how iconic MC Hammer was in 1991 and also how eager TV Networks and (maybe) kids were for cartoons related to any already-existing-and-popular property.
Here’s an episode. It’s titled “Rap-oleon”. Like Napoleon. Shudder.
Cookie Monster IBM Film
Jim Henson was contracted to do a series of short films for IBM in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They’re all pretty great, but some of them in particular offer glimpses of the Muppets to come. Here’s one such glimpse – an early Cookie Monster with teeth and claws, eating a sentient computer.
A toothed Cookie Monster is a recipe for some real, lasting damage.
Lock’n Chase Ad
I’m in love with the illustrations in this ad for Data East/Taito’s 1981 Arcade Game Lock’n Chase.
A beautiful design for an awful toy. Big Trak was a “programmable” utility vehicle that intelligently performed tasks that you told it to do. I can only imagine how clunky and limited the interface must have been to ‘instruct’ Big Trak to do anything. Also, I’m sorry, but if you program Big Trak to bring me an apple and if Big Trak dumps that apple onto the floor in front of me, I’m not going to eat that apple.
1939 Pepsi Ad
As a Coca-Cola kid and a (now) soda-free grown-up, I can safely say that this 1939 animated ad is the best thing I will ever associate with Pepsi.
Wacky Wall Walkers were a very popular toy for a brief period in the early 1980s. They were these rubber octopi that were sticky; you threw them against the wall and they would slowly “walk” down until the adhesive gave out and they just fell to the floor. Super popular for a while, then relegated to cereal prizes, then gone forever.
In their brief heyday, though, they were huge. In typical ’80s fashion, that meant that they just had to have a presence on television. That presence took the form of Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls, which aired on NBC in the Christmas season of 1983.
Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls had the liberty and license to apply any backstory they wanted to these rubber octopi. Naturally, the writers decided that they came from a complex space civilization.
A team of 7 Wall Walkers – Kling-Kling, Big Blue, Springette, Bouncing Baby Boo, Crazylegs, Stickum, and Wacko – are sent to Earth to investigate something their scientists have heard about called “Christmas”. My eyes are rolling, too.
(They’re on the ceiling because they can walk on things like walls and ceilings. Get it?)
The special quickly falls into the normal Christmas special routine – outsiders looking for clues on what Christmas is find that some like the decorations…
…others like the music…
…and others like the presents and the shopping.
There’s a storyline woven through about an ungrateful kid who gets introduced to the Wall Walkers when one is accidentally wrapped into a gift.
Together, they learn that the true meaning of Christmas is giving, and the typical cursory nod to Jesus is given right before they wrap up.
The only truly special thing about this special is that someone decided to create a lore and background for a bunch of fad toys. The work that went into this special probably outshines any effort that went into the toys themselves…and the special still comes up so, so short. Here it is. It’s a fascinating sort of awful. Bah. Humbug.
I’ve mentioned before that as a child I believed that robot servants were always just around the corner. They never materialized in any useful form, but that didn’t stop the toy companies from scratching our itch with several iterations of few-function rudimentary remote-control devices in the shape of robots. TOMY was the best at this game, with their Chatbot, Verbot, and Omnibot models. Here’s a roundup of the commercials for the various models.
The Omnibot ads are legit fantastic. We’re clearly the chimps in that last one. It’s always great when a company can get sales by insulting the customers.
Sammy Davis, Jr Alka Seltzer Ad
Sammy was an odd choice for Alka Seltzer’s spokesman in the late 1970s and early 1980s. but not really the wrong choice. Alka Seltzer’s primary job is to provide relief from last night’s party, and you probably can’t find a much better expert on partying.
The Santa get-up is weird, though. BUT THAT FONT.
1987 Sports Illustrated Christmas Commercial
Watch this salesman blow all of his 1987 holiday commission by letting these wives and mothers know about the existence of Sports Illustrated!
Bless Your Hearth!
I don’t claim to understand the appeal of Necco Wafers, but I don’t need to; somebody out there loves them and that’s enough for Necco. They DID, however, have an awesome Holiday print ad in 1952, and that’s enough for me.
In 1975 Filmation had a live-action series about a couple of guys and a gorilla who hunted ghosts. It was about as different from the 1984 movie that would come as you could imagine; it was aimed directly at children and focused on slapstick rather than actual paranormal enthusiasm for its comedic value. It was pretty hokey, and it died on the vine after only fifteen episodes.
Obviously, after the mega-success of the 1984 film, there was interest in making a television series. After an unsuccessful attempt to work with Columbia Pictures to produce a cartoon that tied in with the movie, Filmation chose instead to resurrect the original series in animated form. Because Filmation owned the rights to the title, they were able to come to the table with a cartoon simply titled Ghostbusters – tricking second graders all over the country into watching their show. Myself included. Columbia Pictures, whose cartoon actually did relate to the film, had the ante-upped title The Real Ghostbusters. Columbia Pictures had the superior series, but Filmation’s effort wasn’t without its charm.
Ghostbusters featured the sons of the 1975 series’ protagonists, Jake Kong Jr. and Eddie Spencer Jr. Tracy the gorilla was the bridge between the two generations, working with both teams. Rounding out the team are Belfrey, a pink talking bat, and Skellevision, a skeleton television. While there were gadgets involved in detecting and catching ghosts, the show on the whole was consciously low-tech but also high concept; the characters rode around in an old haunted jalopy named Ghost Buggy that could also fly. This was a pretty big point of distinction between this series and The Real Ghostbusters.
Sixty-five episodes were produced for daytime syndication, and a toy line followed. It fared better than you’d think it would but it was really no match for our Ghostbusters – either on screen or in the marketplace. Still, there’s something fun about it – it celebrates the supernatural in a sweet, goofy way that you saw less and less of in the ’80s, and still less today. Plus, it’s gorgeous. Check it out.
How You Can Help Win The War
Here’s an interesting wartime pamphlet about things civilians and laborers can do to help win the war. It’s interesting to see things like “drive carefully” and “don’t get hurt” included with the more obvious “don’t blab what you know”.
1991 Canadian Anti-Drug PSA
This 1991 Canadian anti-drug PSA plays like a Tim and Eric sketch. To say it didn’t age well is an understatement – would this have resonated with kids even back in 1991 when it was made?
That “COOL” gets me every time.
Frustration 1973 Box Art
I love the painting of the family on this 1973 Frustration (known as “Trouble” here in the U.S.) box art. Particularly because it looks like that kid is in some serious pain.
Stephen King’s pretty well-regarded nowadays, but in the 1980s and 1990s he had a polarizing level of fame. While he had a dedicated fanbase, he tended to be regarded in the mainstream as a shlocky horror writer who put out a new book every week and opinion of him was formed on whether you liked that sort of thing or not. He was a bestseller, sure, a rockstar of a writer, but it seemed like there was a level of respect for his writing that he never got.
Besides the fact that his crazy creative output in that era meant you always had something new to read, the volume also provided an easy business opportunity in the space that Time Life and Columbia House had forged – subscriptions. Enter the Stephen King Library.
For $7.95 (the first time, $14.95 each shipment thereafter) you got a new King book, hardback. It’s crazy to me that there could be a book subscription service for one author, but there you go. I love the commercials for the service; this one seems to imply that publishers are approaching people on the street to try to sell Stephen King books:
While I love the cheesy comments and the hokey “scary music”, the comments reinforce that shlocky image that King’s writing had back then. It’s not wrong, really, just… incomplete. The narrator also clearly hands the first guy a copy of Needful Things but calls it Dolores Claiborne.
Here’s some commercials for specific books – The Stand, which would be a steal even then at $7.95:
I love that the extra content is pitched as something that we “weren’t allowed to see before”. Here’s one for Gerald’s Game:
These visuals aren’t really backing up the content of the books themselves; did anything really come up out of the ground in The Stand? That’s more of a Pet Semetary thing…
The Stephen King Library is still alive and kicking, too! That’s even crazier to me than the fact of its existence. I’m just glad that time has borne out King’s reputation as a great writer and we can all now move on to arguing about whether those fat cats in Hollywood are doing his work justice. How many days until The Dark Tower releases?
Coming Soon: Portable Computers!
Here’s a cringeworthy trip through all of the newest tech for those geeks with tons of disposable income in 1994. It’s neat to see how big our ideas were and how limited our ability to execute those ideas was. The delay on that videophone cannot be unseen.
That’s, what, $9,000 worth of tech in that video? $10,000? And a printer you can use in the car? Worthless.
K-Tel Records: Looney Tunes
From the people who brought you the Sesame Street soundtrack, here’s Looney Tunes. Not the Looney Tunes you’re thinking of. It’s weird.
Even weirder? How about I’m Telling!, which is basically The Newlywed Game but with child siblings instead. This one didn’t last long – it ran from September 1987 to March 1988.
Uncle Sam Says Garden
Beautiful poster encouraging Americans to grow their own food in order to cut down on waste.
ALF hosts this Friday Night preview of NBC Saturday Morning lineup featuring, well, ALF. The premises for these specials are always so ridiculous, and this one’s no different:
The special begins in the Tanner family garage, where ALF is on the phone with his agent regarding his new prequel cartoon series. ALF and his buddy Brian decide to imagine a mystery story specifically featuring characters from the shows in the NBC Saturday Morning lineup, which is natural and makes sense.
The special then turns into a Film Noir homage, which kids are totally into, with ALF providing the narration and Brian starring as the detective. Brian’s invited to the Countess (Jackee’s) mansion, where random stars from NBC Prime Time programs like Our House, Rags To Riches,The Golden Girls, and others are gathered and given the challenge to find the treasure hidden within the house.
The kid faction of the party teams up to solve the mystery, awkardly led from clue to clue by clips and voiceovers from the Saturday Morning shows.
Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Smurfs, the Gummie Bears, Archie, and that awful animated version of Fraggle Rock help the gang along.
The adults at the party, predictably, are all bad guys. They’re also dumb. They follow the children around as the kids solve the mysteries, waiting for their chance to steal the treasure once it’s found. Shannen Doherty masquerades as “kid-cool” to try and trick them!
The joke’s on all of them, kid and adult alike, when Jackee tries to take it all for herself at the end.
I won’t tell you how they get out of that particular pickle, but ALF and Shannen Doherty DO go on a date after all is said and done.
This special is so bad and hamfisted, but in a really good way. Even Shannen Doherty’s redeemed in it. I can’t figure out how the effort spent on this was justified, but I’m glad it was. Here’s the whole thing. Also included are some VERY ’80s Cherry 7-Up, Milky Way, Snickers, Wendy’s, Diet Coke, KFC, and Crave Cat Food commercials.
Also I forgot about Chicken Littles – that 39 cent price point is nice.
This early 1980s “Prism” campaign for Atari shows the breadth of the company’s offerings past just video games, but still mostly focuses on the video games. They know which side of the bread gets the butter. Still, a good looking campaign with some great motion graphics and some EPCOT-level synth.
That’s Jack Palance doing the voiceover. You hear it now, don’t you?
This one interestingly focuses on the whole portfolio of Atari’s offerings – minimizing the games as much as they probably can. Makes Atari look like a much different company than it was – the company they probably wanted to be.
Safe As Houses
This charming 1983 UK Public Information Film uses a mixture of animation and live action to teach kids about electrical safety. Voiced by Judi Dench and Michael Wiliams, it’s kind of like a G-rated “Shake Hands With Danger”.
Atom Bomb Blasts
This 1950s-era postcard from Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club boasts the spectacular view of atomic weapons testing that can be had nearby. Amazing.
Potatoes have never been so beautiful. A cover from an 18th century seed catalog.
This 1950 film teaches kids how to use the phone correctly, politely, and efficiently. And if in the process of learning a kid picks up some nightmare fuel along the way, so what?
The film is produced by and features the Bil Baird marionette puppets as the residents of Telezonia, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re immediately introduced to the main character, for lack of a better word, named Handy.
Handy travels the phone lines of the world listening in on people’s conversations. He knows when you’re sick and on the phone with the doctor, he knows what you’re ordering for dinner, and he knows when you’ve lost your dog like Bobby has.
Handy tells Bobby he can help him find his dog and instead of putting up flyers or going outside he whisks him away to the land of Telezonia to learn about phone etiquette with his friends.
Telezonia’s what you would expect a society built around and beholden to the telephone to look like. The residents all have specific roles in telephone usage. For instance, this guy tells you to wait for a dial tone. Remember dial tones?
This girl is the party line expert.
And this guy’s job in this society is to hog the party line and make everyone hate him.
I’m not going to drag out the ending; they find the dog and it’s all thanks to the telephone skills Bobby learned in Telezonia. Here’s the film – I’m not sure what’s scarier – the puppets themselves or the antiquated way telephone operation used to be!
Ark II Animated
Space:1970’s got a great set of animatics for a never-realized animated version of the post-apocalyptic kid’s show, Ark II. Check out the link for the rest.
Victory Garden Poster
A gorgeous, gorgeous poster compelling Americans to grow victory gardens to feed themselves during World War II. I love everything about victory gardens, besides the conditions that necessitated them.
Primley’s Chewing Gum Ad
And a beautiful ad from the 19th century for Primley’s Chewing Gum!
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Check out this amazing poster for The Abominable Dr. Phibes!
And a newspaper ad which is just as good in its own way!