Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Raccoons are the window to the Soul

Now, I usually try to have a certain level of tolerance where vehicles are concerned. I don't believe in discrimination against cars based on their make, model, or the color of their paint (the obvious exception being the blue Toyota FJ Cruiser, which is still definitely following me. I am NOT paranoid.) However, I was recently introduced to the Kia Soul.

The series of events that led to the encounter with the Soul in question is an epic tale which I will save for a later time (that story will have its day soon, believe me.) All you need to know for now is that, on a family trip to Nebraska, my father hit a raccoon which managed to crack our radiator, screw over our engine, and effectively total our trusty Toyota Camry. After getting the car evaluated, we decided just to cut our losses and rent a car for the long drive home.

We asked for a "big" car so we could fit all our stuff. The dealership shoved us in a Kia Soul.

I did not like that car. Also, I kick like a girl. 

Now, the Soul's design is made entirely of dumb. I assume that this car happened because somebody over at Kia spoke up during a meeting and said "You know what I hate? Trunk space. Also back seats with leg room.What's up with that anyway? I say we get rid of those things and just make the car really tall instead!" And I assume that person was somebody powerful and intimidating, because then everybody else went along with it. That said, I ended up riding with my legs folded up on the seat and most of our luggage stacked on top of me. However, I am not here to complain about the Soul's stupid design. I'm sure the design is useful to somebody (really tall people with really short legs, for instance.) No, I was not so much angry at the car as I was mortified by it.

Okay. Look at this car:
When I first saw this car, I thought to myself  "Now that looks like a car that someone who is a douchebag might drive." I do not mean this as an insult to anyone who drives a Soul, but nobody can argue that it looks pretty uppity. This car is the preppy polo shirt of automobiles. 

Now consider that our rental had a California license plate. The effect was something akin to popping the collar of the aforementioned polo shirt.

I do not have anything against people from California. I know many lovely people from California. However, adding a California plate to this car somehow managed to make it look so smug and prissy that anybody would have wanted to punch whoever was driving it. 
 This car thinks it is better than you.

I cannot fully explain the effect that this had on my parents and I as we made our way home in that vehicle. All I know is that the first time we stopped at a rest area, we were each suddenly overcome with deep, burning shame. We shuffled past the other travelers, heads down, on our way to the bathrooms, quite certain that both they and their minivans were judging us.
I knew they were, cause I would be judging us too.

 In spite of that, the three of us somehow managed to suppress the urge to loudly inform the other people at the rest stop that it wasn't our car. We got the message across in a more... roundabout way.
Suffices to say that I have never been so mortified to be in a fancy car.
I am not quite sure what's wrong with my family, cause we've been clunking around in a rusty Nissan Sentra that nobody else would ever be caught dead in for years. We're usually not that concerned with what people think of us. Apparently we just have a deeply rooted fear of random strangers thinking that we are the kind of people who are from California and Drive a Kia. I guess we've got something against typifying upper-middle-class white suburbia.

Regardless, that is the story of how the Kia Soul and I became enemies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

So it looks like Disney is still trying to keep Mickey Mouse and friends alive. That is fine, I have no problem with this, in fact, I encourage it. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a perfectly benign effort to do so. Sure, it's kinda boring, and shares a plot template with just about every other kids' show out there, but it is harmless. I could go off about how Mickey and co. are not as fun as they used to be, or how the cartoons have stopped trying to appeal to adults like they used to, but I wont. It's a well-meaning effort, and some of the songs are written by They Might Be Giants. That's pretty awesome. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and I are cool, except for on two small issues:

First we have Donald's ducks... Donald owns a family of pet ducks
I'm not entirely sure I'm okay with this. Though, at the same time, Pluto and Goofy are both dogs, and Mickey owns Pluto while Goofy walks upright. I'm almost willing to accept this one.

The second issue I have is with the clubhouse itself:
 ... Am... I the only one who is not comfortable with the fact that the clubhouse is made of the haphazardly assembled, dismembered body parts of Mickey Mouse? It really doesn't help that the red porch looks like a pool of blood or that the blue slide looks like a segment of intestine. Did nobody tell Mickey that this might actually be a bad idea when he showed them the blueprints? Cause, to me, this looks less like a clubhouse, and more like an elaborate threat that a serial killer would set up to let Mickey know that he's next...

I dunno, maybe I'm the sick one here, but just try to imagine a similar structure built with pieces of Donald or Goofy... Doesn't seem so innocent now, does it?

I wasn't going to do this, but my sister absolutely insisted that I provide visual aids for the images I invoked above. She's to blame for me drawing this. That said...
The Donald Duck and Goofy Clubhouses:
I apologize profusely to everyone for the existence of this. I'm going to go sit in the corner now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bear with me...

Okay, just as a heads up, I'm going to be messing with my blog a bit for the next little while. Trying to monetize and make it a little less eye-gougey and all that other fun stuff. Problem with that being that I suck at the internet, and so unless I manage to find some help with making everything work, it's going to be a pretty messy process. I apologize in advance for any unpleasantness or confusion you may experience. I'll try to get it all sorted out as quickly as I can.

On that note, if there is anybody who is actually capable of making a blog layout that is functional and appealing, I'd greatly appreciate it if you could lend me a hand. I've got a little bit too much ADD all up in here to get anywhere fast on my own.

Otherwise, hold tight, readers. I'll work it out eventually.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wild Kratts

Surprisingly few people seem to recognize the names of the Kratt brothers -- Chris and Martin --  when they've come up in conversations about nostalgic tv shows. I was a bit perplexed when I found this out, because when I was young, Chris and Martin Kratt were my heart and soul.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Kratt brothers were the hosts of such animal-centric shows as Kratt's Creatures, and Zoboomafoo back in the day. Their aim was to teach us about as many animals as possible, and have fun doing it. Their daily interaction with so many amazing creatures was enough to make any animal loving child simultaneously envy and worship them.
They were wise and good and handsome, and they knew so much about animals, and oh, how I loved them. I loved them more than life. They made my fluttering ten-year-old heart sing in my chest whenever they graced the screen, and for years I watched eagerly, clinging passionately to every word that fell from their lips. 

But then one day they were gone. Zoboomafoo got cancelled, and the brothers disappeared from my life. I was very upset; besides losing Chris and Martin, my reasons for breathing, the only animal-centered show I had was now gone (I was a bit of an animal junkie. We didn't have cable, so Animal Planet was beyond my reach.) Eventually, however, my wounds healed an I moved on with my life. The years passed and I grew to be a woman, rarely sparing a thought for those two glorious men who had so captivated my young soul. I had thought them to be gone forever...


Sister and I were folding laundry in front of the TV when this show came on. The volume and pitch of my delighted shriek exceeded all previously known limits of human vocal ability. My heart swelled with joy, and I knew that my world was right again.

Yes, the Kratt brothers are back, now fully animated and ready for more crazy animal adventures.
It starts off with a live-action segment of the brothers talking a little about the animal of the day, then goes into the animated segment where the brothers suit up like secret agents and go on a mission with crazy gadgets to find the animal and learn as much as they can about it.

Is it any good? Heck if I know. Doesn't matter. All I need are the live action segments at the beginning, and I'm a happy Erin. The animated part was good for what I saw of it. It's educational and the animated Kratts are hot it's engaging. There are some other characters too, and some storylines with villains and stuff, but I mostly ignore those. I kinda tune out everything except the brothers and the animal facts. It's all good though, because those alone are enough to sustain it in my book. If they were to drop the storyline and extra characters and make it just like Zoboomafoo except for animated, it would be the best thing to happen to kids' educational programming since The Magic Schoolbus.

Perhaps some day I will analyze the rest of the show for actual content, but for now I'm content to gaze at it through my nostalgia goggles and simply be happy that my beloved Kratts are back.
Keep the education coming, boys.

And if you haven't seen Zoboomafoo, you look that mess up RIGHT NOW!

Edit: After showing Wild Kratts to my roommates (who shrieked just as gleefully as I had,) we have determined that it IS, in fact, the best thing ever. Go watch it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sid the Science Kid

Usually I try to get a certain level of understanding of a show before I condemn it entirely, which means I at least have to watch a full episode or two of it first. Nevertheless, I feel that I can pretty confidently say, without much context, that there is a special place in Hell reserved for Sid the Science Kid.

Before you swoop down on me to contest that, I kindly invite you to watch the following clip with the sound off:
That is how I first saw it.
See, at the office where BFF Beth used to work as a receptionist, there was always a TV tuned to that station in the lobby with the sound off. When I came to bug her at work after class, it was usually during the time that Sid the Science Kid was on. There are no words for the terror that crept over my soul when I saw these toothless, malformed abominations bouncing around the screen like hyperactive gremlins with jaundice.

That was all I needed to see to know that this monstrosity should not be. And I hadn't even seen Sid's father yet...
...The bell-bottomed Raggedy Andy off to the left there... His head looks like a mask a serial killer would wear.

Then I found out it was made by Jim Henson Studios...
Wait... seriously?


No... it's okay, guys. Don't cry. I'm not angry at you... Just... go to your room and think about what you've done for a while.

Yes, that is almost undoubtedly what happened here. You can tell by the hair and the noses. The folks over at Henson Studios felt like they were getting left behind and decided to delve into animation like everybody else. Problem being, they've done nothing but muppets for so long that they have no concept of how to design anything different. The results are just as disastrous as one might expect. muppets are only cute in their original form. They've dabbled in animation before with things like Muppet Babies, and it was weird, but not creepy. Muppets animated in 3D are nothing BUT creepy. They look too much like the puppets that the studio is so fantastic at creating, but they also move by themselves, and you can see their feet. The effect we get is something akin to if aliens who wanted to infiltrate human society were trying to piece together disguises by watching episodes of Sesame Street. Muppets are weird looking, but we're willing to accept that because they're funny and we know there are people underneath them controlling their movements. Seeing them in full body, stringless motion just seems to trigger something in the human brain that says "I am no longer okay with this."

Okay, got that over with. Now go back and turn the sound on. Go ahead, I'll wait here...

...So, did you ever notice how muppets are funny, but whenever something that's not a muppet tries to act like one, it's really really annoying? Yeah. That.

Anyway, I'm sure it's a very well thought out and educational show, because I trust Jim Henson Studios (after all, they are still running their little Muppet show YouTube page, and the awesome is vast and never-ending,) but if they want to pull me away from crying in the corner for long enough to actually find out, they're going to have to turn it back into a puppet show. Until then, I will vehemently hold my position that Sid the Science kid needs to be scourged with fire.

Burn them! Burn them all! Get them before they get us!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Little Einsteins

Of the many shows I have been made aware of while sitting around in my sister's living room, there are a couple that I have  significantly more knowledge of. Sometimes it's because the show's time slot coincides with when I'm visiting Sister every day, but more often it's because it has, for whatever reason, earned an honored place on Zackary's list of "favorites," and so is played with greater frequency during his quiet time (otherwise known as his "Zacky watches TV for about two hours so Mommy can pass out on the couch" time.) Among the more unfortunate of these favorites is Little Einsteins.

Please don't get me wrong, this is a show that I really want to like. It's all about trying to expose kids to the world of music and fine art, which is an idea I can totally get behind. It's important for kids to experience culture, but dragging a kid to an art museum or symphony for a dose of it is a nightmare in hi-def for both parent and child. I think we ALL remember whining, fidgeting, and dragging our feet every time our parents made us go on a cultural outing  (heck, I remember being told constantly to sit up straight and get my feet off the pew by my exasperated father when my parents dragged me to a choir concert back in the day…"the day"  in question being sometime last month.) Little Einsteins was invented to recreate the cultural experience sans the hellfire. So yes, I'm pretty sold on the show's concept. And also the theme song. The theme song is awesome. And they have a rocket that is alive just like the Magic Schoolbus. That's just rad. Should be a solid show, yes?
…Do I even need to answer that question at this point? Of course not; as usual, the show manages to fall just short of the mark in its application.

    Perhaps I'm being harsh. Little Einsteins makes the mark, it's just weird. Not to mention the "no duh" factor that unintentionally makes the characters look like idiots.

    So basically these four kids, Annie, June, Quincy, and Leo live in a world of randomly placed instruments and sentient… everything… And not like in Pee Wee's playhouse or Blue's Clues where everything can talk; it's all just alive, and the four kids are the only ones who actually speak. Despite this, the kids still seem to understand the (usually very odd) desires of things like butterflies and trains, and they go to great lengths to help them reach said desires. Note that the object (or creature) in question usually isn't ever shown informing the kids of the problem, instead, one of the kids will just sort of come out and make a really bizarre assumption like "we need to help the train find his lost balloon!"  Then they will jump into their rocketship and go to do that thing that they're going to go do… In the most convoluted, roundabout, and stupid way possible. Though it's a fifty-fifty chance that they'll actually take the rocket… In any situation where the power of speed or flight could be of use to them, they seem to forget they have a rocket at all. "Of course we can't use our high-speed flying machine to help this fashionable scarf get to his sister's soccer game on time! Instead we're going to walk slowly with him the whole way and get lost in the trombone forest!"

    Now, each of the kids has a singular defining characteristic, aside from their appearance, that makes them an apparently useful member of the team. June dances, Quincy plays every instrument ever, Annie sings, and Leo… conducts? I guess… Anyway, these talents DO seem to come in handy in solving the bewildering set of problems these kids face, but I can't help but notice that not all of the kids are actually GOOD at the "skill" they claim to possess. I'm going to leave Leo alone because I actually have no idea what he does, so I don't know if he's any good at it. Annie, however, the alleged "singer" of the group, has absolutely no sense of pitch or rhythm. In fact, she's the only one of the four who CAN'T carry a tune. The others have perfectly lovely voices. The show likes to ignore this, of course, and leaves most of the singing to Annie. The result is that most of the songs in the show (set to the tunes of classical music pieces,) end up as awkward stumbling messes. I don't know about you, but I think that this could be easily fixed by getting a little girl who can actually sing to voice Annie, cause I'm pretty sure that the point of using the classical music tunes in the first place is completely lost if the viewers can't actually hear the tune.

A couple more points and then I'll leave it alone:
There are a lot of famous paintings that are integrated into the world of the show. This is all well and good when it's just a landscape or something, and it actually looks pretty cool. The painting should not, however, be allowed to be part of the animation in any way. Reason for this being that when the subjects of paintings such as, say "Old Man With a Pipe" by Van Gogh move on hinges like they were animated by a 5th grader in Flash and play random classical music when they open their mouths like they swallowed a record player, it is really really weird.
You can only imagine...

Continuing on that note, perhaps I'm just missing the deep meaning woven intricately through the themes of Little Einsteins, but I've noticed that the plot of the episodes somehow manages to dance off without me a LOT. In one particular example, the episode began with one of the girls reading a fairy tale about a golden goose and a giant to the other kids. Then I tuned out for a second, and when I looked back up they were suddenly going off to save the golden goose -- the one from the fairy tale that began "once upon a time" that they were just reading from a storybook -- from the giant, played, confusingly, by the man from the painting I mentioned above. Maybe the plot made sense after that, but all I remember is the painting giant swinging his arms and stomping like an angry old hick, and yelling Beethoven's 5th (since he apparently speaks fluent… orchestra.) I'm not really sure what he was yelling about, but if I were to make an educated guess, I'd say he wanted them to get off his lawn. His cloud lawn. Like I said, I got lost after the first three minutes, so I couldn't tell you. In fact, MOST of the episodes I've seen have taken off on a magical mystery tour and left me behind like that. This is a problem that probably needs to be fixed… Maaaybe try to invite the viewers along on you plot journey before you take off, guys.

Wait, what?

I will put an end to my rant now, because I tend to lose the will to live when my diatribes about shows intended for 5 year olds run too long. I will say that, for what it is, Little Einsteins is okay. It sort of accomplishes what it set out to, albeit strangely and off-key, and at least the writers try to educate kids instead of throwing their hands in the air and saying "Y'know what? Kids are idiots. Let's just paste some new characters and oboes over an episode of Dora and call it a day."
There IS actual visible effort in this show, however misguided, so I think that we can at least be thankful for that.
And also for the theme song. Cause seriously, dudes, it rocks.