Sunday, November 19, 2023

Invisible Essence: The Little Prince (2018).

I was an 80s kid to start with.  There's no doubt about that.  I was born in the middle of the year that George Orwell made famous.  In that sense, I guess you could say I lucked out.  As I got here just in time to enjoy what for now remains the last great artistic Renaissance.  I'm talking of course about all of the classic books, films, and TV shows that were released during that decade.  So to repeat, first of all, it was the 80s.  If you were a relative new born during that time period, say anywhere from about five to going on seven years of age, it was kind of like living in a playground.  At least that's how all that the best times of the 80s seems to me now.  I don't know, there was just something about the entertainment of that era.  Our Minds and Imaginations seem to have been more expansive way back when.  Like I've also said, for a kid, this was like being given an all-access key to some kind of pop-culture candy store.  It's there that I made the acquaintance childhood friends like Tom, Jerry, the residents of Sesame Street, Larry, Daffy, Moe, Bugs, Curly, Garfield, The Ninja Turtles.  It's amazing how times makes small things have epic proportions.  This is just a list of the most well known aspects of 80s kid life.  In addition to the now popular standbys, there were a host of other, lesser known entertainment that isn't talked about.

I can remember this one TV show, in particular.  It's not what I'm here to talk about today, in the strictest sense.  However, in retrospect, this little forgotten kid's series I'm thinking about is sort of where this whole story beings.  At least this is how it has worked out for me.  So here's the scenario.  I'm just this seven going on eight year old guy.  It's the 80s.  I'm bopping along to Glenn Frey's The Heat Is On, like everyone else, and I've begun to grow enamored of a TV station with the curious yet memorable name of Nickelodeon.  It likes to bill itself as "The First Network For Kids".  Now I'm a fresh young mind, so the dubious veracity of claims like that aren't going to make much or seem all that important.  All that mattered to me back then (and even today, if I'm being honest) is a question I didn't have the vocabulary for back then, yet I do now.  Can you tell an entertaining story?  In the case of Nickelodeon, my experience watching that channel during its glory years taught me that, on the whole, yeah, they were pretty good for the most part.  Some of their stuff I was always going to like better than others.  Though what else is new about that?  The point is that the channel could deliver the goods.

My own experience watching the 80s and early 90s incarnation of Nick is a combination hazy and crystal clear images.  I'm sure that's true for a lot of us, so now I'm curious to see how many of my own memory snapshots match the experiences I'm about to describe.  Some of the images I remember most from that time include: an orange tabby cat who wasn't Garfield, prowling around an anime style neighborhood; a live action show about a mannequin in a department store that would come to life when a magic hat was placed on his head; a show about that guy from Get Smart, except now he's an animated, cartoon cyborg; a comedy show whose opening looks a lot like Monty Python; also, there's Green Slime; a cartoon about a talking, vampire duck (yes, really); a show about a somehow scarily competent dog; a simple, yet somehow epic shot of a group kids in a souped up flying ship that looked kind of like this giant condor thing.  There was also this one image in particular.  It's the picture of a young boy.  He has to be no older than nine or ten years of age, standing all by himself on the surface of an alien world that is no bigger than a house.  The next memory snapshot I have of this same young boy flying through space, hanging on in the wake of a passing comet.  The child has somehow managed to cast a net over this comet, and is using it to propel him through the infinite gulfs of outer space. 

It's one those interesting images, I guess you'd call it.  Perhaps a better phrase for it is "somehow arresting".  In some ways, it's nothing more than the kind of thing you might expect to find in any sensibly well made children's story.  At the same time, there are a lot interesting reasons for why this image in particular can make you want to scratch your head.  It's easy to get the sense that this is also the kind of picture that grows out of some kind of ill-defined stoner fantasy.  This impression is sort of helped by the fact that trying to find any footage from the show itself can sometimes result in the type of visuals that can come off as slightly mind-bending.  The good news is this description is meant in the best way possible.  The show itself is called The Adventures of the Little Prince, and it's one of those notable examples of the particular imaginative capabilities that could only have come out of the 80s.  It's the sort of cartoon that is willing to resort to all kinds of interesting leaps in imaginative logic while still managing to keep the proceedings going within a grounded(ish) narrative.  It was the sort of TV show that you catch snippets of in between waiting for your personal favorites to come on the air.

In other words, that show belonged to the rare and elusive class of media that still manages to leave a strange, lingering impact on the mind, years later down the road.  This happens either despite, or perhaps because your initial contact with it was so fleeting at an otherwise impressionable young age.  It's the kind of thing you can't recall with perfect clarity.  What you do remember, however, seems just enough to spark your curiosity.  Maybe it can even get you to wonder if any of it was real, or just something out of a dream?  It planted enough questions in my mind to the point where I decided to see if it was possible to track down those old snippets of childhood memory, and try to get the whole story out of them.  In a way I've succeeded in this, and a good TV promo for the show can be found here.  However, it's one of those accomplishments that wound up being just the tip of the iceberg.  Far from being the end of the story, digging up information about a half-forgotten kids show wound up being one of those adventures where you think all you'll do is to recover a bit of your childhood.  While instead, what happens is you wind up unearthing a whole treasure of literary history you didn't know was there.

So, as I said, I'm not here to take a look at the TV series itself.  If you want someone to walk you through all of that, the best review/retrospective I've been able to find online is here.  Instead, this article is going to cover the history of the show's source material.  Not only is it a lot more interesting than its syndicated spinoff.  It also reveals a story of the ideals that can sometimes lie behind even a simple children's book, and how it was all represented in the life of its creator.  All of which is to say that this review will be a close look at a documentary known as Invisible Essence: The Little Prince.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The Peter Pan Mythos 2: The Disney Live-Action Remake and the Original Stage Play.

There are certain stories whose history is so convoluted that its easy to get lost in the forest for the trees.  Perhaps a better analogy is that it's a bit like taking what seems like a straight-forward path on the outside, and it isn't until you've turned the umpteenth corner into yet another dead end that you realize you're lost in a maze.  That's what it's been like for me when it comes to untangling both the history and the nature of Peter Pan.  Yes, I know, it's not the kind of statement the average person can ever take seriously.  Why on Earth get a headache over some dumb children's book?  That's the basic commonsense line of thinking on matter like this.  Well, the unfortunate news is that the joke is on anyone who thinks like that, at least when it comes to the jumbled history of Neverland.  Not only is there no such thing as an exact straight through line to be had in this corner of the library, the conclusion at the end of the labyrinth (if you can even manage to reach it) is so damned unexpected that it's like you can't decide whether to be relieved or stunned and confused out of your mind.  This, however, just begs the question of why go to all that trouble over any story if it gives you that much of a headache?  My only justification for pressing on has been twofold.  In the fist place, it was the idea of genuinely good story wanting to be told that acted as a guiding thread thread through all of this.  The second reason is that this story has a happy ending.

It's true that trying to understand the history of the Lost Boys and their Flighty Leader can be a challenge at the best of times.  Perhaps trying to understand this story is the sort of job that should only be tackled by the experts.  The kick in the teeth there, however, is that in everything I've read on this matter by the professional literary critics, not one of them has ever been able to see the whole truth, even when it was staring back at them from the page, stage, or screen.  So the task of setting the record straight falls to just some random guy out of nowhere who won't shut up about his favorite hobby.  As a result, I'm here today to discuss two facets of the Pan Mythos.  The first is fairly recent, the Live Action Disney remake version.  The second part I intend to examine is J.M. Barrie's original stage play, as that's where this whole darn thing got started.  Peter and his adventures all began as stage characters before they ever landed within the pages of a book, or on the silver screen.  So today, we're going to look at each version one at a time, and what it will reveal is a history of literary ironies.

What it all boils down to is this.  Of all the works of literature that I've studied on this blog, Peter Pan is the one narrative archetype that has consistently struggled the most in order to get it's story told with as much completion, and in the best way possible.  I know that's not a sentence that makes all that much sense, yet I'll swear its the truth.  I've never run across a cast of characters whose story has been more at the mercy of uncaring hands than Peter, Wendy, and their friends, or even their enemies, for that matter.  This is all part of an account of the Little Story that Could.  The Neverland Saga has turned out to be one of those stories that wound up managing to tell itself against a ridiculous number of insurmountable odds.  Perhaps the purest irony of this story is that it's greatest obstacle remained its original creator.  It's a history that's worth telling if you can do it well.  It's a tale of ideas with creative potential being squandered first by its initial author, and then later once more, by an industry on what appears to be its last gasps.  It's also a narrative of the eventual triumph of artistic creativity.