Look up, waaaaaaay up: a short appreciation of CBC's The Friendly Giant

I know we're supposed to be all "Boo, Canada!" here in the states right now because of the women's Olympic hockey final or something, but I can never bring myself to hate our neighbors to north.  For one thing, I grew up in Maine, so Canada really was my neighbor and I've visited a bunch of times throughout my life.  And I've written before about things they've given the world that I've enjoyed (stuff like Tim Horton's, SCTV, You Can't Do That on Television, Douglas Coupland, Reveen the Impossibilist, William Shatner, Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, and so many more), but basically my warm affection for Canada comes down to one simple fact: it's impossible to hate a country that gave us as gentle a show as The Friendly Giant.

And gentle is really the best word possible here.  The Friendly Giant was a 15-minute long show that ran for three decades on the CBC, and it helped teach generations of Canadian children (or Americans north enough to get the CBC) an appreciation for traditional folk music, storytelling, and a relaxed, genial humor.  Every show followed pretty much the same pattern... the camera would pan across a model of a village until we saw the feet of Friendly (Bob Homme), who would then ask the audience to "Look up, waaaaaaaay up!" and speak with him.  Then it was back to the castle, where he'd set out tiny model furniture for (ostensibly) us at home to relax in while he, Jerome the Giraffe (who'd peak his head in through the window), and Rusty the Rooster (who lived in a bag hanging on the wall) would talk and entertain.  As the show ended, he'd put the furniture back and give us a kind wave and farewell, and then the drawbridge would go up for another day.

(Speaking of the furniture, my grandmother used to have a couple of tiny chairs on the windowsill of her apartment when I was little that reminded me of the ones on the show.  Whenever we'd go to see her, I liked to pretend we were visiting Friendly's castle.  Nanny had no idea what I was doing but she'd indulge me because she was great like that.)

It probably seems a bit slow by today's standards.  Truthfully, it was probably slow by the standards of the time I can remember watching it (about 1979 through maybe 1981, or whenever it was our cable provider replaced the CBC with another hallmark of my childhood, Boston's WVLI - Channel 56).  But I think that was a large part of the appeal.  For one thing, it came on first thing in the morning, so it was a good show to wake up to and begin the slow build up through Mr. Dressup and maybe the Canadian Sesame Street until I'd switch over to Captain Kangaroo or regular Sesame Street.  The slow pace and, well, friendly manner of the show also hit those same parts of my brain that appreciated Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  It's not too hard to imagine the village where Friendly's castle sat being adjacent to either Fred Rogers' "TV neighborhood" (where the real world interactions took place) or the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.  Handyman Negry and Lady Aberlin could play guitar while Friendly accompanies them on the recorder or something... it's a nice thought.

They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore, but thankfully there are a bunch of episodes up on YouTube if and when I want a reminder of the time when they did.

Pretty Sketchy: Animated Vi

The gothy, perky, prone-to-snorting-when-she-laughs, cute as a freakin' button version of Shrinking Violet from the CW's too-short-lived Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon (just two seasons, 2006-2008), as rendered in my sketchbook for me by Chris Gugliotti at Rhode Island Comic Con 2012.  Chris was a super nice guy and a hell of an artist, so you should check out his website at the link above and consider throwing some money his way via the inter-ma-nets or at a con.  Thanks, Chris!

Everything is Awesome (Though Maybe Occasionally a Bit Puzzling) - Thoughts on The Lego Movie

Like apparently most of America, the kiddo and I made it out to see The Lego Movie this weekend, and we both enjoyed the heck out of it.  The script was funny and imaginative, taking some pretty well-worn kids movie story beats (Be Yourself! Embrace Creativity! Everyone Has Something Special About Them!) and keep them interesting.  The casting was just about perfect, from the main characters right on down to the bit players (in my head, that's how Green Lantern has been for years).  And, of course, visually it was amazing, good enough to make you think that the nearly 4 million unique virtual bricks used in the movie - over 15 million virtual bricks total (via) - existed in real space, not just in some computer somewhere.  We're both looking forward to seeing it again to pick up on all of the things we missed while laughing at other stuff, as well as all of the Easter eggs we surely missed the first time.

Also, I'm pretty sure we're already driving my wife crazy by shouting "SPACESHIP!!!" at each other a dozen times a day, but I don't see that stopping soon.  Sorry, honey.

However, there are a couple of things that left me scratching my head when I left the theater.  These aren't nitpicks so much, more like Arsenio Hall's (or C&C Music Factory's) old things that make you go hmmm...

This will get pretty SPOILERY.  So if you haven't seen it yet, skip the section in between the picture of the cast looking confused and the picture of Benny the 1980-Something Blue Spaceman about to realize his movie-long dream.

Okay, so in the final act of the movie (See? I said there'd be spoilers!), we learn that the entire plot of the movie is taking place in the imagination of a kid named Finn as he plays in his Jerk Dad's giant AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego) Basement Paradise Lego Set-Up (we know Jerk Dad is a Jerk Dad because his Basement Paradise Lego Set-Up has signs everywhere that say "Hands Off!" and "Do Not Touch!").  Right after we learn this, Jerk Dad comes home and is upset to find Finn has been disassembling and rebuilding parts of the Basement Paradise Lego Set-Up to tell his story.

Stuff happens, of course, and Jerk Dad begins gluing everything in place so it can't be taken apart again, but he starts to really look at Finn's handiwork and gets impressed by it (because, yeah, the stuff this kid was making was pretty awesome), and in the end we all learn an important lesson about sharing our hobbies (and our Lego) with our kids, and maybe to stop worrying about following the instructions and just play creatively.

These are lessons I wholeheartedly agree with, endorse, and attempt to practice in everyday life (though admittedly I may limit access to some of the more important-to-me parts of my own Lego stash - which is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than my son's, I might add - because the kid tends to lose things).  Two things, though.

1.  For a movie that spends its entire running time driving home the point that there's no one way to play with this toy, that you can do ANYTHING with this toy... it does spend the last 20 minutes or so unironically lecturing you on how you should be playing with this toy.  For all his faults?  Jerk Dad's Basement Paradise Lego Set-Up is quite an achievement, you guys, and if he wants to slavishly recreate cityscapes in impressive detail, maybe that's kind of his prerogative so long as he's not a complete Jerk Dad about it to his kids?

2.  For a movie that spends its entire running time driving home the point that you should step beyond the instructions and build creatively, it does have a rather impressive (and equally unironic) marketing push for tie-in Lego sets in which you are encouraged to follow instructions and recreate the builds from the movie in slavish detail.

Just sayin'.

But those puzzling bits aside, The Lego Movie is a good time, one of those things that's actually worth leaving the comfort of your home to experience (and with a winter like the one we're having, I think that's saying something).  Skip 3D, though... it doesn't add as much to the experience as you'd hope.