Nostalgia is a sucker's game. We imagine all the toys and TV shows from childhood as perfect and awesome purely because our immature brains hadn't developed the ability to joylessly pick things apart for their flaws. The songs we liked at age 10 weren't any better than the Justin Bieber stuff the 10-year-old girls love now.
So it's good to go back and look at our childhood icons through adult eyes. OK, maybe "good" isn't the word for it ...
(For a look inside the Star Wars universe that WON'T ruin your childhood, watch Cracked's adventures in Jedi School.)
The Child Saw:
The "bottomless" chasm is as much a staple of the Star Wars universe as the lightsaber. It's a wonderful symbol for that world's vast, endless technology and how small it can make a person feel. Nobody who watched the above scene as a kid was thinking that consciously, but we felt it when Luke, crushed by the revelation from Vader, tumbled down into it, falling, forever ...
... onto a bunch of used garage sale mattresses.
That behind-the-scenes pic is from the coffeetable book The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Usually it's cool to see the inventive wizardry that went on behind the scenes at Lucasfilm, but now I can't watch that scene without picturing the big pile of smelly mattresses just below Luke that appear to have been collected from various alleys around town.
While we're on Star Wars ...
The Child Saw:
It's not like it's some shock to find out R2-D2 isn't "real." He's supposed to be a robot, and even as a kid you figured he probably actually is a robot. Just one that can't think and stuff.
R2-D2 is a dwarf eating a hot dog.
Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against dwarves (that's Kenny Baker, who's still working to this day because there are only like three dwarf actors in Hollywood) and I've eaten my share of hotdogs. But all I can think about is how freaking hot it must have been inside that airless tin can, shooting in the desert for long days.
Couldn't it have been, I don't know, remote-controlled or something? Did Baker have a little steering wheel in there to move R2 around? Also, I note that among Baker's roles on his IMDb page are characters named "Bungo," "Fidgit," "Dufflepud," "The Croat" and "Bruce Foreskin."
And ... now I'm depressed. No more Star Wars.
The Child Saw:
Wait, one more. Prior to the whole "Greedo shot first" encounter, the above scene was our introduction to Han Solo -- that is, our first look at how Han lives and the world that he inhabits. Weird green guys getting in his face with guns drawn, trying to shake him down. This was where we learned that as a fantasy franchise, Star Wars wasn't The Hobbit. It was a gritty universe, with a seedy underbelly of armed thugs.
Look at the shoes.
Those are the sexy, sexy heels of Maria de Aragon, who played Greedo when he was standing up. He was played by somebody else when he was sitting in the booth. Not like it matters, with the mask on and the voice dubbed in later. Hell, in the prequels they'd have just left the seat empty and put a bundle of tennis balls there to map the CGI to.
Maybe this was the first time George Lucas figured out that characters didn't need to be played by actors -- they could just be cobbled together out of parts. Speaking of which ...
The Child Saw:
It's amazing to think about a guy doodling a cartoon character onto a notepad, and then having people still wearing that character on T-shirts 70 years later. But it's easy to see why in this case -- Bugs Bunny is cool, even if he's in a rerun from 1944 and doing a slapstick bit about war bonds. He's the template for every sarcastic smartass who's appeared on the pop culture scene since.
Just look at him. Look at the way he stands. Put a cartoon shotgun in his face, and he'll stand the same way, before sticking his finger in the barrel. That bunny does not give a fuck.
Bugs Bunny was drawn from a standard, "fill in the blanks" template of characters. Specifically, he falls into the "screwball" type, as you can tell by his "pear shaped body" and "big feet."
That guide up there was created by Preston Blair, an animator who worked for both Disney and Warner Bros. back in the day. He did some Mickey Mouse features, along with parts of Pinocchio and Bambi. So here's the guide he used to draw Thumper:
The Cute Character, Row 2, Figure 2. After that he went to work for Tex Avery, creator of a lot of those famous Warner Bros. and MGM characters such as Bugs and Daffy Duck, among others. Each of them a cold calculation, measuring out a specific ratio of eyeball width to forehead height to body size to extract the right emotional response from children. He had a template for everything:
Jesus, people, does everything have to be done on an assembly line? Are we all nothing but mechanized puppets, controlled by some corporation?
Hey, that reminds me ...
The Child Saw:
Gremlins scared the shit out of me when I was a kid, and when I go back and watch it now, I'm surprised I didn't wind up with post-traumatic stress disorder. Holy shit this movie is dark. It's clearly aimed at kids -- Gizmo is the fuzziest, most huggable creature in cinema history, and the merchandizing blitz at the time left the world carpeted in those dolls. Yet the film itself includes a scene where a character 1) tells the audience there is no Santa Claus and 2) points out that she found that out upon discovering the rotting corpse of her dead father in the chimney.
Ah, but even with the horrors and numerous onscreen deaths, all we remembered was Gizmo. So cute! (You know, thanks to the large, widely spaced eyes and small mouth/nose combination as noted in the guide above.) Especially when he makes that sad, frowny face like that. What are you sad about, Gizmo? Somebody needs a hug!
Ah, you're sad because your electronic entrails are spilled onto the floor and connected to a series of hand-operated switches. But at least you made out better than the evil gremlin. You may have a bundle of a dozen wires spilling from your asshole, but at least you have legs.
Really, puppetry holds nothing but horrors when we go behind the scenes ...
The Child Saw:
Sesame Street raised half of the people reading this. Even now, when some of us read the alphabet, we still hear it in James Earl Jones' voice. Still, even at age three we knew Bert and Ernie were puppets -- you can see the little sticks that moves their hands, for Christ's sake. So what possible disappointment could await us behind the curtain?
JESUS CHRIST IT'S HIPPIES. Hippies and former Vikings head coach Brad Childress.
YOU, TOO, ROWLF FROM MUPPETS? To make him play the piano took not one but two hippies, one straddling the other from behind? This is what was going on two inches offscreen every time we watched you?
Is the puppet industry dominated by hippies? At least with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, we knew it was Mr. Rogers behind it all.
... or, if this photo is accurate, it was a random hobo.
No! Don't look at his crotch, Mr. Owl!
Of course, there's more than one way to go "behind the scenes" of our childhood icons. For instance ...