Well, here's one for the books. We've seen a lot of strange things together in our journeys, but it's a rare occasion when I find something meant for six-year-old girls that absolutely terrifies me. Rainbow Brite's San Diego Zoo Adventure is an anomaly - a hiccup in the universal balance that, by all rights, should never have existed. What happens when you stuff someone in an overstated costume vaguely based on a cartoon character? Nothing much. But once you add a few heroin lines under her eyes and throw the whole mess into a freakin ZOO, you end up with the kind of outsider art that has people who paint red devils on soda cans bursting with inspiration.
The only reason I can't truthfully call this the stupidest thing I've ever seen is because I just caught my cat eating matches. That aside, it's no doubt the stupidest thing I've ever seen. I'm usually fearful of attaching taglines like that to my articles, because there's only so much you can gage from my words and pictures alone. This time, though, I'm confident that the pictures carry enough weight to have you nodding in agreement, and shaking with fear because it could very well be your next door neighbor who penned this mass assault on reality.
The premise is basic enough - Rainbow Brite's enemies start causing some trouble at the San Diego Zoo, so she's gotta help put a stop to their antics. The action segues nicely into a bounty of scenes which teach kids about animals, something I was this close to taking seriously before realizing that the narrator is the same woman who voiced Smurfette. It doesn't help that the 'animal fact scenes' usually end up wasting twenty minutes explaining how flamingos are pink because they eat pink shrimp. I guess that's a pretty unbelievable little fact, which explains the narrator's decision to repeat it thirty times in a row.
This video, made in 1983, isn't as hard to track down as one might think. I guess one person bought it, watched it, and spent millions of dollars on ad campaigns explaining to the rest of the world why they should never do the same thing. The end results left a lot of these tapes laying around, and with any luck, you'll be able to find one pretty cheap. Here's how the action went down...
Okay, it'd be criminal of me not to kick things off with a look at Rainbow Brite herself. She was pretty cute as a cartoon character, but holy shit is she god damned SCARY here - for a second I thought a 2nd grader commandeered my body, died, and went to her own personal Hell. Even after I saw my penis I thought it was just a continuation of her personal Hell. It wasn't until my sister called and reminded me of my aunt's birthday party this weekend - six hours away - that I realized this was indeed my personal Hell.
Hell aside, look at that thing. I take issue with the director's choice to put someone taller than a truck inside that costume, because Rainbow Brite really shouldn't be towering over all the elephants. The height isn't main thing, though - she just looks way creepy. Look at her eyes! Those are the kind of eyes haunted house amusement ride owners paint on fake windows to inspire terror. Worse yet, the costume actually has a moving mouthpiece, so whenever Rainbow speaks, she looks like she's sloppily eating pig hearts. You might think I'm reaching with that one, but you can go buy the video for proof.
The plot thickens. Our two starring children, who are mostly harmless even if they thought 'acting' meant they should stare directly into the camera for the movie's entirety silently mouthing each other's lines, are on a fun little trek through the zoo. All seems well until they notice something peculiar - a leopard who's missing his spots. Oh no! See, the narrator explained that these animals need all their colors, stripes, and spots for camouflage, and without them, they won't survive. I don't see how this transcends to animals stuck in six-foot cages, but it's enough of an issue for the kids to start screaming bloody murder because some naughty no-good-doer-thing stole the leopard's spots!
Before I continue, I should probably explain Rainbow Brite's powers and missions, in case you're in the 95% of the world who never learned it or who flat out don't care. See, Rainbow Brite has this color belt - it maintains the balance of colors throughout the universe. Her enemies, who we'll meet in a few minutes, are obsessed with removing all color from the planet. Plots like this is why Hemingway killed himself - a seer told him that, eventually, the world would buy into completely asinine and ludicrous storylines and he'd be better off dead before someone took Old Man and The Sea and turned it into a made-for-television movie with an added talking donkey and a sky full of evil harpies who turn children into goat demons. I'm sure that's what happened. And the kids are sure that the mystery of the missing spots is a seriously big problem. So, one question remains. Who ya gonna call?
Animals Losing Colon?! Wow, that IS a problem! GET THE SNAKES SOME FIBER, QUICK!!!
You know how Unsolved Mysteries used to do all those exposes on how criminals and rapists and murderers and candy thieves use excessively bad handwriting to throw cops off track with their ransom notes and psychobabble announcements? I'm pretty sure these kids were the masterminds behind the Zodiac Killer.
I mean, really, I know they're in a rush and everything, but if getting Rainbow Brite to help is that important, why not attempt the slightest tinge of legibility with your crazy request postcards? If Rainbow Brite wasn't so trusting, do you honestly think she'd answer this call? It looks like it was written by a trenchcoat-wearing hobo who has upside-down crosses tattooed on his eyelids. I base this comparison on old letters my father wrote me from Attica.
Ah, we finally get to meet our star villains - Murky Dismal, and his faithful compatriot, Lurky. He used to be named 'George' but Murky insisted that rhyming names would come off as 'more evil.' They're not typical bad guys...they don't go out and kill people, and they're not really trying to take over the world or anything. They just hate colors. Murky's lifelong aspiration? He wants to shed the world of all color and turn everything a pale shade of gray. Wow...they made millions of dollars with that premise? Christ, I really should send my script, "The Living Penny Who Loved The Nickel," into Paramount. Fuck common sense, the world's full of idiots.
Yes, these two are responsible for the zoo's current color problems. If they have it their way, soon the entire city of San Diego will look like a rerun of I Love Lucy. I mean that as in everyone's gonna turn gray, not that everyone's gonna be stomping grapes and smoking cigarettes.
Rainbow Brite and her furry companion, Twink, answer the kids' postcard. It's pretty tough to consider this whole situation grave when Rainbow Brite's got that huge wacky smile permanently fixed on her GOOD GOD IT'S GIANT head. The four decide that the best way to overcome today's problem is by splitting up and wandering aimlessly around the zoo. Works for me.
As they do that, the Smurfette narrator gives us all sorts of information on the animals within the zoo's confines. I've always been a sucker for those types of shows, but wow, did they ever dumb it down for the little ones here. Really, is there any six-year-old out there who didn't know that lions belonged to the cat family? Apparently, because the narrator precedes the statement telling you to prepare for a 'big shocker.' The only thing shocking from my point of view was that they spent five minutes talking about lions when, the whole time, the camera was fixated on a group of tigers. But let's face it, if you're part of a movie studio's editing team and THIS project enters the fray, you'll never find a better time to experiment with drinking on the job. So what if they weren't lions? The only people who are gonna watch this thing still shit their pants.
Murky and Lurky avoid any pregame confrontations by donning clever disguises. You might think oversized sunglasses wouldn't mask much, but after you see how stupid these kids can be in a little while, you'll understand everything perfectly. I just feel bad for any of the zoo's visitors who happened to pick this particular day for a visit.
"Sorry sir, you can't see the marine mammals section today. They're filming a movie about this gray guy who steals colors inside. Now, if you could please move to the left, there's a giant white fuzzy ball with googly eyes trying to see the howler monkeys."
The cavalcade of pointless animal facts continue, as the narrator explains how some animals can jump and leap much further than humans. To illustrate her point, Twink starts hopping up and down. For ten minutes. No wait, fifteen. SIX HOURS. The fun don't stop!
Another side note I forgot to mention -- when Rainbow Brite teleports into the zoo on a sea of colors, all of the visitors started applauding like they were trying to nail an encore out of Billy Joel. Rainbow Brite's obviously real popular with animal lovers. She'd be real popular with me too if I didn't fully know that her weird Child's Play head was going to give me nightmares for the next five years.
OH NO! Murky and Lurky trapped Rainbow Brite in a cage! The irony! The despair! They even took her magical 'color belt,' so now our heroine has no way of restoring color to that poor leopard who lost his spots. That poor, poor leopard! That poor, poor Rainbow Brite! Those poor, poor jackrabbits who were stuffed in a box for fifteen minutes so they could film this scene! Murky, Lurky - if you're listening, I've got something to tell you. You two are complete and total dickwads. I'm disinviting you from my Barbie-themed birthday party next February.
Well, unless you got me a new DVD player. Then you can still come.
Finally, we're allowed to see the villains' master plan unfold. Murky Dismal has created some machine that looks like a cotton candy maker, but in reality, is a torture device that removes all color from the animals. The effects here are absolutely brutal. There's this extended scene with Murky using the machine to soak up all of the animals' colors, but when it happens, they just use black and white film instead. So not only does the hyena turn gray, but so does the park bench behind it. When they get up to the parrots, the whole freakin' sky loses it's color. But for some reason, the animals remain the most important issue. Who cares if the sun turns gray? We can't have iguanas running around if they aren't reminding us of lime Jell-O.
But remember, Rainbow Brite's locked in a cage, and the bad guys stole her color belt! All hope seems lost. The rest of the heroes desperately try to find her, leading to some truly hilarious stuff...
The children, attempting to investigate, decide to ask all the sheep, goats, and birds if they've seen Rainbow Brite. If they have, the ain't talking. It's up to you to decide if it's because they're secretly aligned with Murky, or if it's because ANIMALS CAN'T TALK.
The only way these guys can possibly relay a 'yes/no' answer is if they spell it out in urine on the dirt. And even then, they'd have to know how to spell. All in all, I'd have to say this movie provides clear reasons why some psychiatrist who dabbles in chemistry needs to construct the almighty No-Idiot pill. When he's finished with that, his next project could be the 'Pill That Makes You Not Make Movies About Rainbow Brite In Zoos. I will personally fund this project with my life savings of thirty-two dollars and a brass Buddha statue.
Relief! The kids and that big weird snowball find Rainbow Brite and free her from her prison. There's no time for hugs and kisses, since half the animals in the park are all gray and need some serious saving. They quickly find Murky's evil hideout in the zoo's woods, which wasn't all that difficult since he plastered these huge 'NO RAINBOW BRITE ALLOWED' signs all over the place. Seriously. After retrieving her color belt, which was conveniently hung on a tree totally unguarded by the villains, it's time for everyone's favorite blonde to work some of her magic.
I can't believe I've been writing about this movie for the past hour and a half. Stay in school, kids. Stay in school and away from Rainbow Brite's zoology movies.
Armed only with her own convictions, and a color belt, Rainbow Brite unleashes a fury of stars that destroys Murky's terror machine. He's disappointed. I am too - gray's my favorite color.
The colorful stars chase Murky and Lurky right out of the park and into a garbage bin. I admit, I don't know a thing about Rainbow Brite's lore, but I can't imagine this plot having too long of a shelf life. Did she have other enemies? Other friends? The only thing I can gage all of it on is the mass collection of little rubber Rainbow Brite figures I've somehow accumulated. And at best, all I can tell from those is that she had this weird yellow dog and a redheaded boyfriend. I'm also pretty sure Twink was part of a massive army of Twinks in various colors, but it's possible that I just spilled assorted paints on the same figure over and over again. I hate Rainbow Brite.
The battle is won, but the reparations aren't finished. Rainbow Brite throws more of her sick color stars across the rest of the zoo, restoring color to all the iguanas and suns and benches that were previously shaded gray. Our heroes have triumphed!
By the way, the '14' on Rainbow's magic sky car isn't a chance number, it's an indication of the number of times you'll call your priest questioning the existence of a higher power while watching this crap unfold. Personally, now that I've seen this, the only thing I feel safe and confident believing are the teachings of Tao. But that's only because I impressed myself by knowing how to spell and pronounce it correctly. Go me!
To the victors go the spoils! At the zoo's daily seal show, the royal host takes some time out from his usual duties of throwing sardines to give a hearty thanks to the womanbeast who saved the day...
HOORAY FOR ME, I DID IT!
I RESTORED COLOR TO THIS ZOO!
WORSHIP THE GROUND I SPIT ON!
I AM YOUR HIGH PRIESTESS, SHANA!
AND THIS THING TO THE LEFT OF ME...
IS MALE, FEMALE, AND PLANT!
DISGORGE YOUR SOUL, MORTALS.
Okay, she didn't really say any of that in her speech. The seals clapped for her though, so the moment was almost as cathartic.
The kids say goodbye to their new friend, and Rainbow Brite reminds them to call her if anyone ever steals colors again. Then our alien pals fly away on a rainbow, leaving the kids to skip around the park, gleeful that they helped save the day. Actually, they're not really skipping..it looks more like they're jumping on hot coals. But that sort of fits with the theme more, anyway.
Overall: Wow, what can I say? Rainbow Brite's San Diego Zoo Adventure is an amazing work of art, the kind that makes me appreciate Nick's sculptures from Family Ties on a whole new level. I guess it wasn't the best idea to get my first taste of Rainbow Brite in a film where she's just a huge scary costume, but it's not like I'm going to benefit from having any great insights to her anyway. Oh well, at least they showed tigers a few times. I really like tigers.