Like Room Plus, Thanksgiving is just 'round the corner. Here's where I scramble to take as many days off from work between now and New Year's Eve, longing to soak as many full-day-shares of holiday spirit as humanly possible. Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday that's just about meaningless to most of us; it bears no presents, it sucks on the decorations front, and while it's always an interesting endeavor to try to eat twice your weight in a seven hour stretch, I've rarely considered Thanksgiving as anything more than the salad course between Halloween and Christmas. It's just there to keep your holiday hunger in check, because if your holiday hunger went out of check, you'd go crazy and start eating at Independence Day by November 15th.|
I've grown much fonder of Thanksgiving in recent years, mainly because the world of consumer products has slowly shifted Thanksgiving's position as a standalone holiday to a part of the true Christmas season. Just look at your supermarket circulars. All of the pictures of nicely roasted turkeys are likely dressed in more reds and greens than oranges and browns. Thanksgiving has become nothing more than our tryptophan-laced fuel as we lace up our boots for a month-long mad dash towards Christmas morning. I dig that.
For however indifferent I may have once been towards Thanksgiving, it's always had its own one big special thing: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. You know of my affinity; you've read the previous features. For the past bazillion years, Macy's and another bazillion advertisers throw together this gigantic messy circus that marches down the streets of New York City, stuffed with floats, giant balloons, celebrities and enough beloved children's characters to make the whole thing feel like the biggest crossover edition of Saturday morning television in the long, storied history of technology. I don't know if it's just because I'm older and less prone, but ever since the mid `90s, the Macy's Parades haven't packed quite the same punch for me. Too many Broadway acts, too few floats starring Ninja Turtles With Guitars. It's a slicker production these days, but a lesser production too, if that makes sense. Regardless, I don't think the sight of Dora balloons taller than Mars and Thomas The Tank Engine trains the size of real Thomas The Tank Engines are going to be lost on this season's young viewers. For every year that it's been televised, the Macy's Parade has been the perfect way to start Thanksgiving. Usually airing for 9-12 AM, we'd have the thing running on every television in the house, even the crappy one on top of the fridge in our kitchen that nobody ever looked at. Watching the parade was just as much a tradition as making yet another turkey's murder justified.
If you'll pardon my obvious bias, I grew up on the best Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades. I know I did, and if you grew up during the same period of time, you know I did. The `80s parades were held in much higher esteem by companies who produced shit for kids, and it showed. Every big toy line, every major cartoon and every kid hero was somehow incorporated into the parade's antics, be it in the form of a giant balloon or a guy shoved into a hideous foam costume. Part of the fun was in never knowing just how they'd bring our favorite characters off the printed page, off the animation cel or off the action figure blistercard. One minute you'd be seeing an inflatable Kermit the Frog going all Kong-like on Times Square, the next you'd see thirty costumed Cabbage Patch Kids dancing with a dozen live Dalmatians and a couple of kids dressed like Tiny Tim. It happened without rhyme, but with reason: If you wanted kids to put your shit on their Christmas wish lists, your shit had to be a part of this parade.
And that's how it went. We've looked at several parades here on the site. We've seen John Ratzenberger sing in the 1984 parade, we've seen He-Man and She-Ra go nuts in the 1985 & 1986 parades, and we've seen Baby Shamu swim the winds in the 1987 parade. It may seem natural to review the 1988 Macy's Parade next, but because I'm a loner and a rebel, we're skipping ahead a year. Get ready for turkeylicious joy and cranberryesmaams, we're breaking a wishbone over my dusty VHS copy of the 1989 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!
The 1989 parade wasn't as jam-packed with surreal appearances as some of the other parades I've reviewed, but the sheer glorious weirdness of the attractions that were there more than makes up for it. It was a snowy day in Manhattan -- much snowier than the video clips will suggest, because whatever superhero team Macy's hired to shovel shit up on Thanksgiving morning must've included the X-Men's Storm, Iceman, and for kicks, Beast. I live near here, and I remember the day well. It seriously snowed.
Willard Scott continued his Macy's Parade championship reign, hosting again in 1989. I don't know how far Willard's scope of celebrity extends, or if you'd even call him a celebrity in the sense that most people consider, but he's one of the pioneers of the weathermen industry, able to make old ladies fall in love with the slightest smirk regarding potential rain. For the rest of us, Willard is notable for being the first guy to ever portray Ronald McDonald. Large, bald men are easy to come by, but the way Willard works his large, bald man-ness is impossibly endearing and impossible not to like. As the host of the long, cold, snowy Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Willard has no choice but to look like he's having fun during every televised second. That's virtually the extent of his job, but that is one tough job. I've been to these parades, and even as a spectator, it's damned exhausting. Willard's also charged with introducing such things as a float full of skating Peanuts characters and the New Kids On The Block, and never once do you get the impression that he'd rather be at home in a hot tub with three Brazilian hookers who lick toes for five bucks more.
Press play to watch Willard work it! (8.59 MB)
I distinctly remember the 1989 parade for one very specific reason. Willard had two co-hosts -- some blonde chick who must've starred in something or played someone or did something, and more importantly, ALF. The ALF. Not some lame ass guy who was three feet too tall to be ALF but nevertheless running around Times Square dressed like ALF. The ALF. The real ALF. Not in pre-taped segments that made for easier production, either -- ALF was there, baby, and he was fucking LIVE. I still can't believe they pulled this off. If you think about what it takes to do all the things people need to do to bring ALF to life and do it on live television as part of a damned turkey parade, this was an impressive feat. Well advertised in advance, every commercial leading up to the 1989 parade mentioned its hosts...
"It's the Something Something Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, hosted by Willard Scott, Some Blonde Lady, and ALF!!!!"
They had me at "ALF." ALF! In person! Live! Free to comment on his contemporaries! There to make Thanksgiving fifty TRILLION times better than it would've otherwise been! ALF was set up in a window on what I guess is the second floor of the big Macy's store on 34th Street. I pass this store on my bus ride into work everyday, and every time I do, he's all I can think about. I keep looking for paw marks in the windows, scribbled out to read "ALF WUZ HERE `88." Serving as the third and best host of the 1989 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, ALF never left his window. I was old enough at the time to understand ALF's deal. I knew he wasn't real, I knew he was a puppet, I knew there was somebody voicing him, and I knew that there were probably three underpaid midgets from Guatemala shoved up his ass. None of this precluded me from grabbing the biggest piece of posterboard money could buy and creating an "ALF IS MY FAVORITE PERSON" sign. I love ALF to such a extent that my children, should they ever be born, are going to have to perform really cute tricks to compete.
ALF's main purpose was to tell viewers what was coming up after each commercial break, and since there were approximately four hundred commercial breaks during the parade special, we saw a lot of ALF. And you talk about live -- there were instances where ALF flubbed his lines, and somehow, the mouth movements still lined up. If there was ever a year for the turkey to come out all burnt and wrong, 1989 was it. Nothing could ruin this Thanksgiving.
Press play to see ALF's first appearance! (2.0 MB)
Press play to see MORE ALF! (2.82 MB)
What actually happens at a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, you ask? Little bit of this, little bit of that. I only really give you the pop culture highlights during these reviews, but a lot of the uncovered floats, rolling statues and whatnot are the true cornerstones of the parade, from the animatronic turkeybot to the 40' caterpillar with druggy eyes. With so many items considered as "classics" by those who watch the parades year after year, there's just no getting rid of much of the older stuff, no matter how rundown and/or uninteresting they become. Sometimes, these floats and whatnot aren't even covered by the camera crew. Willard will be interviewing some soap star, and you'll see 'em roll past in the background. I've always felt so bad for the parade attractions that weren't given their own segment. Or at least, I feel bad for the people who have to hose and scrub 'em down for what essentially amounts to no good reason. I guess it's the sort of like how when you see those old people at the mall ringing bells next to big red pots for Salvation Army donations. They only seem pitiable when nobody's paying attention.
This being a live telecast and such a huge production, you really can't fault the team for letting a few flubs slip by. Besides, sometimes, the flubs make the parade. Over the years, we've seen everything from giant balloons exploding to floats crashing into lampposts, and so long as nobody dies from it, these are always reasons to cheer. In the second image above, two soap stars see the single second they were onscreen ruined by the patented accidental name-swap, an anomaly that turns chyron to cryron.
The Marvel Universe float first appeared in 1987, and on first glance, it doesn't appear to have changed much by 1989. Actually, it did -- the behemoth float, with its various buildings and nooks representing different landmarks of the Marvel Comics universe, is teeming with new characters and, above all else, Melba Moore. Can't say that I know much about Melba Moore, but it's not like any of you were expecting me to. I guess what it boils down to is this: In the 1987 parade, the superheroes and supervillains were left to their own devices. You had Captain America, Doctor Doom and at least a dozen other costumed freaks running about, desperately trying to weave a cohesive action drama into a four minute parade appearance, complete with soundbites played over the speakers that were completely out of sync with what the characters were doing. To kids, this didn't matter. We saw Spidey and Hulk running around, and that's about all we needed. For everyone else, especially the millions of viewers watching at home, the 1987 skit was an outright mess. They put a trillion dollars into the float and costumes and never once thought of a good way to make it all mesh. When you've got Willard doing a big introduction and the whole damned parade coming to a standstill to give you center stage, you need to have more up your sleeve than Doctor Strange doing the Charleston atop a miniature version of the Baxter Building. Enter: Melba Moore.
Mouthing along to a previously recorded rendition of Bonnie Tyler's "I Need A Hero," it's safe to say that this was one of the worst days of Melba's life. No, seriously. I know what you're thinking. "This was GREAT for her career!" "She's being exposed to a whole new audience!" Yeah, sure, that's great and all, but there are a few caveats conspiring to sully the whole business. First off, it was freezing. Really, really freezing. Melba's costume wasn't going to make her warm regardless of the snow forecast, but when you factor that in and see the look on her face, this was not a pleasant experience. Aside from that, it's not exactly easy to sync your lips up to a song you can barely hear, and since Melba has to dedicate half of her attention to making sure a puffy Magneto gets to rump shake in front of Camera 6, there was nothing she could do to keep it together. By the end of the song, you'll clearly see the look of panic in her face. The looks that says, "Oh shit, I am ruined and I'm standing next to the Green Fucking Goblin and that's going to make sure that I never forget the exact moment that I became ruined." She's being lifted and thrown and punched in the crab by fifteen giant trick-or-treaters, and no matter what, she's gotta keep singing.
The float wasn't made for comic book geeks, but boy, comic book geeks had a lot to complain about. The hosts commit sacrilege by incorrectly meshing names of DC Comics characters with the Marvel heroes, while the costumed characters themselves often dance together without any clear knowledge over whether they're supposed to be friends or foes. By the time you get to the last few seconds of the clip and notice Doctor Doom dry humping thin air, you'll need a hero, too.
Doctor Doom shakes his money maker. (30 MB)
Awwwwww. AHHHHHHH! I still don't get why the Snuggle Bear balloon was crafted with unholy red eyes; I never picked up on this in any of the fabric softener commercials. I understand the need to make the big bear's eyes "pop" to the viewers at home and on the streets, but red? Why red? Why not blue, green, or any other color that doesn't make children believe that the bear is sleepless and sent from Satan? Eventually, you get past the reddish infraction and realize that if you had to make any advertising mascot a real life pet to have and to hold and to share pieces of chicken with, it'd be Snuggle Bear. God DAMN is this guy cute. Cute and upright and capable of holding a conversation, it's like you gave Gizmo the Mogwai super serum. The Snuggle Bear of today is usually CG rendered -- still cute, but not as realistic. I much prefer the original version, which could've very well been an extremely gifted real bear who learned how to talk and do sales pitches.
Snuggle Bear is large enough to eat your car. (3.70 MB)
We've seen this exact Snoopy balloon in a previous review, so it's nothing special. Well, I guess it is sort of special. A 50' Snoopy balloon navigating between skyscrapers never quite loses its luster, but the real negative here is that, unlike its first appearance, the balloon isn't footnoted with a plush doll version available at Macy's stores. Every year, Macy's comes up with some endearing plushy to hock at a "discount" to customers who spend a lot of money on Coco Chanel and Christmas blouses, and they're always presented in the stores in these nice displays that make the dolls virtually impossible to resist, even if it means having to spend 50 bucks just for the opportunity to buy one. From Bullwinkle to Kermit, the dolls are generally huge, well made and dressed in some sort of Yuletide winter garb.
This year, Scooby Doo got the nod, available for 16.95 with any 35 dollar purchase. He even comes with a CD full of games and screensavers, but that might be the same CD they gave away free with Kellogg's cereals a few months back.
McDonald's has been a big player in the Macy's parades for many decades, or maybe just two decades, or maybe one and a half. Point is, Ronald McDonald is always there and always huge and always inflated, and if you're lucky, there's even the live action version -- a really ugly, downtrodden live action version -- leading the marching McDonaldland Band down 34th Street while Giant Balloon Ronald lumbers overhead. As had become tradition anytime something McDonald's-related waltzed forward in a Willard-hosted parade, Mr. Scott couldn't resist mentioning that he was, in fact, the very first Ronald McDonald. We all gotta start somewhere.
It'll be interesting to see if the Ronald balloon makes another appearance this year. With all the negative publicity being thrown at the fast food industry, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see the Giant Balloon Ronald deflated for good, recycled as pool tube ingredients for two-star hotels with large ponds. (EDIT: Yes, as a matter of fact, Ronald will be there. All fifty-thousand feet of him. Thank God.)
Did somebody say McDonald's? (3 MB)
Reflecting on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades of the past means reflecting on pop culture of the past, and if we're talking about 1989, it was only a matter of time before the New Kids On The Block wheeled into camera view and started swaying and clapping and singing and stuff. On their big silly float, the New Kids sing something about sharing and loving and children, or something, I dunno, I'm too affected by Jordan's braces to really digest it all. Not because they're so offensive to me as an adult, but because they remind me of all the times my friends and I used those braces to insult any New Kids fans we shared office space with in grade school. "HOW DO YOU LIKE HIM? IDIOT'S S'GOT BRACES!" Course, Jordan's larger offense was going all falsetto on "Step 3," but looking back, I guess that wouldn't have made it all the way through post-production if it wasn't intended from the beginning.
Press play for an extreme look at Jordan's extreme braces. (6.96 MB)
How depressing. Many of the parade broadcasts include video montages detailing just how painstaking a process it is to put the many balloons, floats and attractions together. They don't just magically appear by way of an order from the Mega Turkey God -- it's a lot of work. While it's amusing to see things go wrong, you really have to feel for the people who chose to make a Thanksgiving parade attraction their labor of love. In this case, the Bugs Bunny balloon you're seeing above didn't actually appear in the parade. Something went wrong or something exploded, because all we got was previously recorded video and a piss poor excuse from Willard. Poor Bugs. It was a new balloon, too.
Press play to see what the people at the parade couldn't. (2.37 MB)
Page 2 of this review contains many surprises and secrets that you'll treasure forever.