Well, it's that time of year again. Another X-E review of a classic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you think this intro is bad, wait until you see the parade!
This time, we're looking back at the 1991 parade, which remained fairly boring and charmless for the duration of its three hour network broadcast, save the handful of neat moments compiled below. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, the event evolved from its humble beginnings as a holiday time street circus into a veritable bonanza of everything that meant anything in the world of pop culture.
In more recent years, the Macy's Parade has existed more as a Broadway variety show -- a far cry from awesome assaults of cartoon characters and toys-come-to-life from the parades that I grew up watching. They still put those things out there, but you've gotta suffer through thirty minutes of adult junk to get to 'em.
Our familiar hosts were Willard Scott and Katie Couric, two people that I find myself strangely attracted to in a wholly platonic way. Willard's just fat and joyous and impossible to dislike. It's like John Candy came back to life as a meteorologist. Katie...well, I'm not sure why I like Katie, exactly. I think it's just to offset all of the terrible press I've read about her show's ratings. Somebody needs to root for Katie. I dare to be different.
These Macy's Parades are impressively streamlined productions, but hosting them cannot be easy. In each broadcast, the hosts will be charged with ad libbing through sudden segments, usually because the producers/directors/whatever don't feel like lingering on shots of balloons knocking into things and killing people. Even the scripted (or at least, premeditated) segments aren't always better. The hosts will often be called on to interview random people in the streets, and what comes out of their mouths isn't always something easily responded to. On the whole, Willard and Katie do a good enough job. Willard seemed to be coasting through it a bit more than usual, but as someone who's trying to publish a giant-sized Thanksgiving article with hours to spare before it's actually Thanksgiving, I can relate.
This strange turkey-dressed-as-a-pilgrim float is just one of the many "minor attractions" that help keep the parades interesting in-between the giant balloons and errant pop star performances. I never pay much attention to things like this during my reviews, and the hosts don't pay much attention to them during the broadcasts. As I'm sadly prone to consider inanimate objects as things capable of emotion, I feel kind of bad for them. So, here you go, tukey-dressed-as-a-pilgrim float. It's your day to shine.
In terms of star power, the 1991 Macy's Parade was dryer than a turkey left in a 500 degree oven for 500 years. Cymbal crash. Probably the biggest star to appear was Kelsey Grammer, a man who is no stranger to Macy's Parades. He's been at a lot of them, and he always has a song to share. Sadly for Kelsey, his song for 1991 was something in the realm of fifteen minutes long, and called for him to sprint up and down the street while avoiding 200 high school band members. I consider that a karmic payback for the time he called some random old lady a "twatmonger" just because she was slow and weak and he knew he could get away with it.
Of course, the real stars of the parade are the giant balloons. Every balloon that appeared in 1991 also appeared in one of my previous reviews, so I won't be running through each of them. Sorry, Quik Bunny. Sorry, Snuggle Bear. Instead, let's focus only on the balloons that wreaked some form of havoc, either to themselves or to New York City at large.
You've probably heard about the several incidents involving the huge balloons knocking into large, heavy objects. It's happened often enough, and each year, the balloons grow a little smaller and "tighter" in response. It isn't funny when a balloon-gone-awry causes critical injury or death, but when they just lose their air or flip upside down, we're free to laugh. You might feel a little bad for the folks that went through so much trouble to make them, but really, the best way for a parade balloon to become the stuff of legend is to break or collapse on live television.
Fortunately/unfortunately, 1991 was a pretty good year for the balloons. None of them completely popped or crashed into anything. The closest we came was this Kermit balloon, which lost much of its air, causing Kermit to march down 34th Street looking like he just got in from an all-night bender with Beaker, the only Muppet in the entire universe who Kermit cannot outdrink.
The balloon didn't have feelings, but the three dozen handlers in full-body Kermit costumes underneath it certainly did. Can you imagine how futile life seemed for those guys at that precise moment? Balloon handlers are usually critical cogs. Without them, the balloons would fly uncontrolled and likely cause serious damage. This Kermit balloon poses no such threat, and only a few of the suited handlers actually need to hold onto their strings. The rest just aimlessly wander along, wondering why they gave up spending Thanksgiving morning with their families to freeze their asses off in Muppet costumes. Worst of all, if the rumors are to be believed, their per diem only consisted of a Macy's coupon for 50% off kitchenware. And the coupon was only valid on weekdays.
Finally, we have the Bart Simpson balloon, which remained proudly upright and full of air, but for whatever reason, sprayed about three hundred metric tons of smoke at the unsuspecting crowd below. I'm sure the exhaust was harmless, but it's fun to imagine that this was one of the Joker's Axis Chemicals schemes. All we needed was for Robert Wuhl to crash into the camera while making his patented "I smell shit" face.
The 1991 parade was rife with small appearances from the then-stars of NBC television. We had Raven Symone from her Cosby Show years, and I'm not exaggerating when I write that she was on camera for four seconds. I have to say, I still harbor some level of hate for Raven. I was and will forever remain a Rudy loyalist. Raven completely stole Rudy's thunder on the show, and in one particularly grating episode, she even stole Rudy's duck-on-a-string toy.
Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy, grew up to be a really pretty, sweet and well-rounded woman. But she was just entering her awkward years when Raven hit the scene, and I just can't believe that she had anything but immense contempt for this bratty little girl in the shiny jumpsuits taking her rightful position as Bill's lap act. I think it all came to a head in the episode where Olivia (Raven's character) usurped Rudy's role in the annual "sing for Cliff's parents on their anniversary" episode. Even today, just thinking about that episode makes me want to take Raven and boil her like a lobster.
Also: Joey Lawrence, then starring on Blossom, appeared with younger brother Matthew to sing some dumb song about the benefits of "working together." Really sucked. I was eleven-years-old in 1991, and something like this would've been too much of a risk to my macho street cred to sit through. Plus, he didn't even break out a single "WHOA."
Babar was a hot commodity in '91, and he got to appear both in costumed form and as a big balloon. My older siblings were just beginning to start their own families around this time, and Babar was among the "new school" of kiddy characters that I was forced to endure by way of their young children. I didn't really care that I was no longer the baby in our giant family, but man, it sucked when people made you turn off pro-wrestling shows because a two-year-old was cranky and needed a "Babar fix."
Ah ha! This is the real shit. Still in top form by 1991 were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and at the parade, all four of them appeared, riding in on fancy red Cadillacs. Even though they were just as much live action movie stars as beloved cartoon characters by this point, the costumes reflect their animated appearances. The costumes aren't exactly top notch when compared to the suits we saw in the films, but at least the designers went through the trouble of gluing cute little Santa hats onto each Ninja Turtle head.
There were two Cadillacs, and two Turtles in each. The first one out had Raphael and Donatello, and I'll take this as a solid admission that they were by far the coolest Ninja Turtles. Your opinion may differ, but let's review the facts:
Michaelangelo: Party dude who liked screaming party-themed words. Leonardo: Disciplined leader known for honing his skills and being a fun-sucker.
Raphael: Bitchy loner who enjoyed obscenities and Critters 3. Donatello: Oddball scientist who built giant blimps in his spare time.
Come on, there's no comparison.
All told, it's kind of a weak appearance for the Turtles. They didn't get a balloon, and they didn't have any kind of song and dance number. Despite this, the audience goes absolutely bananas for 'em. In the clip, take note of the crowd noise. I really doubt that the parade's producers went through the trouble of piping prerecorded cheers over the speakers, so this was a legitimate hometown heroes' welcome for the lean, green fighting machines.
I don't remember much about Rock-a-Doodle, because the sight of a rooster in an Elvis jumpsuit did nothing to stir my preteen angst. Research tells me that it was a major flop of a motion picture that nearly bankrupt everyone ever associated with it. As an twelve-year-old who was just beginning to look for more adult forms of entertainment, the sight of this float would've been enough to have me flipping to a different channel. "Chanticleer" was the main character, and in this segment, the rock-loving rooster embarrasses everyone on the planet by gyrating his rooster hips and singing a terrible rooster song. I hate that rooster and I hate Rock-a-Doodle.
Also appearing was the Pink Panther, both as a giant balloon and as a costumed character. The balloon is nice, but the costumed character's appearance was totally pointless. They just ran the Pink Panther's instrumental theme and had him roughly crawl his way through a bunch of professional dancers in pink raincoats. I don't think anyone won a choreography award for this segment. I've seen better theatrics from dogs taking shits.
I know I said I wasn't going to feature any of the balloons covered in previous parade reviews, but...
...I really love this guy. Leading the way for the many Spider-Man balloon handlers is Spider-Man himself, who makes the most of his three seconds of screen time by doing some kind of weird scat dance. Love it. The people walking the parade route rarely get any TV time, and when they do, almost none of them know how to use it. Some people just smile awkwardly. Others say hello to their mothers or wives. This Spider-Man guy must've been an experienced parade-goer, for he knows that the only way to make a truly lasting impression in such a short span of time is through the ancient art of the wacky dance.
Finally, we have a guy in a Mighty Mouse costume. I've seen him in other parades. Can't remember if I've written about him before, but this guy rules. Mighty Mouse has gotten shafted at Macy's Parade after Macy's Parade. He's always lumped in with a random group of clowns (not figuratively -- I literally mean clowns), and forced to make an impression without so much as a passing mention from the hosts.
I know Mighty Mouse wasn't exactly on the A list, but he deserved better than this. Still, instead of dogging it in protest of his shoddy treatment, Mighty Mouse is all smiles, waving to the three people who notice him and trying his hardest to pretend that everything's hunky dory. It's easy to be an awesome superhero when everyone loves you, but Mighty Mouse manages to stay awesome even after the general public discards him as being no more important than a generic, perverted clown. That takes a special soul.
One of the bigger productions of the 1991 Macy's Parade was the Taz-Mania float, celebrating the Looney Tunes character's successful venture as a solo act. I never really got into Taz-Mania, a fact that I attribute chiefly to the number of jerky students in my school who wore edgy spray-painted Taz shirts with stupid sayings on the back.
The float looked nice and was suitably filled with characters, but I dunno...something was missing. Taz was allotted almost a full two minutes for his act (a lifetime in Macy's Parade terms), and instead of doing anything epic, everyone just kind of kicked their feet while walking in circles as an extended version of the Taz-Mania theme blared over the speakers.
It's not a big deal, but I can't help but wonder what that guy in the Spider-Man suit could've put together with two full minutes of screentime. That would've been epic.
Ah, finally, something I can get excited about! To help promote their first big screen foray, the lesser members of The Addams Family appeared on a totally unrelated float. We've got Lurch, Cousin It, Grandma, Wednesday and Pugsley, all crowded together on a five foot balcony, waving happily to nobody in particular.
I had a total crush on Wednesday. Goth chicks were a foreign concept to my eleven-year-old self, but they seemed awesome -- the kind of girls who'd kill frogs and then kiss you in return for not telling their parents about it. I loved Wednesday. When she hooked up with that lead elf from The Santa Clause in the sequel, I was so pissed off.
The cast appeared in full film garb down to every last detail, which seemed like a bit of a waste considering that their onscreen close-up lasted for three seconds. This was a really odd Macy's Parade. How could you give Taz two minutes to dance, but only give Wednesday Addams three seconds to be all cute and emotionally uninvested?
Another year, another Barbie product line, another Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float to help Mattel push said Barbie product line. Barbie floats are nearly a given for any Macy's Parade, and they're all the same. Barbie, flanked by her less-pretty friends in less-grabbing colors, dance their way through some ridiculous number on a float that looks like a cross between a city skyline and a giant, frosted cake.
While watching the video, please pay close attention to the girl in the blue dress. I am nearly positive that it's actually a man. Not saying that to be funny or mean. I really, honestly believe that they hired a man to play one of Barbie's gal pals.
THANK YOU CAPTAIN PLANET! Thank you for being one of maybe four things total at the 1991 Macy's Parade worth paying tribute to. For those having trouble remembering the eco-savvy superhero, Captain Planet could be called upon by a group of ring-wielding, green-loving teens whenever shit hit the fan. He'd fly in, kick ass, tell the world to give a hoot and fly back home. With green hair to represent the Earth's plants and soil, blue skin to represent our oxygen-filled air, and red costume trim to represent the blood of anyone stupid enough to fuck with him, Captain Planet came to life in both his animated series and spinoff toy line.
The 1991 Macy's Parade marked the first and only time that I've ever seen a live action version of Captain Planet. He looks fairly ridiculous in this medium, but I could just be saying that out of jealousy for the 42" python lurking in his red trunks. Seriously. I don't want to instruct the world to stare at Captain Planet's crotch, but you've gotta see this.
I know it sounds like a skimp, but we're already out of highlights. Willard and Katie say their goodbyes, and you can totally tell from the look on Willard's face that he knew it was a bogus parade. No balloon-driven chaos, no drunk celebrities flubbing through live segments, nothing. Not a single firework. Couldn't they have at least paid Kelsey Grammer to trip and scrape his knee open? I'd move my marks up a full letter grade for that.
Eh, you know, I've been pretty hard on the 1991 Macy's Parade throughout this review, but I guess it wasn't so bad. I mean, it's not like there has ever been another time in history that Captain Planet, Wednesday Addams and Donatello gathered at the same spot, and that's at least worth a faint nod of approval. So, that's what I'm doing now. I'm faintly nodding my approval. You can't see it, but it kind of looks like a pelican grooving along to an R&B song with heavy bass.
Oh! Wait! I forgot Santa!
Santa Claus! The one and only! At the end of each and every Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santa Claus appears to officially kick off the holiday season. As a child, this early view of Santa served as indisputable permission that I could start compiling wish lists and bug my parents to take the decorations down from the attic.
Santa was really feeling it in 1991. Instead of just waving to the crowd, his hand motions seem less like a "hello" and more like a "yup yup...that's right...it's me...SANTA." Santa gets a good amount of time to bask in his cheers, but they eventually slap a Nintendo sponsorship logo over his fat head to mark the official end of the parade.
This wasn't a tremendous year for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the poor television broadcast was at least partly compensated for with some really cool commercials. Here are three of my favorites...
Preferred Stock Cologne: They played ads for this cologne constantly when I was growing up. I hadn't yet hit my "cologne years," so the stuff always seemed to have a mystical quality. I honestly believed that cologne and perfume acted as turbocharged pheromones that nearly always guaranteed animal house sex, or at the very least, teen drama-level makeout sessions. Now that I'm older, I understand that cologne is just a fancy way of saying "shit you spray on when you don't have time to shower."
Sheba Cat Food: There is something seriously wrong with this commercial. Seriously, seriously wrong. In it, a cat plays the role of hard working husband to a sexy, young woman, who gets all gussied up to serve her beau dinner. Later, she starts having "head-rub sex" with the cat, as a love song plays louder and louder in the background. I know that cat owners can be pretty affectionate with their pets, but this takes it to a different level. It's the only time I've ever wished for a cat food commercial to be sixty seconds instead of thirty, because you know this would've gone someplace dirty if it had any longer to unfold.
Nintendo Game Boy: The Game Boy had been out for a while by 1991, and almost every kid on the planet already owned one. So, instead of advertising to a demographic that had already spent its money, Nintendo created this commercial, which pitched the Game Boy as a must-have for adults. It's pretty goofy, featuring some middle-aged dude welcoming a flight delay because it means he's got more time to play Tetris.
Going into this review, I kind of knew that I didn't have much to work with. I was going to include a pictorial guide to cooking baby artichokes as a special bonus, but I made 'em last night and they came out terrible. I can't in good faith share a recipe that results in terrible artichokes. Instead, I drew a special bonus picture of a turkey in a funny hat.