Well, it'd be a sin to break my tradition of reviewing an old Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in late November, but, uh, I may have picked the wrong one. 1993 was not the event's finest year. Working under some of the windiest conditions of any Macy's Parade, this is the one where shit hit the fan. Balloons running amok, celebrities looking like they'd rather gnaw their own legs off than lip-synch with 400 MPH winds smacking their heads, producers throwing to unprepared hosts at a rate of twice per minute...it was just...not good.
On the other hand, the 1993 parade plays into what I've always said is a big reason why millions tune in, year after year. We want to see pandemonium. We want to see things go wrong, and we saw plenty of that in 1993. No, not the kind of bloody, resulting-in-death mayhem that we'd have to feel guilty about laughing at -- this was more like the Murphy's Law of Macy's Parades. If it could go wrong, it did. Nobody ever acted like anything went wrong, but when you spot that many balloons with deflated heads, it doesn't take field experience to smell disaster.
There was a long stretch of parades in the 1990s that did away with many of the more kid-spirited aspects of the event's history. (In other words, no Barbie float this year.) The focus was instead shifted to Broadway shows, pissing me off to no end. Seeing the balloons was great, but if they weren't complimented by pan-downs to giant floats with guys dressed up as singing-versions of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters, I could barely muster enough holiday spirit to avoid switching to a Charles in Charge rerun on WPIX. And that was even with the vague scent of turkey filtering into our living room.
One would have to imagine that the severe winds did more damage than we ever even knew about. There was a more than typical amount of coverage given to the various marching bands and other non-celebrity (or non-property) efforts; so much so that I must believe that certain stars canceled, certain floats had to be shelved, and certain anti-Thanksgiving protesters victory-danced atop their secret base. Those responsible for the 1993 parade should be proud that they got through it and got through it without killing anybody, but I doubt they went to Aunt June's for Thanksgiving dinner afterwards and asked if everyone saw the show.
Stringing it all together were our hosts, Willard Scott and Katie Couric, who will smile and beam at all costs, and do so quite effectively. I've always loved Willard Scott, or maybe it was cognitive love because I pictured him going home to Mrs. Poole with roses every night. I also had a thing for Katie Couric at the time, partly because she seemed so happy, and partly because I felt bad that Entertainment Weekly once compared her facial structure to Herman Munster's, complete with side-by-side photos. Hosts can make or break a parade, and these two fought for the side of right. We romanticize the holidays as twenty-four hours of bliss, but in reality, everyone's groggy and grumpy until noon. Not Willard and Katie. I turned on the TV at 9 AM, and there they were, game-faced and loving me.
As Willard is the kind of guy who flirts shamelessly even with centenarians, I counted at least fifty instances of him surprising Katie with a big wet one. Not a peck, mind you -- I'm talking arms around, faces mashed, sound effects-boosted smooching. Katie couldn't act pissy about it on live television, instead optioning for the response of "WHOA HEY, WILLLLARD" every time he did it. So, with fifty kisses, that's fifty "WHOA HEY, WILLLLARDS." Between that and counting all of the balloons destroyed by the wind, the 1993 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade had all the makings of a fine drinking game.
It didn't take long for us to realize that 1993 year wasn't going to be a smash for the Macy's Parade. Children's entertainer "Raffi" took center stage to perform "Baby Beluga," which isn't terribly surprising considering that the song had somehow captured millions of hearts over a decade after its debut in 1980. Or at least, this is what that one episode of Full House taught me. Also, as my siblings were just starting to have kids by this point, that damn song was burned into my head forever. Oh, the shame I felt at school when I got caught unconsciously humming it. Let me tell you, it's not easy to segue from humming "Baby Beluga" to humming "Come As You Are" and play it off like you were humming the latter all along. There's still a few Kick Me signs shoved up my ass.
Anyway, Raffi gives an inspired performance, or at least, he gives as inspired a performance of "Baby Beluga" as is humanly possible. Sadly, the same can't be said for the group of children charged with standing beside him to help sell the act. A couple of the bop back and forth every so slightly, but the rest (particularly the blue jacket girl on the far left) stand absolutely frozen for the entire 720 minute duration of the song number. It's even worse when they start cutting to close-ups of the kids. Usually, when you do a close-up, it's to highlight some kind of action move or small nuance. You don't use close-ups to confirm that children indeed are purely uninterested in "Baby Beluga," unless you're an assistant director pissed to all Hell that you're spending Thanksgiving morning freezing and listening to "Baby Beluga."
Adding insult to injury, during each chorus, they tried to impose footage of beluga whales swimming over the live performance. Didn't quite work out that way, because the footage they had (taken from an aquarium beluga tank, apparently) ran the gamut from "shots with beluga whales halfway in frame" to "shots with beluga whales not in frame at all." So yeah, sometimes, they'd throw this translucent watery scene over Raffi, no beluga whales in sight. Awesome.
There have been many, many different balloons throughout the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and though most score a fairly long annual run before being retired or retooled, some were definitely flavors du jour. This Beethoven balloon, there to help usher in Beethoven's 2nd as the greatest movie in the history of the universe, is really surprising to see now, considering how little an impact on pop culturedom the big dumb dog has managed to have. Still, now that I've seen this balloon, I can't get that stupid slow-motion scene where Judge Reinhold pleas with Beethoven not to "shake off" out of my head. I hate writing for this site. Gonna spend the rest of the afternoon with my brain's blue team, representing "Baby Beluga," fighting my brain's red team, representing the "Judge Reinhold pleas with Beethoven in slow motion scene from Beethoven's 2nd," for total control.
Anyway, despite the wind knocking it around like a mofo, Beethoven's balloon was one of the nicest in the parade. Especially because it's one of just a few that managed to get onscreen with an intact head.
The Bart Simpson balloon was a big hit; in fact, I distinctly remember gluing myself to the set just for the chance to see it. Usually, Macy's Parades are something you only pay attention to halfway -- they make for great background noise on Thanksgiving morning. But Bart? Back then? I had to see him. Had to sit through Raffi and all the Broadway bullshit, and the Willard Scott kisses and the hundred thousand shitty "Fabric Of Our Lives" cotton commercials. Even by 1993, The Simpsons still had that "Holy SHIT Cool" aura, and even by 1993, it was still acceptable to wear Simpsons T-shirts to school and not be considered some lame-o in a "cartoon shirt." The Bart balloon? A+.
Bart's chances at ever becoming a Macy's Day balloon again are minimal. Even on the off chance that The Simpsons gets the nod for a future parade, they'd probably pick a different character, like Homer, or Snowball V.
As shitty, windy weather was surely delaying if not totally eradicating some of the grander plans for the 1993 parade, the hosts turned to...the clowns. Now, every Macy's Parade has clowns, but in 1993, the amount of screen time given to clowns went far past acceptable and even far past merely "a lot." I'd say a good third of the parade was given to...the clowns. The awful, miserable clowns. As tradition states, at least one host in every Macy's Parade must pay his or her dues by attempting to interview the clowns, and in 1993, we got Katie Couric doing her best to get the clowns to be clowny. They weren't into it. When you stick a mic in a clown's face, you expect a little clown action. These clowns totally deadpanned her ass. Katie would say something like, "Hey, say hi to all the children watching at home," and Clown #246 would come back with, "Yeah hello there yous peoples."
Indeed it's a cliche to say that clowns are scary, but these clowns definitely were. They weren't the kind of clowns you'd look at and second guess -- you didn't even need to, because they were obviously all wrong. We had snarling clowns, pissy clowns, gnarling clowns and frowning clowns. Some of the clowns were even painted to perpetuate such thoughts, and I still don't know what was up with that.
Whenever a balloon went awry or some other junk screwed up, Willard and Katie would throw it to the clowns. I'm not just saying that they'd show shots of the marching clowns. They did that, but they also seemed to have an alternate camera permanently fixed on a group of camera-ready clowns, who'd hoot and holler as soon as the crew said "hoot and holler." A contingency plan is always good, but by the 427th time that I saw the same eight clowns yell "TURKEEEEEY!!!" at me, I was crying on the inside.
Okay, I don't know what in God's name happened here. Bless Stevie Wonder for being a trooper and doing his thang despite the winds, but as much as I feel like a big dick saying this, I have to: The most hilarious moment in the entire 1993 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade occurred when Stevie's bodyguard/assistant/handler dude couldn't get Stevie's trenchcoat off before the music ramped up. Keep in mind, everybody lip-synchs. Stevie had this green flowing costume thing going for his performance, but because it was so cold, he wore a big ass coat before it began. When the music kicked in, Stevie's bodyguard tried to pull the coat off him, but could not do it in time. Wonder instead had to hit the first few lines while trying to chicken dance his way out of the trenchcoat, and it was all so amazing that I'm tempted to go engrave something for him at the trophy shop downtown.
While Steve sung, they kept cutting to shots of costumed kids -- costumes that had zero rhyme or reason. It's like they went to a costume warehouse's closing sale, bought everything and made a float out of it. The kid in the second picture up there was one of my favorites. All he needs is to suck off a ghost and have Shelley Duvall run in on him with a zoom lens.
Hahah, this was just as good. There was a big push for Native Americans in 1993, or something. I guess it makes sense, what with the pilgrims breaking bread with them and sharing recipes and war stories and awkward glances and whatnot. After Willard gives them a pretty ostracizing introduction, we're treated to the most cracked out, poorly choreographed Native American feather dance since 1492.
To be fair, it's mostly due to the guy on the right up there. He just couldn't stay with it. The rest of the eaglemen flapped and frolicked in unison, but that guy was always a few clumsy steps behind, never quite mastering the four foot cosmetic wings attached to his arms. Complicating matters is the fact that his furry costume was inexplicably given a neon color scheme. I'm used to those because I've seen a lot of "Native Americans" in pro-wrestling, but here? Dude just looked tacky.
All that said, history appreciation is nice, but the crowd just wasn't into this. I'm with them -- it could've used fireworks or strobe lights or something. Check out the clip -- that's the quietest you'll ever hear New York City.
Kelsey Grammer was one of the few big stars to appear. Come to think of it, he might've been the biggest. Standing with daughter Spencer aboard some inconsequential float, Kelsey mouthed along with his previously recording rendition of "What A Wonderful World," and even when I picture him singing the Louis Armstrong classic in full Beast garb, damn, that's still a sad song.
I don't know what drugs the 1993 parade's camera crew took that morning, but jeez, there were a lot of strange shot choices. For example, right after Kelsey starts singing, they cut to this shot of a girl in a flower costume, spastically waving her arms at light speed. And they just stick with that shot for fifteen seconds solid. Maybe it was because Frasier let the cold winds defeat him by delivering the most "I am obviously NOT really singing this" performance possible, but even so, they could've like, thrown it back to the clowns or something.
Congratulations to Jonathan Brandis for having the most pointless, piss poor appearance in the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The star of the then-new series Seaquest DSV arrives on a lobster chariot, waves, rolls off camera and THAT'S IT! Poor guy got like eight seconds of face time, and of that, he spent four seconds with his head totally obscured by a lobster claw made out of particleboard. Not gonna be crass here, but really, is it any wonder?
Smokey The Bear balloon! Smokey The Bear balloon! A foe to fire, Smokey is nonetheless allied with the powers of dangerous winds, rocking back and forth and coming dangerously close to lampposts, people and other things giant balloons shaped like bears should never hit. I kinda dig this one -- brought back from the dead after a loooong absence from Macy's Parades, it's just unfortunate that Smokey picked the windiest Thanksgiving ever to tell that world that he was, in fact, still around.
This November has been peculiarly warm, but I definitely remember what it was like to be in the streets during a freezing cold Macy's Parade -- and even then, I didn't have it half as bad as these folks did, because the winds in 1993 were just phenomenally barbaric. By this point in the parade, the streets actually had breathing room. People were clearing out. There's only so much cannon-shot air to the face a person can take before they cut their losses and watch the highlights on the news at home. Usually, the city is so jam-packed that it takes a miracle to even get an eyeful of the flying balloons.
Shown above are six balloons that, for the most part, made it through the streets without incident. The Garfield balloon is a sentimental fave that I've covered in previous parade reviews, but newbies included "Izzy," the official mascot of the Olympic Games who never quite caught on as a plush doll cash cow, and the "Quik Bunny," who looks absolutely nothing like the animated Quik Bunny. I think we need an identity test. Somebody feed that balloon Strawberry Quik and see if its body turns incrementally pink.
Now, a little swaying...that's to be expected. It tends to be windy on Thanksgiving, and the dozens of people holding big strings on the streets know how to handle it. In 1993, though, NYC invoked the wrath of God himself. It wasn't just windy: It was ethnically cleansingly windy. It doesn't get that windy unless something very powerful wants you dead. Pretty sure most everyone survived, but the balloons? They had to take a few bullets for us.
It all started with Sonic The Hedgehog. Now, this was a balloon I could really sink my pin into. If the Bart balloon was my turkey, Sonic was the cranberry sauce. That phrase should be on a shirt. I was really looking forward to seeing the Sonic balloon, and I did, but only via prerecorded footage since the sunuvabeech smacked a lamppost and done went exploded. We never saw it live, and though Willard and Katie were specifically forbidden to talk about "the incident," newscasts later in the day (including some especially gleeful ones on competing networks) told the tale of a video game character balloon gone horribly wrong. Incredibly enough, the Sonic balloon continued to appear in Macy's Parades, and a few years later, managed to smack another lamppost and explode.
Knowing this, I can't believe that the Giant Balloon Company™ never thought to stuff Sonic with helium-filled gold coins just in case he ever smacked another lamppost and blew up. How great would that be?
As for the other balloons, it was all downhill from there. The longer they had to stay high up and shapely before their two minute screen appearance, the more the wind had a chance to batter them to bits. As we were well past the halfway point of the parade by the time Willard eulogized Sonic, the rest of the balloons didn't so much as "fly" down the streets as they did "crawl," sort of like overacting, dismembered zombies.
Spider-Man was my favorite of the "destroyed balloons," mainly because the camera crew hiliariously tried to conceal the fact that Spidey's head was 60-70% deflated. They kept switching shots to keep us from getting a clear view, but I saw enough loose, flapping balloon face skin to know that if I was a kid in the streets that morning, I'd be traumatized for life.
Next up, we have Rex, representing Steven Spielberg's We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. Rex was another sad case. Willard and Katie never outright admitted it, but the brunt (osaurus) of his appearance was totally prerecorded, and for good reason. During the parade, the balloon's head hit a light and popped. I mean, it popped. Didn't just kind of "sink in" like Spider-Man's -- the thing popped. And what's more amazing? That they actually kept the headless Rex in the parade! The totally headless Rex went through the whole parade, totally headless! Why? I don't know. Maybe it's just too hard to get a broken (but still floating) balloon out of the parade path, and they had no choice but to finish Rex's run, totally headless.
When the hosts talk about Rex, we're shown prerecorded footage, but they didn't have enough of it to cover the segment. At the tail end, they're forced to go live again, where we catch enough of Rex to see his torment as the cameramen scramble to frame the shot dead on his ass, and just kind of follow his ass for a moment or two while the voice-over leads into a commercial break. I don't know why I said that 1993 had a bad parade -- this is entertaining as hell.
By the time the Woody Woodpecker balloon made it to the main area, the parade peeps weren't taking any chances. No, by that point, all balloons were held pretty much at ground level and dragged along just a few feet off the ground. It sounds like a parade gone to shit, but honestly, it made for great television, and if I was there, I'd totally be into seeing a Kong-sized Woody Woodpecker at eye level. I don't want to make too much light of these disasters since people have indeed gotten severely injured by Macy's Parade mishaps, but 1993 wasn't one of those years. Nobody got hurt; they just got really annoyed and disenfranchised with the holiday season, and that's okay.
Course, there have been some pretty majorly bad incidents since 1993. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is now kept on a much tighter leash, with everything from reduced max sizes on balloons to threats of canceling the whole thing at the first sign of a gust. This is a far cry from the parade's early history, where live lions roamed free, and where the balloons were simply left to float up into the air at the climax. Seriously. It's amazing that we used to do that and be just fine, and now we can't guide an inflatable Pikachu around a tight corner without killing half of the city.
It's really late as I write this -- past 1 AM. Kind of makes me wish this was a one page article, but it's not. Click the ugly graphic below to see more highlights from the 1993 Macy's Parade, including Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus and Triples Cereal!