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Time to ramble...
Haven't done this in a while (over a year, actually), and I definitely feel rusty. Anyway, I watched "M.I.A." last night with my wife Beth, my nine-year-old daughter Erin and my six-year-old son Benny.
This episode was directed by Kazuo Terada, story edited by Gary Sperling and written by Robert Cohen.
The (semi) one word title, as usual, was one of mine. (As was the springboard, but more on that later.) It's appropriate both because of Griff's disappearance and because of the wartime setting. Although I don't know if they actually used the M.I.A. acronym as far back as WWII. I associate it with Vietnam. Does anyone else know?
Benny read the title and thought it said Mia. He has a friend named Mia, whose birthday party he had gone to earlier in the day. So the title required a bit of explaining.
INTO THE MYSTIC
This was one of my ideas that I really fell in love with. The idea that a magic shop never goes out of style. The idea that these gargoyles have been running this shop right in the midst of London's teeming humanity for a millenium. I just love the idea that you could stop by there in 1940 or 1996 or 1809 or 1776 or 1595 or whenever. Different gargoyles manning the store, of course. But the store itself largely remains the same. It's a place where Lennox Macduff and Will Shakespeare might have ended up after a night of carousing together.
My notion, which I've stated here before, is that the London Clan has an estate in the burbs, and that the shop helps fund them.
Responding to the guys line about the shopkeepers having "incredible" masks, Benny takes a good look at Una and says: "That's a unicorn. A real one."
And Erin: "Those aren't masks."
Of course, these kids have both seen the episode before. But it was so long ago and they were so young it's like they're seeing it for the first time.
We get some gorgeous shots of London. So gorgeous that when the animation on PENDRAGON came back weeks later looking not so good, we reused some of the "M.I.A." footage for that ep.
[Of course the animation here was done by Walt Disney Television Animation Japan, GARG's Best studio. It still kills me that Disney has shut down that unit. They did SUCH great stuff.]
Elisa talks to the Cabbie. In my mind, this Cabbie appears during the 1940 sequence as a little boy, running downstairs and into a bomb shelter with his sister. It's not important, but that's how I saw it.
And we explain (include) another legend. That of Gremlins. Not Gremlins from the Spielbergian movie. But gremlins that caused damage to airplanes during the war. This was/is a very famous legend among pilots. Roald Dahl (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame) wrote a book about them, which Walt Disney himself optioned. Eisner once had us develop a tv series based on the idea. I handed it off to a couple of producers who COMPLETELY redeveloped the idea. They came up with a good show, but it was unrecognizable to Eisner. (It also had a toupee joke, which probably didn't go over well.) Anyway, he didn't buy it.
Actual racists thugs. We didn't do much of that. We usually went with anti-gargoyle types, who were metaphors for racists. But here we actually go with the real thing.
Their attack is very reminiscent of Awakening 3.
I love Brigitte's work here. Angela sounds like a tough warrior one minute, like a naive innocent the next. All within her character.
And that shot of Bronx leaping down from the roof is just gorgeous.
Leo and Una come out and confront Goliath, whose confusion is a lot of fun.
They're all in conflict, but everyone can agree with Elisa to take the argument inside...
We go inside and see the portrait of Griff.
Benny makes a connection: "There's a statue of him on the airplane."
I love Una's line: "I know my merchandise."
Throughout this episode, I think she comes across a bit like a junior Demona. I don't know if I felt that way at the time. But we have a female garg with sorcerous powers in denial about her own feelings of guilt and rewriting history to blame Goliath for things that were really not his fault.
Una was in love with Griff. And still is. But in the interrum, in my mind, she mated with Leo. She LOVES Leo. But she never got over being IN LOVE WITH Griff.
Two of them.
One is having Goliath black out and instead of using it as our act break, we just go to black, wait a beat and then come back. We had a much better act break coming up, so I guess I don't regret it, but I also don't like it much.
The other awkward moment is giving Goliath that voice over of his interior thoughts, where he states his plan to use the Gate to figure out what the hell happened in 1940. I'm sure I resisted doing that VO. But we just didn't have a better solution.
I do love Goliath's frustrated: "I don't know any Griff!" line.
G uses the gate and Benny asks "What did he just do?" Beth explains it to him, but it illustrates my point that it has been so long since the kids last saw an ep, that their memories of the show are very vague.
We meet Clive and Douglas Bader. I've stated this before, but Douglas Bader was a real person. A true war hero. Douglas Bader lost both his legs in a plane crash, and became a war hero and fighter ace AFTER he recovered and learned to walk on two artificial pins. He was a hero during the Battle of Britain. Later, he was shot down over enemy territory and put in a POW camp. He escaped twice but was recaptured both times. Years later, he was knighted.
I met him once. My father, Wally Weisman, is a real Spitfire afficionado, and Bader was one of his heroes. My dad eventually met Sir Douglas in London and at the RAF Museum outside London. When I was a kid, Sir Douglas and his wife came to Los Angeles and we all went to Disneyland together. He never used a wheelchair. Always just moved along with his hip-swinging walk. An amazing man.
So there was no way I wasn't going to pay tribute to him here (and indirectly to my father as well -- in my mind, this ep is dedicated to my dad). I gave Gary Sperling the Bader biography, "REACH FOR THE SKIES," knowing that it would be tough for him to incorporate much into the episode. But we tried to base the design of Bader on one of his photographs. And we made sure that his first and last name were both used in dialogue so that he could be indentified by those paying attention.
And most of all, we tried to show that these pilots were the true heroes. Sure, Goliath and Griff save them. But Bader saves the gargoyles too, and he's the one who takes out the most dangerous of the Nazi fighter pilots.
This was important to me. Influenced by both Dahl's Gremlins book and my father and Bader, I'd wanted to do a Battle of Britain story pretty much since the series' inception. It's even listed in the bible. This came out of the notion we once had that (while the other gargoyles may have been asleep for a thousand years) Goliath had been awake and alone for 1000 years.
Imagine, if you will, that scene in Awakening-2, when Goliath comes back and finds Hudson, Bronx and the Trio asleep. Instead of joining them, he watches over them for a millenium. (This was back when we had a more magical view of Garg biology.) I thought Goliath would have largely spent a thousand years brooding. But that during WWII he might have ventured forth to fight the Nazis, if for no other reason than to prevent the bombing of Wyvern.
We, obviously, didn't end up going that way, but the visual of Gargoyles fighting in the Battle of Britain stuck with me. (And man, is that visual brought to life here beautifully.)
But having decided to do that, I didn't want to give the gargs all the credit. Real men and women gave their lives during the Battle of Britain. I didn't want to undercut their contribution in order to make my fictional gargs look good. That just seemed like it would be both irresponsible and disrespectful. A betrayal of the very reasons why we were doing the ep in the first place.
Casting... we had used Neil Dickson to tremendous evil effect as Duncan and Canmore in City of Stone. Here he gets to play Errol Flynn. Neil is a Brit. As is Charles Shaugnessy who played Bader and Sara Douglas who played Una. (Leo/Gregg Berger, on the other hand, is a Yank.) And they all really brought life to their respective roles. I have to admit I was worried about whether Neil would be right for the role. I should no better, but Duncan especially was so memorable, I really had that fixed in my head. But Neil's voice just worked perfectly for Griff. I'm still sorry we didn't get to see more of Griff with King Arthur in the Pendragon spin-off.
Griff was conceived as a real swashbuckling hero. A Robin Hood of the 1940s. As opposed to our rough-hewn "Scottish stock", this was a good-old-fashioned patriotic English Hero to put up against the Nazis. His costume was influenced, I think by the Blackhawks. And his look was inspired by British Heraldry. He was the Griffin to Una's unicorn and Leo's lion, three of the most striking heraldic beasts. Again, going back to my earliest development of the series, I thought that adaptations of heraldic beasts might be the English version of gargoyles. So Griff has Eagle and Lion qualities. Feathered wings. A mohawk-like main. An eagle-like beak, but lionesque limbs.
I know that Greg Guler, Frank Paur and I went over and over Griff's model. We were never 100% satisfied with it. But it must work, as I've never any complaints from the fan. And I think Neil (and Jamie Thomason's voice direction) deserve much of the credit for that. Because even with the great Japanese animation, he still looks a bit too Foghorn Leghorn for my tastes.
Goliath (after Griff saves his life): "It was supposed to work the other way."
Erin: "I think this is how it started in the first place."
So, hey, she got it!!
Benny even jumped ahead, figuring out: "So he can take Griff back forward in time."
So he got it too. Did you guys get it right from the beginning? That Goliath would take Griff "back forward" to the present to reunite him with Leo and Una?
I love the scene between Griff, Leo, Una and Goliath over tea in the shop. Everyone's motivations are so clear that I often use this scene when I do voice seminars.
Griff wants to sell everyone on going on the offensive.
Leo wants to sell everyone on sticking with defense.
Una is more subtle. She'll use any argument that will promote Griff's safety.
Goliath is trying to stay out of trouble.
But I love his line: "In my experience, human problems become Gargoyle problems." How true... (witness the cancellation of the show...)
And then later, Goliath AGAIN realizes a lesson that he and the audience would have to relearn again and again. Fate cannot be cheated. History cannot be changed.
And once again, we show our lack of imagination and/or our desire to stick with something once we find it works by using the line "Not where, when."
We can say "1940" but we were discouraged from referring to the present by an actual year -- so that reruns would still sound current. I'm surprised that Goliath got to use the phrase "the 1990s". How short-sighted of Disney to not think we'd still be airing these reruns in the 21st Century. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
Griff almost gets hit by a car in the present and Goliath says "Let's not start that again." A mini-tribute to the English Vultures in "A Jungle Book".
At the very end, Elisa's confusion is fun: "Just explain it one more time." That probably came out of my fear that the audience might not get it. If Elisa didn't get it either, the audience wouldn't have to feel so bad about it.
Everything I could have asked for.
I have a VERY vague memory that we were discouraged from using Swastikas. I can't remember why or even if this is true.
But the skull-like pilot with the skull & crossbones on his plane certainly looks like a bad guy, doesn't he?
The planes themselves just look great. I found out later that Bader didn't fly Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. He flew Spitfires later, but flew Hurricanes during the Blitz. This fact drives me crazy.
But I love his line about the Gargoyles (which in my mind, he viewed as Gremlins): "They're real, and they're on our side!"
Benny noticed that they shot a hole through Goliath's wing. I had to reassure him that he'd be okay after getting some stone sleep.
Parachutes. No one dies in this episode. At least not in theory. Of course, we KNOW people died during the Blitz. But we couldn't show or even imply that.
THE WORLD TOUR
We end of course by creating new heroes out of old. Griff has returned. And Leo and Una have been reinvigorated. They take back their neighborhood.
Leo: "Or we'll make it our business." Leo's spent years worried only about business. Now he remembers what his business is supposed to be. The nation of shopkeepers is once again ready to defend the realm. So to speak.
Anyway, that's my ramble. Where's yours?