Parents and some grandparents will remember the old “Beany and Cecil” show about the boy with the propeller hat and his friend the sea-sick sea serpent and their adventures in outsmarting the dastardly Dishonest John.
I’m very pleased that these adorable old cartoons are now available on DVD, including this week’s release of Bob Clampett’s Beany And Cecil Volume 2, including some nice extras like bumpers (the short clips before and after commercials) and some of the irreverent Clampett’s other work. I did not know until I heard him speak at Comic-Con that the hilarious Stan Freberg worked on “Beany and Cecil,” but it helps to explain the jokes that we had to think about a little harder to understand why our parents were laughing.
Based on David J. Smith’s best-selling and award-winning book If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World’s People, this is an animated story about global culture that helps families understand our differences, our commonality, and our connections.
It asks us to imagine that the whole world had just 100 people. And then it tells us how many of that 100 would speak English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and Bengali, how many would have running water, how many would be children and how many would be elderly, how many would have enough money for toys or food, how many would be able to read, and how many would be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Animist.
It may be difficult for young children to process all of the information, but this film is an excellent way to begin important discussions with children about how we fit into the world and how our lives compare with others. It is available in English, Spanish, and French, and now, because I have watched the film, I know which five other languages it would have to come in to be able to be understood by half the world.
1. Too many toddlers
2. Not enough preschools
3. Parents who will do anything for their children
4. Parents whose top priority is their children’s education
5. Parents who recognize the substantial social and educational advantages of the few very top Manhattan preschools
6. New York City and its tendency to increase overall stress (meaning both emphasis and pressure)
Result: a sort of combustible insanity as on the day after Labor Day every year some of the most ambitious, aggressive, status-oriented, and very highly motivated people in the world rev up for one of the most cut-throat competitions in America, admission to preschool in Manhattan. You think I’m exaggerating? Then remember that just a few years ago a scandal that brought down some of the biggest names in Wall Street had a top securities analyst changing his recommendation on a company in exchange for a contribution that eased his twins’ entry into a posh preschool. As he noted in his email on the subject, admission was statistically harder than getting into to Harvard. And yes, we are talking about 2 and 3-year olds. As the film-makers put it, “Cue the tears, hysterics and breakdowns–and that’s just the parents.”
“Nursery University” is a frank but not-unsympathetic look at what pretty much everyone agrees is the insanity of the process of applying to preschool in Manhattan, from the pricey consultants to the interviews of both parents and toddlers. The intricacies of pushing without being pushy, of conveying a family’s ability to provide support without sounding like you are name-dropping or trying to buy your way in, the challenges for families who are not wealthy are all here. The focus is on five applicants and their parents, from the speed-dial madness that begins today just to get the privilege of being permitted to apply to those are-they-thick-or-thin envelopes that arrive in the spring.
Bonus features on the DVD include deleted scenes and interviews with the parents and admission experts and even some advice for parents who may be entering this process themselves.
Two awful movies released last week, “Extract” and “All About Steve,” give me an opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics, character actors. One of the best appears in both of them, the wonderful Beth Grant. Character actors are those people who seem vaguely familiar, but don’t often get mentioned in reviews or photographed on red carpets. They play the family members, best friends, thorns in the side, co-workers, explainers, or, often, the fiances/fiancees who get dumped so that the big romantic arc of the movie can reach a successful conclusion.
Beth Grant works steadily and often plays high-strung, picky types, as in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Donny Darko.” Her appearances in these two most recent films provide some of the very few bright spots. I especially liked seeing her in “All About Steve” in a less straight-laced role.
Here is one of her most famous scenes, from “Donnie Darko:”
I was lucky enough to meet her at the Critic’s Choice awards in January of 2007. I made a short video of her dancing at the party afterward. She was gracious and completely charming.
So, cheers, Beth Grant! I hope you’re in a better movie next time, but know whether it is as good as “Donnie Darko” or as awful as “All About Steve,” you will never let me down.