Sunday, February 25, 2007

A reader of this editorial asked me just why I had my knickers in such as twist about the comments made by our ex-governor. I realized that I had not articulated as clearly as I should have how offensive what he said struck me. Romney should have taken this moment to state his vision in some depth, but he has none. The shallowless of his remarks and the political banalities he voiced underline that he is a political Ken doll, an expensive empty suit and a haircut. The fact that he has raised over $6 million so far in his effort to secure the Republican nomination is telling. He apparently has support despite his mediocre at best record in Massachusetts. Too many people simply want the buzz word of their choice repeated in the proper context as opposed issues actually being discussed.

As I was walking through the streets of Manhattan during my visit to the Toy Fair, I noticed a headline on that day’s issue of “USA Today.” A front-page story was bringing up the issue of whether or not Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs – he’s a Mormon, remember? – was going to affect his chances for the
Republican nomination for president.

The Mittster announced his entry into the presidential race last Monday
in Dearborn, Michigan.

The “Today Show” then had Mitt on Tuesday morning to discuss his
flip-flops on abortion and gay rights. I had to leave before it was over, as
unlike Mitt, I have to work for my living.

So I don’t know if Matt Lauer asked him about his record in
Massachusetts. What did the new-to-politics one-term
out-of-the-state-more-than-he-was-in governor actually get done in the Bay

I do know that Romney did mention his term as governor – the political
peg on which he hangs his tiny hat – twice in his coming-out speech: “At
America's core are millions of individual families: families of children and
parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, grandparents, foster parents. There
is no work more important for our nation's future than the work done in the

“But the work done in the home isn't getting easier. Values and morals
that have long shaped the development of our children are under constant
attack. In too many cases, schools are failing. For some, healthcare is
inadequate.Family expenses and government taxes take a larger and larger
bite. America cannot continue to lead the family of nations if we fail the
families at home.

“How is the American family made stronger? With marriage before
children. With a mother and a father in the life of every child. With
healthcare that is affordable and portable. With schools that succeed.

“With taxes that are lower. And with leaders who strive to demonstrate
enduring values and morality.

“This was the agenda I pursued as Governor of Massachusetts. This is the
agenda I will pursue if elected President.”

Oh my God, pray for the nation.

I don’t care how Romney worships. We’ve got freedom of religion here –
still. I don’t think the leaders of the Mormon faith would control him any
more than the Vatican controlled John Kennedy.

The bigger issue is his record of accomplishment. What did he do here?
Did he act as the “salesmen of the Commonwealth,” as he promised, to
bring new jobs to Massachusetts? No.

Did he ever learn how to effectively work with the Legislature? No.
Did he have his eye on the Big Dig? Did it take a death for him to
notice if there were problems? You know that answer.

Did his healthcare “solution” really solve any problem? It remains to be

But Mitt is saying all of the right things for the right wing to hold
them close to him. Here are his beliefs:

“It has been said that a person is defined by what he loves and by what
he believes and by what he dreams.

“I love America and I believe in the people of America.

“I believe in God and I believe that every person in this great country,
and every person on this grand planet, is a child of God. We are all sisters
and brothers.

“I believe the family is the foundation of America - and that we must
fight to protect and strengthen it.

“I believe in the sanctity of human life.

“I believe that people and their elected representatives should make our
laws, not unelected judges.

“I believe we are overtaxed and government is overfed. Washington is
spending too much money.

“I believe that homeland security begins with securing our borders.

“I believe the best days of this country are ahead of us, because I
believe in America!”

Again I ask: pray for the nation.

©2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I was at the Toy Fair last week in NYC. The toy industry plays a pretty big part in our local economy and I'm the only local reporter who regularly goes down to get a first-hand story.

One of the things that always interests me about the Toy Fair is how one sees examples of pure faith: people who beleive so much in their dream idea that they risk thousands of dollars manufacturing samples and then setting up at the Fair to see of buyers agree with them that their product could be the next hot trend.

I've posted photos of two of the most interesting examples of those kind of gambles. Fishermen are statues of Jesus in action poses. These are not satiric or humorous. The folk were dead serious about them. The are designed to be expressions of faith.

On the other hand, meet The Turds, action figures of poo. Will these sell? Who knows? Mr. Hanke was a big hit from "South Park," so why not a whole line of sh*t?

Speaking of "South Park," it was interesting to note just how little there was this year of licensed merchandise. Although there are some strong Nick cartoons, only SpongeBob is seen by the toy industry as a sure thing. Manufacturers have obviously been burnt so many times in the past and are wary of making an investment in something other than an evergreen property.

NEW YORK - Transformers, My Little Pony and Rubik's Cube: in the world of toys, the Eighties are back.

Many familiar names from 20 years ago were the featured stars of the 104th edition of the American International Toy Fair conducted last week at the Jacob K. Javits Convention center and at industry showrooms around the city.

According to figures released by the Toy Industry Association, Inc., the industry group that operates the annual event, over 1,200 manufacturers, exhibitors and sales agents from 31 countries showed off their goods and services to over 20,000 attendees from 94 countries. There were over 5,000 new products on display from every conceivable category of toy.

Accompanying the trend of returning toy stars of the 1980s was another movement to have toys aimed at Baby Boomers. The Toy Fair dedicated one of its many workshops to developing sales efforts for the Baby Boom market.

Western Massachusetts was represented by Hasbro the industry giant has its games division in East Longmeadow; Jan-Lynn of Chicopee; and Omni-Glow of West Springfield. LEGO System has its American headquarters just over the state line in Enfield, Conn.

If there was another trend at the show it was the relative absence of licensed toys. In past years the Toy Fair has exhibited dozens of toy lines featuring characters from television and movies. This year, it was clear to observers that manufacturers were willing to take a chance on just a few properties, including classic Disney characters, Spongebob Squarepants, Spiderman (with many products promoting the third Spiderman movie) and "Star Wars."

With 2007 being the 30th anniversary of the release of first "Star Wars" film, George Lucas cast his shadow all over the Toy Fair. Lucas actually attended the event and was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame at a $450-a-plate dinner.

It was hard not to walk down an aisle without seeing a "Star Wars" toy in many parts of the Javits Center. LEGO has new "Star Wars" construction kits and had their LEGO artists built a bust of Lucas that was on display at the LEGO booth.

Hasbro has had a long association with Lucas and the movie property and are including collectible coins into this years "Star Wars" action figure packaging.

For the ultra-serious "Star Wars" fan, Sideshow Collectibles is featuring a bust of Jedi Master Yoda for $550 and a bust of Greedo for $599. It's too late for the company's Darth Maul bust, which came with "an authentic partial replica of the costume worn by [actor] Ray Park" it's already sold out at a cost of $600.

One might assume that it is Baby Boomers who are the ones who can afford the $600 for a "Star Wars" bust, not kids, and there were many high-end collectibles at the Fair that were aimed at older markets.

There are not many kids who will be willing to buy action figures and bobble heads from the 1998 cult movie "The Big Lebowski," either, but those items made their debut at the Fair.

Buyers coming to the show had to walk the line between placing orders for sure things, while at the same time looking to catch the next hot trend. Would it be the "Flybar," a juiced-up pogo stick that achieves enough height for the rider to complete a mid-air flip? Or how about Goth dolls called "Be Goths?" They were billed as "toys that refuse to conform."

One company at the show for the first time was The Mountain of Keene, N.H., with a line of tee shirts featuring nature and animal themes. Jonathan Dancing, the director of sales for the company, noted a challenge for toy retailers was either to decide to have such a broad line of merchandise to compete with large companies such as Wal-Mart or to specialize on particular products.

He added that sales for his company at the Fair were quite good.


West Springfield's Omni-Glow was once known just for its glow stick technology, but now the company has several different directions. There is a division that designs and markets consumer glow technology novelties and another that sells party merchandise.

Alan Green, is the national sales manager for Omni Party and he said the division is "doing great." The new product the company was promoting at the Fair was a confetti gun. Take aim, pull the trigger and bam a shower of metallic glittering confetti shoots across the room.

Green said the gun comes in both one-use and refillable models.

On the Glow side of the company, National Sales Manager Michael Ahrendt said the company's glow glasses and shot glasses were receiving a lot of attention. Sales for the Glow side have been flat or on the increase depending upon the customer.

The company has reversed a trend typical for many manufacturers. Ahrendt said the company had ceased its manufacturing operations in China about 18 months ago and had relocated the factory to Mexico. The managers of the manufacturing operations live in Texas and commute daily to the plant. Ahrendt said that uncertain quality controls in at the Chinese factory prompted the move back to North America.


LEGO Publicist Karen Lynch said that this year marks a "return to basics" to the most dominant company in the construction toy business. She said that LEGO will not be producing a new "Bionicle" direct-to-DVD movie and has sold its group of theme parks.

"LEGO is sticking to what they know best: classic construction sets," she said.

There is a new emphasis on promoting the bulk sets of LEGO bricks as well as sets in which there are multiple projects.

One of the company's new efforts will be selling new mosaic sets aimed at girls that use LEGO technology to construct art. Another is a series of sets called "Aqua Raiders," the first LEGO sets with an underwater theme.

Licensing is limited at the company to properties that have track records of success. Lynch said that surveys conducted with LEGO users indicated that Spongebob Squarepants was a fan favorite and last year's Spongebob success was a real success. There's a new Spongebob set this year.

There's also a new Harry Potter set and several sets featuring Batman, as well.

"Star Wars," though, is the company's largest license and Lynch said there will be nine new sets representing all six films released this year.

The company's "Exo-Force" line will have an added inter-activeness with a web site that children can access that has story lines and design tips.


Catherine Dyjak, a key account executive with the Chicopee-based manufacturer of craft kits, said one of the company's best sellers was a line of pillow case art sets.

Children decorate the pillows, which come with a screen-printed design, with soy-based crayons. The company features several Disney designs in the line and also has the Disney version of Eeyore in a paint-your-own ceramics kit and Disney themed paint by numbers sets.

The company also has a new stuffed bear called "DJ Bear," which is designed for children with iPods and other MP3 players. The player fits in the bear's overalls pocket and plugs into a speaker system in the bear's feet.


One of the two dominant toy companies in the nation, Hasbro was leading the "back to the eighties" charge at the Fair with its 25th anniversary celebration of "My Little Pony," the return of the 1980s "G.I. Joe" characters and the "Kung Fu grip" and the 30th anniversary of "Star Wars."

The 1980s aren't the only things on the company's mind, though. Pat Riso, of the company's public relations department, explained the pace of life in the 21st century has changed the way people view games and play.

The company has introduced "express" version of some of their popular games. Riso said the games, such as "Scrabble," have been re-designed so there can be satisfying game play within 20 minutes. She added the games have been re-engineered to allow for "snacking" or 10-minute game play.

"These are specifically designed to have fulfilling robust game experience in 20 minutes," she said.

With older, established games, such as "Life" and "Monopoly," the company has acknowledged that families may not have the time for the traditional version of the game. There are versions of both games that involve debit cards instead of paper money so no time is wasted counting out cash to the players.

Aimed at the growing Baby Boomer demographic is a group of hand-held electronic games called "MY Q." With research indicating that Boomers and seniors need mind stimulation as well as exercise, these games are designed to provide mental challenges. There are versions featuring words and number as well as "MY Q" games aimed at younger people.

Although Hasbro has licensed toys "Star Wars,' "Spiderman Three, "Toy Story" and "Spongebob Squarepants are prominent the company would "rather build its core brands," Helen Van Tassel, associate manager of public relations, explained.

The way to build those brands is to take a toy or game with great name recognition and invent new versions. Besides traditional "Twister," there is now "Outdoor Twister" and "Dodgeball Twister."

There's a new version of "Operation" as well "Operation Rescue" with different levels of game play. Even "Candyland" has a new version called "Candyland Castle."

The company's biggest re-invention and tribute to the 1980s is combined in the July 4th release of the live action/computer animated movie "Transformers," based on the company's venerable toy line of morphing robots. The company has a new line of toys for the film as well as selling licenses to other manufacturers for other merchandise.

If the name "Optimus Prime" isn't something you don't know now, it probaly will be by summer.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, February 18, 2007

For about 20 years film producer Richard Gordon has been both a friend – and whether he knew it or not – a mentor to me. A witty and classy gentlemen, Richard has a vast knowledge about film and I'm hopeful a new generation will discover his own movies through DVD releases such as the following. These photos are from Richard's brother Alex's – also one exceptional gentleman – film "Atomic Submarine," "Corridors of Blood," "Haunted Stangler" and "First Man into Space."

This new two-disc set from The Criterion Collection – the gold standard for
DVDs – features the vintage horror films, “The Haunted Strangler” and
Corridors of Blood and science fiction films, “First Man into Space” and
“The Atomic Submarine.”

Richard Gordon produced three of the films – “Strangler,” Corridors
“and” Space – while the fourth film was made by Richard’s brother Alex back
in the era in which independent producers flourished.

This package is more than just four enjoyable films. It is a celebration
of a two movie fans who did what all fans wish they could do: actually
produce films – successful films no less.

Richard and Alex grew up in England in the 1930s and were both avid
films fans. As kids they ran fan clubs in their native country – Richard
organized a club for Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon of the movie serials),
while Alex ran a club for singing cowboy Gene Autry – and their love of
films only grew with time.

As young men, they decided to come to this country in the late 1940s to
try their luck breaking into the industry. After a variety of show business
jobs ranging from publicity to distribution, both men were able to find
their niche.

Alex settled in California and made most of his films at American
International Pictures and along with Roger Corman was one of the principal
producers of that company in the 1950s.

Alex was the producer who really established the casting concept now
made famous of by Quentin Tarantino of giving roles to performers who were
favorites from his youth and ready for re-discovery.

Alex left producing in 1965 and pursued a respected career as an
archivist and then a long stint working with cowboy turned businessman Gene
Autry. He died in 2003.

Richard established his offices in New York City and made his films in
his native Great Britain. Although his last feature was made in 1981,
Richard has been very active licensing his library of films for home video
and television around the world.

Of the many independent producers who were making films in the 1950s
through the 1980s, only Richard has remained active in the business to this

Richard’s The Haunted Strangler” and “Corridors of Blood” both star
Boris Karloff and afforded the aging actor with two of best roles in the
last segment of his career.

“Strangler’ is a neat twist on the Jekyll and Hyde theme with Karloff as
an acclaimed mystery writer trying to prove his theory about a long-dead
serial killer.

“Corridors” features Karloff as a doctor in Victorian England pioneering
the use of anesthesia and becoming an addict in the process.

Richard’s third movie in the package is “First Man into Space,” a movie
that straddles the horror and science fiction genres.

A Navy test pilot returns from an experimental flight as an encrusted monster killing
people for their blood.

The effective direction of Robert Day and Karloff’s performances push
“Strangler” and “Corridors” out of standard horror genre fare. They are both
very good, solid films.

“First Man” is a fast-moving exploitation film – it capitalized on the
very topical space race of the late 1950s – and is also a lot of fun.

“The Atomic Submarine” is one of Alex’s most ambitious films with a
large cast of sentimental favorites – cowboy stars Dick Foran and Bob
Steele, suave Tom Conway, among others – a lot of special effects, and a
timely theme of nuclear submarines. It can also boast of one of the most
unusual monsters seen in a sci-fi movie.

Although the low budget shows at times, “Submarine” is a drive-in movie
that is hard not to dislike.

All of the films have great commentary tracks with author Tom Weaver
interviewing Richard and Alex and Criterion includes two insightful booklets
featuring essays on the films. Other extras are interviews with director
Robert Day and some of the cast members from the films.

This is one of my essential additions to my DVD library.

For more information, log onto

Images copyright by Gordon Films, Inc.
Copyright 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Announcement time

I've shipped off the final disc of my book " Escape: How animation fled the kidvid ghetto and went mainstream in the 1990s" to my publisher Bearmanor Media and now I feel fairly confident in putting something on this blog about it.

Essentially it is a collection of articles I've written over the years that illustrate how the perception of animation has changed. Some appeared in Animato and Animation Planet, the two magazines I owned and edited, while others are new pieces. All of the older stories have been updated.

I would have liked to have included articles written by some of the magazines's talented constributors, but I could not afford buying the rights.

The book is scheduled to appear sometime this year.

I'm devoting my free writing time to the completion of the book on the Fleischer Studio titled "Made of Pen and Ink. I've posted a new chapter on that blog (see link in my link list).

Hope you check it out.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dave Chappelle and a mock-umentary are featured in this week's DVD column.

Inside the Actor's Studio: Dave Chappelle
Chappelle's Show Season One: Uncensored

Paramount Home Entertainment has recently re-released one of the highest selling television series on DVD: season one of "Chappelle's Show," and Shout Factory has issued a stand-alone disc in its "Inside the Actor's Studio" collection that features the Chappelle interview on that television show in February 2006.

In a recent column, I admitted my ambivalence with the often-fawning interview style of "Studio's" James Lipton. The show's success does not rest with Lipton and his pile of blue question cards, but rather the interest of the interview subject with participating in the process.

Chappelle was clearly interested in the interview and was a funny guest who spoke seriously on a number of subjects.

Chappelle's public image as a hip comic with a street attitude clashes somewhat with a guy who is a fan of the series, but it turns out Chappelle wanted to use the show as his forum to discuss not only his career, but his decision to walk away from his highly successful show in 2005.

It might be difficult for someone to initially understand why a performer would turn down a $50 million payday, but Chappelle explained without sensationalism why it was important for his own mental health to walk away from his acclaimed show.

Generally, Lipton does a good job guiding Chappelle through the conversation, although Chappelle clearly needs little guidance. I do admit fast-forwarding through Lipton dancing on stage and the little improv Lipton initiated is also a bit hard to take.

Chappelle also opted to go much more in depth with this interview than other performers as it runs for nearly two hours.

Chappelle fans that miss seeing the show will not want to miss watching this DVD.

The re-release of "Chappelle's Show" offers nothing new that I could discover from the first release. At his best, Chappelle is one of the funniest comics performing today, but at times on his show he gives in to some pretty low scatological humor.

Included in this set are some of his best sketches including the training film for copy shop employees and how to torture their clients, and the amazingly edgy look at the nation's most vehement Klan member who is blind and doesn't realize that he is black.

For more information on "Inside the Actor's Studio: Dave Chappelle," log onto For "Chappelle's Show Season One: Uncensored," go to

The Festival

I frequently watch IFC and caught parts of "The Festival," and it looked quite intriguing: a comic mock-umentary on a film festival in a small ski tourist town.

Since I had the privilege of attending the Sundance Film festival in 2004 and saw much of the madness that typifies that festival pretentious people who care only about being seen, attending parties and getting goodie bags rather than actually viewing films I was eager to watch "The Festival" in its entirety.

I must admit some deep disappointment. What played out fine in little chunks while channel surfing proved to be tedious as a whole. Nicolas Wright stars as fledging director Rufus Marquez who has made the trip to Sutton, Vt., with the sole print of his feature "The Unreasonable Truth of Butterflies." He hopes to find a distributor for the art house film, but instead discovers that everything that could go wrong does.

The problem with the comedy is that Rufus is a jerk in fact almost every character in the film is unappealing. No one really is sympathetic enough to care about.

It's a shame. Someone needs to send up the excesses of Sundance. It's a target well worth hitting.

For more information, log onto

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs