12 Relatives of Famous Disney Characters Whose Names You Never Knew

In much of Canada, Family Day is what’s going on today. For those not in the loop, Family Day is a totally BS “holiday” that was first observed in February 2008. The idea behind Family Day is that it gives Canadians in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia a holiday so that they may spend time with their families, because February isn’t depressing enough, apparently.

I’m something of a Family Day Scrooge, myself. Mostly because I can’t partake in any family gathering without being asked by my brethren if I’m seeing anyone, and being met with pitying glances when I say no, but also because Family Day wasn’t a thing until I was well into university. As a result, it always coincided with reading week, keeping me and my peers from taking advantage of the extra day off. Should I ever spawn my own brood, I may change my tune. As long as I remain a parent only to cats, I will not count myself among the fans of Family Day.

Nonetheless, if my Women of Marvel calendar tells me that today is a holiday, I will find some way to exploit it. So I have chosen to observe Family Day in my own way, sans family, with an entry inspiringly titled “12 Relatives of Famous Disney Characters Whose Names You Never Knew”.

Trixie, Ria, Daisy, Tessie (Thumper’s sisters, Bambi/Bambi II)

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Bluebell (Flower’s mate, Bambi)

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Mathilda (Alice’s sister, Alice in Wonderland)

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Annette, Collette, Danielle (Lady and Tramp’s daughters, Lady and the Tramp/Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure)

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Queen Leah (Aurora’s mother, Sleeping Beauty)

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Sarafina (Nala’s mother, The Lion King)

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James (Tiana’s father, The Princess and the Frog)

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Shell and I, the duo behind Mass Cultured, wish you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day! It is also my honour to present you, our readers, with this super swanky cyber-Valentine, exclusive to Mass Cultured! Toss your store-bought Valentines featuring whatever superheroes and cartoon characters are in vogue right now, and print off a sheet of these instead.

bombayvday

ONE SEASON WONDERS: MTV’s Downtown

The 1990s was an exciting time for animation.  Cartoons reigned supreme from the box office to the living room.  In addition, the ’90s ushered in a genre of animated storytelling which had previously been unable to find its footing in mainstream culture: cartoons for adults.  When a little ‘toon on FOX called The Simpsons became a sleeper hit in 1989, every network wanted its own version of the series.  Most early attempts were met with poor reviews, and quickly axed.  A few managed to garner positive attention, and developed cult followings, particularly those produced by MTV.  Among the station’s lesser-known cartoons (basically every cartoon that wasn’t Daria or Beavis and Butt-Head) was a tasty little slice of Gen X pie called Downtown.

Downtown premiered in the summer of 1999, and chronicled the escapades of a circle of mostly 20-somethings and older teens living in Manhattan.  The show’s central character is Alex, a geek who has recently moved out of his parents’ house, and desperately wants to shed his toy-hoarding tendencies.  His best friends are despondent Jenn, and Goat, the resident weirdo who knows everyone.  Alex’s love interest is goth gal Serena.  Feisty Chaka, Alex’s little sister, leads the pack of adolescent characters – dreamy Mecca, wannabe player Fruity, and laid back tagger Matt.

Positive reviews from critics, and an Emmy nomination for outstanding animated program in 2000 could not keep the show on the air, however.  Many of the show’s fans attribute poor marketing on MTV’s part to the series’ cancellation after its thirteen-episode first season.

I didn’t become acquainted with Downtown until about 2001, when I was in my first year of high school.  At that time, YTV (Canada’s answer to Nickelodeon, more or less) was airing reruns of the show at the ungodly time of 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

Growing up in a Ukrainian Catholic family, I was raised to believe that swearing made you evil, and that babies came from Heaven. Merely hearing “the f word” uttered by one of my degenerate classmates was enough to cause me to go into anaphylactic shock. Shows like The Simpsons and South Park, with their comical child abuse and proliferations of  profanity, were strictly verboten in our household.

Nonetheless, Downtown appealed to me, because in spite of its intended audience, it was relatively “clean”.  Sure, I caught the allusions to sex and drugs, but the references were neither frequent nor blatant enough to scare me away.  I immediately identified with snarky Jenn, wanted to look like Serena (a desire which may have subconsciously influenced my later penchants for rings, leather, slate-grey nail polish, and aubergine-hued locks), and my soft spot for Alex had a tremendous influence on my taste in men over the next few years.

While Downtown has been off the air for over ten years, it remains one of my all-time favourite shows.  I loved watching it in my teen years because it made me feel grown-up, but I appreciate it even more in my twenties.  Although it’s animated, Downtown may have presented audiences with one of the most realistic and honest portrayals of young adult life in the history of television.

In developing the series, creator Chris Prynoski would visit Manhattan’s lower East Side, and record conversations with people he met there.  Episode plots were then based on these anecdotes.  In addition, many of the residents to whom he spoke were recruited to provide voices for the characters.  They were literally people off the street, and their lack of vocal training allowed characters’ speech to flow realistically.  By using non-actors, Prynoski also ensured that aurally-inclined viewers would not recognize someone’s voice from a kids’ cartoon on the WB, further enhancing the show’s naturalness; these weren’t cartoon character voices, but “regular people” voices.

The “actors” were also encouraged to improvise many of their lines, resulting in the characters’ use of more fillers like…well, “like”, “um”, and “uh” than audiences are used to hearing on scripted TV. Much of the dialogue is lost when characters interrupt and talk over one another.  These disfluencies may be off-putting to those who long for razor-sharp writing, but they highlight the fact that the show reflects how real people actually speak.  The improvisation of script also results in a very natural delivery of amusing lines that aren’t contrived for maximum LOLs.  Viewers aren’t going to be bowled-over with laughter, wishing they were as witty as the main cast; they probably already are, or are at least friends with people who are.

Regarding the episodes themselves, their titles are mostly nondescript.  With easily relatable names like “Train Pain,” “Hotel Bar,” and “Night Shift,” viewers are able to recall their own experiences of taking the wrong train with friends, or working late. These are everyday happenings that hardly merit being the focus of a television episode. However, the playful banter they’re punctuated with reminds audiences that often, the funniest times in your life are those spent doing mundane shit with your buddies. While the idea of a show about “nothing” had already been exemplified by sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Friends, it was a novelty in animation directed at older viewers.

The dynamic of the core cast feels sincere without the audience needing to see it evolve.  Whereas many TV shows throw characters together so that friendships develop over the course of the series, Downtown’s relationships are already firmly established.  Viewers listen to (and watch via flashbacks) Alex and Jenn’s shared recollections of highschool, and Chaka and Mecca talking about where they went the other night.  There’s never any sense that these characters stop existing once the credits roll.  Their exchanges are so casual and realistic, that we feel as though we’re listening in on actual conversations.

Through its varied and colourful cast, it’s clear that Downtown does not glorify one subculture at the cost of another.  Playful jabs are taken at Chaka’s club-hopping, Alex’s toy collecting, and Serena’s goth lifestyle; no one is spared.  Each character has their own niche, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t all co-mingle.  This fluidity between subcultures is illustrated by Goat, who embraces a sleazy biker attitude and wardrobe, but isn’t too proud to venture out and try new things.  He’s as comfortable on his hog as he is donning a red onesie and going to a trendy club, or attending a comic book convention. The show is totally objective in its depictions of its characters, and maintains an air of realism without choosing sides.

When discussing shows that aim to satirize various facets of society dominating the television landscape (this has generally been the case since The Simpsons premiered, especially with regards to adult animation), it’s difficult to know what to make of a program like Downtown, which viewed everyone with a neutral eye.  It had no agenda, no heroes, no villains.  “People just hanging out and talking” is a pretty accurate description of the series. It didn’t provide us with a lot of social commentary, but it sure as hell painted a much more realistic portrait of young adult life than the protagonists of Friends or 2 Broke Girls do.  Not that I’m trivializing the cultural significance of such sitcoms.  The horse community was severely under-represented on primetime comedy shows prior to the premiere of 2BG this past fall, for example.  Still, I think we could do with a few more Goats on TV.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO…The Cast of Ghostwriter

If in the early ‘90s, you were a) between the ages of 7 and 14, b) owned a television, and c) literate, then you probably watched Ghostwriter.  Produced by the Children’s Television Workshop (now called the Sesame Workshop) and BBC One, it premiered in the U.S. on PBS on October 4, 1992. Despite its popularity, the show was abruptly cancelled in its third season due to a lack of funding.  The final episode was broadcast on February 13, 1995.

Ghostwriter focused on a racially diverse group of pre-teen friends who lived in Brooklyn, and solved neighbourhood mysteries with help from an invisible ghost.  While much of the young cast’s acting was painful to watch, especially in the earliest episodes (most of the kids were from non-acting backgrounds), the show was a hit with its target audience.  It was also lauded by teachers, who praised the series for teaching writing and research skills to young students, and emphasizing the importance of reading.

Generally, the members of the main cast have kept pretty low profiles since the show wrapped almost two decades ago.  So, what are they up to these days?

Todd Alexander Cohen (Rob Baker)

After Rob bid farewell to his pals in Brooklyn and left a gaping black hole in my first grade heart, Cohen appeared in a handful of commercials.  He attended NYU with fellow cast members Sheldon Turnipseed (Jamal) and Mayteana Morales (Gaby), and graduated in 2002.  He now lives in Los Angeles, where he works at the William Morris talent agency.

Blaze Berdahl (Lenni Frazier)

While Berdahl continued to perform in commercials, soap operas, and New York theatre after saying goodbye to the Ghostwriter Team, it was voiceover work that appealed to her the most.  In 2006, Berdahl became the voice of “Swiffer” products.  Most recently, her voice has been featured in commercials for Subway restaurants, Bermuda Tourism, and the Ford Focus.  With a steady supply of work to keep her busy, I guess we shouldn’t expect her to release a remix album of Lenni’s “You Gotta Believe” anytime soon.

David Lopez (Alejandro “Alex” Fernandez)

Queens-born, Colombia-raised Lopez attended Rutgers University in 2002, and hopefully graduated.  In 2004, he lent his voice to a character in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game.  He has since returned to Colombia, and probably has a very happy wife.

Mayteana Morales (Gabriela “Gaby” Fernandez)

Mayteana graduated from NYU in 2003 with a degree in dramatic arts.  She is now part of funk/R&B/jazz/reggae/fusion/hip-hop/soul group The Pimps of Joytime.

Tram-Anh Tran (Tina Nguyen)

After graduating with a degree in finance from Penn State University in 2001, Tram guest-starred on Lifetime’s Zoe Busiek: Wild Card in 2004. She seems to have made her family her top priority, crushing the souls of Alex/Tina shippers everywhere.

Sheldon Turnipseed (Jamal Jenkins)

Sheldon has fallen off the radar entirely. Maybe Ghostwriter can track him down.

William Hernandez (Hector Carrero)

At age 15, William left home because his family did not accept his homosexuality.  He continued acting, and landed parts in various obscure movies.  In 2004, he was part of the cast the Philadelphia season of MTV’s The Real World.

Lateaka Vinson (Casey Austin)

Vinson, who played Jamal’s annoying little cousin, traded in her knock-knock joke books for university textbooks. She completed her Masters in speech pathology at Hampton University.

Melissa Gonzales  (other Gaby)

Melissa took over the role of Gaby for the final two story arcs of the series.  She has since been seen as “girl two in bathroom” in a 1999 movie nobody saw called Light It Up.

Several recurring and one-shot characters in Ghostwriter have had relatively successful careers in film and television.  Julia Stiles, who played an intense young hacker in a fleece hat in season 2, went on to become a Hollywood actress and it girl in the early 2000s.  She also graced the cover of my very first issue of Seveteen in September 2000.

Jamal’s father was played by Samuel L. Jackson.  I hear he’s had a few roles here and there.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Ghostwriter.  Because of its “real world” setting, and heavy dependence on computers (through which the team “spoke” to the titular character much of the time), the show is now painfully dated.  Still, that didn’t keep Shout! Factory from releasing the first season on DVD last year.

Ghostwriter was a gem of a show from a time many (well, I) consider to be the golden age of children’s programming. It was an educational program, but never pandered to its viewers, never laid on the lessons too thickly.  Its (for the most part) amateur cast may not have been destined for Oscar-winning roles in the future, but they portrayed their characters to the best of their ability, and with total sincerity.

Due to the fact that most kids have access to the entire world at their fingertips thanks to the Internet and cell phones—neither of which were very sophisticated or mainstream when Ghostwriter was on the air—a reboot of the series would prove to be an incredible challenge for producers. Who needs Ghostwriter when you can text? No need to follow suspects around the city when you can gather all the information you need on them via Facebook. Mysteries could be solved with a single Google search. Ghostwriter was a product of its time, and maybe it’s best left there, along with Alex’s striped Hammer pants.

Top 5 Artists from Shows from My Childhood

Some people lead normal adult lives. But some of us people wile away the twilight hours on YouTube, watching painfully wholesome episodes of 20-year-old kids’ shows. This phenomenon I know nothing about inspired me to compile the following list of the top 5 artists from TV shows from my childhood.

 

 

5. Jacob (Join In!, TVO, 1989 – 1995)

In the pantheon of classic Canadian children’s television, Join In! is a show that is often overlooked. For those who have never heard of the series, allow me to break it down for you. Join In! revolved around three roommates who lived in a loft that looked not unlike a wunderkammer. They sang a lot of songs. That’s kind of it. It was adorkable Zack in his suspenders and tie-dyed shirts who made my 5-year-old heart flutter, but it was artsy Jacob in his very strategically paint-splattered overalls and socks/sandals combo who kept it real.

 

 

4. Splatter Phoenix (Darkwing Duck, Disney Channel/ABC/UPN, 1991 – 1992)

This former painter’s weapon of choice was a magic paintbrush, which allowed her to trap her victims in works such as “Guernica” and “The Persistence of Memory” (which I guess were on loan to St. Canard’s gallery from the Museo Reina and MoMA). Shunned by the art industry, Splatter Phoenix proved that Hell hath no fury like an artist scorned.

 

 

3. Van Go Lion (Zoobilee Zoo, 1986 – 1987)

While I questioned his judgment as an artist when he recruited mischievous Lookout Bear to work on one of his paintings, Van Go remains one of my favourite Zoobles. One of the most attractive (and elusive) qualities in an artist is humility, and Van Go showed viewers that he had it in paint buckets when he gave up a life of fame, probably women, and possibly drugs to stay in a town with a population of seven. The cat was not only a great artist, but also a great friend.

 

 

2. Milo Kamalani (Pepper Ann, ABC, 1997 – 2001)

Created by former comic strip artist Sue Rose, Pepper Ann was unique in that it featured a predominantly female cast of characters, most of whom aggressively rejected conventional notions of femininity. If that weren’t awesome enough, its most prominent male character, Milo, did NOT conform to society’s standards of masculinity. He wasn’t a jock, he wasn’t preppy; he was an artist. For challenging gender norms, my wool beanie’s off to you, Milo.

 

 

1. Mr. Dressup (Mr. Dressup, CBC, 1967 – 1996)

Mr. Dressup, played by the late, great Ernie Coombs, was Canada’s answer to Mr. Rogers. He’s probably most well-remembered for the costumes in his “Tickle Trunk” but for the young and artistically-inclined, the highlights of the show were his trips to the drawing easel and craft counter. Mr. Dressup inspired kids to see opportunities for creative expression in junk which most parents would not think twice about throwing away. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, an appointment to the Order of Canada, and a brief dabble in rap (for serious), Mr. Dressup is a true Canadian icon, and a champion of quality children’s programming.