Looking back on my childhood, I realize that I spent quite a lot of time in front of the TV. However, when I sift through the countless shows and movies I took in as a kid, it becomes very clear that I grew up in an age of strange, wonderful movies and TV programming. There are too many gems to name, but I thought I’d name a choice few unusual movies and shows that I had (and still have)a particular fondness for.
#5: The Wrong Trousers (1993)
This claymation gem from across the pond is 30 minutes of comedic joy. The short film features Wallace, a bumbling, cheery inventor and Gromit, his silent, capable dog who often bails his master out of sticky situations. The Wrong Trousers is an eccentric little film. The plot centers around Wallace’s new invention, a pair of “Techno Trousers” that save Wallace the trouble of taking Gromit for walks. The tone of the film shifts from goofy to mysterious as an enigmatic penguin comes to live with Wallace and Gromit and begins to tinker with Wallace’s invention for his own purposes. The absurdity of the plot and characters is part of The Wrong Trousers’ appeal: the film is quirky, clever, and thoroughly unlike any other animated film I’ve ever seen.
#4: Wishbone (1995)
This show, which stars an incredibly well-trained Jack Russell Terrier, is somewhat odd in that it takes classic literature and retells the stories (rather accurately) with the dog playing the main character in each tale. The more I think about this arrangement, the sillier it seems (particularly with tales like Romeo and Juliet, which requires a human actor to act in love with a dog). However, the actors, to their credit, never convey any sense of awkwardness or irony as they act out the epic, enduring tales. It is thanks to this show that I became familiar with books such as The Purloined Letter and The Odyssey. If a show manages to successfully entertain and educate a child, what more can you ask for in a show?
#3: The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
It doesn’t get much weirder than a band of kitchen appliances on a cross-country quest for their owner. And yet, as a child, I took the strangeness of this film in stride and didn’t give its oddness a second thought. The Brave Little Toaster is bright and lovingly animated and peppered with memorable, well-written songs. While the movie’s quirky premise is attractive to young audiences, The Brave Little Toaster is also surprisingly dark at certain points. Its darkness is skillfully applied, though, with references to film noir and classical Hollywood horror conventions.
#2: Animaniacs (1993)
Few TV shows from the 90s can match the wit, hilarity, and frenzied energy of Animaniacs. What makes this show strange (but in a good way) is the way it strikes a delicate balance between off-the-wall zaniness and tongue-in-cheek humor. The show alternated between slapstick and unabashedly intelligent jokes and songs so well that the humor is seamless. It’s only after seeing other shows unsuccessfully attempt to strike this same balance of humor that I realized how unusual Animaniacs is in its execution of sophisticated jokes. Certain episodes even inlaid catchy educational songs between the action, like one that lists all the U.S. presidents or one that names every U.S. state and its capital. A kid’s show that never talks down to its audience is rare enough to be considered strange.
#1: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I cannot over-emphasize my love for this wonderfully creative movie. The movie’s originality makes it shine: the story is based on a lengthy poem by Tim Burton and the original character designs make up a delightfully varied cast. From the beautifully crafted Danny Elfman score and songs to the lovingly executed stop-motion by Henry Selick, this film is endlessly enjoyable. To those not looking closely, this film may seem too dark and too weird for kids to enjoy. On the contrary, The Nightmare Before Christmas is delightfully different, filled to the brim with endearing characters and, at its heart, an incredibly sweet film.
In any case, dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this nostalgia trip as much as I did. Feel free to name some of your favorite quirky childhood shows and movies in the comments below!