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Thursday, October 19, 2017


It's funny how computer-animated cartoons that would've amazed people and won technical awards back in the 80s have become such an everyday thing now.  Still, I sometimes get a kick out of seeing one of these CGI cartoons with the colorful 3D-ish characters and elaborate backgrounds that remind me of moving Viewmaster reels.  And if the story is engaging enough, all the better.

Disney Junior's SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN (Cinedigm) meets those criteria well enough for a TV production, at least for me anyway.  The characters are expressive and likable, the settings eye-pleasing, the songs enjoyable, and the story by children's book author Joe Troiano is sweet, simple, and comfortingly predictable.

It all begins when a square pumpkin is discovered in the pumpkin patch of Holiday Hill Farm.  This causes grave unrest among the more intolerant in the garden, embodied by a George-and-Lenny pair of pumpkins ("Big Tom" and "Litte Tom") joined by a weirdly umbilical-like vine and very vocal against any pumpkin who isn't properly round as they are. 

These bullies and their bigotry against anyone different from themselves form the basis for the story's lesson on acceptance, which, thankfully, doesn't pile-drive us quite as much as one might suspect. 

In fact, most of the characters, including friendly scarecrow Jack (the patch's amiable leader), brother and sister bats Boris and Bella (Boris craves bugs while Bella admonishes him for wanting to devour their sentient friends), spiders Edgar, Allan, and Poe ("With an 'E'!"), and vain beauty-queen pumpkin Bobo, are actually more-or-less pretty decent toward Spookley.

Square peg Spookley remains insecure even when his comical spider friends persuade him to enter Jack's "Jack-A-Lympics" competition to decide the Pick of the Patch (mainly so they can get their hands on the candy corn crown). 

Naturally, his unusual shape dooms his chances in each round, inviting a fair amount of thoughtless ridicule from the others.  It isn't until a raging storm hits the farm and everyone comes frighteningly close to a bad end that the little square pumpkin's shape enables him to rescue everyone.

As I said, it's all comfortingly predictable.  I must confess to not knowing just how kids these days react to this kind of stuff--I would've been entranced by it, and even now find it pleasantly watchable.   

The characters are pretty funny, and the frequent song-and-dance numbers--some with backup by Pointer Sisters-like trio "The Honey-Doos" and even a few musical ghosts--not only entertain with their clever lyrics and bouncy choreography but also come and go without outstaying their welcome. 

The 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo from Cinedigm is in standard television format with English, Spanish, and French 2.0 soundtracks and English SDH subtitles.  Extras consist of five (non-HD) video storybooks, each based on a Joe Troiano book and lasting about five minutes: The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin, The Legend of Beacon the Bright Little Firefly, The Legend of JellyBean and the Unbreakable Egg, The Legend of Lyla the Lovesick Ladybug, and The Legend of Mistletoe and the Christmas Kittens. 

The first of these, "The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin", is read by none other than Bobby "Boris" Pickett of "Monster Mash" fame.  Pickett also sings the main feature's "Monster Mash"-like end titles song, "The Transylvania Twist."

SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN is ideal small-scale fun for (say it with me) "kids of all ages."  The little ones won't suspect they're being taught a lesson about tolerance even as Spookley's ultimately heartwarming tale leaves them with a Jack o' Lantern smile.


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