Throwback Thirty – Oliver and Company (1988)

30 years, 30th birthday, animals, animated, animation, anniversary, bullshit, Dickens, Disney, dogs, film, film blogger, film blogging, film reviews, films, meh, music, musical, TBT

oliver_poster5_star_rating_system_2_stars I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch.  It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.

The Christmas Song Book Tag

book blogger, book blogging, book tag, books, Christmas, christmas songs, Dickens, Harry Potter, list, murakami

Christmas is only 5 days away and I’ve only got 3 days at work until I have a whopping 2 days holiday. Woo! Yep, I’m on the late shift on Christmas Eve and then back in work at 6am on 27th December. I never get a Christmas break as I’m always called upon to do this gem of a shift. It sucks but my manager’s aren’t willing to change their ways. Still, I am desperately trying to get in the festive spirit by watching Christmas movies, wearing Christmas jumpers, and endlessly listening to festive jingles. It works some of the time but, as anyone who works in any kind of retail/hospitality job this time of year knows, it’s hard to not let the season of good will break your spirit. No matter how many times I play my favourite Christmas song on repeat. Speaking of, what is your favourite Christmas song? I read an article recently that made the bold claim that the best was officially All I want for Christmas is you by Mariah Carey. I really doubt the validity of their statement because I, for one, wasn’t asked my opinion. I fucking hate that song and, whilst I’m at it, I hate Fairytale of New York too. It’s not cool to like it because it promotes alcoholism and includes swearing. It’s a shit song that doesn’t promote the festive spirit. My number one? Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses or anything featuring the Muppets. I’ve got simple tastes. As you’ll see in yet another Christmassy book tag.


1. “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”: Name a villainous character you couldn’t help but love.

What’s that It Crowd quote? “All women love a bastard”, right?! Well, in certain circumstances that’s true. Villains are just more interesting than most good guys. I mean look at Harry Potter. I’m far more interested in the likes of Bellatrix and Lucius Malfoy than I am in Harry himself. Harry’s a whiny, egotistical classic chosen one. I can’t stand him most of the time. I guess when it comes to the ultimate bad guy you can’t help but love I’d have to go with my traditional answer: Humbert Humert from Lolita. I’m not saying I actually love him but there’s something about Nabokov’s narrative that means you end up kind of sympathising with a disgusting paedophile.

2. “All I Want for Christmas is You”: Which book do you most hope to see under your Christmas tree?

There’s always loads of books I want but I don’t often get them because I’m useless at giving hints. I guess the ultimate goal is the second and third illustrated editions of Harry Potter and the Visual Editions’s version of Don Quixote. All very gorgeous and all over my personal book price limit.

3. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”: Name a character that overcomes major obstacles and learns to believe in themselves.

I feel like my answer to this isn’t going to be that original but, when you think of character development, isn’t it Neville Longbottom than first comes to mind? Look at how far he comes from the scared loner with no friends other than his toad to a strong young man who is leading the DA in a Death Eater filled Hogwarts. He’s a great guy. A much more deserving hero than fucking Harry.

4. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: a) Which character do you think would be on the top of the naughty list? b) Which character do you think would be at the top of the nice list?

Naughty List: Is saying every literary villain ever a cop out? What a silly question. Anyone who is vaguely bad should be on the naughty list but how to you quantify naughtiness. Who would be the top? Some kind of serial killer like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman? Or Sauron from Lord of the Rings? Nah, how about Ramsay Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire? He organised the Red Wedding… there’s no way Santa can even try to forgive that.

Nice List: Again, every hero or nice person in any novel ever. But, purely in the name of playing the game, I’m gonna say Winnie the Pooh. Why? It just popped into my head but that guy always tries to do the right thing. He’s niceness personified.

5. “Frosty the Snowman”: Which book just melts your heart.

I’m not much for the melty-heart kind of books these days. I prefer my novels to be hard hitting and dark. So much so that I’m drawing a major blank on this answer. It probably says a lot about me. I’m a fucking ice queen. I guess, if I were pushed, I’d probably say the Sophie books by Dick King Smith. I was obsessed with those books as a child and they’re so adorable.

6. “Feliz Navidad”: Choose a book that takes place in a country other than your own.

Anything by Haruki Murakami. Let’s say Norwegian Wood. I know that I don’t have enough diversity in my reading material but I’m trying to be better. It’s just that my TBR is kind of full of books written by white men and women. It’s always a question of trying to clear that or be more adventurous. I’m just drowning in books. 

7. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Which holiday themed book do you use to spread the Christmas joy?

I think A Christmas Carol is a great read and, probably, a book that people won’t be as familiar with as they think. Dickens’ original tale is a lot darker than many adaptations allow. The scene with Ignorance and Want is actually quite disturbing. But, it can’t be denied that the Christmas message runs through and, let’s be honest, it provided the basis for the greatest Christmas film ever made.

8. “Sleigh Ride”: Which fictional character would you choose to spend the holidays with (doesn’t have to be a love interest!)

I know it says one character but I’m just going to say the Weasley family. Imagine spending Christmas at the Burrow? It would be so cosy and full of love. Molly rushing around preparing food. Fred and George pulling pranks on everyone else. Arthur enchanting some muggle fairy lights. It’d be brilliant. If we’re talking romantic Christmas then I’ll have to leave the bookish world and say Chief Hopper from Stranger Things. My passion for that man is so strong. I’d spend Christmas with him in his cabin finding fun ways to keep warm!

9. “Baby it’s Cold Outside”: Which book that you didn’t like would you sacrifice to a fire to warm yourself up in the cold?

Which book would I burn? Now normally I’m against damaging any book, no matter how terrible, but there is one book I’ve read this year that leaps to mind. One of Us is Lying is the most offensively bland and unoriginal book that I’ve ever read. It deserves to be destroyed in a horrible way just for being so fucking blatant. Urgh, I’ve never hated a book this much and I did a whole course on novels of sensibility. Those books are super sexist.

10. “Do you hear what I hear”: Which book do you think everyone should read?

Oh loads. The one I’m always pushing on people is The Monk by Matthew Lewis because it’s fucking crazy. I love it. However, my books of 2017 have to include First Love by Gwendoline Riley and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I’d recommend reading First Love and listening to the audiobook of Saunder’s Man Booker winning novel. I adored them both in very different ways.

Monday Rundown – That’s What She Read

book, book blogger, book blogging, book haul, books, classics, currently reading, Dickens, Jim Carrey, Man Booker, Margaret Atwood, Netflix, Penguin Books, recently watched, Shakespeare
So, eagle-eyed readers out there will realise that I’m a day late with my weekly rundown. That’s because I only got back from London today. I’ve had a lovely but busy weekend visiting my friend so decided to leave this until tonight. The weekend has been great. I watched a terribly Christmas classic in Jingle All the Way on Saturday night but balanced it out by watching A Muppet Christmas Carol immediately after. I listened to some poetry, visited the design museum and went round an incredibly patronising exhibition about the North. As two Northerners we couldn’t help but cringe about the awful way the Somerset House exhibition portrayed Northerners. It was totally misjudged in tone and, really, only helped strengthen unhelpful stereotypes about the North/South divide. But I don’t want to get into that right now. On with the rundown.

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

I’ve been waiting for this documentary to come to Netflix for so long and, when it finally did, I couldn’t wait any longer to watch it. Was it worth it? Find out in my review here.

  • BOOK POST – The Guilty Reader Tag

Amazing! I finally have something to say for this section of my rundown. It’s not very inspiring but this tag might give you a little bit of insight into who I am as a person. Find out for yourself here.

  • TBT – Man on the Moon (1999)

I couldn’t not watch Jim and Andy and then miss the chance to (re)watch the original film. Did the behind the scenes view have an impact on my viewing? Find out in my TBT post here.

Recently Finished

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
It took god knows how long to get there but I finally have. I’ve got a fairly busy week but I’m hoping to post my review of this book on Wednesday. Check back later to find out if I manage it or not.

Currently Reading
  • Autumn by Ali Smith

When the winner of the Man Booker prize was announced I was really pleased because I loved Lincoln in the Bardo. However, that wasn’t the reaction of everyone. Some random on Instagram was poo pooing the winning book and saying this book by Ali Smith was the only deserving winner. In the name of fairness (and not because I’m really petty) I decided to see for myself. I started it on the train to London and it’s better than I was expecting. I didn’t get very far though. We’ll have to see.

Recently Purchased 
  • Cheap book haul

So I bought a couple of new books when I found them on offer on Amazon for Cyber Monday and I also snagged a few new Vintage Penguins. Amazing result.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – I bizarrely don’t seem to have a copy of this book anymore so I couldn’t resist the gorgeous new (I think) hardback edition from Harper Collins. Plus, it was also only £4. Genius.
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – Another cheap buy and one that I’ve wanted for ages. Although, I’ve have a few of these Shakespeare rewritings on my shelf for a while and never got anywhere with them. The Tempest really isn’t my favourite play but this sounds really good. And if anyone can make it interesting then it’s Atwood, right?
  • Vintage Penguins – I bought a few more of these than I needed to but I can never resist a beautiful vintage penguin.
    • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
    • My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
    • The Nuremberg Trials by R.W. Cooper
Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: QI, Compete to Eat
I’ve not really watched a lot this week. I guess it helps that my days off have both involved me being really busy. I was either preparing for my weekend away or travelling to London. I did manage to watch a bit more QI, which is always a lovely way to pass the time. Then I binged watched Compete to Eat: a ridiculous cooking show where two chefs head to cabins in the Canadian wilderness and try to cook a 3 course meal with whatever they find in the cupboards. I love a good cooking show but this definitely isn’t one. I watched it whilst I was packing and only got the end so it wouldn’t show up on the ‘Continue’ section of my Netflix home page.

Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

Amy Poehler, book haul, books, currently reading, Dickens, Marvel, Netflix, Paul Rudd, recently watched, Thor
So, this week a new Oxfam books store opened up a couple of doors down form work. I always try to buy books from charity shops if I can because it makes me feel less guilty about indulging in my passion despite having no space or money for books. You know, it doesn’t become a present for myself but a way to help the less fortunate. I’m not treating myself; I’m doing a good deed. It’s taken all of my willpower to not stop in every day this week and I managed to come away only having gone in their once. I made a small (ish) haul and was incredibly satisfied with the results. I also happened to be shopping at the same time as a rather attractive young man. A life of reading books and watching sappy TV and films had prepared me for this moment. As we were both browsing the classics section we would both reach out for the same book. We’d laugh awkwardly before bonding over our love of books. Boom! Love, marriage, kids. We all lived happily ever after. What actually happened was: I nearly tripped over my extremely long coat after perusing the bottom shelf, I nearly bumped into him and I left the shop no closer to finding my soul mate than I was walking in. Why can’t life be as simple as it is when an author is neatly plotting every twist and turn?

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Thor Ragnarok (2017)

After trying to organise a cinema trip with a friend for ages I finally got to see the latest Thor. It’s no real spoiler to say that I fucking loved it but if you fancy more information my review is up here.

  • BOOK POST

I promise you I was planning on writing a bookish post this week but, when it came to Wednesday, I just had nothing in me. I was exhausted and fell asleep far too early. I’d rather post better quality stuff than rigidly stick to my schedule so this could be happening more than I’d like.

  • TBT – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Watching Thor Ragnarok gave me the perfect excuse to finally watch Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople for my TBT review this week. Everything you need to know is here.

Currently Reading

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I was actually planning on spending most of today blasting through this book but I woke up feeling dreadful. I’m full of cold. Well, half of my face is full of it. My right nostril is so bunged up that every time I breathe in it sounds like the low growling noise the T-Rex makes in Jurassic Park. So, instead of reading I’ve slumped in front of Netflix and napped all day. Not a productive use of my day off but I appreciated it.

Recently Purchased 
  • Oxfam book haul

Believe me, there were plenty of books I could have walked away with but the stupid card machine wasn’t working and I only had a limited amount of cash on me. Thankfully I guess. I still managed to pick up four bargains. 

    • The first was a gorgeous simple copy of The Stranger by Albert Camus. I’ve not read any Camus besides The Plague, which I gave up on halfway through. This is widely considered to be his best book so I figured giving it a try might inspire me to restart The Plague eventually.
    • The second was a vintage copy of Crime and Punishment with a weird, trippy cover. I already own too many copies of this book considering how many times I’ve tried and failed to finish it. This is the smallest though so it might be better for reading on the go.
    • The third is a find I’m really excited about. You can so rarely find good quality Penguin Clothbound Classics in charity shops that I couldn’t pass up the chance to get Great Expectations. I book this just for the edition but this is one of only 2 Dickens books that I genuinely really like.
    • The final book is my favourite of them all. It’s a gorgeous and slightly creepy illustrated edition of Animal Farm. The illustrations are really striking and I just couldn’t put it back. I had to have it. The book didn’t have a price so I was super worried it would be out of my budget. Thankfully the woman named an incredibly reasonable price of £2.99. She even looked apologetic about it! I seriously could have hugged her.


Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years LaterJohnathan CreekJack Whitehall: Travels with my Father
I’ve still not let myself start rewatching Stranger Things 2 yet because I rushed it last time. I feel like I’ve got to give myself time for watch number 2. Instead I’ve binged all of Johnathan Creek: a series I’ve watched far too many times considering the amount the quality drops after the first few series. Still, there’s something about Alan Davies playing a magicians technical consultant who also solves crimes that just gets me excited. Today I watched the new Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later. I watched and semi-enjoyed both the film Wet Hot American Summer and the Netflix series First Day of Camp when I watched them but can’t say I was particularly blown away. Still, the cast list always manages to drag me in so I eventually watched it. I just still don’t think any of these are as clever as anyone making them thinks they are. They’re not even silly enough for it to good. I don’t know. There were some good moments. Finally, I started watching Travels with my Father and I adore it. I’m not the biggest Jack Whitehall fan but have watched him enough to want to see this. There have been so many awkward and hilarious moments that I hope there are more series to come.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Christmas, comedy, Dickens, family, Michael Caine, Muppets, musical, review

In mid-November I had a dream. It was a crazy, naïve dream that came out of my guilt surrounding my failure to update this thing very often: I told myself that for every day of advent I would write something Christmas related for this blog. These ranged from the mundane (and lazy) top 10 lists to the more ambitious reviews and general musings. Considering this is my first Christmas themed post and we’re already in mid-December I think it’s safe to say I failed to live up to my expectations but better late than never I say. Oh and quick warning, I’m about to write about a film that is probably my all-time favourite Christmas film so be prepared for it to get a bit sentimental.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a favourite and reliable yuletide tale. Without meaning to sound like an awful literary hipster, I would suggest that, whilst everyone knows the narrative, fewer people have experienced the novella itself. This is perfectly understandable (I’m actually all for people ignoring Dickens as I feel his fifteen minutes of fame should have ended long ago) but it is unfortunate. The tale is one of the only works by Dickens that I genuinely enjoyed reading and the only one I have wanted to read multiple times. The book is a much more Gothic and disgusting tale than many adaptations have made it out to be. It is well worth a look and, unlike most of his literature, ends up being both a quick and easy read.
Of course if you can’t be bothered with all of that reading you could always check out one of the many features that have adapted it or, at the very least, taken inspiration from the novella. For their 1992 adaptation, and in a shrewd attempt to make the dark tale more child friendly, Disney placed the tale into the expert hands of the Muppets. For some unknown reason, I find that I am friends with quite a few people who, in their own words, “don’t get the Muppets”. Every time I got overexcited after seeing the trailer for the most recent film they would just ask me what the point was. The point? To paraphrase my old buddy Charlie Bucket, ‘the Muppets don’t have a point. That’s why they’re the Muppets.’ I can’t think of anyone better to tell this chilling tale.
With a little help from Michael Caine that is. Caine steps into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man who benefits from other people’s hardship. When faced with a supporting cast of colourful animal puppets, Caine doesn’t make the mistake of trying to play the role for laughs. He plays it as straight as he would do if this were a traditional adaptation of Dickens’ work. He is an astounding performer and he always hits the right dramatic and emotional notes. I also find it odd that, in a film where rats can get turned into icicles and frogs and pigs can mate, I can still be found tearing up as Scrooge is forced to remember his past.
At a recent screening at the BFI, producer Martin Baker suggested that Caine often found the technical side of working with a bunch of puppets fairly tedious. Whilst I can imagine that being the case, the finished article doesn’t show any negative of handing over the majority of the novella’s characters to the Muppets themselves. They fit into their respective roles incredibly easily and, thanks to a fantastic group of puppeteers, there are no glaring signs of their limited field of movement. Everything fits together and ends up looking great, even 10 years on.
We are lead on our journey by the blue alien Gonzo who takes the role of Charles Dickens’ himself. His narrative remains faithful to the original story and much of his dialogue is taken straight from the novel itself (although with a few necessary changes here and there). It is a tale that most will be fairly familiar with: a bitter and hateful man is visited by the ghosts of his ex-partners who urge him to change his ways before promising three more spirits will turn up to guide him on his journey of redemption. Add into that a poor and desperate set of employees and we have a happy look at a traditional Victorian Christmas. Yes the story has been plumped out with humorous Muppet specific sections to keep the children interested but I don’t think the screenplay fails to get the message across. Scrooge’s change may happen quickly but, despite the fact we are dealing with the suffering of Muppets rather than people, I think there is enough emotional resonance there. Many of the reviews that were written when the film came out suggested that it was only suitable for its child audience. As a 24 year old myself I’d have to disagree. At the screening I mentioned earlier, the audience mainly consisted of people over the age of 18 and most of the kids in the audience had clearly been dragged along by their overly keen parents.
As with the majority of their feature films, The Muppet Christmas Carol is, in part, a musical and we are treated to a few original songs written by Paul Williams. The soundtrack is fairly hit and miss but there are some great pieces in the mix. In keeping with the tale they are of a more classical bearing rather than attempting to reflect a more modern sound. The opening track ‘Scrooge’ is a truly amazing composition that perfectly fits into the Victorian environment that is being recreated. Hearing it on the big screen genuinely sent shivers down my spine. With its use of brass and harpsichord, it sounds exactly like the kind of piece that Bach could have written… well on one of his off days maybe. Not all of Williams’ efforts stand up though. I personally find Tiny Tim’s ‘Bless Us All’ to be annoyingly schmaltzy and the Marley brothers’ ghostly introduction is fairly forgettable. Unfortunately, the lyrics are at times questionable but I don’t think that really matters. I defy anyone to watch the gigantic Ghost of Christmas Present and Michael Caine bopping along to ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ (my favourite Christmas anthem) and not feeling warmth spreading from their soul. This film isn’t about being perfect and it is not pretending to be the best film ever created. It’s about the heart and fun that is so easily associated with the studio and well-known characters. It’s even easy to forgive Michael Caine’s fairly abysmal singing towards the end because at Christmas who the hell cares.
The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first film produced by the studio after the deaths of the Muppets’ creator Jim Henson. Brian Henson stepped into the director’s chair and created an admirable homage to his father’s legacy. It certainly carries on the good work that the studio produced during his father’s days and the creature workshop continued to get better in bringing everything to life. If I’m honest, I can understand why people are so quick to criticise this film. It is not a masterpiece. It doesn’t break new ground as far as the material is concerned and it is a very basic children’s film. To see it in those terms is missing a major factor. It’s got heart and passion. The people involved with this film loved what they were doing and it shows. It’s an entertaining and colourful look at a story that had arguable already become stale. If nothing else The Muppet Christmas Carol is fun and, let’s be honest, if the Muppets have to have a point then I’d say that was probably it.