The Lost Magic of Zoobilee Zoo

Sarah Bynum via YouTube
Sarah Bynum via YouTube

It wasn’t easy to impress Peggy Charren. As the founder of the Action for Children’s Television (ACT) organization, Charren was a tireless crusader for quality kids' programming. She resented the glorified toy commercials posing as juvenile entertainment and successfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation limiting the number of ads aired during shows. She hardly ever promoted or endorsed a specific series.

But Charren made an exception for Zoobilee Zoo.

The 1986-1988 syndicated series about six anthropomorphic, artistically-inclined animals—including Bill Der Beaver, Van Go Lion, and Talkatoo Cockatoo, with Ben Vereen as the leopard-spotted host—so impressed Charren with its determination to foster creativity among its preschool audience that she praised it in the pages of the Los Angeles Times. It was racially diverse, she said, and tackled subjects (like disabilities) not commonly found in adolescent television.

Charren wasn’t alone. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers both acknowledged Zoobilee as important. So why didn’t more kids watch?

According to Steve Binder, the producer and director who supervised all 65 episodes of the original series, Zoobilee Zoo was conceived by the entertainment division of Hallmark greeting cards for one reason: to win awards. “That was their number one focus,” Binder tells mental_floss. “And we did.”

Zoobilee Zoo was originally a joint project between Hallmark and Mattel. When Mattel bowed out, children’s distributor DIC was brought on board. Binder’s production company was responsible for delivering 65 half-hour episodes, all of them to be completed in the spring and summer of 1985.

“When I got to Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, the characters looked like theme park people,” Binder says. “I thought they needed to have expressions.” The director lobbied—and got—make-up and prosthetics rather than sports mascot costumes.

Back in Los Angeles, Binder sought out actors with theatrical experience who could sing, dance, and memorize the hundreds of pages of script required for the shoot. For the host, who appeared in wraparound segments, Binder approached well-known performer Ben Vereen: “I had had a relationship with him for years and asked him to be the mayor.” While Vereen was only around for a few weeks, the other actors “had no social life” for the duration of the shoot. “It was like doing a Broadway show every day,” Binder says.

When Zoobilee Zoo premiered on September 22, 1986, Binder was dismayed to find it confined to a too-early 6 a.m. slot in Los Angeles. While that was quickly changed to 7 a.m., it foreshadowed a recurring problem: Zoo bounced around the dial, appearing in the early-morning hours on PBS and local affiliate stations. Those who saw it loved it; those who didn’t had no idea it existed.

“I think we developed a tremendous cult following,” Binder says. “The cast would go to different libraries and perform in character. But when I’d walk into a Hallmark store, there wouldn’t be any merchandise. I found it so odd.”

Strangely, Charren’s endorsement—that the show avoided peddling toys to kids—may have contributed to its premature end. Without Zoobilee merchandise on shelves, awareness was muted. The series aired to modest ratings for years, eventually winding up on the Disney Channel in 1992 before Hallmark (who declined comment) produced 14 additional episodes for home video release in 2000. Though Vereen seems open to a revival, it never quite materialized into what Binder imagined could have been a franchise.

“This was pre-Barney, and we basically had six Barneys,” Binder says. “I once had someone offer to build an entire theme park. Hallmark turned them down. I never understood it.”

Golden Girls Cereal Has Arrived

NBC
NBC

Fans of The Golden Girls can now spend their mornings with Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose. The ladies of the beloved sitcom now have their own cereal—and it's only available for a limited time, Today reports.

Funko—the toy company known for its vinyl Pop! dolls depicting nearly every character in pop culture (including, of course, The Golden Girls)—rolled out the special-edition cereal in Target stores on September 30. The box is decorated with Funko-fied versions of the four leading ladies, and the multi-grain loops themselves are a shade of deep blue that would look great on one of Rose's dresses.

At $8 a box, the product is more expensive than your average breakfast cereal, but that price includes a little something extra. Each box of Golden Girls cereal comes with its own version of a prize inside: a Funko Pop! figurine of one of the four women.

The cereal won't remain on shelves forever, so collect all the dolls while you still can.

[h/t Today]

10 Fascinating Facts About It Follows

RADiUS/TWC
RADiUS/TWC

After capturing the coming-of-age genre with cringe-worthy accuracy in 2010's The Myth of the American Sleepover, writer/director David Robert Mitchell turned his low-budget sights on a horror film that would go on to make all of us fear sex, lakes, and literally every person walking toward us.

It Follows was a terrifying tone poem that spoke to youthful sexuality by focusing on a young woman named Jay Height (played by Maika Monroe) who contracts a deliberately-paced supernatural murder monster that relentlessly targets you until 1) you’re dead or 2) you’ve passed the curse along by having sex with someone. In more good news, if the person you had sex with gets killed, the murder monster resumes searching for you. And it could look like anyone. Even your best friend. Or you.

Mitchell blended old favorites and originality to invent a monster worthy of haunting our every waking moment. Here are some facts about the film that will follow you wherever you go.

1. ITS TIME PERIOD DOESN’T FEEL REAL.

Maika Monroe in 'It Follows' (2014)
RADiUS/TWC

David Robert Mitchell, production designer Michael Perry, and costume designer Kimberly Leitz coordinated to throw us off-balance without us even realizing it. Almost none of the young characters use cell phones, but they exist—and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) has that clamshell e-reader. The vintage cars all look brand-new, but people also have cars from the 2010s. It’s presumably modern day, but all the TVs are from the 1980s, and all the movies the kids watch are classics. Characters also wear bathing suits or heavy winter coats on the same day without appearing too hot or cold. Essentially the movie takes place during a stretch of impossible weather during an unreal era, making it impossible for you to find your footing.

2. IT’S BASED ON A DREAM.

As a child, Mitchell regularly dreamed of a malevolent being taking the form of different people to slowly menace him. “From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream,” he said. “Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.” He also notes that horror films like Night of the Living Dead (which he saw as a young man) may have informed it. He conceived the sexual component as an adult, and the concept for It Follows was born.

3. CHARACTER NAMES ALLUDE TO CLASSIC HORROR FILMS.

The first girl to be killed in the film is Annie (Bailey Spry), who shares a name with Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes), the first girl killed in John Carpenter's Halloween. Plus, Jay’s full name is Jamie—a nod to scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, who (just like Jay) has a sister named Kelly.

4. THE PLAN TO KILL THE MONSTER IS TERRIBLE. BUT THAT'S ON PURPOSE.

Jay and her friends plot to electrocute the monster in a pool even though they don’t know anything about what might weaken it, and they were warned directly that it’s not dumb. “It’s the stupidest plan ever!” Mitchell told Vulture. “It’s a kid-movie plan. It’s something that Scooby Doo and the gang might think of, and that was sort of the point. What would you do if you were confronted by a monster and found yourself trapped within a nightmare?”

Mitchell specifically wanted to avoid the trope of the perfect nugget of information about the monster’s vulnerabilities magically dropping into the gang’s lap.

5. THE COLOR RED FORESHADOWS THE MONSTER'S ARRIVAL.

In horror movies, the color red is regularly used to signal that blood is on the way, and It Follows sticks to that tradition with gusto. Pay attention to red clothing, red lighting, that damned red ball jump scare, red cars, red nails, and other red objects to let you know that danger is getting closer.

6. BODIES OF WATER ARE ALSO MADE TO FEEL DANGEROUS.

The old gag about describing horror movies is that they do for X (balloons, dogs, taco stands) what Jaws did for going in the water, but It Follows does for water what Jaws did for going in the water. Jay is safe at the beginning of the movie in her backyard pool, but all the other, larger bodies of water only promise death (and the kids keep running to them). Annie gets killed at the lake; the monster almost kills Jay during their lakeside retreat and in the giant community swimming pool; and Jay experiences an existential crisis when she considers having sex with three men in a boat to pass the curse onto them.

7. ONE OF THE MONSTERS IS JAY AND KELLY’S FATHER.

Maika Monroe, Lili Sepe, and Daniel Zovatto in 'It Follows' (2014)
RADiUS/TWC

The monster takes on the form of a middle-aged man when Jay and Kelly try to kill it at the pool. In an incredibly subtle moment, Jay refuses to tell Kelly (Lili Sepe) what the monster has taken the form of, but if you rewatch the movie, you’ll see that the middle-aged man is their father, who is featured in several family photographs in the house but completely absent from their lives. Some viewers theorize he killed himself, and others see his throwing appliances at her in the pool as a nod toward possible abuse, but Jay is definitely protecting her sister.

8. JAY AND KELLY’S MOM IS PROBABLY AN ALCOHOLIC.

Adults are of zero help throughout the movie, particularly the girls’ mother (Debbie Williams), who appears obscured in almost every shot she’s in but quite clearly drinks in all her scenes. That includes booze in her morning coffee, day drinking, glasses of wine, and remarks from her children that she won’t care about what’s going on. It’s another nuanced, open-ended element that elevates the film—without spelling it out, we know that something terrible has happened to this family long before the sex monster showed up.

9. QUENTIN TARANTINO WOULD HAVE HAD SEX WITH PAUL.

The Kill Bill director loved It Follows but had issues with how it played fast and loose with the mythology. He also, ersh, couldn’t understand why Jay wouldn’t have sex with Paul (Keir Gilchrist) when he offered. “It’s not like she’d have been tricking him into it,” Tarantino said. “It’s what I would have done."

10. IT’S GOT A SURPRISINGLY LOW BODY COUNT.

Bailey Spry in 'It Follows' (2014)
RADiUS/TWC

In the course of It Follows's 100-minute running time, only two people die—including a young woman whose leg is bent back into places it shouldn’t bend—so the movie clearly focused on intensity over quantity. There’s a third death if you consider the monster bleeding rivers into the community pool, but, let’s be real, there’s no way it’s gone for good. Now where’s our sequel?

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