The Magician’s Hat

You are not ready.
Why is it called The Magician’s Hat?  Because the protagonist is a magician, and, uh…he wears a hat.

Unknown to many, The Elm-Chanted Forest spawned a sequel, The Magician’s Hat, which was never released in the U.S. And it’s easy to see why. The Magician’s Hat is ten times weirder than its predecessor. I’m not sure an American audience would be able to handle it.

There is no English dub or sub, that I know of, but I’m pretty sure that understanding the dialog would only detract from the general trippiness, which is what makes it such a spectacle to behold. You can find it on YouTube in its original, glorious Croatian.

The plot, as best I can understand it, involves an Ice King (no, not that Ice King) who is trying to transform the entire forest and all the living creatures within into ice sculptures. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he hates our freedom.

I could make a joke about the Klan here, but...eh.
I could make a joke about the Klan here, but…eh.

The movie begins with Thistle taking a leisurely stroll through the forest, singing and chillin’ with his animal peeps. Remember Thistle from the last movie? Emperor Spine’s former henchman turned good guy? Yeah, he’s the main character now. I guess the filmmakers looked forward into the future, saw my review, and took it to heart that Thistle was, in fact, that actual hero of the last movie.  Though here he seems to mostly be getting baked.

stonedthistle
Treeeeeees.

Also he has some kind of fairy girlfriend who is hot in a generic, plasticky kind of way. I am all for hot fairies, but couldn’t they have made her look slightly less…I dunno, creepy? Every time she appears on screen, I think she’s trying to suck out my life essence with her dead, painted-on eyes.

deadeyes
Uh…I think they forgot to give her a soul.  Also, no, I don’t know what’s going on with that tiny red-haired fairy or why she resembles Pebbles Flinstone.

Their idyllic forest existence is interrupted by the sudden appearance of giant walking ice-mountains shooting FUCKING LASER BEAMS OUT OF THEIR EYES and turning the hapless animals into ice statues. Yes, you read that right. WALKING MOUNTAINS THAT SHOOT LASER BEAMS OUT OF THEIR EYES.

Shortly after, Thistle’s fairy girlfriend is captured by the Ice King’s mincing cronies, who resemble humanoid vultures made out of frozen semen and wearing hooded cloaks.  They trap her in some kind of transparent cube.  Why, you ask?  Because they hate our freedom.

Oh, and the Ice King who commands these monstrosities lives on a mobile iceberg which is covered with an array of computers and screens.  This, I might mention, is about the only technology we see anywhere in this world, which is a little odd, especially considering that HE LIVES ON AN ICEBERG.  Where is the electricity coming from?

His bookkeeper/minion/sex slave is a bespectacled penguin, who appears to be having some kind of illicit affair with a purple seal who shows up from time to time to tempt him away from his duties to the Ice King so they can frolic.  This has nothing to do with anything, it’s just something that happens in this movie.

Back in the forest, Thistle is in despair, but then a golden orb floats down out of the sky, carrying a plump, balding, smiling green man with a crown atop his head.  I have no idea who this guy is—it might be his father or his grandfather, or maybe just the Emperor of Green People—but he offers some manner of sage counsel to Thistle and gives him a magical hunk of salt.  It is kind of interesting to see another member of Thistle’s species, as it were.  I sort of assumed that he was like Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy:  “Ain’t nothin’ like me but me.”  But no, apparently there’s a whole kingdom of green pointy-eared balding people somewhere out there.  And one just randomly showed up to help a bruthah out.

After that, things get confusing…by which I mean, more than they already were.  Thistle goes on an arbitrary little side-quest into a cave, in which he confronts a three-headed dragon, which he defeats using the hunk of salt, which shoots magic beams of light (don’t ask) and by doing this, he acquires a Golden Sword of Power.

Golly!  My very own weapon of death!
Golly! My very own weapon of death!

He meets up with his animal buddies, along with the penguin, who seems to have defected from his role as the Ice King’s accountant, and the seal, who–unlike most of the animals in this world–is non-verbal, but I think still sentient.  Or at least I hope so, because I’m pretty sure she and the penguin are into each other, and if she’s a regular animal and he’s a sentient animal I’m pretty sure that’s akin to beastiality.  I think?  This movie is bringing up some pretty complex questions about interspecies relationships and consent ethics.

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And then this song happens.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya61lJVnWd4

Skip to 46:40. This song has no context and no real lead-in, the forest just starts vomiting color and they all start dancing and singing. I have no idea what this is about. But how can you watch this and not smile? It’s so gloriously and nonsensically happy.

Okay, so as we have established, Fairy Barbie has been captured and imprisoned in a cube and is currently being held in Guantanamo Iceberg, so Thistle uses his Sword of Power to fuck people’s shit up. And boy, does he. Thistle is a fucking gangster. Gone is the meek milquetoast/cringing henchman from Elm-Chanted Forest. I haven’t seen a character arch this dramatic since Walter White’s transformation from mild-mannered high school teacher to ruthless drug lord. During the movie’s climax, Thistle probably vaporizes several hundred Ice Minions and SMILES as he does it. He stabs the Ice King THROUGH THE FUCKING HEART. He’s colder than the fridge and the freezer; he’s snatchin’ all your bitches at his leisure. Also his sword melts snow and ice and causes flowers to bloom, because of reasons.

At the end, Thistle rescues the Stepford Fairy and they float away into the sky in a golden orb. Because why not? Also she turns into a human for some reason, which…I don’t know. I mean, I had the vague sense that she transformed herself Little Mermaid style so she could be with him. But Thistle isn’t human either (in fact, he looks less human than she does) so it’s not like her fairy-ness is any kind of barrier to them being together. Besides, this is a world where penguins date seals and assorted magical beings have LSD-fueled dance orgies in the forest. Is it really necessary to make her human? Is the idea of a fairy having nookie with a green pointy-eared elf just too controversial?

humanfairy
No wings! Now we can have anal sex without angering God. YIPPEE!

I realize trying to apply logic to this world is like trying to nail oatmeal to the sun, so I’m just going to sit back and bask in the sense of, “What the hell did I just watch?”

Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night

Warning:  This review contains adult humor, adult language and…you get the idea.

Like that fever dream you had when you fell asleep watching Pinocchio after eating three pounds of hot dogs.
Like that fever dream you had when you fell asleep watching Pinocchio after eating three pounds of hot dogs.

Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night is the lesser-known non-Disney sequel to the beloved Disney classic…which I guess means it’s technically not a sequel, but some kind of deformed bastard child of an ill-advised affair. It’s considerably darker and more disturbing than the original, or at least weirder, featuring one scene in which Pinocchio is tortured by a cackling fish-lipped pedophile with a mustache. Oh, and Pinocchio also sells his soul to the devil. Yup.

Our story begins with a carnival coming to town in the middle of the night. Except it’s not any carnival. It’s an EVIL carnival. We know this because of the ominous music, weird, flashing lights and crackling electricity.

We then cut to a quaint cottage where Pinocchio is celebrating his first birthday as a real boy. His fairy godmother may have turned him from a puppet into a flesh-and-blood kid, but she didn’t do a very good job. Pinocchio’s movements are oddly jerky, and his cheeks stick out from his misshapen face like the handlebars on a bicycle. Plus they’re excessively rosy in many shots, making it look like he’s been playing with his fairy godmother’s makeup (maybe he decided being a real girl would be more fun?) I’d like to think that the odd character design was an intentional choice of the filmmakers’—after all, Pinocchio started out his existence as a puppet, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t look or act quite “real.” But “crappy character design” seems a bit more likely.

Geppetto makes him a birthday cake, and Pinocchio is so delighted that he exclaims, “Gee Willickers!”—a catchphrase which he uses way, way too often over the course of this movie. What actual human child has ever used the phrase “Gee Willickers” outside of a fifties sitcom?

His fairy godmother pays him a visit and sings a song, “Love is the Light Inside Your Heart.” Possibly one of the most forgettable songs ever created. It’s the auditory equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting; pretty and sparkly and mildly pleasant, but ultimately a soulless void. Listen to this song and then, twenty minutes later, try to remember a single thing about it; a line of lyrics or a snatch of melody. Go ahead, try. The song is designed to slide effortlessly through a person’s consciousness like a White Castle burger through the large intestine.

The Bland Fairy.
The Bland Fairy.

After her song concludes, she brings to life one of Pinocchio’s wood carvings—a weird bug-thing with a top-hat—and gives it to Pinocchio as a birthday present. The bug-thing, which is basically Jiminy Cricket without the charm, calls itself (you guessed it) Gee Willickers. This raises the question…if Pinocchio’s fairy godmother can transform a wooden statue into a thinking, feeling being, can she grant sentience to literally anything? Could she, for instance, give self-awareness to a ham sandwich? And would that be ethical, given the poor quality of life such a being could expect?

Before departing, the fairy godmother gives Pinocchio a cryptic warning not to take his power of choice for granted, or he might lose it and become a puppet again. After she vanishes, Geppeto shows Pinocchio the jeweled box which he built as a commission for the mayor—the biggest commission he’s ever gotten from anyone, ever. He gives Pinocchio a simple errand: take the box to the mayor and collect the payment.

Pinocchio cheerfully leaves the house with Gee Willickers in tow. In a ham-handedly symbolic scene, he reaches a fork in the road with one path leading to the mayor’s house and the other leading to the carnival. Note that Geppeto specifically asked Pinocchio to go straight to the mayor’s house and not stop at the carnival.

Of course we already know what’s going to happen. The Pinocchio stories are, in essence, parental propaganda tales about horrible things happening to children who misbehave, so in order for this plot to go anywhere, Pinocchio has to consistently fuck up.

Sure enough, Pinocchio starts down the path toward the carnival, at which point Gee Willickers butts in and asks him why he isn’t going to the mayor’s house like he’s supposed to. It becomes apparent at this point that Gee Willickers (I feel embarrassed even typing out that name) is going to function as Pinocchio’s conscience (much like some OTHER insect I could name, and who I’m assuming was unavailable for copyright reasons), constantly nagging him and trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to do the right thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fairy godmother put some kind of tracking device in him as well, like a magical equivalent of those GPS devices that paranoid parents install in the cell phones of their children.

Of course, Pinocchio insists that he’s going to just take a quick peek at the carnival and heads off in spite of GW’s protests. And of course he loses the box. Well, actually, he sells it to a conman in exchange for a giant fake ruby, convinced he’s getting a better deal than the ten gold coins he’s supposed to get from the mayor.  Hey Pinocchio…I know some Nigerian princes who would like to offer you a wonderful investment opportunity.  Also, if you put your mouth over that hole in the bathroom wall, candy will come out.

He goes home, and Geppeto is understandably pissed that Pinocchio just lost him the biggest commission of his life. And Pinocchio, rather than just apologizing and resolving to not be such an idiot in the future, decides that he’s a hopeless fuck-up who can only ruin Geppeto’s life if he sticks around. After writing an angsty Tumblr post, he runs away to the carnival. The EVIL carnival.

Once he gets there, he watches a puppet-show featuring a pretty, blonde girl puppet named Twinkle who sings and dances. For Pinocchio, it’s lust at first sight. Seriously, he’s practically salivating over this puppet. I should probably insert some joke here about Pinocchio’s nose and other body parts that grow longer.

 

Pedo smile.
Pedo smile.

Twinkle’s creepy, leering puppet-master, Puppetino, comes out after the show and invites Pinocchio to come backstage with him, promising to make him a big star. Even Pinocchio, who’s not the brightest candle on the cake, can tell something sinister is afoot. He refuses…but then Puppetino promises to let him dance with Twinkle, the hot girl puppet. Pinocchio gets a lust-dazed grin on his face and ambles backstage like a lamb to the slaughter.

Now that's a trustworthy face.
Now that’s a trustworthy face.

Of course things immediately go bad. As soon as Pinocchio comes back stage, Puppetino uses his dark magic to transform Pinocchio back into a puppet. And I have to admit, this is a genuinely well-done, genuinely creepy scene…and, not coincidentally, the one most people still remember years later. The music is disjointed and disorienting, Puppetino cackles, and Pinocchio flails and screams in fear as his limbs slowly turn to wood. Meanwhile, a bunch of other puppets look on with garish grins and dead eyes while Twinkle hangs from her strings, an expression of abject despair on her painted face. Yeah, this probably gave more than a few kids nightmares.

Puppet bondage.
Puppet bondage.

Pinocchio is eventually rescued by his fairy godmother, but then immediately falls back into the bad guys’ hands when he decides to go find his father’s jewel box (which, remember, he sold to a carnie conman for a fake jewel.) He ends up back in the Carnival of the Damned, where a mysterious boatman takes him to the Land Where Dreams Come True…a sort of disco club for kids, where there’s a giant fountain of green liquid (absinthe?) that children merrily chug from beer glasses. The guy at the door says Pinocchio can get in if he agrees to sign a special contract afterward. Without even glancing at the contract, Pinocchio says yes, then makes a beeline into the club. Good God he’s dumb.

Someone offers Pinocchio a glass of this bubbly green liquid and tells him to chug it. Pinocchio asks what it is, and the kid tells him to just drink it, so he blithely gulps it down. Have I mentioned that he’s not the sharpest crayon in the box?

Whatever was in that drink must have been pretty potent, because Pinocchio starts having a really bad trip. The faces of the kids around him all contort and start to melt, and abruptly, he’s transported onto a stage. There’s a weird little interlude where he lives out his fantasy of being a star, dancing and singing for a (probably imaginary) audience. And then things go completely batshit. As if they weren’t already.

 

This guy is like Satan.  FROM HELL.
This guy is like Satan. FROM HELL.

The titular Emperor of the Night appears. He’s a fucking fifty-foot-tall guy with glowing eyes and four arms. Pinocchio remains remarkably composed as the Emperor tells him that, since he’s had his pleasures, he must now sign over his freedom and that his soul will belong to the Emperor for all eternity. Yeah, that’s the contract the guy was talking about. At this point it’s pretty obvious that the Emperor of the Night is supposed to be Satan, but you know, you can’t say Satan in a kid’s movie. Also, you can’t say “nipples.” Or “felching.” Or “donkey punch.” Don’t Google that, it’s not worth it.

Pinocchio refuses to sign over his soul, at which point the Emperor brings out Pinocchio’s missing jewel box, which Geppetto—having been shrunk down to the size of a chipmunk—is now trapped inside. Pinocchio completely freaks out. A giant evil guy with four arms? He can handle that, but seeing Geppetto shrunk down to fun-size really breaks his brain.

The Emperor agrees to free Geppetto only if Pinocchio signs. Pinocchio signs the document and seems resigned to his fate. Then, at the last moment, he decides he doesn’t need to take this bullshit, starts talking trash to the Emperor. And glowing blue. Yeah, I was confused too. The Emperor shrieks and shields his eyes from the magical blue glow. Who knew Satan was such a pussy? He’s the epitome of evil, the ruler of hell and all things dark and naughty, but he has a paralyzing phobia of colored lights.

"A glowing puppet!  MY WORST FEAR!"
“A glowing puppet! MY WORST FEAR!”

Pinocchio decides that the only way to save Geppetto is by sacrificing himself in battle, so he launches his glowing self at the Emperor and destroys him. As always, self-sacrifice is the magic bullet that can defeat ultimate evil (even though it always turns out to be a fake sacrifice because the main character never really dies in a kids’ movie.) But really, how many kids movies have you seen where the protagonist confronts and kills Satan? Not many, I’d wager. I have to hand it to the writers, they were thinking big.

Of course Pinocchio’s not really dead. He wakes up on the beach. Geppetto is back to normal size, Twinkle is a real live human girl. They all hug, laugh and cry and merrily skip home. Evil is defeated, hurrah! I still don’t quite understand how an eight-year-old boy managed to defeat the all-powerful Emperor of the Night, but hey. Screw it. He’s dead and they’re not.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that you can sell your soul and indulge in your darkest pleasures and as long as you believe in yourself everything will turn out okay.

"Defeated by the power of self-esteem!  CURSE YOU PINOCCHIO!  AND YOUR LITTLE WOODEN BUG TOO!"
“Defeated by the power of self-esteem! CURSE YOU PINOCCHIO! AND YOUR LITTLE WOODEN BUG TOO!”

The Elm Chanted Forest

Like most of us, I watched hundreds of movies as a child. Some left little to no impression. But some have stuck with me. Even twenty-some years later, certain images and characters linger in my mind.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why that happens—why certain movies slip through our consciousness without leaving a mark, while others encode themselves indelibly in our brains, to crop up in dreams decades later or drive us to pay $60 on e-bay for an ancient videotape just so we can see if it lives up to our memories. But I’m going to try. So this blog will be dedicated to describing and analyzing my childhood favorites (along with a bunch of other weird, random stuff) in more detail than they were probably ever meant to be analyzed.

Fair warning:  These reviews will contain potty humor, adult language, drug humor, sexual references, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  I may be writing about kids’ movies, but these reviews are aimed at the people who are old enough to remember this crap from the eighties and nineties.  If you are over 18, proceed.  If you are under 18…well, you’ll probably keep reading anyway, because God knows I read worse stuff than this when I was a teenager.

Without further ado:

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Brought to you by furries and DMT.

Or, in English:  The Elm Chanted Forest, a U.S./Croatian production from 1986.

I’m quite sure that, before I looked it up on YouTube a few days ago, I hadn’t seen The Elm Chanted Forest for at least eighteen years. Probably longer. The movie came out in 1986, which would have made me about four years old at the time. Yet in watching it again, I was struck by just how much of it I remembered, almost word-for-word.

Note that The Elm Chanted Forest is not an especially famous or critically successful movie. An editorial review on Amazon describes it as “typif(ying) the bland, low-budget animated features cranked out for the American children’s market.” And yes, the plot is a tad clichéd…though with some seriously odd tangents. Despite this, there’s something memorable about it. A drugged, dreamlike, hallucinatory mood pervades the whole experience. The narrative slips and slides through a sea of bright colors and bizarre visuals, taking the viewer in unexpected directions and through strange landscapes populated with equally strange creatures. Yet if you accept the story on its own terms, it makes sense. Kind of.

Our tale begins with a narration from a talking wind-spirit named Baron Burr, who looks like what might happen if a clown boinked a porcupine while under the influence of LSD. He tells us about some sort of nonspecific force of darkness which has invaded the forest and driven out all the beavers…because beavers are builders and hence intrinsically opposed to the forces of darkness and destruction. Uh, okay.  I guess that makes sense.

Fucker.
Fucker.

Baron Burr is easily the most annoying character in the movie. Everything he says is delivered in a drawn-out, ponderous intonation, and at top volume. The result is that he sounds like a mildly brain-damaged ghost shouting messages into a loudspeaker. Did all the exposition really have to come out of his mouth in the form of a monologue?

After watching Burr prance around like Tom Fucking Bombadil, we meet our hero, a blandly pleasant and thoroughly unmemorable artist named Peter Palette, who hails from the land of Unsubtle Names.

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“I had a thought once!”

He wanders into the forest and sets up his easel and canvas under a tree. He tries painting some birds who are serenading him from a branch. After a few seconds, he looks at his canvas he sees it’s nothing but a bunch of blobs and squiggles. In frustration, he flings down his paintbrush and then falls asleep under the tree, proving himself to be the world’s least persistent artist. “I painted something in two seconds without even bothering to look at the canvas and it turned out shitty! WAAAAAAH-oh well, nap time.”

While Peter sleeps under the tree, a giant glowing hand appears out of nowhere and touches him in what may or may not be a sexual manner. Baron Burr materializes and informs the audience that Peter is the chosen one who’s come to save the forest, and he’s been blessed by the magic tree. Burr has no qualms about breaking the fourth wall.

Hi, I'm your hallucination.
Hi, I’m your hallucination.

A moment later, Burr disappears, Peter wakes up, and a beaver wanders onto the scene. Peter tries painting him and discovers to his delight that, thanks to the Magical Molesting Hand, he can now create detailed, lifelike images with no effort at all. What’s more, the beaver can talk. He introduces himself as J. Edgar. Get it? J. Edgar Beaver?

Edgar tells Peter that since he slept under the magic elm, he now has magical powers and can talk to all the animals. Peter just goes along with this, asking remarkably few questions as he followed the beaver deeper into the forest.

As a protagonist, Peter is very passive. He makes no choices of his own, but rather allows himself to be led about by the hand like a small child…and this trend pretty much continues throughout the movie. At all times, he wears a dazed smile and blithely accepts the weirdness around him at face value. My theory is that his frustration at his own lack of talent led him to heavy drug-use, blunting his rational faculties and blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality.

Soon after this we’re introduced to the movie’s villain, Emperor Spine, a fat guy with a crown who is apparently some kind of humanoid cactus:

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I don’t have a joke here. Insert your own punchline.

He lives in a big scary-looking castle guarded by walking axes. Aside from bearing a deep and irrational hatred of beavers (seriously…anytime someone mentions beavers he flies off the handle), he doesn’t seem to do all that much except sit in his castle eating spiny lobsters and abusing his henchman. Until, that is, Peter Palette comes to the forest. See, there’s a prophecy (isn’t there always?) that a human outsider will end Emperor Spine’s reign, so as soon as he hears about Peter’s presence in the forest, Spine becomes obsessed with hunting him down and killing him.

He orders Thistle, his court magician/errand boy/punching bag, to bring Peter to the castle.

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The urine sample is ready.

Thistle’s a little green guy with pointy ears, and it’s clear from the get-go that he isn’t really happy with his lot in life. I mean, his job is to stand around being yelled at by a man resembling a bloated pincushion. Plus he’s suffering from male pattern baldness (usually concealed under his large floppy hat) and has a severe speech impediment which makes him sound like Elmer Fudd’s effeminate younger brother. It’s hard for a guy like that to get any respect.

Peter, meanwhile, sets up his easel in a cottage, and soon all the animals in the forest are crowding around begging to have their portrait painted. Apparently they’re really starved for entertainment. Among them is a vivacious French fox named Fifi. I am just going to assume there is porn of her somewhere on the Internet.

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Uh…what’s wrong with those animals in the background?

Suddenly Thistle arrives and, with great fanfare, invites Peter to join Emperor Spine for lunch at his castle. Peter is all ready and rarin’ to go when a little hedgehog warns him to stay put. “Emperor Spine is evil,” he warns. “He will harm you.”

“But then where will I have lunch?” Peter asks with a lobotomized grin.

The hedgehog sees that this vapid manbaby will cheerfully wander into the jaws of death if left to his own devices, so he invites him to have lunch with his parents, Fa and La. And hey, dessert is acorn pudding. Who could pass that up? Peter hems and haws: “Hmm, now which lunch sounds better?” Yeah, tough choice. Certain death at the hands of a vengeful dictator, or a pleasant afternoon with a family of friendly hedgehogs?

When Thistle returns to the castle Peter-less, Emperor Spine is pissed, and his mood only gets worse when Baron Burr shows up and starts talking about the prophecy in his blaring monotone. Imagine what a drag this guy must be at parties. Spine hits Thistle with his scepter a few times and tells him that if he doesn’t bring back the artist by yesterday, his ass is grass. Thistle wanders off dejected, wondering why a career in Evil Henchman-ing ever sounded like a good idea. I’m told it offers excellent insurance.

In the forest, Thistle encounters Bud E. Bear, a retired athlete who is forever going on about the good ol’ days and talking in sports metaphors. Bud E.’s confined to bed due to a thorn in his paw, which Thistle kindly removes.

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In gratitude, Bud E. takes him out to the forest saloon for a drink, where Thistle listens with apparently genuine interest and admiration to Bud E.’s rambling sports stories, thus winning Bud’s eternal devotion. Really, all this bear wants out of life is for someone to listen to his sports stories while he drinks lite beer (pardon me, “lite bear.”) They have to call it that because you can’t mention alcohol in a children’s movie, but it’s pretty obvious that the animals at the saloon are getting shitfaced.

In fact, Bud E. is so delighted that he launches into a spontaneous musical number—“Let Your Fur Down With a Friend.” And, seriously, this is a pretty catchy song, one that stuck in my mind for years afterward.  The other animals all start singing along and dancing.  Fifi does this, inspiring another few gigabytes of future porn:

FluffyTail

After a few minutes, Thistle starts getting into it; his eyes do that swirly thing that people’s eyes do in cartoons when they’re drunk or hypnotized, and he abruptly floats into the air, buoyed up by little clouds of hearts. Either he’s really feeling the love in the room, or Bud E. slipped him an ecstasy tablet.

Of course, now that Thistle has seen the light, we know it’s just a matter of time before he switches sides. Hanging out with dancing, singing animals in their hippie forest commune is more fun than being beaten and insulted by an angry watermelon. While Thistle parties with his new furry brethren, Emperor Spine’s efforts to smoke out Peter become increasingly violent. First he tries to burn down the forest, then he tries to flood it. Note that this stuff is only happening because Peter is there; before this, the worst Emperor Spine ever did was chase beavers. At some point, we have to ask ourselves if Peter’s presence is doing more harm than good. Just hand him over to the Emperor and your problems will be solved, folks.

After Emperor Spine’s latest destructive snit-fit, the animals are once again rebuilding their homes, and it finally occurs to Peter to ask, “Hey, why is Spine such a dick, anyway?” After some conversation, the forest friends come to the conclusion that Spine, as a cactus, is supposed to “flower.” Cacti usually have blossoms during certain times of the year, so Spine’s anger stems from a subconscious frustration over never fulfilling his nature. (Yes, this is pretty much exactly the explanation given.) So, all they have to do is make flowers grow on his body and he’ll stop acting like a dick. Brilliant! So Thistle agrees to whip up a batch of potion that will make Emperor Spine sprout some flowers.

Before he can complete the potion, he’s captured by Spine’s men and dragged back to the castle. Spine, who’s quite miffed at his betrayal, decides to execute him at sunrise. Why villains always want to wait until sunrise in order to execute people, I don’t know…but of course, this gives our heroes the chance to rescue him. With the help of a friendly mole, J. Edgar Beaver constructs a tunnel into the dungeon where Thistle is being held captive, and they whisk him out seconds before the executioner arrives.

Peter, meanwhile, clumsily blunders into a hole in the ground…and into one of the movie’s weirdest and trippiest tangents, in which a group of anthropomorphic mushrooms capture him and tie him to a chair. Are they planning to rape him? Torture him? WORSE.

Fun times!
Kidnapped and tied up by sentient mushrooms in an underground lair. Either a bad trip or the weirdest erotic fanfic ever.

Their leader, a bearded and bespectacled fungal patriarch (probably named Papa Toadstool or something, I can’t remember his actual title), declares that after spending enough time underground with them, Peter will himself be transformed into a mushroom. I’m not really sure how this works or what they hope to accomplish by turning him into a mushroom, but at this point I think logic has been suspended. The mushroom people then launch into a song-and-dance number complete with flashing disco lights and drums. Some fro-sporting guy named Michael J. Mushroom break-dances. Strangely racist visuals ensue.

This screenshot makes me uncomfortable.
This screenshot makes me uncomfortable.

Peter eventually gets rescued by Bud E. Bear, who frightens the mushrooms away with a roar and unties him. Thistle completes the potion, the woodland creatures storm the Spine’s castle, and Peter forces the potion down the Emperor’s throat. Amazingly, this oddball scheme works. Flowers sprout all over Spine’s body, and he transforms from a bloated, angry, spiky guy into a bloated, smiling pink guy covered with blossoms. His lair also transforms from a dark, scary-looking castle to a bright happy-looking castle, and all his weapons and instruments of death transform into carnival rides.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?

With Spine now at peace, the woodland critters are safe. Peter bids a tearful goodbye to his furry friends and goes home.

Viewing this movie as a kid, I accepted everything at face value. Viewing it again as an adult—and a writer—I’m left with certain questions. Like, there’s this whole prophecy about Peter ending Emperor Spine’s reign, but in the end, why is Peter the chosen one? What exactly does he do? Yeah, he helps clean up the mess after Spine sets the forest on fire and tries to flood it, but that wouldn’t have even happened if he’d never shown up, making the entire thing kind of a self-fulfilling snake-eating-its-own-tail of pointlessness. I’d say that’s some kind of commentary on free will or destiny or something, but I feel like that would be giving the writers too much credit. And yes, Peter’s the one who physically forces the potion down Spine’s throat, but pretty much anyone with enough muscle could have done that.

In a good story, the protagonist is the protagonist for two reasons:  his choices drive the plot, and he changes in some way over the course of the story.

Throughout the movie, Peter never changes nor makes a single significant decision. Okay, he decides where to have lunch, but the hedgehog really had to help him out with that one. Really, Thistle is the only one who actually has a character arch and the only one who truly makes any tough choices.  He switches sides, risking his own life in the process, thus transforming from a cowardly underling to a…kinda less cowardly guy who lives in the woods with a talking bear.

I think we have to face facts here: Thistle is the real hero of this movie. Peter is just some guy who fell asleep under a magic tree. His actual role in bringing down Spine is tangential, leading me to wonder if that whole “prophecy” business was just something Baron Burr made up in order to fuck with Spine’s head.

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What a dick.