Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Rat (Redux)

Rats have always been filed under "Detestable Vermin" since the beginning of time. The reasons should be obvious. Think about where we always find them: a trashcan, a swamp, the sewer, and even a dump. They live in all the places that humans don't really want to deal with, yet they seem perfectly pleased to be there.

Our dark perception of the rodent has since led us to generally categorize them as villains in fiction. It is a common occurrence that I very much agree with. I like rats as villains. Here is a creature that loves everything rotten and disgusting about the world. Why wouldn't we expect them to be against us?

Now, where I understand that all species of rodents can be portrayed as good or evil in their own way, I believe I covered that well enough in my first rat blog. So I am going to focus on the evil of rats this time. Try not to get too uncomfortable; although, it should come with the territory.

In the movie "The Tale of Despereaux" (2008) rats were most certainly the villains of the story. Yes, there was ONE--kind of, sorta of--good rat, but it was very clear that the world was filled with a majority of nasty ones. Quite a daunting little army to overcome. The problem with rats is that they eat anything--even each other when given the opportunity. Can you imagine being a tiny, little mouse trying to sneak past all those savage creatures? It also did not help that their great rat leader was one of the smart ones!

My absolute favorite animated film was called "The Mouse and his Child." (1977) It is based on a novel by Russell Hoban. I have completely reviewed them both, and I must say that they do well to capture the society of ratkind within fiction. I was happily disgusted to see the main antagonist, Manny Rat, feeding off the corpses of fallen soldiers in a recent shrew war. The movie and book showed rats to be party animals with absolutely no shame. They ate anything, drank anything, and played in garbage to their heart's content. And as we have come to expect, they were really quite evil.

In my former rat spotlight, I mentioned a movie called "Heidi's Song." (1982) Well, I'm mentioning it again because it really is quite relevant. You see, I read the actual book "Heidi" by Johanna Spyri, There are no rats in that book; although, the girl was somewhat concerned about running into them. In the animated film, Paramount Pictures decided to go ahead and give the girl to the evil rats lurking around in the cellar. Their leader--voiced by none other than Sammy Davis Jr.--did this amazing song and dance routine that was all about how evil rats were. I still love that scene more than anything else in that movie.

In my own fiction, I have ventured into the realm of evil concerning rats. My very first novel (currently unpublished) was called "Rat," and it was about a very evil example of the rodent named Cornelius Wolfington the Third. Greatly inspired by "The Mouse and his Child," I likewise portrayed the rats as party animals but also included their more vicious side.

Lately, I have been working on a new breed of evil rat which I have simply called the "Voodoo Rat." It is a major work in progress, and I have yet to write any story for them. But you may be sure that they will be very dark and mischievous creatures when they are complete.

So there you have it: some marvelous examples of dark and terrifying rats! I don't believe this trend will ever end, and why should it? Nothing makes a story more interesting than a vile villain for the reader to despise, and the rat fits the bill in many ways. I am sure we will see more of those guys crawling out of the sewers to wreak havoc on our peaceful civilization for many generations to come.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, please comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Hisssssss!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Mouse (Redux)

When I began this spotlight series, I started off not really knowing how I wanted to present it. After doing two of them--those being the ones for mice and rats--I lost interest in it for nearly an entire year. Now that the drive for it has returned with great vigor, I feel the need to double back to the one that started it all--the mouse.

Mice are well-known for being very tiny, but for some reason, we have always portrayed them as being very courageous. It defies nature in most ways. Real mice are very cowardly, and will not dare to stand up to a larger animal--especially a predator. Fiction has traditionally dictated the opposing viewpoint. Let's have a look at some of them.

"No fear! No retreat!" Sounds like the battle cry of a brave knight who is facing unspeakable odds. In actuality, this courageous shout came from none other than Reepicheep the mouse--as seen in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Despite the fact that this mouse was armed to fight, there really should be no reason why he should be considered a remarkable combatant, but through raw courage and his own unique deftness, he was able to best even the largest foe. The most interesting thing is that we expect him to be brave, when logic would dictate otherwise.

I am an avid reader of the comic book series called "Mouse Guard." In this universe, mice really are like mice should be; however, there are an elite order of them that courageously defy their nature in order to protect the weak. Now, isn't that interesting? These mice choose to be more than they are naturally for the greater good. It seems to me that we could learn from these little guys. I understand we all have talents and skills, but far more credit should go to those who use them to help others for its own sake.

I would be remiss if I did not mention "Red Wall" which contains all kinds of mouse-like bravery. That is a popular one too. Most of my friends speak well of it, and what I have seen of it is very satisfying. It never hurts to pit a mouse against an evil rat.

Speaking of evil rats, there were plenty to do battle with in "The Tale of Despereaux." I saw the movie and was rather impressed by its message. In many ways, it was a mousy take on Don Quixote. In this case, the mouse defied his cowardly brethren for the sake of courage and honor. Very inspiring--if not sometimes a little weird.

Mice also have a cuter side to them which is also depicted heavily in fiction. Stewart Little is a prime example. I--for one--love the idea of being friends with a talking mouse. In Canada, there was a fun cartoon show called "Eckhart" about a little mouse trying to get along with his friends. I loved it. Christmas is no stranger to mice, and I likely have seen every single mouse-related special to date; however, my favorite will always be "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1974) which focused almost entirely on the "mouse" from the poem.

Really, I could keep this up for another hour, but I am going long as it is. Needless to say, mice are everywhere, and they are dearly loved and appreciated by the masses. In my own personal fiction, I have written of mice many times. In my published story "The Imaginist," the main protagonist had a mouse companion by the name of Montague. He was a little mouse with a monocle who was rather fussy and arrogant. Despite his failings, he always seemed to steal the hearts of the readers.

In my unpublished universe of "Tooth and Tail," I portray mice as the ruling class. They also make for very brave knights in the military. The king is even a mouse! Mice really are my favorite rodent which is likely why I always seem to give them some level of authority.

In my "Fairyland" universe, I portray the rodent as more timid-natured; although, I believe they could be riled up to fight. I gave them a city called Mousania, and every year they have a march called the Annual Mousania Squeak Street Parade! Can you think of anything better than to watch a bunch of mice have a parade? I sure cant!

In closing, mice are just squeaking awesome! They have somehow captured our very hearts, and we just cannot get enough of them. The little guys really do well in showing us that we can be better than we think. Sometimes, we all can feel small. The world is a big place, and it is easy to feel unimportant. But whenever we see a mouse raise a sewing needle into the air and cry out for battle, we should take note of it and understand that in reality, we really can be great. We must only try to accomplish the goal with brave and willing hearts.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you liked it, you can leave a comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Ta ta for now!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Beaver

Here's an easy one. Beavers are known the world wide as natures construction workers. They are pretty much the poster-animal for hard word and diligence. Don't understand it? You must not know beavers!

Let's break it down. These little guys are equipped with the latest technology in wood-cutting bucked teeth. They have these spectacular flat tails that appear to have lost a battle with a waffle iron. They industrially clear out the forests of trees and use them to make dams--actual dams--where they also live and raise families. What's so great about living in a dam? How about everything?! There's something just so cool about that! They dam up a river and then live inside of it. Nothing is cooler as far as I am concerned.

In fiction, the beaver is likewise portrayed at the industrial worker. They have made many appearances in cartoons in just about every era of such media. I got to tell you, there is something hilarious about a bunch of beavers wearing hard hats going around yelling out, "Timber!" I have also read old west stories about beavers that were quite amusing and even one where a human fugitive interloped inside a beaver dam much to the little rodent's chagrin.

For me, the grand achievement of beaver-kind was the Nickelodeon cartoon show known as "The Angry Beavers." The show was about two brother beavers named Norbert and Daggett who live with each other in a very stylishly decked-out dam. What was the plot? I have seen all sixty-three episodes and I have yet to really determine what it is. The basic idea is sibling rivalry--Norbert was the cool, beatnik brother that everything good had to happen to, while Daggett was often the fall guy always in his brother's shadow. Everything seemed to come from that general idea, but there was not much of a long-lasting narrative. Nevertheless, the show made the idea of living as beavers seem very cool, and on top of it, it was a remarkably funny cartoon.

The popular stereotype is exactly what I would draw from. I love the ides of the beaver being an industrious species. They are diligent creatures who believe in progress built upon hard work. The hard hats just make them cute. Fiction--in general--is capable of evolution. People can often imagine newer and better ideas that can even create new standards. In this case, I must agree with the old idiom "If it an't broke, don't fix it." I like them just as they have been historically presented, and I really don't have any desire to change it; however, you might be surprised what I can accomplish with a common stereotype. The possibilities are greater than you might imagine.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or I can also be reached by email at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Timber!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Prairie Dog

There are many, many species of rodents out there--far more than I will be able to make blogs about. Not every species will inspire books, cartoons, and movies to make characters of them, and I understand this. But I cannot help but be rather stupefied by how the fascinating prairie dog has been overlooked.

All you must do to enjoy these critters is simply watch their daily habits from afar. They seem to almost mimic the social structure of people, and it is quite fun to observe. Now, I know that most humans don't burrow under the ground to make their homes, but we do--at least--HAVE homes and entryways that others recognize as private property. We live on streets and form communities with very distinct social structures. We even visit each other once in a while for favors or simply to have a chat. The same seems to be true for these eccentric rodents.

You'll notice that these creatures live in a bustling community made up of holes. Visits and chatter are a common thing. Sometimes, one seems to act as constable and dictate either laws or the day's general news of fascination to the masses, and they all listen with grave interest. Of course, they may not be saying anything at all, but what fun it is to imagine that they are!

It was a common thing for wagon travelers to pass by a prairie dog "village" and see them all come out to watch the spectacle as it went by. It was like seeing a rare passing comet that everyone went outdoors just so they could see it. The resulting tableau of the image brings to mind a simple town filled with simple folk who marvel about simple things. We have very similar occurrences in our own human society.

The only notable fiction that I discovered concerning the prairie dogs was a short-lived cartoon called "Little Dogs on the Prairie." It was a Christian show made by the same people responsible for the famed radio drama "Adventures in Odyssey," which I was a fan of at a much younger age. "Little Dogs on the Prairie" only lasted three episodes, but I will attest to it being top-notch entertainment.

The show portrayed the rodents as living in an old west village. Everyone there was simple-minded country folk who would find some light adventure as something new would show up in the village. The hilarious thing that always got me about the show was that the buildings were just fronts (as one might find on a movie set.) Once you pass through the door to one of the rodent's homes, you would find the hole leading down into their actual abode. I thought this was terribly clever.

For myself, I believe that prairie dogs should be portrayed as a social community--if done at all. A lone prairie dog would quite literally be a mistake. Here is a rodent that is all about the social and family structure that we all sometimes take for granted. We can learn from them! It is a shame that they have not been given more chances at fame. Perhaps, I shall have to be the one to do it. Only time will tell.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it, please comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. TTFN!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rodent Spotlight: Chipmunk

Although closely related to their squirrel cousins, the chipmunk is easy to differentiate. For one, the chipmunk's tail is not as showy. That is not to say that the rodent had a failure of a tail--far from it in fact. I always found the chipmunk tail to be cute in its own way. I believe it has something to do with how the stripes on their back flow right into it. Does that seem like a peculiar observation? If it does, you may forget how often I consider things like this--even on a daily basis.

I love rodents, and I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge a North American species that has gotten so much notoriety. Now, I have not written anything of them personally... yet, but you must imagine by now that I have an opinion about them.

Let us first begin with the two Disney characters that have scurried into the hearts of people since 1943: Chip and Dale! What is not to love about these guys? In the olden days, they were just two woodland chipmunks trying to save up food for the winter when someone like Donald Duck would come and just mess everything up for them. This, naturally, gave them the supreme moral authority to get revenge on the duck and enjoy every moment of it in the process. Similar formulas have been accomplished within other franchises, but in this case, everyone almost always sided with Chip and Dale mainly because they felt that Donald Duck deserved the punishment. The hilarity of the duo was how much fun they seemed to have in obtaining their revenge. This showed itself as they would reenact their deed in pantomime followed by a bout of adorable laughter.

Later these two characters would be re-imagined in the show "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" where they would team up with two mice and a housefly to do good deeds around the city. I enjoyed how they expanded much on the personalities of the characters. Chip was cast as the more level headed sleuth, and Dale was the more carefree and silly one of the bunch. This is how it always was for the two, but the personalities came out far more clearly in the new show.

In 1958, we were introduced to the still famous musical group "Alvin and the Chipmunks" when a creative genius by the name of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. released a song called "Witch Doctor." It was the beginning of a long career for these guys, and it spawned a couple of TV series as well as a lot of films. Now, I'll be honest: I never really thought the lil guys looked anything remotely like chipmunks. This was later remedied with the new movies, and I wholeheartedly saw it as a major improvement to their looks. Regardless of how you saw it, they WERE chipmunks, and they belong in the hall of rodent fame for it.

I'll say it again: I love their cute, little tails. I also like the designer racing stripes that run down their backs. To me, chipmunks seem to be as frisky and playful as their squirrel cousins, but I see them as being a bit more levelheaded from a fictional standpoint. Squirrels have a tendency towards trouble, but chipmunks seem like they will just go about their business unless otherwise molested. They do seem to have the capacity to form into teams and take on anyone who would give them trouble. Don't believe me? Just ask Chip and Dale what they think about it.

If you enjoyed this blog, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Squeak!