Three Mercer Mayer Stories

A cool childrens' video I bought a couple of months ago, and by cool I mean mondo-bizzaro!
October 08, 2007
OK, you guys remember Mercer Mayer?

He wrote the "Little Critter" stories (and illustrated them), and some lesser-known book series such as "Little Monster" and "Critters of the Night" and some other classics like "A Boy, A Dog and a Frog" and "There's an Alligator Under My Bed."

But what many people don't remember is that in the year of 1985, the Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Golden Books) had a home video series called "Golden Book Video." They released many titles that year, and most of them were "storybook videos" using illustrations from books given the "picturemation" treatment in a cheesy manner.

I remember viewing one as a kid called "Five Sesame Street Stories." The charcters talked, but their mouths never moved. They had some cheesy partial-animation effects. There was cheesy-sounding music in the background. And in that video, they had a full voice cast, but the only Muppeteers they got were Frank Oz (Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Bert, Grover and Cookie Monster), Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) and Fran Brill (various female Muppets). And they called Maria "Dolores" for some reason and made her sound AMERICAN instead of Latin! It was very bizzare, but I enjoyed it.

So, at the end of this August, I went to a used video store downtown to check out their catalogue, and I was lucky to find another Golden Book Video! It's called "Herbert the Timid Dragon and Other Tales," and had a copyright date of 1985 and 1991. My mind immediately flashed back to "Five Sesame Street Stories," and so I bought it just for kicks (it was a dollar, plus tax). The video was in great condition, and so after watching it a bit, I hooked up a VCR to my Pinnacle Moviebox device, opened Windows Movie Maker and captured the video into it and took screenshots of it, and I also scanned the cover artwork into it! Here is the cover of the video.

And the back...

This is obviously a reissue print of an older Golden Book Video called "3 Mercer Mayer Stories," but nothing has been changed. It was also reissued in 1998 but most likely with different opening and closing logos.

OK, so these "3 Mercer Mayer Stories" include "Herbert the Timid Dragon" (originally published in 1980), "Just For You" (a Little Critter story originally published in 1975) and "How the Trollusk Got His Hat" (originally published in 1979). Let's see what's in this tape...

We start with the usual Golden Book Video FBI warning, which is customized to mention Mercer Mayer...

Then we see the animated Golden Book Video opening bumper. It has really cool animation and music, and I also uploaded it to Youtube as well.

We see the title card for the "Herbert the Timid Dragon" story, which starts with a pretty cool effect of "HERBERT THE FEARSOME DRAGON" writing out in a fire effect on the sign, then a knight in armor rides by on a horse (well, the horse is actually shaking up and down) and then this little orange lizard-like creature called Dilly alters the sign to say "HERBERT THE TIMID DRAGON," and then he reads the title (Dilly has this "hip" African American-type voice) and says "Adapted from the Golden Book of the same name by Mercer Mayer!"

Now the story can begin. It is all done in the "Picturemation" style using Mercer Mayer's illustrations, and as I said, they talk, but their lips don't move, and during close-ups of the characters they have them blink, and they slide characters by to make them walk, etc. It almost resembles one of those cheap Flash-produced Internet cartoons. Here, Herbert reads a book about Knights in Armor and wants to be a knight so badly, but he is very timid. He's even afraid of his own shadow!

To simulate the effect of a refrigerator door being shut, they animated a shadow of Dilly slamming the fridge door with his foot! It looks very un-professional.

Then to find a way to be a knight, Dilly takes Herbert out on a quest to do so. Dilly keeps acting like he's Herbert's agent or a movie director, calling him "Herbert, baby," and stuff like that. I bet he wasn't originally like that in the book version, and they did this to appeal to modern kids at the time. Herbert is afraid of the wind, and a rabbit and the sound of his tail scraping on the ground.

Herbert walks, er, SLIDES through the forest... Dilly slides behind him holding up his tail.

Now Herbert and Dilly find a "princess in trouble." Her wheel fell off the carriage and cannot be repaired.

Here's a commonly-used shot of Herbert throughout this story. Here he calls it "sweet destiny" since he gets to help the princess. He thinks she's being kidnapped, so he grabs the princess and takes her to his cave. The men think HERBERT kidnapped the princess!

Turns out that this is a spoiled, bratty princess. They keep using this shot from the book and playing the same cheesy canned music during these scenes. She can't understand Herbert's "dragon talk" so she accuses him of kidnapping him and says the king will punish him!

They try to lead her out, but she can't stay after dark. I bet many of this material was improvised for the book. "This way out, princess" says Dilly in his suave voice. Herbert recommends using the radio to calm her down and it plays some lute music, but...

"I HATE DRAGON MUSIC!" screeches the princess, and she destroys the radio. "Don't take it too hard, Herbie baby. Everyone's a critic," Dilly says. Ha-ha, little critic joke. She then goes on to completely total Herbert's home, and she even destroys his bed! Then a knight comes over to save the princess, but Herbert gets so nervous he begins to expel smoke from his nostrils. This causes the king's whole army to come and save the girl. But then Herbert gets even more nervous, and coughs and sneezes, resulting in fire coming out of his nose!

It melts a cannon and burns a battering ram as well.

The king tells his army, "Are you men or mice?" The army says in high-pitched voices, "Squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak!" as we pan past them. Now that the army is scared away, the princess is really mad and storms off.

Herbert's friend, a troll, comes to visit and they have tea and chat a bit. Half the conversation is done in silhouette, and some close-ups of the dragon and troll.

Herbert learns from the troll that a villain has kidnapped the princess, and only Herbert can save her since the king no longer has an army. He reluctantly goes to do so.

But then the villain's army begin dropping rocks on Herbert. This doesn't hurt him, but it terrifies him...

And this commonly-used shot of Dilly is seen as we hear him talking cooly on how being scared causes him to sneeze, and he does so! We see orange flashes of light, hear flames roaring and a crash of thunder and see boulders flying toward the screen, and...

"My hero!" the princess says. The king is so happy that Herbert the dragon saved the princess's life that he knights Herbert!

Herbert sleeps in his new knight hat as Dilly explains the epilogue, how only he and the princess know how timid he is and make sure nobody scares him as a balloon pops near him, briefly waking him up until he goes back to sleep.

Now the credits for this story role as lute music accompanies it.

Then comes my favorite part of the video... a Little Critter story called "Just For You!" I remember the book as if it were yesterday. I will go over the differences between the book and video versions here as well. For this story, all the dialogue is done by Little Critter, and it sounds like he's voiced by a young boy here.

It starts with Little Critter reading the title and then saying "Adapted from the Golden Look Look Book by Mercer Mayer." Then there's a little song with pictures of Little Critter doing various activities as he sings how he will do something special for his mom. Now we zoom into a picture of Little Critter as he introduces himself. (He didn't introduce himself in the book version)

As an electric piano plays in the background, Little Critter prepares breakfast for his mom as the grasshopper hops in, but the eggs slip and nearly squish the spider! The animation of the eggs falling is pretty decent. Then he tries to mop the floor but causes a lot of bubbles and he gets in an accident (he doesn't in the book). Then he tries to put away the dishes (he's practically sliding on the floor carrying the dishes!), but he hits a wet spot on the floor and crudely flips upward...

Then we see dishes flying up and down in a crudely-animated manner, and then a crash is heard, and we see Little Critter crying like a baby as his mom consoles him (animated tears are added to the still illustration). Then it fades to a shot of him as he says "You're going shopping? SHOPPING? I'll help, Mom!" (that line was added for the video) Then he tries to carry the groceries, and struggles with it, saying that it "weighs a hundred million pounds!" Then the bag breaks and the contents spill. In the book version, there was a frog scout following them, but he doesn't appear in the video version.
Then Little Critter eats his sandwich just for Mom, but not the crusts.

In the book, Little Critter just bounces on the bed as his mom comes in. But in this version, Little Critter says he will take a nap "just for you," but instead he plays "Space Critter" for a while with a paper airplane, and THEN he jumps on the bed as the mom comes in (he's sliding up and down like Cosmo and Wanda of "The Fairly Oddparents!")

He tries to mow the lawn, but he's too little. Then he picks an apple as the spider and grasshopper watch and we hear him eat it...

"Here, Mom. I picked this apple just for you. But on the way into the house, I got hungry. Hee-hee-hee-hee."

Then we see the shot of him holding the dishes again as he slides by, but this time he says "I wanna set the table, just for you." But instead he parks himself in front of the TV and in the book version, he just watches a rock concert. In this remake, first he watches the rock concert, and then a Western...

And a suction-cup arrow flies onto a plate his mom is holding. Then he tries to take a bath (as they show a custom-made illustration for the video with a messy Little Critter holding a towel), and he in the original, he says "I wanted to not splash in my bath just for you, but there was a storm."

In this one, he says he wants to bathe for his mom. But we see his badly-animated arm splash the water, and then the screen shakes back and forth in the above shot and a rubber duckie falls out in Picturemation-style as he says, "There's rough sailing ahead. Here comes the storm! Watch out, tidal wave! Duck overboard!" Then his mom comes in scowling, so he says "I tried not to splash just for you, but there was a storm!" and he giggles.

Then Little Critter wants to do something very special, "just for you. Here I come!" He slides by, and then kisses his mother.

"Love you, Mom!"
Then the spider and grasshopper kiss! "I did it!" Little critter says, and then the credits roll for this story as a reprise for the "Just For You" song is sung.

Then Little Critter blows a bubble-gum bubble with "THE END" on it and it pops.

The final story is called "How The Trollusk Got His Hat," and it's pretty odd. It's musical and tries to be "toe-tapping fun." The title card has the story title and then a balloon floats up with "Adapted from the Golden Book" on it, and then the Zipperump-a-Zoo rides on it, saying in his cute high-pitched voice "By Mercer Mayer!"

I have to admit, I love this little guy. I remember him from the book "Little Monster at School," but he was silent. In this, they gave him dialogue!

The story is narrated by some guy playing a banjo whom sounds like he's obviously voiced by a woman, and his banjo sounds like a synthesizer. I'm betting in the book he was just a background character. This guy sings a song "That's how the Trollusk got his hat!"

OK. so the plot has some big-nosed guy named Reggie McCleod losing his Squeezle-skin top hat (the wind, or in this case, an unseen hand pulling an animation cel grabs it away) and he begins to look for it. The hat slides through the air and spins around a bit.

Reggie flies in a junky old airplane to chase the hat, but as it slides through the sky, it turns downward, slides past down, and then... "TWAA-A-A-A-A-ANG!" The screen flashes orange and we see the plane spin around and then we see it totaled. Like they didn't have the money to use a decent plane crash sound effect. How cheesy can Picturemation get?

Hey, look! A Grithix made a cameo! For those who don't know, a Grithix is a fictional Mercer Mayer monster. Little Monster had a Grithix for a teacher, for one, and Professor Wormbog collected one as well.

The hat flies into some soup a Stamp-Collecting Trollusk is making. The singer calls it "goop," and then the Trollusk corrects him. The Trollusk speaks in a really hip, jive sort of voice, almost like a beatnik or hippie. He seems even more "hip" than Dilly did earlier on in the video! The trollusk was making tango soup.

"Tango and hat soup?" the cute Zipperump-a-Zoo asks. "YUCK! There goes my lunch!" I bet that line was also added for the video. But it works.
Now the hip Trollusk and Zipperump-A-Zoo set out to find its owner. He reads the label on the hat and go looking for Reggie McCleod. He can't transfer it at a post-office (he loves stamps, I forgot to mention, hence his nickname, the Stamp-Collecting Trollusk), and tries to take a bus and train (with a "READ GOLDEN BOOKS" advertisement on it) but fails as the narrator rhymes it in a jazzy manner. They even go to the movies just as Reggie is, but do not notice each other until out onto the street, when Reggie buys a brand-new hat and suit and walks off when...

BAM! The picture spins around as they collide with each other. Reggie is glad to have his old Squeezle-skin cap, and the Trollusk says in his jive voice, "How do? I've been looking for YOU!"

The narrator sings how Reggie gives the trollusk his new Pindle-fez and they become best friends. They do things together.

Here's what the Trollusk does best! Reg likes to gather old dinosaur bones as well. So the narrator sings a farewell with his synth banjo, and then the credits roll. They're a little longer because the video is now practically over! Then some copyright screens come up, and something even more bizzare than the video itself comes up...

The closing logo for this video starts with some planets in outer space as sci-fi sounds are heard, and then a cheaply-animated comet comes up and whooshes toward the screen, and it then hits the screen and blows up! Then the Golden Book Video logo zooms out glowing blue, and an odd humming sound is heard. Then it zooms out with a weird shadow effect.
Man, if you thought the Screen Gems "S From H**l" and Viacom "V of Doom" were creepy...

Well, that's my Golden Book Video experience with "Herbert the Timid Dragon and Other Tales!" I'm sure many children of the 1980s and early 1990s grew up with videos like these. Too bad I never saw this as a kid; I'd probably enjoy it. But this video makes me feel like a kid at heart!
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