Monday, April 15, 2013

Dahl Week Day 1: Dahl And His Gremlins

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men

Tim Burton. Henry Selick. Mel Stuart. Danny Devito. Wes Anderson. Nicholas Roeg. Steven Spielberg. What do these guys have in common you ask? They did movie adaptations of stories made by a great British author. He is one of the greatest storytellers of our age and his unique style, his perspective and gift for twists and turns really make him stand out from all other visionaries. He's a guy whose name is often mispronounced, but at the end of the day, he's still just as legendary as L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne. He's one of my many inspirations, not only in my storytelling interest, but in my way of thinking and coming up with different ideas. He's the universally acclaimed Roald Dahl, and he's a grand storyteller that had a gift for "pure imagination".

Roald Dahl had me captivated as a child and has me captivated to this very day. I not only love his work through the movies he touched on or the books he wrote down, but for his gift to let it all out and give us jaw dropping moments and climaxes we weren't expecting. He was a brilliant inspiration and "imaginator" who always knew what to have in stories to give them proper balance and excitement. He knew how to get kids into reading and using their imaginations and he even got the adults indulged as well. He was a mastermind and had a taste for dark humor, macabre, and just all out craziness. Even when illustrations didn't depict certain scenes in his stories, you could still whip up the scenes in your very head. Roald Dahl always knew what a good story was made of and knew the proper ingredients to make his stories unique with different plots and plot points. He made a lot of remarkable works throughout his life which inspired countless filmmakers, comic book writers, screenplay writers, directors and overall dreamers, which is why we remember him. Because, he proved that even in the darkest times in our lives, we can always retreat to the corner of our very minds with figments of our dreams guiding us in the right direction. Sometimes in life, nonsense is the best medicine.

So let's pay tribute to the great Roald Dahl and the awesome stories he gave the world. Everyday this week, we'll talk about different Dahl stories, some well known, some more obscure. Either way, it's "Dahl Week" here at the Storyteller's Blog. So take out those golden tickets, strap yourself in the great glass elevator and let's get going on this great adventure. There's a lot of stories to cover, so enough chit chat! Let's sink our hands into this massive peach!

Dahl and His Gremlins

In 1943, Roald Dahl wrote a little story called The Gremlins. It was written for Walt Disney Productions, who intended to make it into a movie, but never got around to it. It's an odd, yet interesting title about little critters called "Gremlins" who wreck havoc on British aircrafts to get revenge for the destruction of their wilderness home, which is replaced by a plane making plant. The main character of Gus convinces the Gremlins to join him and the other allies in the fight against the well known enemy of the time, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The Gremlins are then trained to repair aircrafts rather than destroy them and they help Gus retain his position as the great pilot he once was. It's an interesting tale by Dahl and of course, this wasn't the first time Disney was involved with a work containing Nazis and "Mustache Man". Earlier that same year, Disney released Der Fuehrer's Face, a cartoon involving Donald Duck working in a bomb shell factory. This cartoon was meant to promote war bond selling, but has ultimately gone down as one of the best cartoons ever made, not only for it's untimely humor, but it's overall slapstick and glorification of Donald Duck's character.


Getting back to Dahl, his obscure Gremlins characters, based on the real Gremlins from English folklore, are pretty iconic in their own right. Just by looking at the illustrations, you can really see how funky and "Disney like" they are, which is probably the main reason why these little dudes are involved in the Epic Mickey series of video games. In fact, the main Gremlin character in the games is named Gus, obviously a homage to the pilot character in the original story. I also can't help but feel that The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring William Shatner was inspired by this story. Like Dahl's children's book, it has a plot about vicious creatures reigning havoc on an aircraft, although the Gremlins in that episode are much more frightening than Dahl's cute, cuddly looking Gremlins.

Then there is 1984's Gremlins, directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg. Joe Dante has gone on record saying that his movie was loosely inspired by Dahl's story, but if you have seen the movie and read the book, you know there are many significant differences. For one thing, the Gremlins, although funny and hilarious throughout most of the film, are much more menacing and destructive than Dahl's Gremlins. They spawn from a Mogwai named Gizmo after it's owner, Billy Peltzer feeds him after midnight. The Gremlins keep spawning and spawning, spreading widespread chaos and tyranny throughout the city instead of attacking aircrafts. And anyone who has seen Gremlins knows that the film is just as grotesque as it is humorous. These scaly, reptilian monsters die some of the most disgusting deaths ever committed to film, melting and exploding into piles of gross guts and goulash. This is one movie you don't want to watch while pigging out on popcorn, because it will make you want to spit that popcorn back into your hands. It's THAT disturbing.

Of course the film got an even nuttier sequel in 1990, featuring actors like Christopher Lee and John Glover. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of the Gremlins films, but they are still entertaining, cheesy fun and were slightly influenced by the Gremlins Dahl brought forward. So, in it's own strange way, we went from this.....

To this...
Fascinating, isn't it. Anyway, Dahl Week is far from over. Tune in tomorrow where we will have a look at what's probably Dahl's most well known and cherished story. You might have heard of it. It involves a little boy and a man with a funny hat who owns a chocolate factory. Oops, I gave too much away already. Bye folks!

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