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Retro Ranting – Little Shop

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RR_LS_3When I began this sporadic series of nostalgia pieces last year, it was with the expectation that I’d be knocking them out on a far more regular basis. As it happens there are a fair few in the chamber, but the exercise as a whole has made me realise something downright chilling about myself.

I’m kind of a cheerful person.

I’d go so far as to say I’m brimming with positivity; I both advocate and practice conflict resolution in a civilised manner. I’ve remained on friendly terms with at least 70% of my exes. I can tolerate bawling infants for entire minutes at a time. I’m basically this century’s Gandhi.

This is terrible news as far as the further cultivation of my grumpy, sardonic online persona, something I probably already put the kibosh on two years ago with this review. The lame confession I have to make is it’s just a lot easier to be characterful as a curmudgeonly shithead rather than funnel who I actually am into these articles.

So I’m doing a rebrand. These are no longer retro ‘rantings’, they’re retro ramblings. I’m Marathon/Snickers-ing it, maafuggas.

But I’m not too inconsiderate as to saddle you lovely readers with such a tonal shift after so little warning. If I’m doing a transitional piece I should pick a show that’s fairly easy to find fault with and allow me to shake out some remaining droplets of venom.

One for the road, then; For this case study I’m going to approach the matter in a far less thorough way. No DVD boxsets will be watched. No Netflix streams will flow through my various gadgetry. This one resorts to memory primarily, to keep any residual cynicism alive and allow for a clearer, purer vitriol to dribble out of these pudgy fingertips. Well, that’s one reason – the other is it’s absolutely impossible to track down the goddamn show, save for a handful of mercilessly critiqued YouTube videos.
RR_LS_4The show in question is Little Shop. Sound familiar? Didn’t think so. Even during its original, paltry thirteen-episode Channel 4 broadcast I got the impression I was the only one tuning in when canvassing other kids at school . The other reason it probably doesn’t ring a bell is that it only shares half the title of the property on which it’s based, Little Shop of Horrors. Remember that one? I certainly hope so, ’cause it’s brilliant. As best I can tell it exists as three relatively popular cult outings – a patchy 1960 Roger Corman film notable for Jack Nicholson’s darkly comic turn as a young masochist; a tongue-in-cheek broadway musical and a 1986 Frank Oz film. The latter is far more an adaptation of the musical than a remake of the Corman film, cheesey choreography, showtunes and all. The premise sees Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), a loner orphan who has been taken in by Skid Row flower store owner Mr. Mushnik, less out of altruism than for free labour to assist with his flagging business. Desperate to win the affections of his co-worker Audrey (who, unbeknownst to him, already fancies him back) Seymour drums up business for the shop with a particularly unusual plant he happens upon, naming it Audrey II. The plant, as it turns out, is in fact an alien – one of many, as the original intended ending elucidates – with a thirst for blood and, by extension, world domination. Add to that some sadomasochistic fun with Steve Martin and Bill Murray and you’ve got yourself a winner on your hands.

It can be sort of fascinating to see how a premise, especially one whose source material was targeted toward adults, is adapted either for a wider audience or to be animated feasibly, as with The Real Ghostbusters and its many brothers Back To The Future: The Animated Series, Beetlejuice, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures – the list goes on. At first glance, prior incarnations of Little Shop of Horrors, particularly the Oz film, would translate to something for kids pretty simply. In fact, it was probably one of my favourite not-for-kids kids’ films as a…kid, right up there with the Gremlins movies. Take out the horror/murder elements – which were comedically exaggerated to the point of being perfectly okay for children, anyway – and they were essentially Muppet movies with a smattering of edge.

Honestly, were kids really such pussies? Maybe my friends and I had atypically thick skin but it seemed that an awful lot of heavy shit rolled off our backs. In Never-Ending Story they killed a horse, for chrissakes. Not only that, they hammer home the reason the horse dies is it’s being literally drowned in its own sadness, so we know it suffers until the last moment of its miserable life (sorry, spoiler alert). But I digress.

At any rate, with expectations unrealistically raised I tuned in to be presented by a staggeringly reconfigured setup. A (now-preteen) Seymour Krelborn works at a downtown flower shop run by his unforgiving boss Mr. Mushnik, alongside (the also now-preteen) Audrey, a brunette with a brainy head on her shoulders as opposed to Ellen Greene’s brilliantly airheaded blonde ditz. As with the film, Seymour yearns for Audrey, though unlike the film she doesn’t secretly reciprocate these affections. Replacing Steve Martin’s psychotic dentist Orin Scrivello is Payne Driller, the generic school bully character whose viciousness doesn’t extend far beyond the occasional mischievous prank. He has a canine sidekick too, because, well, why not? Peripheral characters pop up (some identifiable with the original 1960 Corman film, such as the flower-eating shop patron) and there are some additional, not especially consequential changes thrown on top – Seymour is no longer an orphan; Audrey is now Mushnik’s daughter; the three brassy, broadway belters from the movie have become mewling flowers for some reason – and so forth.

Predictably though, the most significant and least forgivable change is that of the main character, Audrey II (now Audrey Jr). The best way to describe it is to just show you:

If you made it through that I’ll give you some time to wash the blood out of your eyes.

Back? Good, good.

That opening credits sequence brings up quite a lot of memories. I sort of recall enjoying the bit where he sings, but that may have been gilded by the sweet reprieve of him briefly not rapping. I also believed this song to be the origin of the phrase “Yea boi” for many years.

“Oh, what’s the big deal?” I hear you ask, “It’s a cartoon about a rapping plant, give it a break.”

To that I’ll remind you all of the source material. Audrey II, as realised in the ’86 film, is one of the greatest animatronic villains of all time, right up there with the Xenomorph, BP Richfield and Glenn Beck. And, while he may have rapped the odd line in the closing number, he was an R’n’B crooner above all else. He was in the Four Tops, for crying out loud.

I also remain just as baffled now as I did then by the style choice of the show. While the opening credits scream 90s in a way that couldn’t be more blatant if they’d dressed the Fresh Prince in a plant suit, the overall look and feel didn’t seem at all contemporary. I was rarely critical of animation at seven, but something about it just seemed…lazy. The character designs looked like notebook doodles, the line work and in-betweening came off as rushed and the typical colouring approach to the backgrounds went beyond stylised and more into the territory of an onscreen ocular migraine. Colours and shapes didn’t complement one another, they were at war with each other.
RR_LS_1And yet I persevered, hoping that it’d get good. Presuming, like the chubby little idiot I was, that the other shoe would drop and Junior would reveal himself to be the bloodthirsty entity of the film. Inexplicably, I also sort of rooted for Seymour and Audrey to get together; Despite how shambolic the whole affair was, some part of me was invested. I don’t remember it having any clear ending, and in all likelihood it probably just stopped without ceremony as with all half-season shows that don’t take off.

Episode premises only exist in brief snatches of memory: Seymour somehow gets a pair of flying shoes…Something about Junior having a magical telekinesis power…obligatory Halloween episode…

One of them I did have on tape for a while, however, and such is the spongelike quality of our brains when they’re all young’n’supple I can remember a lot of it clearly. In one scene a particularly lachrymose Seymour wanders the rain-slicked streets on his lonesome, atonally bleating the following song (transcribed from memory):

I’m feeling unloved and unnoticed
Not to mention unappreciated
Maybe this world would be a better place
If I were never created
I’m just a doormat, I’m a floormat
When it comes to being good at nothing
I’m an overachiever
If I were to vanish, turn to vapour
There’d be nothing in the paper ’bout me
Not the TV news either
Nobody really cares about me
We’d all be happier without me

I’d like to point out that the reason the song was rewound enough to linger in my memory this way comes down to it being one of the show’s better (in other words, no rapping) songs – musically evoking the 1950s soul numbers from the film such as “Skid Row (Downtown)” – rather than the wrist-slittingly depressing lyrics. If that kind of emo nonsense was considered acceptable for kids, surely the plant could’ve eaten at least one goddamn dentist?

Seymour’s maudlin introspection is, as it turns out, a setup for the inevitable movie parody storyline (Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, in this instance), where in his sleep he’s visited by a guardian angel (Junior) who shows him what the world would be like had he not been born. To the show’s credit, they go with the flipped ‘everyone-would-be-way-happier-without-you’ angle, which appealed to a youthful me’s gestating cynicism, one which would later be nurtured fully by the likes of Ren & Stimpy and Beavis & Butt-Head. I have no recollection of how the story wrapped up, as the last couple of minutes were lost, taped over by an episode of GamesMaster.

Damn you, Patrick.

Damn you, Patrick, you and your big, pixelly head. Although I did appreciate you helping me find that last keyhole in Super Mario World.

Here is the only additional evidence of the show’s existence, the first episode that a generous YouTuber has uploaded for the benefit of an incredulous viewing public. For any young’uns out there who get annoyed at people my age claiming the cartoons of our generation were far superior to the crap out today, simply present them with the following:

Game, set and match.

Little Shop cannot be bought anywhere and, for all intents and purposes, never existed. But the original film now has a fancy director’s cut with a much better ending, so check that out instead.

Items mentioned in this article:

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut (Blu-ray)

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut (Blu-ray)

£8.05

Buy Now on Amazon

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut (R1 DVD)

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut (R1 DVD)

£4.59

Buy Now on Amazon

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