Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review: Goosebumps "An Old Story"

You know, this episode does have a good lesson.

You dang kids these days with your FaceTubes and TweetVines are gonna get old faster than you think.

The true horror of this episode.
This episode (and, of course, the short story it's based on) plays on two oft-overlooked childhood fears.

First, the fear of strangers. After all, how do Jon and Tom know that this woman is really their Aunt? In fact, in the original story, she's not. (In the original twist ending, Dahlia moved on to another house.) So for all intents and purposes, a stranger has found her way into Jon and Tom's house and is now in charge of taking care of them. And she doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Second of all, trying new foods. Yes, really.

Kids have a reluctance to try new things, and this episode basically shows a worst-case scenario in that respect. The strange, new food is delicious... but it also transforms them into old people. It plays on the basic fear of trying new foods by suggesting that even if whatever you're trying becomes your new favorite food, it could have disastrous consequences you could never have predicted.

Sure, the episode devolves into geriatric humor, but think about how horrific such premature aging actually is. These kids have had their lives stolen from them by somebody who, to put it bluntly, is in the human trafficking business.

I mean, Jon and Tom are being sold to two women who have no intention of letting them go. And... yeah, looking at this episode with an adult mindset, it's pretty obvious that Mimi and Lillian are... romantically interested in Jon and Tom.

She even wore her best leopard print jumpsuit. She usually saves that thing for bingo.
So... yeah, Aunt Dahlia is basically selling sex slaves. Rated TV-Y7, everybody!

Where the story falls apart is the whole baby food thing. It's not even magic baby food... and yet it can de-age people who eat it? This would seem to suggest that Aunt Dahlia isn't a witch, despite her evil laughter, but this is just what prunes do in this universe.

This makes little sense, because you'd think this would have been discovered ages ago. So let's toss out the idea that the stereotypical foods for the young and old (baby food and prunes, respectively) are inherently age-altering.

So then why did the baby food de-age the boys? Well, that makes sense. It's the antidote to whatever bad mojo Dahlia worked in with the prunes. Fair enough.

But then why does the baby food de-age Jon further after returning to normal? Is that just what baby food does? As I mentioned in the Recap, this should logically mean that babies would never grow old enough to be able to eat solid foods.

But I don't blame R.L. Stine. The logic gaps raised by the episode's twist ending aren't his fault, since the short story had a different twist originally.

Jon and Tom (Jordan Allison and Kyle Downes)

Man, the worst part about writing these Reviews is having to talk about some of these protagonists. Sure, there are certainly some easier ones to talk about. Lucy Dark. Carly Beth Caldwell. Skipper Mathews.

But more often than not, it simply boils down to "ACTOR does a good job with the material."

Once again, this is the case. The actors do a good job with the material, even if the characters don't have much personality beyond "Let's find something to eat."

Still, there are a few good moments as they interact with each other, trying to sort out their odd Aunt.

Aunt Dahlia (Patrica Gage)
The TV version of Aunt Dahlia is one of the most despicable villains in Goosebumps. Specifically, because she's actually related to the boys she's stealing the youth from so she can sell them off for nothing more than money.

And I have to say, Gage gives a very good "Aunt" performance. You know that weird awkwardness when someone older than you says they haven't seen you since you were a baby, and you have no idea who they are? That feeling is practically dripping from her first scene with the boys.

But Dahlia has a subtle menace to her that emerges every once in a while, more and more often until she's revealed as the mastermind behind it all. Her sweet exterior drops slightly, and beneath it lies and odd, forceful insistence that everything's fine and the boys should just sit back, relax, eat their prunes, and not worry about that grey hair popping up.

The actress has a knack for taking normal, Aunt-ful interactions and imbuing them with a vague air of danger, from eating her cookies to earn dinner to calling the boys' mother to sarcastically confess that the boys are sprouting grey hair.

Honestly, the old age makeup is pretty good, especially when you consider that this was done on a TV budget.

A Canadian one, at that.
The only problem with the execution of the makeup is that the facial structure of these two kids... well, that's just it. They have the facial structure of kids. They look like a couple of kids in old age makeup. But that kind of makes sense from an in-universe perspective, depending on your interpretation of Aunt Dahlia's magic prunes.

I think that the situation is that the prunes are aging them, not that the prunes are making them older. A subtle, but important distinction. So instead of going through puberty, growing facial hair (and in Tom's case, becoming a beautiful 20-somthing heartthrob), these two boys are just experiencing the deteriorating effects of aging without actually going through the developmental effects of aging.

Although I have to admit that Aunt Dahlia's death is also not too shabby for a TV budget during that time period. And honestly, it's surprisingly horrifying for a kids' show, too.

But I guess when most of the episode is geriatric humor, you're allowed a brief moment of face-melting horror.
 Barking Dogs: 0

Child Grabbing: 0The pinch on the cheek doesn't count.

Foliage POV Cam: No
Red Paint: No

X-Files Shout Out: No
Huh. Not even a single case of child grabbing? You're slipping, Goosebumps.

Final Thoughts
While sillier than it is scary, the strong villain and good leads make this an enjoyable tale that plays on some of the most basic childhood fears.

Next time, R.L. reiterates his love for dogs. See you then!

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