Thursday, August 3, 2017

VHS Review: Let's Have Fun! At The Slush Puppie Factory (1996)

All I can say is, holy shit, I can't believe somebody uploaded this to YouTube...


By: JimboX
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

Here's something I thought I would NEVER see in this lifetime.

Picture it: the year 1996. As a morbidly obese fifth grader, I was no stranger to the Slush Puppie (which, perhaps demonstrating the Mandela effect, I could've sworn was actually called a Slush Puppy.) For those of you out of the loop, the Slush Puppie was (and still is) a fairly popular convenience store staple here in the States. Basically, it's this giant metal tub of sugary pulped ice paired with a station containing about eight or ten squeeze bottles of various artificial flavors. The gist of it is, you get a paper cup, you fill it with the syrupy ice, and then you start topping it with different hued (and flavored) fluids. Naturally, the trick was figuring out which combination was the best. Is blueberry and pina colada the best mix, or should I go with raspberry and watermelon? Of course, you could always mix in ALL the flavors, which invariably would produce this weird, turd-black coagulation that tasted like sour grape. Or - as I was prone to - you could just fill up the cup with all of that high fructose corn syrup ice, say to hell with the flavor add-ins altogether and slake on it like a hummingbird at a nectar feeder. To say this was one of my favorite childhood memories would be an understatement; growing up in the mountains of Appalachia, sometimes that extra-extra-large cherry Slush Puppie was the only thing standing between me and death via heat exhaustion during many a 100-degree Georgian summer. 

Like every other kid-targeted consumer exploitation con job, though, the makers of Slush Puppie weren't above cajoling the wee folks into hoarding proofs of purchases, which, in this case, were called Paw Prints. Well, in the mid-1990s the company ran a promotion where if you saved up an absurdly high number of Paw Prints (I honestly can't remember how many, but I assure you it was a preposterous sum) and mailed them to the company headquarters in Cincinnati, they would send you a "free" VHS cassette showing off what the Slush Puppie factory was like. Naturally, I assumed it would be a pretty straight-laced pseudo-documentary showcasing the mixing bins and how they come up with the ideas for flavor add-ins - essentially, something you'd see on the Food Channel or something. Alas, I never saved up enough Paw Prints to acquire the damn thing, and just a few days ago ... for literally the first time in 20-plus years ... I thought about the promotion and decided to do a little bit of Internet sleuthing. And as it turns out, somebody has actually uploaded the whole damn video to the YouTubes, which, in and of itself, is something of a "lost media" miracle. But that, dear readers, isn't the shocking thing. Oh, no siree, Bob. Remember how I thought it was going to be a painfully basic, employee-safety-training-video-caliber production? Lord almighty, was I wrong in the most wonderful way possible. This thing - clunkily titled Let's Have Fun! At The Slush Puppie Factory - is actually an high-fructose-corn-syrup-spawned acid trip of pure, uncut, undiluted nostalgia and marketing incompetency, and my life is now a thousand times more valuable for having witnessed all of it with my own two eyes.

The opening shows off the Madacy Video logo (which, as fate would have it, is very reminiscent of the intro for the WWF's line of Colosseum Home Video productions.) We then take a tour of a CGI factory, chock full with all sorts of pastel and neon colored doodads and trinkets, while poorly green-screened kids pretend to surf over make-believe imagery. A crappy, corporate rock anthem plays, commanding "everybody, let's have fun" at the Slush Puppie factory, because "you've got an invitation to a cool explanation for everything under the sun." Well, that's a bit ambitious - if not absurdly overbroad - ain't it? 

The kid cast is introduced, as well as the unofficial alternate spokes-dog, Axle, as well as "special guest" Dinky G. Gush. From there we cut to a random general store. The guy in the giant dog costume asks cool white teen guy K.C. (which, presumably, stands for Koochie Creamer) why the room is so cold and he responds by telling him he's doing super important cryogenics research and shit. K.C. says he's invented something that will make children the world over ecstatic. And no, it isn't (as Axle suggests) chocolate-flavored toothpaste or electric roller blades. Anyhoo, he mixes some jugs of chemicals together and they blow up in his face. Then the dog tells him the beverage he's trying to create already exists and it's called a "Slush Puppie," which, for some stupid ass reason, this K.C. knob has never heard of before. 

Naturally, K.C. is so gobsmacked by Axle's revelation that he makes it his life's work to find out the secret to making Slush Puppies, a'la Plankton and his Sisyphean journey to determine the secret ingredients behind the Krabby Patty. Alas, Axle says only MR. SLUSH PUPPIE himself knows how to do that, which leads to our first song and dance number, in which he recounts all the fictitious dogs he admired growing up. This eventually results in even more puppet dogs joining in on the chorus, blurting "Slush Puppie, he really is cool. Slush Puppie, so cool and so pure." Also, Axle says the thing he likes best about Mr. Slush Puppie is the big "S" on his chest, but the way he pronounces it, it sounds just like he's saying "big ass" and you will laugh your ass off and probably rewind the tape five or six times to rehear it. 

After that drags on for about five minutes, Axle talks about how bad he wants to visit "Mount Slushmore." K.C. suggests they go visit the Slush Puppie factory so they go turn on a jukebox that actually doubles as a teleportation pod. Fuck, this lame-ass white nigga' can figure out how to make interdimensional travel work, but he can't figure out how to make a homemade Slurpee? 

Alike Pee Wee's Playhouse, pretty much every inanimate object on the tape sings or talks or blurts out poignant life advice, and this teleportation jukebox is no different. It eventually sends them to the top of an icy mountain, and they ski down the green-screened slopes. Meanwhile, three kids just waltz on in to the lab and start drinking mysterious fluids just lying around the place, because why not? They find this gigantic pile of telephone parts and the sassy black girl chastises the white boy for not knowing how the hunk of junk works. Then they jack into this thing called the "Axle Link" which allows them to spy on K.C. and the dog through a CRT screen. So, yeah, in addition to mastering teleportation, this K.C. fucker also managed to create Skype 20 years before Skype existed. But that raises the question - how ARE the kids able to see K.C. and Axle and talk to them when there's no camera present to record the people on the other line? Maybe there's some sort of drone-like apparatus with a camera and a microphone that follows them around and has some sort of SATlink functionality and ... wait I minute, am I actually trying to help these people with their plot holes now? Well, fuck that, and hard

"I said black lives matter, you honky muthafucka!"

After that the kids start meddling with K.C.'s computer and the white boy tries to take credit for figuring out how it works and then the black girl elbows him right in the ribs. Of course, nobody acknowledges this for the juvenile hate crime it is, and I, for one, am shocked and appalled. Then the white boy drinks K.C.'s mom's denture water, because he's one stupid cracka'. Then a projection of the formal Slush Puppie mascot pops up out of nowhere and all the kids just marvel at it like the Vision of Fatima. Now, is that technically breaking the fourth wall or is it supposed to be canonical? I mean, they already have teleportation machines in their world, so hologram technology by comparison should be pretty fucking simple to pull off, I guess. 

Then the little white girl steals K.C.'s mom's teeth, which is only slightly less disturbing because the teeth are those wind-up chattering novelty toys. That still doesn't negate the inherent creepiness when she drops the teeth in the white boy's popcorn, though. Not even a little bit. 

So the kids go to a movie theater and watch this "documentary" called The History of Kool and holy shit, it's pretty much the long-lost forerunner of the "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared" videos. Even better, it uses stock footage of kids playing Game Boy and random heavy metal music video clips and even a few seconds of some old bitch playing an accordion. And just wait until you see the puppet penguin holding a lava lamp in slow motion. That shit'll mess you up real good

In the movie inside our movie, a rat puppet shows up and tries to sell a penguin puppet a disco ball mood ring and a pair of platform shoes. Then it turns into a pastiche of an old detective movie, with the rat calling his co-star "penguin face" over and over. Then the penguin starts talking about the Slush Puppie ingredients - namely, water, sucrose and fructose. He even explains how they're culled from sugar and corn. Not only does it make the drink sweet, he says, it also helps it from coagulating. Lucky us, that leads to another damn song, complete with the kids in the theater RAPPING along to it. Man, and I thought that time that one black kid almost drowned on Nickelodeon GUTS was the cringiest thing I've ever seen in my life...

Believe it or not, this song might be even worse than the first one. "To be cool, it's gotta' be frosty, to be cool, it's gotta' be new," the chorus goes, "to be cool, it's gotta' be tasty, to be cool - YEAH! - it better not crunch when you chew." They do get bonus points, though, for using a couplet that rhymes "yuppie" with "puppy." The white boy says the movie was so bad that he wishes he had kept the receipt, and then the black girl says the rat reminded her of him, which is OK because it was socially permissible to treat white males like shit even back then. We cut back to K.C. and Axle, who have now infiltrated the factory. White boxes are everywhere, and for some reason, I just can't shake the grand finale of Child's Play 2 from my head. There, they find a TV and a giant disembodied head named Gush starts talking to them. He says he's a "Super Long Range Ultra-Scanning Helper" (hey, look at that acronym!) which means he's basically just a glorified tour guide.

Are we 100 percent sure this isn't the same guy always hawking shit on QVC?

So the double-chinned, David Venable look-a-like starts singing a song about high fructose corn syrup while images of giant metal vats are juxtaposed with images of kids singing and shit. "If I don't have a Slush Puppie, I might throw-uppy," Axle remarks. Goddamn, that dude is a fucking addict and all these motherfuckers should feel ashamed not getting him treatment. 

The disembodied head says the "recommended dose of Vitamin C" is the Slush Puppie's greatest secret. And here I was, thinking it was the fact Pajet sticks his dick in the mixer every night when the store's empty. We've got some images of people in plastic hair nets bottling up bright red juice and putting them in boxes on a conveyor belt. Then Axle has a fantasy about meeting the REAL Slush Puppie, who as fate would have it, is really just some fat-ass, bush-headed employee in a bright blue sweater. Fuck him for giving our spokes-pet false hopes. Fuck him right in the ass.

Hey, what do you know, it's time for ANOTHER song. This one is actually kinda' catchy, and all in all, I can't really say that disembodied head guy has that bad of a singing voice. Per the diddly, boxing juice constitutes "a major modern miracle, the making of a Slush Puppie," which is pretty goddamn self-exalting, even for propaganda aimed at people who poop in their pants. And it is here, at the fucking 24-minute mark of the tape, that we FINALLY catch a glimpse of one of those iconic Slush Puppie dispenser units. K.C. and Axle find Mr. Slush Puppie's office, but the sign says he's out to lunch. This makes Axle depressed and he cry-sings while K.C. fiddles with some flavor add-in knobs. After K.C. pushes a few levers in a special sequence, the Slush Puppie magically materializes out of thin air RIGHT THEN AND THERE.

Axel sees the Slush Puppie and immediately passes out from excitement. Mr. Puppie doesn't talk, but he does give K.C. a signed, laminated poster and an envelope containing the "secret of Slush." Then the disembodied head makes a few more references to The Wizard of Oz and Star Trek and then K.C. and Axel are teleported back to the lab. The kids, the nosy little shits they are, ask them if they've figured out the "secret of Slush" yet. K.C. opens the envelope and finds a riddle. "It starts with the ingredients only the best," it begins. "We test each batch, we taste we test, but the secret regretting is one you can't see, it's found in you, its found in me." The white boy thinks it's "guts," and then the little white girl tells him it's "love." And that's our cue for the show closer, a song about loving Slush Puppies (well, what the fuck else would it be about?) that sounds suspiciously similar to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." The kids break out saxophones and K.C. even cuts a mean guitar solo at one point. "You've got to love, can't help it but to drink it up real fast," the tune goes, "you've got to love a Slush Puppie for its simple recipe." Wait, that shit don't rhyme at, like, all. 

And that's the end of the tape, kids. The credits roll over CGI factory cogs and at the very, very end there's a stinger featuring the silhouette of a fat, bald guy telling the kids they did a good job, with the letter "JAVFMAJ" on the bottom left hand corner of the screen. Hmm ... any clue what that could stand for? I'm guessing it's either "Jack Ass Virginians Fuck Many Albino Jaguars" or "Japanese Americans Vibrate Frequently Manufacturing Apple Jacks," but there's an outside chance I could be wrong on both accounts ... but probably not

Uh, no homo, my nigga'.

Since there's no IMDB page for the video, it's pretty hard to figure out who did what and what they've been up to since. Apparently, the TV head guy is named John Duncan, but there are so many people with the same name out there that making heads or tails out of who is who is kinda' pointless. I can tell you, however, that it was directed by a fellow named Gregg Page and written by three people. Again, IMDB is no help here, so if any of you people have done anything major with your lives since, please drop us a line and provide us with some scintillating deets on how awful it was shooting this shit. Come on, there has to be some great stories about working on this one - or at least, some nice anecdotes about how much Slush Puppie they would let you drink on set for free. 

Speaking of Slush Puppie, some of the interior factory shots were indeed filmed at the actual Slush Puppie factory in Cincinnati (which can be seen more in-depth in this isolated clip from that one Food Network show hosted by the dude from Double Dare.) Sadly, it doesn't reside on top of a snowy mountain like in the movie, which makes me all shades of disappointed, though.

That said, apparently the company that made the video, Pro-Kids Productions, is STILL around and pumping out material in the Nashville area. Interestingly, who is listed as the CEO of said production company? Well, it's none other than "Gregg Page," who I can only assume is the same guy credited with directing the infamous Slush Puppie propaganda. And I can only fathom the kinds of things he witnessed making this thing - if copious amounts of crystal meth and human trafficking wasn't involved, i'd be shocked to high heaven. 

It's a cliche to say something "speaks for itself," but in the case of Let's Have Fun! At The Slush Puppie Factory, there really isn't anything I can add to the discussion. It's so beyond the realm of comprehension that it kinda' becomes metaphysically above meager human criticism. It's simultaneously the least important thing man has ever created and the most significant contribution to human civilization in all of history. It's both profoundly pointless and immeasurably insightful, a complete waste of magnetic tape and a transcendent cultural high water mark. It's something that should either line a landfill or become the worship object of a mad cult, and I'm still not entirely sure which is which. Even now, I don't know if I should piss all over this tape or praise it as my new God.

That's what truly great art does to you, you know. And although it may take a few millennia for everybody else to recognize it, this VHS oddity from the 1990s is indeed a priceless relic of human existence. It might be garbage today, but mark my words ... in the year 30,559, our robotic alien overlords will consider this a historical object more valuable to understanding what human beings were really about than the Magna Carta or the pyramids combined, I guaran-damn-tee it.

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