Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
The insane mind-fuck unforgettably titled Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure was not designed to be seen with a critical eye. It was not made for critics or cynics or really, anyone over the age of three years old. That is not to say that it was created without publicity in mind. On the contrary, the film was designed by legendary children’s entertainment marketer Kenn Viselman to inspire a whole lot of articles and press attention.
The attention the filmmakers sought was of the human interest variety. If the film’s audacious strategy had paid off, the fall of 2012 would be filled with news stories all about a crazy little family movie that came out of nowhere with a radical new idea – encouraging children to scream and yell and dance around and generally prance around behaving like poster children for keeping abortion safe and legal at the encouragement of onscreen prompts – that was turning children’s entertainment upside down. If Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure had succeeded, it would have proved a game-changer, a paradigm-shifter, one of those curious but fortuitous experiments that forever change the face of pop culture.
Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure asked, “Why not encourage children to yell and scream and misbehave in movie theaters?” The answer was swift and decisive: turning movie theaters into holding pens for screaming children being manipulated by nightmare-inducing characters onscreen was an “innovation” that pleased no one, not even the small children the filmmakers pandered to by promising them that for this movie, and this movie only, the laws that otherwise dictate moviegoing and cinema attendance were suspended and anarchy was encouraged, not unlike a kiddie cinema version of The Purge.
The movie shocked few by becoming one of the lowest-grossing movies ever to open on thousands of screens. When I took my wife to see Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure in an otherwise completely empty theater in a black neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, I was one of the few people “privileged” to see this exquisitely failed experiment in movie-theater audience interaction in an actual theater.
The gents of The Flop House did not see Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure in a movie theater, yet the experience proved surreal and crazy-making all the same. Early in the podcast, Dan McCoy reflects that if a new listener were to listen to what they were saying without context, it would be easy for them to conclude, “The Flop House has descended into madness!”
But it’s not The Flop House that descended into madness. No, the madness comes straight from Oogieloves in the Big Balloon, a movie that doesn’t descend gradually into madness so much as it takes madness as its starting point and then just gets more and more insane from there.
The three Oogieloves embody archetypes Joseph Campbell has written about extensively. There’s the guy who knows stuff about science. We know he’s a science guy because he wears glasses (no non-science person has ever had bad vision) and proclaims things, “Sciencetastic”, as only a real scientist would. There’s also the party animal whose pants are constantly falling down. This neatly coincides with Joseph Campbell’s seminal text on mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces Whose Pants Keep Falling Down. Finally, there is the girl. She is the girl of the trio.
At this point, you might be asking yourself, what is an Oogielove? That is a damn fine question neither the film, nor its title, show much interest in answering. The questions just keep coming, and they are never conclusively answered, either by the film, the Flop House or a cruel and abusive God. The original Peaches (as they are affectionately known to their fans) describe the Oogieloves as looking like a cross between Barney and the Garbage Pail Kids, but that only begins to capture the horror of their appearance, and the insane world they inhabit.
Only Viselman knows why he and his partners felt the best way to kick off a revolution of children screaming and running around in movie theaters was with a 87 minute peyote trip of a movie that descends into repulsive new realms of fuzzy horrors. Ah, but what of the plot? Yes, we must get to the plot of Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, which centers on a sentient pillow’s birthday.
Yes, you read that right. The plot involves the Oogieloves trying to retrieve a series of balloons they want to give their friend a sentient pillow for his birthday party. As the fellas concede, this opens up a whole new window of unanswerable questions. If a motherfucking pillow can have a birthday party, then why can’t balloons have birthday parties as well? Why are some inanimate objects animated in Oogieloves’ weird world, while others are perversely and randomly cursed to remain silent and stationary?
This heroic quest to procure balloons for a fucking pillow brings the Oogieloves (who are otherwise described, not inaccurately, as inbred Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) into contact with characters as nightmarish and haunting as anything in the horror fiction of H.P Lovecraft. The most traumatizing character is Bobby Wobbly, a cowboy type fellow with a bizarre strut played by Cary Elwes in a performance the Peaches rightly hailed as infinitely more terrifying than Heath Ledger as the Joker and Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.
There’s also a giant sombrero powered by dance that affords Foodfight! star Christopher Lloyd another opportunity to be a central part of some of the worst, most misguided movies ever to afflict and abuse innocent children. The anthropomorphic nature of the film’s cast of characters leads to some weird places and uncomfortable questions, questions like, “How does a window eat pancakes?” and “Can a vacuum cleaner be sexually attracted to a window?”
The film gives Elliott Kalan, Stuart Wellington and Dan McCoy an infinite amount to work with, but some of the podcast’s biggest laughs come from weird tangents, like a fake cop show about a cop named Mike Jazz and his sidekick Gizmo Gadget and their gruff chief, who dies in the first episode but returns in every subsequent episode as a ghost to angrily demand Mike Jazz and Gizmo Gadget’s badges.
Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure was designed to usher a whole new era of interactivity in the world of children’s films. It failed as spectacularly as a motion picture can fail but in a curious twist, the film did end up being a satisfying interactive experience, albeit not in the manner the filmmakers intended.
That interactivity didn’t take the form of delighted children cheering the film, and the Oogieloves, on within the ear-splitting pandemonium of packed theaters. No, it took the form of wonderfully cynical grown-ups lovingly and brilliantly jeering the movie and its rampant idiocies after the fact. To a delighted audience grateful they will never have to experience the horror of Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure themselves Oogieloves did inspire laughter and delight, but only when refracted through the smartass prism of the best bad-movie podcast in existence.
Nathan Rabin is the former head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, including Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and, most recently, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.