Ken Leighton 3:37 p.m., June 18
On Munchkins and Smurfs at the San Diego County Fair
Raja Gosnell's credits read like a critic's death wish. The director of Home Alone 3, Scooby Doo, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua is now poised to wreak even further damage on the youth of America with the release of The Smurfs in 3-D and Real 3-D.
As far as I'm concerned, animation atrophied around the time of Clutch Cargo and Gumby. I don't know a Smurf from an Astro Boy, Rainbow Brite, or Strawberry Shortcake. The thought of blue CG pixies starring in a hybrid live-action and animated family comedy presented in the eye-popping grandeur of 3-D holds zero personal appeal.
However, for those of you who spent your Saturday mornings lost in a Smurf universe, the opportunity to pass on to one's children a tradition in excellence is tempting.
Here is your chance to indoctrinate a new generation of gnome-heads when the Smurfs -- actually, men and women dressed in plush costumes that turn into giant blue coffins when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees -- make a personal appearance at this year's San Diego County Fair. This Friday, between 11 am and 5 pm, Smurf fans young and old will be able to meet Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and Clumsy Smurf.
I spent several decades at the fair one summer. The summer of 2004 saw little people of a different color attending the SDCF. I was hosting a film booth where I whiled away a Friday afternoon sitting in rapt attention listening to two of the surviving Munchkins rant.
The theme that year was “Cinema Summer.” I was a (well-paid) answer-man overseeing an exhibition of posters and stills, hung indoors on temporary walls, that celebrated films filmed in and around San Diego.
It was hell. First off, who comes to a summer fair to spend time inside a non air-conditioned bunker looking at images of battleships and Pat O'Brien? People turn out for three reasons: musical acts, thrill rides, and glorified, make that glori-fried junk food. Fairgoers tend to devour anything that’s deep fried or on a stick. An annual goal is to devise new consumables to drop in boiling oil. They started with Twinkies and by 2004 had worked their way up to Oreo cookies. I joked that even the soft drinks came deep fried. Don’t laugh. Fair 2007 featured fried Coca-Cola syrup on the menu.
The only salvageable part of the day came around “magic hour.” Each night I took to the midway for a sundown smoke break. Always a sucker for the allure of neon at dusk, I found myself drawn to the flickering, brightly colored lights and whirling mechanical cages cast against the softly dying pink-and-purple sky. It's tough to get a good piece of broasted chicken in this town, and each year the fair has a pressure-cooker equipped meal wagon that keeps it crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside.
Surviving Munchkins receive ther star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
The Munchkins crash landed towards the end of my three week stay when I was about ready to remove a kidney for a distraction. Two of the surviving little people showed and I can’t remember the last time I had seen such a pair of crabapples.
“Toto got paid more than we did,” cried the female Munchkin in a thick, high-pitched Leutonian accent. Almost 70 years after the fact, and they’re still bitter that a mutt, who had more screen time, received a bigger payday.
“We only made $125 a week,” added the male Munchkin, “and never made money off the reissues, toys, or casinos that came from The Wizard of Oz.“ Talk of wages and residuals must have fascinated an audience populated largely by children. It didn’t help that most of the kids were taller and considerably younger than the Emerald City residents they came to see. Credibility was further hampered by the cheap, homemade costumes our guests wore. If asked, I’m sure they’d have bitched about MGM’s unwillingness to loan them an Adrian original.
The mood darkened when someone in the crowd brought up the question of whether or not wanton, inebriated shenanigans took place during the filming. “Nonsense,” shot back Mr. Munchkin, “it was all lies.” “Most of it,” he continued ranting, “came from that stupid movie (Under the Rainbow) they made a few years back, and we didn’t see a dime from that one either!"
Between shows they sat alone behind a curtain eating their lunch. The only thing funnier than seeing those tiny hands add condiments to a proportionately gigantic hot dog would be watching Toto give its jaw a workout with a Kraft caramel.