One thing you could always count on in regards to children's programming was that there would be some form of merchandise that could be associated with the show.
I imagine that almost all of us had our favourite cartoons and children's shows growing up. And, I imagine that almost all of us owned at least one piece of merchandise that was associated with the shows we would wake up early for each Saturday morning.
There were records, books, board games, comic books, magazines, breakfast cereals, juice boxes, cosmetics, shampoo and conditioner, notebooks, pens, pencils, action figures, dolls, toys, stuffed animals, video games, clothing items, backpacks...
...yeah, you get the idea.
Some of our favourite cartoon characters have appeared in a variety of places outside of the television screen from lunchboxes to McDonald's Happy Meals, and some people could amass quite a collection of memorabilia. Back in the late 1980s when I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I saved up my allowance to buy as much Ninja Turtles stuff as I could. I no longer have the action figures (and even if I still did, I think my Raphael one was missing an arm anyway), but I still have a set of fridge magnets and the four bubble bath containers that I saved from each of the bottles I used up twenty years ago.
(I swear I'm not a hoarder. I'm really not. Honest.)
But sometimes I would get toys for Christmas or my birthday, and I would be completely confused as to what show they were from because I either hadn't seen it, or it was a show that did not keep my interest enough to really remember details from it.
I'm going to tell you a story about one of these times. Don't worry, I'll transition it to the theme of today's blog.
My family is really big on stocking stuffers for Christmas. In fact, my two sisters and I ended up having some rather unique stockings. My sister's stockings were about twice the size of a regular stocking, meaning that they ended up getting a lot of apples, oranges, and Asian pears (that last fruit is a holiday favourite of one of my sisters, by the way). My original stocking wasn't quite that big...and it wasn't really a stocking. It was like a child size pair of long johns where the treats were stuffed inside the little flap at the back.
And, the unusual stockings didn't end with just us kids. My father's stocking is designed like a cowboy boot.
When my eldest sister got married in 1989, she gave me her old stocking, and I believe that the year after that was when this story took place.
In addition to the various pieces of fruit and holiday chocolates that we would find in our stockings, we would often find small toys that were wrapped up. Nothing too expensive...mostly they came from the local dollar store. When I opened up one small present in my stocking, I found this.
It was a dragon finger puppet. Well, actually, given the size of the puppet, it worked as a hand puppet for me. I thought it was really cool, and I played with it quite often, but for the life of me, I didn't know exactly who he was. I had a feeling that he was a part of some children's show, but at the time, I couldn't find it.
It wasn't until a couple of years later that I finally found the source of the finger puppet. Now, by that time, I had outgrown most television shows for little kids, but I happened to flip through the channels and landed on TVOntario. And, who should happen to come across my screen but the green dragon that inspired my finger puppet! So, curious, I ended up watching the whole show, just to see what it was about.
That show was the Nickelodeon television series “Eureeka's Castle”. The show aired for six years on that network, running from September 4, 1989 to June 30, 1995. And, here's a bit of trivia for you. One of the creators and writers of the series was R.L. Stein. If that name sounds familiar to some of you, it's because it is the same R.L. Stein who wrote the successful series of “Goosebumps” books.
For 134 episodes, Eureeka's Castle entertained a number of children all over the world...and you know something? Although I was almost twelve by the time I saw my first episode, I admit that it was a neat little show. If I could best describe the program, I would call it a mash up of “Sesame Street”, “The Friendly Giant”, “Fraggle Rock”, and “Pee-Wee's Playhouse”.
Now, the dragon that I ended up playing with had a name. He was called Magellan. And, Magellan was a dragon who was approximately eight feet tall. He was big and green, but was anything but scary. Really, the only annoying thing about Magellan was that he would often be prone to sneezing fits. And anyone who was in the castle at the time of Magellan sneezing might have felt the earth shake and quiver. Magellan's sneezes were so strong that they likely would have made an impression on the Richter scale.
But Magellan was hardly the only one who lived in the castle. After all, the show was called “Eureeka's Castle” for a reason. And, well, you couldn't have a castle without an Eureeka.
In this case, Eureeka was a sorceress with multi-coloured hair. Don't worry, she was just as friendly as Magellan. A wizard in-training, Eureeka loved to use her magic wand to help her friends, and she was always very helpful. Although sometimes her magic could backfire due to the fact that she wasn't quite experienced in every spell. Eureeka would often have a segment in the show where she would cast a spell, and show us a scene in which we saw kids having fun doing an activity. It was almost similar to that of the polka dots within the Polka Dot Door, come to think of it.
There were other characters that lived in the castle as well. There was Batley, a little blue bat that would fly around the castle...but due to the fact that he was incredibly nearsighted, he would often crash into walls whenever he took flight. Batley also has a bit of an ego, and sometimes would act a bit like a know-it-all. But luckily, he had his best friend Magellan to keep him on his toes.
We also had Mr. Knack, a purple haired man who pushed around a cart filled with knick-knacks that he would often sell to the residents of the castle. He also was the one who would fix various things around the castle to varying degrees of success depending on what needed fixing.
In the castle's moat, deep under the castle lived two fuzzy monsters known as the Moat Twins. They were a brother and sister named Bogge and Quagmire. Bogge is the orange one, Quagmire, the pinkish-red one. They mostly swim deep under the water of the moat, and when they are finished their swim, they have a nice big lunch containing their favourite food...peanut butter.
Other characters of the show included the singing fish fountain that would sing songs in between squirting water, Sir Klank, a royal mouse who lives inside a suit of armor, and Batley and Magellan's pets, Webster and Cooey.
In fact, if one were to go inside Magellan's bedroom, you might find a group of claymation worm/slug hybrids known as “Slurms”.
Yes, the gang in Eureeka's Castle had a lot of fun within the castle walls...but now here's the twist. The gang only continued to have fun as long as the castle key kept spinning in a circle. You see, the “Castle” was actually a toy that a big, red haired giant would play with every day. All he had to do was wind up the key in the castle, and it was guaranteed entertainment for the next twenty-one minutes.
The Magellan puppet was just one of the many toys associated with “Eureeka's Castle”. I come to find out that my Magellan finger puppet was sold at Pizza Hut with the purchase of a large pizza (they also manufactured puppets of Batley and Eureeka). But there were also books and VHS cassettes produced. I almost sort of wish the series was found on DVD because I think a lot of people would enjoy it.
A lot of the actors and puppeteers who appeared on the show managed to become stars on other shows. Cheryl Blaylock, who played Eureeka worked on Sesame Street, as did Pam Arciero, who voiced Quagmire. In fact, Pam Arciero is currently the speaking voice of Grungetta the Grouch!
Noel MacNeal has also built a name for himself in the world of puppeteering. Not only did he get recognition for voicing Magellan, but he was also the man who helped bring “Bear In The Big Blue House” to television, voicing the title role.
I think “Eureeka's Castle” is one of those forgotten treasures in the world of children's television, and I hope that one day a new generation can discover this wonderful show.
I know that had it not been for that Magellan finger puppet, I might not have discovered just how great a show it was. After all, each episode ended with a picnic!