Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken
Publisher: Amazon MGM Studios and Screen Australia
Genre: Contemporary, Non-fiction, Documentary, Film
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Hot Potato is a backstage pass to the global phenomenon, The Wiggles. The documentary chronicles the story of three preschool teachers, Anthony, Murray and Greg, and their friend Jeff, as they triumph over the odds to become one of the most successful children’s acts of all time.

This is a film about my favorite group that had a positive influence on my kids as they were growing up. The movie explores the backstory, creation and history of The Wiggles, starring Anthony Field (blue), Murray Cook (red), Jeff Fatt (purple) and Greg Page (yellow). My kids discovered them when the group made the arrangement with the Disney Channel. Kids in Australia and New Zealand knew about them years before and it’s not a wonder that they took the rest of the world by storm. I learned so much about them while watching this documentary that it simply blew my mind. Their songs may have been simple, catchy, bouncy, and fun, but the four guys’ journey wasn’t nearly so benign, easy or without serious challenges.

My most favorite aspect of the film was the nostalgia triggered by the awesome songs I sang along to with my kids as they watched the shows and videos over and over again, Hot Potato being only one of many. The dance moves that accompanied them always made me feel that if they had an exercise video based on the songs and all the moves, I would have bought the video for myself. To this very day, I’ll break out in songs like Hot Potato, Fruit Salad, Here Comes a Bear, and the silly, Do the Monkey. Man, those were awesome times when my kids were little.

Did you know that at their highest point, they made more money than AC/DC, Hugh Jackman and many others? The Wiggles did that – all while appealing to the sense of joy, fun, and energy of toddlers, and bringing their parents along for the ride. And, what a ride it was, in that Big Red Car.

Even to this day, one of my most favorite video/movies The Wiggles made was with Steve Irwin at the Australia Zoo. At that point, I was just as much a fan of the group as my kids. The documentary showed the amazing steps Anthony, Murray, Jeff and Greg took to get to that moment in their careers. It covers the difficult times after the 9/11 attack in New York City and there were a few moments in their retelling that had me tearing up. The tone was somber, respectful, and introspective. The film also covers why Greg left The Wiggles. By the time that happened, my kids were fully immersed in their school career, and we no longer subscribed to the channel that brought The Wiggles singing and dancing into our lives. I had no idea about the seriousness of Greg’s condition, nor the challenges the group faced to find someone to step in for him. Nor did I have a clue as to what role Anthony played in The Wiggles existence as the years went on.

After I watched the documentary, I looked at some reviews. Wow – that was a revelation. The film shared some examples but that nowhere touched upon the emotional response and backlash that occurred during the many transitions The Wiggles went through. I even read one where the commenter claimed that Anthony ruined The Wiggles because of the changes and decisions he’d made over the years after two other members retired. After watching the film, I disagree with that sentiment. Anthony saved The Wiggles by keeping it going, keeping their name, music, and presence alive, not letting it fade away until the point in 2019 when they were all able to come together to do a benefit in support of the Australian people who were suffering the worst fire season in the country. Society and pop culture change frequently and what is popular one day becomes lost and forgotten the next. If not for Anthony, I don’t think the public would have responded so well and enthusiastically for a band no one remembered. Instead, according to the film clips I saw, many of the attendees were in their 20s, kids that grew up singing and dancing with The Wiggles and were now young adults, with jobs and incomes that allowed them to attend and support the cause. That joy came across the screen and brought me back in time when my kids and I had the best time singing the songs together.

Do you know what else I learned while watching this documentary? Anthony and Jeff were a part of a successful singing group called the Cockroaches. One of their songs was played during an interview with Greg and I’m thinking, “I’d listen to that!” In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll get a hint of the energy and talent that would later contribute to the success of The Wiggles. I also learned the background of Dorothy the Dinosaur. I had no hint how important that character ended up being to their success. I even laughed when I heard how Captain Feathersword came about. Little by little I was seeing how The Wiggles I knew came to be. It was so cool!

Another adorable thing I enjoyed while watching the film were the film clips. Parents must have submitted them to the group. They showed their toddlers reacting and interacting with The Wiggles on television and generally having a great time singing, learning and laughing. There is power in laughter and in music.

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles was one of the most enjoyable documentaries I’ve ever watched. How the group came to be such a success was fascinating to watch. To think, if not for two of them being teachers, and their passion and joy for teaching, which I believe contributed to the focus of singing songs for preschoolers, I don’t think The Wiggles could have come to be. Learning how Anthony, Jeff, Greg and Murray came together to create a singing group that touched generations starting with the littlest of fans, was a sheer joy to experience. I am awfully glad I discovered this film. I highly recommend this documentary for all those who were parents at the time who repeatedly watched the videos and sang the songs with their kids. I think it would be great for those littlest fans, now grown up, to learn more about the men and characters that enriched their childhood. It’s fascinating, entertaining and eye opening. This film made me appreciate The Wiggles all the more.

Movie Review: Big Crow

Big Crow
Director: Kris Kaczor
Writer: Inila Wakan
Producer: Kevin Bayson
Cinematography: Matt Lyons
Editor: Steve Nemsic
Rated: 4 Stars (8 stars on IMDB)
Review by: Astilbe

BIG CROW is a verité-style documentary that tells the story of how young Lakota basketball star SuAnne Big Crow became an activist, and how her message of hope continues to help her people reclaim their culture 30 years after her death. Part biography and part social commentary, BIG CROW is a story about the power of hope in the most destitute place in America, South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Found in the poorest county in America, Pine Ridge is plagued by rampant drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse which drives the highest teen suicide rate in the country. Access to healthy food and health care is virtually non-existent, and the Lakota there continue to experience the oppressive racism that outlawed their religion, language, and traditions 130 years ago. It’s possible that there has never been a people more in need of a hero than SuAnne’s Lakota tribe.

By age 14, SuAnne Big Crow had become one of South Dakota’s best basketball players, leading her Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes to become the first ever Native American state champions. By age 17, her social activism had made her a household name across the Great Plains. Thirty years after her tragic death, SuAnne’s pride in her people continues to galvanize the Lakota in their fight to save their language and reclaim their culture.

Heroes live in every community.

It was wonderful to explore modern Lakota culture in Pine Ridge. I must confess that I didn’t know a lot about this topic before I watched this documentary, so I appreciated how much effort was put into sharing not only the struggles of this tribe but also their triumphs as well. Everything was balanced out nicely, and it made me want to dive even more deeply into this topic. There were so many things about their culture that didn’t quite fit into the scope of this film but that I yearned to learn more about. To me, that is a sign of a job well done, indeed!

As much as I loved seeing how SuAnne’s legacy has positively impacted her tribe for more than thirty years now, I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to who she was as a person before she died. Her time on the basketball court was documented beautifully, but I didn’t get as much of a sense of who she was in other areas of her life. For example, she seemed to be an outgoing person who had a fantastic sense of humor, but it would have been helpful to have more stories about how she behaved and why she was so obviously adored by everyone who knew her.

One of the most difficult aspects of living through a tragedy can be finding meaning in pain and grief that feels meaningless. SuAnne’s family, friends, and community found so many incredible ways to honor her memory and continue her work to improve life for everyone in their tribe. Without giving away too many spoilers, they have excelled at remembering SuAnne and encouraging the next generation to follow her example. I especially enjoyed the last ten minutes or so that showed how far her influence has spread and how much of a difference she’s still making in the lives of people who weren’t even born yet when she was alive.

Big Crow was a tear-jerker and a fabulous exploration of a portion of modern history I knew nothing about.

Movie Review: Take the Ice

Take The Ice
Director: Rachel Koteen
Producer: Rachel Koteen, Judah-Lev Dickstein, and Batya Feldman
Editor: Judah-Lev Dickstein
Rated: 4 Stars (8 stars on IMDB)
Review by: Astilbe
Find the movie on IMDB

Take the Ice is a feature documentary that tells the story of world-class female hockey players fighting for recognition and equality in their sport, and in the process, making history.

Ten-year-old Dani Rylan was obsessed with hockey and dreamed of growing up to play in the NHL. As one of the best players on the Florida state junior team, Dani saw no reason not to have the same ambitions as everyone else. But, as the only girl on the team, “at some point, reality sets in.” Seventeen years later, Dani decided to change the history of the sport by founding the first professional women’s hockey league.

Take the Ice goes behind the scenes as Dani creates the National Women’s Hockey League and 88 elite female athletes compete to win its first championship. As Dani struggles to keep the league afloat, the players must come together in the wake of an on-ice accident that leaves their teammate paralyzed. Take the Ice is a moving, intimate story of a group of elite athletes making strides for recognition and equality, and in the process, making history.

What could be better than making history and setting new records?

This documentary worked for dedicated hockey fans and those of us who virtually know nothing about that sport alike. I appreciated how the director was careful to explain certain aspects of this business like the difference in pay scales and marketing techniques between men’s and women’s hockey that many folks might not be aware of. While most of the screen time was dedicated to the games themselves, it was the player’s stories about the sexism they face that originally piqued my interest. Many of them were discouraged from playing hockey, especially as they grew older and were still the only girls on their youth teams. These early life experiences can discourage women and girls from pursuing all sorts of interests in life, and I nodded along as I compared their love of hockey to my interests in other things that girls aren’t encouraged to do. The joy of seeing young girls cheer for these teams and ask for autographs gave me hope that future generations will feel more comfortable pursuing all of their interests without discouragement.

I had some trouble keeping track of who everyone was. As cool as it was to get so many different perspectives on what it was like to be part of the first season of professional women’s hockey, including all of them meant that there wasn’t much time to invest in any one particular storyline. Taking notes along the way about who was part of which team helped, though, and I’d recommend that to anyone who watches this.

Some of the most interesting scenes to me were the ones that explored the private lives of the players. On the weekends, they were professional hockey players, but all of them had weekday jobs as well due to how little they were paid as athletes. This was in stark contrast to the millions of dollars men make in this field. The medical consequences of playing hockey were shown as well, and I was intrigued by how many risks these women were willing to take with their health despite all of the reasons they had to stop playing.

Take the Ice was a thoughtful look at the birth of the National Woman’s Hockey League.