Christmas CD-ROM Gifts for the Truly Silly at Heart

Article excerpt

Stephen Manes

N.Y. Times News Service

Silliness is rarely associated with computers, except, of course, in their manuals and user interfaces. But inspired silliness is the very soul of "Dazzeloids," subtitled CD-ROM Superheroes on a Binge Against Boredom and masquerading as a work for children.

"Dazzeloids" may indeed appeal to bright juveniles, but it could well become a cult hit with grown-ups. This is a children's program for adults, a spiritual descendant of Rocky, Bullwinkle and the brothers Warner that manages both to celebrate and to send up Saturday morning cartoons. From animation to music, this Center for Advanced Whimsy Production is essentially the one-man show of an artist named Rodney Alan Greenblat.

Supremely postmodern, "Dazzeloids" twits everything from creepy conglomeration to the nature of multimedia itself. During an annoying delay for data transfer, the disk sings, "Are you waiting? Yeah, we're waiting for the CD to spin!" Click the button to go back one page, and the music plays backwards. Navigation charts are, for no good reason, displayed over a road map of New Jersey.

The Dazzeloids are as motley as a crew can get. The ringleader, Princess Anne Dilly Whim, "seeks revenge and freedom for all those imprisoned by boredom and mediocrity," in part because her sister was bored to death by a "really bad" TV rerun. A four-legged green imp with an electronically Scottish burr, Yendor Talbneerg (lleps ti sdrawkcab) is such a gadgeteer he sleeps with a remote control. The strong and bookish cat Titan Rose recites the poems "Creamy Corn" and "Plastic Decoration" so stirringly that they may recall Lewis Carroll and bring tears, though not of sadness. The even more eccentric Stinkabod Lame is a ramlike creature whose obsession with bodily functions greatly exceeds the rest of his mental powers.

Their world is ruled by the Blando Company, whose leader, the Mediogre, dreams that "all toys and games will be replaced with business marketing proposals." Blando sponsors TV fare like "The Wonder Prunes," starring Plump and Fruity, who reach Chayefskyan heights with the classic dialogue, "I don't know. What do you want to do?" and "I don't know. What do you want to do?" ad infinitum. Samuel Beckett himself might have conceived "House Plant Theater's" mortised rigor.

Animated biographies add richness to the characters. Music videos of their vivid dreams are simultaneously weird and moving, as when Anne watches helplessly as hatchet-wielding TV sets try to chop down a forest. From the goofy "technical" opening through two complete stories ("A Child is Bored" and "Banker, Spare That Petshop"), the music is infectious, the invention is unflagging (including literary gems like "Goodnight Prune") and the interactivity breaks new ground.

The most realistically frightening moment comes when Anne, desperately manipulating "an arsenal of complicated and expensive computer software" to rescue her comrades from a lifetime of nothingness, sighs: "Where's the manual to this, anyway? …