1. On May 19, 1990, the Disney Channel aired the most bizarro nursery rhyme mash-up of all time.
Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme was a star-studded musical adventure that combined ’80s star power with ’90s weirdness. For those of us who grew up watching it, it was a formative experience.
2. Jean Stapleton played Mother Goose, whose sudden disappearance spurs her son into action.
She’s basically Edith from All in the Family if Archie had never crushed her spirit.
3. Mother Goose’s son Gordon Goose (I know) is a total square who doesn’t get the whole nursery rhyme thing.
He’s played by Dan Gilroy, whose only IMDb credits are this movie and an episode of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, also starring Jean Stapleton.
4. Then, Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes spring to life as “rhymies.”
Here is Wee Willie Winkie strangling Gordon. Why is he strangling him? For the same reason he’s an Oompa Loompa. It was 1990, and that’s just the way we did things.
5. We’re supposed to think Gordon is lame for not loving Rhymeland, but in his defense, Rhymeland is TERRIFYING.
Everyone is singing and dancing. Pop star cameos abound. The clouds are cotton balls. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS.
6. Blondie’s Debbie Harry was the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe!
But she wasn’t even old! This movie is trippier than Videodrome.
7. Enter Shelley Duvall as Little Bo Beep.
Here’s the thing about Shelley Duvall. At some point, she decided she was going to be a children’s entertainer, with series like Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre and Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories. The problem: Shelley Duvall is HORRIFYING. Maybe it’s The Shining. Maybe it’s her voice. Either way, children should never have been exposed to her uniquely unsettling persona.
8. Gordon and Bo Peep soon discover that Mother Goose is missing, and there are signs of a struggle!
She would never leave her pet goose Honker behind! Get ready for an unexpected crossover with Law & Order: SVU.
9. The next nursery rhyme character we meet is the Itsy Bitsy Spider, played by Broadway star Ben Vereen.
He’s very shrill and dressed like a misguided Spider-Man reboot. Then he, too, disappears — and you realize we’ve got a serial killer on our hands. (Not quite. But as a kid, this was very stressful!)
10. Next up: ZZ Top as the Three Men in a Tub.
Gordon says they look like rejects from barber college, which is fair.
11. The Three Men guide Gordon and Bo Peep to Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, who is predictably difficult.
That’s Katey Sagal, at the height of her Married… with Children fame.
12. On the way to their next stop, Gordon and Bo Peep grab some fast food at Old Mother Hubbard’s.
Comedian Elayne Boosler plays Old Mother Hubbard. The kids love Elayne Boosler.
13. Here’s where things get REALLY strange. Meet Mary and Lou the Lamb.
They’re basically an unhappily married couple living in a dilapidated trailer home. Mary had that little lamb all right. (Gross.) She is, of course, played by Cyndi Lauper. Recognize the surly lamb?
14. Guys. GUYS! It’s Woody Harrelson.
Smoking a cigar, as lambs are wont to do.
15. Anyway, Gordon and Bo Peep come to suspect that Peter Piper kidnapped Mother Goose, because look at him.
That’s Night Court’s Harry Anderson doing his best Alfalfa from Little Rascals. Peter Piper is the stuff of annoyingly alliterative nightmares.
16. Peter Piper leads them to the Crooked Man, who wrote a ransom note for Mother Goose but didn’t actually kidnap her.
The Crooked Man recalls Oliver Twist’s Fagin, in that he is basically a caricature from 1930s anti-Jewish propaganda in Germany. It’s more than a little disturbing. His giant anthropomorphic dog is troublesome for different reasons.
17. And onto Jack and Jill, played by Garry Shandling and Teri Garr.
Jack and Jill are a very complicated couple whose banter sounds like something out of a lesser Woody Allen movie. I would watch a spin-off just about Jack and Jill, even if it meant having to stare at those truly upsetting wigs.
18. Jack is clearly channeling Katy Perry here, right?
And you’re gonna hear Jack roar.
19. Bo Peep and Gordon have to shrink down in order to hang with Little Miss Muffet, on account of she’s little.
And Bo Peep is working that comically oversized hat.
20. Razzie Award winner Pia Zadora plays Little Miss Muffet.
In 1990, Pia Zadora was kind of a get!
21. Itsy Bitsy Spider returns and takes Gordon and Bo Peep to Old King Cole.
Old King Cole is Little Richard in a pink wig, because of course he is.
22. And then it’s like everyone does a lot of acid.
Though I suppose this whole movie was conceived on substances. Either way, this is clearly a bad trip, because Gordon ends up in a dungeon with a weird BDSM metal band playing. Scream, Gordon. No one can hear you.
23. I’d be screaming too.
They’re singing, “You’ve been a bad boy, a very bad boy. We’re gonna have to punish you.” I am not making any of this up.
24. Eventually Gordon is “rescued” by these abominations.
Honestly, I think I prefer the BDSM metal band.
25. They just want to make him merry! But also they are tickle fetishists.
OK, so real talk: As a child, I hated being tickled. Hated. And everyone is always like, “You’re laughing! You like it!” NO. I don’t think I ever managed to make it through this scene without squirming.
26. Bo Peep convinces Old King Cole to let Gordon go, and they travel onward to Humpty Dumpty.
Recognize Howie Mandel? Yep.
27. Humpty falls, like he does, but he KEEPS ON TALKING.
You know when Bishop keeps talking to Ripley after he’s been ripped apart in Aliens? Like that, but worse because it’s Howie Mandel.
28. Gordon and Bo Peep end up in a seedy part of town, where they encounter a prostitute and her pimp.
I call ‘em like I see ‘em.
29. They head inside to Georgie Porgie’s, a bar that makes the Mos Eisley Cantina look tame.
Note the aforementioned anthropomorphic dog making his move on a ghastly woman at the bar.
30. WHAT HELLISH NURSERY RHYME IS THIS.
Kill it. Kill it with fire.
31. I guess I should note that Art Garfunkel plays Georgie Porgie and his house band is led by Brian Setzer, but I can’t get past all the ghoulish barflies.
Who hurt you, Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme?
32. Gordon leaves Bo Beep unattended (that dick) to visit the Three Blind Mice Detective Agency.
Bobby Brown plays all Three Blind Mice. It’s his prerogative.
33. Nearing the end of their journey, Gordon and Bo Peep pick up a hitchhiker, Paul “Simple” Simon.
Yes, both Simon and Garfunkel live in Rhymeland now. But Simple is so simple he can’t remember where he’s going or why. It’s kind of tragic, really. And then he disappears.
34. With Simon gone, Gordon FINALLY ends the will-they-or-won’t-they tension with Bo Peep.
But just then, Mother Goose shows up in the moon! As a kid, I couldn’t grasp the horror of having your hookup interrupted by your mom, but in retrospect, this definitely scarred me.
35. Turns out Mother Goose is trapped in the Real World.
That’s right, she’s one of seven strangers, picked to live in a house — OK, no, she’s just in our world, which is a far cry from the candy-colored fantasy that is Rhymeland. And she can’t last much longer!
36. For reasons unclear to me, the duo put off saving Mother Goose to hit up the local fair, where Cheech Marin is working as a carnival barker.
There’s also smoke everywhere. You do the math.
37. But the fair has a purpose: Bo Peep and Gordon snag a ride on the Cow That Jumped Over the Moon, who will take them to Mother Goose.
Yes, they are traveling through your first screensaver.
38. At last, Gordon reunites with his mother in the Real World.
But that’s where they encounter the most horrifying monster of them all…
39. A HUMAN CHILD.
Guys, what if we’re all just characters in a kid’s book? What if! Really makes you think. Anyway, this kid’s name is Michael, and he has great taste in pajamas. He was played by Brian Bonsall, who was also Preston Waters in Blank Check and Andy Keaton on Family Ties and has since had some substance and legal troubles.
40. Luckily, Michael has a heart and he returns the nursery rhyme characters to his book, thereby saving Rhymeland.
Let’s pretend this happy ending wasn’t cribbed from The Neverending Story.
41. After his adventures, Gordon learns to loosen up and love Rhymeland.
Quick reminder: Gordon was right to hate Rhymeland. Rhymeland is a terrible place. But whatever, to each his own. And his new bow tie is pretty fetching.
42. Goodbye, Rhymeland.
And hello, nightmares.