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Ghostbusters Cast Spotlight - Tara Charendoff/Strong in Sabrina TV Movies

PermalinkBy Paul Rudoff on Nov. 28, 2017 at 11:30 PM , Categories: Cast & Crew , Tags: castspotlight
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Welcome to a new feature here on Spook Central, the Ghostbusters Cast Spotlight. Each entry in this series will showcase a cast member of the Ghostbusters franchise - Ghostbusters 1 & 2, The Real Ghostbusters, Slimer!, Extreme Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, and maybe even Ghostbusters 2016 - in a role that you may not be familiar with. Maybe it will be from a long-forgotten movie, a television appearance before they were a Buster, or some really weird bit part that I'm sure they no longer include on their resume! There is a HUGE SPOILER WARNING if you read this article, as I am highly likely to go into plot details. This first Ghostbusters Cast Spotlight will be a double-length double feature focusing on the two late-1990s Sabrina The Teenage Witch TV movies featuring Tara Charendoff (voice of Kylie Griffin in Extreme Ghostbusters) as "Jellybean Queen" Gwen.

This article is dedicated to Doreen Mulman, one of my best friends, and the creator of the original TOTS: The Official Tara Strong website. Writing about these two movies takes me back to that great period of time in the late 1990s when we first met. Extreme Ghostbusters is what brought us together, but it was our shared loves of animation, voice actors, and horror movies - gotta love any woman that "gets" Elvira! - that made us friends. We would constantly tell each other about the latest appearance of Frank Welker or Tara Charendoff on TV, not least of which was because she ran both of their official websites, which I loved to help with. After Sabrina Goes To Rome aired back in 1998, I actually did two dozen VHS framegrabs and a few audio samples for The Sights and Sounds of Tara section we worked on together. (I never did get around to doing multimedia from Sabrina Down Under, which this article you're reading will rectify.) Doreen gave me the nickname Tiger, which I guess makes me Shiva to her Queen Ezekiel. An appropriate analogy given that we both loved The Walking Dead, and Ezekiel is portrayed by a voice actor (Khary Payton, aka Cyborg on Teen Titans - which also stars Tara).

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(Headshot provided by Marla Charendoff, Tara's sister,
in 1998 for exclusive use on Spook Central)

Tara Lyn Charendoff was born on February 12, 1973 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. At age four, she became interested in acting and volunteered to be a soloist in a school production. Her first major cartoon role was as the title character in Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater, a series that MGM has butchered on DVD. That was followed by appearances in various live-action productions that filmed in Canada, such as Mosquito Lake, T. and T.: "Junkyard Blues" (an episode of a short-lived series starring Mr. T), Forever Knight: "Dying for Fame", Kung Fu: The Legend Continues: "Secret Place", Married to It (1991), and National Lampoon's Senior Trip (1995) - a movie which I will cover in a future spotlight. (Some of these roles I already documented when I worked with Doreen on The Sights and Sounds of Tara page.) Not long thereafter, she would take the role of Kylie Griffin in Extreme Ghostbusters, and her career has continued on an upward trajectory ever since with Tara providing the voices for major characters in Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, The Fairly OddParents, Drawn Together, Teen Titans and the spin-off series Teen Titans Go!, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, as well as video games such as Lollipop Chainsaw, Mortal Kombat X, Final Fantasy X-2, and the Batman: Arkham series. She has been married to Craig Strong, a former actor-turned real estate agent, since May 14, 2000. A few years later, she started using her married surname professionally, hence why she is now known as Tara Strong.

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Sabrina Goes To Rome premiered on October 4, 1998 on ABC as part of "The Wonderful World of Disney", during the third season of Sabrina The Teenage Witch. It was the first spin-off of the television series starring Melissa Joan Hart as the titular character, which itself was spawned from a television movie of the same name that aired in 1996 on Showtime (and has long been out-of-print on DVD). It's the Witch Circle of Life!

I actually saw both of these movies when they aired 20 years ago on ABC, and were it not for Hurricane Sandy, I would still have my VHS recordings of the broadcasts. Since those recordings are gone, I'm using the official DVD releases as my source material. All of the music that I remember being in Rome is still there (the same can't be said for Down Under). That said, this article is about the movies themselves, and not a DVD review. I'll link you to those at the end.

The movie opens with Sabrina arriving in Rome to release the power trapped within a locket she received from her father that has been sealed for 400 years. It belonged to her Aunt Sophia, and its "secret" lies in the capital city of Italy. Sabrina's pussy tagged along, and her cat Salem (voice of Nick Bakay) was there, too. Sabrina and Salem, who are the only characters from the series to appear, as the TV movies are entirely separate from the storylines of the series, soon arrive at Mrs. Guadagno's (Evelyn Furtak) house. Sabrina is shown to her room, and her new roommate, Gwen (our Tara). Neither is pleased, as neither knows the other is a witch.

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Gwen instantly endears herself to the audience with her adorable naïveté, and the pleasant-sounding faux British accent Tara gave her (reminiscent of the one Kristen Miller used as Ashley on USA High). Gwen spies Salem, which is a problem because she has a guinea pig named Stonehenge, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz. At the time, Horvitz and Bakay also voiced the beaver brothers on Nickelodeon's The Angry Beavers. After a few ha-ha-hilarious "can't let her see me do magic" shenanigans, the truth comes out, causing a panicked Gwen to conjure up a waterfall instead of freezing time. Whenever she does something wrong, Gwen says her catchphrase, "Oh, frizzle!" - and I'm instantly reminded as to why I love Tara in this movie. Just like that, Sabrina and Gwen become instant friends, and enjoy their new witchy girl-mance in the Eternal City.

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They take in the sights with Mrs. Guadagno's son, Alberto (Eric Alexander), whom Gwen is crushing on big time. They toss coins in the Trevi Fountain, but Sabrina "steals" Gwen's wish by getting a new love interest. His name is Paul (Eddie Mills), and any boys with that name should rightfully be with Gwen :-) They move on to the Museo Nazionale Romano (National Roman Museum), where Sabrina screws around with the priceless busts on display by replacing one with her own head. Gwen fails to replicate Sabrina's amazing magic skills, but manages to bring a statue to life, instead. I don't know about you, but I think that's way more impressive than what Sabrina did.

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Later on, when Sabrina suggests that Gwen hang out with Alberto while she and Paul go gallivanting about town, Gwen literally perks up and flashes the widest, most amazing smile you ever did see. I loved this shot so much, that 20 years ago I made it into this cute little animated gif. Really, how could anyone watch this movie and not fall in love with Tara?!?

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Gwen graces us with another one of her catchphrases when, upon Sabrina donning her "vintage Sabrina" outfit, Gwen comments, "Wicked!". I'm not sure why that rather mundane outfit generated such a positive reaction from Gwen, but who am I to argue. After lunch with Paul, Sabrina meets up with Gwen and Alberto at the Hall of Records, where they find Sophia's address from a long, long time ago.

They explore the decrepit, abandoned mansion, where Sabrina finds ghosts of the past. Not literally, of course, as Gwen doesn't have Kylie's Proton Pack with her. A little dust becomes magic in Sabrina's hands when she turns back time, prompting another "Wicked!" from Gwen. The place now looks as lavish and extravagant as it did ages ago. A painting of Sophia magically disappears. They leave to find it, but not before going on a shopping montage! Why not? Even Rocky had a montage.

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They meet up with Paul and Travis, and for reasons that are never explained, Alberto is now with them, too. Gwen wants a little alone time with Alberto, but he's more focused on flowers than on her. She tries a spell to make him more attentive: "Alberto who with my heart does play, fly to my side on wings of grey... and there you'll stay, without delay." As expected, the spell doesn't go as planned, and ends up turning him into a pigeon. He flies off, of course. Did you really think he'd stay there? This gives Gwen a plotline to keep herself busy with, and that will be to find Alberto and turn him human again... to be human again. Sorry, wrong movie.

Back at Mrs. Guadagno's house, they find Gwen's wayward spell in this huge spellbook. Good news: Alberto's still in Rome. Bad news: Gwen has to kiss him. Gwen doesn't find that to be so bad. Then she realizes that she has to kiss a filthy pigeon. "Figures. My first kiss, and it's with a pigeon." First she has to find the bird that used to be Alberto, and it's not like he looks any different than any of the other flying rats roaming Rome. She tries the ones on the windowsill. No luck for her, but that is one lucky bird. I've never been more jealous of a pigeon.

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While Sabrina is off doing her thing, Gwen is chasing and kissing pigeons all around town. I don't want to know what kind of diseases she's going to get. They all meet up at the museum, and-- I didn't point this out earlier, but in many of the scenes Gwen is nibbling from a glass of jellybeans (or has some in her hands). It wasn't just a throwaway line about her being "mad about them" when Sabrina first met her. I love that nice attention to detail, especially when you realize that the candy has no bearing on the plot, and could have easily been forgotten about after that first scene. In fact, the way she's holding the glass here in the museum - and let's pretend that they allow eating in the museum gallery - makes it seem like she's holding a glass of wine, while at some rich party. While the rest of the gang goes off to find Aunt Sophia's painting, Gwen hangs back to magically grab a piece of fruit from the painting on the wall. Of course, "worst witch" Gwen gets her hand stuck and Sabrina has to help her by popping into the painting. "Wicked!" Eventually they find the painting of Sophia, and - surprise, surprise - she looks just like Sabrina! Who'd have thunk it?

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The foursome share a meal at an outdoor cafe in what looks to be some kind of famous Roman location, where the guys are taken aback when Gwen kisses a pigeon at the table. There's no CGI or robotics here; Tara was kissing real pigeons. Real lucky pigeons. With a quad full of the creatures, Gwen has a lot of kissing to do. After a montage set to softcore porn music, we're back at the museum. Geez, that's the third time they've gone there. At this rate, I hope they took out a season pass or something. Gwen watches as Sabrina jumps into the portrait of Sophia in order to go back in time to meet Sophia and warn her about a human that will betray her by revealing her witchy secret, thus dooming her for all eternity. I'm pretty sure that's not how paintings work, but we've only got a half hour left in this thing, so why question it now?

Eventually, Sabrina pops back out to find Gwen sitting there fingering her... I already made that double entendre, though she was sitting there finger-petting Salem under the chin, so, you know... How nice of Gwen to wait for Sabrina. How nice for the staff to allow a cat in the museum. Back in their bedroom, Sabrina is getting ready for her date with Paul. She steals Gwen's catchphrase when she asks if her earrings are "wicked". "No other word for it," Gwen remarks. Geez, Sabrina. Isn't it enough that you get your name in the damn movie title? Now you have to resort to stealing your co-star's catchphrases, too?

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While Sabrina is off dancing the night away, Gwen is left with Salem and Stonehenge in their bedroom. She kisses a few more pigeons, even recognizing one as a repeat "customer". She decides to kiss him again, and it's a good thing she did, because it turns out to be Alberto. Yay! She found her pigeon prince. Grateful, he gives her a little peck on the cheek. She's happy, though given what she had to do, I think a more romantic kiss on the lips was in order. He immediately inquires about Sabrina, leading Gwen to channel her inner Jan Brady when she says, "Sabrina! Sabrina! Sabrina! I should have left you a pigeon!" He explains that she's in trouble because, when he was a pigeon, he overheard Paul and Travis scheming to reveal her as a witch. Gwen will get them there right away with a tracking spell. Well, if you've been paying attention, you'd know that the running gag is that Gwen never gets her spells right. Even Salem and Stonehenge, who were in the bedroom playing checkers, know that. Sure enough, she and Alberto end up in a snowglobe. "FRIZZLE!"

Eventually, Gwen and Alberto show up at the Trevi Fountain just in time to tell Sabrina of Paul's nefarious scheme, but by this point, Paul had a change of heart after Sabrina took him to meet his long lost relatives. Unfortunately for him, she doesn't believe him and storms off, leaving him at the mercy of Gwen. She tries to change him into some kind of animal, but - Oh, Frizzle! - ends up turning Alberto into a goat. A lucky goat who gets a kiss. I'm starting to see a trend here. Is Tara into bestiality or something?

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Back at Mrs. Guadagno's, Gwen and Alberto chat in the hallway. He thanks her for turning him back into a human. Gwen starts to admit that it was Sabrina's idea, but stops herself and takes her deserved credit. He hands her some flowers, minus the flowers, which he ate while he was a goat. He then asks her out on a date. She says yes. He gives her a kiss on the cheek. Happy Ending!

The next morning, everyone says their goodbyes. Gwen is looking stunning in this cute yellow dress. Finally, Tara gets to wear nice clothes, instead of the camouflage cargo pants and other assorted drab outfits. Yeah, I know that Melissa Joan Hart is the star and all that, but something ain't right when "cute girl" Tara is wearing the same pants I wear (the camo cargo pants) - and I'm a guy! Anyway, Mrs. Guadagno comes out and tells Sabrina that she has to cast the spell to turn Paul into stone, otherwise in an hour Sabrina will be the one who gets punished. Gwen freezes Mrs. Guadagno in place and, what do you know, the spell actually works! The lady of the house thaws out so she can give Sabrina a hug before she gets in the taxi to leave for the airport back to the States. Five minutes left in the movie, but that's all we'll see of Gwen. Sabrina heads back to the museum (fourth visit!) to chat with Sophia's painting, and Paul shows up with the destroyed evidence. True love prevails, Sophia's spirit is released from the locket. Did you really expect any other ending? (After the gallery of Rome framegrabs, continue to page 2 for Sabrina Down Under.)

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In Loving Memory of Joel Richard Rudoff (July 28, 1944 - January 20, 2014)

In Loving Memory of Linda Joyce Rudoff (July 12, 1948 - November 29, 2015)

Doreen Mulman (May 22, 1961 - March 14, 2014)

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