I found this VHS about five years ago from my favorite church thrift shop. The title captured my attention. What the heck is a Grublet!?
Nathaniel the Grublet tells the story of a young boy Grublet, and his brothers (?) who live on the outskirts of Agapeland. In the darkness of night, Grublets collect the trash and broken junk left by the Agapeland townsfolk, fix it up, and sell it for profit. It’s a type of symbiotic relationship between them and the village.
The musical album explains that Grublets are actually small humanoid creatures, like smurfs or dwarves. But the movie doesn’t explain this.
In the movie they look like a group of homeless guys, who collect junk and trash, and by doing so they conveniently keep the town a little cleaner, so the town let’s them do this. They are only allowed to do this at night.
Without this background information, I assumed that Agapeland pushed all the homeless men (where are the women?) to the outskirts of town. So is the movie commentary on how towns should deal with homelessness? I was a bit confused.
Anyway, let me continue…
The leader of the Grublets (Tails) decides he rather steal good stuff, and not junk. Only Nathaniel disagrees. Majesty (aka God) basically tells Nathaniel he’s right. So, a newly anointed Nathaniel returns home, to find the townsfolk have tied up his brothers, I’m guessing to light them on fire. They realize Nathaniel has seen God, so they untie the brothers. The other Grublets promise to stop stealing. And things go back to normal. The End.
Nathaniel the Grublet was one of the first musical albums put out by Candle, Tony Salerno, and Agape Force in 1979. According to Wikipedia, it was sold door-to-door. Eight years later it was turned into this 30 minute live action “film”.
While looking for details on who made this thing, I ended up learning more about all of the Agapeland albums, their creators, and producers. I actually had their Music Machine album as a kid, and loved it, so it was interesting learning how large this whole Agapeland empire was. They had many kids albums, many of which were nominated for Dove and Grammy awards.
Some of the people starring in this movie are members of Candle (who wrote and sang many of the Agapeland music), or were involved in other ventures.
Some of the other people involved with this film were members of the group Candle, including Ron Krueger (Producer and screenplay), Frank Hernandez (Production Manager), Kathy Salerno (wife to Tony Salerno), Mark Pendergrass (“Tails”, Scenic Design).
Let’s dig into the movie a bit more, shall we.
Right away this movie confused the heck out of me, because the Grublets made no sense. First off, where did Nathaniel come from, and why is he so different? I know that the album explains that they aren’t human, but for all intents and purposes, in the movie, they ARE human.
So here we have a young boy, living with a bunch of grown men. What the heck?! Also, why does he have a normal name like Nathaniel, while the rest of them have silly names: Tails, Scrunge, Rounder, Belcher, and Nappin. It would be like having the 7 dwarves be Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey,… and Jessica.
On top of that, they cast a young woman to play Nathaniel’s part. Which again, if you didn’t realize he was supposed to be a little boy, is so alarming. I understand that working with kids, and all the employment rules you have to follow is a set back, so casting an adult is easier. But come on, it’s not like he’s supposed to be a teenager! And why a little person?! Let’s cast a young woman with dwarfism, it’s basically the same as a ten year old boy. Nope. It’s not. It was WTF all over the place.
To recap, the story is about a girl with dwarfism snatched by a group of homeless men, given a boy’s name, and forced to collect trash, which the town was totally cool with.
Nathaniel was played by Shandra (Bailey) Montague. It doesn’t look like she did any other acting after this. She’s being working as an ASL interpreter. She was about 20 years old when the movie was filmed.
For those who enjoy going down internet rabbit holes, I found a random mention of her in another girl’s journal, while they shared a room in the hospital. The internet never ceases to amaze me. Basically Shandra turned this girl on to Amy Grant, and she was crushin’ on Shandra’s older brother.
I liked the part where Nathaniel meets the forest Furries, and interrupts their furpile. This movie is crazy. Why does Smuggles the dog walk on all fours, but the forest animals don’t? And why is the rabbit so much smaller? Why doesn’t this 80’s Christian kid’s movie made on a shoestring budget make more logical sense?!
The music performances by the Grublets I thought were pretty good. The songs are catchy and sung well, and the choreography by Steve Yard isn’t half bad. Better than the Superkids, that’s for darn sure.
Tails (Mike Pendergrass – then and now)
Mike D. Pendergrass not only played the leader of the Grublet group, but also did a lot of other work for various Agapeland albums. He illustrated a lot of the front album art, including this great one for Music Machine –
He also wrote “The String Song” which happens to be my favorite song from the Music Machine album. He is still doing illustrations and performing music for a living. He’s also a self-proclaimed conservative narcissist, so he’s got that going for him. He looks a bit like the late Anton LaVey, and despite their religious differences, I feel like they could easily share a beer.
Rounder (Jonathan Perry)
Scrunge (Scott Sargent)
Belcher (Duane Knight – then and now)
Nappin (Malinda Riley)
The biggest celebrity in this movie however is The Mayor, played by Buddy Miller. If you are not familiar with Buddy Miller, he is a singer-songwriter known for country and folk type music. He started his musical career in the early to mid 80’s, but didn’t really hit it big until his and his wife’s nomination for artist of the year in 2002.
So he was still a fresh faced 35 year old when he played the Mayor, dreaming of getting to where he is now. Him and his wife (Julie) also wrote and performed most of the songs from Music Machine II. I wasn’t able to find out how he got involved with Candle or the Agapeland producers. He moved to NYC in the 80’s, so it may have just been location, but I’d be curious if anyone knows.
I wasn’t expecting much from this video, but it actually had some interesting footage of the people behind the agapeland albums.
Here is an older photograph of Candle (~1980), in their early beginnings –
From left to right: Ane Warner Weber, Kathy Vetter Salerno, Mark D. Pendergrass, Tee Boswell Clemons, Frank Hernandez, Mike Milligan, Mary Gross, Georian Banov, Ron Krueger, Glenn Wilkinson
And I even managed to find some behind the scene pics from the making of Nathaniel the Grublet.
And for those of you with too much curiosity and 30 minutes to spare, here is the full movie –