Dec. 4 – The Pups’ Christmas

The Pups’ Christmas had the very seasonable release date of December 12, 1936.

Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were among the first stars of cartoon creation to burst onto the scene. Together, the duo would work for Disney, Warner, and MGM (among others) creating and overseeing some of animation’s most memorable characters from the golden age. After working with Leon Schlesinger’s studio to produce Looney Tunes shorts, the duo jumped to MGM in 1934 taking one of their creations with them: Bosko. Bosko isn’t exactly the most well-remembered character from that era, but for a little while, he was indeed a bonafide star. Harman continued making theatrical shorts of the character under the new banner Happy Harmonies while Ising specialized in one-offs that sometimes returned characters, and sometimes did not. One returning set of characters was a pair of puppies which debuted in the short Two Little Pups, but it’s their next appearance that we care about today which came in the 1936 short The Pups’ Christmas.

MGM’s Happy Harmonies series of cartoon shorts didn’t last long, but had a respectable output.

It is a bit of a stretch on my part to call these puppies returning characters. They look basically the same between the two cartoons as far as the general shape and model look, but the original pups were white while the two we’re about to meet are brown and black. The thought process for both shorts is essentially the same though which is to watch two, ignorant, and curious pups interact with the world around them. And for this cartoon, that world happens to be the underside of a Christmas tree full of presents. It’s a fairly simple and basic premise that lends itself well to physical comedy. There’s almost no dialogue present in the short, apart from a few lines spoken by some children, as the focus is going to be squarely on the puppies and the toys they encounter.

Time to get some toys!

The cartoon begins in typical Christmas fashion. We get a rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the standard MGM intro followed by a simple title card that fades to show the exterior of a snow-covered house as “Silent Night” filters in. Maybe some day I’ll go back through all of the Christmas cartoons I’ve consumed over the years and count the number of times “Silent Night” brings us into a short because it sure feels like there’s a lot. When the camera enters the house we find three children, two boys and one girl, as well as our two title characters lurking on the stairs. They’re all spying the goodies recently left by Santa under the tree, though while the children display some excitement, the pups show uncertainty. The kids, which are mostly just shown from the feet as the camera is locked-onto the puppies, beckon the pups to follow while also reminding them to keep quiet as they continuously bark at the sight before their eyes. The two eventually descend the stairs, but not before the brown pup gets its head stuck in the banister supports. The pup is able to yank its head out, it’s neck stretching impossibly long to do so, and the two head for the tree.

Just the first of many toys these puppies are going to have a bad experience with.

Once at the tree the pups run and bark at the assortment of packages and toys left neatly piled all around the tree. These kids seriously made out like bandits this year based on the sheer amount of stuff present. One of the boys starts fiddling with a toy train that the brown pup is suspicious of, while the girl is seated in a new rocking chair with a doll. The brown pup goes to inspect the doll and jumps when it says “Mama.” The two pups are then further startled when the toy train takes off. They run and try to hide behind a large box, but the other boy comes blasting out from behind that on a new tricycle nearly running the pair over as they dash for cover. It’s a scary world for these pups.

They’re right to be suspicious of diseased Pluto.

The pups take refuge in what is I assume one of their Christmas gifts: a dog house with a bow on it. Near the dog house is a pup-sized, fake, Christmas tree and numerous packages that must be intended for the dogs for they include dog collars and a miniature fire hydrant. The black pup seems quite please with the hydrant, but before he can even entertain the notion of taking a whiz on it he’s startled by a stuffed, polka-dotted, dog that kind of resembles Disney’s Pluto. The black dog retreats towards the dog house where the brown pup has been hiding barking all the way. The barks turn to growls as the pup slowly creeps towards the doll with the brown pup in tow. The two approach the doll with a great deal of trepidation and when the black pup stops short of it the brown pup starts pushing it. The two circle the doll nervously sniffing at it until it collapses causing the two to frantically run away and seek shelter amongst the unopened gifts.

Rudolf Ising has no problem going for the cute, so the pup gets a bonnet.

When the black pup emerges from one of the boxes it tore through it’s sporting a Native American headdress. A stereotypical Native American jingle plays in the background as the pup barks in the direction of the doll. It cuts out rather quickly as the camera pans to reveal where the brown pup is hiding. It’s in a doll stroller and it pops up from under a blanket with a bonnet on its head. The doll from earlier is positioned behind the pup and it tilts forward saying “Mama,” as it contacts the pup’s rear. The black pup jumps out of the offensive headdress to look in the brown pup’s direction as that pup bats at the doll (behaving more like a kitten now than a pup) each swat causing the doll to say, “Mama!”

This little wind-up tank is about to make this puppy’s Christmas miserable.

The black pup then takes note of the little boy once more. This time he’s winding up a tank toy. When he lets go the tank practically comes to life as the sound of drums rumble in the background. It hops and blasts the poor little pup with a shower of sparks from its cannon as it lurches forward. The tank waddles more than it rolls as it marches through the area while the black pup hides behind a large ball. Once the tank passes the pup nervously pursues it. As it sniffs at the tank, the pup gets too close and the tank whirls around and blasts it once again causing the pup to retreat into a large bass drum. Seemingly satisfied, the bird-like tank turns itself around and resumes it’s march with the top turret bouncing on a spring with each step.

Apparently the tank is allowed to be cute too.

The black pup is clearly a little miffed at the treatment it’s receiving from this toy and stalks after the tank. The tank climbs a rectangular box that’s leaning against a cubed one, and once at the top, literally jumps a gap over to the next stack of presents as this thing is clearly alive at this point. It doesn’t quite make the leap, tanks aren’t known for their agility, but is able to pull its rear end over the edge of the gift and disappear to the other side. The pup runs around and looks behind the gifts expecting to find the tank, but unbeknownst to it the tank anticipated this and pops out from around the other side. It starts shooting off sparks once again and the pup spins around to yelp and run away after taking a shot to the face.

This poor pup gets blasted a whole bunch in this cartoon.

The pup runs away and right into a small, hand accordion. It crashed through one end and emerges out the other clearly destroying someone’s new gift. It then runs and hides behind a present and now just looks plain terrified instead of curious or angry. Too bad for the pup the tank remains one step ahead of it. We see it slip past the pup, and as the pup backs away from the present it’s rear end comes to rest in a French horn. On the other side is the tank which shoots its sparks through the horn and connects with the puppy’s backside. It yelps and runs away crashing right through the gift it was previously hiding behind and emerging out the other end draped in someone’s new pajamas.

Are we supposed to just ignore the murder that took place off camera?!

The sound of “Mama” gets the black puppy’s attention and we pan over to see the brown pup is batting at something on the floor. It’s the voice box for the doll which says “Mama” each time the puppy hits it. In the background is the doll itself torn to shreds. Where are the kids during all of this? That little girl is going to be heartbroken when she finds her new doll. Judging from the volume of gifts though, it looks like mom and dad can afford to get her a new one. The brown pup stops smacking the toy and instead chooses to bark at it which causes the black pup to bark too. That dastardly tank, apparently not yet satisfied, comes up behind the black pup once more and blasts it with sparks. The black pup yelps and runs away only to collide with the brown pup causing it to swallow the voice box. Now the brown pup is confused as every time it’s butt connects with something it hears “Mama!”

Impressive vertical displayed by the tank.

The tank returns to inflict more terror upon these hapless pups. Seeing it, the brown pup takes shelter behind more gifts while we see where the black pup ended up following its collision with the brown one. It, once again, smashed through another box only this one contained boxing gloves. It emerges from the box with the gloves on its front paws. I expected the pup to then use these to bash the tank, but instead it reacts more like an actual puppy would if it found itself in such an improbable situation and starts trying to shake the gloves off. One goes soaring across the room and the tank has to duck to avoid it. Then comes the other one which the tank jumps to avoid. Now apparently mad, the tank goes after the black pup and resumes blasting it with more sparks.

Definitely the look of someone wondering why their ass is talking.

The brown pup emerges from its hiding place seemingly ready to help out the other pup, but instead chooses to sit down. This causes the soundbox to go off again and the pup spins around confused. We then go into a little dance where the brown pup keeps searching for the source of the “Mama” soundbite, but can’t find it since it’s coming from inside it. Once the pup does figure that part out, it keeps gently sitting down and popping its bum back up the second it hears the first little piece of sound. Only when the pup sits with more force does it freak it out causing it to run for another hiding spot.

Toy? Ornament? Whatever it is, this monkey is all right. Or rather, it was…

The brown pup, in its haste, crashes into another toy. And yup, I figured this was going to happen, it’s racist. The toy is a dancing black person depicted in a very offensive manner. It’s limbs flail about as it does a dance ending with a “Hey!” as it spreads its arms out wide. The bit is mercifully over in a few seconds as the pup takes off. It comes towards a monkey toy, or ornament, that is very much alive as it climbs up a string to avoid the puppy. It then slides down with a look of shock on its face, only for the barking pups to come running by once again, this time with the tank in pursuit. The monkey avoids them all, but for some reason the tank whirls around to regard the monkey up in the Christmas tree. The monkey is pretty ticked off at this point and it yells down at the tank with a bunch of unintelligible, high-pitched, squeaks similar to what Chip and Dale do at times. The tank does not take kindly to this at all and fires off a volley of sparks in the monkey’s direction catching it clear in the face and utterly destroying it. Poor, little, monkey.

There’s a surprising amount of murder in this little cartoon.

This terrible tank them goes after the pups once again. As they run away, they run into a toy airplane hangar and quickly bounce out. That’s because it’s occupied by a toy plane which comes rolling out and takes to the sky. The tank ducks under the plane, but once clear of it fires more sparks at it. The plane soars around the Christmas tree seemingly avoiding the tank which only makes it madder. The tank fires off another round with the last one being something akin to a “charged” shot. That’s the one that strikes the plane which stops in mid-air to grasp at it’s chest like it was a man shot in the heart. It then goes into a tailspin with flames shooting out the back. The pups run for cover in their new dog house seemingly shutting the tank out. It runs around in circles, but with no where to go, does the only thing it can: duck and cover.

A pile of dead toys. Toy Story never had the balls for this!

The planes lands a direct hit on the tank reducing both toys to a pile of twisted steel and springs. The pups emerge from their house to sniff at the pile, only for the tank’s turret (which is basically its head) to pop out on its spring and fire one last blast of sparks at the pups when it strikes the ground. The pups race back into the dog house, but turn around to bark incessantly in the tank’s direction. “Jingle Bells” plays in the background as we close on an iris shot and one last, somewhat joyful, yelp from the brown pup.

Well, at least the brown puppy seems happy.

And thus, the first Christmas for these two little pups is concluded. They caused a lot of mayhem as they investigated the gifts under the tree. I’m not sure what happened to the kids from the beginning. Did they go back to bed? Head into the kitchen? Or did they just watch these toys torture their little puppies with amusement? I have to believe they vacated the room since the brown pup was able to absolutely savage that doll. The destruction wrought by the pups almost makes them villains, in a way, albeit innocent ones. At least it would if not for that asshole tank. Seriously, what is that thing’s problem? One puppy sniffs your backside and you make it your mission to murder the little dog?! That thing got what it deserved, but not before it “killed” a monkey toy and a plane toy that were all just minding their own business. Why couldn’t it have killed the racist toy?!

These little pups are cute because they’re meant to be. It’s really that simple.

For its part, The Pups’ Christmas feels like a Rudolf Ising short. It’s mostly set to music and relies on the animation to depict a fairly conventional setup that doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just two, cute, puppies getting into mischief. It’s the sort of cartoon Ising does well as the animation style is very pleasing to the eye and the production values appear fairly high for this sort of thing. Probably too high for the folks at MGM since the Happy Harmonies series of shorts was ended because they routinely went over budget. I do like how the puppies are presented, even if some of their behavior felt more cat-like than dog-like to me. That detestable tank was also animated in a very amusing manner. It’s waddling and bouncing is a lot of fun, even if it appears to break a whole bunch of rules as far as sentience goes. The short begins with the puppies having exaggerated, but realistic, encounters with objects around the tree until that tank comes into the picture. From there, all of the toys basically come alive with no explanation. Not that one is necessarily needed since we’ve looked at a bunch of pictures like this in the past where toys on Christmas Eve behave like living beings. And of the ones I have looked at, this one is probably the best so far.

I definitely didn’t expect to see flames circling a Christmas tree in this one.

The Pups’ Christmas, being an old cartoon short, is not an easy thing to come by if you want to actually pay for it. It’s never been released on home video and isn’t streaming on any of the major streaming platforms even though it’s owned by Warner Home Video at this point. And I’m guessing the one offensive toy will keep it that way, unless a renewed push is made to get the Happy Harmonies series up and running. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily hard to watch it though as Warner apparently sees no value in protecting its asset which means this short can be found streaming for free all over the place, including YouTube. Just punch it in and you’re sure to find multiple options. MeTV has also shown it in the past year, with the racist toy edited out, so chances are it will pop up this month either as part of Toon in With Me or as part of the Saturday morning Tom & Jerry block of cartoons. And if you’re a dog lover, you’ll probably find this one cute and if you just like animation there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s nothing amazing by any means, but at a running time of less than 8 minutes why not give it a look?

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 4 – Family Guy – “Christmas Guy”

In the fall of 2013, beloved family dog, Brian, met his demise. Brian was an extraordinary dog capable of communicating in English with his family members who was often seen walking on two feet. Despite that though, he met a rather ordinary end for a dog when he was unceremoniously struck by an automobile. Life…

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Dec. 4 – A Christmas Story (1972)

For today’s Christmas post, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Story. No, not that Christmas Story, the first one. Way before Ralphie started obsessing over a BB gun, the duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought us a story about a mouse and a dog trying to get a last-minute letter…

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Dec. 3 – Popeye the Sailor – “Mister and Mistletoe”

Originally released September 30, 1955.

Last year for the Christmas Spot we took a look at the 1960’s TV series Popeye the Sailor and its Christmas episode “Spinach Greetings.” There are a lot of Popeye fans in the world and my assumption is that most would not put Popeye the Sailor above the theatrical shorts that helped catapult Popeye to stardom in the preceding decades. Popeye the Sailor was a TV series produced on the cheap. It wasn’t much to look at and it was missing some of the classic stars, namely Bluto, though it did have the added charm of working in some forgotten foils for Popeye like the Sea Hag.

Still not the best era of Popeye cartoons, but better than the TV series of the same name.

This year, we’re going back to a more beloved era of Popeye, though probably still not the preferred era, as we have here a cartoon from the Famous Studios era of Popeye the Sailor shorts. These ones are notable for being mostly in color and for not featuring the work of the Fleischer brothers. Their ouster at Paramount is another story, but suffice to say that Popeye would not be a star without their contributions. The Famous Studios era would total 122 cartoons and run from 1942 – 1957. Many of these cartoons would find their way to television and could even be seen on Cartoon Network in the 90s. Not all of them were considered suitable to air though as, you could probably guess, there are some unflattering depictions of Japanese people during the World War II era of the shorts. Today’s selection, Mister and Mistletoe, is the 215th Popeye cartoon and was first released on September 30, 1955 alongside Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry.

This one takes place at Olive’s house on Christmas Eve and that’s going to cause some confusion for me.

The cartoon begins at Christmas time and Popeye’s nephews are present and all ready for bed. It’s Christmas Eve and they’re informing Popeye (Jack Mercer) and Olive (Mae Questel) that they’ve been good and need the adults to relay this important information to Santa Claus upon his arrival. Of note, only three of Popeye’s nephews appear in this one. Popeye usually has four nephews: Pepeye, Peepeye, Pupeye, and everyone’s favorite, Poopeye. I don’t know which one is missing here, but I refuse to believe it’s Poopeye!

There’s one in every family.

The boys are dismissed, but before they head upstairs to bed, they hang their stockings by the fireplace. One nephew, predictably, has an absurdly long stocking. Olive and Popeye then start decorating, while that crafty Bluto (Jackson Beck) lurks outside an open window (even though this takes place in a cold climate). Popeye shows off his impressive Body by Spinach by holding Olive up off the ground one-handed. She’s basically standing in the palm of his hand, but in a seated position, which just looks awkward. Bluto bemoans the fact that Popeye got here first which implies that this is Olive’s house (her name was also on the mailbox in the opening shot). Why are Popeye’s nephews sleeping at Olive’s house on Christmas Eve? I have so many questions!

Wait! That’s not Santa!

As Popeye and Olive decorate, Olive remarks how wonderful it is to see children believe in Santa Claus while Popeye wishes there was a Santa for adults. I don’t like Olive’s phrasing here as it implies there is no Santa Claus, but I guess since this was screened with a Hitchcock black comedy maybe kids were never expected to take this one in? Popeye’s comment seems to inspire Bluto to swipe a Santa suit and sack of presents that were by the open window. Now decked out in Santa’s threads, Bluto makes for the chimney and utters his own version of the jolly, fat, man’s signature laugh which gets Popeye excited. He peers up the chimney and as he does Bluto rips the top portion of it from the house and sends it down what’s left of the chimney to smash into Popeye.

Popeye seems to enjoy his “gift” from Santa Claus.

Bluto is then able to enter the home and Olive is instantly smitten. Popeye doesn’t seem to mind the mishap with the chimney either and is delighted to see Santa pay them a visit. Popeye and Olive not doubting the man’s identity seems to make-up for the prior comments about Santa. Olive leaves to fetch Santa a cup of hot chocolate while Santa suggests to Popeye a good spot for the mistletoe. Once placed, Popeye excitedly calls out to Olive to set himself up with a perfect opportunity for a smooch only for Bluto to literally pull the rug out from under him exposing a vent in the floor. Popeye goes sailing through an open door leading to the basement with the rug allowing for Santa Bluto to movie-in for a kiss with Olive. Before his lips find hers, Popeye pops up from the vent in the floor and Bluto’s kiss lands on the back of Popeye’s head causing Popeye to giggle and blush suggesting Santa is embarrassing him.

Saved by a tree on Christmas.

Mildly dismayed by Popeye’s intrusion, Bluto tries to get him out of his beard by asking Popeye if he’d like to help him with the toys. Popeye enthusiastically races over to Santa’s sack and starts filling his arms with toys. Bluto then sneaks up behind him, dumps him into the sack of toys, and chucks it out the window. As the sack of Popeye and toys sails through the air the drawstring snags a pine tree outside. The tree bends back, then snaps forward sending the sack back through the window. When it arrives, Santa and Olive are found seated beside each other on a lounge chair looking cozy while Santa starts to recite A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Olive looks primed and ready so maybe this was an erotic version of the Christmas classic? The sack smashes into Bluto and Popeye pops out looking a bit irritated. Santa Bluto laughs sheepishly and offers an apology.

An interesting way to play with a train set.

Bluto suggests Popeye setup the electric train set and we cut to Popeye excitedly doing just that. As he snaps pieces of the track together, Bluto pops out from behind a chair to plug the set in. When Popeye snaps the last pieces of track together he gets a mighty jolt of electricity. Who designed this thing?! This hardly seems safe for children! Popeye lands on the floor on his stomach with his mouth open in a cartoonishly large manner. Track is coming out of his mouth and the train engine soon drives out.

This poor guy just wanted to celebrate Christmas.

We then cut to Santa and Olive, and Santa has his arm wrapped around her, as they place lit candles on the Christmas tree. Every time I see this tradition acted out in old cartoons it floors me that anyone would have ever willingly placed a flaming object on a dead tree in their own house. Santa bemoans to Olive that it’s a shame Christmas only comes once a year and Olive, rather suggestively, replies that he can drop by anytime. Popeye then interrupts to ask Santa if he can help light the tree. Santa Bluto laughs boyishly as he apparently doesn’t mind the interruption and tells Popeye he sure can. We then see why he wasn’t frustrated with Popeye’s intrusion as he produces a stick of dynamite from behind his back. He tells Popeye he saved the last candle for him and instructs him to place it on the top of the tree. Popeye races up a ladder and does as he’s told. With the “candle” lit, he shouts out a hearty “Merry Christmas!” just before it explodes sending him smashing through the roof (Olive now has a busted chimney and a massive hole in her roof). Popeye soars through the air once again and crashes through a frozen river. The water splashes upwards and freezes instantly with Popeye trapped inside.

Donald Duck shares your pain, Popeye (note: see the entry for December 1st)

Admiring his handiwork, Bluto laughs heartedly while Olive looks worried, either over Popeye or the hole in her roof. We also seem to have switched locations in the house as the pair are still by the tree, but it’s now in a corner of the house. As Bluto laughs, he doesn’t notice his beard has landed in a candle and it catches fire. The flames burn away the false, Santa, beard leaving Bluto’s normal beard intact. Once Olive sees that this Santa is a phony she gets angry. Bluto brushes her anger aside and grabs her around the waist and suggests she give him a kiss. She clearly doesn’t want to as she wrestles against this would-be rapist’s grasp and is able to squirm free. She jumps on a tricycle and starts racing around the room on the walls while Bluto chases after her. He too is able to defy gravity by running on the walls. As Olive tries to avoid her attacker, she calls out to Popeye for help.

There’s the good stuff!

Popeye, hearing Olive’s cries, wakes up only to find himself encased in ice. He then blows hard on his pipe producing a blast of fire which melts away the ice freeing him. Popeye races back inside the house and, rather than immediately go to Olive’s aid, runs for the sack of presents. We soon see why as he pulls out a golden can of spinach. It’s addressed to “Me Nephews” and it’s from Popeye explaining how he knew it was there. He devours the contents and is then able to morph his left arm into a massive mallet (I love when the spinach gives him absurd powers beyond just ludicrous strength).

Bluto gets a brain injury for Christmas. I suspect it’s not the first time.

Popeye runs into another room and sees Olive go racing past him. When Bluto appears behind her Popeye blasts him with his mallet arm knocking him right out of the Santa suit. He bounces, in his long underwear, along the floor and comes to rest beside the tree. The stars spinning around his head then wrap around the tree and one comes to rest at the top. A very resourceful way to decorate a tree, Popeye.

Go get ’em, Poopeye!

Popeye then dons the Santa suit and belts out a “Merry Christmas” as he puts on a spare beard. The nephews hear the call of Santa and emerge from their room. They excitedly race down the stairs and dive into the sack of toys. They immediately recognize Popeye and as they jump into the sack each one asks a question of “Uncle Popeye” like “What did you bring me, Uncle Popeye?” “Did you bring me my gun, Uncle Popeye?” Realizing his disguise is no good, Santa Popeye just has a laugh at his own expense and the cartoon fades to black.

The expected ending of a Christmas Popeye short.

It may not have included a wacky flying reindeer airplane, but I feel comfortable declaring Mister and Mistletoe a superior Christmas cartoon to “Spinach Greetings.” It’s a pretty standard Popeye short with Bluto and the sailor battling over Olive only this one is set at Christmas and Popeye is mostly ignorant of Bluto’s advances until the very end. It certainly is a bit confusing as far as the setup goes of Popeye seemingly bringing his nephews along for a sleepover at Olive’s on Christmas Eve, but apparently someone at Famous Studios felt it had to be set at Olive’s house as opposed to Popeye’s. Those two certainly have an odd relationship.

Bluto is such a disgusting creep that I wouldn’t have minded a little more violence directed his way.

Being a Famous Studios production and not a Fleischer one, it likely comes as no surprise that this isn’t the best looking Popeye short out there, but it’s far from ugly. The animation is fine and there appear to be few shortcuts taken. There are a few hard cuts which are a bit unusual, but maybe that was to imply a longer passage of time. It’s only six minutes long so those kids were basically in bed for a wink or two before getting up for presents. None of the physical comedy is particularly original for a Popeye cartoon as I know I’ve seen Olive ride along a wall like she does in this one before. Popeye getting smashed with an entire chimney is certainly a violent touch, though the mallet transformation was a bit too conventional. Why not have his arm turn into something more festive? This is a Christmas cartoon after all.

I still have questions about this relationship.

Being that this is a fairly typical Popeye short, it’s also no surprise that there isn’t any sort of message baked into it. We don’t expect life lessons from Popeye (at least during this era) so it’s fine he has no Christmas wisdom to share. I do wish they had snuck in confirmation of the real Santa Claus as I do hesitate to show this to my “true believer” kids for that reason. It’s not the electrocution or the smoking that concerns me as a parent, it’s the Santa stuff! At any rate, this one is relatively easy to find online if you wish to make it part of your Christmas viewing this year. And with MeTV airing Toon in With Me and a Popeye show on Saturday mornings, there’s a decent chance this one will show up on television too this year.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 3 – The Simpsons – “The Way of the Dog”

It’s not often I get to look at a Christmas special from the same year I’m doing The Christmas Spot, but it also helps when that Christmas special premieres in May of the same of year. May?! Yeah, it’s weird, but for the 31st season finale of The Simpsons the show rolled out a Christmas…

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Dec. 3 – Mega Babies – “A Mega Christmas”

Considering how gross a lot of cartoons had become in the 90s, it should come as no surprise that the decade concluded with Mega Babies, a cartoon about literal snot-nosed, super-powered, babies featuring diapers overflowing with excrement in the opening title. Mega Babies was a short-lived production from the Tremblay brothers, Christian and Yvon, who…

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Dec. 2 – Donkey Kong Country – “The Kongo Bongo Festival of Lights”

Original air date December 20, 1999.

In 1994, Nintendo and developer Rare Ltd. released unto the world Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo. It was a pretty big deal because with Sony prepping its 32-bit PlayStation console for release, and Nintendo no where near ready to unveil the Nintendo 64, the company needed to eke out a few more years from the SNES to bridge that gap. Sega had tried to do the same with its Genesis console by releasing expensive add-ons that ultimately failed forcing it to rush the Saturn console to market around the same time. Nintendo felt the SNES still had something to say, and Rare had just the thing up its sleeve: 3D.

Three-dimensional graphics had already been done on the Super Nintendo in 1993 with Star Fox. That game used 3D polygons to create a style of flight sim pretty foreign to console gamers. It was unquestionably impressive and the game was a lot of fun to play, though unsaid at the time was that the game was pretty ugly. Actual pleasant visuals were sacrificed in order to achieve three-dimensional gaming and it was a trade-off that felt necessary at the time in order for advancements to be made. That’s why it was so shocking when Rare unveiled Donkey Kong Country which featured 3D models of the game’s characters: Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong, making his debut. The two looked like a pair of cartoon apes and their many allies and foes featured the same level of detail. It was stunning and left jaws on the floor when it was first shown. Even today, the game is hardly an eyesore and many would argue it’s aged better than a lot of the games that followed on more powerful hardware.

Not just a popular series of video games.

Just how did Rare pull off the impossible on the Super Nintendo? With trickery, of course. Rare rendered the characters in 3D on (for the time) powerful computers and then converted those models into 2D sprites. In doing so, Rare was able to preserve the 3D aesthetic even if the game itself wasn’t technically 3D. Does that matter? No! If gamers were convinced they were experiencing a game rendered in 3D then that’s all that matters. Of course it helped that the gameplay was restricted to just two planes as Donkey Kong Country, at its heart, is a fairly straight-forward 2D platformer. I’d even argue it’s a merely average one as I personally never found a lot of enjoyment in playing the game, even if I was impressed by how it looked.

To no one’s surprise, Donkey Kong Country was a big hit for Nintendo and two sequels followed on the Super Nintendo, pretty good for a console everyone thought was at the end of its life when the original came out. The game was popular enough that an animated series was commissioned by Nelvana for 1997. Working on season one was Medialab Studio L.A. which switched to Hong Guang Animation for season two. WIC Entertainment had a hand in the production as well and the show was broadcast around the world totaling 40 episodes. In the US, it was one of the original Fox Family Channel cartoons and was also seen a bit on the broadcast network. And since the video games were “3D,” so was the animated series. Being a 1997 show, it’s obviously pretty limited and as a result it was something I didn’t particularly care for. The only 3D show I even gave a passing glance at was Beast Machines and only because that one seemed to be far and away the best looking of the bunch. And not being a big fan of the game, I also had little reason to check it out, so I didn’t!

For some reason, the opening shot is the only one in which the hut is decorated with Christmas, excuse me, Kongo Bongo Festival of Lights lights.

The first episode of the second season is where our pull for today comes from. “The Kongo Bongo Festival of Lights” is one of those Christmas, but not Christmas, episodes some shows do which makes this similar to last year’s Super Mario World episode. The Festival of Lights is essentially Donkey Kong Christmas. The only thing missing is a stand-in for Santa Claus. There’s obviously lights, but there’s also gift-giving and the capper is a fireworks display at night, which is a part of some Christmas celebrations around the world, though certainly not a requirement. It qualifies for The Christmas Spot, and since this is a show I’m barely familiar with I’m actually a little eager to give it a go so let’s see what Donkey Kong has to offer.

Cranky is terrific. Easily the best part of the show.

The episode begins with Cranky Kong (Aron Tager) reading ‘Twas the Night Before the Festival of Lights to Donkey Kong (Richard Yearwood) and Diddy Kong (Andrew Sabiston). I have no idea if this show follows the lore of Donkey Kong Country with Cranky being the original Donkey Kong from the arcade games and the current Donkey Kong his son, Donkey Kong Jr. If it does, it doesn’t feel like it. Cranky sounds appropriately old and, well, cranky, while Donkey Kong sounds far more refined than I was anticipating. I thought he’d have a gravely voice, but instead it’s young and hip, for lack of a better word. Diddy sounds like Yoshi from the Super Mario World cartoon, which makes sense since Andy Sabiston also voiced that character. It too was unexpected, but doesn’t feel inappropriate for the character.

Somehow they look worse here than they do in a Super Nintendo game.

When Cranky finishes the story he inquires with his two pupils what their favorite part of the festival is. Donkey Kong claims it’s the bananas, which is apparently the only thing he ever cares about. Diddy Kong, who is clearly the kid character here, says it’s the presents and mouths off about wanting some monkey bar toy. Cranky remarks that’s what he wants too just to mess with him, though surprisingly doesn’t admonish the young monkey for focusing on the material aspect of the holiday. He then shares that his favorite part of the holiday is the part most important to our plot: the truce between apes and lizards. The main bad guy is the crocodile King K. Rool (Benedict Campbell) from the video games and apparently this holiday is the only time he’s agreed to leave the apes alone. Why does he typically bother them? Because he wants the crystal coconut, which is literally a crystal coconut. If it has any sort of magic powers that’s not covered here.

General Klump salutes his king.

After that revelation, the setting shifts from Donkey’s treehouse to a pirate ship out on the seas. The water looks terrible and the camera zooms in on an obvious pirate sail, but then dissolves into a cave or mine. In there we find the lizards, or crocs, or whatever, barreling down the tracks in a mine car. They stop beside General Klump (Adrian Truss), a chubby croc in an army helmet that looks like a model from the game. He gives the cart full of subordinates info on how to get out as he’s clearly preparing for all operations to be suspended for the holiday. King K. Rool then shows up in the next cart and he’s pleased to find out that everything is going smooth in preparation for the holiday. The king inquires where Krusha (Len Carlson) is and Klump informs him he’s in the back looking for something. Krusha, a big, dumb, blue, gator, then emerges excited that he found some “candles.” The candles are clearly dynamite and as the two intelligent gators recoil in horror the sticks explode and Krusha is left standing charred and confused.

Pictured: not candles.

Klump corrects my assumption and refers to the dynamite as fireworks. He then hops up and down excitedly as he shares that the fireworks are his favorite part of the holiday. King K. Rool then shares with Klump his typical holiday plans as he’s looking forward to spending the holiday with family playing “Gator Games” and enjoying bog nogg. As he does, the camera zooms in on Klump’s eyes and it’s clearly trying to convey something, but the animation is too limited to make it clear. It almost looks like longing? Is Klump like Smithers to King K. Rool’s Mr. Burns?

Elton Klump.

No. Turns out we were supposed to notice that Klump was sad. That becomes apparent after the king departs and we can see Klump’s full face. Apparently he’s all alone for the holidays because he has no family and this is typical for him each year. He hangs his head and slumps off only to wind-up at a grand piano that appears out of no where. He then sings us a song, and seeing how there’s songs attached to every episode in the episode guide, I’m guessing this is fairly typical of the show. “No Family Tree” is a sad little piano number that then adds drums and guitar magically. The lyrics are actually kind of clever and we learn some more about gator food: pizza mud pies, beetle sandwiches, rotten turtle egg soup. The song ends on a literal high note out of Klump, followed by a bout of pathetic sobbing. Poor guy.

Poor Klump can’t remember his poem, even though the words literally call on him to remember someone.

Klump is then shown standing in the mine talking aloud to himself. He recalls a poem someone taught to him that he should recite when he is sad. Only, he can’t remember how it goes. It starts off as, “Whenever you’re sad, lonely as can be, just remember me…” and that’s where he’s left literally scratching his head. As he recites what little he knows, he does so with a melody and piano music filters in to go with it. It’s pretty corny, but also pretty clear that we’ll know the rest of the poem come the episode’s end.

We leave the lonely Klump to wallow in his sadness and rejoin Donkey Kong and Diddy. They’re both walking along a dock and Donkey Kong is excited to show off his fireworks display. He’s carrying a giant barrel which he has effortlessly placed upon his shoulder. Diddy is still focused on the presents and he wants to know what Donkey Kong got him. Donkey Kong is happy to share, and as he hypes it up, Diddy starts doing backflips until Donkey Kong reveals it’s a banana – the same thing he got everyone else. Diddy falls over laughing as he thinks this is a joke causing Donkey Kong to look at the camera and sadly go along with Diddy’s assumption. Donkey Kong’s face is so weird looking in this show because his brow is the same color as his mouth, but he has brown fur under it and around his eyes. The brow flops all over the place to convey emotion and it’s pretty ugly, but that’s how the character looks in the game so I guess the animators felt they had to retain it.

Yikes! Candy Kong isn’t looking too hot.

The conversation is interrupted by the aroma of banana cream pie. Donkey Kong follows his nose to a steaming pie left out on a barrel which doesn’t look like any banana cream pie I ever saw. Candy Kong (Joy Tanner) then pops out of the nearby hut to greet her boyfriend, I think? Donkey Kong, lost in the fragrance of pie, mistakenly calls her Creamy at first then corrects himself which doesn’t seem to bother her. If you don’t like the Donkey Kong model in this show, you’ll probably hate Candy as she looks pretty terrible. Her clothing doesn’t appear to be modeled separately and has that painted on quality that makes me think of old wrestling games on the PlayStation. I think the show is trying to make her conventionally attractive to the viewer too, even though she’s an ape, sort of like some of the female characters from a show like Goof Troop which just look like women, but with brown noses. Candy though looks horrid and I think it’s because she basically has no nose.

Candy then boasts about the gift she got for Donkey Kong, but teases he has to wait until later to get it. If you think this is suggestive, she is actually holding a wrapped present, but I suppose it could contain something naughty. As she walks back inside, Funky Kong (Damon D’Oliveira) strolls by. He speaks with a Jamaican accent and he too boasts to Donkey Kong about the awesome gift he got him. As he walks away, the implication is he got him a surfboard since he’s carrying a yellow one with an image of Donkey Kong’s tie painted on it. As he takes his leave to deliver the present to Cranky, Donkey Kong laments that everyone got him something great with his sadness implying he doesn’t have anything in return. Diddy then reassures him that Cranky surely got him a terrible gift since he gets him the same thing every year: glow-in-the-dark pajamas. The two share a laugh, and then Diddy makes Donkey Kong feel worse when he assures him that his gift for DK will make up for Cranky’s. This reminds him that he still needs to wrap it. He reminds Donkey Kong to finish setting up the fireworks or else the only thing glowing tonight will be the pajamas as he walks off leaving DK standing there looking depressed.

Apparently DK seeks advice from a creepy statue often.

Donkey Kong is shown setting up the barrels far out on the dock for the fireworks. He bemoans that he doesn’t know what to do about the gifts, then we see a slot machine graphic that spins and displays three bananas indicating that DK has figured out a solution. We then head to some big, stone, idol that Donkey Kong refers to as Inka Dinka Doo. He reminds me of Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. It’s apparently some kind of idol that can impart wisdom as Donkey Kong seems to think it knows what to do. As he pleads with the statue to provide a solution, the top spins as it’s kind of like an 8-ball. It switches to a smiling portrait and then a disembodied voice (Lawrence Bayne) echoes “Look into the heart of your enemy to discover the greatest gift of all.” Donkey Kong is clearly perplexed, but that’s all he’s getting out of the statue.

An alliance is forged!

We then see Donkey Kong running through the jungle complaining that Inka Dinka Doo wasted his time. He soon smashes into Klump knocking the two of them off their feet. At first Klump is startled, but then the two remember the truce and they rather easily put their differences aside. Klump seems rather happy to find another person alone for the festival, but then Donkey Kong informs him he’s not alone and will be celebrating with a bunch of friends at a party. This just makes Klump sad again. When Donkey Kong inquires what he’s doing behind enemy lines, he tells him he just came to see the fireworks. Donkey Kong then breaks the bad news to him that there won’t be any this year because he still needs to find presents for all of his friends. This crushes Klump as the fireworks are all he has. He’s not so crushed that he isn’t resourceful though as he offers to help DK find gifts for his friends in exchange for a front row seat at the fireworks. Donkey Kong agrees to the terms and the two shake on it.

Why would a crocodile have nipples?

We’re then back at the dock and that pirate ship – remember that seemingly innocuous pirate ship we saw for all of two seconds – is shown docked. Here we meet Kaptain Skurvy (Rob Rubin) who is basically a palette swap of Klump only he’s orange and wears a pirate hat instead of an army one. He has two pirates with him, Kutlass (John Stocker, another veteran of the Super Mario cartoons) and a nameless green croc voiced by Richard Newman. Skurvy has decided that today is the perfect day to steal the crystal coconut, so apparently crocs other than King K. Rool want that thing, on account of there being a truce so it won’t be expected. Kutlass thinks this is a great idea, but Skurvy then gets a little sad and reveals there’s only one thing he wants more than that coconut and it’s something he lost long ago. I’m sure we’ll know soon enough what that is. Since he can’t steal what he lost though, he’s taking that coconut and he leads his men in a cheer that’s just “Steal booty!”

I’m sure the animators appreciated not having to show us the contents of King K. Rool’s vault.

Klump has taken Donkey Kong back to the mine lair where the ape is rummaging through what’s left there for gifts. He’s in some kind of vault and Klump instructs him to take whatever, though he tells him he should leave the clown costume behind. DK is enthused by the stuff in there, though none of it is depicted on screen so we’re left to wonder just what’s so great. Klump then starts into his sadness routine again as he openly wishes he had someone to give gifts to. The music for his poem then re-enters as he tries to recite it again, but still can’t remember the last part. Donkey Kong inquires about that last part and Klump says he can’t remember, it was just something someone sang to him when he was little. Donkey Kong then tells him he found the perfect gift – candles! It’s the dynamite, or fireworks, from earlier. As Klump shouts “No!” we’re shown an exterior shot of the mine as the stuff explodes and what looks like real fire is shown onscreen. We then jump back into the mine to see a blackened Donkey Kong and Klump seemingly no worse for ware.

If Donkey Kong has trouble properly identifying fireworks then he really shouldn’t be in charge of the festivities later.

Back at Cranky’s place, the old ape is wondering what’s taking Donkey Kong so long to setup the fireworks. Diddy assures him that DK wouldn’t goof off on today of all days and sets off to find him. In the mine, Donkey Kong is shown racing around in a mine car. He declares that he wants to gift everyone a mine car, but is soon distracted by a lever (that looks more like a button), but just as Klump shouts out to not pull the lever Donkey Kong does and the cart is sent soaring through the air. As Donkey Kong recovers from his impromptu flight he suggests that maybe a mine car isn’t such a good gift.

I have no idea what makes this thing so special.

At Cranky’s, Diddy returns to report the bad news that he can’t find DK anywhere. Cranky gets pissed as he finds out that the fireworks haven’t been setup, but Diddy reports it gets worse. Skurvy and his boys then show up and announce they’re here for the crystal coconut. Diddy and Cranky don’t even bother putting up a fight nor do they seem particularly aggrieved by the pirates not respecting their truce with King K. Rool, but maybe there was no expectation that pirates would place value on such a thing. Skurvy mentions once again there’s something he wants more than the crystal coconut, but since it’s not here he’ll have to settle for the artifact. Diddy remarks that at least they’re not taking the presents, which just causes the pirates to take the presents.

I know he’s a bit thrown off by the theft of the crystal coconut, but shouldn’t DK be a bit more concerned about the fact that Cranky’s hut is apparently full of enemy cameras?

Back in the mine, Donkey Kong is going through King K. Rool’s books and seems intent on gifting all of his friends a book from the king’s assortment. An image then pops up on Klump’s security system and it’s of the pirates making off with the crystal coconut. Apparently the crocs have cameras around Cranky’s hut? Anyways, when Donkey Kong sees the pirates he knows he has to abandon his pursuit of gifts to stop them while Klump is ticked off that they’re not respecting the truce, but DK informs him that pirates never honor truces. Klump reveals this is bad news for him as King K. Rool will have his hide if someone other than him steals the coconut, so he agrees to help Donkey Kong get it back.

Yeah, Cranky! Give that stupid ape a good tongue-lashing!

Donkey Kong shows up at Cranky’s place only to get chewed out for not being around all day. Cranky is not at all sympathetic to DK’s gift dilemma, but DK tells him he brought help in the form of Klump. That just causes Cranky to momentarily panic as he barks out to protect the crystal coconut, which Diddy has to remind him has already been stolen. Then, shaking with anger, he orders everyone to go retrieve it from Skurvy. I do like Cranky, he definitely has the most energy of all the characters here.

I like how Skurvy just wields a cannon like it’s a gun.

At the docks, the heroes hide behind the barrels of explosives Donkey Kong had placed there earlier and survey the scene. Kutlass and Green Croc (that’s apparently his actual name) are positioned on the dock while Skurvy is somewhere else. Klump then very loudly asks what they’re looking at and DK shushes him before telling him he’s to be on lookout for Skurvy. Klump agrees and heads over to the beach rather loudly. The two apes start talking loudly like pirates to put the notion into the heads of the underlings that there’s more booty on the beach. It’s a bit confusing, I’m not sure if they’re supposed to think Donkey and Diddy are Skurvy. The two apes then retreat to the bushes and things just get more confusing as the two crocs pick up the barrels of explosives and start loading them onto the ship. Those barrels were clearly not on the beach. Diddy giggles and exclaims to DK that his plan is working perfectly, but the sound of a gun cocking interrupts their giggles. Skurvy is shown pointing his miniature cannon, which has no working action on it that would make a gun cocking sound, in Donkey Kong’s face.

If those are the only presents they had then it doesn’t seem like a tremendous loss, honestly. Certainly not worth this kind of aggravation.

We banana-wipe to a scene on the ship and Skurvy informs the pair that their plan was as stinky as bilge water – a good boat insult. Skurvy then guesses that their plan was to trick the pirates into stealing the fireworks only for the apes to bargain for the coconut with the threat of blowing the ship up. How they were to light the fireworks is a bit of a mystery. And it must be to Skurvy because he announces he was planning on stealing the fireworks anyway! He then whips out the crystal coconut to declare it’s the only booty he ever wanted. Diddy then reminds him that he mentioned something else, and Skurvy’s eyes grow soft as he concedes, “Aye, there be.” Klump’s poem music then starts playing and Skurvy mentions he has a long lost brother. He then starts singing the poem revealing that the missing part is, “…your big brother – Skurvy!”

It’s a sing-along time.

Donkey Kong is predictably stupid and doesn’t immediately remember that he heard Klump singing the same thing. Skurvy orders his men to set sail for shark-infested waters so they can be rid of the apes, but gets interrupted by Klump who has come aboard armed with a weird looking gun. He declares he’s here to fight to the death, which catches everyone off-guard including Skurvy who declares that even pirates don’t fight to the death. Klump is forced to concede that he’s never actually had to fight to the death, he’s just bound by lizard law to say it. He does inform the crew that he has experience blowing things to bits and orders the skum-sucking sea dawgs to hand over the crystal coconut. Skurvy retorts by calling Klump a skum-sucking swamp-sucker. There sure are a lot of sucking accusations being tossed around. Skurvy picks up his cannon weapon. As the two hurl verbal barbs at each other, Diddy remarks to DK how stupid the pair look and Donkey Kong admits it’s pretty sad. Just saying the word “sad” causes him to remember the poem. When Diddy Kong asks “What poem?” Donkey Kong sings it for him. In doing so his voice drastically changes as the singing voice is provided by Sterling Jarvis. He sounds lovely, but the change is super distracting.

These guys are a lot faster than they look.

As DK sings it, Klump and Skurvy finish the last line. Klump confirms that’s it, that’s the rest of the poem, then, like a dope, asks Skurvy how he knew that part. Skurvy, apparently none brighter, questions how Klump knew it at all. Finally, Skurvy shouts “Little brother!” and Klump returns in kind, but in his excitement he tossed his gun over his shoulder and it goes off. We get a clip of a bullet shooting through the air for the barrels of fireworks which cuts to the gang running (with the crystal coconut) on the dock. Somehow they managed to get off of the boat and down the dock while the bullet was in-flight – and I thought Sonic was fast!

The brother reveal might have come as a surprise if Klump and Skurvy didn’t look exactly alike.

The ship explodes taking all of the gifts with it, which is sad for Diddy Kong, but good for Donkey Kong as now he doesn’t have to match the gifts everyone was planning on giving him. As the gang admires the fireworks, Skurvy mentions he loves them. When Klump says the same, Skurvy remarks “Of course!” Apparently, it was Klump’s love of fireworks that caused him to set their whole swamp on fire. Skurvy took the blame for his little brother, and in return was banished to the high seas. Harsh, but fair.

Time for Donkey Kong to explain the lesson he learned.

That night, the Kong clan still has fireworks, but no gifts. Cranky gives him a backhanded compliment on the fireworks job, but then declares this the best festival ever. When Donkey Kong laments the lost presents, Cranky finally chimes in with the long-expected reminder that today isn’t about presents, but family. Donkey Kong then declares that’s what Inka Dinka Doo must have been trying to tell him (see, it’s all coming together now!). Candy, Funky, and Diddy then arrive with Candy reenforcing the message that the holiday is about spending time with family and DK adds that even villains need family. Cranky then wonders what those lizards are up to.

Aww, don’t they look cute together?

On cue, we check-in with those lizards as Skurvy is spinning some tall tale about his time at sea to his little brother. Krusha then comes rolling in, but says nothing, followed by the king himself. He does not seem happy to find a pirate in his lair, but Klump is eager to share the news about his discovery. King K. Rool then surveys the area and sees a bunch of luggage nearby and declares that there’s no way Skurvy is moving in, but Klump corrects him by informing him that he’s actually leaving to set sail with his brother. This makes the king even madder and he and Skurvy end up nose-to-nose trading insults with each other. As for Klump, the sight of the two gators fighting over him brings a tear to his eye causing him to declare this the best Kongo Bongo Festival of Lights ever! The camera pulls out on the the bickering reptiles as fireworks fill the night sky over the island.

This is all Klump has ever wanted for Not-Christmas: two reptiles fighting over him.

And that is apparently how apes (and lizards) celebrate not-Christmas. Donkey Kong Country is a rather ugly show by today’s standards, and I’m not convinced it wasn’t ugly even by the standards of 1999 when this episode aired. The animations for each character are very limited and it’s obvious they try to stage and work around those limitations as much as possible. The characters really don’t move their lower half much and instead rely on their arms and faces to convey action and emotion. For the apes, this works okay even if I don’t love the look of some of those characters. For the alligator types it’s much harder as their mouths just don’t have the range of motion one needs forcing the animators to rely almost solely on their eyes. At least the scaled textures on those characters looks okay, better than the fur on the apes, anyway.

This one is pretty goofy, but it does sneak in a generic holiday lesson at the end.

The story for this one is also not terrible. I found Klump sympathetic and he was easily the character I liked the most after Cranky. The set piece for his song early on surprised me and was something I found rather amusing. The poem was okay as a plot device, though how terrible is Klump’s memory that he completely forgot he had a brother? That plot twist was pretty easy to see coming since Skurvy and Klump are literally the same character model. If they’re any different I didn’t notice. I don’t know if Skurvy was a regular on the show prior to this episode or not so I can see the reveal at least being fun for longtime viewers. The other plot concerning Donkey Kong’s gift dilemma was far less interesting, but it at least scores some points for being a bit original. I liked that Donkey Kong also wasn’t some jerk intentionally giving bad gifts, he’s just an ape who really likes bananas and doesn’t realize his friends expect something a little more thoughtful than that. A truly selfish character wouldn’t even be concerned about it. It was an unusual resolution to just have the other gifts get destroyed before they could be given. That’s definitely one way to write DK out of his problem.

Ending a special with fireworks is certainly a sound decision that I can get behind.

Donkey Kong Country is almost by default one of the better video game adaptions I’ve watched simply by virtue of it not sucking completely. I don’t know that I’d necessarily recommend this one, but if you like the games then I suppose you’ll enjoy this. It’s also entirely possible that this is one of the lesser episodes in the series so maybe the rest of the show is even better. I won’t be finding out, but again, I was never a big fan of the games to begin with. If you want to watch this one it can be found online with minimal to no effort for free. I think the free stream on YouTube is even “legal” and not piracy unchallenged, so have at it guilt-free! It’s also streaming on Tubi and episodes are available on Prime. Some of the show has been released on DVD, but I do not know if this one of them. In short, it’s not hard to find.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 2 – Toy Story That Time Forgot

When the credits started to roll in 2010 signaling the end of Toy Story 3 I think most who were watching it assumed this was “good bye.” The toys which had captured the hearts of movie-goers going on two decades were saying good bye to their former owner and playmate, Andy, and so too were…

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Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a…

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Dec. 1 – 35 Years of The Christmas Tape

Oh have I got something special to kick things off this year!

Welcome back to another year of The Christmas Spot! This year we’re kicking things off with a post I’ve been sitting on for a few years now. When I utter the title “The Christmas Tape,” I’m curious what comes to the minds of readers. It sounds both generic and specific and I suspect a few people will read the title of this entry and try to recall a special with that title. Well, there is no special that I’m aware of, but if you’re old enough to have grown up with a VHS in your household then you may have a frame of reference for such a thing.

It was back in 1987 that my mother made the decision to record as many Christmas specials that aired on television that year as possible so that my sister and I would have them to watch whenever we wanted. Or rather, we could watch them as much as we wanted starting on the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s. That recording would come to be known in my house as The Christmas Tape. It was watched so much over the years that the audio has started to fail, the tracking at the start of the tape is well-worn, and the tape itself is being held together by a different kind of tape – Scotch tape. 1987 might have been the first Christmas my family actually had a VCR which explains why it was that year this tape was created. And since my mother was probably new to using a VCR, she made it easy on herself and left the commercials in. And that’s the gold mine today. YouTube has somewhat lessened the charm, but watching a bunch of advertisements from 35 years ago is far more interesting than the actual programs. Unfortunately, my mom did get a bit savvy and towards the end of the tape she started stopping the tape for commercials, though the final special has them.

To get the festivities started around here this year, I decided to walk my readers through this relic of Christmas past. I’ve done a proper entry on almost everything on this tape, and the few I have only addressed in short order should probably be rectified this year. For the reason that a lot of this is old news, I’m going to focus mostly on the commercials and esoteric qualities of this tape. All of the images in this entry are taken directly from my aging tape. Well, to be more specific, they’re captured from a DVD of the tape I made nearly 15 years ago. Yes, this tape is so old that the DVD copy I made to preserve it is almost old enough to drive. The actual tape is still alive too and enjoying its retirement as it’s rarely called upon to offer up the holiday goodness. All right, it’s time to get nostalgic!

It has begun!

This tape begins with the very end of a Christmas themed 7 Up commercial. It’s a commercial that will return numerous times so we don’t need to talk about it now. The audio early on is very low and when I watch this tape today I need to crank it up. It gets progressively better as the tape rolls along, but it’s obvious that my sister and I would most often watch the start of the tape as opposed to the end. That’s because it’s long – around 6 hours, so we rarely made it all the way through in a sitting. Most of our viewings as children started from the beginning and we’d watch pretty intensely for a little while, then gradually drift away to toys and such while the tape kept rolling in the background. The closer to Christmas we got, the less engaged we would be with the tape since it was a case of diminishing returns. Since we were raised with a VCR though, we were well-trained to rewind the tape whenever we were done with it so even if we turned it off before it reached the end (or more likely, my mom did) it would get rewound to the beginning.

Come on, kids! Let’s go eat some garbage!

The first commercial captured in its entirety is one for McDonald’s. It’s not holiday themed and it’s actually for “The Fry Step.” Remember the Fry Kids? If you don’t, they were like pom-poms with legs and googly eyes. They dance with some kids and Ronald McDonald with a song to accompany it. It ends with the slogan at the time for McDonald’s – “It’s a good time for the great taste of McDonald’s!” It was one of their catchier jingles. We then get our first special: Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Only it’s not quite as it seems. This special aired on NBC in 1987 and was broadcast over the course of an hour. If you’re familiar with the special, then you know it’s not suited to fill an entire hour so Disney packaged it with three holiday themed shorts. Or rather, two winter shorts and one Christmas short. They also tied everything together with still images, created in the style of the sepia-toned images in the opening and closing title of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and some narration from Mickey. The framing device is Mickey wants his pals to share their favorite Christmas memories, and their voice pops in to introduce a short. The characters will actually recall several memories set to clips before settling on the one memory they want to share most.

This version of Mickey’s Christmas Carol is really the best it can be due to the inclusion of the added shorts and these cute, little, bumpers.

Up first, is Donald Duck. Mickey suspects Donald might not even like Christmas, but the duck informs him how wrong he is. As his voice pops in, we’re treated to an image of Donald looking pretty pissed that he just opened a box of Mickey Mouse ears for Christmas. We then see clips from Toy Tinkers as Donald recalls his fondness for decorating and playing Santa as well as a clip from the short The Clock Watcher of Donald getting pelted by toys. After that, Donald settles on the notion of enjoying spending time with his nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, around the holidays. This brings in the short Donald’s Snow Fight. It cuts off the very beginning and picks up with Donald walking up a hill with his sleigh. It also cuts off the end when the nephews do an insensitive Native American demonstration. It’s not a Christmas toon, but it is a lot of fun as it’s just an escalating snowball fight. There’s some imitable violence and the previously mentioned Native American bit likely keeps it off of Disney+, but it’s worth seeking out if you’ve never seen it or just wish to see it again!

When the short is over, we go back to a still image of Mickey and Pluto cutting down a tree to introduce the next short. It’s rather surprising NBC didn’t shove a commercial in here, but I suppose it’s good for us. Or was in 1987. The short we jump into is Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which we’ve covered here a lot. Like Donald’s Snow Fight, the very beginning is cut as Mickey’s introduction is all the setup we need. There are no cuts after that, which isn’t a surprise as there’s nothing particularly violent or problematic in this one so you can watch it on Disney+ and on many physical media releases.

That guy should look familiar if you’ve been coming here for awhile.

Following Pluto’s Christmas Tree we get our first commercial break of the tape. It’s for 7 Up, which dates this tape because when was the last time you saw a 7 Up commercial? It shows an elf, and these guys had multiple commercials that we’ll see. He’s dragging a pallet of cans and uses some Christmas magic to fill a fridge with 7 Up and Cherry 7 Up. It’s narrated, and the narrator alerts parents that if you buy 7 Up right now you’ll get a paper advent calendar for your kids. It’s Santa’s face and the numbers 1 – 25 are on Santa’s beard and kids are supposed to glue cotton balls over each number to countdown to Christmas. It’s also the header image on this blog during the holidays as well as the lone image on The Christmas Spot page, and you’re damn right I bought one of these on eBay years later. I also had one as a kid and really did the countdown one year as 7 Up had these for multiple holidays. We then go into a Puffalumps commercial which has a sleepy lullabye. Puffalumps were these very light, polyester, plushies. My sister had one, Bunny Grabbit, and they had at least two series before being discontinued. Following that we get the classic Halls of Medicine commercial that aired for many years, then a Wendy’s commercial advertising Furskins, country bumpkin teddy bears. A network bumper follows reminding kids to come back on Saturday morning for Smurfs and the animated Alf, and then we’re back to Mickey. It’s a bit of a bummer we only got one holiday themed commercial in that first break.

I love this picture.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol returns with a depiction of the Norm Rockwell “Freedom from Want” painting, only with Mickey and the gang in its place. I’ve always wanted to get that as a poster, but never found it. Up next though is Goofy, and we get some quick clips of his antics from On Ice and Polar Trappers before deciding that he wants to share with us the Christmas where he learned to ski which brings in The Art of Skiing. Once again, it’s a winter themed short and has nothing to do with Christmas, but it is entertaining and you’re damn right that I have the ornament of Goofy doing some downhill skiing on my tree! When this short ends we go to commercial, and we get just our second Christmas commercial.

Guys, you can’t just go gifting stars to clowns.

And it’s a good one as we go into “Star Wish” from McDonald’s. I talked about this commercial awhile ago in a post about Christmas commercials, but it’s really interesting because it’s like a greeting card turned into a commercial. There are no McDonald’s products pitched, it’s just a story of Birdee and Grimace giving Ronald McDonald a Christmas present. And that present is a falling star that they apparently catch. It’s depicted with 2D animation, while the other characters are live-action. The star doesn’t like being a possession though, so they “Wish him home where he’ll twinkle and glow!” And the star returns to the sky, and Ronald comments that he already has the best gift of all, “Friends like you.” Happy holidays, from McDonald’s. A supremely nostalgic commercial for folks my age and up since all of these McDonald Land characters have basically been put out to pasture because it’s apparently not great to advertise junk food to kids. And it just occurred to me that many readers might not even know who these characters are at all. Ronald McDonald is the old McDonald’s mascot usually played by a guy in makeup (played by actor Squire Fridell during this era of the character). Birdee and Grimace are played by live actors as well, but in huge suits similar to characters in Disney World with big, plastic, heads. They have nothing to do with the food at McDonald’s and these characters just existed to entertain children and sell them junk food.

This one is for my fellow New Englanders. Recognize any of these people?

After that we get a bumper reminding us what we’re watching, then a network spot for Our House and My Two Dads. I remember My Two Dads, but not Our House. Then we jump back to commercials and it’s for Burger King and it’s holiday themed! Burger King was running a promo at the time for Hallmark’s Rodney Reindeer line of original characters. They’re a stylized reindeer that still shows up from time to time at Hallmark stores around the holidays. At the time you could buy a book of gift certificates for 5 bucks for the privilege of being able to pay $1.99 for a reindeer. Seven bucks in 1987 is not insignificant so I’m curious how well the promo went. It’s cute though as the plushes are shown getting tossed around the kitchen, making food, and waving to each other at the end. And yes, I have a complete set of four to this day. As for Burger King’s slogan in 1987, “The Best Food for Fast Times,” was just a so-so one. The delivery of it at the end of the commercial is trying to be way too earnest when it should be up-beat and fun. It’s like they want you to come to Burger King to make lasting memories when it should be about eating garbage and buying reindeer. Following that is a local affiliate ad for an upcoming charity. New England natives might get a kick out of seeing some of these old anchors who have long since retired. It’s also interesting because this is WBZ-TV Channel 4, which in 1987 was an NBC affiliate but is now a CBS one. It was a confusing day in New England households when CBS and NBC switched places on the dial.

Following that we return to Mickey’s Christmas Carol for the main event. In keeping with the framing device, it’s now Mickey’s turn to share his favorite Christmas. He first reminisces about the Christmas where he and Pluto had nothing except each other accompanied by a black and white clip from Mickey’s Good Deed followed by the Christmas he taught Minnie how to skate and we get another clip from On Ice. He then settles on the Christmas they all got together to tell the story of A Christmas Carol and it’s introduced with our third clip from On Ice which just shows various characters skating around before the short comes in complete with its original, theatrical, intro.

Use the Force, elf. Quench thy thirst with the feeling of Christmas!

We’ve covered Mickey’s Christmas Carol rather extensively on this blog, so I don’t think I need to say anymore on it. It’s great. Go watch it. Our first commercial break occurs when Scrooge retires for the evening muttering about spirits to himself. It’s another 7 Up commercial, and it’s the one the tape started with. The elves are working hard, until one uses some Christmas magic to “Force Pull” a can from the fridge. When he opens it the sky begins to snow. It’s dark and the elves all go into party mode and frolic in the snow. Santa pops his head out of the work shop to chuckle at his minions and we’re reminded, once again, that 7 Up has the feeling of Christmas! They really should come back and try to brand 7 Up as the perfect holiday un-cola.

These kids really don’t know what to leave for Santa…

We then go to a Crayola activity set commercial – gotta get those toy commercials in! I can recite this thing word for word by memory as some kid brags about his car picture and a little girl shows us where the cow lives. Jessica has also gained newfound respect for her name. We then get another Christmas commercial and this time it’s for Cinnamon Toast Crunch with all three of the chefs. Budget cuts in the 90s caused them to reduce the chef count to one. Two kids wonder what they can leave for Santa, and the magic chefs pop in to suggest Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s hard to tell because a standard definition broadcast preserved on a 35 year old VHS has poor fidelity, but the girl in this commercial looks a lot like Ariana Richards from Jurassic Park. The commercial ends with the kids saying “Happy Holidays,” and I thus remind the War on Christmas people that Happy Holidays has been an acceptable holiday greeting for many decades. Anyway, after they say that the chefs add the little Cinnamon Toast Crunch jingle and we jump into an animated segment for Santa Bear Express! That’s because the cereal company was running a promotion where you can enter a contest to win a stuffed Santa Bear, Miss Bear, and their plane (which was cardboard). Some kids are shown with the loot at the end and emphatically yell “We won!” to make it seem realistic for any of the kids watching at home that they too could win. Unless you lived in Vermont, for some reason they were excluded per the text of the commercial. I bought a set of these bears for my sister as a Christmas gift many years ago because of this commercial. The animated portion of the commercial is also from a Christmas special that aired in 1987 which we may or may not have a look at this year.

We then get to hear from pediatrician, author, and peace activist Dr. Benjamin Spark as he stumps for TV. It’s a very bland commercial and was produced by NBC just to say “Look! Smart people think TV is great!” NBC. Tuned into America. In case you’re wondering, Dr. Spock has been dead for over 20 years.

Look at all that Sunny D getting wasted on that bear. I hope mom has a funnel.

We now return to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and our next break is after the short concludes. Despite that though, we are assured by the bumper that Mickey’s Christmas Carol will return after these messages. We’re onto commercials, and up first is one for Sunny Delight (I could only find a truncated version of the commercial, unfortunately). Surprisingly, there is no mention of purple stuff in this one as it begins with an animated segment about the Masked Avenger, a kid with a cape, mask, and ray gun, stalking the evil Professor Spot – a panda. They wrestle, until the kid cries out “Mom! Can I have some Sunny Delight?” and the animation is replaced with live actors. The kid is just some kid with a stuffed panda, and he requests some Sunny Delight for his bear as well. His mom enthusiastically says yes, and after we hear about how good Sunny Delight is from the announcer, we return to the mom toasting the efforts of the Masked Avenger and his faithful friend, gesturing to the bear. The woman is clearly not in touch with her son’s make-pretend time or else she would know the bear is the Masked Avenger’s foe, not friend. There’s also a giant glass of Sunny Delight by this bear – a total waste that bothers me to this day!

“Need a ride?” So many lines from these commercials are burned into my brain.

Another McDonald’s commercial follows, this one specifically advertising the Happy Meal. It’s set in a movie theater where the Happy Meal is the feature presentation that Ronald is eager to be seated for. On the screen, the Happy Meal components are shown as talking puppets. It’s a hamburger, soft drink, and fries – all regular size, the enthusiastic puppets proclaim! We then get to see what every kids cares about: the toy. At this time of year it was Disney, but not Christmas themed. They were activity books for the films Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, The Sword in the Stone, and Dumbo – an interesting mix. Definitely not a great toy, but I did have a couple of those books. I thought 1987 was the year McDonald’s sold Christmas themed Muppet Babies stuffed animals of Kermit, Fozzy, and Miss Piggy, but the Muppet wiki says that was 1988. Interesting that McDonald’s had no counter to Burger King’s reindeer. We then get a repeat Halls commercial before going into network promos for Alf and the TV movie Eye on the Sparrow about a blind couple seeking to adopt a kid. The actress in it shouts “What kind of people are you?!” through tears and it’s stuck with me, though I’ve never watched this thing. The Alf promo is surprisingly foretelling as he becomes president and remarks how he’s perfect for the job due to his disdain for pants. Slick Willy took that one to heart!

“Let’s party!”

We then return to our feature just to see the ending credits and get in one last Merry Christmas from Disney. Over the ending credits, kids are specifically called out to come back for Saturday morning to watch Smurfs and those loveable, huggable, Gummy Bears (I don’t think whoever wrote that one has ever watched The Adventures of the Gummy Bears). When it’s done we get an actual bumper for Alvin and the Chipmunks and the animated version of Fraggle Rock. We then get a quick clip of a Golden Girls commercial that gets cut off and replaced with forgotten cop show The Oldest Rookie. We’ve jumped networks, and this bumper is telling regular viewers of the show to check back next week because we’re getting a CBS special presentation! You know the one, the word “Special” comes spinning in a rainbow font before turning purple. What follows is Frosty the Snowman, which should be well known to anyone reading this and not just because we covered it extensively last year. There is nothing remarkable about this broadcast of the venerable special, so lets jump to our first commercial break following the opening credits. It’s “Star Wish” again as this viewing is brought to you by McDonald’s! It’s the lone commercial of the break.

Right now this man is wondering if it’s ethical to eat a fruit that can dance.

Our next break occurs when the train pulls away and it’s 7 Up once again, the one where the elves frolic in the snow to Santa’s approval. We then get a commercial from the California Raisin Advisory Board and people my age know what this is – The California Raisins! It’s in Claymation, and sadly, A Claymation Christmas is not on this tape. That and A Garfield Christmas are the two specials I miss most, but maybe we weren’t home the night they were on or they conflicted with another special that is included or my parents just wanted to watch something else the night they were on. Anyway, some bald dude (who appeared in an earlier California Raisins commercial) goes searching for a midnight snack and settles on a box of raisins which come alive to “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” As he dances and grooves with the raisins, we hear his wife call from another room to admonish him for playing with his food. He makes a sad face, and the commercial ends presumably because things got pretty gruesome as he ate his newfound buddies. A network promo follows for our next special following Frosty, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, and then Scott Hamilton pops up to tell us alcohol is bad. This was part of the Be Smart, Don’t Start campaign. It’s not really aimed specifically at kids, it’s just a series of public service announcements telling people to never drink – a bit extreme and unrealistic. I don’t think it was a success.

Man, there sure was a lot of sentient food in the 80s. And we were expected to eat it?!

Frosty returns and does his thing up until he dies and gets remade by Santa, but before the hat is returned to him we jump to commercial. The commercial is 7 Up once again, the Santa’s beard-building one, then more from McDonald’s. It’s a hoedown starring the McNuggets, or rather, the Sons of McNuggets ragtime band, and was part of the “We Love Chicken McNuggets” advertising campaign. Ronald is watching as their overlord while the McNuggets are quite enthusiastic about jumping into barbecue sauce for consumption. At least they seem happy in their work. The McNuggets, and even the packets of sauce, are all puppets and there’s a charm to it all. I wish we still got commercials like this from McDonald’s, but I don’t know if they’re even allowed to push chicken nuggets on kids anymore. The commercial ends with a silly pun and Ronald making the golden arches magically appear with his hands. I forgot he used to do that!

You will never again see a commercial where Teddy Ruxpin hangs out with Mickey Mouse.

Back to Frosty. There’s only about two minutes left, just Frosty coming back to life, Karen getting ditched on a roof, and the reprisal of the song. After it’s over, we get a quick advertisement for Friday’s double-feature of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Frosty aired on Wednesday) and then jump into a commercial for the long dead Child World. Child World was a toy store like Toys R Us that didn’t survive far into the 90s. The commercial is a Whack-A-Mole parody with some guy in a bad suit popping up holding a “Sale” sign in place of a mole, that’s because Child World is committed to delivering the lowest prices around without the need for a sale! This setup was apparently a template they could drop product ads into, so I couldn’t find this specific commercial on YouTube, but here’s one with the framing device and here’s a separate commercial for the product to follow. It then advertises Boppers from Worlds of Wonder, the maker of Teddy Ruxpin, which is why the Boppers are a bunch of Disney characters plus Teddy. They’re just animatronic stuffed animals that dance, or bop, to music and sound. Stuff like this is still sold, just without the reacting to sound gimmick in favor of a button that makes the doll dance. I never had one of these and I don’t recall every seeing one in the wild leading me to conclude they weren’t very popular. They were also $17.99, pretty pricey for a lame gimmick. Worlds of Wonder, like Child World, is also long gone.

I had to sneak this guy in at some point.

The next commercial is the same Burger King commercial from before pushing those reindeer. There’s a quick bumper for local news, then the Special intro returns and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas begins. Like Frosty before it, the first break takes place after the opening credits and it’s the 7 Up elf frolic commercial again. I’m not tired of it. Then we get a new commercial for Nestle Toll House morsels, or chocolate chips, and the resulting cookies look delicious. It’s just a sequence of little kids enjoying chocolate chip cookies with a little jingle in the background. Following that is an unremarkable commercial for Taster’s Choice, absolutely awful instant coffee from the era. I can’t hear Taster’s Choice and not think of the Dana Carvey line where he critiques the film Water World (as George H.W. Bush, if I’m not mistaken) by saying “You can’t pee into a Mr. Coffee and get Taster’s Choice!”

This little girl loves her So Big Crayola Crayons. I hope she still has them.

We now return to our feature presentation and a mild controversy in my house. Someone pushed “Stop” on the VCR during the recording of this special when the clock tower goes kerplooey. I think my mom blames it on my sister, but she might have been trying to cut down on commercials or something. It probably was my sister. It’s not a great loss as this special is merely so-so, and we just lose a little snippet before the break. When the VCR was reset to record, it picks up during a commercial for Sunkist Dinosaurs fruit snacks. Yes, the maker of orange soda also had a line of fruit snacks in the 80s. These commercials had a puppet tree mascot, if he had a name I don’t remember it. He just gets to laugh in this one as a giant dinosaur comes into view. The snacks look delicious. Following that is another Halls of Medicine commercial, the same one we’ve seen a couple of times now, followed by a Crayola commercial. This one is set to “The 12 Days of Christmas” as kids recount the type of crayons they want for Christmas like the So Big variety and a box of 64. This is another commercial I can recite from memory. We’re then reminded to stick around for The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Show following the Christmas specials. Ray Charles, BB King, and Hank Williams were being honored, among others. We then get a promo for Newhart, a non-holiday themed one, which promotes the entire Monday Night lineup for 1987.

Wait! You can bribe Santa?!

When we return to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, everyone is mopey because the clock fix failed so the VCR mishap didn’t cause us to miss much of anything. The next break is after Santa leaves and it’s the 7 Up commercial again pushing the Santa’s beard advent calendar. Following that we get a new commercial – Holidays! Back in the 80s, M&M/Mars would release Holidays, which were just red and green M&Ms with little Christmas trees and other holiday themed images printed on them. The commercial features a girl with an excessive one pound bag of them sitting on a department store Santa’s lap. She’s basically bribing the guy so she can get what she wants for Christmas and she unfurls her massive list at the end of the commercial. There’s nothing like Holidays for your holidays, the commercial tells us before Santa welcomes another handful. It’s cute.

Sorry folks, but Beauty and the Beast will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you a special presentation.

We return to the program just for the credits, as this was apparently pretty standard at the time and end on the old Rankin Bass animation tag. We get a quick advertisement for A Charlie Brown Christmas before we jump to Friday as we’re told Beauty and the Beast (starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman as the beast, a show my family would watch each week) will not be seen tonight so that CBS can bring us a very special presentation. It’s old Chuck, and this broadcast is a bit interesting because we have some edits. Specifically, the sequence where the kids try to knock cans off of a fence with snowballs. That’s the scene that was famously edited following the special’s original broadcast because it contained a Coca-Cola advertisement animated into it, which was covered up with a regular can. That comes later though, as our first break occurs after the title card where Charlie Brown gets tossed into a tree by Snoopy. This broadcast is brought to us by Mounds, Almond Joy, and York Peppermint Patty as well as Nabisco so we’re in line for some new commercials. This segment and the next several paragraphs can all be found here thanks to YouTube user Walker Brown!

That’s right, Alex, he ate the cookies.

And our first commercial is a classic, the Oreo Cookie commercial where the Oreo jingle is repurposed into a song about waiting up for Santa. Little Alex descends the stairs to wait for Santa, but he falls asleep before the big guy arrives. And when he does he’s delighted to find a plate of Oreos waiting for him. He gobbles that stuff up, “Like he did when he was little,” and disappears up the chimney as the kid wakes up to find an empty plate and a thank you note from Santa.

They had to stop running ads for York Peppermint Patties because too many people ruined their coffee table.

We return to A Charlie Brown Christmas to find old Chuck staring out the window wishing for Christmas cards. Our next break won’t occur until after Charlie Brown selects his mediocre tree. It goes into a commercial for York Peppermint Patties, a classic one where some guy named Arthur fantasizes about competing in the ski jump event whenever he bites into a peppermint patty. This commercial would air for years and because of this tape I associate it with Christmas, even though it’s not a Christmas commercial. We then get a commercial for A.1. Poultry Sauce. Yes, A.1. tried to expand to poultry at one point in time and I don’t think it went well since this stuff no longer exists.

Stupid duck ate a giant potato chip.

When we return to the special, Snoopy does his thing on the piano and the next break isn’t until Charlie Brown takes his tree and goes home, which is actually a shorter break than we’ve grown accustomed to. The next commercial comes courtesy of Nabisco for their Goldfish-adjacent snack Quackers. It’s a pretty terrific commercial as a British sounding announcer asks the viewer if they’d like all of the sour cream and onion flavor of a sour cream and onion chip – in a little duck! You get a little duck cartoon as he eats a chip and expands and he does the same thing with a cheese doodle puff snack too. Another snack that is no longer with us. One that still is comes next: Wheat Thins. It’s a catchy commercial jingle, but it’s not a Christmas one. Honest to good little snackers, Wheat Thins are something like a cracker, but more like a snack!

Merry Christmas, pal.

A Christmas commercial does come next, and it’s another Nabisco one – three in a row! You get that kind of treatment when you sponsor a broadcast. This one is for Milk-Bone and it’s like the Oreo commercial, only with a dog instead of a kid. He comes down the stairs to scope out the presents under the tree. As he shakes the present for him, you can see the puppet arms end where a handle likely exists for the human operator, only there’s a real dog behind it to sell the illusion, and it’s pretty funny. The dog’s name is Duke, and he must be long dead by now. Sorry to bring you down. At least he got some Milk-Bones for Christmas.

Ladies, how do you feel about this being marketed as “casual wear” in 1987?

We return to Charlie Brown as he comes upon Snoopy’s award-winning dog house, so there’s a bit more than just the credits left. When it does end, we go to a black screen and white text is displayed saying “A few words about Almond Joy.” We don’t know what those words are as the commercial is cut-off in favor of one for department store Bradlees. I don’t think this is an error with my tape, but the network. I’m also not sure if Bradlees was regional to New England so it could have been a local affiliate commercial. It is holiday themed though as some little, old, man dressed like an elf is spreading fairy dust as we’re shown products the store was pushing for Christmas. I can’t find this exact one on YouTube, but a similar commercial exists with the same elf. The most hilarious aspect is active wear that converts into casual wear. Some women in spandex basically just put on stretch pants to pair with their leotards and add a fashion scarf and purse to create a look no one would leave the house in. Some 10 dollar handbags follow as the store’s slogan is apparently “Smile, smile, smile.” I vaguely remember this store, mostly because my cousin heard that the Bradlees in Woburn, Massachusetts had Super Shredder action figures and we begged our mothers to take us, but they refused. We both got Super Shredder for Christmas so don’t feel bad for us.

“It’s a good time, for the great taste, of McDonald’s!”

Following the Bradlees commercial is one for Yankee 24 automatic-teller machines. Apparently ATMs were new enough at the time that you could see a commercial for them. Yankee 24 was the largest ATM brand in New England at the time and would eventually merge with NYCE forming Infinet in 1993 so, they too, are long gone. We’re then onto the best special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! It is another McDonald’s sponsored presentation, so expect some repeat commercials. Our first break occurs when Grinch is looking down from the mountain at Max as they begin their descent to Who-ville. And our first commercial is a repeat one: The California Raisins. I’m fine with that one again! Following that is 7 Up, again, and I’m still not over how frequent 7 Up commercials were on air.

There’s a face you could pee on.

We pivot from products to network bumpers. If you’re following along with that Walker Brown video, we’re now at the 5:30 mark. Kate & Allie are robbed at Christmas time, and either Kate or Allie (I never watched this show) proudly displays a Christmas themed toilet seat by placing her head inside it – nice! Then there’s an ad for Frank’s Place, another show I never watched, as they try to prepare for a Christmas party in a warm weather climate. A black actor is shown declaring that he’s Santa Claus, and I think it’s being played for comedic effect because a black guy wants to play Santa – how ridiculous! Then we get a promo for a show I did watch – Pee-Wee’s Playhouse! Surprisingly, it’s a generic commercial and not for the Christmas special as that wouldn’t be a thing until 1988. After that is another Be Smart Don’t Start PSA, this time starring Michael Dorn in an ugly sweater.

I miss bumpers, they just made this stuff feel extra special.

We now return to the Grinch as he infiltrates Who-ville. This special, like the previous one, is edited for time and the edit occurs when “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is reprised for the first time. It’s a curious place for an edit, but other broadcasts would sometimes cut out part of the sleigh ride which is a fantastic segment so I’m torn. Obviously, the best place to cut the special is not at all! At any rate, this recording was how I saw this special every year so I was really confused when Kevin is shown watching it in Home Alone and it’s a part that I never saw thanks to CBS.

I’m so sad this commercial got cut off. I’m way more sad about that than missing a part of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Our next break doesn’t take place until the special concludes, and it’s a sad event. Following “The End” and a bumper about announcing some upcoming “messages,” we go into a classic commercial for Fruity Pebbles. It’s the one that begins with carolers singing “Season’s greetings in our souls,” ushering in Fred to sing, “Yummy Fruity Pebbles in our bowls!” What’s to follow next is Barney descending the chimney as Santa, but my mom stopped the recording. That commercial won’t come back and I mourn for it’s loss every time I see that snippet. It’s also not on the YouTube video we’ve been watching, but don’t close out of that yet as it will be useful coming up. This is also the end of commercials on my tape for awhile. The next special is from a Viacom affiliated channel, I’m not sure which as this must predate their merger with CBS, but the special is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. My mom got clever, too clever, as she started pressing stop for commercials. She must have realized all of these specials had bumpers that welcomed you back from commercial breaks which made it really easy to pause a recording without missing any of the actual show. She may have been worried about filling the tape prematurely, but this and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which follows, are both commercial free. Bless her heart, but it was the wrong move. That same Walker Brown YouTube video though includes commercials that aired during Rudolph so I can actually watch what was lost. Isn’t modern technology great?

Here come the Muppets to save the day! Even the end of this tape looks pretty shitty, no?

It’s not a total loss though, as we have one, final, special on the tape and it’s an eventful one. A Muppet Family Christmas was broadcast in 1987 for the first and only time on a major network. And it was the only time it was shown complete. And my mother decided not to attempt to cut out commercials, it also didn’t have bumpers like the other specials, so we get one last hurrah. Plus it’s an hour-long special and on a different network (ABC) so there should be some new commercials. I might be missing the very beginning of the special as it begins abruptly with the Muppet gang singing in Fozzy’s pickup. The first break is pretty deep into the special and happens after the “Jingle Bell Rock” performance.

Damn! Missed the entry deadline!

The first commercial is for OshKosh. It’s just a bunch of kids running around in their overalls in a very non-Christmas setting as it’s bright, green, and looks pretty warm. There’s a tortoise for some reason, and it’s forgettable. Next is a trailer for a new movie, Filmation presents Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. I’ve never seen it, but it looks terrible. The trailer even contains the line from Pinocchio, “I’m a real, live, boy again!” so he apparently gets turned into a puppet and back to a real boy during the movie. Very creative! Following that is another well-remembered commercial of the era for Doublemint gum. The classic twins spot and we get a pair of women dressed like Doug Funnie in matching green sweater vests as two men try to charm them. Good thing they have their gum! Double pleasure is waiting for you. After the two girls share their gum we get the Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial from earlier in this tape. A promo for the ABC Sunday Night movie follows, Not Quite Human starring Jay Underwood and Alan Thicke. I’ve never seen it, but it doesn’t look very good. It would get a sequel in 1992 so someone must have seen value in it.

I’ve had lots of Sony products, but I don’t think I ever had a My First Sony.

We return to A Muppet Family Christmas for Fozzy and the Snowman’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride.” The next break takes place after Miss Piggy makes her grand entrance. We then get another gum commercial, this one for Extra sugar free gum, another product of Wrigley. It’s far less memorable than Doublemint and features lots of kayaking for some reason. Then we get another trailer, this one for the infamous bomb Leonard Part 6 starring a guy who should be forgotten. I’m not linking that one. We then get a toy commercial. It’s not Christmas themed, but it is good as it’s for My First Sony which contained a memorable jingle that has kids singing about their chosen first Sony product. It was a kid’s line of tape players and other electronics and the jingle would go something like “I like pizza pie, I like macaroni, but what I love is My First Sony!” It ends with a kid chiming in, “It won’t be your last!” and I suppose that kid was right. During the last segment there does appear to be a Christmas tree in the background, so I guess it is a holiday commercial.

So many dead cereals.

How about another cereal commercial? Remember Post’s Crispy Critters? It was like Kix, but shaped like animal crackers, and the commercial contains a bunch of puppets of the cereal shapes exclaiming “Indubitably” about the cereal. There’s a song performed by a Fraggle-wannabe who sounds like Jimmy Durante, so it’s kind of a nice bookend given the real Jimmy Durante appeared near the beginning of the tape. Man, now I want some Crispy Critters. A promo for the insane Sledge Hammer! follows that, a short-lived series that seems impossible if you read a synopsis of it. Another wacky sitcom, The Charmings, is promoted next which starred a bunch of witches or something. The was ABC’s Thursday Night lineup in 1987 so you can see why the other, major, networks were crushing them at the time.

I had to include a shot from this M&Ms commercial just because it’s so festive, and so many commercials at the end of this tape are not.

The next break occurs during the big sing-along at the end of the show and it’s a Christmas themed M&M’s commercial, not Holidays. This is when M&Ms were just green, brown, red, orange, and yellow – not very colorful. The tagline is “Grab onto that M&M’s feeling,” and it’s pretty corny. Not one of the best. They do slip in the melts in your mouth, not in your hands, line into the little jingle. There’s a lot of Christmas imagery in it though so it’s okay, but who is buying M&M’s at Christmas time when Holidays exist? The next commercial is for OshKosh again and it’s just a sequence of little kids trying to say OskKosh B’gosh. It’s supposed to be cute because the kids struggle to say it. I mostly remember it because of a puppet named Freddie one of the kids has and I only remember it because my neighbor had the same puppet. I don’t know if he was an OshKosh character or if it was just a random toy. We then get a promo for the next special, Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Christmas. My mother mercifully did not record that one. I have since watched it on YouTube and it’s pretty terrible, but it has John Denver!

Sorry, we will not be covering The Sound of Christmas this year or any year.

We return to A Muppet Family Christmas for the conclusion. There are no more breaks as when this special ends it quickly cuts to an aerobics workout ever so briefly because my mom must have taped over her aerobics when she created The Christmas Tape. That’s the end though and if you stayed with me this long I would like to thank you for taking this trip through a 35 year old tape via nearly 7,000 words and numerous links to old commercials. I’m a bit sad this kind of thing no longer exists because no one uses a VCR to record television anymore and everything is on-demand. These tapes that my mom and millions of other moms and dads around the country created are like little, holiday-themed, time capsules and they’re such a delight to revisit. I don’t know if this sort of thing was fun for those who don’t have a copy of this tape or one like it, but for me, The Christmas Tape is an important part of my holiday viewing each and every year. And it has been ever since its creation and I hope to keep that going for many years to come. And if you hated this entry, well don’t worry as tomorrow we’re back with a more traditional entry about a holiday special. And we’ll have 23 more after that, so bookmark this page now or face the wrath of Christmas!

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 1 – Frosty the Snowman

Welcome back, lovers of Christmas, to the 7th edition of The Christmas Spot! If you missed the introduction a few days ago, we’re doing things a little differently this year. Yes, you’re still getting a dedicated write-up each day through Christmas about a beloved or not-so-beloved holiday special, but this year we’re also going retro…

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Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it…

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Star Wars The Black Series Mandalorian Warrior (Holiday Edition)

Straight from my Christmas shelf, it’s the holiday Mandalorian Warrior!

We’re getting to Christmas coverage at The Nostalgia Spot one day early this year with this look at one of the latest in the Holiday Collection from Hasbro’s Star Wars line of action figures referred to as The Black Series. I have previously looked at a figure from the very popular streaming show The Mandalorian from Hasbro’s The Vintage Collection. That’s a line of Star Wars figures that basically takes the old Kenner form and adds a whole bunch of articulation to it. I found that particular figure exceedingly charming and I’m a bit happy that I’m not a huge Star Wars fan or else I’d end up with a bunch of them (I’ve since only bought one more which I didn’t bother to review). Despite my preference, the clear most popular line from Hasbro in regards to Star Wars is the 6″ line known as The Black Series. I guess Star Wars collector wanted to see their favorite characters in a larger scale, or Hasbro simply ran out of 3.75″ figures and going to a new scale was an easier way to get someone to buy yet another Luke and Vader. Since I’m not a huge collector of Star Wars, it’s a line that’s never appealed to me. I always found the smaller scale for Star Wars as something that made the brand unique, plus it works way better for vehicles.

Special holiday figures demand special holiday packaging.

One way for Hasbro to get someone like me to buy a figure from its Black Series is to simply add some Christmas to it! Hasbro has been doing Christmas versions of Star Wars characters for a couple of years, if I’m not mistaken. This year’s lineup was actually supposed to drop last year, but delays at the factory or port, or both, caused them to miss Christmas 2021. Rather than drop them after the holidays, Hasbro simply held onto them to release later. There are a handful of these and they’re basically all just re-paints and re-decos of previously released figures to give them some holiday appeal. It’s been a desire on my end to add more Christmas toys to my annual display, so naturally this caught my eye. While I didn’t care for most of them, the holiday version of a Mandalorian Warrior stood out as being quite striking and festive so I decided to track it down. If you’re unaware, Hasbro arranged for each figure to be sold via a different retailer with this one landing with Target. It actually took me 4 tries to get this guy as I’d see him pop up on the app and I’d place an order for pickup only for it to be cancelled due to lack of stock. The fourth time was the charm though, and I even spied a couple on the pegs last time I was in there, so they appear to be shipping in some relative abundance. Perhaps the delay helped to make sure there would be enough product to meet demand. Nevertheless, lets rip this sucker open and give it a look.

“Fly away, Rodney!”

The Holiday edition of figures comes in a window box that’s desiged to resemble a wrapped present. The other benefit of these being delayed so long is that they retain the old window box packaging instead of the plastic free stuff Hasbro has switched to. I’m generally in favor of the move to eliminate needless plastic, but concede the window box is more attractive. I guess enjoy it while you can. It provides a straight-forward look at the figure inside and the accessories and if you’re an in-box collector it probably looks okay. Once removed, our nameless warrior stands a tick over 6″ at around 6.25″ and looks rather resplendent in his green and red attire. The helmet is rather striking at it’s predominantly red and green, but there’s a bit of shading applied in a dark red and, of course, we have the black visor. The shoulder pads, gauntlets, jet pack, and boots are done in green with red being applied to the belt, trunks, kneepads, and weapon holsters on his thighs. The rest of the figure is a reddish brown though his shin guards are white with thick, green, stripes. Much of the figure is done in molded, colored, plastic with the paint reserved for the helmet, shoulders, and shins. The only major deco is applied to the chest which has a festive, ugly, Christmas, sweater design applied to it. It’s the strong part of the figure and what basically ties it all together. The other colored parts look a bit cheap as a result, especially the trunks/belt and the jetpack. I’m left wishing they hit it with an enamel or clear coat that gave it a hard candy appearance. Just anything to apply a texture really would have helped.

I’m still working on acquiring Christmas figures, so it felt appropriate to pose him with some red and green figures from Hasbro for the time being.

As for the sculpt, this one is apparently an old one. I am not a collector of The Black Series, but my understanding is this was reworked from an old Jango Fett release from the earliest days of the line and it does show in places. I mentioned the finish as being cheap, but that’s more an issue of paint than sculpt. The feet are a bit odd as they’re very small. This guy looks like he’s wearing Crocs rather than boots. Maybe he’s supposed to and the feet are new? I’m not sure, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. By far, the worst offense this figure commits is featuring some sculpted wires that connect his biceps area to his forearms. Assuming it’s true that this is based on a Jango Fett figure, I suppose there was nothing Hasbro could do about the awkwardness involved in connecting two parts of the arm via wires, but here we have a fantasy creation that doesn’t need to be held down by that. Surely they had other arm molds without these annoying things they could have utilized? As it stands, we have two pieces of the figure joined by plastic. It can bend and flex, but stress marks appear rather quickly and I assume anyone that poses this frequently will eventually find these broken in short order. Hasbro must have determined they were too small to implement them like they do the cables on Apocalypse where they’re separate pieces that can be removed effortlessly. Not so here.

Though I suppose he could just battle Krampus.

I suppose that’s a good springboard to talk about the articulation. Here the figure shows its apparent age as well as this isn’t one to write home about. The head is on the typical Hasbro ball and hinge combo, but the boxy nature of the helmet means he basically can rotate and do little else. The shoulders feature the shoulder pads which prevent his arms from coming up to horizontal, but they can rotate around. The biceps do swivel, but as mentioned before, you need to be mindful of those sculpted wires when utilizing that function. There’s just a single hinge at the elbow, and the range is rather abysmal as he can’t even hit a 90 degree bend. The forearms swivel, which helps to keep those wires in-line, and the wrists swivel and hinge horizontally, not vertically as would be better. The armor means he does nothing in the torso and the waist is just a twist. The hips let the figure kick forward, but not back, and he can spread his legs far enough. There is a thigh cut and the knees are double-jointed. The ankles feature a hinge and rocker, but the range forward on the hinge is poor. The rocker is okay, but the feet are rather small so he can be tough to stand and pose. In addition to that, he’s a bit loose and floppy in the lower half which is unpleasant. The figure feels rather basic as a result, and it rears its head with the accessories as well.

You also get this little guy in the box. Cool?

As for those accessories, the Mandalorian Warrior comes with few. He has no extra parts, but his hands are trigger finger hands so he can hold his weapon in either hand. And that weapon is a long rifle, the Amban blaster, which can fit in either hand, but he can’t really hold it properly. I was amused when Target’s solicitation shot even featured him holding the weapon in an unnatural manner. He can basically just carry it, but the lack of butterfly joints and the proper wrist range means he can’t hold it as if he’s firing it. He also can’t holster it anywhere and it’s a shame the two holsters on his thighs can’t store anything. The deco of the rifle is a bit interesting as it’s primarily brown, white, and orange which was done to make it resemble the Nerf version of the same. It’s a bit of a deep pull so many who get this might wonder why they didn’t give it more of a Christmas deco, but it seems appropriate to make it a “toy” version of the gun. The only other accessory is a small bogling, which is done in all white with blue feet. It’s cute, I suppose, and it frees up Grogu for a separate holiday release which is probably what Hasbro wanted to get casuals like me to buy two. And that other figure is the Walmart exclusive Scout Trooper which I may or may not get. I suppose the jetpack can be considered a third accessory since it is removable. It just plugs into the back and, as I mentioned before, is rather plain looking given the lack of paint.

“Well little guy, we’re pretty mediocre, but at least we’re Christmas!”

The holiday edition of the Mandalorian Warrior presently retails at Target for $26.49. That seems really high for a figure that is, as far as I know, just a re-paint. It probably has a smaller run than some other figures which may account for some of the increase, but I’m guessing the added price is mostly to take advantage of people like me who will impulse buy a Christmas Star Wars figure. As an annual decoration, I think it’s okay. It stands out on a shelf because of the color combo and the Mandalorian design, which is basically just Boba Fett, is pretty timeless and distinct. As an action figure, it’s pretty mediocre though as the paint is scarce, the articulation poor, and the accessories lacking. I would have preferred pistols that actually fit in the holsters to the rifle, and they must have done a Mandalorian figure that can holster the rifle like the Vintage Collection version, no? I don’t understand why they would reuse this old mold when better ones exist. Maybe because if they just did the actual Mandalorian it would be even more obvious that they wanted to separate Grogu off for another release? If that’s the reason then that’s lame. Ultimately, I don’t necessarily regret my purchasing decision here, but it doesn’t endear Hasbro to me either. It certainly drives home that Hasbro is a big company out to make as much money as possible, and I’ve helped them out in their quest for that. If you want what is essentially a Christmas Boba Fett, then this might do it for you. If you’re expecting what is the current level of quality of a Black Series release with a Christmas surcharge then this might disappoint you. And if you never needed to see Star Wars characters dressed for Christmas, then you can certainly skip this.


Playmates TMNT The Last Ronin PX Previews Exclusive (Chase)

What’s this?! A brand new TMNT sculpt from Playmates? And I bought it?!

A few years ago, Mattel launched a new subline of action figures based on their most famous IP: Masters of the Universe. The subline was titled Origins and it basically took the vintage toys of the 80s and updated them with more modern articulation while still preserving that vintage aesthetic. And ever since then, collectors have been barking up the tree of Playmates Toys, known throughout the world as the producers of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of action figures, for something similar. And so far, Playmates has said “nah.” Instead, the company seems more interested in reissuing figures from its back catalog and reworking the Classics line from 2012. This is all well and good for folks looking to add or replace vintage figures, and I guess the 2012 reissues are good for those who want a Shredder or Ryu figure? All right, those reissues are pretty terrible, but I’m guessing they’re doing well enough that Playmates sees little value in sinking money into a new line. Then again, who knows with Playmates as they recently re-sculpted a new turtle body for the Stranger Things two-packs. They look okay, though scale with nothing, making the whole thing feel very perplexing.

In-box collectors should be pretty happy with this one.

Since Playmates seems to delight in surprising us, they had a new figure to show off earlier this year based on The Last Ronin. The Last Ronin has been a popular addition to the TMNT universe and it’s a not surprise to see toys follow, it’s just a surprise to see one from Playmates. Especially one that would appear to present a solid enough blueprint for a hypothetical TMNT Origins line. I was initially going to pass on the figure when it was first shown, but my curiosity recently got the best of me. Playmates released two versions of the figure: a standard, painted one, and a black and white version with some hatching, “comic,” paint effects. For some reason, that black and white version really appealed to me, which sucks for me since it’s considered a “chase” version and virtually every retailer that carries it will apply a surcharge to it. Oh well. It comes in a nice window box though with artwork from the series on it and surprisingly no product shots. Since there’s no cross-sell, I’m assuming this is a one and done release, but I suppose if it does well Playmates could revisit it in the future.

This deco just does “it” for me.
Any Last Ronin figure is going to need some weapon storage, and this edition does a solid job. Still needs more though.

Even though this is considered the rare chase version, I am an opener so we’re going to talk about this figure. The figure stands around 4.75″ in height and is pretty close to the same size as a turtle from the vintage line. A direct comparison is a little difficult since those figures all had pre-posed legs, but the height is pretty close though the vintage figures are all chunkier. It’s especially noticeable when comparing the hands between the two releases. Even so, the face on this new figure definitely has a vintage look to it. He has visible teeth on both sides of his beak, but more of an effort has been made to round the features and add detail. He has way more teeth, for example, than a vintage figure and they don’t have a large gap of green (or white, in this case) between them. As far as sculpting goes, this guy is all unique as far as I know. He’s depicted in his overcoat complete with hood and it’s all done in plastic with no soft goods or removable pieces. The hood is a separate piece that doesn’t seem to peg into any part of the figure, but is nevertheless quite secure where it is. With heat, I’m guessing one could pry it off, but I’m not going to attempt any such thing. The bandana underneath is fully sculpted though from what I can tell. The goggles are part of the sculpt on the hood so you can’t do a goggles-on look, but I’m not particularly disappointed by that. The belt and bottom of the coat seems to be the only other overlay and it’s either glued or keyed in. It’s a slightly softer plastic, though the flex isn’t going to facilitate any extra poseability with the figure. The black linework on this guys is very clean save for the top of the bandana on mine and I love the added scuff marks and such all over him. I would have welcomed a little more in some places, especially the hands, feet, and weapon holsters, but it looks solid nonetheless. I also like how he has different knee pads since that asymmetrical look was so popular in the old line, though in this case it’s done to be accurate with the source material.

This sword could probably use some heat to straighten it out.

This guy is really charming to look at. It’s not the hyper-accurate to the source material the NECA version goes for, but it has a certain appeal for those who either grew up with or just collect the vintage line. He may lack the chunk of that old line, but I think he can fit into a vintage display without too much issue. The standard version might stand out a little more given it has far more paint apps, though a stark white figure doesn’t exactly have any comparables in the line either. This is a fun look though, it just might be a little too pricey for what it is. Most seem to list the regular version for around 30 dollars. If Playmates could do this level of quality at 20 or even 25 that would feel a lot more agreeable. Having this black and white version has made me more curious about the regular release and how many paint hits it has. Are all the ropes painted? Are there any wash effects? I don’t know if I’m 30 dollars curious, but maybe if this thing hits clearance I’ll add another.

You also get the broken sword, which just reminds me of all of the broken swords I had in the old line.
Raph had a pair of sais, so Ronin gets two as well!

The big selling point of the Origins line is the addition of modern articulation, so it’s fair to wonder if this figure could be a model of things to come in a similar line from Playmates. And if that’s the case, well then there’s some good, and some not so good when it comes to this figure. The head appears to be on a ball peg, but the hood makes manipulating it rather difficult. I can get him to look left and right, and even up and down a little, but I’d call it more nuance posing than anything. The shoulders are ball-hinged and he can raise his arms up past a horizontal position, so that’s good, and there’s no real shell to prevent rotation all the way around too. The elbows are double jointed and bend past 90 degrees with ease and the wrists swivel and feature horizontal hinges which is a bummer since vertical would have been better. There is a waist twist and the legs attach via ball and socket joints. He can spread his legs basically as far as the skirt of the jacket will let him, which isn’t much, and the same is true for kicking forward and back. You get a tiny bit of thigh twist, or pivot, on that ball joint, but it’s not a lot. The knees are double-jointed and bend past 90 without issue while the ankles feature a hinge. The feet appear to peg into the hinge so you get a tiny bit of swivel there, but there’s no ankle rocker which is a bummer. That’s the biggest omission for me as being able to pivot down at the feet really opens up the stances available when posing a figure. Without it, there’s not a whole lot he can do below the waist. The other major omission is the lack of a biceps swivel. If they added those two points, which might not have cost them anything when they were tooling this guy, it would have made a world of difference. Instead, he moves just okay. It’s certainly below average for a modern figure, and this is a guy with a lot of weapons so it’s an extra bummer he can’t pose better. Yeah, he’ll pose better than your turtles from 1988, but that’s probably not the standard we should be holding Playmates to in 2022.

Donnie typically only wields one bo staff though, so he only gets one of those.
If you don’t want him wielding any of the more traditional TMNT weapons, he also has some shurikens he can turn to.

One of the hallmarks of The Last Ronin is the character is basically a one turtle army. He has all of the weapons of the core 4, and even more in the book, so this edition has to do the same. There are no extra hands or portraits so all of the accessories are weapons. In the box, you get: two sai, two nunchaku, one sword, one broken sword, one bo staff, two star-shaped shurikens, and two diamond shaped shurikens. It’s a good assortment and the only weapons missing are the tonfa the character wields in the book. There’s also a grappling hook that pegs onto the belt, though it’s just a lump of sculpted plastic and not something he can really do anything with. All of the weapons are sculpted in a light gray with a black wash added. The shurikens might be a darker gray, but they also have a much heavier wash on them making them appear more black than gray. The sculpt of the weapons is all solid. The ‘chuks are sculpted to have ropes instead of chains and they all feature wraps sculpted onto the handles. The sai are the only ones I don’t love since the bladed portions have been rounded off significantly and look a bit silly as a result, but I guess that’s because Playmates adheres to department store standards when it comes to safety. Like the book character, this figure has room for weapon storage, but he can’t store everything. There’s a slot for the bo on his back and a scabbard for one sword. There are two pieces for the sai, one on the rear and one on the front, and they even pivot so you can adjust them as needed. There’s no way to store the nunchaku though nor is there a place for the shurikens. He can at least hold everything and his hands are sculpted so the sai blade can go between his fingers if you wish. I just wish he had a true belt to slot some of this stuff into when he’s not holding it. I almost feel discouraged from displaying him holding any of the weapons he can otherwise store.

So where does this guy fit? We have a NECA toon on the left, and a Playmates vintage on the right. He’s close to the vintage, but decidedly less chunky. I think he mostly exists on his own, which is appropriate given the source material, but some may want him to blend more seamlessly with the vintage line than I do.

On its own, this Playmates version of The Last Ronin feels like a worthwhile release. The word I keep coming back to with this guy is “charming.” He’s a charming figure. It has enough of that vintage aesthetic going for it with the face, but it also brings its own flair to the shelf. As a one-off, it feels okay at this price point, but as a blueprint for a potential revival of the old line it does feature some room for improvement. I would like to see the articulation shortcomings addressed, and if they can’t get the price below 30 then it might not matter what they do. That feels way too close to the going rate for something from NECA, though an Origins-inspired line might not face competition from NECA, but Super7. Maybe a 30 dollar price tag is good enough if consumers are comparing that to the $55 remakes Super7 is doing? It’s hard to say. I’m not even sure I want such a line to exist as I feel pretty well covered at this point when it comes to TMNT toys. As a novelty, I could see myself kicking the tires on the four brothers at least, but as another line I’m all-in or nearly all-in on? I don’t know if the appetite is there, but I could be in the minority. Hopefully, if Playmates continues to do one-off styled releases, or even does more of those two-packs, they try to adhere to this style more than the 2012 Classics Collection mold which just doesn’t hold up very well. More of this, please, Playmates.


Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Mystique

Mystique is bringing the big guns.

The penultimate figure in this series is a bit of a curveball. When one thinks of the animated series X-Men, the first villains that come to mind are Magneto, Sinister, Apocalypse, Sabretooth, and then it gets muddled. Graydon Creed made quite the impression in the show’s second season and may even be the most hate-able villain the show produced. Omega Red was certainly memorable since he was a very 90s sort of villain and being tied to Wolverine never hurts. And, of course, we have Mystique, the character Hasbro selected to be the second villain of the line (third if you want to count Morph). I think she has a claim to that fifth spot and I can certainly see an argument for Mystique as one of the most memorable villains of the show. It’s just that her character is very much tied to others. She does briefly cross paths with Sinister, and her box art appears to be inspired by that scene, but she’s not really associated with him. There’s her adopted daughter Rogue, biological son Nightcrawler, and her lackeys in the form of Pyro, Avalanche, and the Blob. All of those characters could certainly make an appearance in this line, and I would certainly argue that Rogue should be, but it strikes me as odd to get Mystique before some of these other characters. And it’s especially surprising considering she is, as I mentioned in the first setence, the penultimate figure of the line with the only remaining character set for release being Cyclops. Hasbro left open the possibility that they will return to the world of the X-Men animated series, but for now we basically have to consider it done which just makes this selection an odd choice.

Are we all in agreement that the box art is the best thing about this line?

I don’t know how Hasbro settled on the characters for this line, but my guess would be it’s largely sales related and cost-oritented. You can’t do this line without Wolverine, and basically any member of the team can’t be considered a surprise. I’m guessing Hasbro skipped over Rogue and Gambit because of their recent retro card released figures, and the same is true for Beast who has a new figure shipping now. Magneto also had some recent figures, so maybe that’s why Hasbro went with an older figure like Sinister. He was prominent enough in the show that it was hardly an upset to see him released as soon as he was, and he pairs well with Morph who was a character they absolutely had to do. With Mystique, it’s possible she’s a favorite of someone on staff who pushed for her, but it seems more likely to me that this release has more to do with Hasbro and the Legends team wanting to get her back out there. Like most of this line, Mystique is a re-paint with some minor additions and the previous figure was released as a Walgreen’s exclusive. Retail exclusives can be a pain to track down, so putting out another version that’s easy to acquire is often a welcomed development. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess on how Mystique made it into this 8 figure line.

I don’t hate this figure, but I would like it a whole lot more if it actually looked like the render on the box.

Mystique comes in the customary VHS styled box with artwork by Dan Veesenmeyer. It depicts Mystique in a shadowy area holding a candelabra which gives it a real horror vibe which mixes well with the character’s blue skin and affinity for skulls. It might be my favorite illustration in this line so far. On the spine is the usual profile shot and on the rear is the customary product shot, only with this figure the product on the back is not representative of the figure inside. In what has become an annoying and, frankly, unacceptable trend with Marvel Legends of late the promotional renders for figures have been using the wrong molds. The actual figure is on the same female buck that the former Mystique figure utilized, while the render on the back appears to be based on the newer Shriek figure. It’s a much better base for a superhero line as the figure is well proportioned, looks like a woman of impressive physical fitness, and it’s an all-together better looking figure than what’s actually in the box.

“I have some information about your daughter…”

The render basically gives Mystique an unfortunate hurdle to overcome right out of the gate and I’m going to try to not let it impact my feelings here, but the simple fact is this older female body is just okay. It’s very slight and not particularly heroic looking (granted, she is a villain). It has articulation limitations as well which we’ll get to and it’s just a base body that I would like to see retired. Mystique does feature her cartoon accurate costume of a white, sleeveless, dress with long gloves and boots. The head has been reworked to give her a new hair piece which looks fine. I love her wicked grin which is very appropriate for the character and they got the little skull on her hairline correct. Her body is mostly colored plastic as she’s basically a two-toned figure of blue and white. The controversial cel-shading is also present and, once again, Hasbro made the odd choice to use gray instead of black and it’s a shade of gray that looks too close to the gray-blue of her skin. It’s applied okay here, certainly not as bad as some of the other figures in the line, but it still comes across as half-assed. She really should have multiple shades of gray, black, and blue to do her justice and considering she’s a character who often featured heavy shading in the show it really feels like a missed opportunity. There’s no shading on her hair or on her yellow belt and it just very much feels like an afterthought. The only shading is applied to the clothing. The belt is a floating piece and the skirt portion of her outfit is a part of the belt which is a little odd. I think an overlay might have worked better, but then you lose the articulation in the torso. I am forced to reiterate, once again, that I love the idea of putting shading on these figures, but if they’re not going to put the effort in then don’t do it. She really needs some on her face to bring her to life, but I’m not brave enough to try my hand at customizing. She also has a hole in her back which is unnecessary and unwanted.

“Lord Apocalypse!”
I don’t know if she ever had a gun this large in the show, but at least it opens up the smaller gun for another figure.

Mystique comes with a fair amount of accessories, though most are just reused from elsewhere. She has open hands out of the box with her right hand being more “cupped” than the left like she should be holding a long-stem glass. She has optional trigger hands and they’re for her two guns. One is a large, machinegun, type and the other a pistol. Both are just cast in the same blue-gray plastic used for her flesh which is pretty damn cheap on Hasbro’s part and it makes the larger gun, especially, look stupid in her hands. The pistol is the same gun that came with the movie Deadpool. At least being blue makes it kind of resemble the gun she used in “The Cure” and the one Morph was seen with at times. Her final accessory is a more thoughtful one, but again, Hasbro’s cheapness ruins it some. That accessory is a baby Nightcrawler wrapped in a brown blanket which has better shading than most of the figures in this line. This is a callback to the show and the scene of Mystique preparing to toss her unwanted mutant child off of a waterfall. The problem is, this baby is repurposed from a baby Hulk figure. It lacks Nightcrawler’s defining pointed ears and he has this pompadour styled hair that looks stupid. He also has a yellow pacfier, which he did not possess in the show. Lastly, Mystique’s portrait is inappropriate for posing her with the child. Had they included a secondary one with tears streaming down her face that would have been something. Should we give Hasbro credit for at least referencing the show? I guess, but I’m also the type who sees little point in doing something if you’re not going to do it right.

And the other character in need of a gun is Morph. This blue one looks a little like the gun he featured in “Till Death Do Us Part.”
I appreciate the thought, but that’s not Kurt.

The last thing we need to consider with this action figure is the articulation. Mystique, being essentially on the same body as Jean, has few surprises. The ball-hinged neck lets her look in all directions save for up since her hair gets in the way. The shoulders can lift out past horizontal and rotate fine while the arm articulation is limited to single-hinged elbows with a swivel point in the elbow. She can’t quite hit 90 degrees and the lack of a bicepts swivel is a disappointment. The wrists rotate and hinge with the right trigger hand featuring the proper, vertical, hinge so that’s good. The torso has the diaphragm joint under the bust which offers little more than some rotation and tilt with very little forward and back. There’s no waist twist, and the legs can barely manage a 45 degree spread. She does kick forward okay, but not back, and there’s a thigh cut for rotation there. The knees are double-jointed and they feel less gummy than Jean and Storm’s. There’s no boot cut and the ankles hinge forward and back a decent amount and rock side-to-side. It’s a mediocre spread of articulation. She can at least pose fine with the hand gun.

“Oh, my beloved child. Wait…you’re not my baby!”

Mystique is another bare minimum type of release from Hasbro in this line. She looks okay, the cel-shading is at least passable, and there’s a tiny bit of re-tooling with the head. They still half-assed the accessories and really should have just used the new body they had already made for other figures as I bet this belt and head would have fit just fine. Why they didn’t is not something I can figure out. And making the guns the same color of plastic as her body is just weird and cheap. Imagine if everybody ran around with guns that matched their skintone perfectly. That’s Hasbro not wanting to pay to change the color of the plastic in the machines. And the baby Kurt is a nice thought, but a poor execution. At least the box art looks great.

“So long, imposter!”

Mystique is presently available via Hasbro’s Pulse website and the Shop Disney webstore. Like all of the figures in this line, she comes with a slight upcharge that’s not really reflected in the product. Chances are, if you’ve been collecting this line then you’ll probably want to add Mystique to your shelf. She could have been a lot better, but by the standards of this line she’s actually one of the better releases. I suppose I’d stick her somewhere in the middle, and I probably prefer her to any of the X-Men women. I’m still left wishing she wasn’t the character we got with one of these precious 8 slots Hasbro budgeted for, but at least she’s not a dud. That means we only have one more figure to look forward to in this line, Cyclops, before we say “goodbye for now.” Hopefully it’s a good one, but it’s not looking like it will arrive before the year’s end so check back in 2023 for my thoughts on Cyke.

If we’re only getting a few villains out of this line, at least they fit reasonably well thematically.

The Christmas Spot is Back for 2022!

We’re nearly through another year, which means another holiday season is upon us. For some, this started once Halloween was over while for others it seemingly never ended. And like years past, we’re going all-in at The Nostalgia Spot. Every day in December through Christmas Day, join us as we take a look at a celebrated, or not so celebrated, holiday classic. Each year this happens it becomes harder and harder to find Christmas specials worth talking about. My solution last year was to revisit my years old list of the top 25 and give them more due so it’s something I’m going to continue this year. Basically every fifth day I’ll pluck a special from my list of 25 that hasn’t had a full write-up here already and give it another look. It’s not to reexamine them, necessarily, but more to celebrate them as I still feel just fine about that list. It also should help lengthen how long I can keep this up, because for the first time, when I got settled in to work on this year’s slate I was feeling it a bit more difficult than before.

2022 feels like another year many are looking forward to leaving behind. I feel like every year of recent memory has had that sort of feeling, so it’s one reason why I welcome the holiday season. Work is lighter, the house is fully decorated, and I have plenty of Christmas specials at my fingertips to watch with my kids day in and day out. There are some new additions I am looking forward to getting a look at this year, while it also looks like some I was anticipating a year ago won’t be happening (thanks Warner/Discovery). And with this blog increasingly becoming more and more toy-focused, it’s nice to have something else to blog about for a month.

As per usual, while the Christmas content is in full swing, the regular content stops. I might have a couple of bonus posts in-store for you this year, but in general, if you’re coming here for said toy reviews you’ll have to wait until Boxing Day or later for our regularly scheduled programming to resume. And this year for December 1st, I have a rather fun post going up. At least it was fun for me, I’m not sure how it will work for others, but hopefully people like it. I feel really good about this year’s batch of specials as there’s some pretty good ones in here and some awesomely bad ones plus at least one that’s pretty topical. So while you’re stuffing down your turkey tomorrow, know you got something awesome coming your way next week. It’s the Christmas Spot, and for at least one more year, it’s bringing the Christmas goods!

Want to check out the archives to put you in the Christmas mood? Here are some suggestions from Christmas Spots of the past:

Dec. 4 – Taz-Mania – “No Time for Christmas”

Before there was an entire broadcast television network owned by Time Warner, there was the relationship that existed between Fox and WB. Fox, needing a lot of content to launch its kid programming block The Fox Kids Network, partnered with WB and Steven Spielberg to bring the world Tiny Toon Adventures. It was a success,…

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Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Sewer Surfer Mike

Surf’s up, dudes!

We are back with one more look at Wave 6 of Super7’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of Ultimates! action figures: Sewer Surfer Mike. This, like every figure in the line so far, is a recreation of a Playmates Toys figure from the vintage line of TMNT action figures, and in this case it’s of Mike the Sewer Surfer. That was the Michelangelo included in the inaugural disguise series which was basically the first of the “wacky” variants that Playmates would do. Many more followed, but for me, that first wave was the most memorable and Michelangelo as a surfer dude made plenty of sense. And it was a toy I really enjoyed as a kid. Something about that pink and blue wet suit was just a pleasing aesthetic for me. I loved the sculpted details like the octopus on one of Mikey’s legs or that metallic paint on his sunglasses. He also had a little, crab, buddy that affixed to his surfboard and it was just a fun, silly, figure. And because of that affection I had for it as a kid I had to get the Super7 version. There was at least one other compelling reason to get this, which we’ll get to, but it was largely a no-brainer. I really liked all of those disguised turtles, it’s one of the few waves I had every figure from, and the nostalgia is strong here.

He certainly looks the part.

Mikey comes in the standard Super7 Ultimates! box with slipcover on the outside and window box within. Mikey stands around 6″ and is basically in-line with the other turtles, as expected. Since he features a new outfit that’s all done as part of the sculpt, everything about this guy is new. The only parts Super7 could reuse were the hands and maybe the shins. He’s done in as much colored plastic as possible, which for Mikey is that deep, forest, green that distinguishes him from his brothers. The wet suit feature some painted details and it’s done in an acceptable fashion. There’s a lot of additional, fun, sculpted bits on this guy in the form of various sea creatures. Mikey looks like he was vomited up by a whale or something as he’s got crabs (the good kind), sharks, and seawood all over the place and it’s something I remember fondly of the original figure. I’m a little surprised some of these aren’t removable, but they weren’t on the old figure so I don’t hate it. I’d have kept them on, but I understand if some are disappointed just like how some out there wanted Scratch’s shackle to be removable. It is interesting that the default portrait for this figure has Mikey with his tongue hanging out. That is not how the original figure depicted him as he instead had a sly smile and shades. The shades, by the way, are removable this time. The second portrait is more in-line with the original. It doesn’t matter since both heads are in the box, but I found it a bit curious. He still features a big, yellow, belt and I am a bit disappointed there isn’t more paint here. I thought Super7 did a good job making Slash’s belt pop more, but with this one it’s like they didn’t even try. Despite that, I think he looks good and I’m as charmed with this version as I was the original when I was a kid.

He’s got some board wax and these oversized throwing stars, but the board is the main attraction.

What certainly adds to the fun factor here rests with the accessories. Mikey’s got a decent spread, and it starts with the optional hands. Mikey comes with two sets of gripping hands (vertical hinge and horizontal), fists, and style posed hands. For those gripping hands he has his trusty nunchaku. These are of the molded plastic variety and Super7 added some seaweed to them in keeping with the theme. The original figure did not come with these so I like that Super7 gave us some. The only issue is they’re very gummy to the point where I find the texture unpleasent. It’s a shame, because the sculpt and paint are nice, but they’re so soft that I couldn’t even get them into his gripping hands. He also has three cans of wax, I guess to maintain his board, and I initially wasn’t sure what they were. They’re painted okay, my blue and yellow one isn’t lined up properly, but don’t do much for me otherwise. He also has his starfish shurikens which is something that did come with the old toy, and most important he comes with his surfboard. It looks like the vintage one as it’s cast in orange plastic and has a decal on it. It’s disappointing to see a decal in place of paint or a printing, but that’s what we got. The little crab guy is included, but he no longer clips into the board and instead is intended to just be placed on it which doesn’t work as well since the board needs to lean forward. There’s also a foot strap for the board in case Mikey wipes out. It looks pretty cool, but it’s really crying out for a display stand of some kind. Similar to the Optimus Prime figure Super7 did, the fins on the underside of the board make it a challenge to actually pose Mikey in a surfing position. He’s a bit annoying to pose because while he can peg onto the board, nothing else does and his sunglasses just rest on his head unconvincingly so there’s a lot of balancing going on. Lastly, he has a weapon sprue which contains the shuriken, nunchaku, crab, and wax cans surrounded by a block and tackle. It would have been cool to get the block and tackle as an accessory, though admittedly I don’t know what I would have done with it. Just like I don’t know what to do with the sprue. These are being phased out from future waves and I consider that no great loss.

As is often the case, two heads are indeed better than one.

Of course, we also have that other head which is more vintage inspired. Put that on your figure with the shades and the look is mostly complete (the fit of the shades is rather poor) which frees up that other head for another figure. It’s no secret that a lot of folks weren’t crazy about Michelangelo’s alternate head from the Wave 3 release of Ultimates! I’ve been using that head, because I overall liked the alt heads more, but it is my least favorite of the four. It’s just an odd expression. They were going for a smile or a laugh, but it’s very blocky and he has huge gaps between his teeth. This one kind of carries that weakness forward, but overall both heads do a much better job of getting Mikey’s termperment across. And the good news is that Super7 was able to match the colored plastic very well between this release and that past one so, if you want to, you can swap out the old head with one of these. I’m definitely going to do that with my display, though I haven’t yet decided which head I want for which figure. And I suppose the inverse is true if you really want your Sewer Surfer Mike to have one of the old heads. The classic, vintage, head doesn’t look terrible, though I can’t see myself going in that direction, but it’s always nice to have options.

One clear and obvious negative with this figure are these gummy, awful, nunchuks. I love the seaweed and such, but he can’t even grip them easily because they’re so gummy.

Now, the big deal with this line of late has been articulation. Wave 5, which arrived at the same time as Wave 6, was pretty much a disaster as far as loose joints are concerned. The Wave 6 figures I’ve looked at have been much better. Slash was pretty great, and while Scratch had some odd engineering choices, he was at least plenty sturdy. Mikey, being a Wave 6 release as well, is more of the same which is a good thing. He articulates just like the other turtles so we have a double ball peg at the head that has subpar range because of how low it sits on the unarticulated neck. The shoulders are ball-hinged and he can just about get his arms out to the side. He has a biceps swivel and the elbows are single hinges with rotation and it’s fine. The wrists swivel and hinge and the hands swap fairly easily. In the torso, is a waist twist that does little and at the hips Mikey can almost do full splits (it’s the sculpted eel on his left thigh that keeps him from achieving a true split), kick forward, and can’t really kick back due to the shell. There is a thigh twist and the knees are single hinges with a swivel. At the ankle, we get hinges and rockers which continue to be the strong point of the line. The rest is just basic. The range is mediocre as he can’t quite hit a 90 degree bend at either the elbow or knee, but there are at least no surprises. We know what to expect and that the articulation is going to be a weak spot for this line, at least what is here seems fine as far as quality control is concerned. I’d love to see Super7 do better, but we’re at a point that we should expect this level of articulation and either accept ir or pass because it’s unlikely to change.

Whether you go with the tongue head or the closed mouth, I think it’s an improvement for the wave 3 Mikey.

This is a figure that is not likely to excite many, but it’s probably not going to let many down either. It feels like it should be regarded as a new baseline for the entire series. There’s a good amount of paint on the figure proper and it’s applied reasonably well. Yes, it’s not pristine upon close inspection, but it’s good enough. The articulation is not impressive, but is up to the line’s own standard and at 6 waves deep it’s mostly on the consumer at this point if they’re letdown in that department. And the figure also comes with enough, though I definitely would have appreciated some new hands like open palms for a more traditoonal surfing pose or maybe a “Hang 10” gesture. At least there is already plenty of new tooling with this guy so it doesn’t feel like Super7 cheaped out on us. My only true criticisms rest with the belt and nunchuks. The belt just needs more paint as it shouldn’t be all yellow like that. At least hit the cans with something. And that gummy plastic utilized for the chuks needs to take a hike. I get that they were looking for a flexible alternative for the weapons, but this isn’t the right solution. Mostly though, if you’re into this line and have been generally pleased then you’ll like this figure and if you liked the vintage one well then it’s a no brainer. The fact that his second head works well with the older Mikey might be reason enough for some to drop the $55 it costs to get this guy.

The new heads for Mikey are a bit “toony” compared with the other brothers, but it works well enough as far as I’m concerned.

S.H.Figuarts Dragon Ball Super – Ultimate Gohan Super Hero

As part of the promotion for the film Dragon Ball Super – Super Hero, Bandai released a wave of action figures from its S.H. Figuarts brand of characters from the film. The neat thing was, these releases were actually really cheap relative to other SHF releases with a MSRP of just $35. Of the four, the only one I grabbed initially was Goku as I was looking for a base version of Goku and that figure really stood out as better than the alternative to me. I was tempted by Piccolo as well because the headsculpts looked like an improvement over the figure I have, but ultimately I didn’t want to spend money for some new heads. Another temptation for me was the new Gohan. Depicted in his “Ultimate” form, the adult Gohan from the film looked really interesting because it would appear he’s on a newer body that could see some reuse down the road. At the end of the day though, I’m not a huge Gohan fan so I decided to pass. The question was rendered moot too when he sold out really quickly as there’s a legion of Dragon Ball collectors out there who have been waiting for a good interpretation of Ultimate Gohan.

Then Bandai put up for sale on its Premium Bandai webstore two characters from the film: Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. They’re the “sort of” villains from the film and I liked their look. I wasn’t sure if I liked it enough to pay the Premium Bandai upcharge to get them though, but once I finally saw the film, I ended up taking the plunge. The thing with those figures is they both come with optional parts for the Ultimate Gohan figure. I suppose I could have sold those parts to recoup some of the expense of those two figures, but instead I just went in for more and purchased the Gohan figure. Retailers opened up some additional preorders for him, at the slightly inflated price of $40 (he may have started off there too and I just forgot), and I grabbed one of them. I’ve had the figure for about a month now, and let me tell you something: I love it!

My Gohan, you’re looking unusually focused this morning.

Gohan comes in the usual window box and should look fairly routine from outside the box. Once removed, he stands just shy of 5.5″ to the top of his face, closer to 6.5″ if you want to go to the top of the hair. Gohan from the movie is depicted in his classic Piccolo training uniform. It’s a purple gi with red sash and he has the big, chunky, shoes he and Piccolo both feature in the movie. He basically only distinguishes himself from Piccolo via his black wriststraps. He’s in his “Ultimate” form which was his ascended form he learned from the Elder Kai during the Buu Saga. It’s basically Gohan’s ultimate form, hence the name, though it doesn’t come with a flashy transformation. If anything, he just has slightly bigger, spikier, hair. He’s also jacked and that comes through in the sculpt. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to Goku who keeps going through all of these different forms and hair colors to get more powerful, but his kid just bulks up a bit. I kind of like that about Gohan, though he has his own wild transformations too.

The new style for the shoulder joints can be a bit finicky to work with, but the reward is that they look so much better than the old style with the sleeve cuff pegged into the shoulder itself.

Like most figures in this line, Gohan is largely composed of molded, colored, plastic which minimizes the need for paint. I suppose “need” is a strong word and certainly a subjective one as many (myself included) would like to see more paint on these releases. It’s much harder to criticize them for that though at this lower price point. With Gohan, there appears to be a hint of shading on the legs, which they like to do for some reason. It’s not as visible with Gohan as it is with Goku and his orange gi, which almost works out better for Gohan. It adds just a touch of depth and comes across well. It’s also helped by the fact that the purple is quite matte on this figure giving him a nice finish. The chest is painted and it’s not a perfect match to the neck and arms. The chest has a matte appearance, while there is a touch of shine on the neck, but it’s not awful. The red sash is a separate, floating, piece though it is rather snug on the figure. It may cause some paint transfer if you’re not careful. Lastly though, the faces for this figure look terrific. I don’t know what Bandai did to improve their facial printing, but keep it up. The previous Goku figure looked nice, but Gohan is even better. These faces all look fantastic and it really brings the figure to life. The hair also looks nice and it’s even tricky to figure out where the seem is to remove the bangs because the fit is so good. The only blemish is a bit of mold release, roughness, on the side of the hair. It’s not very noticeable from a shelf, but it does kind of suck and I considered trying to exchange it, but opted not to. Aside from that though, I think this figure looks wonderful.

On one foot with not assistance, and on the flimsy plastic of the arena playset at that.

Adding to my enjoyment is the articulation. I’ve been a little critical of the various Goku figures as I acquire more of them because that figure has some limitations and some features that are a bit of an eyesore. This figure doesn’t solve every problem that Goku has, but it comes close. The head is on a double-ball peg with another ball joint at the base of the neck. He can move around nice and smooth and there’s great nuance posing afforded by this setup. It’s only weakness it he can’t look up very well so if you wanted to position him in a flying pose parallel with the ground it would look awkward. The shoulders have a newer style of joint similar to what Krillin has which means theres no pegged in shoulder piece to look stupid. The sleeve is just a floating piece the arms goes through and it pegs into a ball and hinge style of joint inside the torso. The end result is you get some up and down movement at just the shoulder before even engaging the hinge which allows the arms to be raised out. You do have to work with the sleeve to get them horizontal, but it’s do-able. There is still a butterfly joint and that may be the only limitation here as he doesn’t seem to reach across quite as far as Goku. A Kamehameha pose is still possible, but a little less natural looking. The rear of the joint is cleaner, though there will still be angles where it looks unsightly. The joint is all cast in purple though so at least it doesn’t look as ridiculous as Goku’s where the interior is flesh-toned. The rest of the arms are typical stuff with a biceps swivel, double-jointed elbow that goes well past 90 degrees, and ball-peg wrists.

This one needs a stand though.

In the torso, we get a ball-joint at the diaphragm. There is no hinge in there to lift the upper torso higher which seems cleaner, but the figure also doesn’t have much range forward and back. He can pivot a bit on the joint as well. Below that is a waist twist which feels like a ball-peg of some kind. It mostly lets him twist, but you do get some nuance posing out of it as well. At the hips, we have some kind of a ball-joint that works very well. Gohan can achieve full splits and kick forward plenty far, though can’t kick back because he does have sculpted cheeks. There’s a thigh twist below that which is very smooth and the double-jointed knees both look and function well. At the boot, there’s a swivel and the feet are ball pegs. They don’t have much range going forward and back due to the cuffs on the shoes, but the rocker works okay. There’s also a toe hinge if you like those.

The Masenko pose is a bit tricky. Anything that requires the figure to raise its arms above the shoulder is tough because of the shirt piece.

Most importantly, all of the articulation is really smooth. No stuck joints, no uncomfortable creeking or squeeking noises, and it’s all very visually appealing. That may not sit as well with some other folks as I can see some wishing Bandai sacrificed some of the form to get better range in places. The torso feels like the biggest issue as we could probably get a better ab crunch in there. The ankles also aren’t great, but I think that’s partly due to the character design and the shoes present. The shoulders still aren’t perfect, but I think they look much better this way and I’ll take the reduced range there for this visual. I would definitely be interested in seeing a new Goku on this body, though I don’t know what version (I did order the Super Saiyan 2 Goku, but it’s on the usual buck). Maybe a brand new Super Saiyan 3 or “Awakening Super Saiyan” Goku?

He can do a reasonable Kamehameha pose though.
Fire away, Gohan!

This is a bit of a budget release, but there are still some accessories to talk about. Unfortunately, they’re not particularly exciting. Gohan just comes with some extra hands and face plates. For faces, he has a stern expression, teeth-gritting, and a yelling one. For hands, we get fists out of the box plus Kamehameha hands, martial arts pose hands, and a set of open “Masenko” hands. That’s it. It’s expected given the price point, but still disappointing to only get a conventional spread of hands plus three facial expressions. An effect part would have been welcomed and, honestly, adds mere pennies to the cost. How about the Super Saiyan 4 Goku blast effect, but in yellow or blue? Just something to put in his hands for a Masenko effect, though his shoulders aren’t really made for the charging effect so maybe it’s better not to draw attention to that via an effect?

Bandai is really killing it lately with the faces.

If this is the new, standard, body going forward for Bandai then I think it’s pretty good. It could be better, but I think we’ll get a lot of nice looking figures out of this. And even though there are some short-comings, I still love this releasae. And I don’t even consider myself a fan of Gohan. Nothing against him, I don’t actively dislike the character, he’s just not my favorite. This figure though is one of my favorites in the line and I’ve been having a blast with him just posing and fiddling with him on my desk while he waits for me to write this review. And maybe that’s partly what took me so long as I drew out the process. He’s going to head for the shelf soon and join his buddies, but I am definitely looking forward to getting those extra parts with the Gamma brothers so I have an excuse to mess with this one again. If you thought you didn’t need it for one reason or another, I must encourage you to rethink that. And at 40 bucks, this feels like quite the steal. This figure is way better than the Apocalypse I reviewed recently, a figure I did ultimately like, and it costs the same. While lesser companies are getting more expensive, Bandai is actually getting cheaper and that’s awesome. Keep it up!

I wasn’t sold on him initially, but I’m pretty happy to have added Gohan to the shelf.

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