S.H.Figuarts Dragon Ball Lunch

Here comes Lunch! Err, Launch?

It’s no secret my preferred take on the world of Dragon Ball created by author/artist Akira Toriyama is the original one: Dragon Ball. Of course, in the manga it’s just all Dragon Ball up until the more recent Dragon Ball Super, but for anime viewers there’s Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and Dragon Ball Super. Of the four, I feel comfortable declaring Z the most popular, and after that might actually be Super. Dragon Ball is the more adventure-focused of the anime. Being that these unfold chronologically (well, except GT, but we don’t need to talk about GT), Dragon Ball is the one that features a kid Goku before he becomes a super powerful Saiyan warrior. I like the more grounded action, even though it’s still not even remotely realistic, and there’s a ton of humor spread throughout. All of these shows have a formula, but with Dragon Ball, I feel it’s less obvious.

Dragon Ball has never been super popular in America. We got both it and Z in the mid 90’s, but with far more emphasis placed on the sequel series. That one famously bombed out of the gate too, with Ocean Group dubbing around 100 episodes and so much material was cut that the episode count differed from the Japanese version. One of those casualties was the character Lunch. She appeared in Dragon Ball fairly regularly, but her appearance in Z was more like a cameo. It was apparently deemed not necessary, and since she totes a gun perhaps it was also considered too violent. As a result, Lunch was a character I only ever read about for a long time. There was a long hiatus in dubbing the series so us American fans had to either buy bootleg tapes or just be content reading about the series online. I mostly read about it, and Lunch was always a character I wanted to see in action since she sounded quite unique.

She looks like a nice girl.

Because I read about her first, I’m still conditioned to refer to her as Lunch. When Dragon Ball was eventually dubbed and released in America, her name was changed to Launch. It’s actually a pretty clever update as her personality is centered around her “launching” into a fit of anger. Lunch, by default, is a kind, sweet, and rather meek young woman. She’s also quite shapely and a natural target for the perverted Master Roshi, and unlike Bulma, she takes his crude advances in stride. However, anytime she sneezes she transforms. Her hair changes color from blue to yellow (is Lunch the original Super Saiayn?!), but that’s not the most dramatic part of the change. Her personality also completely morphs turning her into an enraged, gun-toting, maniac! Seriously, where does she keep that gun normally? Once she goes blonde, she just whips it out from somewhere and just starts blasting. When her target is Roshi, it’s hard to argue the old man didn’t deserve it, but she’ll also perceive basically any male in her sight a threat and often poor Goku will bare some of the brunt as well.

Someone looks excited.

The Dragon Ball subline for Banda’s S.H.Figuarts line of collectibles has decided that Lunch is the only worthy entry for 2021. It hasn’t been a fast moving line like Z or even Super, but just one figure in 2021 is a little disappointing for Dragon Ball. I’m sure some are also disappointed that lone figure wasn’t a desert bandit Yamcha or a first appearance Tien, but for me, I like getting another female character into the display. The franchise is pretty short on them, and we can only have so many versions of Bulma, so Lunch feels like a solid inclusion. Unfortunately, she came with a decent price hike as the MSRP on this one is $65. Such a price is not unheard of for this line, but as we’ll get into, this isn’t one of the more over-stuffed releases we’ve received in the past. Costs went up like crazy last year, so this could be a symptom of that. Or, Lunch carries a small premium because Bandai doesn’t figure to sell a ton of figures of her. The Super Saiyan 4 Goku comes with more stuff and is five bucks cheaper and might even feature less parts reuse. The real answer is probably both, but given how small the Dragon Ball line is I wasn’t about to pass on Lunch just because she was 5-10 bucks more expensive than I would have predicted.

Uh oh. She sneezed…

Lunch comes in the typical SHF window box and in her default persona. She stands a tick over 5″ to the top of her hair putting her right in-line with Bulma, whom she likely shares some parts with (most notably the legs). This means, like Bulma, she doesn’t scale well with Goku or even Roshi, but that’s because they seem to exist in their own scale as a means of keeping the kid characters from being tiny. She’s also sporting her traditional attire: green, spaghetti-strapped tanktop, yellow short-shorts, brown gloves, green ankle warmers, red sneakers, and a red ribbon in her hair. The tank top is just painted on, but it looks quite clean and the green matches the ankle warmers rather well. They have little buckles on them which are also painted cleanly and the yellow stripes on the shoes are also well done. The only issue with the paint is that crotch piece for the shorts is cast in yellow plastic, while the rest on her thighs is the same, but it’s likely PVC and the result is there’s a color variance. It’s subtle, but it’s also there and a disappointment. The blue hair appears to have a wash applied to the bangs area which looks nice, but is also the only shading to be found on the figure. That’s not a surprise given this is SHF and this figure features a lot of bare skin, but the blonde hair would have benefitted from the same.

Time to run, old man.

And she does come with both portraits because this is Lunch and that’s pretty central to her character. The default one is her smiling and it looks like the character. She can also swap to an excited look and to the all important sneezing face. For her blonde look, she has a smirk and a side-eyed glare. The only one I’m not sold on is the smirk as her cheeks look rather puffy for some reason. The glare is probably my preferred expression, but I do wish we got one more for the blonde version of her yelling and just looking really pissed off. Like I said, we needed both versions of Lunch in the box, but I’m slightly bummed the blue-haired look got three portraits to the blonde’s two because I think most will display her as a blonde.

Now he’s in trouble!

And most will likely opt for the blonde look because she only has two accessories and the favored one works with that look. And that’s her submachine gun. She comes with fists in the box, but has a right, trigger, grip for the gun and a loose gripping left hand to sort of cup it. The other optional hands are two open hands which are good for a sneezing pose or to hold the last accessory: the all important Dragon Ball. Lunch comes with the pearl painted ball which is what SHF has switched to after releasing 7 translucent balls already. There’s a lot of plastic here just in the two heads alone since her hair is so big, but there’s no covering up that this is an underwhelming assortment of accessories. Especially at that higher price point. Another portrait for her blonde look would have helped, and maybe a blast effect for her machinegun would have gone a long way.

This setup is definitely interesting.

The articulation for Lunch is familiar, but also introduces some new things. And that’s mainly at the head. Her head is connected via a double ball peg that actually pegs into her hair, and not her head. It has a bend in it so her head sits low enough, but it is a bit of a pain in the ass to swap heads on this figure because that peg wants to move when you’re trying to fit it into the hair. It’s a lot easier on the blue hair, because that’s how the figure shipped. It’s also definitely easier to swap with the face plate on it as that helps to prevent the peg from moving too much. At least it’s a sturdy ball peg so I never feared breaking it, but it was annoying. Swapping the faces requires pulling off the bangs first and it can be a challenge to get the face off without popping the hair off of the neck, which can be a touch frustrating. Once in place, it moves around okay. Her hair obviously is going to limit her range, but there is a hinge in the back of her hair to help alleviate some of that. She can look up and look down a bit with the usual rotation and some tilt. I think you get enough, but it is a bit weird to look at initially.

She can’t quite aim her gun convincingly two-handed, but she still poses all right with it.

Beyond the head, the rest is pretty much in-line with both versions of Bulma released in this line. The shoulders are on ball pegs so they rotate rather well. There’s no butterfly joint, but her bust would probably have impeded one anyway had it been installed. The elbows are single-jointed on these disc-like pieces that I’ve never liked that much. The range is great, but when the arms are extended they look kind of funky. The wrists are ball-joints and with the gloves there’s plenty to hide them so no complaints there. There’s a diaphragm joint that works in tandem with a ball joint at the waist. Lunch can tilt up there well and she can bend backwards probably farther than you need her to, but there will be some gapping issues under her shirt. Crunching forward is not great and it exposes a gap near her waistline on the back of the figure. It’s hard to imagine her needing to crunch forward more than she can, but it’s always a bit bizarre to see figures that can go back better than forward. At the hips we have standard ball joints, but the cuffs of her shorts limit their range. She can’t do a split, but can nearly reach a full horizontal kick. Her buttcheeks prevent her from kicking back really at all, but you do get a thigh twist. The cuffs on her shorts can be a bit finicky as sometimes they leave a gap in crotch area and I find myself tweaking the left leg, in particular, often to try to mitigate that. At the knees we have basically the same situation as the elbows, only here the disc piece is on the back of the figure and basically hidden. The ankles are ball-jointed so you get great range there and they also included a toe hinge, if you feel it’s needed.

This is definitely my favorite expression in the set.

I’m pretty happy with how Lunch can move around. The only thing she can’t do well that I wish she could is a two-handed firing pose with the gun. Her bust just gets in the way which is a character design issue more so than a figure one. I suppose it helps that her portraits aren’t really firing portraits which lend themselves better to casual stances as opposed to action ones, not that Lunch never fired her gun with nothing but a smirk in the show. Her hair does make her more top heavy than the Bulma figures we have so I’ve found her a little tougher to stand, but nothing dramatic. It’s just something you have to be aware of and take into account when posing her.

The scale is a bit wonky in this line, but she fits in with Bulma, at least.

I think Lunch turned out pretty well. I have come criticisms, but most of them are of the value nature and not direct criticisms of the figure itself. And where I do have them for the figure, I chalk them up mostly to me being nitpicky, but that’s what a review is for! She looks terrific on a shelf amongst my other Dragon Ball figures. She looks better when paired with Bulma than she does Krillin or Goku, but she can also handle being near Master Roshi too. She would look even better though with Tien, and I do hope there’s more in store for Dragon Ball as far as S.H.Figuarts is concerned. There’s still plenty to mine from that series, and a few characters that I would definitely deem essential, but time will tell what Bandai has planned.


NECA Turtles in Time Bebop and Rocksteady

Rocksteady and Bebop are back – in pirate form!

When I reviewed the Super7 Donatello last month, I noted how it was one of the longest waits I’ve ever had between the time I ordered something and the time I received it. Well, it’s already been topped. NECA’s Turtles in Time series of action figures based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game is the less celebrated wing of the company’s TMNT figure lines. It’s a specialty shop exclusive that largely consists of repaints of figures that have already appeared in the company’s cartoon line. There are some exceptions, like the Baxter Stockman figure, but largely it’s the most niche line based on the popular IP. The Bebop and Rocksteady set, based on their appearance in the Super Nintendo version of the game, is sort of the capper to the line. It’s the line’s only two-pack and it features two popular characters in amusing pirate attire. It went up for preorder in October of 2020, the same month as Super7’s wave 4 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and if I didn’t cancel my preorder and grab this set elsewhere I’d still be waiting. For whatever reason, the online retailer Big Bad Toy Store has been slow to get some NECA product. I’m still waiting for the quarter scale Donatello to come in stock despite that, like this set, being available months ago in other places. When someone pointed out to me that Amazon, of all places, had this set in stock I jumped on it. Sorry BBTS, I’ve waited long enough.

“Say your prayers, toitles!

Bebop and Rocksteady are a bit unique for this line. They’re not just repaints, but they’re also not too far removed from the figures we’ve seen in the cartoon line (which came out back in 2019). The actual figures are largely the same and what’s been changed are the soft, plastic, overlays, that NECA uses to differentiate characters. It’s how they can basically use the same molds for Bebop, Rocksteady, and Leatherhead without it being really obvious. Of the two, Rocksteady is the most different. NECA had to add his pirate hat so he actually has new ears. His overlay on his torso is vastly different from the tank top the other figure features as it’s a dashing, captain’s, shirt and coat with ruffled shoulder pads. The arms had to be changed to accommodate this look since he’s now wearing sleeves. Everything else is the same which is a good and bad thing. Good, because the older Rocksteady is one of the best looking figures in this line still. Bad, because that figure used the old hips which are prone to breaking and difficult to pose. This guy is hard to stand and I’m currently using two NECA disc stands to keep him upright.

It’s still pure horror underneath those glasses.

Bebop is also sporting a pirate look, but his look isn’t as drastic a departure as his buddy’s. It’s almost entirely limited to the overlays as he has a new bandana on his head in place of his hair and he’s wearing a striped shirt with a pink vest. The arms are the same, but NECA ditched the real chain-link bracelet in favor of sculpted ones on both wrists. The only real difference comes below the knee as Bebop’s pants end in tatters and his stylish high-tops have been replaced with what look like loafers with a big, yellow, buckle on each. He also doesn’t have a belt any longer, but still has his turtle shell shoulder pads and weird, skeletal, necklace. Unlike Rocksteady, Bebop is easier to stand as the new shoes actually work better than the old ones, though he too can still be a challenge as he’s very top heavy. I think with Rocksteady he’s just even more top heavy and his feet aren’t very large in relation to his body size. My only critique of this look is that Bebop’s shirt and glasses are more of a hot pink than the purple they appear to be in the game. You can also see his purple ponytail in the game, but NECA removed his hair to make room for the bandana on his head. And his eyes are still solid black under the glasses which is a bit of a bummer because his eyes become visible in the arcade game when hit and it would have been cool if we could simulate that as well.

The pixel deco isn’t too intrusive here and actually works pretty well from a distance.

Both figures feature NECA’s pixel deco and I think it looks okay here. With Rocksteady, the effect is played up rather well on his torso. I like how the gray and white on his vest turned out and there’s just enough on his arms and legs. His flesh is purple, which is in keeping with the game. His black hat is basically ignored when it comes to the pixel look which is accurate to the game as well. The paint is clean and sharp and if I have one criticism it’s that there should be some white near his eyes. As it stands, NECA basically painted them all black with a triangle of purple and it’s a bit freaky. Bebop is also well-painted, though his pixelization feels more understated. NECA could have done more with it on his chest, especially, but opted not to. If not for the gray patches on his legs he wouldn’t really appear pixelated at all when on a shelf. I suspect this bothers few though as, if anything, I see more people complaining about the pixel deco than praising it.

This isn’t the most dynamic pair of action figures around. Most will just set them and forget them.

As far as articulation is concerned, these guys are exactly the same as the previous releases. They’re nearly the same base too so they articulate the same, which is to say, not very well. They’re not statues, but the articulation has always been something I’ve had to overlook with these guys. The head is on a ball or ball-hinge and doesn’t offer much range. The jaw on both is articulated and it offers a fair deal of personality, though Bebop can’t really close his mouth all the way. There’s a ball hinge at the shoulder that’s super tight on both figures. The shoulder pads both sport make it difficult to rotate the arms, and with Bebop, it’s basically impossible. There’s a biceps swivel on both and double-jointed elbows. The wrists swivel and hinge though the hinge isn’t very functional with Rocksteady due to the cuffs on his sleeves. There’s probably a diaphragm joint on both, but the overlays render it useless. You get a waist twist with some tilt, but nothing really in the way of an ab crunch. The hips are the old peg system where the peg on the right leg goes through the crotch piece into a cylinder in the left leg to join them. You get a thigh twist at that joint, which is a ball hinge in the top of the leg, with double-jointed knees below that. The feet have a hinge with limited range on both figures and it does rock side to side a bit, but not a whole lot.

That upper peg isn’t doing it’s job and, as a result, a lot of the joiner in between the thigh and calf is visible on Rocksteady.

These guys are a bit of a stressful pair when first opened. A lot of the joints on mine were pretty tight or stuck. I plunged both into a hot water bath before doing much of anything with those hips. It’s basically the same old story where the joints are painted, which causes them to lock-up in shipping, but this old leg system would be tight even without the paint. And there’s a lot of paint on these guys and it looks rather thick in places. You definitely want to exercise caution when breaking them in. And even being careful, I still popped Rocksteady’s arm off at the biceps joint due to the shoulder hinge being so tight, which isn’t typically an area of great concern. It thankfully popped right back on, but it’s become a chronic issue where anytime I try to move a shoulder it will pop off if I’m not mindful of how easy it is to do. I also have an issue with Rocksteady’s left knee. The peg that holds the leg together above the knee looks like it went in at an angle and doesn’t go straight through. There’s more separation there as a result and might be contributing to some of my issues with standing the figure since I need to put the leg perfectly straight in order to hide some of the gap created above his kneecap. It’s not super obvious, but it is obvious enough that it bothers me and I do worry about the joint eventually falling apart.

Obviously, the rabbit one is the best one.

Since these guys are based on one boss battle in the SNES game, it’s probably not a huge surprise that they don’t come with much in the way of accessories. Both only used a single weapon each in the game: a sword for Rocksteady and a whip for Bebop. The sword looks fine. It’s a long, skinny, thing with some pixel deco applied. Rocksteady though doesn’t have the right hinge in his hand to properly wield it, though it’s likely his sleeve would have interfered anyway. Bebop’s whip is very similar to the one that came with the Punk Frog Napolean. It’s soft plastic with a wire inside so you can bend and position it as you see fit. Because of that it doesn’t have much in the way of a deco on it, it’s just brown with a black handle, but it’s fine. In addition to the weapons, both figures come with three sets of hands: fists, gripping, and open “style pose” hands. These are the same as the other releases with the only difference being the lack of a trigger finger hand, which is understandable given the weapons loadout here.

Doing these comparisons has given me new appreciation for those oversized rabbit feet.

The Turtles in Time version of Bebop and Rocksteady is an okay release. NECA largely handled the look and presentation fine, which is what I assume most collectors are interested in. Anyone hoping for an improvement over the past figures will be let down and I do think NECA missed an opportunity to do just that. This is a fun, silly, version of the characters and the encounter in the game was one of the more memorable ones. It’s a big reason why the SNES version is superior to the arcade one which did not feature the two. Where the figures do come up short is in the articulation and some of the dated engineering. They’re just not fun toys to pose as a result. I suppose it’s a good thing they’re from a video game as most will probably set them in a pose similar to their default sprite and let it be. I do think it’s silly that NECA didn’t at least update the hips. They already have the upper leg pieces from the Triceratons, but they might have needed to do a new crotch piece since that figure was equipped for a tail. Still, Bebop and Rocksteady figure to be among the most popular characters in the line and are a candidate for a re-release so why not re-configure the hips for such?

That’s a lot for the turtles to deal with, but there could always be more.

This two-pack figures to be the last release in the Turtles in Time line for at least a little while. NECA is still planning on releasing a color variation on the Foot Soldier, but no solicitation has been made available and I’m not sure if that release is from Turtles in Time or the original arcade game (chances are, it works for both). There’s also a two-pack (I think) planned based on the first arcade game featuring Traag and Granitor. It was shown long ago at Toy Fair, but it was during NECA’s negotiations with Viacom to bring a cartoon line to retail and once that was secured they basically abandoned the idea of doing the rock soldiers. Since they’ve done them for the toon line, it’s not a huge surprise they’re going back to them in 2022. Like the Foot though, no solicitation has gone out yet so who knows if they’ll actually be released in 2022 (NECA is planning on doing more Mirage Studios inspired figures which is effectively taking the place of the Turtles in Time subline) or if there’s any room on the release calendar. If this is it for Turtles in Time, NECA has definitely given collectors enough for a worthwhile display. They could always come back with Krang or the duo Bebop and Rocksteady took the place of in the SNES version of the game, Tokka and Rahzar, or even Metalhead. It’s easy money to just repaint existing figures with a video game look, so it definitely wouldn’t surprise me to see the line make a comeback some day.


Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade

Arcade 1Up has been around for a few years now selling arcade cabinets at a reduced size and also a reduced price. The cabinets are significantly smaller than an actual arcade cabinet, but still plenty large enough to take up a lot of floor space in your home. And while they’re cheaper than the “real thing,” they’re hardly what I would call cheap. Many of the full-size units will set you back over 500 big ones, and newer models have eclipsed the $700 price tag as components become harder to come by and virtually everything has become more expensive. Even when the units were cheaper, I was never able to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on what is essentially a novelty item. The cabinets, being smaller than the real thing, are less functional. You can’t physically accommodate four adults for a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance. And these are all games that can be experienced in a far more convenient and cheaper manner. Only some of the side-scrolling beat-em-ups are unavailable for purchase these days, but they’re also games not really designed for home consumption. They were made to entertain in bursts and consume quarters, with free play they last less than an hour and have little to no replay value once completed.

There’s nothing particularly practical about what Arcade 1Up sells, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I already used the term novelty when talking about them, and that’s really what they are. They liven up a room at your house, give people something to talk about when they come over for the first time, and do offer some entertainment value. Especially when it comes to skill-based games. And I certainly am willing to spend money on novelty items as I own several mini consoles and recently reviewed the Zelda Game & Watch. I just have a limit on what I want to spend on such a device and on how much room I want to dedicate to one. I’ve often considered buying an arcade cabinet for my bar room at home. I was really close to doing so with an SNK cabinet more than 10 years ago since those can actually swap games. And when a local arcade closed-up shop near me five years ago I strongly considered making an offer on their Simpsons cabinet, but thought better of it in the end. Arcade 1Up has always had some appeal to me, but nothing got me to bite. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one came the closest because of my love for that IP, but realistically I’d play it a couple of times and then never touch it again. I thought I might take the plunge if Arcade 1Up ever did The Simpsons and they did in 2021, but the $700 price tag was a non-starter for me.

Now isn’t that cute.

Arcade 1Up seems to know there are lots of folks like me out there that want their product, but are hesitant either due to cost or space concerns. Enter the Counter-Cade! This is a smaller version of an arcade cabinet intended to be placed on a counter, or better yet, a bar. And I have a bar! Aside from a bar-top juke box, I can’t think of a better accessory than a small arcade cabinet. And that’s what the Counter-Cade is, it’s just a small arcade cabinet with a short base. Since they’re even smaller than the normal Arcade 1Up, they’re only suitable for 2 players so no four-player models exist (that I’m aware of) and it looks like many have fewer games loaded on them than the bigger model, which makes sense as Arcade 1Up needs something more than size to entice folks to pony up the big bucks. There’s no wi-fi either, but you can plug in a controller if you find it too small to comfortably accommodate two players (though I tried it and didn’t have much luck). I was interested when I first saw the Counter-Cade, but I wanted it to contain games I’d actually play. My wife seemed to pick-up on this for underneath my Christmas tree was the Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes edition of the Counter-Cade.

The games that come pre-loaded.

The Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up comes with four games pre-loaded onto it: Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, and The Punisher. All four are developed by Capcom and obviously contain characters from the world of Marvel Comics. Three of the four are 2D fighters, while The Punisher is a two-player beat-em-up. It’s a solid assortment of games as you get a traditional 2D fighter in Marvel Super Heroes and a pair of tag-fighters. I would have preferred it if Arcade 1Up had made this an X-Men themed unit based on Children of the Atom, but oh well. I’m sure almost everyone would have preferred another “VS” title in place of The Punisher, but I’m okay with it as it gets another style of game into the set.

There’s a USB port on the right side for a controller, though when I plugged in my 8bitdo controller it didn’t map the buttons properly.

What’s going to sell this unit is the size, price, and game selection. As far as size goes, the cabinet basically takes up a space of 16.5″ wide, 16 1/8″ high, and 13″ depth. That’s me measuring the unit at it’s widest part, which is the platform where the controls are mounted, but that’s roughly the area this thing occupies. It runs off of an AC adapter so you do need to be relatively close to an outlet as the chord is only about 4′ long. The screen is approximately 6.5″ wide x 5″ high and it’s suitable for the software. The colors are vibrant and there’s no taring of the sprites. It’s also pretty loud so if you were worried about the audio I think most will be fine. There is a headphones jack for those who want to game without disturbing others, though the clicky joystick and buttons will prevent truly silent play.

Soda can for scale.

The components outside of the screen seem fine. I don’t know that the joystick is quite on the level with a true Capcom unit, but it’s better than a lot of third party joysticks I used long ago (granted, I have not bought an arcade style controller for about 25 years). There are seven buttons for each player with one of those being a Start or Credit button to enter the game. There are six buttons for actual gameplay, which is all you need for the software present here. The buttons feel okay, I feel like they’re a little soft and could rebound a touch firmer, but are otherwise fine. The theme is Marvel Super Heroes so you get Thanos on each side with blue filtered comic art on the front and platform. The marquee does light up when the unit is on and features the cast from that game so if you were hoping to see Rogue or Ken on the cabinet you’ll be disappointed.

This bad boy is going to live beside my Lego NES.

When the unit is powered on it takes you to a simple screen with the highlighted game displayed. You can cycle through and upon selecting a game a quick controls dashboard is displayed. It’s not entirely useful as it basically just tells you what each button does in the game. It won’t tell you, for instance, how to tag out in the VS titles or how to use grenades in The Punisher which stinks. Once you select a game, the unit basically becomes an arcade cabinet. If you leave it alone you’re effectively in “Attract Mode” for the selected game, which is definitely a fun thing to have in a rec room, even if it isn’t practical from a power consumption point of view. Everything is set to free play and there are no coin slots anyway so you can’t make money off of your friends directly. It’s easy to get out of and into another game and the interface is simple and intuitive enough.

As for the games, well, reviewing each one individually would take some time. Basically, if you’ve played a Capcom fighter then you probably know what to expect. Marvel Super Heroes is the most straight-forward as it’s a one on one fighter starring some of the heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. It’s always been a little odd in that respect (Shuma-Gorath?), but it’s actually probably better received now than it was in the 90s given how popular the Avengers are now versus then. Still, it was pretty cool to get a dedicated Marvel fighter in 1995 and the fact that it was dedicated to Jack Kirby gives it a little extra sweetness. I don’t consider it a great 2D fighter, but it’s a perfectly fine alternative to Street Fighter 2 for the Marvel fan.

SNES and Genesis model 2 for scale.

The VS games are probably want most fans will play the most. X-Men vs Street Fighter is what got the whole thing rolling. It features a terrific roster from both franchises and it actually feels more focused than the games that followed. If X-Men is your jam, then this might be your favorite from the set. Marvel vs Capcom is very similar, but bigger. This was the last 2 vs 2 fighter as its sequel would up things to 3 on 3 and get almost too big for my liking. You may notice one game was skipped, Marvel vs Street Fighter, but you’re not missing much by going straight to Marvel vs Capcom. This lets other Capcom stars get a chance to shine and help even the sides as it was pretty rough for the World Warriors to have to take on the entire Marvel Universe.

Lastly, we have The Punisher. It’s a perfectly cromulent brawler. Player One controls the Punisher while a second player can join in as Nick Fury. The two will banter a bit (via text) to liven things up while battling through the criminal underworld leading to a final confrontation with the Kingpin. It’s less impressive than the fighters from a presentation aspect and the mechanics of the game are pretty standard: attack, jump, and a special attack that drains life when it connects. Sometimes The Punisher and Fury will be allowed to use guns, usually in response to when the villains do the same, but mostly it’s a melee affair. There’s an abundance of temporary weapons to bash foes with that helps add a little variety, though most are just something to bash a foe with. A playthrough will take most around 45 minutes and when it’s over there likely will be little appetite in venturing forth again. There’s no reason to from a gameplay perspective aside from achieving a better score, it’s just the video game equivalent of chewing gum. At least it’s a longer experience than what Fruit Stripe offers.

One last shot for scale. It’s certainly not small, but definitely not as big as a true stand-up cabinet.

I had a desire to add an arcade machine to my bar room, and this Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up gets the job done. It’s an attractive piece with a solid selection of games which 3 of the 4 offer incentive to play and replay while the 4th is certainly good for entertaining younger gamers (ignoring the violence). And the other important selling point, maybe the most important, is it’s not ludicrously expensive. The MSRP on this is $229 at most stores and many offered discounts during the holidays. Since this was a gift, I don’t know exactly how much my wife paid, but I know it was less than $200 due to sales and the use of good old Kohl’s Cash. At the high end of $229, I do think it’s a tougher sell, but not terrible. If you really love the games included and want something to bring your room together then I think it’s doable. On sale though, it becomes a much easier call. You’re still better off going in a different direction if your goal is simply to play these games, but as we established earlier, if you’re interested in this set then you’re in it for the novelty more so than the software.


Nintendo Game & Watch – The Legend of Zelda

Why do I have a sudden urge to listen to The Misfits…?

Before Nintendo was a famous game developer and console manufacturer, it made toys. Some were electronic, and some were not. On the electronics side, the first video games the company released were the Game & Watch handhelds. The first of these devices looked similar to what would become the Nintendo Entertainment System’s controller. It was a horizontal layout with a directional pad on the left and a command button on the right. In the center of the device was an LCD screen capable of displaying simple games. It also had a clock on it which is where the “Watch” part of Game & Watch comes into play. Over the years, the games would grow in complexity and some even necessitated a second screen and a clamshell design which is pretty similar to what the Nintendo DS would adopt many years later. Come the early 90s, the Game Boy was already available and a hit and the Game & Watch had seemingly outlived its usefulness, but it’s a part of Nintendo’s past that the company seems to enjoy celebrating.

Last year, to celebrate the anniversary of Super Mario Bros. Nintendo released a special edition Game & Watch. Nintendo has seemingly found a market for simple, nostalgia, devices like the Classic series of console releases and the Game & Watch feels like an extension of that. The unit was priced at $50 and came bundled with the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 (the Japanese version) while also including a classic LCD game, clock, and timer. It was a novelty device and one I wasn’t particularly interested in. I loved the original Super Mario Bros. as a kid, but once Super Mario Bros. 3 came out I effectively had no use for the original and it’s a feeling I still have today. The unit did eventually hit the clearance rack, so I wasn’t sure if anymore should be expected, but lo and behold Nintendo did have a release for 2021: The Legend of Zelda.

Pay no mind to the gargoyle lurking in the rear.

The Legend of Zelda edition of Game & Watch is meant to celebrate the original game’s 35th anniversary. It’s essentially the same, but different, when compared with the Mario edition from 2020. The device itself is rather small and very light, measuring about 4 3/8″ x 2 5/8″ with a color scheme more appropriate for Zelda. The front faceplate is gold while the outer case is green and all of the buttons on the face are ringed with green plastic. The area around the screen is raised and it’s a pretty attractive looking piece, though once handled the toy nature of it all becomes obvious due to the weight and overall feel. The D-pad feels largely like one would expect, but the B and A buttons are rather gummy, like a key on a calculator as opposed to a game controller.

Watch Link conquer Ganon every day!

What hasn’t been compromised is the screen. It’s not particularly large, but it is vibrant and certainly a lot better than the old LCD screens on the original Game & Watch devices. It only measures about 2″ x 1.5″ making it comparable to the Game Boy Micro, but still larger. It needs to only display 8 bit games, so it’s not as if the screen is being asked to do much, but it can render all of the games just fine in their native aspect ratio with no compromise to the color palette or resolution. The sound chip is also just fine for these classic games and is even capable of outputting the superior audio found in the Japanese version of these games, as they were Famicom Disk releases outside of the US, so if you’re sick of playing through the original Legend of Zelda you can switch it to Japanese and get a different experience.

One neat, little, touch is this light-up Triforce on the rear of the system.

Which brings me to the games – just what is included on this thing? Well, you get three games this time around: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Link’s Awakening. The first two play as you would expect them to as they’re simply emulated versions of the NES and Famicom versions of the games. The third one, and a bit unexpected, is the original Game Boy release of Link’s Awakening. It is a shame that Nintendo didn’t include the DX version released for the Game Boy Color which looked better and also featured an extra dungeon. There’s certainly enough room on the hardware for it which leads me to believe it was a value issue and not a hardware limitation. Nintendo doesn’t want to give too much away at the $50 price tag, but considering that Link’s Awakening has already received a full-fledged remake I don’t think Nintendo would be harming its bottom-line by including the DX version. Oh well.

A size comparison with the first gen 3DS and a Game Boy Micro.

The games play fine though as Nintendo did add the Select button which was missing on the Mario edition. I read some complaints of the device being too small and cramped for a platformer like Super Mario Bros. to be played comfortably, but for Zelda it’s more than adequate. Especially the original game and Link’s Awakening. Zelda II is a bit more of a stretch as that required more twitch movements. It’s still not on the same level as a platformer or run and gun game, but it is noticeably less pleasant to experience. That also could be due to that being the weakest game on this set and what folks are likely to miss is the ability to utilize a save state feature. Exiting a game at any point does essentially pause the game and save your progress, but there’s no way to reload when you die. This is really only an issue with Zelda II as I don’t find the other two games terribly difficult so long as you know where to go, but Zelda II is an all-together different beast. It’s a hard game that I don’t find particularly enjoyable since the player is heavily penalized for dying in a most annoying manner. As such, I don’t intend to play much of Zelda II, it’s more chore than game, but I will play and finish the other two games, one of which I’m nearly finished with as of this writing. One other presentation note is that Link’s Awakening features the ability to toggle between the original aspect ratio and one that fills the screen. It doesn’t look too terrible stretched to fit the screen, but I definitely prefer the original look when playing it.

Since this is a Game & Watch, I should mention the other aspect of the hardware which is the watch. When not playing a game, the unit functions like a clock. Nintendo included a display base with this one that looks pretty slick, but is just made out of cardboard. I question how well it will hold up over time. The clock though displays it over The Legend of Zelda and when left alone Link will roam the screen battling enemies gradually progressing through a modified version of the game over 24 hours. Come noon, he’ll best Ganon and save Zelda which is pretty neat. If at any point you want to control the action you can, and leaving it idle for a few seconds will revert back to AI control. It’s a fun thing to have on a desk or workspace, though it can get mildly distracting.

Zelda will now be saved on a daily basis.

There’s also a timer, or stop watch, function. It’s pretty self explanatory, but like the clock it displays Link in action. This time, the sprites are from Zelda II and it does function like a game all on its own as you try to defeat as many enemies during a given duration. Or, if you just need it to be a timer, you can let the AI duke it out. It’s definitely not a feature I plan to take advantage of, but it’s fun to have it. Also included is the Game & Watch game Vermin. It’s a game where you just slide a character across the screen as it tries to stop some vermin from advancing past. In the original, the player character was Mr. Game & Watch, but it’s been changed to resemble Link for this release. It’s a simple game that has its moments, but largely feels like it’s included as both an homage to the classic handheld and as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

The unit runs on an internal battery and I’m honestly not sure how long it can last. Most these days seem to last anywhere from 2 and a half to 4 hours. I haven’t come close to draining it in my play sessions, but my sessions have been more of the half hour to an hour variety. Nintendo included a USB cable to charge it, though it’s pathetically short. I’ve had it plugged into my laptop since getting it which means the clock will only run while my laptop isn’t in sleep mode. When not connected to a power source, the screen turns off after 3 minutes, but when it does it displays a piece of vintage art from the old game manuals which is pretty cool. There are some other Easter Eggs as well that I won’t spoil, but if you’re curious, they’re not hard to find online. I should note, the unit is capable of keeping track of the clock when powered down, though I assume if you ran the battery down to nothing and left it like that for a bit it might need to be reset like a console would.

This one also has a few surprises up its sleeve.

The Legend of Zelda edition of the Game & Watch is a perfectly fine, novelty, handheld. Nobody needs this and these games are all readily available in probably more convenient options at this point, but if you find yourself charmed by this little device then I think it’s worth the 50 bucks Nintendo is asking for it. Yes, I wish it had proper A and B buttons and the DX version of Link’s Awakening, but those are nitpicks. The absence of save states is more of a bummer because these games don’t have a robust, built-in, save feature so it is more challenging than it needs to be to do something as simple as switch profiles within the games. It’ll save one action session per game, but if I want to let my son play The Legend of Zelda I need to end my game first and I don’t want to go all the way back to the beginning on the map if I was in the middle of a dungeon or had paused my session right outside of one. I also would have gladly paid an extra 10 – 15 bucks for a better display stand. I love how this one looks, being all black with a gold Triforce logo, but it only looks good from a distance as once up close it becomes apparent the thing is a glorified box.

I suspect if you’re interested in this then you have already made up your mind. It’s for the Zelda fan or nostalgic Nintendo fan. It’s also priced on the fringe of impulse buy territory, and if 2020’s model is any indication, it will eventually find itself on sale. I had no issue tracking a unit down for purchase and I’ve seen them on my weekly trips to Target so, for now, this one’s easy to come by. I suspect once it’s gone then it’s gone and it will gradually rise in price on the aftermarket. You’re probably safe to play the waiting game if you want to take advantage of a sale price, though if units start to disappear before that day comes then you may want to just jump on it at $50. I’m happy to have it, and while I don’t know if it will live forever beside my laptop, but I would like to find a permanent home for it because it’s a fun clock to have around. And hey, there’s some good games on it too!


NECA TMNT Cartoon “Another One Bites the Crust” Pizza Monster

The only pizza a ninja turtle wouldn’t want.

When NECA launched its line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures based on the classic cartoon series there was much rejoicing, followed by much consternation. The line was successful, some would say too successful. Product was hard to track down for collectors as only a handful of units were released to each store which meant collectors had to battle with each other and scalpers to secure the much coveted plastic. To combat this, or as a mea culpa of sorts, NECA released the much anticipated (and much celebrated) Tokka and Rahzar two-pack on its website as a made-to-order item. Collectors simply had to log on, pay up front, and then sit back and wait for NECA to deliver. The strategy must have worked well, because NECA came back in 2021 with more made-to-order items, and this time, they were for the toon line.

In the spring, NECA put up three sets of figures for pre-order. These weren’t technically made-to-order, but more like a traditional preorder. NECA let collectors pay upfront to have the company deliver later in the year, and the rest of the factory order would then go to Target like all of the other releases. Product was to be delivered in the fall, but 2021 being what it was, things got delayed. Still, two of the three solicitations made it to out in the calendar year so that isn’t too bad, and up first here is the very first solicitation from the batch: the Ultimate Pizza Monster!

I love the artwork created for this line. I hate that I’m being overrun with boxes I can’t bring myself to toss.

The Pizza Monster appeared in the season two episode “The Case of the Killer Pizzas.” It was a memorable episode for me, and I’m not particularly sure why. Maybe it was because the plot made plenty of sense: Shredder and his cohorts sneak attack the turtles via their biggest weakness – pizza. The monster eggs looked curiously like meatballs and could be smuggled on a pie with relative ease. Once exposed to enough heat, they would hatch into little, red, terrors that when further exposed to moisture would grow into titanic, yellow, Xenomorphs. Okay, not literally since that would require some licensing agreements, but these creatures look so much like the alien from Alien that NECA would one day release a yellow Xenomorph as an homage. The title, clearly B-movie inspired, stuck in my head and it was likely aided by the episode being released on VHS. No, I did not own it, but I definitely remember seeing it often at the rental store when browsing for a movie. I may have even rented it once or twice, though my memory isn’t quite that good. Also, being a part of season two meant it was airing when the episode count for the show was pretty low. This one was likely aired and re-aired several times in the run-up to season three when the show really exploded.

What a cutie!

Mostly though, the big, yellow, monstrosity was just a fun visual in the show and one that stuck with me over the years. When NECA’s toon line began to expand and included the larger figures in the deluxe, VHS, styled packaging I immediately began to wonder if the Pizza Monster would one day join the lineup. And sure enough, it has. Released in that same VHS box with artwork by the incredible Dan Elson, “Another One Bites the Crust” is a release I’ve been looking forward to all year.

Chrome Dome gets to hang onto his crown once again. I’m not sure anyone will knock him off the mountain when it comes to height in this line.

The Pizza Monster is an imposing creature. Standing around 9″ tall, he looks up to only Chrome Dome in this line. Being that he comes from an 80s cartoon that probably didn’t have a huge budget, NECA sculptor Jon Matthews did a fantastic job of nailing down a look for this guy. The presentation within the episode can be a bit erratic, but when I look at this sculpt I see the Pizza Monster as it was supposed to be presented in every frame. The creature is obviously Xenomorph inspired with its elongated head and slender frame. I have the figure at 9″, but it’s definitely designed to be hunched over. The arms and legs are quite long which are terrific for setting up a pose. I love the almost smile expression it sports which adds a sinister quality to what was basically a mindless, rampaging, beast in the show. There’s some nice texture as well giving this creature a bug quality with ridges on the thighs and bumps on the head.

When he’s not being paired up with Chrome Dome, the Pizza Monster is living large!

What really helps make the Pizza Monster stand out is the excellent paint job devised by the duo of Geoffrey Trapp and Mike Puzzo. Like most of the of the figures in the line, there’s a bisected quality to the paint with a bright yellow utilized as the dominant color on the front of the figure and more of a mustard on the back. That part works as well as it usually does, but what really makes this guy pop is the embellishments on the front. There’s the usual black line work to help bring out a lot of the details of the carapace and musculature, and NECA added swaths of white paint to the yellow. The inclusion of which, especially on the creature’s head, really brings out the “pizza” element of Pizza Monster. It’s not a connection I ever made with the source material, but the figure almost looks like it’s composed of melted cheese and it’s just a really neat approach. I don’t know if that’s what NECA was going for, but it’s my take-away.

The side of the head makes me think of melted cheese oozing over pizza crust.

The presentation of this figure is a homerun, where things are going to get a little dicey is in the articulation. First of all, this figure, despite being on the larger end, has all of the same points of articulation one would expect. It starts at the head, where the figure is on a ball peg with a second one at the base of the neck. This may be an odd thing to say, but this figure has the best head of any other figure in the line. It can look up, and way down which is crucial for a larger character, and he can swivel, tilt, and basically convey any emotion you want. The jaw is articulated so you can pose the creature screaming, biting, grinning, etc. I love it whenever NECA can get an articulated jaw into a figure and this is obviously one that benefits greatly from it. At the shoulders are the customary ball-hinges and past that are the unusual NECA double-jointed elbows with a swivel/hinge above and below the elbow and a long joiner in between. They’re very tight, but seem to work, and the unusual look of the joint works on a monster like this. At the wrists are the usual swivel and hinge combo and they too are tight. Painted joints obviously contribute to the tightness (and when the paint flakes off it leaves behind pale, yellow, plastic so that’s not an eyesore like it is with some other figures), but it also feels like they’re intentionally engineered to be tight considering this is a big figure. The diaphragm features a ball-joint that allows for some forward and back motion, but mostly works to give the character a swivel since there’s no waist twist.

The joints really aren’t strong enough for this pose to last on a shelf.

All of that is fine, where things go south is below the belt. First of all, we have a tail which, like many tailed figures in the line, comes unassembled in the box. Attaching the tail was fairly painless, and it’s probably the best tail we’ve seen in the line. It’s just a ball joint so the range isn’t tremendous, but NECA made the tail a wired one so you can bend it and position it as you deem fit. It’s much thicker than a rat tail or the whip accessory we saw with the Punk Frogs so there’s really no worry about the wire eventually breaking through. I wish Leatherhead had the same. At the hips are the now standard ball-joints we’ve been seeing for over a year now. These have a tendency to be loose on some figures, and on the Pizza Monster they’re okay. Not as bad as the frogs, but they could stand to be tighter as the figure can be a challenge to pose as the weight of it wants to force the figure to do a split. At the knee is a double-joint and it’s fine with appropriate tolerance.

At least he doesn’t need especially strong joints for this one.

The hips are a disappointment, but the real issue comes last: the ankles. These ankles have already acquired a bit of a reputation in collector circles. I know I’ve seen a few who broke the ankle on their figure trying to break the joint in. The joint itself is a hinge with ankle rocker or pivot. Twitter user Uncle J took the joint apart to have a look and see what was the issue if you’re interested, but what it boils down to is you have a painted joint, short peg, and there’s apparently a ratchet added as well. Ratchet joints are like regular joints, but with added grooves or teeth to improve tolerance. This is often used with large, heavy, figures so they can hold a pose without the weight of it dragging it down. The problem here is the ankle rocker is so tight that it’s not even obvious the figure has one. I personally sought out reviews, which I never do on a product I plan to review myself, to make sure the figure actually had them. And what I found is a lot of the same problems.

“Chew on this, dude!”

First of all, the hinge is fine. It’s tight, but I was able to get it moving without resorting to heat. For the rocker, I went to my standby which is hot water. The problem with heating a joint is it makes the plastic soft and malleable. With this particular joint, you can heat it up and move it, but you don’t know if you’re moving the joint as intended or just bending the plastic and it’s very easy to go too far and shear the peg off, with or without heat. I tried clamping down where the peg meets the ankle, but after a few attempts I only got the joint to work a little. I wasn’t willing to really push it because I don’t want a broken toy. Unfortunately, heating the feet up to get this amount of range had a drawback. With the joint loose, now the figure is even more likely to fall down. It starts with those hips, but now the ankles don’t make up for that at all as the hinge is looser than it was before. Prior to heating it up, I had a figure that stood easily, but just couldn’t do anything dynamic with the feet. Now I have a figure with more range, but the looseness in the legs limits how I can pose it. I could get a stand, and if you look at my pictures you may be able to tell I’m using the combination of the figure’s tail and the windows of the diorama to prop it up, but it’s a blemish on what was shaping up to be a contender for best figure in the line.

The stuff.

The Pizza Monster is an excellent looking figure let down by some flawed engineering. It’s also a figure that doesn’t really bring much to the table in terms of accessories. I suppose a monster doesn’t need much, but it’s a little uncharacteristic with these deluxe, or ultimate, releases to see so few accessories in the box. For starters, we have the hatching Pizza Monster which previously came with the April set. It’s small, red-orange, and looks fine. There’s very little paint on it and no articulation, but it doesn’t require much. It would have been fun to get a new pose, but NECA obviously had to factor in costs and the tooling on the figure itself probably has little or no reuse possibilities down the road. There’s also a pizza, because you can’t have a pizza monster without pizza! It’s a yellow, UFO, box and NECA finally added a hinge! This can actually open and close and the pizza inside is removable. It’s a fairly basic looking pizza so no peanut butter or jelly beans to be found. Lastly, we have some tracking device used by Donatello. NECA’s Trevor Zammit, who oversees this line, recently conducted an interview with The Fwoosh where he talked about how there are a million different such devices in the show and they basically try to squeeze them in whenever possible. I’m a bit surprised they went this route here, as Baxter uses a similar, handheld, device to control the Pizza Monsters which could have been included, but I definitely like how NECA tries to sneak Easter Eggs into their releases like this.

This is the line’s best pizza box to date, so I guess that’s worth something.

NECA’s take on the Pizza Monster is nearly a homerun. Call it a triple, I suppose. It looks awesome and is a lot of fun to mess around with (save for the scary ankles) and I definitely appreciate NECA making it so easy to obtain. There are issues though. It’s light on accessories (other than Kerma, I think this is the only figure without extra hands) and the ankles are a problem. They’re a big enough problem that some don’t even have the luxury of breaking out of the box. I actually ordered two of these figures, but you only see one in my pictures because the other one arrived with a foot already broken off in the package. I reached out to NECA and within a half hour I had a prepaid shipping label to send it back for an exchange. NECA received it on the 30th of December and I have yet to receive a shipping notice for the exchange. I’ll update this accordingly later on.

Irma never has good luck with men. Or bugs.

Even with the issues, I still think this is a figure worth owning, and if you’re really into screen accuracy I suppose you need two additional ones. I think I’ll be happy with two as it’s already challenging to find room for all of these releases. If you missed out on the preorder, the figure should be hitting Target in the coming weeks where I assume it won’t be a huge challenge to find given how the past few releases have gone. The price on NECA’s website was $35, but it’s possible it could retail a little above that as there have been price increases since April. Good luck to all who are on the hunt!

UPDATE: I received my replacement pizza monster, as promised, from NECA on the 13th of January, exactly 2 weeks after receiving the broken one. It took a little longer than promised, but it got here, and that’s all that matters. And to my surprise, it didn’t arrive alone. There must have been a mix-up at the warehouse, as rather than send me one replacement they re-sent my order of 2 so I got an extra pizza monster out of it. Now, I did alert NECA’s customer service to the error, but it’s been a week and they never responded so I guess I’m good to keep it. Now I’ll have a toon accurate trio of pizza monsters, so if all it took was an extra 2 week delay, then I’d say that’s more than a fair trade-off.

Two new babies to add to the display. Once I find the room!

Hasbro Power Rangers x TMNT – Tommy and Raphael

Well here’s an interesting pairing.

When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers arrived on Fox Kids in 1993 it quickly became a ratings juggernaut. It was the hottest property around aimed at kids and seemingly everything got knocked down a peg as a result. By contrast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was embarking on its downturn. The third film wasn’t nearly as successful as the first two and the toyline was starting to show its age as it went into a lot of wacky offshoots. The Power Rangers formula became the new thing to imitate. Footage of martial arts shows from Japan edited into something American kids could identify with was both cheap and effective. And given that TMNT had already been successful in live-action before, it’s perhaps not surprising that Saban made one of the first attempts at reinvigorating the franchise with The Next Mutation.

The Next Mutation ended up being a flop. Either kids were sick of TMNT, disliked the cheap costumes, or failed to gravitate towards the new characters. No one can be certain, but during the show’s lone season it did cross over with Power Rangers. Of course, by then the Mighty Morphin era was over so kids who loved TMNT and then jumped to Mighty Morphin had little reason to enjoy the crossover. It wasn’t their preferred take on either franchise, and it seemingly failed to do much to boost either property.

Looks like we have ourselves a Foot Soldier, or do we?!

Eventually the turtles would come back to animation, and now more than 30 years removed form the cartoon’s debut it’s a supremely nostalgic, and profitable, property once again. Power Rangers, for its part, has never truly gone away though it has changed hands a few times. Now a Hasbro property, the Power Rangers can still be found on television and there’s always rumors of another movie. And in the pages of Boom! comics, the Mighty Morphin team can seemingly live forever! It was in those comics that the crossover fans wanted to happen finally did. The turtles, basically as seen in the pages of IDW, met-up with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I don’t know why or what the big threat was that caused it to happen, but it did lead to some slick designs which are now being immortalized in toy form by Hasbro.

No way! It’s Tommy!

Hasbro has been around for ages, but it’s never been able to get its hands on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m not sure if the company has ever put forth a strong bid for the property when it has come up for sale. It seems most times this happens the franchise is in a dry spell which has probably made it easy for Playmates to retain ownership. That ownership has been tested over the years though as we’ve seen TMNT product from NECA, Super7, and even DC Collectibles. Now it’s Hasbro’s turn, but they’re giving us something pretty different.

Ninja Tommy!

Released as part of its Lightning Collection, the new Power Rangers x Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line is being released as three two-packs and a single carded figure. Each two-pack contains one or two of the turtles as they appear in the comics when morphed. Yes, the turtles become Power Rangers and the end result is pretty cool. Their limbs are pretty much the same as the regular rangers, just beefier, but they seem to all gain the Dragon Shield in the form of a gold shell. The front of which contains the signature white diamond, while the rear looks almost like a sunburst. The helmets are largely the same though, just form-fitted for a turtle head. They also gain red eye-slits in the visors for some reason.

The first two-pack I was able to get my hands on is the Tommy Oliver as Foot Soldier with Raphael as the Red Ranger. When it came to crossing the two franchises, Boom! had to decide what was more important: color or weapon of choice. If going by weapon, Leonardo should have been the Red Ranger since both wield a sword and are the leader, but you can’t make Leonardo red. Instead, Raphael gets the nod here and his sai are just given a Power Sword makeover. As for Tommy, it’s my understanding he goes undercover as a Foot Soldier in the story, but the figure basically doubles as a generic Foot Soldier as well. It’s just a shame he’s sold in a two-pack since some collectors would likely buy multiples. Instead, it’s Shredder as the Green Ranger that gets the solo treatment.

Cool sword, bro.

I think most are going to be interested in these sets for the turtles, but lets get Tommy out of the way. He’s basically a standard Lightning Collection release. I believe most of this body is reused from the Putty figure, but I don’t have that figure to say for certain. It’s fairly similar to the Ranger body from the Lightning Collection and contains all of the same articulation points. The Foot Soldier head is obviously new and contains some nice, subtle, details on it to show how the mask separates. I wish there was some dry brushing on it to bring it out, but Hasbro isn’t one for paint. Most of the figure is just cast in colored plastic: purple and gray, with some shiny, steel, bits on the forearms and rear of the hands. It’s a new look for the Foot Soldier, but it’s also pretty obviously a Foot Soldier to anyone familiar with TMNT. It’s solid, though a bit underwhelming. The alternate Tommy head appears to be the same one that came with the Green Ranger figure, but with the bandana tails coming straight off the back of the head and painted purple. There’s also very little paint on it so it doesn’t have the more matte appearance of the Green Ranger release.

The man…turtle of the hour.

Raphael, on the other hand, is basically all new. His body is of the pinless variety, so no pins in the elbows or the knees which is definitely welcomed. The red is basically all colored plastic so there aren’t any harsh variances like there were with the Jason figure I looked at. The joining pieces for the elbows and knees do appear to be a slightly paler red. I don’t really notice it on the knees, but I can see it on the elbows when inspecting the figure closely. It’s no where near as bad as it was with the Jason figure, but still a bummer. The ends of the gloves are painted white with the red diamonds which are pretty clean, but there is some chipped paint near the wrist on mine. The hands, which are cast in white plastic, are also a touch more off-white than the paint which is a little annoying. There’s also some chipped paint on the gold armbands. It’s pretty standard stuff for a Hasbro figure, but still worth pointing out.

A Power Ranger that actually looks intimidating.
The rear of the shell is pretty neat.

The sculpt on Raph is pretty cool though. He’s quite bulky and his limbs are longer than usual. He stands a full six inches putting him on par with Tommy so this is definitely a taller turtle than we’re used to seeing. The change in proportions does give him an undersized head as well. It doesn’t bother me with the helmeted look, but it stands out when swapped with the turtle head (which we’ll get to). I do like how the shell was designed, and since these proportions are more human, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the rear of the shell is a bit more sleek than usual. The white belt is still a floating piece and it has the morpher on the front and a place to store his sai. He doesn’t have a power blaster, but I don’t know if they used them in the books.

Raph passes the old one foot test.

As for articulation, both figures are the same, but different. Tommy, as noted, is pretty basic Lightning Collection stuff. He’s got a ball peg in his neck that lets him look up, down, swivel, and tilt. The Tommy head has less range due to the hair, especially if you add in the cowl. The shoulders are ball-hinges with butterfly joints. They go back pretty far, but not forward much which is weird as one would prefer the range be reversed. The elbows are double-jointed and go past 90 degrees. There’s a biceps swivel and the wrists swivel and hinge. The hinges are vertical, which earns Hasbro a big thumb’s up! In the diaphragm is what’s probably a double ball peg. It doesn’t go back really at all, but it does allow the figure to crunch forward a bit, rotate, and tilt. Combine it with the ab crunch though, and you get a lot more forward and back. The legs are on ball pegs and allow the figure to almost do a full split. He can kick forward too, but not back because his buttcheeks get in the way. The thigh can swivel on that ball peg and also below it as there is a thigh cut. The knees are double-jointed and go past 90 there and there’s a boot cut and hinged ankles with good rockers.

Tommy can also serve as just a generic Foot Soldier for Raph to beat on.

As for Raph, he has all of the same including the vertical hinges on his gripping hands. The only differences are his butterfly joints are basically useless and he has a joint in the base of the neck so his up and down range at the head is quite good. He also has no diaphragm joint given that he’s a turtle and all. Hasbro did give him a waist cut which splits the shell in the front. It’s basically just what you see below the belt, and while it does look a little funky to have a turtle in a pose that results in his shell not lining up, it’s worth it to have that extra articulation. Likely owing to his more bulky design, Raph also doesn’t get much out of his double-jointed elbows. He can basically just do 90, and go no farther whether you’re bending with the top hinge or the bottom one. On the plus side, nothing was stuck on my figures and they seem to pose reasonably well. Raph is a bit harder to stand, likely because of the shell, but with a little patience I’ve been able to get him into some dynamic stances.

Yes, they do come with weapons.

On the accessory front, things were a bit surprising. The few Hasbro figures I buy seem to be of the bare bones variety, but maybe since half of this release is an in-house brand it helped to get more accessories into the box. For Tommy, we get the Foot head and the Tommy head. The Tommy head also has two extra pieces, a cowl to go around his neck and a facemask that can slide over his chin and mouth creating a cool look. He has gripping hands equipped in the box and a set of fists to swap to. He has a katana which can slot into his belt or be gripped in either hand. There’s also not one, but two, effects pieces. A translucent, blue, punch effect and a translucent, yellow, lightning effect for the sword. You could give the lightning effect to Raph too, if you prefer, though the blue punch is tough to get on Raph’s hands.

I suppose you could display him like this if you want to.

As for Raph, he has three sets of hands: gripping, fists, and open. The open hands are great for posing or for holding his helmet and I do wish Tommy had a set as well. The gripping hands have the correct hinges, as noted before, and are also just barely wide enough for Raph to grip his sai with the center blade through his fingers. If you’re worried about paint rub, warming Raph’s hand first makes it even easier to achieve such a pose. As for the sai, they’re pretty cool and look just like mini Power Swords, but with extra blades. They slot into his belt just fine and the sculpt and paint look pretty terrific. There’s a yellow slashing effect piece that can fit onto the center blade of one which looks decent. If you wish, you could give that to Tommy, but it looks a little silly on his much longer blade. Lastly, we have the unmasked head which features a battle ready expression from Raph. On its own, it looks fine, but on the figure it creates a real pinhead situation. It’s not as bad looking as the promo images made it seem, but I’m still never going to use it. I want to display these guys in morphed mode so even if I loved the alternate head I likely still would never use it.

Group shot! I used the flash to accentuate the contrast between Raph and Jason’s chosen shade of red.

Overall, this is a pretty solid two-pack. Admittedly, I don’t care that much about Tommy and if Hasbro had just paired the turtles up across two two-packs then I’d probably skip Tommy (and April, who comes with Michelangelo). Having him in hand though takes away some of that sting as he’s a solid release. It would have been awesome if he could have been given pin-less arms and legs, as the elbow joints are my lone sore spot with the figure, but it’s not a big deal to me. Raph is the real star though and I’m pretty happy with how he turned out, which is definitely a good thing since the other turtles figure to be the same figure just in different colors. Better yet, I got these guys from GameStop where they were on sale for $42, which is a very nice price in 2021 for an action figure two-pack. Now my real problem is figuring out where the hell I’m going to put these guys until the rest show up.

A little too Raph?

Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Donatello

The one who does machines.

It’s a Christmas miracle! After more than 14 months of waiting, I finally received the fourth and final turtle to complete my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in glorious 7″ scale – Donatello! It was October of 2020 that Donatello and the rest of wave four went up for preorder and, at the time, we were looking at a 9-10 month wait. That meant by the end of 2021 we were basically assured of having all four turtles together at last. Then 2021 happened and factories closed by COVID re-opened with skeleton crews, docks were shuttered, truck drivers were in short supply, and bottlenecks at every step of the manufacturing and shipping process were interrupted. It soon became apparent that getting the last turtle in-hand by the end of 2021 was no sure thing, but sneaking in right at the end was my order for Donatello.

The only is jealous of the height of this new version, but the Super7 Donnie definitely has some staff envy.

If you’re new to the line, the Super7 Ultimates! are 7″ scale action figures modeled after the vintage Playmates toyline. Each of the first three waves was anchored by one turtle with Donatello reserved for the fourth wave. And since Super7’s products are made-to-order, each wave takes awhile to arrive after first going on sale. That meant collectors had to wait more than a year to assemble all four turtles, but that’s how it goes. And considering that each turtle is essentially the same figure, it’s not the worst thing to have them spaced out.

Not pictured: all of the generic “ninja” weapons you’ll never use.

And since this figure is basically the same as the one I’ve now handled three times, Donatello arrives with considerably less fanfare than the others. By this point, I pretty much knew what I was in for and Donatello was further harmed by the fact that his only unique accessory is his bo staff. Still, if you’re a fan of the one who does machines then this was probably a really long wait, but at least it’s over. Because Donatello is so familiar, this will probably be one of my breezier reviews, because everything about him has basically been done. He comes in the same window box as the others with the green slipcover and a little bio on the back. It looks nice, but it’s also a lot of paper and plastic that can feel excessive when you have a figure that doesn’t need to fill out that packaging. It is convenient if you want to reseal it though, and it looks nice if you’re a mint-in-box collector.

Something else the vintage version has over the modern one.

Donatello stands about 6″ tall making he and his brothers rather short for the line, which is appropriate. He’s basically brown in color, in keeping with the classic toy, and features a vintage inspired headsculpt. The belt crosses his chest, like the old toy, and features a holster on the rear for his bo which is likely more durable than the old toy. His belt is all black, save for the yellow D on the buckle, so Donnie’s attire more matches Michelangelo’s than it does Leo and Raph, which is more in-line with the vintage figure as well. Unlike Mikey, his finger and toenails are painted a yellow-green indicating that’s likely what was supposed to happen with the Michelangelo figure. Donatello basically looks the part of an up-scaled, modern, Playmates figure with one exception. Super7 failed to include his belt pouch. If you had the vintage Donatello, then you may remember he was unique amongst his brothers in having this little, sculpted, pouch on the left side of his belt. It had a slit in the top so you could fit a throwing star or one of those little, three-pointed, bladed, weapons they all came with. I was legitimately looking forward to that being included as I was hoping his Turtlecom accessory would fit in it, but it’s not here. Bummer.

Other turtles have come with the classic communication device, but it feels more at home with Donatello.

Donatello comes with basically the same assortment of stuff as Leonardo and Raph. He has vertically hinged gripping hands equipped upon arrival, with horizontal ones in the box. He also has fists and open hands which work well with the pizza and Turtlcom. And yes, he has a slice of pepperoni pizza which is colored more in-line with Raph’s (Leo’s looked dirty), and he also has the two Turtlecoms: one opened and one closed. His Turtlecom is plain looking, like Leo’s, so apparently only Raph gets a personalized one with red piping. Beyond that, he has the generic ninja weapons all of the Playmates figures had. He also has a classic weapons rack of brown, unpainted, weapons. His are fairly light in color in keeping with Super7’s releases having slight variations either purposely or not.

He can still look fearsome, even if his weapon is basically a glorified stick.
Weapon storage is a must!

The items unique to Donatello are what you would expect. He has his bo, and he gets two for good measure, and they come on the rack and in painted varieties as well. There’s some nice dry brushing on the bo which brings out the faux wood grain and makes the tape in the center look a little dingy. The bo does seem rather short though. It’s only about 4 3/4″ which is nearly the same size as the vintage one, which came with a considerably smaller figure. It looks a bit puny in his hands and I’m puzzled why Super7 wouldn’t have maintained the original scale. Was it in response to Leo’s swords being too long? I don’t know. One staff is also “bowed” a bit and I’ll have to try to straighten it out with hot water or a heat gun. His other unique accessory is the alternate portrait. This one is fairly understated, which suits Donatello. His mouth is entirely closed and it has a very “Mirage” look to me. I like it, which is good as I’ve been displaying my other turtles with the alternate head, though I do really like the default one with him too. It’s probably my favorite of the four. Raph still has the best alternate portrait.

Donnie’s alternate portrait adds a touch of class to the wise turtle.
Especially from the side.

The articulation for Donatello is exactly the same as his brothers, so I’m not going to repeat myself again. It’s suitable, but flawed. These turtles would look good with a proper neck joint at the base and the elbows are done poorly. The hips are the worst part though as they continue to be too loose. Donatello isn’t the worst offender of the four, but he’s still too loose for my liking. Aside from that, I will say this turtle had the best, overall, joint situation out of the box. The only joint stuck was the left thigh twist, which was solved with a quick, firm, jerk. Everything else though was free and easy with suitable tolerance as well.

Time for a group shot! I’m still torn on which heads to roll with.
What has become clearer to me over the years is that Donatello had the best facial expression in the vintage line.

Donatello may not be the most exciting action figure release of 2021, but he is one of the more satisfying by virtue of the fact that he completes the gang of four. He’s exactly as expected, no better or worse than his predecessors. There are flaws in this design, and I’m bummed at the missing belt pouch and staff situation, but not enough to cause me to regret my purchase. I like having a set of vintage inspired turtles, and Donatello gets the job done. Being that he’s part of wave four means this is the last turtle we’ll get at the original price of $45, so that’s a bit bittersweet. It’s also a reality we’ve been living with basically all year. As for me, I ordered this guy direct from Super7, but later added an order for Muckman from a retailer. If you want to know how he turned out, I’ll have a review eventually in 2022 whenever the figure gets to me. If you want to know how Casey Jones and Mondo Gecko turned out, well you’ll have to go elsewhere as I passed on those ones with nary a drop of FOMO so far.

We’re all glad you could join the party, Donnie.

Super7 action figures are made-to-order, but if wave 3 is any indication, Donatello should be plenty easy to get even if you didn’t preorder. Several outlets still have the figure available for preorder and they should have the figure in-stock now, or soon, too. Super7 has also made all four turtles available again multiple times so there should be plenty of them out there at retail or with only a minor mark-up.


Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Original release date October 20, 1983

We made it! Another year in the books, and another Christmas has come. Indulge in it. Bask in it, for it only comes once a year, and not to get too dramatic, but you never know how many you’re going to get. And we’re ending this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot with another throwback to a terrific holiday classic: Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

When it comes to Christmas specials, there’s no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations. It’s the most frequently utilized framing device for a holiday special, be it animated or live-action, and there’s no shortage of just straight retellings too. Even Disney has released multiple theatrical versions of the Charles Dickens classic, and for my money, the best version of A Christmas Carol is the one released in 1983 starring a duck and mouse.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is basically a trimmed down version of the Dickens tale faithfully retold through animation. The familiar Disney characters we all know and love are essentially actors in this story as Mickey Mouse isn’t referred to as Mickey by the characters in the story, he’s Bob Cratchit. It’s essentially what the Muppets would do a decade later, only this isn’t really a comedy as it basically plays it straight. When it released to theaters in 1983 it was a pretty big deal for the simple fact that it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years to be released in theaters. It unfortunately didn’t lead to a new era in theatrical short-form animation, but the following decade was certainly better than the preceding ones as far as quantity goes.

Scrooge McDuck is the star, but Mickey still gets top billing and his image before the cartoon.

Being that this was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years, it marked an era of new beginnings and ends. This was the directorial debut for writer/artist Burny Mattinson. Mattinson would go on to co-direct The Great Mouse Detective, but after that basically returned to his role as a writer for the remainder of his career. For many, this was the first time people were hearing Wayne Allwine as Mickey and Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck. Allwine, who worked in the sound department under his Mickey predecessor Jimmy MacDonald, had started voicing the mouse in some uncredited appearances on The New Mickey Mouse Club, but this theatrical short (which was essentially designed to go right to television given its running time) offered more exposure and a true credit, too. For Young, this was actually his second time voicing Scrooge in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as he first took on the role for an LP release titled An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Performed by The Walt Disney Players in the 1970s. He even voiced Mickey on that release. This cartoon was obviously more far reaching than what was essentially an audio play and Young would retain ownership of the role into DuckTales later in the decade and really for the rest of his life. As for ends, this would be the final credited appearance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash as Donald Duck. He had been the sole voice of the character since creation, but would turn it over to animator Tony Anselmo (who was an uncredited assistant on this production) in 1985.

Other notable performances include Hal Smith voicing Goofy for the second to last time. He didn’t voice the character a ton, but Goofy is still a character with a fairly exclusive list of actors credited as performing his voice. This was also the first time Will Ryan would voice Willie the Giant and that’s a role he filled until his death earlier this year (RIP). For actor Eddie Carroll, this was arguably his most exposure as Jiminy Cricket since taking over the seldom used character in 1947. He would voice the character in his other appearances following this pretty much right up until his passing in 2007. Lastly, this is seemingly the first, and only, time Patricia Parris voiced Daisy Duck. Daisy was somewhat of a seldom used character in the 80s and 90s who had multiple voice actors playing the role until Disney seemed to settle on Tress MacNeille as the one and only Daisy sometime around the year 2000. The only credit missing is one for Minnie Mouse, but that’s because her role is silent in this one. Yeah, it wasn’t the best look to see Minnie reduced to a silent cameo, but this was during her silent era which had been going on for decades. Russi Taylor would eventually be cast as Minnie later in the decade finally putting an end to the madness, but we were denied such a performance in this one.

Time to find out if a man, err duck, who literally hugs his money is redeemable.

After it’s theatrical release alongside a re-release of The Rescuers, Mickey’s Christmas Carol would go on to have a long run as a prime time television special around the holidays. That was how I first encountered it and also how I fell in love with it. Even though the special seems to be purposefully crafted to fit into a half hour broadcast, it would actually be aired as an hour long special with some Christmas or winter themed shorts attached. The version I am most familiar with aired on NBC and was preempted by the following classic shorts: Donald’s Snow Fight, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, and The Art of Skiing. In between the shorts, there would be narration from Mickey describing the favorite Christmas memory of his friends, which would lead into that character introducing their own short (including Pluto who can be heard barking at Mickey). They would also show clips from other shorts like Toy Tinkers and Mickey’s Good Deed before eventually getting to Mickey’s favorite Christmas memory, the year they all got together to tell the story of A Christmas Carol. “Ha ha, we called it Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” he adds a bit sheepishly, almost like he’s a little embarrassed that his name went on this thing. Especially since Scrooge McDuck is the real star!

This one begins with some rousing horns and the classic Mickey head logo only it’s been dressed up with a hat and scarf. From there, we go into a lovely little opening title sequence. Still images in a monochrome, sepia, style from the cartoon to come are displayed along with the credits. It’s set to the song “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” by Irwin Kostal (lyrics by Fredrick Searles), who conducted all of the music for the cartoon. The song really is quite nice and I think it’s been underserved by Disney ever since it was released. This should be their Christmas song, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it outside of this cartoon. The final image of the sequence eventually dissolves into some scenery that is just gorgeous. This one seems to be set in the same era as the original story, 1843, as we get a little multi-plane camera action that zooms into a street setting where the sidewalks are populated by beggars and busy bodies and the streets by horse drawn carriages. It’s important to note that all characters in this cartoon are personified animals from past Disney films and shorts. You’ll probably immediately see the three little pigs and the big, bad, wolf as well as many faces from Robin Hood and The Wind in the Willows.

Scrooge pausing to break the fourth wall.

Ebenezer Scrooge is strolling down the street looking rather unapproachable. A beggar (Young) asks him if he has a penny for the poor and Scrooge just scoffs at him. He eventually comes to the front door of his counting house, and before entering he knocks the snow off of his sign which reads Scrooge & Marley, only Marley’s name has been scratched out. It’s then Scrooge informs us (I’m not sure if we’re to read this as him breaking the fourth wall or him just talking to himself) that his old partner, Jacob Marley, died seven years ago today. He boasts the man left him enough money in his will to pay for a tombstone, but he had him buried at sea! Not said, is that Scrooge is so cheap he’d rather just cross his name off of the sign than get a new one. I also wonder if he’d bother to knock the snow off of the sign if it was covering Marley’s name instead of his own.

Cratchit is apparently allotted one piece of coal every two weeks.

When Scrooge enters the counting house, he finds his lone employee, Bob Cratchit, up to something over by the fireplace. He demands to know what he’s doing, and Cratchit indicates he’s just trying to thaw out the ink for his quill which is coated with ice. Scrooge is apoplectic that Cratchit would dare to use two pieces of coal in the span of a week and demands he get back to his work. Cratchit takes it in stride and hops up onto a tall chair and appears to make do with the frozen quill as Scrooge begins to remove his coat and hat. Cratchit then brings up the topic of Christmas, very gingerly as Scrooge bristles at the mere mention of the holiday. Cratchit meekly requests a half day off for the holiday, which is tomorrow, and Scrooge reluctantly obliges. Only it’s on the condition that he only receive half a day’s pay. He then tries to recall what he even pays his one, and only, employee and Cratchit has to correct him that he’s up to two shillings and a ha’penny per day on account of a raise he got three years ago when he agreed to start doing Scrooge’s laundry. Scrooge smiles to himself at the confirmation, likely quite satisfied to have such cheap help, before his scowl returns as it reminds him the sack he’s had slung over his shoulder is a bundle of shirts for Bob to wash.

Scrooge heads over to his desk and starts making entries in his log. He starts tallying up interest payments (he’s nailing one guy for 80%) and basically playing with the coins on his desk laughing to himself. He goes so far as to embrace a pile of coins remarking “Money, money, money,” to himself in a sequence that would be adorable if it wasn’t so illustrative of his excessive greed.

The duck we’ve all been waiting for!

A bell attached to the door, I suppose that makes it a doorbell, rings with the opening of the door. It’s Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, played by the character Scrooge McDuck also calls a nephew, Donald Duck. Fred arrives by shouting “Merry Christmas!” which his uncle responds to by shouting “Bah! Humbug!” Fred refuses to let his sour uncle get him down and he has Cratchit cheering him on. When Scrooge demands to know what Bob is doing by clapping for Fred he suggests he’s just trying to keep his hands warm. Scrooge demands to know why his nephew is there to bother him and Fred tells him that he came to bring him a wreath and to invite him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge seems actually delighted at the invitation and starts asking Fred about the menu. As Scrooge inquires about each dish, Fred enthusiastically confirms that he’s serving it as his excitement builds up until he finally asks “Are you coming?!” Scrooge then reveals he’s just been toying with the lad by saying he can’t eat that stuff. Fred is clearly hurt, but Scrooge feels he’s wasted enough of his time as shoves the wreath over Fred’s head and literally kicks him out the door. We hear the unmistakable quacks of anger from Fred as he apparently soars off of Srooge’s stoop, only he quickly returns to open the door to shout, once more, “Merry Christmas!” and slip the wreath over the doorknob. Scrooge angrily shoots back, “And a bah humbug to you!”

I’m guessing they’ll never hit Scrooge up for money again.

Cratchit reflects on how kind Fred is, but Scrooge suggests he’s always been a little peculiar. The bell by the door rings again as Scrooge angrily adds that his nephew is quite stubborn, but his mood does a total 180 when he sees that two potential customers have entered. It’s the most personable we’ve seen of Scrooge yet, but unfortunately for him the two gentlemen who just entered are not looking to secure a loan with unfavorable rates. They’re two solicitors for the poor and they’re played by Ratty and Moley (voiced by Smith and Ryan) from The Wind in the Willows. Scrooge sort of recoils at the mere suggestion he just donate money to the needy, but seeing as how he has a business to run, he doesn’t toss the two out like he did his nephew. Instead, he uses some rather twisted logic to indicate that the job of these men are dependent on there being poor, and if Scrooge gives money to the poor, well then they won’t be poor anymore! He then practically begs them not to ask him to put them out of a job, especially not on Christmas Eve! The two completely fall for it as Scrooge gently nudges them outside, but just before closing the door, the real Scrooge emerges as he tells them “I suggest you give this to the poor and be gone,” and tosses the wreath Fred gave him in their direction before slamming the door. We get one lingering shot of the two collectors looking shocked as the wreath swings back and forth on the nose of Moley.

An exasperated Scrooge slumps against the door as he asks his employee, “What’s this world coming to, Cratchit? You work all your life to get money, and people just want you to give it away!” Cratchit doesn’t respond as Scrooge heads to his desk and time passes. It’s dark in the counting house and the clock strikes 7, a long work day is apparently over. A very tired Bob Cratchit is able to smile a bit as the clock bells go off and he begins to head out. Scrooge, checking his pocket watch, then remarks the wall clock is two minutes fast. Cratchit says nothing and quickly jumps back into his chair and into his logs. Scrooge then tells him not to mind the two minutes, but adds that he better be here all the earlier the next day. The animation seems to suggest that Scrooge’s watch and the clock on the wall are in agreement. I wonder if that’s an animation goof or if Scrooge is so manipulative he’d make his employee think he’s leaving early to encourage him to arrive for work earlier in the future? Either way, Cratchit seems positively giddy to be getting out a whole two minutes early and tells his boss that he is so kind. This is clearly the nicest thing Scrooge has probably done for him since that raise three years ago. Cratchit bundles up in his tattered hat and scarf and nearly wishes his boss a “Bah! Humbug,” but corrects himself to “Merry Christmas!” before departing. Scrooge just scoffs and returns to his work.

I like how Goofy’s ears form the handle on the knocker.

When the clock strikes 9, Scrooge finally calls it a day. He puts on his coat and hat and heads out into the snowy, now deserted, streets for a lonely walk home. This walk cycle always floors me with how gorgeous it looks as the snow looks so authentic and the movement of Scrooge so accurate to how this character would move if he were real. He eventually reaches his home, a fairly large looking house with a gaudy, gold-colored, door knocker. As Scrooge goes to unlock it, the visage on the knocker changes to resemble what we, the audience, know to be the face of Goofy, but here he’s Jacob Marley. He calls out in a low, mournful, manner for Scrooge which certainly gets his attention. Scrooge just says “Jacob…Marley?!” at the sight, and when the knocker returns with another wail, Scrooge squeezes his nose which causes him to yell out in pain. This frightens Scrooge into the house while we’re left to see Goofy scrunch up his nose and remark in typical Goofy fashion, “Gwarsh!”

A shaken Scrooge enters his dark and cold house. Wide eyed, he jumps onto a tall staircase and peers through the darkness frantically, but seeing nothing, cautiously begins his ascent up the stairs. As he climbs, a shadow of Marley appears on the wall behind him. The shadow is loaded with heavy chains and makes quite the noise as it moves and Scrooge notices almost immediately. When he stops, the shadow stops, and when he spins around it disappears! Scrooge then resumes his climb and the shadow respawns, only now it’s feeling playful as it lifts Scrooge’s hat off of his head. Scrooge then carefully sticks his cane out behind him and basically tickles the shadow. As it laughs, Scrooge is able to spin around and catch sight of it. The shadow drops his hat while Scrooge yells and races up the stairs into his bed chambers.

Aww, c’mon, Scrooge! He doesn’t look so scary.

Once inside, Scrooge engages numerous locks on his bedroom door (that’s kind of irregular) before retreating to a large chair. Shaking, he pulls his hat low as Marley’s haunting calls for Ebenezer Scrooge return. Scrooge barks back for him to go away, but the ghost enters. As he walks through the door, he fails to negotiate the cane Scrooge hastily left on the floor and trips over it coming to land right beside Scrooge’s chair. Marley pops up remarking it’s kind of slippery as Scrooge lights a candle in disbelief. The ghostly apparition confirms to Scrooge that he is indeed the ghost of Jacob Marley. Scrooge then softens a bit and starts recounting how Marley was a class act who bravely robbed the widows and swindled the poor. Marley seems rather proud of himself before something reminds him that basking in such praise is not what he came here for. He snaps out of his contented state to correct Scrooge. Declaring he was wrong to live his life in such a manner, he reveals he was punished for all eternity for his crimes against humanity as he flings his chains about. They’re his curse, but wrapped around one is a piggy bank that Scrooge takes interest in. When Marley, deep in his dramatic recounting of his cursed state, yanks on the chains they wrap around Scrooge’s neck drawing him closer to Marley and choking him in the process.

It’s at this point that Marley reveals to Scrooge that the same is in store for him when his time is up. Scrooge seems legitimately scared of such a fate and begs his old partner for help. It’s at this point Marley gives him the old “You will be visited by three spirts,” routine, only since this is Goofy he holds up just two fingers when saying “three.” He warns Scrooge that if he doesn’t heed the advice of these spirits that his chains will be even heavier! He then departs with a haunting “Farewell,” and as he vanishes through the door Scrooge calls outs out for him to “Watch out for that first,” before we hear the sound of Marley falling down the stairs with the familiar Goofy yell accompanying it. When the crashing sounds end, Scrooge finishes his warning, “…step.”

A clearly spooked Scrooge searches for ghosts before bed.

Scrooge, now dressed in a gown and cap for sleeping, is inspecting his room for spirits, it would seem. He flashes a candle in the fireplace and under the bed, but seeing nothing he climbs into bed scoffing at the notion of spirits as he blows out his candle. He quickly falls to sleep, and then the camera starts bouncing! We’re clearly seeing the point of view of another creature, which heads for Scrooge’s nightstand. It’s Jiminy Cricket, who rings the bell on Scrooge’s clock to wake him from his slumber. A groggy Scrooge turns to regard this individual who informs him that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. Jiminy even displays a fancy badge, like the one he receives at the end of Pinocchio, confirming his identity. Scrooge rather casually remarks he thought he’d be taller, then turns to go back to sleep. The cricket fires back that if men were measured by kindness, then Scrooge would be no bigger than a speck of dust! Scrooge tells him what he thinks of kindness and its usefulness, which Jiminy reminds him he didn’t always feel that way. Declaring it’s time to go, Scrooge encourages him to get out, but when the ghost opens the window Scrooge is suddenly out of bed.

Despite the fact that he’s a duck, Scrooge clearly does not enjoy flying.

Confused, Scrooge asks the ghost (which he always addresses as Spirit) what he’s doing. He tells him they’re going to visit his past, but Scrooge lets him know he can’t go out the window without falling. The ghost just tells him to hold on, and when he opens his tiny umbrella the two sail out of the window with a gust of wind! They fly through the night sky with Scrooge becoming ever frantic like a cat that accidentally wandered onto a motor boat or something. The spirit actually laughs at him, suggesting he thought Scrooge enjoyed looking down on the world.

Scrooge clearly wasn’t very smooth with the ladies.

Eventually, the two come to rest outside a tavern. It belongs to an individual named old Fezzywig, Scrooge’s former employer. Scrooge is excited to peer through the window and the sights are full of Disney cameos. Scrooge remarks that Fezzywig couldn’t have been a kinder person to work for, which is interesting since he doesn’t appear to find that trait useful for himself as an employer. He then gets excited when he spies a younger version of himself seated in the corner. The spirit points that this is the version of Scrooge that hasn’t yet become a miserable miser consumed by greed which doesn’t seem to offend Scrooge in the least as he casually responds “No one’s perfect.” Scrooge then narrows his focus on Isabelle, as played by Daisy Duck. He refers to her as “lovely Isabelle,” and we see her pull the young Scrooge out onto the dance floor. She rather unapologetically begs Scrooge for a kiss by pointing out she’s primed and ready and under the mistletoe, but Scrooge instead takes note that she’s standing on his foot. She doesn’t allow herself to be bothered as she takes Scrooge’s hands and the two dance. When the song ends, Belle plants a kiss on Scrooge which he rather clearly enjoys.

Scrooge isn’t even willing to pause his counting and come out from behind his wall of money to talk with Belle.

The present day Scrooge is left swooning too as he recalls how he was madly in love with her. The spirit then reminds him that in ten year’s time he came to love something else. Scrooge looks around and realizes they’re in his counting house on a dark, and rainy, evening. The young Scrooge is seated at his desk behind a mountain of money he’s counting out as Belle enters. She has to interrupt his counting to get him to acknowledge her, and he won’t even stand up to look at her from behind his wall of coins. She then delivers in rather unforceful terms an ultimatum. She’s been waiting for Scrooge to keep his promise to marry her as she’s been holding onto a cottage for the two of them for years. She asks if he’s come to a decision, and Scrooge rather angrily indicates he has. Belle’s last payment on the cottage, which she apparently financed through him, was an hour late allowing Scrooge to foreclose on the mortgage. As he waves the document in her face, Belle begins to sob and head for the door as broken hearts flutter about in the air – a little corny, but effective. She casts one, last, look in Scrooge’s direction and her face morphs from sadness to anger as she slams the door behind her causing all of the coins to scatter on Scrooge’s desk.

The spirit pushes the knife in deeper by pointing out that Scrooge loved his gold more than Belle causing him to lose her forever. Scrooge then begs the spirit to take him home declaring he can no longer bare these painful memories. The spirit adds that he fashioned them himself, as the scene shifts back to Scrooge’s bedroom. He’s in bed asking himself how he could have been so foolish when he’s roused from his thoughts by a loud, booming, voice. The voice shouts “Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!” and the being indicates it’s puzzled by the smell of something unpleasant. Scrooge peers out from behind his bed curtains to see a massive man (the only human looking denizen of this world) surrounded by food. He quickly shuts the curtains, before pulling them open carefully again and a giant eye fills the opening.

This is the part of the cartoon where the viewer gets hungry. Well, a little. That pig is more disturbing than anything.

The titanic spirit (portrayed by Willy the Giant from Fun and Fancy Free) reaches into the bed to confirm that he has, indeed, smelled a stingy, little, Englishman. Scrooge emerges from the creature’s grasp and has it confirmed that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge then takes note of the delicious looking, giant-sized, food before him. He asks where it all came from and is informed that it’s “The food of generosity, which you have long denied your fellow man.” Scrooge scoffs at the notion as he passes through a bundle of grapes, getting one stuck on his foot. He suggests no one has ever shown him generosity, and the spirit is forced to correct him that, despite his not being deserving of it, there are still some out there who do indeed extend good tidings to him. Scrooge tries to assure the spirit that this is not the case, but he’s just told. “You’ll see.”

Time to go meet this adorable little fella.

With Scrooge in the pocket his festive, green, robe, the spirit leaves Scrooge’s home. Since he is a literal giant, he has to lift the roof of the house off to step out. He then grabs a street lantern, which magically functions like a flashlight, as he goes on a search for a specific home. He checks one and the screams of a woman from inside alerts him that he’s not in the right place. He soon finds the home he’s looking for and dives onto his knees outside of it. One would assume a giant jumping around outside would get the attention of the whole neighborhood, but no one seems to notice.

“Hey mom, where did Polly go? She’s not in her cage…”

The spirit removes Scrooge from his pocket and deposits him outside the home. Scrooge, rather angrily, demands to know why he brought him to this old shack. The spirit then tells him it’s the home of his overworked, underpaid, employee: Bob Cratchit. Scrooge looks inside and sees Mrs. Cratchit placing dinner on the table. He cracks a joke by asking if she’s cooking a canary, then, perhaps sensing the ire of the giant, says they must have more food than that and points out a pot boiling over a fire. The spirit corrects Scrooge by telling him that’s his laundry, and the two go quiet and just observe as Bob tells his two children they must wait for Tiny Tim (Dick Billingsly). The small boy tells his father he’s coming as he slowly descends the stairs with the aid of a cane. His father whisks him over to the table where the boy enthusiastically declares there’s a lot of wonderful things to eat. Then reminds his family that they must thank Mr. Scrooge. His mother can’t muster up a response except just to smile politely and avoid his gaze, she probably spends many hours of her day cursing that name. Bob sits down and begins cutting a single pea for himself. Seeing that this is apparently all his dad has to eat, Tiny Tim offers him the drumstick from his plate, but Bob, sort of sadly, just hugs the child refusing to take the offering.

The final spirit is far less friendly than the first two. He also has a bad habit, but if you’re already dead, then why not enjoy a cigar?

Scrooge asks the spirit what’s wrong with Tim, and he responds, “Much, I’m afraid. For if these shadows remain unchanged, I see an empty chair where Tiny Tim once sat.” Scrooge can only respond with “Tim will…?!” but there’s no spirit to answer him. He looks around and the scenery grows foggy as Scrooge begs for the spirit to return through coughing. A shadowy figure appears smoking a cigar, the apparent source of all the smoke. Scrooge, clearly terrified of this new apparition, asks if he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirit only nods as Scrooge, rather carefully, begs to know what will happen to Tiny Tim.

That’s the one! The shot that breaks me every time.

The spirit simply raises an arm and gestures. A cemetery comes into view and a small headstone sits beneath a tree. Bob is beside it, clutching Tim’s can, as his wife and other two children lower their heads and walk away. The camera focuses on Bob as he sniffles a bit and a tear runs down his cheek. It’s a truly heartbreaking sight. He then lays the cane on the headstone and slowly walks away.

Scrooge can only wail “Oh no!” at the sight, before turning to the spirit. He declares he didn’t want this to happen and begs to know if these events can yet be changed. The spirit doesn’t respond as a raspy pair of voices fill the air. Two weasels (voiced by Allwine and Ryan) are laughing about a recent funeral they just witnessed. They’re grave diggers, and the person they’re digging a grave for apparently had a funeral with no mourners. One laughs and says they should take a break, since “He ain’t going no where,” as they laugh and walk away. Scrooge and the spirit approach the open grave and Scrooge, likely knowing the answer given how spooked he sounds, asks to know whose lonely grave this belongs to.

Dying sure seems like it sucks.

The spirit strikes a match and as he lights his cigar his hood falls away. It’s Peg Leg Pete (Ryan), and he lets him know that the grave belongs to him! He holds the match beside the headstone so Scrooge can see his own name. The spirit then slaps his back, knocking Scrooge into the grave, as he shouts, “The richest man in the cemetery!” and breaks out into laughter. As Scrooge cries out for help, the spirit only continues to laugh harder. Scrooge, holding onto a root, dangles above his own coffin which soon billows with smoke and an eerie red light shines from within. It begins to open, and as Scrooge falls towards it he shouts “I’ll change! I’ll change!”

He’s never looked better!

Scrooge tumbles out of bed tangled in his own curtains. He’s shouting demands for the spirit to let him out before he realizes he’s back in his own room. He runs to the window declaring it’s Christmas morning! He shows his elation by hugging a pigeon that was on his window sill and declares the spirits have given him another chance. He frantically searches for his robe, accidentally stepping through his hat and ripping through the top, as he tosses on a scarf and runs out the door. He then runs back in and declares “I can’t go out like this!” Mind you, Scrooge is in his nightgown and slippers with a red coat, scarf, and busted hat. He then grabs his cane and declares “There!” in a bit of a fake out before running back outside.

Okay, maybe they will come hit Scrooge up for many in the future.

Scrooge gleefully slides down a short, snow-covered, banister and crashes into the individuals who showed up at his counting house the prior day collecting funds for the poor. Scrooge is happy to see them, though they don’t appear to feel the same way about running into Scrooge again. He tells them he has something for them, but they try to deflect him as they likely assume it’s more insults or another wreath, but Scrooge surprises them with gold. He fills the mole’s hat and slaps it down on his head as the rat reacts with shock and punctuates it with an “Oh no!” in disbelief. Scrooge thinks, or acts like he thinks, that the rat thinks this isn’t enough and starts tossing more money. This schtick goes on until Scrooge literally fills the mole’s pants with money leaving them with 100 gold pieces. As Scrooge cheerfully heads to his next destination, the two call out a “Merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge is just spreading happiness now and it’s lovely.

Scrooge merrily dances through the streets greeting people who are clearly shocked to see this side of Scrooge until his nephew nearly runs him over while riding a horse. Scrooge, not bothered by this at all, simply calls out “Ah! Nephew!” Fred, like the other denizens of town, is shocked to see his uncle in an apparent good mood. He’s even more shocked when Scrooge tells him he’s looking forward to that wonderful meal he’s preparing. Fred, almost sweetly, shouts “You mean you’re coming?!” and Scrooge tells him he’ll be over promptly at 2 and to keep it piping hot as he balances his cane on his nose and scampers off. Fred, with a huge smile across his bill, assures his uncle that he will keep it hot and wishes him “…a very merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge feels the need to torture Bob mildly before changing his life for the better.

Some kids scamper by, two of the three little wolves chased by one of the little pigs wielding a pop gun, as Scrooge emerges from a toy store with a huge sack over his shoulder. Declaring, “And now for Cratchit’s” he merrily makes his way down the street and to the home of Bob Cratchit. He giddily knocks on the door, but then forces himself to put on a serious face. Bob answers the door and is pretty shocked to see his boss standing there on Christmas morning (he probably shouldn’t be that shocked given how terrible his boss is). He somewhat sheepishly offers a “Merry Christmas” towards Scrooge, who snorts and brushes past him causing Bob to sort of whimper “Won’t you come in.”

Toys! We’ve got toys here!

Scrooge adds a “Merry Christmas, indeed,” in an angry tone. He tells Bob he has another bundle for him as he slams the sack on the ground. A teddy bear pops out, which Tiny Tim takes notice of. Scrooge scoops it up and stuffs it in the pocket of his jacket as he tugs the sack closer to himself trying to ignore the curious child. He then goes into a rant, declaring he’s had enough of this “half day off stuff” He then starts to act like he’s going to fire Cratchit, who looks pretty terrified. As he hollers, “You leave me, no alternative, but to give you,” the last part he can’t get out without a bit laughter as Tim finishes the sentence by exclaiming, “Toys!”

The other shot that breaks me, but in a good way!

Scrooge confirms to a confused Bob that, yes, he is giving him toys. He also tells him that he’s giving him a raise, and making Bob his partner as he doffs his cap and puts an arm around him. Bob can only muster up a “Partner?!” as he clearly didn’t expect this. Scrooge basically just announced that he’s lifting his family out of poverty, for heaven’s sake. He can only respond by saying, “Thanks, Mr. Scrooge” as we see his wife lift a fully cooked turkey out of that same sack (those toys must be gross). Tiny Tim then goes in for his line, “And God bless us, every one!” as Scrooge embraces the kid. They tumble into a rocking chair as Scrooge places his hat on the kid’s head and the other two kids run in to join the fun. “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” returns as the Cratchits look on as their children pile onto Scrooge and the cartoon comes to an end.

Now, if only this could happen to every other greedy, rich, asshole the world would be a better place.

If that ending doesn’t leave you all warm and happy on Christmas Day, then I’m guessing nothing does. The way that Scrooge toys with Bob at the end doesn’t come across as cruel, though I can see some perhaps thinking that it does. It serves to draw out the suspense of the moment as Bob Cratchit discovers that his boss has made a truly life altering decision for him and his family. Did Disney intend for us to put it in such context? Maybe, I don’t know, but it’s how I’ve always approached that last scene. That family was starving to the point where their malnourished son was essentially a goner if things didn’t change, and fast. Now, assuming Scrooge keeps his word, the Cratchits will basically get half of every dollar Scrooge makes and presumably have a much easier life. And the adorable Tiny Tim gets to live.

Scrooge is also practical in his Christmas Day delivery, though they could really use some sides.

It’s a very satisfying conclusion to a well-worn story. I, like probably many, do not care to see another version of A Christmas Carol come along ever gain. We have enough. This cartoon though was my first introduction to the story which is probably why I like it so much. I do think it has value beyond that and my affection isn’t solely attributed to nostalgia, but I do acknowledge it plays a role in just how much I adore this one. I just think it’s wonderfully paced, beautifully animated, and the cast is exceptional. I love how this one looks, even when I’m watching it on a 35 year old VHS my mother made for my sister and I. I especially love the backgrounds which are so detailed and almost weathered looking to reflect the setting. As a result, the special loses a little something in the HD transfer Disney did a few years ago that brightens everything up and dulls some of the linework. Not that it isn’t still worth watching, but I almost prefer my ancient tape or cheap DVD I bought more than a decade ago. The actual animation is also wonderful. The characters are so expressive and the animators did an amazing job of conveying emotion through them. You could watch this thing on mute and know what every character is feeling at every moment. And even though this re-telling plays it straight, there’s some exaggerated, animated, flourishes here and there like when Scrooge is terrified of Marley or when he kicks Fred out of the counting house. It feels like Disney had something to prove with the first Mickey cartoon in 30 years and it really nailed it here.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is available to stream all year round on Disney+. It probably aired this month on cable too, but at this point those airings may be over. I wish it still got the broadcast network timeslot it occupied 30 years ago, especially with the added shorts (only two of which are on Disney’s streaming network), but that’s how it goes.

The end of the cartoon, and the end for this year’s countdown!

I hope you enjoyed this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot, whether you read one entry, or all 25. Or whether or not you’re reading this in 2021, or 2025. In December, or March. It doesn’t matter, it’s always nice to do a little Christmas reading and reflect on the specials that warmed our hearts as kids and adults. And it’s even fun to look at the not-so-good ones, and that’s why I do this every year. A lot can change in a year, but I plan on being back here next year so I hope to see you then. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

Original air date November 28, 2007.

2021 marked an important anniversary in animation: Shrek turned 20. The animated film from DreamWorks is credited as really helping to launch the company as a viable competitor to Disney’s Pixar. Prior to Shrek, DreamWorks had found success at the box office with Antz and Chicken Run, but Shrek was the first to really explode in both popularity and revenue. And unlike those preceding films, it was the launch of a bonafide franchise for DreamWorks as the ogre would go on to star in three more pictures and some holiday specials.

Now a days, Shrek is viewed in a somewhat ironic light or with an eyeroll. Part of that is due to the franchise overstaying its welcome. The first film felt like something new, and it was, with its approach to story-telling and humor and the second film delivered more of the same. By the third and fourth films though, the Shrek franchise was getting lambasted by critics though still bringing in money. And the other thing working against Shrek is it’s a film that hasn’t aged particularly well. CG films from 2001 have all aged to some degree, and not for the better, but Shrek‘s approach to its humor and soundtrack have proven especially dated. They also established a formula for DreamWorks that I think a lot of movie goers have grown tired of. Still, the company seems to be able to entertain children well enough so there aren’t many true flops, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that DreamWorks never became the true Pixar competitor some had hoped it would be.

In this special we’re going to experience Shrek’s first Christmas, though it might be Donkey’s last given how much he annoys the big guy.

Dated humor and presentation aside, Shrek was a good film in 2001 and it’s still a pretty good film in 2021. It’s not a film, or franchise, I have held any real attachment to, but I can appreciate it for what it is. Since Shrek is celebrating its big 20th birthday (the character has actually been around for over 30 years), it made sense to finally include it in The Christmas Spot so today we’re looking at the special Shrek the Halls.

Shrek the Halls was first broadcast on ABC on November 28, 2007 following the release that year of Shrek the Third. Despite that film not being warmly received by critics, Shrek was still very much at the height of his powers as the film made a boatload of money and the Christmas special took the top spot in the ratings for its timeslot. The special takes place after the events of that film, though I don’t think one need to be familiar with that film, or really any of the films, in order to enjoy this special. This special returns the voice cast from the film and looks to tell the story of Shrek’s first Christmas. Even though Shrek is obviously well into his adult years, he’s never celebrated Christmas on account of the fact that he’s an ogre and ogres just don’t do that sort of thing. He now has a wife and kids though who are interested in celebrating the holiday (well, I assume the kids are, but they are infants so one can’t be sure) so he’s going to have to learn on the fly and also deal with his “friends” that prove to be a constant source of frustration for the grouchy ogre.

Donkey annoys Shrek. This will be a theme.

The special begins uncharacteristically with Shrek (Mike Myers) powdering the bottom of one of his triplets in a rather tropical setting. He remarks how they’re all clean now and plops them into a pit of mud before laying out on a deck chair to sun himself. “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft plays as Shrek soaks up the sun, until he’s rudely disturbed by Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Donkey is focused on Christmas already, despite it being summer, and Shrek could not care less. Once he’s dismissed, we jump ahead to the fall and Shrek is chopping wood. Donkey, once again, appears to remind Shrek that Christmas is coming and the ogre once again shoos him away. It’s now winter and Shrek is shoveling and when he digs his shovel into a snowdrift out pops the head of Donkey. Now it’s the day before Christmas Eve, and Donkey wants to know what Shrek is doing for Christmas, but he insists no one here cares about Christmas!

Joke’s on you Shrek, turns out your wife is looking forward to Christmas too!

On cue, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) emerges from their home to shout her enthusiasm for a white Christmas. Shrek is surprised and confused, but not willing to let Fiona know he has nothing planned for the holiday. Donkey covers for him, but also tells Fiona that Shrek has a surprise in store for her and the kids. Excited, she returns to the house while Shrek now has to put together a Christmas celebration.

What every ogre needs to have a happy Christmas.

We smash cut to credits and Shrek is shown running across the frozen tundra and scaling a mountain while epic music plays in the background. All of this to get to town and a bookstore being run by a clerk (Marissa Jaret Winokur) looking to close up shop for Christmas. Shrek tells her he needs to create a wonderful Christmas for his family, but he knows nothing about it. She excitedly drags him to the counter and produces exactly what Shrek needs: Christmas for Village Idiots. She quickly skims the book pointing out the things that Shrek needs to do in order to create the perfect Christmas ending with a Christmas story by a warm fire. Shrek seems overwhelmed, but it’s not the clerk’s problem as she assures him he’ll be fine and shoves him out the door, apparently willing to part with the book for free just to rid herself of the ogre. When Shrek finds himself outside he sees various villagers running around screaming trying to find last minute items for Christmas while stores slam doors shut in their face.

A new use for a toilet seat.

The next morning, Fiona awakens from her slumber to a bunch of noise just outside the house. When she goes to investigate, she finds Shrek has decorated their home for Christmas. It’s…interesting and certainly ogre themed with a toilet seat wreath on the front door, but it sure seems to please her. Donkey then reappears to give them his Christmas card. Despite Donkey having a family of his own, his card just has a picture of him in a Santa suit on the front.

Well, he’s clearly put a lot of work into this.

Donkey is here to remind Shrek, and us, that it’s Christmas Eve! Shrek tells him to go home and returns to his task, while Donkey tells Fiona that Shrek needs him in order to pull this perfect Christmas off. Fiona, trying to be polite, tells Donkey that what Shrek really wants is a nice Christmas with his family. Donkey is fine with this, too fine, and he takes his leave allowing Fiona to resume her conversation with Shrek. He’s determined to make this a perfect Christmas, and we head into a montage showing the Shrek family prepare for Christmas. Fiona kills snakes with a belch to create snake canes, they fetch a dead tree for their Christmas tree, and one of the babies grabs a possum for Christmas dinner. I’m sure it will be delicious.

Pictured: Not the Christmas Shrek wanted.

Back at home, the house is decorated for Christmas, the possum is roasting on an open fire, and Shrek is now ready to put a cherry on top of this whole Christmas thing by telling the kids a story. They gather around and Shrek is ready to go, when suddenly there arose such a clatter! It’s Donkey, who comes busting in with a wreath around his neck ready to celebrate, and he’s not alone. Behind him come the other “friends” of Shrek and Fiona from the films: Pinocchio, the three little pigs, big bad wolf, the three blind mice, the gingerbread man (Gingy), and Puss in Boots. They brought decorations too and immediately set to putting them up while Gingy (Conrad Vernon) flirts with an angel cookie. Shrek is clearly not pleased, while Fiona tries to put on a smile, and the others are oblivious to all of this. Donkey strolls over to the fireplace and notices it’s low (since it’s a cooking fire) and calls up the chimney to his wife, a dragon, to heat the place up. She blasts some fire down from above (since she’s far too big to fit in the house) creating a roaring fire, while also destroying the possum dinner. As the pigs wrestle with setting up a tree, Shrek gets bumped out the door and it shuts in his face.

Well, at least his pants are up.

When we come back from a break, Fiona is trying to get Shrek to come out of the outhouse and back into the party. Shrek, clearly irritated, tells Fiona this is not the Christmas he wanted while Fiona reminds him that these people, as weird and irritating as they are, are still their friends. She asks him to come back to the party while the sound of breaking glass alerts her that she needs to get back inside leaving Shrek to stew in his own stench. He gets up to return to the house, reluctantly, and we find out that Pinocchio (Cody Cameron) has been waiting patiently to use the outhouse, which raises several questions. The ground is also shaking as the dragon is doing Snoopy’s dance outside the house.

When Shrek gets back inside he’s immediately annoyed. Gingy tells him he doesn’t feel well causing him to vomit at Shrek’s feet. His vomit is basically a Hershey Kiss, and Donkey strolls over and eats it. Shrek then spies Fiona under the mistletoe and goes to embrace his wife. They start to dance to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” when Pinocchio cuts in. Rather than fight for his wife, Shrek makes a b-line to his children who are playing with Donkey’s weird, donkey-dragon, hybrid kids under a table. He asks the kids if they’d like him to finish the story and goes back into “The Night Before Christmas,” until Donkey butts in. He’s excited for the story, but then declares no one tells it better than him, and summons everyone to a chair so he can recite the poem while Shrek shouts out that he’s supposed to be the one that tells the Christmas story.

A waffle Santa? I could get on board with that.

No one seems to pay Shrek any mind though as Donkey starts into his own version of the story, with him as both narrator and star. He’s focused on the sights, and smells, of the holiday as we see his version of the story fully animated. There’s an eggnog fountain and acrobatics and it all leads to a big Christmas parade. When he gets to the part where he should be introducing Saint Nicholas, he does, only he’s a giant waffle float covered in butter and syrup. Donkey apparently likes waffles and syrup and we see him start to lick the giant Santa float only to find out he’s actually licking Shrek’s foot who gets him to stop.

Adorable.

Now, it’s Puss in Boots’ (Antonio Banderas) turn to tell the real story of Santa, as he describes it. He starts fingering a guitar and telling the story of Santa: a spicy, Latin, cat with some killer dance moves. We see this Santa, who is just Puss in a festive red ensemble. He describes how this Santa has actual claws, and goes into detail about the articles of clothing he wears. When he gets to the hat, which has a pom-pom at the end, we see the cat in the story become entranced by the cotton ball. He starts to bat at it playfully and we cut to Puss in Boots as he’s doing the same to an ornament on the tree. He snaps out of it and concedes that he has shamed himself before slumping his shoulders and walking off.

This Santa reminds me of the Tom Hanks one from The Polar Express. I’m just going to pretend it is.

Gingy then steps up to tell the real story of Santa. It’s a horror story, since Gingy is a cookie and all, and we see him sitting in a convertible with a gingerbread woman. He’s telling the classic man with the hook story and frightens his date, but she’s not mad and they appear to be having a good time. Things look like they’re about to get a little steamy, until a sound startles Gingy. The female cookie thinks he’s just trying to scare her, but soon a monstrous figure appears: Santa! He basically roars like Godzilla as he reaches down and plucks the girl from the car as she screams. Santa bites her head off, to the horror of Gingy, and the story ends because Donkey is offended the cookie would present Santa in such a bad light.

Shrek has had enough at this point and suggests they all leave now to beat the holiday traffic. Donkey wants to finish his story though and as Shrek moves in to tell him it’s not needed, his book falls out of his pocket. Donkey wants to check it out, but Shrek doesn’t want Fiona to see it so he tries to hide it quickly, but Donkey won’t let go. It eventually goes flying across the room setting off a chain of unfortunate events that end with Shrek’s ass getting lit on fire! He eventually gets doused with water, after the flames were put out, and that’s the final straw. As he appears poised to blow, the sound of a whistling kettle can be heard because the pigs had put an actual kettle on the fire for tea.

Well Shrek, you made the wife mad, but at least the kids seem fine.

Shrek explodes and we cut to everyone running out of the house, with Donkey getting literally thrown out. He’s upset and barks back at Shrek that he’s not getting him a Christmas present now, but Shrek doesn’t care. They hurl insults back and forth before Donkey finally leaves. The pigs (Cameron) suggest they can go to their house while Shrek slams the door. When he turns around though he finds Fiona with her winter coat on. She’s gathering up the children to go after the others while Shrek tries to reason with her. She tells him that this is what Christmas is: crowded, loud, and often out of hand. Shrek rather wisely points out that this one went beyond that as he was literally set on fire. She still feels the need to apologize to their friends while Shrek insists he just wanted to have a perfect Christmas. He mistakenly refers to it as “his” Christmas, which is apparently the worst thing he could do. He knows he messed up right away, but Fiona still digs into him that it isn’t his Christmas, it’s everyone’s.

Apparently ogres can experience sadness.

Shrek finds himself alone in his house on Christmas. A sappy song plays as he looks over his book and then to Donkey’s Christmas card. We then check-in with the others and Donkey is complaining to Fiona about Shrek. He says they were just doing what she wanted by giving Shrek a big old, noisy, family, Christmas. Now it’s Donkey’s turn to listen as Fiona explains that’s not what she meant when she told him it was their family’s first Christmas together. Donkey still doesn’t understand as he clearly views them all as family while Fiona points out that no one asked Shrek what he wanted.

It’s confession time.

Puss seems to realize how annoying Donkey was and starts up an argument, but Shrek appears to interrupt it. He’s come to make amends, but he has a hard time doing so as he apologizes for them “being so annoying,” and other similar sentiments. Struggling, he confesses that Christmas is hard for him because he’s an ogre. Ogres don’t celebrate Christmas, they don’t celebrate anything. He takes a seat on a log in a defeated posture as Donkey and others question how he’s never celebrated Christmas and it’s obviously structured to make it seem like Shrek just admitted he’s a virgin.

And now it’s makeup time.

Having that weight off of his shoulders, Shrek is able to apologize appropriately. He also requests that everyone come back to their home and celebrate Christmas with his family. He then gets blasted with a snowball from offscreen. Forcing a laugh while admitting he deserved that, Shrek wipes the snow off of his face before he’s promptly hit with several more. Now he’s getting mad as Donkey howls with laughter, only to get completely buried by snow. He pops his head out in search of the culprit and the camera pans back and reveals it was his dragon wife who knocked some snow off of a tree.

I’m sure you can figure out the joke.

Everyone returns to the ogre home and everyone is preparing for bed. Big Bad Wolf (Aron Warner) is looking for a spot and seems to feel that Pinocchio is in the way, who insists he doesn’t want to move because he always gets a bad spot. The wolf kicks him out of the way clearly not caring about the puppet’s feelings. The three little pigs are sharing a blanket, and one has to point out that they’re pigs in a blanket, but does it in such a manner that saves the bit. Shrek then tells them it’s time for lights out, but Donkey demands a story before bed and the others agree.

Time to meet Ogre Claus.

This is Shrek’s moment to shine as he tosses his book aside and sits down to tell HIS Christmas story with his children in his arms. It’s basically “The Night Before Christmas,” but with a Shrek twist. The house is depicted as it is now decorated for Christmas in a conventional manner. The babies, and Fiona, are “playing kazoo in their sleep” which means they’re farting and we see the blankets billow with the expelling of gas. This is all to set the stage for Ogre Claus, who is Shrek in a Santa suit. He finds the surroundings too sweet, so he lets out a giant belch of green gas that turns the place into something an ogre would find suitable. He gives each baby a bottle of stinky swamp juice, and a Christmas goose to Fiona (a literal goose). Then he sticks a finger in his nose and up the chimney he goes!

Well, it looks like they’re sitting attentively at least.

Shrek finishes his story with a “Smelly Christmas to all, and to all a gross night,” as everyone seems to have taken well to the ogre version of the story. The sound of sleigh bells gets everyone’s attention and they head outside and spy Santa flying in front of a full moon. They all look up with wonder, except for Gingy who screams and runs back inside. Shrek and Fiona share a gaze and he puts his arm around her. We look up to the sky again and see some Christmas magic from Santa. Red and green stars dance around the moon giving it Shrek ears as a raucous version of “Deck the Halls” kicks in and the credits roll.

Hey look! Santa!

Shrek the Halls is a legitimately entertaining Christmas special. Being able to basically duplicate the presentation of the films goes a long way in helping that as we have the usual cast and the visuals hold up very well. My guess is that this thing was basically made in tandem with the third film and that’s why it looks so good. It’s also a clever Christmas story for the Shrek character since it’s not surprising that he would clash with the traditional version of Christmas. It’s a little odd that the subject never came up between he and Fiona before, but it’s not that important either.

This one basically ends in the same manner as Christmas Vacation, and it kind of is like Christmas Vacation just minus the bonus subplot. Donkey is clearly Cousin Eddie.

The antagonist here is basically Donkey, who exists to annoy and irritate both Shrek and the viewer. He works almost too well as I find it hard to view him with any sympathy. Yeah, he misunderstood Fiona, but Shrek is always very clear with how annoyed he is with Donkey who just constantly disregards Shrek’s wishes. And it’s not just him. As Shrek pointed out, he was set on fire! That ogre was totally within his rights to toss everyone out after that happened and the special struggles, via Fiona, to convince me he did anything wrong. It basically presents Shrek’s slip of the tongue in referring to it as “his Christmas” as a terrible sin worthy of punishment. That whole group should have returned to Shrek to apologize to him, not the other way around.

I never saw the fourth Shrek film, but if the moon is present in it, I hope it has Shrek ears.

That’s a small criticism though as the special proves to be plenty entertaining. Yeah, there’s still too much licensed music in play, but little of it feels dated since most if is dated by design (like Journey, though I could definitely do with out that particular song). Most of the side characters get a chance to do something funny with the star player likely being Gingy and his Santa horror story. The ending is about as predictable as it gets, but still suitable. It’s not like many Christmas specials surprise in that regard.

Shrek the Halls is currently locked into an exclusive agreement with ABC so the only channels you’ll find it on are Disney owned ones. It’s also on Hulu (if you have the Live TV add-on) and available on physical media. Considering it’s Christmas Eve, it might be tough to find at this point, but there’s still time to spend Christmas with Ogre Claus.


Dec. 23 – DuckTales – “How Santa Stole Christmas”

Original air date November 30, 2020

One of my favorite modern Christmas specials is the DuckTales episode “Last Christmas.” I feel like anytime I talk DuckTales I have to specify which era, though in this case I really shouldn’t since the original DuckTales never did a Christmas episode. To make up for that, the 2017 edition of the show did two Christmas episodes! I’ll take as many as I can get and had the show continued I’d have welcomed a third one. Since 2021 marked the end of this second DuckTales era, it makes sense to welcome it back into the fold for The Christmas Spot for a final time.

In “Last Christmas,” we learned that Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) hates Santa Claus. It’s basically a throw-away line, as the episode begins with him raging at Christmas and storming off to his room only for us to find out it’s all an act. He just wants to be left alone at Christmas so he can pal around with some ghosts. Him telling his nephew, Dewey (Ben Schwartz), that he actually likes Christmas, but hates Santa, reads as a joke. Given that this show is rather lore heavy, I suppose we should not have been surprised to see the subject of Scrooge hating Santa Claus brought up again. And exploring that hatred is the subject of the show’s second, and final, Christmas episode “How Santa Stole Christmas.”

Della has a story to chill your bones!

The episode begins with the customary cold open. The boys, Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey, and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) are getting ready for bed on Christmas Eve while their mother, Della (Paget Brewster), tells them a story and Uncle Donald (Tony Anselmo) passes out cookies. And getting tangled in Christmas lights. Della is reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” only the words have been changed to refer to Santa as a traitor and other unpleasantries. Dewey is the first to request that she just tell them the regular version of the poem with the nice Santa, but Della quickly responds that he is not welcome in their home! She explains by adding a “He knows what he did,” with narrowed eyes, but when the boys ask what he did it soon becomes apparent that Della hasn’t a clue.

Christmas time is a time for war at McDuck Manor.

A noise from the roof, a clatter if you will, interrupts the awkward moment between hen and ducklings. Della grabs her brother, now immobilized in Christmas lights, to lead the charge to battle while the boys head to the roof. They slide excitedly across the snow in hopes of catching a glimpse of the real Santa, only to find Scrooge. He’s decked out in what I assume is some sort of Scottish military uniform complete with beret and kilt. Webby (Kate Micucci) is there as well camouflaged to blend in with the background. She is quick to remind the boys that an enemy of Scrooge McDuck is an enemy to them all!

Some different reactions to the guest spread across the faces of the McDuck clan.

Scrooge is confused why the boy’s even care about Santa since he can provide anything they’d need. He then hands out their apparent Christmas present this year: boring, knit, hats. Louie questions if his great uncle could have found an itchier material while Scrooge prattles on about how they don’t need modern luxuries. A ring of the doorbell puts an end to the discussion as they try to peer down from the roof to see who’s there, but are unable to. Scrooge speculates it’s just some carolers and makes his way inside, though as he prepares to open the door he’s poised to strike!

Webby is a constant source of entertainment.

When Scrooge does open the door a look of surprise crosses his face, which soon turns to one of anger as he says one word, “Claus.” The boys light up as the camera shows us Santa Claus from their perspective. What does the DuckTales Santa look like, you may be wondering? Well, he’s a polar bear! I honestly had not given it much thought until now, but I suppose it makes sense that he’d be a polar bear. Most everyone else in this universe appears to be some kind of bird or dog, though there is a cross-over with the TaleSpin crew. Santa (Hugh Bonneville) prepares to wish them all a “Merry Christmas,” but before he can get that second part out he lurches forward and collapses on the floor. The boys look devastated while Scrooge seems legitimately surprised as he sheaths his weapon. Webby still looks ready to pounce as Scrooge pulls on her left arm to lower her grapple gun. She quietly raises her right arm in response which brandishes a blade as we smash cut to the intro.

Santa is a big ole polar bear. Makes sense.

The credits are, once again, festively done with the same crooner version to the song that we saw in “Last Christmas.” I still cannot find a credit for who sings it, but for some reason I feel like I heard it was Chris Diamantopoulos, but don’t quote me on that. Following the intro, we return to the home of Scrooge McDuck and focus on a sleeping Santa as he’s waking from his slumber. He’s been propped up in a chair by the fire as the kids have gathered around him. The boys start peppering him the usual questions a kid might have for Santa should they meet while Webby just grumpily asks “When are you leaving?” as she finishes dressing a leg injury on the big bear. Santa seems amused by the children and produces presents for all! Huey gets a video game, Dewey a trampoline, Louie a new cell phone (he plans to sell his old one for cash when Scrooge points out he already has a cell phone) and Webby refuses to open hers. A nice detail on the gifts is they are the exact gifts Scrooge called out on the roof as things they don’t need (he pays attention enough to know what they want for Christmas, and refuses to accommodate their wishes). The boys are enjoying their presents until Scrooge starts barking at Santa to get out. He alludes to Santa stealing something from him in the past and he’s not about to let the big bear turn his nephews against him!

I didn’t grab a screen for this scene, so here’s Scrooge’s house decorated for Christmas!

Santa insists that they not do this in front of the children while the boys seem surprised at this news. Webby, of course, is not and she demands to know what Santa stole from Scrooge. Scrooge fills her in: Christmas! Now it’s the children’s turn to gasp as the very notion of Santa stealing Christmas is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around. Scrooge goes on to say that he came up with the whole Christmas “racket” and this glory hound took all of the credit. Santa isn’t interested in rehashing any of this as he points out that he has a sack full of presents still to deliver and a busted leg that will prevent him from doing so. Scrooge is his only hope as he askes, “Scroogey, with your belt so tight, won’t you fly my sleigh tonight?”

Scrooge gives him the cold shoulder as the boys plead with him to reconsider. Santa starts turning on the guilt, even allowing a present to fall out of his sack that he has trouble reaching. Scrooge has seen enough and grabs the gift for him and tosses it back into the sack telling Santa they’re not interested in what he’s selling. Santa keeps up the routine and decides to make Scrooge an offer: if he helps him deliver toys this year, he’ll never show up at his home again. Scrooge seems unmoved until Santa adds that he’ll save a fortune on traps. Scrooge then rather reluctantly shakes the bear’s hand and scoops up the sack referring to him as a sanctimonious solstice swindler. Nice alliteration, which will be a thread throughout the episode. As he marches out the door the others look on in surprise, but when Scrooge mutters about not believing Santa roped him into this again they let out yet another audible gasp. This allows Santa to tell a little story about how he and Scrooge McDuck first met.

When Scrooge met Santa.

It was a long time ago, as Santa puts it, and the area was in the midst of a nasty blizzard. A young looking Scrooge knocks on the door of a home and when the door is opened by a young lady, he immediately starts ranting at her to buy some coal! He really needs to work on his delivery. She slams the door in his face and he tosses his sack of coal over his shoulder muttering to himself as he walks off. He then hears someone singing “Jingle Bells” nearby, but it also sounds like they’re struggling with something. Scrooge wanders over and sees a young Santa pulling a rather large sleigh. When he inquires with the bear about what he’s doing, Santa explains he’s trying to spread warmth to the region by giving people toys. Scrooge, ever practical, seems to think this is foolish, but tosses his sack of coal in the sleigh and offers to help pull the sleigh.

When the pair reach the house Scrooge was just shut out at, Santa strolls over to the door, despite Scrooge insisting the individuals who live there won’t be accommodating, and knocks on the door. The same lady from before answers and Santa explains he’s looking to trade a present or two for a few minutes of warmth. He hands over a wrapped box and the woman opens it to find a nutcracker. She smiles and lets him in without a word and prepares to shut the door in Scrooge’s face, but Santa insists he’s with him. She seems to agree to let Scrooge in, but narrows her eyes at him and gestures that she’ll be watching him closely.

These creatures are not fooling anyone.

Inside, we see the home is clearly inhabited by elves of some kind. They’re small, wear pointy hats with bells, and are dressed in various, bright, colors. Of course, this being the DuckTales universe, they’re also some kind of dog people. Santa is leading them all in a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells” until the fire goes out. The woman who answered the door, who appears taller than the rest, finally speaks (I’m not sure who voices her, but basically every member of the main cast is credited as voicing “Elves” in this one) to point out the obvious. Santa smiles and lets them know his companion, Scrooge, is in possession of something that will get their fire going once again. He grabs Scrooge’s sack of coal, much to the duck’s surprise, and dumps a few biscuits on the fire and it ignites instantly. The other elves start enthusiastically shoving money in Scrooge’s face insisting that any friend of Santa’s is a friends of theirs. They also inquire about getting coal delivered, and Santa starts boasting Scrooge can deliver anywhere! And by Christmas! Scrooge is rather shocked at this proclamation and tries to explain that Christmas is a mere 20 days away, but Santa insists he’ll help him adding a “What are friends for?” Scrooge tells him to scrap the friends talk and suggests they be partners instead. Santa asks “Why not both?!” as he scoops him up in a big bear hug. A literal one.

I love this.

We jump back to the present where the kids are surprised to find out the two were friends with Webby insisting that Scrooge doesn’t have any friends. They head to the sleigh, which is parked outside, and the boys run excitedly to the reindeer. They start patting them and checking them out while Scrooge barks for them to get away from those “roof wreckers.” He then adds they’re not coming along as they’re too susceptible to Santa’s charms. Only Webby is welcome aboard the sleigh. The boys start to put up a fight, but Santa pulls out his nice list to check it twice and mentions he knows of some boys making their way up the list. As he explains, one of the reindeer is licking Dewey’s head the whole time and it’s adorable. Santa basically bribes them with more presents though so they run inside while Scrooge snaps the reigns sending the sleigh into the night sky. I love you, DuckTales, but I have to confess I can’t forgive you for giving Santa only six reindeer. A Christmas fail.

This episode effectively uses montage to get the other side characters a little face time at Christmas.

We then head into a musical montage set, once again, to “Jingle Bells.” I honestly didn’t realize how much mileage this one gets from that song until I started typing about it. Webby and Scrooge are shown delivering presents to the many side characters we’ve met throughout the show. They recoil in horror at the disgusting sock of Doofus, receive a fruit cake to the face from Gizmoduck’s defense mechanism, and leave a present for that Scrooge-horse abomination character.

Webby is proving she’s not immune to the charms of Santa.

Back in the sleigh, Webby is handling a present while insisting to Santa that she won’t fall for his charms like most do. As she says this, she shakes various gifts and mentions the contents as if such an offering could never work on her, until she gets to a box with a crossbow in it! She asks Santa who it’s for and he implores her to check the tag. Of course, the tag reads Webbigail Vanderquack and her eyes bulge with excitement! She squeals and hugs the gift while Santa remarks to Scrooge how there’s nothing like the happiness of a child on Christmas to warm the heart. Scrooge suggests Webby won’t fall for his tricks and the young girl pauses for a moment, but then resumes the present embrace.

The sleigh continues to soar through the sky and we see the background change to reflect a new part of the world. When it changes from Rome, to China, to Rome again Webby calls out this error in the montage only for Santa to inform her that he delivers the presents alphabetically. When Scrooge, in a rather incredulous manner, demands to know why he wouldn’t do it by country the old bear plays dumb and remarks that doing so would save him some time. Scrooge performs a facepalm as Webby becomes increasingly worried that they’re going to run out of time to save Christmas, then tries to save face by adding, “not that I care.” Santa tells her not to worry, then he produces the secret to his success: the Feliz Navidiamond!

Time for DuckTales to add to the Santa lore.

The gem is hanging from Santa’s sleigh, and as the camera focuses on it and Scrooge speaks it’s name we’re transported back to the past. The image of the gem is replaced with a crudely drawn version as Scrooge and Santa look over a map. They’re after the diamond, but need to enter a dangerous looking cave in order to get it. Scrooge explains the diamond allows the holder to manipulate time, but it only works on one evening: Christmas Eve. Santa and Scrooge know that with this diamond they can deliver all of the coal on time, but they have to enter the rather mean looking cave in order to get it.

And here come the reindeer!

The two make their way towards the cave with Scrooge remarking that they just need to survive los renos voladores. Santa wonders what that could possibly translate to, but his question is soon answered when he looks up to the sky: flying reindeer. The two swoop down looking rather ferocious. As Scrooge tries to ward one off he looks over to see Santa petting the other. When he asks how he managed that, Santa produces some jingle bells. He instructs Scrooge to “jingle all the way” as he tosses him a set (and I groan). Scrooge jingles the set of bells in the face of his opponent, and the reindeer immediately starts to nuzzle his face. Santa saunters over and eagerly asks if they can keep the reindeer.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Beagle Boys.

Webby interrupts the tale to say “Of course you kept the reindeer,” adding that they’ve got two horns worth of deadly efficiency. Santa agrees insisting they’re a Christmas staple while Scrooge grumbles about the whole business as he prepares to enter another home. When he asks why Webby would care she insists she doesn’t, but when one of the reindeer turns and snorts at her she whispers “It’s not true” to assuage him while Scrooge does his best to ignore her. The two then enter the chimney and the musical montage resumes with Webby and Scrooge delivering more presents to more familiar faces, including the apparent sole member of the Beagle Boys (Eric Bauza) on Santa’s nice list. As the two try to slip out of the junkyard, the one Beagle Boy wakes up excitedly and calls out to his brothers that Santa is here. They in turn wake up and seeing how they’re all on the naughty list, things aren’t looking so well for Scrooge and Webby. That is, until Santa and the reindeer swoop in! They cut through the Beagle Boys and Webby and Scrooge hop back in the sleigh. As they fly away, Santa remarks that since he now saved Scrooge they’re even. Scrooge scoffs at the idea and we return to the past to apparently find out how Scrooge saved Santa.

Not Santa’s best plan.

They’re in that rather formidable looking cave from before clearly looking to retrieve the Feliz Navidiamond. Santa is raring to go, while Scrooge warns of a guardian. As they look upon a frozen pedestal which the diamond sits upon, Santa prepares to go for it when a rather large snowball starts rolling in. More follow and soon a monstrous snowman is assembled! Santa still isn’t frightened and suggests they can beat him with kindness, despite Scrooge’s protesting. He heads over to the snowman and proposes a trade: one present for the Feliz Navidiamond. The snowman apparently does not think this is a fair trade for it snatches Santa and appears ready to devour the humble bear. The sound of jingling bells distracts the being as Scrooge comes riding in on a flying reindeer! He drops flaming coal on the snowman causing it to release Santa. As the creature’s tree-like arms go up in flames it turns its attention to Scrooge, allowing Santa to go for the diamond. The snowman knocks Scrooge from his reindeer and then turns back to Santa grabbing his foot. He’s too late though for Santa reaches the diamond and is able to freeze time! Or at least, he thinks he stopped time, but Scrooge corrects him and points out he’s actually slowed it down (for some reason, Scrooge and the reindeer are not affected, but the snowman is) so that its passage is almost imperceptible. Scrooge declares they’re running on Christmas time and the two embrace to celebrate.

We return to the present where Scrooge and Santa are laughing about their past experiences. Webby is surprised to see the two getting along so well, while Santa seems a bit disappointed they’ve arrived at the last house. Scrooge insists he can do this one alone leaving Webby to ask Santa what the deal is? When she pushes Santa to explain how these two red coat enthusiasts could have had a falling out, Santa replies it was the worst Christmas of his life.

A word of advice: never propose Scrooge do something for free when he’s drinking a hot beverage. Or any beverage.

Another flashback sees Santa sitting by a roaring fire. He’s in the elf home again, and a cheery Scrooge enters singing his own version of “Jingle Bells” swapping out “bells” for “coal.” It’s Christmas Eve and he takes a seat across from Santa and explains he has the whole route mapped out, plus carrots for the reindeer. When he says they leave at dawn, Santa sheepishly interrupts to suggest they leave tonight instead so that the people they deliver coal to can wake up to a surprise on Christmas morning. Scrooge playfully calls him an old softy and he reminds him that they can’t take payment for the coal if the customers are sleeping. Santa then, rather nervously, suggests they don’t take payment, but do it for free. Scrooge spits his coffee, or hot chocolate, in the bear’s face at the suggestion and angrily declares he will not participate in free handouts!

“It’ll never catch on!”

Santa tries to explain that they can’t charge people on Christmas. When he suggests that warming their hearts is enough, Scrooge returns that they’re warming their homes. He then calms himself down and tries to explain the plan to Santa in a way that he, Scrooge, understands it. They use Santa’s charms and “Christmas is magic,” routine to get people to let them in, then Scrooge sells them the coal. Santa insists that it’s not just a game to him, that Christmas IS magic. Scrooge clearly can’t reason with someone so selfless, so he resorts to an ultimatum. Either Santa do Christmas his way, or do it on his own. Santa looks sad, then we hard cut to Scrooge slamming the door behind him as he leaves the home insisting “It will never catch on!” Inside, Santa is upset and doubting himself, but the elves gather around him. They remove their hats and pointy ears pop up (yeah, we already figured that out) while the head elf adds “We can help.”

I hate to see Webby sad.

Santa is still sad about how things ended as we return to the present. Webby is despondent that Christmas is actually a sad story. Santa explains that this is why he was so happy to work with Scrooge again and then instructs Webby to look in the sack as there should be one last present inside: Scrooge’s. Only Webby does look inside the sack and finds it’s still full. Confused, she turns to Santa, but he seems to know what’s been going on, though he can scarcely believe it.

That’s one evil looking Scrooge.

As Santa wails “No, no, no!” we’re taken back to McDuck Manor. Louie is sneaking up muttering to himself that Santa won’t mind if he takes a little peek. He makes his way down to the tree and finds a gift marked for him. He opens it and immediately is enraged to find a lump of coal and an invoice. We then cut to a rather sinister looking Scrooge as he places the final lump and invoice into a box and prepares to descend the last chimney.

Ohh ok, he just wants to make kids literally warm.

Scrooge enters the house and monologues his reasoning here, which is sorely needed because he’s coming across as a true villain here. In his mind, kids don’t need trinkets that they play with for a day, they need something practical. Something like coal which can warm their home. And right on cue, he finds a cold house with a little pig girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) shivering on a nearby couch. He walks over to place her blanket back on her, but her eyes snap open and shouting “Stranger danger!” she nails Scrooge with a right hook. She then mistakes him for Santa and immediately starts apologizing. Scrooge takes it all in stride and hands over the present. As he goes on about the merits of warmth, she opens the box and finds the coal. She’s not particularly disappointed though as she takes the ribbon and wrapping paper and fashions a doll out of it with the lump of coal serving as the head. She cleverly names her new doll Colette and introduces herself as Jennifer. Scrooge, seemingly finding this whole routine absurd, suggests using the coal to warm the house, but Jennifer refuses insisting she loves her doll already!

Well, she’s happy now, but Scrooge sure isn’t.

Scrooge then walks over to a window trying to wrap his head around all of this. He claims when he was a kid he would have killed for a piece of coal at Christmas, even if it only warmed his home for one night. He then looks to Jennifer who no longer appears cold as she lovingly caresses her “doll.” He then finally gets it, remarking to himself that a warm heart can carry you through the coldest times. The mantra of Santa Claus. He returns to Jennifer’s side, who has fallen back to sleep, and is now able to place the blanket on her. He sits beside her and realizes that what he did this night was wrong. As he wonders aloud to himself how he can fix this, a pounding on the door causes it to fly open and a rather enraged Santa enters.

Ooo! I like this Santa!

Santa looks ready to rumble as he shouts out Scrooge’s crimes against Christmas. Webby even enters accusing Scrooge of ruining Christmas! Jennifer also wakes up and Santa immediately goes back into the nice routine and even hands over the Eleanor Roostervelt doll she requested. The girl goes back to sleep so the others can resume their argument. Scrooge deftly turns the situation around pointing out that Santa’s injury is fake and accuses him of knowingly ruining Christmas by putting it in his hands! Santa then comes clean explaining that he came up with the whole thing because he felt if Scrooge saw the joy that Christmas brings to children he’d end their feud and they could be friends again. Webby then sums it up by saying “Santa Claus was willing to risk Christmas,” allowing Scrooge to finish, “because he wanted to spend it with me.”

Now the rest of the cast get to have fun.

Santa and Scrooge seem to be having a rather heartfelt moment, but Webby is forced to point out that they’re at risk of blowing Christmas. Santa remarks the Feliz Navidiamond is nearly out of power as we see the sun start to rise. Scrooge, seemingly unconcerned, informs Claus he just needs to think practically and suggests the strategy divide and conquer. We cut to the whole crew, Della, Donald, Launchpad, etc. all riding reindeer through the sky! It would seem Christmas has been saved as Dewey announces the last gift has been delivered. Santa and Scrooge are sharing a reindeer and he informs Scrooge there’s still one more gift with Scrooge insisting it better be in Duckburg because he’s freezing! Santa snaps back at him using his own alliterative expression for Scrooge as he refers to him as a greedy, Glaswegian, grinch! He hands a small gift over to Scrooge as the last one is his. Scrooge opens the gift and finds a set of bells with the inscription across them “McDuck & Claus Delivery.”

Aww.

Scrooge remarks the sound of it doesn’t sound quite so annoying anymore. He then hands over the real last gift of Christmas: one for Santa. It looks like a key fob one would use with a car. Santa remarks it’s nice, but adds he doesn’t have a car. As the clouds part and Scrooge’s mansion comes into view, Scrooge instructs Claus to push the button. He does so, and Scrooge explains that all of the various Santa traps that adorn his mansion have been deactivated. Santa is welcome at his home anytime. Though he instructs him not to come down the chimney like some creep.

I love seeing the place decorated for Christmas.

Santa can’t even muster a response other than to embrace Scrooge. Webby then enters the picture to narrate the end of the episode allowing Scrooge to take it home with a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” Santa gets to add in some “Ho ho ho’s,” ending in a “Woah-oh!” as the reindeer all pass in front of the moon – the most appropriate way to end a Christmas special.

Santa gets in one more bear hug.

“How Santa Stole Christmas” is not as good a story as “Last Christmas,” but it is still a nice Christmas episode from DuckTales. It’s a little too maudlin at times, but the twist on the origins of Christmas as we know it are certainly fun. It makes sense that Scrooge would be philosophically opposed to doing business with someone whose business plan is to simply give everything away for free. The episode almost takes things too far though as the reveal that Scrooge has been delivering coal all night really paints the duck in a bad light. The episode is quick to explain Scrooge’s motivation as in his mind he’s doing the world a favor by gifting them something practical as opposed to trinkets, as he calls them. Though, there’s still the matter of the invoice. The Santa character is almost syrupy sweet, so it’s nice to see him get angry with Scrooge upon finding out what he’s been up to and the episode finds its emotional hook in the end.

And now we have nine reindeer.

Helping things along is Webby, who is always a standout character in this show. After giving Dewey the first Christmas episode to shine, it’s nice seeing one of the other kids step into the spotlight. The rest of the supporting cast is shoved aside in favor of the trio of Scrooge, Santa, and Webby. Della gets a couple of lines while Launchpad is allowed to ponder if he can crash a reindeer, but that’s largely it. Donald is present, but he doesn’t have a line. I suppose that’s fine considering he had a starring role in the prior special, though I always have to point out when Donald gets pushed to the side because, what can I say, I love that duck!

There are some terrific shots in this one.

The episode is animated as well as any other episode of the show with plenty of holiday flourishes to be found. I love the look of Scrooge’s home all decorated for the holiday and the elf home is certainly cozy and evocative of old fashioned Christmases. The giant snowman battle is impressive, and the shot from inside the creature’s mouth adds a feeling of dread to a moment that really shouldn’t have any since it’s a flashback and all. I also like the simple design of Santa. Again, it makes sense for him to be a polar bear in this world, and I think he may have appeared as such in a prior episode as a decoration or something. Either way, I clearly forgot until I saw him here. He’s giant, but looks rather cuddly. He sort of reminds me of my grandmother, especially when he starts trying to lay the guilt on Scrooge early in the episode.

If one DuckTales Christmas episode just isn’t enough, well it’s good that you have this one too. It’s a decent little mystery that mostly gets by on the emotional hook found in the end. And it’s also extremely accessible! Disney is likely to air this one on its family of cable networks, along with “Last Christmas,” and it might even be available on the Disney Now app. And if you have Disney+ it’s right there waiting for you. Considering we’re just a few days away from Christmas, you should probably get to it while there’s still time! After all, you’re likely not in possession of a Feliz Navidiamond.


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