After four relatively solid entries this year, I feel like we need to take a look at something that has the potential to be truly awful. In the 80s and early 90s Hanna-Barbera was still trying to remain current while it moved away from the shoddily animated mysteries and animated sitcoms of its past. Its solution for remaining current was to bizarrely adapt the 17th century novel Don Quixote into a show about anthropomorphic animals, in this case changing the title character to Don Coyote (Frank Welker). His sidekick Sancho Panza was now Sancho Panda (Don Messick) though the crux of the story remains surprisingly similar to the source material. Don Coyote is a wandering knight who wishes to do good deeds for the people he encounters. His intentions may be noble, but his imagination runs wild causing him to mistake ordinary objects like windmills for massive dragons. Rather than help people, he tends to make a big mess of anything he touches and has to make make-up for that before the episode’s conclusion. He’s constantly oblivious to his own psychosis, but most of the people around him aren’t, especially his horse Rosinante (Brad Garrett) and Sancho’s donkey Dapple (Welker) who get to be the mouthpiece for the audience in a, “Here we go again,” sort of way.
The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda is not particularly well-remembered and no one seems to care that it was at one-time a thing. As a result, determining when this episode originally aired is almost impossible and I can only say it aired sometime in December 1991 as the show’s 25th episode and part of season 2. “Don Coyote and the Christmas Bell” begins with our heroes stumbling upon a small village as Christmas descends on the area. The locals are moving a large bell to the bell tower and having a tough go of it when Don Coyote mistakes it for a monster or something and smashes it. They’re all pretty irate, while a young boy has a case of hero-worship at meeting Don Coyote. Don Coyote does not realize he did anything wrong, but does notice the broken bell and vows to find the town a new one in time for Christmas. The villagers aren’t having any more of Don Coyote, and they toss him off a cliff forcing his horse to run underneath him to give him a soft landing. Don Coyote mistakes this as a kindness assuming they were showing him a shortcut and vows to return with a new bell.
As Don Coyote and Sancho Panda ride off, a dastardly pirate has just stolen a rather large sum of gold. He speaks as if he’s a recurring character and uses a relatively cliché form of pirate-speak. I think he also says his name but I can’t make it out. One of his men reminds him that he’ll never get all of this gold they swiped from the king past the guards, forcing the captain to come up with a plan. They melt the gold down and fashion it into a giant golden bell. He and his men then disguise themselves as monks to carry the bell wherever it is they’re taking it, until they hear of Don Coyote’s approach. The pirate captain remarks that Don Coyote is the crazy knight who destroyed his pirate ship and forced him to this life of crime on land, so we’re apparently supposed to be familiar with him. While I did watch this show as a kid, I can’t say I remember anything about specific plots.
Don Coyote thinks these humble monks need an escort, and they try to get him to go away, but he won’t hear of it. They go along with it, while back at the village, everyone grumbles about not wanting to ever hear of, or see, Don Coyote again while the one little kid tries to convince them otherwise. Some physical comedy ensues as one man falls down a hill and drops all of the pieces of the bell and it settles into the shape of Don Coyote. Another village just keeps making sarcastic quips and he sounds exactly like Brainy Smurf.
Meanwhile, the pirate leader tries to get rid of Don Coyote. He has one of his men tell Don Coyote that there is trouble up ahead at another bell tower and Don Coyote races off to help. There he finds the pirate leader at the top of the tower, and seeing nothing wrong, calls for Sancho to help him down. With his back turned, the pirate tries to boot Don Coyote out of the tower, but misses and he falls to the ground. He remarks to the camera (so much fourth wall breaking in Hanna-Barbera stuff) “Well, at least we know the fall wouldn’t have killed him,” for our first genuinely amusing line of the show. Surprisingly, it won’t be the last.
At the village once more, the villagers have reassembled the bell and it looks like a real piece of shit. Still, they seem pleased enough. Not content to just let others think what they will of Don Coyote, the little boy from before rides around acting like the swordsman and inadvertently destroys the bell once more. He’s doing a good job of realizing his dream.
Back on the road, the pirate captain is scheming to rid himself of Don Coyote once again and has created a rope trap that looks like a hammock. He complains of his bones being weary and Don Coyote proposes they take a break. The captain leads the pair to his hammock trap, and insists he and Sancho have a seat. When Don Coyote refuses, suggesting the captain is far more tired than he, the pirate shoves him into it and his man cuts the rope. The two soar through the air undaunted, Don Coyote enjoying the ride while Sancho is indeed concerned. They collide with a docked pirate ship’s sail (I thought the guy said his ship was destroyed?) which sends them back from where they came. As the pirate captain celebrates, he’s then horrified to see the pair returning as they crash into him and all three land back in the hammock which has been inexplicably reset. His man then cuts the rope once more, for who knows why, and the trio are launched into a tree. The pirate captain appears ready to give up the golden bell and his other treasures, until he notices that Don Coyote and Sancho are stuck high up in the tree. He drops down delighted as Don Coyote urges them to push onward to deliver the bell to the village and not to worry about their predicament.
Next we get some brief sequences. First, we check in on that kid and he’s actually praying for Don Coyote’s success while his mom orders him to bed. The pirates are then shown loading the bell onto a small rowboat and affixing that to their ship. All the while Don Coyote and Sancho Panda sleep in the tree, while Rosinante and Dapple (the horse and donkey, in case you forgot) talk about how it’s all up to them once again. They use the hammock trap to fling themselves through the air at the tree knocking Don Coyote and Sancho from it. They land on their trusty steeds while still soaring through the air crashing down on the rowboat with the bell. The force of their landing causing it to detach from the main ship, and they decide to take the bell back to the village themselves, feeling the monks have done all they can (Don Coyote is still oblivious to the fact that they’re actually pirates).
As they row through the night, they realize they don’t know where they’re going. Sancho says they need to head north, but doesn’t know which way north is. Don Coyote suggests he just have faith and says they should follow the only star in the night sky, deeming it the north star. The young boy is then shown waiting by the shore at sunrise and his mom scolds him once more to come in out of the cold and to stop waiting for things that aren’t going to happen. The rowboat then makes land rather violently, and the boy and his mother call for help.
On the beach, the capsized vessel needs to be lifted and the villagers begin raising it once they hear someone from underneath it. As they lift it, the boy peers under and sees Don Coyote. He shouts with excitement about his discovery, causing the villagers to insist they cease lifting the boat. Don Coyote then shouts they have the bell and the villagers reluctantly free the trapped knight and marvel at the shiny, golden, bell. The whiney villager who sounds like Brainy Smurf (I can only assume he is voiced by Danny Goldman) says they’ll never haul that bell up to the tower before Christmas (it’s now Christmas Eve) while the message of the episode is now coming through loud and clear – have faith.
They drag the bell up the steep hill to the village and it’s now nightfall, only 15 minutes until Christmas. As the villagers prepare to raise the bell to the tower, the pirates show up and put a musket in Don Coyote’s ear. Now dressed in their traditional pirate attire, Don Coyote still mistakes them for monks and declares everyone welcome their generous benefactors. The rest of the village is skeptical, but the pirate captain turns his attention to the bell and gives a hearty laugh pointing out that thing will never ring because it’s solid gold (though, he withholds the part about it being solid gold). The villagers strike it and it makes just a thud before angrily turning on Don Coyote. As he approaches the bell he trips and smacks his head on it breaking the scaffolding surrounding it and causing a loud “dong” to ring out. Now the villagers cheer Don Coyote and even the pirates. As the villagers hoist the pirate captain in the air triumphantly, he confesses he likes the good attention and decides they can keep the bell, he’ll find gold elsewhere. Don Coyote and Sancho ride off into the sunrise echoing the sentiments about fate or something.
I set out looking for a bad Christmas Special and I’d say I mostly found one in “Don Coyote and the Christmas Bell.” It contains the same shoddy animation Hanna-Barbera was known for during this era with some cheap sound design as well. The voice actors are ones you have heard before, though I couldn’t find credits for this particular episode. They’re professional, but rely on a lot of clichés from the era and everyone basically sounds like another character from one of the other many Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the era, like the Brainy Smurf clone, for example. Don Messick also uses a mildly offensive accent for Sancho Panda, but Hanna-Barbera was never known for casting minority actors to voice minority roles.
What I did like about this episode is just how much the villagers despised Don Coyote. It was rather amusing to hear them openly wish for his death and to see them actually attempt to murder him by tossing him off a cliff. Don Coyote is an annoying character, and he’s intentionally so. He speaks in an annoying cartoon accent, the kind of accent that only exists in cartoons, that’s best described as dumb-speak. It’s bizarre that someone thought a character this annoying should function as a lead, because even as a kid I remember not really liking him when I watched (though strangely I can also remember playing Don Coyote and forcing my little sister to role-play as Sancho) this show, as infrequently as that may have been.
This special is also somewhat light on Christmas. We know it takes place in the days leading up to Christmas and there’s some light traces of snow on the backgrounds. There’s not much else though until the closing scenes when getting the bell back to town in time for the holiday becomes more urgent. The message of faith is then amplified, though it was there from the start in the form of the little boy who keeps faith that Don Coyote will find a new bell. The “miracle” of Don Coyote making a solid gold bell ring is kind of dumb, even though I saw it coming a mile away. I have no idea if a solid gold bell could ring though. It would make for a great conductor of electricity so maybe that bell tower will get hit by lightning and burn that whole village to the ground. A fitting postscript, indeed.
What intrigues me about this show is just how did it come to be? Did someone just hear the name Don Quixote and say “That kind of sounds like ‘coyote,'” which would be a stupid premise for a show, but this is Hanna-Barbera. Maybe someone actually had a genuine affection for that old story and wanted to share it with children? Or maybe someone was familiar with the tale of Don Quixote and felt it could work as a children’s cartoon? It’s honestly not a terrible, if unconventional, thought. It still kind of amazes me though that this exists.
If for some reason you still wish to watch this one yourself then your only option is via the internet. If you search for The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda on YouTube you’ll find it labeled as episode 25. This is another show that no one is trying to profit off of in 2018 so the only thing keeping it offline is the actual public, who probably shouldn’t care about this show either. Watch it only if you’re really curious.
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