Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

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Original air date December 6, 1993

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons, draws inspiration from the golden era of cartoons when guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng were making audiences laugh at the movie theater. The series is a cartoon variety show with the main characters consisting of the fictional Warner brothers and Warner sister:  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It paired them up with many other newcomers like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, and perhaps most famously the duo of Pinky and the Brain.

 

Animaniacs premiered on the Fox Kids network in the fall of 1993 and anchored Fox’s weekday afternoon lineup. Perhaps that’s why the producers and writers felt like they had room for multiple Christmas episodes. They aired back-to-back with a week of reruns in between with this one airing on December 6, 1993 and they were the last new episodes of the show to debut in 1993. Reruns took the Warners and Co. the rest of the way with new episodes premiering in 1994. Like a lot of Fox programs, the initial season was a direct to syndication order of 65 episodes with supplemental seasons tacked on. The show ran until 1998, finishing up on Kids’ WB after 99 episodes, and was followed by a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, which is coincidentally a Christmas affair. It seems odd that the show wasn’t given one additional episode to get it to 100, an achievement it certainly deserved, but maybe that’s why Wakko’s Wish exists.

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Want to make an episode feel special? Just dress-up the opening credits a bit.

Animaniacs mixes a lot of slapstick humor with satire of celebrity culture. There’s numerous musical segments, honestly more than I remembered when I went back and watched it, and lots of micro segments which many fans probably recall fondly. I’m speaking of the Good Idea/Bad Idea stuff or that little kid who likes to talk about some other person named Randy. It also poked fun at broadcast standards via the Wheel of Morality and is also quite notable for slipping a few risqué jokes past the censors (Finger Prince?). It wasn’t a cheap show and often featured some of the best animation and musical numbers on television. It feels like a show that couldn’t exist today because of this, but Hulu is reportedly bringing the show back in 2020. It remains to be seen what the show will look and sound like, but most of the original cast is back onboard and it’s hard to imagine Amblin Entertainment allowing the show to look worse than it did 20 years ago.

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What’s better than dressing up the opening title sequence? Adding an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation bumper! Gets me every time.

The very first segment of the first Christmas themed episode is the one we’re looking at today:  A Christmas Plotz. Plotz refers to the name of the fictional CEO of the Warner Bros. Company Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker). He is ostensibly the one responsible for ordering the Warners be locked away in their tower, as detailed during the show’s infectious opening. He’s a miserable old miser, so you can probably see where this is going. Can Animaniacs do a worthwhile parody of A Christmas Carol, or is this yet another forgettable retread? Let’s find out.

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Warner Studios all ready for Christmas.

The episode begins with the fake news reel explaining the origins of the Warner Bros. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were classic cartoon characters deemed too zany and crazy to exist. Their cartoons were blacklisted and they were sealed away, along with the Warners themselves, in the studio’s water tower. This news reel begins many episodes of the show, but this time it’s presented with snowflakes falling all around. These snowflakes carry over into the opening title sequence and I do love when shows dress-up their opening credits for Christmas! The Steven Spielberg cartoons were frequent contributors to such.

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Thaddeus Plotz is a man in need of some Christmas spirit.

When that business concludes, we begin the show. It’s Christmas time at the Warner Studios lot and some carolers are cheerily singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In his office, Thaddeus Plotz is not enjoying the festive singing. He opens his window to scream at them and fling fruit cake as well. It seems his subordinates all give him fruit cake at this time of year, even though he hates it (doesn’t everybody?). As he returns to his desk, his security guard Ralph (Welker) enters the office. Plotz instructs him not to sit down as this won’t take long, but Ralph interrupts him by going into a little prepared speech. It seems he expects this meeting to end with him receiving his Christmas bonus, and he thanks Mr. Plotz for letting him work there and presents him with yet another fruit cake. Ralph is the classic dumb guy cartoon archetype. He frequently starts sentences with “Ahh,” or “Duhh,” and adds random plurals onto certain words thus making him immediately sympathetic, which is important for what follows.

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This image makes me feel genuinely crushed.

When Ralph finishes his little speech and presents Plotz with the fruit cake the old man is able to put on a happy face briefly despite his disgust. He then holds up a line graph which apparently details rising costs directly tied to the damage caused by the Warners. It’s Ralph’s job to keep them in line, and he’s failed miserably. Plotz fires him on the spot, then wishes him a sincere-sounding Merry Christmas. As Ralph’s eyes well-up with tears, he slumps his shoulders and walks out.

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This one features a Slappy cameo, but sadly she’s the only one.

That night, Plotz is still busy in his office with budgetary matters. He’s recording a voice memo in which he mentions that in order to cut costs employees will soon be expected to provide their own toilet paper. As he finishes up, an apparition appears before him. It’s Slappy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner) in the Jacob Marley role. She’s mostly transparent and blueish with chains draped over her and isn’t particularly happy to be there. When a frightened Plotz demands to know why she’s here, she pulls out a notebook and reads her lines about him being visited by three ghosts. When he asks why, she tells him she doesn’t know as she lost the rest of the script. She then marches out of there grumbling about how she’s doing this for scale and remarks that she needs a new agent.

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Bring on the ghosts! First up is Wakko as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

With Slappy gone, Plotz thinks he hallucinated her due to working too hard. He drinks some water and then the phone on his desk begins to ring. He answers it and a spectral Wakko pops out of the receiver. He’s mostly blue save for his red nose and hat. He’s also dressed in a manner similar to the classic interpretation of Tiny Tim and immediately goes into a little musical number about taking a trip back to the past to see how Plotz got here. He sets up a little movie theater for the two and finishes his song with a kiss. The reel-to-reel projector is fired up as Wakko enjoys some popcorn and we’re taken to our first scene of the past.

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This is a pretty on-brand way for Wakko to present the past to Plotz.

It’s the birth of Thaddeus Plotz! His mother (Nancy Linari) is resting comfortably and seems quite content with her new babe, but then the doctor brings her the bill and little Thaddeus jumps up in anger. He’s still ticked about the whole spanking of the bum thing by the doc and informs him that he’ll be hearing from his lawyers. We’re then shown a five-year-old Plotz as he confronts a mall Santa surrounded by said attorneys to make his annual demands of St. Nick. He expects many gifts, including a horse, and Santa seems bewildered. The Plotz of the present then informs us he was gifted a pony that year and he still seems ticked off by it. Plotz demands this farce end, but Wakko then shows him another vision of the past, one he promises is the worst. This time he’s an adult and seated behind his current desk. He’s telling an old man (Maurice LaMarche) his services are no longer needed, despite him begging to be allowed to keep his job. That old man was his dad, and Plotz still sees nothing wrong with usurping the company from his old man as he allowed him to keep his medical benefits.

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You just knew they would utilize the present pun. Dot even feels the need to draw attention to it by pointing it out.

Wakko and his accessories then vanish as Plotz returns to his desk once again questioning if what he just saw was real or not. He sits down at his desk and blames his vision on bad cocktail weenies (because that food was considered inherently funny in the 90s, like cheese) when he notices a large present on his desk. He thinks it’s going to be another fruitcake, but a spectral Dot pops out dressed in old-timey clothes and demands to know who he’s calling a fruitcake. She also points out the pun of her being the Ghost of Christmas Present and popping out of a present. She too has a little song to sing, and as she kicks away the nameplate on Plotz’s desk we can see his own name was misspelled on it (Thadius), though I don’t think that’s a joke just an animation goof.

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Well, at least they’re happy.

Dot takes Plotz to a trailer park, and I bet you can guess who lives here. It’s the home of the recently fired Ralph who is seated in an easy chair trying to calm his son (Paulsen) who is irate with Plotz for firing his dad. He assures the boy that everything will be okay. The pair are summoned to dinner and we get to meet Mrs. Ralph who inexplicably looks and sounds exactly like her husband. Their kid seems well-adjusted and perfectly fine though, so he apparently hasn’t been ravaged by his incestuous origin. Mrs. Ralph is serving what they can afford for Christmas dinner:  Turkey Jell-O. It looks pretty terrible, but Ralph is excited to eat it while little Ralph Jr. is decidedly not happy about this current situation. He claims to the camera he’s adopted, and we believe him, and vows to get even with Mr. Plotz some day.

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And Yakko makes three.

Plotz is a bit unnerved by Ralph Jr’s hatred of him and wants out. He soon finds himself back in his office. He’s apparently accepted the reality of this evening as he’s now concerned about the arrival of the third ghost. The clock striking midnight and a thunderstorm brewing outside seem to spook him as he tries to call for security, forgetting momentarily that Ralph was security. He then tries to leave, but finds the door locked. Turning around, he screams when he sees the third ghost. A being resembling the Grim Reaper approaches, sickle and all. It pins him to the door and says his name in a deep, hollow, voice as it extends a boney finger towards Plotz’s throat.

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Yakko’s song and dance number is certainly elaborate, but is it funny? Eh…

Yakko then emerges from the robes to announce he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. He ditches the spooky stuff and sports a tuxedo as he goes into an elaborate song and dance routine announcing his arrival and intentions. It’s complete with female dancers (voiced by Carol Lombard, Kimberly Fligsten, Brianne Lepon, and Sara Ford) which Yakko hits on mercilessly while Plotz is dragged around and forced to keep pace. Yakko slips in insults here and there while Plotz drops his fear for a minute to just get angry and annoyed. The presence of the women allow Yakko to work in his “Hello, nurse” catchphrase, and the whole thing ends with Yakko tossing Plotz off of the magical stairs that appeared to land in an armchair. I do not know if this song is a direct parody of anything, but Yakko does go into a brief Groucho bit for a moment.

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I wonder who that guy could be?

With both Yakko and Plotz seated comfortably, Plotz looks around and realizes they’re still in his office. Only now it’s not his office. Yakko directs Plotz’s attention to the new man in charge, an angry guy with a huge, bald, head. He’s yelling about Urkel looking ridiculous with his pants pulled up so high at his age as he’s on the phone with someone. He slams it down and returns to his work and Yakko points out to Plotz that this man is actually Ralph Jr. all grown up. It seems he did get his revenge on Plotz, as we soon find out his fate. Unlike Scrooge, Plotz is still alive in this future, but he has suffered a fate worse than death. He’s been made the new Ralph and tasked with keeping the Warners in line. He looks mostly the same, only he has an unkempt mane of gray hair and his eyes are a bit sunken looking.

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Old man Plotz is forced to try and keep pace with the Warners. It’s actually pretty impressive a man of his age can do this much.

Plotz is horrified by the sight, and it only gets worse. The Warners then show up to taunt him, and as he chases after them with a net Ralph Jr. emerges from his window to call down to him. He admonishes him for not catching them, and when Plotz informs Ralph that they’re too fast, he unceremoniously fires the old man punctuating it with a cheerful “Merry Christmas,” just as he did to his father years ago. The future Plotz walks away disheartened, while present Plotz begins to pout and cry.

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The ghosts may be done, but the Warners still have a role to play.

Plotz soon realizes he’s back in his office. It’s Christmas morning, and now he has his chance for atonement. He kisses his desk when he realizes where he is and races over to the window. He goes into the usual routine as he calls out to some kids asking what day it is. It’s the Warners in their holiday threads, only now they’re not blue ghosts. They tell him it’s Christmas Day, and Dot remarks to the camera how he’s not too bright. Plotz then throws down a sack of money and tells them to go buy the biggest fruit cake they can find and deliver it to Ralph’s house. He even tells them to keep the change. Wakko declares that they’re rich and the trio grab the money and run.

 

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Plotz never really atones for his mistake, he just tries to cover it up.

At Ralph’s trailer, the whole place is bouncing up and down with Christmas cheer. The family is singing around their 8″ tall tree when a knock at the door disturbs their celebration. Ralph Jr. answers it to find it’s Plotz armed with a stack of presents. He barges in and demands to know why he’s hearing that Ralph left the studio. A confused Ralph points out that he fired him, but Plotz corrects him by saying he inspires him! He then charms Mrs. Ralph, before turning his attention to Ralph Jr. He begs the boy not to take over the studio, and then tries to bribe him with a pony. The kid demands a horse instead and Plotz makes an expression that basically says, “I deserved that.”

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Grovel, you swine!

Another knock at the door gets Plotz’s attention and he opens it to find the Warners. They tell him they brought the fruit cake and an excited Plotz races outside wanting to know where it is. They tell him they got the biggest they could find, and they weren’t kidding. A helicopter delivers a massive fruit cake, and drops the two-story monstrosity right on top of Plotz. His feet stick out from under it and all we can hear is unintelligible ranting. The Warners jump on top armed with spoons and assure him they can have him out by Easter. Wakko then wishes us all a merry Christmas as the sound of Christmas bells take us out of the segment.

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A fitting punishment for a lifetime of dickish behavior.

And that’s it for “A Christmas Plotz.” It’s followed by a musical number based on The Little Drummer Boy in which the Warners assume the role of the drummer and lead us through a fairly straight interpretation of the tale. It’s not particularly memorable, but if you like your Christmas with a side of Jesus then it’s probably right up your alley.

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The Warners get the last word, per usual.

“A Christmas Plotz” is pretty entertaining, as most cartoons starring the Warners tend to be. It’s a bit disappointing that a show as creative as Animaniacs went in this direction though as it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the old story truncated to 12 minutes or so and punctuated with jokes. The jokes are fairly easy, but still humorous. It’s still fair to question whether or not we ever needed Animaniacs to go this route. An original Christmas story would have been preferable, but obviously more work. I suppose I’m glad the Warners were thrust into the ghost role as opposed to that of the Cratchits. Maybe another holiday parody would have worked better? The slapstick nature of Home Alone would have lent itself well to the show, or maybe just have the Warners run wild through Santa’s workshop? A Christmas Carol parody is the lowest rung on the holiday special ladder, and I just can’t help but feel that this show is better than this. At least this show looks great as this particular episode was entirely animated by the renowned TMS Entertainment. Episodes of this show really don’t come any better in terms of looks than what you’ll see here.

img_0461Thankfully, if you want to spend the holidays with the cast of Animaniacs you have other options. There’s the episode that follows this which is less cohesive, but pretty fun. There’s also a Christmas cartoon starring Slappy featured in the penultimate episode of the show that’s fodder for a future countdown. And there’s also the previously mentioned Wakko’s Wish if you want to spend an even longer amount of time with the gang at Christmas. That feature has the added appeal of making use of the full ensemble so it’s a bit like a celebration or grand finale for the show. If you’re really into the show though, you’ll probably just want to watch all of them. And if so, don’t forget the excellent Pinky and the Brain holiday special!

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This cartoon is fine, but the episode that follows makes better use of the entire cast making it my preferred Christmas episode of the two.

If you do indeed wish to invest some of your Christmas viewing time into Animaniacs then it’s pretty easy to do so. The entire show is available to purchase on physical media or through digital means. By far, the easiest way though is via Hulu which has the entire series plus the movie on it. It also has other Spielberg cartoons so you can really indulge in some 90s animation and basically all of them feature a Christmas special or two. There’s certainly room for Animaniacs at Christmas time, so hopefully you find an episode that works for you.


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