When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.
Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.
In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.
One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.
In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?
Captain N: The Game Master
Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.