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

Original air date December 20, 1999.

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

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

Not just a popular series of video games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Klump salutes his king.

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

Pictured: not candles.

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

Elton Klump.

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

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

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

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

Yikes! Candy Kong isn’t looking too hot.

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

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

Apparently DK seeks advice from a creepy statue often.

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

An alliance is forged!

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

Why would a crocodile have nipples?

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea what makes this thing so special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a sing-along time.

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

These guys are a lot faster than they look.

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

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

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

Time for Donkey Kong to explain the lesson he learned.

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

Aww, don’t they look cute together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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