This past weekend, my daughter and I found ourselves with an afternoon together. This happens from time-to-time since kids often have their own social commitments necessitating one parent go with them and in this case it was my son and my wife going over to the home of one of his friends for a Memorial Day gathering. My daughter probably could have gone along, but she knew it meant that her and I would do something together. Last time this happened, we saw The Super Mario Bros.Movie (I didn’t review it, despite intending to, but it’s fine) so she wanted to go to the movies again. Despite having no interest after seeing the trailer, my daughter settled on the new version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for a matinee viewing. I, personally, have not enjoyed any of the live-action remakes that Disney has made that I’ve seen so I wasn’t excited to see the film, but it wasn’t my choice to make. I went online, bought tickets, and…wait…this movie is two and half hours long?!?
I reviewed The Little Mermaid (1989) almost 10 years ago and it was a pretty positive review. Since then, I feel like my affection for that movie has only grown. It’s a tight story that’s wonderfully animated and has some really catchy musical numbers to put it over the top. It’s a delight and ranks rather high for me among the all-time Disney greats. Lately, Disney has found a lot of financial success with their live-action remakes of classic films. Critically, it seems few have been embraced, but movie-goers are apparently excited by them. I saw the first couple and found little to enjoy. These are almost all stories older than any of the folks working on them or seeing them, so retellings I am not against. It’s the act that they’re just remaking their movies, not reimagining them in any significant way. And since they are so similar to what came earlier, the only creative difference seems to be a desire to just add more. More backstory, more songs, more filler, which just makes them longer and more of a slog, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw how long this new remake was.
Disney choosing to remake these movies also has another unintended consequence in that they feel like replacements. 2D animation has been rapidly disappearing from the world over the past two decades and only recently has it started to make a comeback. And those comebacks are mostly relegated to television or streaming and are not done with ink and paint on celluloid. That’s never coming back, but at least we’re getting some variety today, though still not really when we go to the cinema. Those who love 2D animation done in a classical style feel threatened by these remakes, and it’s easy to see why. If the film is damn near perfect already, why do we need a remake? In truth, it’s not about erasure of any kind and it’s just capitalism. These movies are basically already scripted, there’s a screenplay to go off of, and they’re cheaper to make and seem to have a fantastic return on investment.
All of that being said, I watched the latest version of The Little Mermaid from Disney and it’s okay. To make this short, it’s not as good as the 1989 version and even if it was animated it still wouldn’t be nearly as good. The added length comes largely from the movie wanting to remove all subtlety from the original (and I use the term “original” loosely since the original Hans Christian Anderson tale is far older, but when I use the word I’m explicitly talking about the 1989 version). We now have to know that, yes, Ariel’s voice possesses a siren like charm, her mother was killed by humans, and Eric is essentially just like her. He’s basically imprisoned in his own castle and gets his own “I want” song so that we can see that they’re two sides of the same coin, young people yearning to find their place in the world.
Ariel is played by Halle Bailey, and maybe because someone noticed that The Little Mermaid features only a fraction of its running time with the main character a mermaid, there’s definitely more of that this time. This film is considered live-action, but much of the action under the sea is computer generated on a green screen. Bailey was motion-caped for these, but almost her entire body is computer generated. The same is true of her sisters with some looking more “CG’d” than others. Bailey has also been blessed with some natural curves to her physique and it looks like Disney may have even toned them down on her and her sisters. Perhaps someone got a little shy when they realized their lead would be mostly naked for large portions of the film. Other sources of criticism at the character design relies in the supporting cast with Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle (Awkwafina) all boasting a more realistic appearance that lacks in charm. Sebastian seems to be getting the most backlash from what I’ve seen since it’s hard to make a crab look cute, though I found Flounder’s expressionless visage even less appealing.
The underwater segments mostly look fine, though they lack the color of the original. The appearance of the characters and the setting is inconsistent. The hair of mermaids all flows like its under water, while objects casually discarded by Ariel fly through the scene without any impediment. Ariel thumbs through a book that appears to be perfectly dry, which in fairness happened in the original film, but why repeat the same mistake? The mermaids also all seem to be designed as nude with their bodies only covered by scales where as King Triton (Javier Bardem) wears full armor now that just looks cold and impersonal. Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) is wearing this lacy dress for her top that looks out of place since it always looks dry. Aside from that critique, I think McCarthy’s Ursula looks the part well enough and she even got an upgrade to 8 tentacles over the 6 she had in the prior film.
The other half of the film takes place on land and is the domain of our prince, Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), who wants to restore the port of his island kingdom to its former glory. He’s the adopted son of the queen (Noma Dumezweni) and he came to be adopted as the result of a shipwreck. This gives the queen a distrust of the denizens of the sea while Ariel’s father conveniently hates humans. The kingdom they inhabit isn’t given a name (or I missed it), but it appears to be located somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s not particularly well-developed, but there is some effort to inject more culture into the scenery.
The plot follows the same general beats as the 1989 version. There are no vast changes to the story, and the only thing subtracted is the comical scene in the kitchen between Sebastian and the French chef. Maybe they felt it just wouldn’t work in live-action? Director Rob Marshall apparently didn’t see the wisdom in altering things further as some moments from the animated version just don’t play as well in live-action. In particular, Ariel’s iconic pose atop the rock when she declares her intentions to inhabit Eric’s world. It’s tremendously dramatic in animation, but in live-action looks about as convincing as your sister jumping out of the pool declaring the same. For me, musicals in general are harder for me to take-in when filmed in live-action. Eric’s song, in particular, was just too much for me and I would have cut the whole thing.
Which brings me to the songs. All of the classics are here, well excepting the kitchen scene, and they’re redone in a mostly faithful way. Some of the words to “Kiss the Girl” were altered for consent reasons, but the melody is still there and it’s a nothing sort of change. Ariel sings along to “Under the Sea” now, which doesn’t make a ton of sense narratively, but Bailey sounds nice alongside Daveed so I suppose that’s reason enough for it. There’s some additional songs added as well, such as Ariel singing inside her head when on land (they just couldn’t have their star say nothing for 45 minutes) and a song Scuttle gets to sing that felt forced. None of the new songs are going to hold a candle to the big four from the original, but the only one that tries is Eric’s song. Bailey is a very gifted singer, and while I still prefer Jodi Benson’s “Part of Your World” (and Benson is in this one, keep your eyes open), that’s not because Bailey’s is really inferior.
I feel like I’m mostly complaining so let’s wrap this up. If you find yourself with a kid looking to see a movie this summer should you go see The Little Mermaid? Eh, you could do worse. The original is almost perfect, so this one was never going to be as good. The story is still there, and the actors perform well with what they’re given. The final battle has been criticized for being too dark, but I found it easy to follow. Maybe if I had never seen the original though I would have felt different. The songs will delight the young and old alike and at least the one benefit of the long running time is we get to spend more time getting to know these characters. Ariel is very likeable, and the rest of the cast performs well enough. Oddly, I felt Bailey and Hauer-King had great chemistry together when Ariel was stricken without a voice, but it all crumbled after it returned making the payoff of the film feel flat. At any rate, my daughter enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it. I’ll probably never watch it again as long as I have access to the 1989 version, but I’m not a young girl with brown skin. And considering all of the response I’ve seen from young girls (and older ones) fitting that description to Bailey’s Ariel then I think it’s safe to say that this live-action remake, more than most, has certainly justified its existence. That’s something that shouldn’t be ignored or taken away.
Come 1989, Disney was back on top both critically and financially as a movie studio. Oliver & Company, while not wowing many movie buffs, was a commercial success and one of Disney’s biggest in years while Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was able to secure near universal praise for its combination of animation and live-action. Even…
The Walt Disney Company has been producing animated features for 80 years now. In that time, the company has released 55 films with a 56th on the way later this year and others in development. I’m only talking about the animated ones, because if you add in live-action and all of the films released by…
This past December, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs turned 80. On December 21, 1937 the world was introduced to feature-length animation. Well, maybe not the world since that date was just the premiere. It wasn’t until February 4, 1938 that the rest of the United States was introduced to the picture. The…
Last year saw the release of a brand new film in the Dragon Ball franchise: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. The mouthful of a title was a bit of a throwback affair. It seemed that Toei and series creator Akira Toriyama wanted to use the film to return the spotlight to Gohan and Piccolo, two characters who had been sidelined in Dragon Ball Super in favor of the two Saiyan boys, Goku and Vegeta. The film also marked the return of longtime adversary the Red Ribbon Army and with it came two new androids for the good guys to pummel: Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. I’m not sure if there was an embargo on the new characters when it came to action figures or if Bandai just wanted to give fans a chance to see the characters in action first, but two new figures of the pair were introduced via the Premium Bandai route and recently started shipping. These are made-to-order figures sold exclusively by Bandai direct to consumer. Presumably, there’s a bit of a crowd-fund element at play, similar to what we see with Super7, whereby if not enough orders came in then the project would get scrapped, but evidently that didn’t happen. Perhaps Bandai also sees softer sales with either movie characters or new ones which is why this pair went the “premium” route. The inclusion of added parts for Gohan with each figure also adds to the feeling that maybe confidence in the pair wasn’t super high. The two were at least priced in a more reasonable window at $70 a piece. While this is a lot higher than the retail releases for the film of Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, and Piccolo, they also feels like bigger releases as they come with a lot more stuff and they’re not reused molds from past figures. They do basically share all of the same parts save for the heads which is why I’m going to review them together.
The Gamma boys come in the traditional window box packaging the S.H.Figuarts line is known for. There’s product shots, or renders, combined with a gold backdrop that seems to be part of the Super Hero theming. Out of their respective boxes, Gamma 1 and 2 stand at approximately 5.75″ to the top of their heads not including their stylish fins. And those fins are the main things that distinguish the pair as Gamma 1 has one, center, fin on his head while Gamma 2 has, appropriately enough, two fins set off to the side. The only other thing that separates them is their choice in color for the cape and the number on their chest. Sculpt-wise, the bodies are entirely the same save for the head. Both characters have a dark gray skin tone with a light gray face. They have a bit of a shark thing going on with their heads and the circular ears do give them a distinctive Toriyama feel to their design. Their bodies are clothed in a soft yellow military suit which is all unpainted plastic. The only paint on these guys is reserved for the buttons on the double-breasted jacket and the cuffs of the sleeves along with the painted numeral on the chest. And that paint is not that well done. The buttons look cheap and the edgework is not the sharpest. The actual yellow portions of the suit are okay. It’s mostly matte, but the softer plastic for the bottom of the coat does have a different look to it than the harder plastic bits. The knees and elbows are a touch darker than the rest, but it probably won’t be that noticeable on a shelf. I would also argue the shade is a touch off to the source material. These guys have more of a mustard to the yellow in comparison with the film. There is the customary Red Ribbon logo on the left shoulder and that looks clean, but overall, the paint is not a strong suit here.
The rest of the aesthetics are generally good. The faces look appropriate and I like the height of the characters for the line. The boots have a very glossy appearance, but that seems intentional given their presentation in the film. The cape is hard plastic with a hinge which I think looks mostly fine. I wasn’t crazy about the segmented cape on the Proud Namekian Piccolo so I don’t mind the simpler approach here. The only thing I’m not crazy about are the shoulders as they do the Goku thing of having part of the material just pinned on. With Goku, I don’t like it, but I always understood it to a degree because he has short sleeves that extend onto his shoulder. Here, it’s a suit that just has shoulder pads and a V shape to it so I wish they just left it alone. I don’t think it would have reduced the articulation in a meaningful way and it would have looked better. I find myself fussing with these shoulder pieces more than I would like as I try to hide gaps and get them into a more natural pose.
With that in mind, lets just jump to the articulation since both figures are the same and then we’ll talk about the accessories. Both figures use a ball-hinge for the head connected with a ball-peg system at the base of the neck. I don’t know why they did it this way, but it sure is annoying. You will have to manipulate the direction the hinge is face if you want more nuance posing, but they can look down and rotate and the lower neck joint helps to add more character. It can get a little gappy though if you tilt it back too far. Doing so with the hinge in the proper orientation and in conjunction with the hinged-ball peg system of the diaphragm can get both figures into a good flying pose. That diaphragm joint also provides rotation and tilt, though you do have to be mindful of the chest buttons when crunching forward. The shoulders are hinged ball pegs so they have some play at that peg while also being able to rotate all around and lift up past a horizontal position. The shoulder pad ruffle, or whatever you want to call it, pegs in and can be pushed aside. There is a butterfly joint here as well which can bring the arms pretty much clear across the chest. It does expose some gaps in the back as butterfly joints tend to do, but it’s not as hideous as some others and the colors are consistent at least. There is a biceps swivel and the double-jointed elbows will bend all the way forward as these guys have pretty thin arms. At the wrist, the usual hinged ball peg is present that allows for plenty of rotation.
At the waist, we get another hinged ball peg so these guys can rotate and tilt. The floating belt does get in the way so you don’t get maximum crunch, but working in tandem with the diaphragm joint should give you enough forward and back. The bottom of the jacket is done with multiple, soft, pieces of plastic so it doesn’t impede the legs from kicking forward way past horizontal or stop the figure from doing splits. They also lack a true posterior so they can kick all the way back. There is a thigh swivel which is conveniently hidden by the coat and the double-jointed knees bend well past 90 degrees. The ankles are on ball joints so you get plenty of range going back, some forward, and rocker, but it’s not the prettiest sight as it tends to make the figures look like their feet are separate from their shin. It’s probably not as noticeable on the shelf as it is in hand, but it is what it is. There’s also a toe hinge, if that’s something you like and it seems like it’s fairly tight so it actually has some worth. There’s also the hinge in the cape so you can raise it out behind the figure for a more windswept look. It does make them slightly harder to stand, but not impossible. It just pegs in so you do get a little side-to-side pivot as well, but not a whole lot. It’s mostly going to lay relatively flat or blow out behind the figure.
All in all, I would say the Gamma brothers move quite well. There are some sacrifices taken with the aesthetic to achieve that, but I think most will be content with the tradeoff. The only thing I don’t love are the shoulders, the rest I’m fine with. And that articulation will come in handy as both figures come with a variety of hands and heads to add some life to a display. For Gamma 1, we get a neutral portrait, one with a crooked mouth indicating displeasure, one with his teeth showing in a bit of a grin, a yelling portrait, and a yelling portrait where one eye is larger than the other indicating some distress. They are all separate heads, so no faceplates with these guys. For hands, Gamma 1 has fist hands, open hands, chop hands, and a set of trigger finger hands. Those work with his little blaster sidearm of which he has two. One to wield, and one with a peg in the front so it can be holstered. The gun is painted reasonably well, but I wish it had a blast effect or at least a peg hole for one to be added. Gamma 1 also comes with a set of crossed arms which peg in at the biceps swivel. It’s a bit of a pain to get on and get both sides inserted. My pictures will illustrate how successful I was there. Gamma 2’s accessories are mostly similar, but also a little different. He gets one less head as he has a neutral head, yelling head, teeth-showing grin, and a side-eyed smirk. He has all of the same hands and the two blasters as Gamma 1, plus a set of “devil horn” hands. He does not have the crossed-arm piece.
Both figures also come with stuff for the Super Hero Gohan figure released earlier last year. With Gamma 1, we get a Super Saiyan head for Gohan. It has a very pale, yellow, color for the hair that has no shading or paint whatsoever. It’s a bit odd looking as a result. It looks like a nice base for Super Saiyan hair, but I definitely would prefer it to have some shading to bring it to life. There are three faceplates included for it: neutral, yelling, and a teeth-gritting expression. They look nice, though Gohan does have the issue of a lack of bangs with his Super Saiyan look so the sideburns had to be painted onto the faces. It doesn’t match the yellow plastic of the hair and there’s a bit of an ugly seem line unfortunately where the face meets the head that usually we can’t see. With Gamma 2, we get another Gohan head, but this one has his hair blowing all over the place like he’s powering up and he’s also wearing his glasses. They lack lenses, but otherwise look pretty nice. To complete the look and scene this was pulled from, he also has his cape and shoulder pads. They’re done differently than what we saw with Piccolo as the plastic is very soft for the shoulder pads and the cape is in one piece. There’s a hinge for the cape, but unfortunately it’s too weak to support the weight of the cape so there’s not much that can be done with it. It also doesn’t like to sit flush on Gohan’s shoulders which gets annoying. I should also add, the hair on both Gohan heads is very stiff and spiky which helps make it look as good as it can be, but it sure can hurt too to swap!
If you watched Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and came away from that experience wanting action figures of Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 then I think you’ll be happy with what Bandai released here. Once again, the whole “premium” concept when it comes to Premium Bandai isn’t really evident in the quality versus what we’re getting at regular retail, but rather reflects the more limited nature of the characters. With better paint, these two figures would be stellar, but as they are they’re still quite good and among the better Dragon Ball releases that I have. They move well, look nice enough, and come with a boatload of accessories. It seems like the whole tack on some extra stuff for other figures approach only began with these two as other figures from Premium Bandai are being sold with more parts for Gohan, in particular. It’s a fun approach for those who are all-in, but it sucks for someone who wants a Super Saiyan Gohan, but isn’t interested in getting Gamma 1. And those parts of the release are just okay. I think the Super Saiyan look is fine and with some shading would be potentially great. The glasses and cape look is more niche and less successful. It’s fun, but am I going to choose to display Gohan like this instead of the other looks? That’s a harder sell. I suppose he’ll pair nicely with Piccolo in the same sort of attire.
As mentioned previously, these guys retailed for $70 and were P-Bandai exclusives. Other retailers were free to order them just like anybody else, but that also means they were paying 70 bucks as well so they have to charge more than that in order to make any money on the sale. If you missed out on the original purchasing window then prepare to pay over $100 now for each figure. At $70 a piece, I think they’re worth it and I’m even tempted to get another Gohan (but I probably won’t) to make use of the extra parts. At over $100 each they’re a harder sell. If you only want the Gohan parts, maybe try eBay? It seems unlikely that someone interested in Gamma 1 or 2 would have no interest in Super Saiyan Gohan, but maybe there are some folks out there just looking to offset some of the cost of getting the new characters. More likely, you’ll be able to find people looking to offload Gamma 1 and 2 without the Gohan parts so maybe there will be some opportunities to score a set for closer to their original MSRP under certain conditions. I think they’re good enough on their own without the Gohan accessories, but those do help sweeten the pot. If you’re out on the hunt then I wish you good luck!
Need a primer on Gamma 1 and 2 or want to see more of those Gohan and Piccolo figures? Look no further:
As part of the promotion for the film Dragon Ball Super – Super Hero, Bandai released a wave of action figures from its S.H. Figuarts brand of characters from the film. The neat thing was, these releases were actually really cheap relative to other SHF releases with a MSRP of just $35. Of the four,…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that Dragon Ball Super has been the thing I’ve loved most that I never knew I wanted. I was done, or at least content, with Dragon Ball Z. Dragon Ball GT wasn’t good, but I didn’t need it so it wasn’t something that bothered me. Then…
When the S.H.Figuarts line was launched years ago and Dragon Ball Z was at the forefront, it wasn’t Goku who got to be the first figure out of the gate. Nope, it was Piccolo. That figure caught my attention when it was announced even though I had not purchased a Dragon Ball figure in quite…
When I was a child, going to the movies was a pretty big deal. It didn’t happen often so when it did it felt like a special occasion. Most of the Disney films of the late 80s and 90s were seen by me at home. Batman, Ghostbusters, every Back to the Future movie- all films I saw on VHS instead of in a movie theater. Movie rentals were cheaper and more convenient so I totally see why a family of four would see few films in a theater, especially when one considers the varying tastes that exist between children and adults. One movie I most definitely did see in theaters was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1990. That was an event for a child like me and my parents apparently recognized that fact and took my sister and I. They did not take us to the sequel and I had to hear about characters like Tokka, Rahzar, and Super Shredder from kids on the playground before finally seeing the film after Christmas 1992 when I received the VHS as a gift. 1992 was also the year my parents uprooted our family to move from New Hampshire to Virginia. It was a big move as we were leaving our friends and family and the only people we would know were the other families being uprooted for the same reason – work. My dad’s job relocated and that’s what you did. We gave it a shot, but by the late spring of 1993 we were already making our way back north because it just wasn’t working. Maybe because we had so little to do on weekends and because my parents constantly felt bad about moving us, we went to the movies the weekend of March 19th of 1993 and if you know your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or just looked at the subject line for this post) then you know why we were at the movie theater that weekend.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is rather infamous for the franchise. It arrived when the initial wave of Turtle-Mania was really starting to subside. The first film was released in 1990, little more than 2 years after the cartoon debuted and roughly a year after the franchise really took off. The sequel was fast-tracked for a 1991 release, and while it was catered more towards a young audience, it failed to match the box office of the first one. It still made plenty of money though and everyone who had a stake in the franchise felt they could get at least another film out of it. Seemingly planning for a lower return, the budget was slashed and the film was allowed to be a soft reboot. There was no Shredder, no Foot Clan, and barely any New York! Would it work? Would kids continue to show up for their green-skinned heroes?
For me, personally, 1993 was the year I moved away from TMNT. Christmas of 1992 was the Christmas of Super Nintendo for me and I probably received more toys based on Batman Returns than TMNT. By the spring, I was fully onboard with X-Men and that was my preferred toyline with distractions also coming from the Batman: The Animated Series line and Transformers Generation 2. That summer, I would buy my last TMNT toys from Playmates until the 2003 line was launched. The honor fell to the Turtle Trolls which I just thought were neat for some reason. I also got the ninja-action Raphael who could perform a very poor backflip. I bought that figure because it had more of a Mirage style to the toy and I mistakenly thought the turtles were growing up with me, but that was not to be. As I sat in my chair at the theater in March of ’93, I can remember being excited. I had a big bag of popcorn on my lap, a giant soda in the cupholder beside me, and I was just waiting for the lights to go down and for the trailers to start. As I sat there, a boy came stumbling up the ramp towards my aisle seat with his hand over his mouth. Vomit soon starting squirting out from in between his fingers and the dam burst soon after. It fell to the floor maybe 10 feet away from me. The ushers and other staff of the theater did as good a job as they could cleaning that mess up, but there was no covering that vaguely sweet with a hint of tang odor which would permeate throughout the entire showing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.
Sitting through a vomit-scented theater to watch this film probably feels oddly appropriate to many. Truly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is not thought of well. It’s been so poorly received over time that it’s basically been retconned as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time to seemingly capitalize on the affection people have for the completely unrelated video game. As a kid, I liked it enough and I would even spend some of my birthday money that summer on a VHS copy of the movie. And I do recall watching it quite a bit, but at some point my appetite for the movie did wane. Now, just a little over 30 years removed from the original release, I feel like it’s time to go back with fresh eyes and give the movie its due. And personally, it seems like the appropriate way to celebrate my 1,000th entry on this blog. Yes, this is post number 1,000 and we’re dedicating it to the cinematic masterpiece Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was written and directed by Stuart Gillard who had previously directed Paradise (1982) and The Return of the Shaggy Dog. Returning for their third tour of the franchise as the voices of Michelangelo and Leonardo respectively were Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi. After skipping out on the sequel, Corey Feldman was back as Donatello while Raphael got his third voice in as many films from Tim Kelleher. Paige Turco was back to reprise her role as April O’Neil and also returning was Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, a character written out of the sequel because he was deemed too violent. James Murray took over as the voice of Splinter, and we’ll get to the why very soon, while we have a bunch of new villains and supporting cast brought onboard as well.
By far, the biggest change from the first two films to the third is the choice to go with All Effects Company for the costumes and puppetry over The Jim Henson Company. Likely due to the film’s lower budget, All Effects had the unenviable task of taking over for the company best known for creature effects and the change was obvious. The turtles now have a mostly uniform look with their own personal features basically cast aside. They’re still mostly the same shade of green, have the same colors applied to the bandanas and various pads, and still retain the freckles. They just look all together more fake. The masks especially look more like helmets with mouths on them. The nuance in the mouth movement seems to be reduced in favor of just flapping beaks and the costumes themselves look more like rubber suits than before. There’s no warmth to the look of the characters and they more resemble the live shows than the first two films. Not helping matters is we’ve largely abandoned the sewers for this film in favor of bright, outside, shots that do no favors for the costumes. Splinter is also a new puppet and he looks decidedly worse and it’s likely the switch in companies that accounts for Kevin Clash being out as the voice of the character.
The other major change for the third film is with the antagonist. Shredder was seemingly killed off at the end of The Secret of the Ooze, and rather than bring in a new leader for The Foot Clan, the film just chose to ignore them all together. Instead, we get a time travel story where April, after buying a weird scepter at a flea market, gets sucked into feudal Japan and replaced by a man from that era by the name of Kenshin (Henry Hayashi). Unfortunately for April, Kenshin is caught in the middle of warring factions lead by his dictator of a father Lord Norinaga (Sab Shimono) and a collection of rebels lead by a woman named Mitsu (Vivian Wu). Mitsu is also Kenshin’s lover so he has a vested interest in ending the conflict with as little bloodshed as possible, but his father is uncooperative and pretty angry to see his son replaced by a strange woman. He’s also being influenced by a tradesman by the name of Walker (Stuart Wilson) who is essentially profiting off of the war and has a vested interest in keeping it up. April, upon being thrust into the past, is mistaken for a witch and imprisoned. The turtles need to go back and save her as Donatello, through some sort of plot magic, is able to infer that they only have 60 hours to do so. And to make things simple, time will move in sync between the two periods as the four brothers are replaced by four honor guards when they travel back leaving Casey and Splinter to keep them (and Kenshin) occupied.
Much of the film takes place in 1603 Japan. There, the turtles have to tangle with the bad guys, join up with the good guys, and figure out a way home. We get scenes of the locals mistaking them for kappa, turtle demons from Japanese folklore, and the turtles have to win them over by saving their lives – routine stuff. The people of the era do speak Japanese, but also English so the kids don’t have to read subtitles. Like the first sequel, the action is fairly light and mostly comedic in nature. The turtles rarely use their weapons and would rather attack with witty remarks than fists. And how witty those remarks play up will vary by age. As a kid, Donatello dropping a random Addams Family reference was funny, but as an adult it feels so forced. It’s just completely random, have a turtle reference something else that’s popular in the moment, and play it off for laughs. The only clever jokes involve the ones where characters from the past interact with technology from the future. April’s Walkman freaks out the first guards she runs into while the soldiers sent to the present are completely baffled by television and even take a liking to hockey because of its violence.
The sets for the film are adequate. We get the lair for the turtles which strongly resembles that of the one from the previous film and even looks like it’s been more lived-in since we last saw it. The stuff in Japan is largely relegated to open, outdoors, areas with some interior shots here and there. There’s a fair amount of grime added to some sequences and it’s not a terrible film to look at, excepting the less than stellar turtle costumes. The actors outside of those costumes also really give it their all. Turco is allowed to exhibit far more range than she did in the prior film where she felt almost out of place, like a character that didn’t belong. Koteas is terrific in his dual role of Casey and Whit, a character in the past. I don’t know why they cast Koteas twice, but maybe he was going to cost so much as Casey and they wanted to get their money’s worth. The film doesn’t try to hide that Casey and Whit resemble each other, it just doesn’t bother to explain why. Stuart is actually pretty terrific as the villainous Walker to the point where I feel almost bad for him since it’s wasted on this film. And for what it’s worth, the voice actors for the turtles do a fine enough job. Feldman is a bit overexposed as Donatello as I guess the film decided he was the biggest star, though he does have a solid deadpan which helps a few jokes land better than most. Michelangelo gets to do more than just be a goof off as he questions why he’d want to leave a time period where people accept him to return to a sewer in the present. The neutering of Raph is continued as he isn’t really allowed to get mad anymore and Leonardo is far more jokey than we’re used to because I guess someone decided he was too boring. All of the turtles feel like they’ve been brought closer together as far as their personalities go to the point where they’re almost a hive mind at this point. Basically, the only thing separating the four now is that Donatello is still written to be the smart one while also still being a quip machine.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is not a good movie. This post is not in defense of it. I do have a perhaps “hot” take when it comes to this film though and it’s that I actually enjoy it more The Secret of the Ooze. That movie is just plain bad. The costumes are terrific, but pretty much everything else about it sucks. This movie, on the other hand, is a somewhat entertaining bad movie. The script is so terrible, mostly the stuff fed to the turtles, that it’s laughably bad. Donatello literally does the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” bit and we even get a Wayne’s World reaction to April’s bare leg out of the turtles. It’s stupid, lazy, and oh so dated so it has a certain charm for someone like me who lived through it. For today’s kid it won’t have the same appeal, but I bet they won’t like any of the TMNT movies much because they are just not movies written for today’s audience. We live in a world where there’s only one good, theatrically released, movie based on the franchise and it’s the original from 1990. None of the films that followed are really any good. The Secret of the Ooze is just a lazy sequel while the third film is the dying gasp of a fading franchise. The fourth film, which is technically a sequel to this, came out in 2007 and has no heart and looks cheap. It has one good scene and the rest is bad. The films that followed are just pure trash and now we pin our hopes on a team helmed by Seth Rogen to restore the turtles to their former glory. And I plan on seeing that film when it arrives later this year and I hope it joins the lonely ranks of “Good” TMNT movie. At the very lest, I hope it can usurp Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III for the title of second best because that is a distinction no franchise should be content with.
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Hollywood loves to go after us folks who are suckers for nostalgia. We’re easy targets as it doesn’t take much to lure someone in with a touch of nostalgia. Especially today. We live in a world of 24 hour news networks and the internet puts information at our fingertips at all times. The media’s tactics…
Cowabunga dudes, it’s the 30th anniversary of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie! On March 30, 1990, New Line Cinema together with Golden Harvest released a film to theaters that seemingly no one wanted to make. This isn’t that surprising considering when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first started soliciting offers for a toy-line…
With Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their…
When I became a dad for the first time it made me get reacquainted with children’s television. I’m guessing all new parents go through this where they watch shows with their little one and find a great many of them intolerable. Perhaps that’s too strong a word, but it did cause me to reflect on what I was watching at a young age. And some of that was the same, namely Sesame Street which is like a rite of passage in the US. I watched a lot of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood which basically has a sequel series in the form of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood which my kids watched a little of. There was also a lot of new stuff which didn’t click with me, because why would it? I’m not the intended audience, but it did have the affect of making me want to share the stuff I liked with my own children.
That temptation is essentially a form of nostalgia and it’s also big business. Go to any kid’s clothing retailer and you’ll find clothing with 80s and 90s properties that children today are not exposed to unless it’s through their parents. That stuff is for the parents to clad their children in. And it’s fine, having kids is pretty fun and that’s part of it. You also only get so many years to dress your kids as you want before they develop their own tastes. For me, I wanted to show my kids the old cartoons I grew up with. This may come as a shock, but I wasn’t in a rush to show them Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why? Because that cartoon sucks. I may have loved it as a kid, but it’s very much a relic of it’s time and not meant to cross the generational divide. Cartoon shorts from animation’s golden age? That stuff had already stood the test of time and it was those cartoons that I made sure to seek out. I already had a pretty large collection of Disney shorts via the Walt Disney Treasures line, but a gap in my collection was definitely the stuff from Warner Bros. Part of that was they just didn’t release their shorts in a manner that appealed to me. I love what Disney did by releasing character specific collections arranged in chronological order. Instead, Warner did the Golden Collection as well as a handful of spotlight releases that were either character specific or themed in some way. There were a lot of repeat cartoons across releases and it was all quite cumbersome. I wanted those shorts though, so I went out and got all 6 volumes of the Golden Collection and introduced them to my kids when they had the capacity to follow along with them.
Looney Tunes, the show that aired on Nickelodeon, was an early favorite of mine. It was usually the last kid’s programming of the night on Nickelodeon and it was often the show I watched after getting ready for bed. I loved those cartoons and I’m happy to say my kids share that affection. My daughter, in particular, became a pretty big fan of Bugs Bunny and she even carried around a stuffed Bugs for a solid year and a half or so with her when we went most places. When we went to Disney World in 2021, it wasn’t a Mickey or a Minnie head poking out of her carry-on but good ‘ole Bugs. Showing these cartoons to my kids was a way for me to get reacquainted with them too as most of these I had not watched in over twenty years and it was great. I always intended to review the Golden Collection for this blog, but found it just too cumbersome to do. There’s just so much content, some of it great, and some of it not so great. It also suffers in that these shorts were meant to preempt a movie and be consumed in small doses, but when you arrange an entire disc of Road Runner cartoons it gets really repetitive. The characters are still great though, and it’s a shame that Warner Bros has allowed their profile to slip (and more recently, have removed the post 1950 shorts from HBO Max). The Looney Tunes, as they’re commonly referred to now, were still pretty huge in the 90s which is why we got a film like Space Jam.
Warner seemed interested in reviving these characters, or maybe it was more that Lebron James wanted to match Michael Jordon in yet another way. Regardless, it lead to Space Jam: A New Legacy in 2021 that just paired James with the same characters Jordan starred with back in 1994 only now it was less interesting. I saw the movie and was so entertained that I fell asleep. The original Space Jam is hardly what I would consider high art. Jordan is as wooden as a basketball court and the plot is pretty stupid, but the character animation holds up pretty well and it has its moments. It’s entertaining, and my kids love it. I don’t think they ever asked to watch the new one again. It tries too hard to find more of a heart at its center and falls on its face as a result. It’s also too long and the characters in 3D CG just lack the same charm that they possess in 2D. The only good thing I can say about it is it lead to new toys. The Looney Tunes are severely underrepresented in the world of toys and collectibles. The best ones might be the McDonald’s super hero toys featuring Bugs, Daffy, Petunia, and Taz with snap-on DC super hero costumes. DC Direct also had a line of more diorama styled toys a few years ago that were pretty neat for what they were. The toys that showed up at big box retailers for the new film though weren’t of any interest to me, but I was hoping we might get something flashier in the collector realm.
Enter Beast Kingdom, holders of many licenses and makers of interesting toys. I’ve looked at one Beast Kingdom figure in the past, a Donald Duck figure from their Dynamic Action Hero line, and found it to be…okay? It presents pretty well, but the quality did not really justify the cost. Beast Kingdom is very good at the presentation of collectibles, but at the expense of the actual figure inside the fancy box. I question if they price their figures at a certain level to add prestige because it doesn’t look like the construction of the figure inside justifies it. At any rate, the experience was positive enough that I was willing to give them another look when they unveiled a Bugs Bunny from Space Jam: A New Legacy. Now, I personally just want a Bugs Bunny figure as seen in the classic shorts. I’d love a line of the character with various artists’ interpretations, but I was willing to settle for this one because the basketball uniform was done with soft goods that could be removed. The sculpt is still Space Jam, but I think the model is also pretty stock for Bugs. I just wasn’t in love with the price which was $80, so I waited. Once I could get it for almost half off did I finally roll the dice and now I can tell you all about the experience.
Bugs Bunny arrived in his fancy box, as expected. It’s very glossy and a pain to photograph, but it’s very much themed to match the film the character is taken from. On the front, we get a shot of the figure that’s probably a digital render and on the side is some artwork. It’s a fairly thick cardstock that lifts off of the box like a board game box. Inside is another image of Bugs on a slip cover that just lifts off to reveal a tray underneath that contains the figure and all of its accessories. Behind the tray is where they hid the figure stand. The tray is black with a clear cover that’s taped down. Once you get that off you can finally get at the figure. Immediately upon lifting Bugs out of his plastic coffin his left leg fell off so we weren’t off to a great start. His tail and feet are wrapped in plastic and it’s kind of a pain to get off. I assumed they were worried about plastic transfer or something, but once I got the plastic off I realized they were bagged because those parts are flocked – interesting.
Once out and de-plasticked, Bugs stands at approximately 6.25″ to the top of his head and nearly 8.75″ to the top of his tallest ears. He’s in his own scale, and even though it’s not the same license, I thought he would scale a bit with the Donald Duck I have, but it’s not even close. No matter, since I envision him being displayed solo, but that might bother some folks. Bugs is mostly colored plastic. The gray on his head, the pink of his nose, and the black for his pupils and inner mouth make up the bulk of the paint on the figure. Even though it’s not much, it’s not especially clean. The gray around the eyes doesn’t quite reach the edge of the white portions and it’s off enough that it’s visible from afar. It’s also noticeably darker than the gray paint on the back of his head which is awfully distracting. The pink inside the ears has the same issue and one can see why Beast Kingdom avoids painting its figures since it kind of sucks at doing it. I’m also not a fan of just painting the inner mouth black. There should at least be a tongue, and most images of Bugs would paint the inner mouth a dark red. The white portions are also begging for some paint too since the buck teeth get lost in the white fur. At least a black outline, or a black line down the center, would solve that. He has dimples for his whiskers, but since they’re not outlined you’d never know they’re there. Oh and speaking of, he’s also missing his whiskers! Maybe they weren’t in the movie? They’re on the artwork so that’s a bit bizarre. The flocked feet strike me as an attempt to make the figure better resemble the 3D model in the film. It works, but it’s really odd that they only did it on the feet. It’s just as odd with the tail, but since it’s on the back of the figure I don’t care as much, but the feet look silly.
For a largely unpainted figure, I will say that the plastic doesn’t have an overtly shiny appearance. The hands feel like a soft vinyl so they don’t reflect the light as much as the white on the face. The eyes and the mouth are the only real shiny areas which will vary from face to face and we’ll talk about in the accessory section. Where Beast Kingdom seems to spend the most money is on the soft goods. The basketball jersey is textured like an actual jersey and the printing is very clean. It’s not a decal and the stitching is really well done. I mentioned I have no plans to display the figure with the jersey on, but it’s done so well that it did make me reconsider. If it was the Space Jam jersey of my youth, I may have given in, but I just have no affection for this one. It’s not as loose-fitting as the jersey appears to be in the film and I’m actually surprised it’s not very stretchy. Getting it off will require removing the figure’s arms, which shouldn’t be hard since the right arm fell off shortly after the left leg when I initially picked the figure up, and I’ll likely have to remove the head. Getting the trunks over the tail will likely be the hardest part of the process. His belly is painted white underneath, about as well as the face and ears, and there’s no other sculpting. He can definitely be displayed naked, and I’m surprised that Beast Kingdom didn’t make it easier to get the jersey off without cutting it.
The look of the figure is certainly a mixed bag. The paint is poor and the flocked feet bizarre, and then there’s also the face. It’s definitely based on the film, but it’s like a low detail version. I can’t fault a figure based on the new Space Jam movie for looking like its source, but it could be better at actually looking like the source. Mostly though, the figure just feels cheap. Really cheap. The shoulders are very loose and floppy and it seems part of the problem is the torso isn’t held together very well. It keeps splitting at the neck, which makes the head extremely floppy. I have to keep pinching it to get the head to stay in place, but manipulating the figure causes the joints to get loose once more. The only fix would be to try to glue the piece together, but I’d be afraid of the glue seeping out or getting into a joint and screwing it up there. This is absolutely not a premium collectible despite its price.
We may as well go right into the articulation since it plays into the looseness. The head is on a single ball peg and he can rotate, look up, look down, and gets some nice nuance posing. Manipulating it will loosen the neck and create a bobble head, but pinching the neck back together solves that to a point, but the gap never stays closed so it’s going to get loose again real quick. The shoulders are on a hinged ball peg so they can raise out to the side a touch past horizontal and get a little forward and back movement at the ball. The bicep pegs into another ball hinge at the elbow which in turn pegs into the forearm. This gives the figure a swivel point above and below the ball-joint plus a bend at the elbow that goes past 90 degrees. It functions well, and it’s at least nice and tight, but ball elbows are the type of joint that look a bit unsightly to me when the arm is out straight. When the elbow is bent it looks fine. The wrists are on another ball-hinge so they rotate and move up and down on that hinge and they work fine. There’s no articulation in the torso at all or at the waist. Our next point is at the hips which uses another ball and socket joint like the shoulder. Bugs can kick forward almost to horizontal and he kicks back a little. Bugs can’t do splits, but his legs go out to the side past 45 degrees. The knees are just like the elbows, so we get rotation above and below and a bend that goes past 90. The ankles are the same setup as the wrists but with a forward-facing pin for an ankle rocker. The hinge goes forward pretty far, but they cut the shin at an angle so the range back isn’t as far as it should be. The rocker works fine. The tail is the last spot and it just swivels.
Bugs moves well enough for the source material. He’s easy to stand since his feet are so large and most of the joints are plenty tight. It’s the shoulders and head that are loose and a pain to pose as a result. I’m a little surprised at the lack of posing for the ears, but since Beast Kingdom loves the ball-hinge joint I’m glad we don’t have ears on ball-hinges. Bugs works best going for basketball poses like running, jumping, and shooting. He struggles with more traditional Bugs Bunny poses as he can’t really get his hands onto his hips, and trying to do so means fighting with the loose shoulders. I would have loved to get him to lay down as he appears on top of the Warner logo in many a cartoon, but he really can’t do that either. He can basically stand and his big feet mean you can pose him on one foot with the other more relaxed, but he could be better. The lack of any articulation in the torso is a killer there. It’s surprising to me that they didn’t try something there since he’s intended to wear clothes, but at least the solid torso means he has a cleaner appearance when not in the costume.
For accessories, Bugs has a spread of hands and faceplates to go with a couple of props. For faces, Bugs gets three portraits: smile, worried, and carrot chomping. Interestingly, it looks like the eyes were going to be removable as they just slide over some pegs, but they’re totally fused. My guess is it wasn’t working in the testing phase so they just cut that feature. There’s zero looseness so I don’t think they could be removed now, but it would have been nice as he has wide open eyes, upward looking eyes, and partially closed eyes. The gray on the faces are all painted poorly, but at least the eyelids look fine. Every face has the same issue with the gray on the face being slightly darker than the gray painted onto the head of the figure which is distracting when viewing the figure from the side or when his head is positioned at an angle. Both are white pieces painted gray so I don’t know how they messed that up. The worried face has a little extra pink paint for the gumline and that is surprisingly sharply painted. The bare teeth though really draw attention to the lack of detail paint there. He needs some shading or something because the teeth are practically lost in the white fur. For hands, Bugs comes with a set of fists, open hands, and a set of hands that are open and slightly curved for palming a basketball. There’s also an additional left, gripping, hand with the pinky finger raised for holding a carrot. For ears, we get two relatively straight-up ears that have a gentle curve to them as well as a right ear bent past 90s degrees and a left ear with a less severe bend to it. The hands slide off and on the wrist pegs fairly easily and the ears key-in to the head in designated spots making it virtually impossible to mix-up the right and left ears. The faceplates are also easy enough to swap and they stay on just fine as well.
As for props, Bugs comes with his signature carrot. The tip has been bitten off and it has a long, green, leaf coming out of the back of it. It slides into the gripping hand easily and is the accessory likely to get the most use from me. I just wish the side-mouth carrot chomping head featured a puffed out cheek to simulate a mouthful of carrot. His signature accessory from the film is the silver basketball. It has a very shiny, silver, paint job and the lines on the ball are sculpted in and painted black. It’s done surprisingly well and it also has a magnet in one spot. The magnet goes with his palming hands which also feature magnets in them so he can effortlessly hold the ball. The last item included is a display stand. It is quite interesting. The base is translucent, blue, plastic with “Tune Squad” printed on the top and “Bugs Bunny” on the front. The actual arm that pegs in is black and it’s articulated like a wire. It’s coated in black plastic so it feels like an old payphone cord (how’s that for a dated reference?) only it holds its shape. It’s about 7.25″ tall and it holds whatever shape you want to put it into. It’s very different, but also quite useful. The hinged claw at the end can grasp the figure just fine and you can even try to get the clothing over it to better hide it. It’s plenty strong enough to support the figure, though the base is light so if you try to go too far forward it will tip. It’s primary function is probably to pose Bugs as if he’s going for a dunk and it works just fine for that. Too bad he lacks a hoop to really convey that action.
The accessory loadout is plenty good for a Bugs Bunny from Space Jam. He’s got a ball and a carrot plus some different expressions. As a more evergreen Bugs Bunny, it still works okay, though I think that version of Bugs would maybe have some gag effects and probably different expressions. A basketball hoop, even if it was just the backboard that could be stuck to a surface, is about the only thing missing. And if they insists on doing the flocked feet, I think they should have included a set of unflocked feet for those that didn’t care for the look. The feet don’t even look flocked in the promo images and it wasn’t a listed feature so I’m right to be surprised by the inclusion.
Let’s cut to the chase: as an 80 dollar collectible figure this release from Beast Kingdom stinks. There’s no way the quality is there to support that price. Even at nearly half off, I still think the quality is suspect. This feels more like a $30 figure with issues that can be overlooked because it was only 30 bucks. At the $45 I paid, those problems can’t be dismissed as minor. And if I’m reviewing it at the $80 it was released at it’s junk. The looseness is aggravating and even ignoring that the figure just feels cheap. Even so, when you get him posed and on a shelf, the figure looks okay. For its source material, it looks good enough. I still think the flocked feet are dumb and just distract more than anything, but the soft goods are really well done and he’s plenty expressive. Especially if you want him in a basketball pose as the stand works well and the ball turned out great. As a more traditional Bugs, it’s fine, but represents a compromise. To most people who look at it, they’ll just recognize the character for what he is. For people who are bigger fans of Bugs Bunny and the classic shorts, they’ll probably be able to tell that this is a Space Jam release trying to get by as a Golden Age Bugs. If you’re okay with that and think the figure looks good enough for your display then I can tepidly recommend this figure for purchase provided it’s found at a deep discount. I’d say $40 is the absolute most one should consider, but even less is preferable especially if you’re like me and have no interest in the Space Jam branding. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.
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When Super7 announced it was taking Disney into its world of Ultimates! line of action figures, they really seemed to confuse the Disney fans unfamiliar with their business model when the first wave consisted of Sorcerer Mickey, Pinocchio, and Prince John from Robin Hood. Where was Robin Hood?! Well, he was coming, just in Wave 2. The company was apparently going to slow burn the movies in Disney’s very famous film library, but persistent confusion and outcry (which Super7 felt was coming from the Disney collector, and not necessarily the Super7 collector) caused them to change lanes. Wave 4 of Disney Ultimates! was solicited a couple of months ago and all three figures are based on The Nightmare Before Christmas. That will apparently be the model going forward, but given that there’s a significant lag between solicitation and delivery, we’re still talking about Wave 2 which just dropped in the past month and included that much sought after Robin Hood.
Robin Hood is the lone figure from the film of the same name in Super7’s Wave Two. He comes in the standard window box with slipcover and I got mine direct from Super7 for the not so lovely price of $55. Back when the figure first went up, I really wanted to support Super7 in their journey into Disney so I placed my order direct with them. I also thought that meant I’d get it before other retailers, but Big Bad Toy Store has been shipping these for about a month now so that obviously didn’t work. And after being all-in on Wave One largely on principle, I just couldn’t do it for Wave Two which also featured Alice from Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter from the same, and Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia. I just could not muster up any appetite for those three figures as I don’t really like either movie. The hippo looked the most impressive out of all four figures in the wave, but since I had Prince John I did want to pair him with someone. And Robin Hood was a film I liked a lot as a kid and it holds up pretty well today.
When the solicitation did go up, I wasn’t that impressed, but I also wasn’t for Wave One and those were refined along the way and turned out better than the render. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of Wave Two. Robin Hood looks as solicited which is to say he’s a bit off-model. The head shape seems all wrong to me, the proportions are off, and there’s nothing in the paint or sculpt that attempts to capture that scratchy look of the lines from the film. It’s like they had someone sculpt the character from memory, or maybe there’s some modern, licensing, art out there designed to make the character look cuter? There could also be another factor contributing to the aesthetic that we’ll get to. First glance though is that he doesn’t look right. There’s clearly no commitment to make the character look like he just jumped out of the film which is the approach I want to see, but maybe that’s not what Super7 wants?
It doesn’t get much better with the figure in hand. Robin Hood is very plain looking. There’s almost no paint on this figure past the neck. It’s a very “plastic” looking release similar to Prince John. Unlike Prince John, there are no soft goods present on the base figure. And I should talk about this like it’s two figures. I’m fine with that though as a soft goods tunic would probably look terrible. Unfortunately, the figure just looks cheap and it feels just as cheap. The tail in particular looks too soft and feels worse because it’s hollow. I don’t disagree with making it hollow as a heavier tail affects balance (and he already balances poorly), but there’s nothing really on it. No attempt to make it appear furry. It’s just not good.
Accessories can help liven up a dull experience, but with this figure, your mileage may vary. Robin Hood has gipping hands in the box and a second set of hands with a tighter grip and a thumb up. They appear to be intended for use with the bow and arrow. The bow looks fine and has a real string, but it doesn’t fit either hand well. The standard gripping hand is too loose and the secondary one is too tight. At least with the too tight option some heat can make it pliable to get the bow in there. The included arrow fits fine into the other tighter hand as it slides between the index and middle finger so he can string it. There’s also a quiver and to get that onto the figure you will want to remove the head because there’s almost no give in the strap. The quiver is also solid plastic and the arrows don’t come out which is a bit of a bummer, but not the end of the world as long as you don’t lose the one, lone, arrow. His other accessory is a second head which features a startled expression and an arrow through his hat. The arrow is warped and looks ridiculous and I doubt I ever would use this head anyway. There’s also an unsightly seem line on the lower jaw that takes away from the presentation. All of the other accessories are for the stork disguise, which we’ll discuss separately, which really makes the base offering feel light. The default gripping hands are essentially useless as they don’t work with the bow and arrow and he has nothing else to hold. No sword, really? And how about a legitimate second head that maybe has a cocky grin or a more determined face instead of this gag head? You basically can pose with the bow and arrow or with nothing which is pretty poor for options.
Which brings us to articulation. Never the strong suit for Super7, I’m afraid it’s worse than usual here. Super7 went with a ball-hinge for the head, which is different from the usual big ball peg for this line and also different from the double-ball I see in the TMNT line. The only thing the hinge does is let the figure look down, but not really any more than the previous setup. There’s no up rotation and no nuance posing. He can rotate, but that’s basically it. The hinge just gets in the way when swapping heads making for a frustrating experience. The shoulders can raise out to the side and rotate all around while the elbows are single-hinged with a swivel. The biceps also swivel at the sleeve. The arms are very thin and gummy feeling, but at least the elbows bend past 90 degrees. The wrists also swivel and hinge and all of the hinges are horizontal hinges which is not optimal for the bow and arrow. There’s a diaphragm joint that does almost nothing. No forward, no back, just a little rotation. The waist also can rotate. At the hips, we just go forward and back. There’s no out to the side and the knees are a single hinge and swivel point. The swivel does more harm than good as it’s hard to figure out what the neutral position is supposed to be. The hinge does very little and I think his knees are supposed to always be pointing out from his body, but it’s frustrating to pose. Worse are the ankles which, like the knees, just swivel and hinge. There’s no ankle rocker. And what’s more annoying is trying to get the hinge pointed where you want it is a pain because it swivels above and below the hinge so if you grip the foot to rotate that piece it will just spin with the shoe. It’s maddening. Thankfully, he does have that ugly tail because it makes getting him to stand much easier than it would be without and that thing swivels and has a hinge. No ankle rocker is an awful choice. It’s usually the one joint Super7 does well and here they declined to try it for some reason (probably for the disguise). The only saving grace for this figure, articulation wise, is he can do a bow stringing pose, but that’s pretty much it.
And now that takes us to basically the other figure: Stork Robin Hood. During the film, Robin Hood disguises himself as a stork to enter an archery contest and Super7 decided to make that a focus for this release. I don’t know that I agree with the call, but it’s what they decided. Personally, I consider his beggar persona more iconic, but admit the stork has a fun look in the film. To do that, the figure separates at the waist and Super7 included a second lower half. It’s just the legs in a squat pose and the only articulation is found at the ankles which is the same hinge piece the other lower half possesses. Basically, we’re just cutting out the knee joints. For the that, there are new “feet” which are Robin’s feet on stilts that peg into the ankle joints. They feature no additional articulation, not even a swivel at the boot. I’m guessing this is why they abandoned the ankle rocker to make the connection point simpler, but why not just make the stilts peg into the standard feet? Were the knees that much of a problem? And if they were, just make the stilts already attached to the second torso – why separate them? The left leg also isn’t straight and I don’t know if that is by design or not. There are three sets of winged hands that peg into the arms where the hands go plus there’s a quiver, bow, and arrow to match the ones he used in the film plus the golden arrow trophy on a pillow. Lastly, we have a new head to complete the ensemble.
Assembling the figure isn’t what I would describe as a fun experience. The hands are tight, but they came off without damage and the winged ones go on fine. Before doing that though, you will want to slip the soft goods tunic over the torso. The head is a bit of a pain to get off and on, but doable. The torso pegs together easy enough as do the feet and once assembled Robin stands over 8″ tall. It’s once the whole thing is together that the frustration sets in. The hinges where the feet peg in are way too loose. It makes his legs want to go all over the place when trying to stand him. And since there’s no articulation at the boots on the stilts, you have few tools to work with when trying to balance the guy. I watched it fall over and over before finally getting him to stand still in a semi decent arrow-knocking pose. And once I did, I realized I forgot to put the quiver on. That thing has no give in the strap so getting it on is way harder than it should be. And then once it’s on, trying to get the head without disturbing it is even harder. My quiver now has purple paint on it from it riding up under the hat while trying to get the head on. Plus at some point he fell and one of the false arrows in the quiver snapped off. And if you need to do anything to this guy once posed, expect it to all fall apart. The waist isn’t held on by much, though I suppose it’s better that it separate easily than not. Having him actually draw the bow is pretty tough too as the arrow doesn’t have a notch in it. I hooked the string onto a finger and then just tried to balance the arrow in a convincing manner, but it doesn’t work too well.
Once standing it’s the type of figure that you don’t dare mess with. Or at least, I wouldn’t if I intended for him to stay this way. I will say, the stork head looks great. It’s easily the best sculpted part of the set and also the best painted. One of the legs features some chipped paint which stinks though. The whole costume really looks much better than the base figure, provided you can stand him. I just don’t know why so much of the budget was put into making this costume the way it is. He has a set of open hands, a set of gripping hands, and a set of bow and arrow hands. Why so many when the regular Robin Hood gets just two? What purpose do the regular gripping hands serve that the arrow hands can’t do? The direction and decision making on this one is just baffling and to top it off there are no peg holes in the feet. For a figure that struggles to stand, why not at least put some holes in there? He really should just come with a stand, or a second torso. Or the damn legs should just be static so he stays standing. It’s not like they can do anything. They could have included a second, unarticulated, torso then at least you would get a second display piece out of this. The money spent to tool more hands would have been better served on that. They wouldn’t even have to paint it or anything since it’s hidden by the soft goods. Instead, it feels like an inordinate amount of the budget went towards this disguise that most people will never use. I’m slightly tempted to display it by virtue of the fact that it looks better than the standard Robin Hood, but I have zero confidence in it staying upright on my shelf and I’m not sinking more money into this thing to add a stand. I think the proportions and articulation of the base figure were compromised to make this stork version look more on-model and that makes no sense. Someone just fell in love with the concept of making Robin Hood “transform” into this stork persona and never stopped to question if it was really a good idea to move forward with.
The final verdict is that Super7 delivered an off-model and compromised figure of Robin Hood that can pull off a convincing stork disguise in theory, though in practice the results are far more mixed. Is that what people wanted? I know I didn’t. To make matters worse, the figure looks and feels cheap, the articulation is poor, and the display options boil down to two, three if you’re in love with the arrow through the hat expression. And it costs 55 bucks! This thing is way overpriced relative to what you’re getting. At this price point, this thing needs to “wow.” It needs to feel like a premium collector item, but it looks like a toy from the 90s. The look of it really reminds me of the Lion King action figures from when that film came out. The plastic look of the figure makes me think of Happy Meal toys. That’s not a good thing for a $55 action figure. This is the worst Super7 figure I own and I’m out. No way am I paying upfront for any of the figures in this line again. Had I ordered this from another retailer I would have cancelled it. It’s that bad. If it were 25 bucks and didn’t feature the stork I still don’t think I’d buy it because it just doesn’t look that good. Why spend money on something that doesn’t look good whether its 10, 20, or 50 bucks? And I didn’t even mention the shipping so I’m actually in for closer to $70 on this thing. That’s pretty bad. I’m also really second guessing the preorder I have for Wave 3’s Big Bad Wolf. I want to see Super7 go into the classic shorts for this line so I preordered that partly as a show of support for that move, but after getting this and looking at the anatomy of the character in the solicitations I’m left feeling the experience will be similar. Unlike with Robin Hood, there’s still time for me to cancel that one and I’m thinking that’s probably a good idea.
It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I do not recommend this figure at all. If you love the stork version or are not bothered by how Robin Hood looks then maybe take a swing when it inevitably hits clearance. This thing will not stay at $55 and I bet it’s around $38 before long. Hold out even longer and you may do better. Seriously, Entertainment Earth has had some wild sales on Super7 stuff of late so at this time next year it wouldn’t shock me to see this sold for less than $30. I still wouldn’t buy it at that price, but it’s a lot better than $55.
Our third and final figure of the inaugural wave of Disney Ultimates! from Super7 is the most surprising of the bunch: Prince John, the phony King of England! Super7 often surprises with its deep cuts, and Prince John certainly fits the bill. While it’s hard to argue much from Disney could be considered a true…
The first figure from this line of Super7 action figures based on characters from Disney’s treasure trove of animated characters was Pinocchio. In that review, I mentioned how Disney wanted to outdo itself with Pinocchio and sunk a lot of money into that film’s production. Well, the only other film from that era that might…
It seems I keep setting personal records this year for longest duration of a preorder and the new champion is Super7’s first wave of Disney Ultimates! These figures went up for preorder in August of 2020 likely closing sometime in September. At the time, the expected release was somewhere around June 2021, but a lot…
It’s that time of year when a lot of folks are reflecting on the past year and all of the things that happened. This usually coincides with list-making for favorites and worst of the year in basically every category you can dream of. And for action figure enthusiasts, there’s definitely a lot of list making. And here to blow it all up is NECA who managed to sneak this set out before the end of the year even though it wasn’t expected until Q1 2023. When the set went up for preorder in April, I think most hoped that by Christmas we’d have it hand. And when a few months ago two-packs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from The Secret of the Ooze started showing up at Walmart that seemed to encourage fans to dream of an early arrival. It also predictably annoyed some since the stuff that was prepaid for in the spring was still outstanding while Walmart was getting basically the same thing, but that’s a whole other thing.
NECA has eased into the second film in the TMNT franchise. After first indicating it wasn’t that interested in any of the films beyond the first, we started to see the villains. Tokka and Rahzar, multiple versions of Super Shredder, and a standard Shredder all arrived before the actual turtles. Those first film turtles are some of my all-time favorite action figures. They began life as quarter scale figures and the very first one I got was Donatello. It was a Christmas gift in 2016 so it’s fitting that I’m still talking movie turtles now six Christmases removed. Despite my love for those figures, I wasn’t really feeling that excited about these ones. I ordered the set largely out of convenience. I had no desire to stalk Walmart in search for them and my Secret of the Ooze collection had grown large enough that it needed the turtles. I don’t even particularly like the movie, but I did as a kid, and I’m still at least fond of the costumes from it. I also expected these figures to be very similar to the previous ones so there wasn’t a lot to be excited about. Then I got them in hand and I felt rather stupid for ever overlooking a NECA TMNT release.
This set is the NECA store exclusive VHS four-pack. Just like NECA did with the first film, this set of four turtles comes housed in a pretty substantial box which is designed to resemble the original VHS release of the film. Only the turtles on the box have been substituted for images of the actual figures. It’s pretty cool, though this set made it a lot harder on photographer Stephen Mazurek. The front cover looks fantastic, but the image on the rear is pretty goofy looking because these figures really aren’t articulated enough to replicate the poses from the back of the VHS box. As a result, Mikey and Donnie both look like they’re riding an invisible horse or something. The box is huge though as it’s nearly 17″ in height and 10″ across. The lettering on it is raised, like a VHS, and it will look nice next to the same box from the first movie set. And like that, it’s a slipcover and the inner box features a tray with the figures and accessories inside secured behind a plastic cover with more photography all over the place. Considering that nothing in the box is exclusive to this set, you’re basically paying a premium for the fancy box and at least it delivers. Well, there is one thing that’s exclusive and it’s a backdrop. It’s a thick cardboard and it’s of the club from the film’s climax, the exterior wall. Could we one day see the interior stage setup? Only time will tell.
I’m as charmed as anyone by a fancy box, but what I really care about are the figures inside. The turtles are all on the same body, but it does differ from the body of the first film turtles. They each stand at around 6.25″ in height, and considering it’s a 7″ scale line, that seems pretty good. The only thing that stinks about that is all four turtles are the same height when at least Michelangelo should be shorter, but that was something we had to overlook with the other figures too. The stuff that’s reused are the arms and legs and maybe whatever is inside the shell. The plastron, shell, pads, belts, and heads are all new. Even though the thighs appear to be the same between releases, these figures do have updated hips with the ball and socket joint. Like the previous figures, the biceps are actually a little different as Leo and Mikey share the same parts while Donnie and Raph share some as well. The shells are all the same, though Raph’s has some distress marks carved into his and Leo’s appears to allow for the scabbards of his swords to key-in. Each turtle does differ in that the pattern of their freckles are applied different from brother to brother.
In terms of changes from the past figures to these ones, they’re mostly subtle, but apparent. Obviously, the heads are all different as the costumes were overhauled to allow for a wider range of expressions. Donnie’s changed the most, while there’s a hint of the first film Leo and Raph in their designs. Mikey was practically unchanged, but his head seems a little smaller and more round. All of the turtles wear their bandanas over both shoulders and that’s reflected here. There are no optional display parts there. The colors are also a bit softer, especially Leo and Raph, and it’s captured here. The skin tone also appears to have more yellow incorporated into the green so they have a slightly different appearance. For some reason, there’s a powdery, green, residue on them this time around which tends to rub onto the accessories when placed in the gripping hands and can even find its way onto one’s hands after extensive play. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s so far been easy to clean off of the accessories. The plastron of each turtle is shaded more heavily than it was in the first film and I like how it contrasts with the otherwise brighter look. Michelangelo also has satchels for his nunchaku this time around which is cool and a nice addition to both the real world costume and the figure. Perhaps due to the flaky nature of the topcoat, there are a few spots on the figures where the plastic is shiny. On Leo especially, his right foot appears a lot glossier than the left which is a bit odd. Maybe they missed that piece with a final paint app or something. The powdery green also shows up in some of the grooves, especially on the hands, which is a little off-putting but not something that can be seen from a shelf. I would classify such issues as relatively minor, for otherwise these look like they jumped out of the movie. It’s almost eerie at times to look at them because they seem so lifelike.
Since the bodies in use are very similar to the past turtles, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn the articulation is more or less the same. All of the turtles feature a double-ball peg for the head. The lower peg is recessed quite a bit so the range isn’t optimal. The turtles can basically rotate fine, but looking down varies from turtle to turtle with Michelangelo performing the best. None of them can look up and the ball peg is pretty snug and tight. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges and they can raise their arms out to just about horizontal and rotate all around. There’s no biceps swivel, which is something I would have welcomed, but we do have the NECA double-elbows which feature two hinges and a swivel above and below the joint. The elbow pads are smaller this time around and peg into the elbow like the quarter scale figures. This results in better range than we saw on the first film release as the turtles can now bend their elbows past 90 degrees. The wrists swivel and every hinge features a horizontal orientation, which is a bummer for Leonardo, especially. In the torso, there’s a ball joint or something, but it doesn’t do a whole lot. It basically just provides a tiny bit of rotation and tilt. The hips are the newer model hips and the turtles can just about do splits. They can’t quite kick forward all the way though as the thighs rub against the plastron. It’s also very creaky and unpleasant. There’s a bit of a thigh swivel at the ball-joint and the knees are double-jointed. They can just get past 90 degrees there while the ankles feature the usual hinge and rocker combo and works all right. They’ll move okay, but elaborate stuff is a bit out of the question. I do wish they had decided to sacrifice a tiny amount of the aesthetic to carve in a biceps swivel, but I understand why they didn’t. The lack of vertical hinges for the gripping hands is the one major oversight and NECA frustrates me in that area. They sometimes include such a hinge, and sometimes they don’t. Toon Leo and Raph, for example, have them and even the quarter scale movie Leonardo has them. The 7″ scale ones don’t though and that’s a real bummer.
This four-pack also comes packed with a fair assortment of accessories. Some are repeats, and some are new. For hands, all four turtles come with gripping hands. They then share the following sets: open, relaxed gripping, thumbs up, and pointing/sai grip. The gripping hands are really tight, but pliable. They’ll hold almost everything, but the green paint will transfer. There’s a full canister of ooze, which you probably have several of by now, and a second empty canister of ooze which is new. The fire extinguisher makes a return, but new this time is the foam bat from the opening of the film. It’s not actual foam though, but painted, hard, plastic. There’s also a new pizza box and it comes with a bunch of pizza “stubs” which is a nice addition. There’s also a full slice with a hole through the center so Raphael can catch his touchdown pass as he did in the film. There’s an extra left forearm and this is for Donnie as his default forearm features the wristwatch in the wrist strap as seen in one scene of the film. I have no idea how easy it is to swap forearms as I have no intention of removing the unique wristwatch arm. Mikey also comes with his “combat cole cuts,” two pairs of linked sausages which are in a nice, rubbery, plastic that almost makes them feel real. And lastly, each turtle has his standard weapons. For Leo, Raph, and Donnie, these are the same as the first film turtles with Donnie’s bo having a noticeably lighter paint app. For Mikey, his nunchaku have been updated so that instead of a pair of strings connecting the two he has something more like a bendy wire. It doesn’t seem to be strong enough for posing, but perhaps it will be more durable. They slot rather snugly into his new satchels too.
That’s a fair amount of stuff. I think we could always use more hands, especially with vertical hinges, but I think they come with enough. Maybe another set of open hands should have been included so they could execute a proper Cowabunga pose, but at least we have the hands from the first set. If that’s not enough though then NECA has you covered as they also put up for sale an accessory set alongside this release. I passed on the same for the first film, but this time I decided to go all-in. And there’s a lot of stuff in here. It comes in a square box with an image of one of the film’s theatrical posters on the cover (the same image we saw on the Super Shredder release) with photography on the rear and spines. Inside the box is a big plastic tray with a cover over it and all of the accessories are visible. It’s not as flashy a package as the VHS box, but it’s durable and easy to reseal if you can’t find a home for all of this stuff.
I guess we’ll just plow through it, but this thing has a lot of stuff pulled from the film. Up first, another ooze canister! This one though is basically the catalyst for the film as it’s the empty, broken, canister and it can separate just like the one in the film. It’s a nice little thing to have and kind of makes me wants another Splinter. To keep track of these things, there’s a computer and keyboard and, uh oh, one canister is still active! Also in here is Michelangelo’s chocolate bar so he can annoy Raph. And if he’s thirsty, there’s a red mug of what appears to be cola that features a straw and a blue mug without a straw. If salty is more your thing, there’s also a bowl of popcorn and two bags of potato chips (the bare essentials). When it’s time to clean up after another pizza party, there’s a pair of aprons: pink and purple. They’re soft goods and can tie onto any of the figures. There are also two cleaning brushes (wax on, wax off) and Donnie’s bo with a mop molded onto both ends – perfect for cleaning and romancing! These guys eat a lot of pizza, so there’s another box of pie! It’s the same box as the one featured in the four-pack, but this one has four, full, slices inside. They appear to be the same mold as the pizzas that came with the first film figures. When it’s time to move out of April’s apartment there’s a suitcase which can open and actually has a lot of room for stuff inside. Michelangelo’s hat is also included to protect him from the rain, and since you’ll be wanting to contact April once a new home is found there’s also a payphone. It has a slot on the back so that it can be hung on a nail or tack, if you wish. As for something cute, there’s a pre-mutated Rahzar which features articulation at the head. Less cute is the pre-mutated Tokka which has a hinged jaw. Rahzar looks fine, but Tokka is actually pretty impressive. There’s more paint on this little snapping turtle than is featured on most Hasbro figures. There’s also some included reading material, a little, paper, newspaper with “NINJA RAP IS BORN” as the cover story. They had to include that. And if reading’s not your thing, then you can also rock out with the included keytar. It easily slips over the head/shoulder of any turtle and is known to cause massive headaches in villains.
That’s a lot of stuff, and I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I don’t think there’s any way to shake that feeling. Probably the main draw of this set is the five extra heads included for the figures. For Donatello, we get an open mouth expression which works for any of his talking poses. For Michelangelo, we get the opposite as his is more stoic compared with his default open mouth. Leonardo also gets a stoic face and it’s an expression I more associate with the character than his smiling portrait from the four-pack. Raphael’s is the least different as he has a half smile, I guess, by default and the new head is a full smile. He gets a third head though which features tape across the mouth so he can be “a little too Raph” should it please you. I wish they included a post to tie him to as well. Oddly, the Raph heads feature a darker shade of red on the bandana while the others are more uniform. I’m guessing this is an error, but it’s probably not something that will bother most. As for swapping the heads, it’s pretty painless. I was nervous about it at first, but I didn’t even need to heat them up or anything (same is true for the joints on the figures) and was able to just pop them off. Getting the secondary heads to really snap-in is tricky and may require heat. It does create a dilemma on what to display. I definitely prefer the alternate Leo head and I think I like the open mouth Donnie head more. Raph is the only one where I’m kind of lukewarm as far as preferring one over the other. Eventually, I probably will tie him up as it’s just too funny.
These figures are pretty damn terrific. If you have any desire to add action figures of the turtles from Secret of the Ooze to your collection then you absolutely should track these down. The four pack is basically long gone, but two-packs should continue shipping all throughout 2023 to Walmart stores. Hopefully, NECA does a big restock at some point to help make it easier because they’re going to be in demand. The accessory set is unfortunately a NECA store exclusive and it too is long gone. They might reissue it at some point, but considering they’ve never done that for the first film accessory set it likely will be a long wait. If it’s something you have to have then you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and buy one on the secondary market. For 60 bucks, I think it’s worth it, but I don’t think I’d personally go much higher than that. The two-packs are a complete enough package that it’s hard to call the accessory set essential, but there is a lot of fun stuff in there. I particularly like the phone and the PC, though figuring out a way to display the PC is going to be tricky. I wish they had just included a little table for it and the office chair Donnie went surfing on. If the accessory set had included more hands, especially the coveted vertical hinged hands, it definitely would have been more of a slam dunk.
This is another homerun from NECA and an A+ release. It’s also potentially the last release from the Secret of the Ooze for me. A figure of Keno with his moped is coming in 2023, but I’m on the fence there. Do I need a Keno? No, but the fact that he comes with his motorcycle is pretty cool. And if he’s sold on the NECA website that will go a long way. I’m definitely not going to run around Walmart looking for him. If this is the end though, then I’m pretty damn happy with the display I have and I think anyone else who invests in this line will be too.
Merry Boxing Day every one! I hope you enjoyed the Christmas content this year, but it’s time to go back to our usual programming. Which in 2020 means toys. And I just could not wait any longer to talk about what was probably my most anticipated release of 2020: NECA’s Tokka and Rahzar based on…
For the first time in a long time we went a week without a blog entry here. That’s because I took a much needed vacation and didn’t schedule anything. I’ll probably be backing off a little bit as we dig deeper into 2022 since there’s a certain holiday I need to get crackin’ on if…
“The last vial of ooze!” “He must have drank all of it!” “It’s a Super Shredder!!!” It’s a simple, obvious, and corny introduction for a character, but as a 7-year old it felt rather impactful. The introduction of Super Shredder in the waning moments of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze…
Hugh Harman was one of the early stars in the field of animation. In fact, we talked about one of his shorts already this year, but perhaps his most famous and most celebrated is the 1939 anti-war film Peace on Earth. According to Harman, the short subject was nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize, but no such record exists of that officially happening. Perhaps it was merely in the conversation and Harman was mistaken or the record of its nomination was simply lost to time. Either way, it’s often a distinction tacked on to any conversation about the short, but in truth, it doesn’t need such accolades to justify its relevance as the short carries a very simple, relatable, and irrefutable message.
The cartoon centers around the lyric and Bible verse “Peace on Earth / Good will to men,” or as stated by Luke “on Earth, peace, good will toward men.” It came during a time when the world was moving towards another global conflict that would eventually be labeled World War II with many people alive still able to remember the first World War. It’s understandable why there would be a lot of uneasiness at that time, and Harman seemed to think that Christmas would be the appropriate backdrop for this anti-war piece. It was released by MGM in December of 1939 and would receive an Academy Award nomination, though it lost to Disney’s The Ugly Duckling. It’s certainly a bit heavy-handed, so maybe that explains why it wasn’t embraced more in the moment, but it came to be relegated as one of the best short subjects that takes place during Christmas. In my youth, Cartoon Network could be guaranteed to show it every Christmas Eve, usually late at night and possibly right around midnight, and that’s where I saw it most. Laying in my bed, unable to sleep due to the excitement to follow the next day, watching as many Christmas cartoons as I could find on television.
The short opens with an animated title card. “Peace on Earth” is in an elegant font while shadowy men run by and a church appears to burn in the background. The camera pans across weapons of war all covered with snow and the ruins of an old church, possibly the burned out one from before. A choir can be heard singing an original composition, sort of. It’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” but the words have been adjusted to really emphasize the “peace on Earth” portion of the song. At least I think it’s original as the old audio and the fact that it’s sung by a choir can make it hard to decipher the lyrics. There are other songs out there called “Peace on Earth” that may or may not be the same or similar. Either way, it sounds lovely enough.
It’s a snowy, nighttime, setting and an old, gray, squirrel (Mel Blanc) is walking through town. The song is originating from a trio of carolers that appear to be red squirrels or chipmunks. They’re anthropomorphized and wearing clothes while the buildings appear to be made out of human items so they’re not giant animals like Mickey Mouse or even Bugs Bunny. The old squirrel walks with a cane, but he’s got a big smile on his face as he sings along really emphasizing the whole “Peace on Earth, good will to men,” part. He encourages the carolers in their singing and when he reaches a small house with a wreath on the door he pauses to remark how it’s a wonderful world! He sure is in high spirits.
In a small house, a mother squirrel knits while two smaller squirrels sleep in a cradle. One is in blue pajamas and the other pink so I’m guessing they’re brother and sister assuming animals abide by the gender norms of the era. The old squirrel bursts in singing his song and the two little ones wake up instantly shouting “Grandpa!” It would appear grandpa here mated with a red squirrel at some point if the mother is his daughter. We don’t know, as she will only have one line. I have to give her credit for not getting ticked off with the old guy for waking the children.
The kids and their grandfather exchange “Merry Christmas,” and all that. There’s apparently no material component to animal Christmas as the grandfather has not come baring gifts or anything, they’re just happy to see him as they jump into his arms. He waddles over to an arm chair the mother vacated for him, but she failed to remove her ball of yarn and crocheting tools and the poor guy sits on them. He pops up immediately and for a moment appears ready to lose his cool, but he just tosses the yarn aside and sits down. That little gag is basically the only physical comedy we’re going to get in this one.
The whole time the grandpa squirrel has been walking around he’s been continuing the song and also just muttering to himself the “good will to men,” line. One of the children then asks their grandfather what the line means. It would seem there are no more men so the kids have no reference point for them. Well, this just means we’re going to have to have a bit of story time as old grampy squirrel tells the kids about who man was and why he’s no longer around.
How does a squirrel describe men to those who never saw them? Well, as monsters! He rises from the chair to demonstrate and all we see are the shadows of the characters on the wall, but they soon fade and are replaced with images of men. He describes them as great, big, monsters with iron pots on their heads that walked on two legs that carried terrible looking shooting irons. The image we see is of a soldier wearing a helmet and gas mask carrying a rifle. The uniform is brown and likely deliberately nondescript so as not to put the blame on what’s to follow on any one group of people, but all people.
The grandfather continues to describe the man we’re looking at and mistakes the hose on the gas mask for man’s nose. As he describes them, we cut back to the little home and the two kid squirrels are a little scared. One of them expresses relief that all of them are gone and the other agrees. The grandfather then goes on to say he couldn’t figure them out and describes them as always fighting. When one argument was settled, another came up. This whole time we’re watching tanks and artillery getting moved into position and the grandfather describes the escalating hostility as so silly that vegetarians began waging war against meat eaters. We see that displayed via banners of war, another rare instance of legitimate humor in this one.
He then goes on to say that one day they got into a terrible fight. Now we’re seeing those weapons of war being used, and the burning church from the intro is back as men run past it. Artillery weapons are firing, planes are dropping bombs, and soldiers are banging away. The grandfather is shown acting things out by swinging his hat and cane around in the living room and banging on a pot. He describes hearing a whistling sound, which we then cut back to the scenes of war and recognize them as bombs. The music has been steadily rising in intensity as well. There’s explosions, soldiers firing machine guns, troops running around and that same background of the flaming church shows up again. The sequence ends with soldiers at a stationary machine gun and fades to show the grandpa mimicking them using his cane as the gun and rattling it over some logs. He’s wearing the pot on his head.
The children then ask what happened next and the grandfather confirms it was terrible. Just two men were left. We see one soldier aiming from inside a trench and another waist deep in a swamp. A gun shot rings out and the soldier recoils, but before he falls he’s able to squeeze off a round of his own presumably hitting the other. The swampy soldier then sinks to his demise.
Among the tattered trees and desolation, the woodland critters poke their heads out. As they begin to explore the now man-less world, a mournful instrumental of the main theme plays. They soon flock to a blown out church and a younger version of the grandfather squirrel approaches a wise owl looking over a book. It’s a version of the Bible, likely the old testament, and when the squirrel asks what it says he reads aloud the commandment before him, “Thou shalt not kill.” He then flips through the pages and remarks that it seems like a collection of mighty good rules, but man chose to ignore them. He comes to rest on a page that reads, “Ye shall rebuild the old wastes.”
Upon hearing that, the other animals (which are basically all small mammals and a few birds) declare that’s what they’ll do. They’ll rebuild! They start picking up the wreckage left behind, mostly old helmets from fallen soldiers, and start building around them. The music picks up and the scene shifts to a brightly lit setting. The animals are now wearing clothes and utilizing tools to build their new society from the ashes of war. If you didn’t get the message of this short, the name of the town will drive that point home for you: Peaceville.
The camera pans over the animals building and it transitions to a shot of the town in the present day. The choir comes back in singing “Peace on Earth” and the camera pans across the town until it comes to rest on the little house where the story is being told from. The carolers then shift to “Silent Night” and the grandpa is shown sitting in the armchair with his grandkids in his arms fast asleep. He’s finishing his story, but before he can actually finish the line “Good will to men,” the mother “shushes” him. He smiles and puts the kids back in the cradle then he hobbles his way towards the door grabbing his hat along the way and reciting over and over to himself “Peace on earth.” He leaves, though without his cane, and the camera pans back over to the mother squirrel who finally gets a line, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” The image fades to one of clouds with the words “Peace on Earth” in the center of the screen. It fades out and we see the clouds with beams of light passing through them.
That’s how Peace on Earth concludes its message. It’s a nakedly obvious message, but one that really can’t be refuted. The Harman directed short is able to sidestep most politics of the day by not depicting any one army and puts the failure of war squarely on all of mankind. The mood is sort of hopeful as we see the animals come together to build their own society, but at the same time it feels pessimistic since, you know, all of mankind had to die in order for peace to be achieved. It gives the short a time capsule feel as this was likely the mood of many a person as the world was on the verge of all-out war once again. The short also offers a solution in the form of the Bible, or church, which feels a bit dated now since it seems all of the worst people are backed by evangelicals in the United States, at least. The messages are still there, but few seem interested in following the basic tenants.
It’s a nice sentiment that’s baked into this one, but it’s also pretty on-the-nose. It feels like “Oscar bait,” but at least that’s reflected in the budget. The animation on this one is Disney level. I am having a hard time thinking of many non-Disney shorts that look this good. Maybe some of the early Tom and Jerry stuff or the Chuck Jones early works that were deliberately trying to imitate Disney. The characters all have that round, soft, look to them which makes them pleasant to look at while the men are done in a realistic style. Some of their movements may be rotoscoped, but it’s hard to know for certain. The backgrounds are highly detailed, though they are a bit few. Especially in the scenes of war as many are recycled and they got a lot of a mileage out of that burning church background. I suppose it’s fine though since they look good and there are only so many ways to portray a darkened, war-torn, setting in an 8 minute short. The quality of the score also matches the production quality of the images as it’s very cinematic and often intense.
I don’t know if Peace on Earth is worthy of being considered for a Nobel Peace Prize, but it is a good cartoon. It does straddle the line as far as taste goes so I can see it being too much for some who might respond in a cynical fashion. And I can also see plenty of folks finding it profound. For me, my response is more in the middle. It’s a sweet little cartoon and I enjoy the visuals, but it could use some subtlety as well. As a kid, there was a shocking element to the short for me the first time I saw it when it just tosses out that mankind is gone. As an adult, it’s less shocking and on my darker days almost seems likely. As a Christmas cartoon, I think it appeals more to the devout since the religious aspect of the holiday is pretty front and center without actually mentioning Jesus. The modern trappings of Christmas aren’t present, and that’s fine. We don’t need Santa in everything.
If you want to check out Peace on Earth, MeTV will probably air it either on the show Toon in With Me or as part of its Tom and Jerry Saturday morning block. Considering today is a Saturday, it might air this morning or next Saturday. If you can’t catch an airing of it though, it has been preserved on the Internet Archive and can be streamed there as well as in other places. It’s not hard to find and these 8 minute shorts don’t even need to be as good as Peace on Earth to make them worth watching at this time of year.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
One of the big, early, cartoon stars was Popeye the Sailor. Popeye starred in newspaper strips, radio plays, and theatrical shorts with contemporaries like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. His star has faded over the years, but few would deny Popeye’s place among the greatest cartoon stars of all-time. Come the 1960s though, Popeye and…
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Back in 1929 Walt Disney launched the Silly Symphonies series of cartoon shorts. Unlike the Mickey Mouse shorts that were growing popular at the time, Silly Symphonies did not center on just one character or even a group of characters, but rather were fairly self-contained. Some shorts that became popular, like The Three Little Pigs, would receive sequels, but mostly the series was designed to be a testing ground for the animators working for Disney in the 1930s. Techniques with sound and color were first tested in Silly Symphonies as was the famed multiplane camera.
Despite the name, there often wasn’t a ton of “silly” to be found in a given Silly Symphony. Not that it stopped them from being popular or critically acclaimed for a large amount of Disney’s Academy Award wins came from the series. And had the series not been a success we probably wouldn’t have Looney Tunes, which is basically a synonym for Silly Symphony. Warner Bros. Studios would be better at incorporating the “looney” into their Looney Tunes and today those shorts are more fondly recalled and often more celebrated while many associate the Silly Symphonies with noodle-armed characters that just smile and dance around. Not that there aren’t some that are genuinely funny or even scary, and Donald Duck famously debuted in a Silly Symphony short, but the vast majority tend to be more whimsical than anything.
The subject of today’s Christmas post is one of those more gentle and whimsical shorts. Santa’s Workshop was released in December of 1932 and depicts what the famed workshop might look like on Christmas Eve. Understandably, there’s a lot of work to be done and Santa has to rely on his elves to get the bulk of it completed in time for his big flight. The short was directed by Wilfred Jackson and was just the fourth Silly Symphony to utilize Technicolor while also serving as a testing ground for a new audio synchronization technique crafted by RCA. A couple of years ago, we actually looked at the short’s sequel The Night Before Christmas. At the time, I was trying my best not to duplicate specials and shorts already covered by the unaffiliated website, A Cartoon Christmas, but that blog has since gone dormant and most of the old posts are no long accessible so I no longer feel such an obligation.
The short begins with an original song by Frank Churchill. I couldn’t find a credit for the song’s name, but the words are “In the North North Pole in a distant land lives Santa Claus with a merry band of jolly elves who sing and dance making toys for girls and boys.” It’s sung with a choir and it just brings us into the picture which begins with an exterior shot of Santa’s Workshop and an elf can be seen hauling a sack of mail in its direction. In the background are more elves with more sacks as there’s apparently a lot of late arrivals this year.
We then see a group of four elves working on Santa’s sleigh. One is scrubbing, one dusting, one touching up the paint and the fourth is shining the runners. They pause in their work to continue singing to the same melody telling us they’re “Merry, merry, men of the midnight sun,” which makes them sound a lot more intriguing than they really are. The painter elf punctuates their little song in a baritone that tomorrow is Christmas Day, implying they have some urgency in their work despite having time to stop and sing.
We then cut to another group of four elves taking care of one of Santa’s reindeer. In the background we can see the name Prancer above a stall so I suppose this one is indeed Prancer. Prancer looks like an actual reindeer so I applaud Disney for its attempt at realism since many cartoons seems to model the reindeer after white tail deer and not actual reindeer. The elves in this shot are taking care of Prancer by brushing the fur, polishing the hooves and antlers, and the fourth unlucky elf gets to clean the deer’s butthole. He literally lifts up Prancer’s tail and wipes the deer’s ass with a brush. He seems happy to be doing it though as they’re all whistling to the same melody. We then cut to another elf brushing Donner’s teeth and yet another giving Dancer a rub down before the scene shifts to an interior shot.
Here we get our first look at the big man himself, Santa Claus (Allan Watson), as he sits among a mountain of letters and goes through each one with a smile on his face. He reads them aloud and as he does his secretary to his left (Pinto Colvig) consults a ledger and lets Santa know if the kid has been good or not. Little Molly asks Santa for a dolly (everyone is going to speak in rhyme so the requests from the kids need to rhyme too) and his secretary informs him that Molly is okay because she eats her spinach every day. Santa gives a belly laugh in response and tells another elf to get her a doll. The next kid, little Billy, wants a whole bunch of stuff including various animals which prompts Santa to laugh to himself as he suggests he just get the kid Noah’s Ark. We then find out little Billy hasn’t washed behind his ears in seven years, but Santa just instructs an elf to toss in a cake of soap and resumes his laughter. The helper elf says, “Okay, a cake of soap!” and he’s clearly voiced by Walt Disney since he sounds almost exactly like Mickey Mouse from that era.
The little elf runs off with Billy’s massive list into another room and we get to see the actual workshop in action. The elves are banging away at all manner of toys and we get to see how they build a rocking horse. First is a shot of a massive log getting cut to size so an elf can shove a horse head onto it. We then see an assembly line of elves inserting the runners into the bottom via hammer. Then we get to see an elf very cheerfully drill holes into the backside of each horse which moves along to the tail elf who grabs a tuft of straw, or fur, dabs it in glue and then tosses into the newly drilled hole. Lastly, we see the elf who applies some black spots to each side of the horse. Pretty conventional stuff here which leaves me wondering, “Where’s the gag?”
Now that we know how to assemble a rocking horse we move on to see a group of painter elves coloring up some blocks and doll heads. It’s at this point it feels like we’re seeing a lot of this just so Disney can show off its Technicolor exclusive license it held at the time. The next elf is painting checkerboards and the gag here is he has checkered paint that does all of the work for him since it goes on as a checkerboard. It’s a gag that I’ve seen used a fair amount in cartoons over the years, though for all I know, this was its origin (but probably not). We then see some elves sewing doll clothes before moving onto an assembly line for doll hair. A shaggy looking doll comes down the conveyor belt and an elf dangles a spider in front of its face. This frightens the doll so its hair stands up on end and a bunch of curlers fall from the ceiling to do its hair up nice and pretty. A second doll comes through and there’s a quick animation error as the color of its dress changes from blue to pink as the gag with the hair is repeated.
We then rejoin Santa Claus and it’s here we have ourselves a bit of controversy. If you’re watching this short on Disney+, Santa will appear to just be fiddling with a toy airplane which amuses him greatly. He comes off as a goof who is just playing with the toys while the elves do all of the work. If you’re watching the uncensored version though, then you know he’s actually testing the products. A doll comes down a chute and he asks her to say “Mama.” She says “Mom,” at first and Santa has to correct her until she says it right, then laughing heartily once more, he stamps an “OK” on her backside. As the doll walks off another one comes down the chute and this is the offensive one. We’re talking about a 1930s cartoon so you can probably imagine what the doll looks like, but in case you can’t it’s a blackface doll. It pops up on its two feet and in a raspy voice says “Mammy!” which makes Santa laugh. It does a “butt stomp” on Santa’s stamp and struts off and Santa doesn’t stop it so he apparently approves of this racist doll. After that, the airplane comes down the chute and the edited version picks up with Santa testing that one out. Should Disney have cut it? Eh, I don’t know. It’s been released so many times by the company uncut that it feels like it’s trying to hide something by not putting it on their service. They already have a disclaimer before the short, so might as well leave it, I guess. Or just put both up. The gag is definitely dated and doesn’t exactly add much, I just don’t like how it’s edited because the new version doesn’t make it obvious that Santa is testing product and actually doing something.
Anyway, with Santa laughing at the airplane the thing flies into his mouth and he pulls it out and sends it off into the workshop where it just starts knocking a bunch of toys off various shelves (see why the edit makes him look like an unhelpful boob?). The toys land on the floor properly arranged and we basically go into a parade of toys segment. Here we get more racist depictions of toys, these ones are left in the Disney+ cut, as a blackface marching band leads some white toy soldiers in a march. They’re followed by some penguins, a clown, an elephant, and a donkey. Behind the donkey comes some “China dolls” that look at the camera and have their hair shoot up for some reason. Is it racist? Maybe, they definitely shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt. Behind those dolls comes a Charlie Chaplin inspired toy with a police officer chasing after him. I’m guessing that was a pretty big hit in 1932.
The toys all march into Santa’s sack while their overlord/creator looks on approvingly. The racist band is slightly less racist now since the red lips have been removed basically leaving them looking like Bosko. We cut to another Bosko-like toy steering a carriage pulled by a donkey towards Santa’s sack and the donkey pauses to kick the carriage every few seconds to bounce the black-face toy into the air. Some wooden ducks go by in the background and we then see Billy’s Noah’s Ark go “sailing” past on wheels with various animals poking their heads out. More mechanical toys continue their march which include some flamingo-like birds, a rolling teddy bear, and some wind-up pigs. Santa stands the now overflowing sack up and the last toy to jump in is a Jack-in-the-Box because every Christmas cartoon from this era requires one be present. Santa laughs and then lets his elves do all of the work in carrying the sack outside to place in his sleigh.
All of the elves are waiting for them outside and they cheer at the sight of Santa Claus. He takes a stand in the sleigh and a rare, serious expression, is painted on his face. If you look closely, an off-model Mickey Mouse toy is present in the sack of toys. Santa then bobs and sways as he sings “Goodbye, my merry little gnomes,” and the elves respond in kind with “Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!” Santa then boasts that he’s bringing joy to a million homes and after the elves respond with their goodbye cheer once again he sits down and cracks his whip over Dasher’s rear. The reindeer are lined up single-file in front of the sleigh and there are actually 9 of them. They take off to thunderous applause and we get to see Santa and his sleigh pass in front of the screen a few times before they head off towards a really creepy moon. It’s our first moon shot of 2022, and it’s certainly memorable and might haunt your dreams later.
That’s all she wrote as this one is a tidy 6:40, and even shorter if you’re watching on Disney+ due to the removed content. This one is a fairly conventional Silly Symphony as it’s all set to music and there’s basically no conflict. It’s just a bunch of characters cheerfully doing stuff, in this scenario making toys and getting ready for Christmas. It’s fine, and I do like this very jolly depiction of Santa as a guy who is just tickled by his profession. He does come across as a bit of an overlord since we don’t see him do much. He’s basically king of the elves and they just do his bidding, but the song makes sure to tells us that they’re very happy with their lot in life. Does that make it better? No, not really, but whatever.
Obviously, the censorship present provides for some talking points and it might be the most interesting aspect about the short. That type of racial depiction was unfortunately very common during this time period. It’s so common that I’m actually surprised when one of these “parade of toys” cartoons doesn’t include some type of blackface gag. Apparently white audiences just loved that stuff in the 30s. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. If not for that, this would just be a fairly benign Christmas cartoon that’s also forgettable. It doesn’t really add anything to the Santa lore and the gags are fairly pedestrian. Still, of all of the shorts that are like this, I might like this one the most? I don’t love it, but the music isn’t tiresome and the visuals are pretty nice. The elves are a bit more noodle-armed than I like, but the character designs are pleasant and I really like this rounded Santa.
Being that this one is on Disney+, Santa’s Workshop should be a fairly easy cartoon to find if you wish to view it this year. It’s been released on Christmas DVDs and was included in the Walt Disney Treasures line of DVD releases that are now long out of print and quite expensive. I actually don’t have that set as I really couldn’t see myself sitting down to watch a marathon of Silly Symphony shorts, but if you fancy yourself a cartoon historian then it might be worth tracking down. And if you don’t have access to any of those things there’s always YouTube which is where you’re most likely to encounter the uncut version. Disney is a pretty litigious company when it comes to protecting its brand, but when it comes to the old shorts it’s surprisingly lax with YouTube.
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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The Flintstones have a well-established relationship with Christmas at this point. There have been a few specials, some even prime time, and plenty of home video releases. For that reason it’s a bit interesting that the show actually waited until its fifth season for its first Christmas episode. At that point, the show had been…
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Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were among the first stars of cartoon creation to burst onto the scene. Together, the duo would work for Disney, Warner, and MGM (among others) creating and overseeing some of animation’s most memorable characters from the golden age. After working with Leon Schlesinger’s studio to produce Looney Tunes shorts, the duo jumped to MGM in 1934 taking one of their creations with them: Bosko. Bosko isn’t exactly the most well-remembered character from that era, but for a little while, he was indeed a bonafide star. Harman continued making theatrical shorts of the character under the new banner Happy Harmonies while Ising specialized in one-offs that sometimes returned characters, and sometimes did not. One returning set of characters was a pair of puppies which debuted in the short Two Little Pups, but it’s their next appearance that we care about today which came in the 1936 short The Pups’ Christmas.
It is a bit of a stretch on my part to call these puppies returning characters. They look basically the same between the two cartoons as far as the general shape and model look, but the original pups were white while the two we’re about to meet are brown and black. The thought process for both shorts is essentially the same though which is to watch two, ignorant, and curious pups interact with the world around them. And for this cartoon, that world happens to be the underside of a Christmas tree full of presents. It’s a fairly simple and basic premise that lends itself well to physical comedy. There’s almost no dialogue present in the short, apart from a few lines spoken by some children, as the focus is going to be squarely on the puppies and the toys they encounter.
The cartoon begins in typical Christmas fashion. We get a rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the standard MGM intro followed by a simple title card that fades to show the exterior of a snow-covered house as “Silent Night” filters in. Maybe some day I’ll go back through all of the Christmas cartoons I’ve consumed over the years and count the number of times “Silent Night” brings us into a short because it sure feels like there’s a lot. When the camera enters the house we find three children, two boys and one girl, as well as our two title characters lurking on the stairs. They’re all spying the goodies recently left by Santa under the tree, though while the children display some excitement, the pups show uncertainty. The kids, which are mostly just shown from the feet as the camera is locked-onto the puppies, beckon the pups to follow while also reminding them to keep quiet as they continuously bark at the sight before their eyes. The two eventually descend the stairs, but not before the brown pup gets its head stuck in the banister supports. The pup is able to yank its head out, it’s neck stretching impossibly long to do so, and the two head for the tree.
Once at the tree the pups run and bark at the assortment of packages and toys left neatly piled all around the tree. These kids seriously made out like bandits this year based on the sheer amount of stuff present. One of the boys starts fiddling with a toy train that the brown pup is suspicious of, while the girl is seated in a new rocking chair with a doll. The brown pup goes to inspect the doll and jumps when it says “Mama.” The two pups are then further startled when the toy train takes off. They run and try to hide behind a large box, but the other boy comes blasting out from behind that on a new tricycle nearly running the pair over as they dash for cover. It’s a scary world for these pups.
The pups take refuge in what is I assume one of their Christmas gifts: a dog house with a bow on it. Near the dog house is a pup-sized, fake, Christmas tree and numerous packages that must be intended for the dogs for they include dog collars and a miniature fire hydrant. The black pup seems quite please with the hydrant, but before he can even entertain the notion of taking a whiz on it he’s startled by a stuffed, polka-dotted, dog that kind of resembles Disney’s Pluto. The black dog retreats towards the dog house where the brown pup has been hiding barking all the way. The barks turn to growls as the pup slowly creeps towards the doll with the brown pup in tow. The two approach the doll with a great deal of trepidation and when the black pup stops short of it the brown pup starts pushing it. The two circle the doll nervously sniffing at it until it collapses causing the two to frantically run away and seek shelter amongst the unopened gifts.
When the black pup emerges from one of the boxes it tore through it’s sporting a Native American headdress. A stereotypical Native American jingle plays in the background as the pup barks in the direction of the doll. It cuts out rather quickly as the camera pans to reveal where the brown pup is hiding. It’s in a doll stroller and it pops up from under a blanket with a bonnet on its head. The doll from earlier is positioned behind the pup and it tilts forward saying “Mama,” as it contacts the pup’s rear. The black pup jumps out of the offensive headdress to look in the brown pup’s direction as that pup bats at the doll (behaving more like a kitten now than a pup) each swat causing the doll to say, “Mama!”
The black pup then takes note of the little boy once more. This time he’s winding up a tank toy. When he lets go the tank practically comes to life as the sound of drums rumble in the background. It hops and blasts the poor little pup with a shower of sparks from its cannon as it lurches forward. The tank waddles more than it rolls as it marches through the area while the black pup hides behind a large ball. Once the tank passes the pup nervously pursues it. As it sniffs at the tank, the pup gets too close and the tank whirls around and blasts it once again causing the pup to retreat into a large bass drum. Seemingly satisfied, the bird-like tank turns itself around and resumes it’s march with the top turret bouncing on a spring with each step.
The black pup is clearly a little miffed at the treatment it’s receiving from this toy and stalks after the tank. The tank climbs a rectangular box that’s leaning against a cubed one, and once at the top, literally jumps a gap over to the next stack of presents as this thing is clearly alive at this point. It doesn’t quite make the leap, tanks aren’t known for their agility, but is able to pull its rear end over the edge of the gift and disappear to the other side. The pup runs around and looks behind the gifts expecting to find the tank, but unbeknownst to it the tank anticipated this and pops out from around the other side. It starts shooting off sparks once again and the pup spins around to yelp and run away after taking a shot to the face.
The pup runs away and right into a small, hand accordion. It crashed through one end and emerges out the other clearly destroying someone’s new gift. It then runs and hides behind a present and now just looks plain terrified instead of curious or angry. Too bad for the pup the tank remains one step ahead of it. We see it slip past the pup, and as the pup backs away from the present it’s rear end comes to rest in a French horn. On the other side is the tank which shoots its sparks through the horn and connects with the puppy’s backside. It yelps and runs away crashing right through the gift it was previously hiding behind and emerging out the other end draped in someone’s new pajamas.
The sound of “Mama” gets the black puppy’s attention and we pan over to see the brown pup is batting at something on the floor. It’s the voice box for the doll which says “Mama” each time the puppy hits it. In the background is the doll itself torn to shreds. Where are the kids during all of this? That little girl is going to be heartbroken when she finds her new doll. Judging from the volume of gifts though, it looks like mom and dad can afford to get her a new one. The brown pup stops smacking the toy and instead chooses to bark at it which causes the black pup to bark too. That dastardly tank, apparently not yet satisfied, comes up behind the black pup once more and blasts it with sparks. The black pup yelps and runs away only to collide with the brown pup causing it to swallow the voice box. Now the brown pup is confused as every time it’s butt connects with something it hears “Mama!”
The tank returns to inflict more terror upon these hapless pups. Seeing it, the brown pup takes shelter behind more gifts while we see where the black pup ended up following its collision with the brown one. It, once again, smashed through another box only this one contained boxing gloves. It emerges from the box with the gloves on its front paws. I expected the pup to then use these to bash the tank, but instead it reacts more like an actual puppy would if it found itself in such an improbable situation and starts trying to shake the gloves off. One goes soaring across the room and the tank has to duck to avoid it. Then comes the other one which the tank jumps to avoid. Now apparently mad, the tank goes after the black pup and resumes blasting it with more sparks.
The brown pup emerges from its hiding place seemingly ready to help out the other pup, but instead chooses to sit down. This causes the soundbox to go off again and the pup spins around confused. We then go into a little dance where the brown pup keeps searching for the source of the “Mama” soundbite, but can’t find it since it’s coming from inside it. Once the pup does figure that part out, it keeps gently sitting down and popping its bum back up the second it hears the first little piece of sound. Only when the pup sits with more force does it freak it out causing it to run for another hiding spot.
The brown pup, in its haste, crashes into another toy. And yup, I figured this was going to happen, it’s racist. The toy is a dancing black person depicted in a very offensive manner. It’s limbs flail about as it does a dance ending with a “Hey!” as it spreads its arms out wide. The bit is mercifully over in a few seconds as the pup takes off. It comes towards a monkey toy, or ornament, that is very much alive as it climbs up a string to avoid the puppy. It then slides down with a look of shock on its face, only for the barking pups to come running by once again, this time with the tank in pursuit. The monkey avoids them all, but for some reason the tank whirls around to regard the monkey up in the Christmas tree. The monkey is pretty ticked off at this point and it yells down at the tank with a bunch of unintelligible, high-pitched, squeaks similar to what Chip and Dale do at times. The tank does not take kindly to this at all and fires off a volley of sparks in the monkey’s direction catching it clear in the face and utterly destroying it. Poor, little, monkey.
This terrible tank them goes after the pups once again. As they run away, they run into a toy airplane hangar and quickly bounce out. That’s because it’s occupied by a toy plane which comes rolling out and takes to the sky. The tank ducks under the plane, but once clear of it fires more sparks at it. The plane soars around the Christmas tree seemingly avoiding the tank which only makes it madder. The tank fires off another round with the last one being something akin to a “charged” shot. That’s the one that strikes the plane which stops in mid-air to grasp at it’s chest like it was a man shot in the heart. It then goes into a tailspin with flames shooting out the back. The pups run for cover in their new dog house seemingly shutting the tank out. It runs around in circles, but with no where to go, does the only thing it can: duck and cover.
The planes lands a direct hit on the tank reducing both toys to a pile of twisted steel and springs. The pups emerge from their house to sniff at the pile, only for the tank’s turret (which is basically its head) to pop out on its spring and fire one last blast of sparks at the pups when it strikes the ground. The pups race back into the dog house, but turn around to bark incessantly in the tank’s direction. “Jingle Bells” plays in the background as we close on an iris shot and one last, somewhat joyful, yelp from the brown pup.
And thus, the first Christmas for these two little pups is concluded. They caused a lot of mayhem as they investigated the gifts under the tree. I’m not sure what happened to the kids from the beginning. Did they go back to bed? Head into the kitchen? Or did they just watch these toys torture their little puppies with amusement? I have to believe they vacated the room since the brown pup was able to absolutely savage that doll. The destruction wrought by the pups almost makes them villains, in a way, albeit innocent ones. At least it would if not for that asshole tank. Seriously, what is that thing’s problem? One puppy sniffs your backside and you make it your mission to murder the little dog?! That thing got what it deserved, but not before it “killed” a monkey toy and a plane toy that were all just minding their own business. Why couldn’t it have killed the racist toy?!
For its part, The Pups’ Christmas feels like a Rudolf Ising short. It’s mostly set to music and relies on the animation to depict a fairly conventional setup that doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just two, cute, puppies getting into mischief. It’s the sort of cartoon Ising does well as the animation style is very pleasing to the eye and the production values appear fairly high for this sort of thing. Probably too high for the folks at MGM since the Happy Harmonies series of shorts was ended because they routinely went over budget. I do like how the puppies are presented, even if some of their behavior felt more cat-like than dog-like to me. That detestable tank was also animated in a very amusing manner. It’s waddling and bouncing is a lot of fun, even if it appears to break a whole bunch of rules as far as sentience goes. The short begins with the puppies having exaggerated, but realistic, encounters with objects around the tree until that tank comes into the picture. From there, all of the toys basically come alive with no explanation. Not that one is necessarily needed since we’ve looked at a bunch of pictures like this in the past where toys on Christmas Eve behave like living beings. And of the ones I have looked at, this one is probably the best so far.
The Pups’ Christmas, being an old cartoon short, is not an easy thing to come by if you want to actually pay for it. It’s never been released on home video and isn’t streaming on any of the major streaming platforms even though it’s owned by Warner Home Video at this point. And I’m guessing the one offensive toy will keep it that way, unless a renewed push is made to get the Happy Harmonies series up and running. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily hard to watch it though as Warner apparently sees no value in protecting its asset which means this short can be found streaming for free all over the place, including YouTube. Just punch it in and you’re sure to find multiple options. MeTV has also shown it in the past year, with the racist toy edited out, so chances are it will pop up this month either as part of Toon in With Me or as part of the Saturday morning Tom & Jerry block of cartoons. And if you’re a dog lover, you’ll probably find this one cute and if you just like animation there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s nothing amazing by any means, but at a running time of less than 8 minutes why not give it a look?
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
In the fall of 2013, beloved family dog, Brian, met his demise. Brian was an extraordinary dog capable of communicating in English with his family members who was often seen walking on two feet. Despite that though, he met a rather ordinary end for a dog when he was unceremoniously struck by an automobile. Life…
For today’s Christmas post, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Story. No, not that Christmas Story, the first one. Way before Ralphie started obsessing over a BB gun, the duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought us a story about a mouse and a dog trying to get a last-minute letter…
Come 1997 I was moving away from what is largely considered “kid’s stuff.” I was in my teens and gearing up for high school and the Fox Kids I had grown up with was changing. My beloved X-Men came to an end that year and with it came my disinterest in Saturday morning cartoons. I…
Last year for the Christmas Spot we took a look at the 1960’s TV series Popeye the Sailor and its Christmas episode “Spinach Greetings.” There are a lot of Popeye fans in the world and my assumption is that most would not put Popeye the Sailor above the theatrical shorts that helped catapult Popeye to stardom in the preceding decades. Popeye the Sailor was a TV series produced on the cheap. It wasn’t much to look at and it was missing some of the classic stars, namely Bluto, though it did have the added charm of working in some forgotten foils for Popeye like the Sea Hag.
This year, we’re going back to a more beloved era of Popeye, though probably still not the preferred era, as we have here a cartoon from the Famous Studios era of Popeye the Sailor shorts. These ones are notable for being mostly in color and for not featuring the work of the Fleischer brothers. Their ouster at Paramount is another story, but suffice to say that Popeye would not be a star without their contributions. The Famous Studios era would total 122 cartoons and run from 1942 – 1957. Many of these cartoons would find their way to television and could even be seen on Cartoon Network in the 90s. Not all of them were considered suitable to air though as, you could probably guess, there are some unflattering depictions of Japanese people during the World War II era of the shorts. Today’s selection, Mister and Mistletoe, is the 215th Popeye cartoon and was first released on September 30, 1955 alongside Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry.
The cartoon begins at Christmas time and Popeye’s nephews are present and all ready for bed. It’s Christmas Eve and they’re informing Popeye (Jack Mercer) and Olive (Mae Questel) that they’ve been good and need the adults to relay this important information to Santa Claus upon his arrival. Of note, only three of Popeye’s nephews appear in this one. Popeye usually has four nephews: Pepeye, Peepeye, Pupeye, and everyone’s favorite, Poopeye. I don’t know which one is missing here, but I refuse to believe it’s Poopeye!
The boys are dismissed, but before they head upstairs to bed, they hang their stockings by the fireplace. One nephew, predictably, has an absurdly long stocking. Olive and Popeye then start decorating, while that crafty Bluto (Jackson Beck) lurks outside an open window (even though this takes place in a cold climate). Popeye shows off his impressive Body by Spinach by holding Olive up off the ground one-handed. She’s basically standing in the palm of his hand, but in a seated position, which just looks awkward. Bluto bemoans the fact that Popeye got here first which implies that this is Olive’s house (her name was also on the mailbox in the opening shot). Why are Popeye’s nephews sleeping at Olive’s house on Christmas Eve? I have so many questions!
As Popeye and Olive decorate, Olive remarks how wonderful it is to see children believe in Santa Claus while Popeye wishes there was a Santa for adults. I don’t like Olive’s phrasing here as it implies there is no Santa Claus, but I guess since this was screened with a Hitchcock black comedy maybe kids were never expected to take this one in? Popeye’s comment seems to inspire Bluto to swipe a Santa suit and sack of presents that were by the open window. Now decked out in Santa’s threads, Bluto makes for the chimney and utters his own version of the jolly, fat, man’s signature laugh which gets Popeye excited. He peers up the chimney and as he does Bluto rips the top portion of it from the house and sends it down what’s left of the chimney to smash into Popeye.
Bluto is then able to enter the home and Olive is instantly smitten. Popeye doesn’t seem to mind the mishap with the chimney either and is delighted to see Santa pay them a visit. Popeye and Olive not doubting the man’s identity seems to make-up for the prior comments about Santa. Olive leaves to fetch Santa a cup of hot chocolate while Santa suggests to Popeye a good spot for the mistletoe. Once placed, Popeye excitedly calls out to Olive to set himself up with a perfect opportunity for a smooch only for Bluto to literally pull the rug out from under him exposing a vent in the floor. Popeye goes sailing through an open door leading to the basement with the rug allowing for Santa Bluto to movie-in for a kiss with Olive. Before his lips find hers, Popeye pops up from the vent in the floor and Bluto’s kiss lands on the back of Popeye’s head causing Popeye to giggle and blush suggesting Santa is embarrassing him.
Mildly dismayed by Popeye’s intrusion, Bluto tries to get him out of his beard by asking Popeye if he’d like to help him with the toys. Popeye enthusiastically races over to Santa’s sack and starts filling his arms with toys. Bluto then sneaks up behind him, dumps him into the sack of toys, and chucks it out the window. As the sack of Popeye and toys sails through the air the drawstring snags a pine tree outside. The tree bends back, then snaps forward sending the sack back through the window. When it arrives, Santa and Olive are found seated beside each other on a lounge chair looking cozy while Santa starts to recite A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Olive looks primed and ready so maybe this was an erotic version of the Christmas classic? The sack smashes into Bluto and Popeye pops out looking a bit irritated. Santa Bluto laughs sheepishly and offers an apology.
Bluto suggests Popeye setup the electric train set and we cut to Popeye excitedly doing just that. As he snaps pieces of the track together, Bluto pops out from behind a chair to plug the set in. When Popeye snaps the last pieces of track together he gets a mighty jolt of electricity. Who designed this thing?! This hardly seems safe for children! Popeye lands on the floor on his stomach with his mouth open in a cartoonishly large manner. Track is coming out of his mouth and the train engine soon drives out.
We then cut to Santa and Olive, and Santa has his arm wrapped around her, as they place lit candles on the Christmas tree. Every time I see this tradition acted out in old cartoons it floors me that anyone would have ever willingly placed a flaming object on a dead tree in their own house. Santa bemoans to Olive that it’s a shame Christmas only comes once a year and Olive, rather suggestively, replies that he can drop by anytime. Popeye then interrupts to ask Santa if he can help light the tree. Santa Bluto laughs boyishly as he apparently doesn’t mind the interruption and tells Popeye he sure can. We then see why he wasn’t frustrated with Popeye’s intrusion as he produces a stick of dynamite from behind his back. He tells Popeye he saved the last candle for him and instructs him to place it on the top of the tree. Popeye races up a ladder and does as he’s told. With the “candle” lit, he shouts out a hearty “Merry Christmas!” just before it explodes sending him smashing through the roof (Olive now has a busted chimney and a massive hole in her roof). Popeye soars through the air once again and crashes through a frozen river. The water splashes upwards and freezes instantly with Popeye trapped inside.
Admiring his handiwork, Bluto laughs heartedly while Olive looks worried, either over Popeye or the hole in her roof. We also seem to have switched locations in the house as the pair are still by the tree, but it’s now in a corner of the house. As Bluto laughs, he doesn’t notice his beard has landed in a candle and it catches fire. The flames burn away the false, Santa, beard leaving Bluto’s normal beard intact. Once Olive sees that this Santa is a phony she gets angry. Bluto brushes her anger aside and grabs her around the waist and suggests she give him a kiss. She clearly doesn’t want to as she wrestles against this would-be rapist’s grasp and is able to squirm free. She jumps on a tricycle and starts racing around the room on the walls while Bluto chases after her. He too is able to defy gravity by running on the walls. As Olive tries to avoid her attacker, she calls out to Popeye for help.
Popeye, hearing Olive’s cries, wakes up only to find himself encased in ice. He then blows hard on his pipe producing a blast of fire which melts away the ice freeing him. Popeye races back inside the house and, rather than immediately go to Olive’s aid, runs for the sack of presents. We soon see why as he pulls out a golden can of spinach. It’s addressed to “Me Nephews” and it’s from Popeye explaining how he knew it was there. He devours the contents and is then able to morph his left arm into a massive mallet (I love when the spinach gives him absurd powers beyond just ludicrous strength).
Popeye runs into another room and sees Olive go racing past him. When Bluto appears behind her Popeye blasts him with his mallet arm knocking him right out of the Santa suit. He bounces, in his long underwear, along the floor and comes to rest beside the tree. The stars spinning around his head then wrap around the tree and one comes to rest at the top. A very resourceful way to decorate a tree, Popeye.
Popeye then dons the Santa suit and belts out a “Merry Christmas” as he puts on a spare beard. The nephews hear the call of Santa and emerge from their room. They excitedly race down the stairs and dive into the sack of toys. They immediately recognize Popeye and as they jump into the sack each one asks a question of “Uncle Popeye” like “What did you bring me, Uncle Popeye?” “Did you bring me my gun, Uncle Popeye?” Realizing his disguise is no good, Santa Popeye just has a laugh at his own expense and the cartoon fades to black.
It may not have included a wacky flying reindeer airplane, but I feel comfortable declaring Mister and Mistletoe a superior Christmas cartoon to “Spinach Greetings.” It’s a pretty standard Popeye short with Bluto and the sailor battling over Olive only this one is set at Christmas and Popeye is mostly ignorant of Bluto’s advances until the very end. It certainly is a bit confusing as far as the setup goes of Popeye seemingly bringing his nephews along for a sleepover at Olive’s on Christmas Eve, but apparently someone at Famous Studios felt it had to be set at Olive’s house as opposed to Popeye’s. Those two certainly have an odd relationship.
Being a Famous Studios production and not a Fleischer one, it likely comes as no surprise that this isn’t the best looking Popeye short out there, but it’s far from ugly. The animation is fine and there appear to be few shortcuts taken. There are a few hard cuts which are a bit unusual, but maybe that was to imply a longer passage of time. It’s only six minutes long so those kids were basically in bed for a wink or two before getting up for presents. None of the physical comedy is particularly original for a Popeye cartoon as I know I’ve seen Olive ride along a wall like she does in this one before. Popeye getting smashed with an entire chimney is certainly a violent touch, though the mallet transformation was a bit too conventional. Why not have his arm turn into something more festive? This is a Christmas cartoon after all.
Being that this is a fairly typical Popeye short, it’s also no surprise that there isn’t any sort of message baked into it. We don’t expect life lessons from Popeye (at least during this era) so it’s fine he has no Christmas wisdom to share. I do wish they had snuck in confirmation of the real Santa Claus as I do hesitate to show this to my “true believer” kids for that reason. It’s not the electrocution or the smoking that concerns me as a parent, it’s the Santa stuff! At any rate, this one is relatively easy to find online if you wish to make it part of your Christmas viewing this year. And with MeTV airing Toon in With Me and a Popeye show on Saturday mornings, there’s a decent chance this one will show up on television too this year.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
Last year, we took a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom (kind of) and watched the Super Mario Bros. save Christmas from the evil King Koopa. Since Koopa failed, it would make sense for him to attempt the same trick at a later date, especially since he would go on to become “King Dad” and Christmas…
It’s not often I get to look at a Christmas special from the same year I’m doing The Christmas Spot, but it also helps when that Christmas special premieres in May of the same of year. May?! Yeah, it’s weird, but for the 31st season finale of The Simpsons the show rolled out a Christmas…
Considering how gross a lot of cartoons had become in the 90s, it should come as no surprise that the decade concluded with Mega Babies, a cartoon about literal snot-nosed, super-powered, babies featuring diapers overflowing with excrement in the opening title. Mega Babies was a short-lived production from the Tremblay brothers, Christian and Yvon, who…