Category Archives: Television

Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dec. 6 – Christmas in Tattertown

Original air date December 21, 1988.

Nickelodeon in the late 1980s was a network on the rise. Cable was expanding to more and more households each and every day and Nick was able to seize the youth market almost from the get-go. Prior to that, broadcast networks dominated children’s programming, but restricted it to certain parts of the broadcast schedule. And they were basically the same from channel to channel as the networks battled over the youth market while confining it to just a small portion of the schedule. Nickelodeon basically ditched all of that as it would aim its programming at children from 6AM to 8PM every single day. The problem though, was there just wasn’t much programming out there that wasn’t already locked into an exclusive deal on broadcast. That’s why, in the early days, Nickelodeon relied a lot on syndicated and outdated shows like Lassie, Dennis the Menace, and Flipper. The network didn’t have the resources to produce it’s own content or compete with the broadcast networks for the latest and greatest, but as it’s profile grew so did its coffers.

In the late 1980s, Nickelodeon explored the idea of doing animation. And when it did so, it decided to go after a guy who knows an awful lot about animation: Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi had established himself as a director of feature-length animation in the 60s and 70s with an adult audience in mind and was probably best known for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film. An X rating back in the 1970s didn’t mean what it does today as Fritz the Cat is actually more like an R-rated film, but that fact didn’t stop some of his detractors from calling him a “pornographer.” He directed several other features and had basically established himself as the anti-Disney of animation.

What you were originally supposed to see alongside a Nicktoons logo.

In the late 80s, Bakshi was overseeing the animated series Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, and it was likely his work there that caught Nickelodeon’s eye. Nickelodeon had been acquired by Viacom in 1986, which itself had been spun-off from CBS as part of a mandate from the FCC banning networks from owning syndication companies, but it’s probably no coincidence that Mighty Mouse was a CBS show and likely helped get Bakshi into talks with Nickelodeon. Bakshi pitched Junktown, later changed to Tattertown, which was an idea he had been sitting on since he was a kid. The network liked it enough to commission a pilot and would from there offer him a deal for 39 more episodes. Then Bakshi got into trouble with Mighty Mouse as a sequence in an episode where Mighty Mouse snorts a flower was accused of being a reference to cocaine use. It made enough noise that it’s alleged Nickelodeon got cold feet and backed out of the deal and the pilot for Tattertown, which was re-titled Christmas in Tattertown, is the only remnant of the deal.

Tattertown was supposed to be about a girl who gets sucked into another world inhabited by garbage that walks and talks.

Tattertown should have been the first Nicktoon and would have launched in either late 1989 or sometime in 1990, which would have been before the eventual launch of Nicktoons in 1991. The irony in all of this, is that the sequence in Mighty Mouse that caused so much trouble can be traced back to a director on Bakshi’s staff: John Kricfalusi. Kricfalusi was adamant the sequence not be cut from the cartoon and Bakshi eventually sided with his decision. That decision obviously backfired, and Mighty Mouse ended up getting cancelled eventually. Kricfalusi would then go on to found Spumco, and his first major project would become one of the original three Nicktoons: The Ren and Stimpy Show. Obviously, Kricfalusi couldn’t have known at the time how lucrative a decision that would be for him to defend that one scene in a cartoon, but it sure did work out pretty well for him in the end. Now lets never speak of him again.

Likely what would have been the show’s logo.

Christmas in Tattertown aired in December of 1988 and was re-broadcast around the holidays into the 90s. Despite Nickelodeon having the broadcast rights to the pilot of its would-be Nicktoon, it doesn’t own the production outright. Bakshi retained ownership of it and either had a deal in place each year with Nick for it to air, or their original agreement provided the rights for a time that likely no longer is in place. Because it is a single, not particularly well-remembered, holiday special, it hasn’t been officially made available. The only way to see it is either via an original tape or via someone’s own recording made with a VCR. Geoffrey Darby, who was a screenwriter at Nick on You Can’t Do That On Television and the original host of Double Dare, has a YouTube channel with just five videos. One of those five though, is Christmas in Tattertown. It sounds like, based on his write-up with the video, he just found a copy of the special in his home or office and put it up for people to see. It has a counter running at the top of the screen for the entire duration and there are even blank spots in the video, presumably for commercials. There is also, on occasion, tracking info from the VCR he likely used to upload this thing which just makes it a really interesting viewing experience. There are other versions on YouTube that are of better quality, some even with commercial bumpers, but there’s a certain time capsule aspect to the one uploaded by Darby.

Miles the sax, voiced by the always awesome Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown begins with an introduction. Keith David is our narrator and he introduces us to Debbie (Sherry Lynn), a little girl who found a strange book in her attic and got sucked into Tattertown along with her stuffed dog and dolly Muffet (Jennifer Darling). This either would have been the intro for all of the Tattertown shows, or it would have been livened up a bit, maybe with a true theme song or something. The origin is told through stills during the opening credits, and if you’re into animation you may see some familiar names in the credits here and at the end. When Debbie gets pulled into her book is when the actual animation kicks in. Tattertown is an animated world full of discarded items. Once an inanimate object is brought to Tattertown, it becomes sentient and personified. Most of the designs have a very classic, animated, style to them. We’re talking noodle limbs, big eyes, and constant motion. The jazzy soundtrack befits that style as well and this is a world where Bosko would fit right in.

Muffet is a character with some unexpected complexity.

Once Debbie arrives in this new place, she is dismayed to find her dolly has run away. Muffet is a baby doll that bizarrely seems to have a five-o-clock shadow. She basically has a Homer Simpson mouth. She’s also the bad guy of our tale as we find out she basically hates everything that has to do with being the doll of a young girl and Tattertown is a world of new beginnings for Muffet. Upon realizing she’s alive, she begins to cry with joy which is a nice touch to add some sympathy to this character who will be a bad guy, in the end. Debbie chases after her, and some puppet characters welcome us to Tattertown as a title card drops down.

After all of that, we officially meet David’s character, Miles, a saxophone. He gives us a rundown on Tattertown and we get to see some of the occupants until Muffet and Debbie go racing by. Muffet wants nothing to do with Debbie now that she’s alive, but Debbie still wants her to be her dolly. Muffet tries to clear a plank fence, but can’t leap over it allowing Debbie to grab her by the ankles. She pulls, causing Muffet’s legs to stretch and the fence to bend until Debbie eventually loses her grip. Since this is a rubbery, cartoon, world, Muffet behaves like a rubber band that was stretched and released and goes soaring through the night sky towards a far off city.

There’s something suggestive about that look Debbie is giving Harvey here. This is a Bakshi cartoon, after all.

Debbie takes a seat on the sidewalk to lament how Muffet “got away again,” which serves to remind us that this was a pilot and we’re probably to assume that Debbie has been in Tattertown awhile. Or has been here before. She scolds her dog companion and then sees her friend Harvey (Adrian Arnold) picking a fight with someone much bigger than he. Harvey is basically one of those non-descript animal characters from the 1920s the Warners from Animaniacs would be based on. Is he a bear? A dog? I don’t know. He’s mostly black with a red nose and big eyes. He also has a busted arm as he shadow boxes until one rips off. Debbie calls him over so she can sew it back on and he chats her up about Muffet. This leads to a story from Debbie about how she got Muffet for Christmas, or it would have gone into a story if Harvey knew what Christmas was. Debbie is shocked to find out this fact as she assumes there must be some Christmas stuff amongst the denizens of Tattertown. With Harvey’s limb re-attached, the trio set out to see if they can round up some old Christmas junk.

This spider probably makes people much younger than me think of Cuphead.

Elsewhere, Muffet is enjoying herself and going a little nuts until a stray alarm clock smashes her in the face. She looks over to a nearby building where a bunch of characters are just throwing stuff around. A spider named Sidney (Charlie Adler) is descending from the ceiling with another dolly in his clutches. Strangely, he only seems to have six limbs, but I bet he’s based on some cartoon from the 30s that looked the same. He apparently intends to eat this other dolly and that’s why the other creatures are throwing stuff. Muffet enters and screams for them to stop and to let the spider do his business. When they ask who she is, Muffet refers to herself as Muffet the Merciless and declares that she’s taking over Tattertown. She’s pretty convincing too as all of the other characters flee, except Sidney who seems to take a liking to Muffet. He drops his prey and follows Muffet out the door, while the dolly that was to be eaten is able to dust herself off and blow a defiant raspberry at his back.

Does Muffet symbolize America or something? Interesting framing device.

Outside, Sidney expresses interest in Muffet as he’s always wanted to take over Tattertown. Muffet asks for more clarity on just what this place is, and Sidney suggests he take her to The Deadster Zone. Miles chimes in to tell us that the Deadster Zone is a place for war toys and televisions, basically unsafe stuff, and it’s represented as a giant drummer soldier with other toys zipping around it. Sidney introduces Muffet to “the guys” and asks her what she thinks, seemingly proud of himself. She is unimpressed and declares she’s seen gelatin with more backbone than these guys. Most of the stuff appears to be discarded ammo, there are personified rockets or something, as well as Frankenstein-like devices that appear to be a mish-mash of various appliances. Muffet goes into a speech/slash rant about taking over Tattertown and finds herself on a stage in front of an American flag. The other beings are shown cheering for her, some falling apart as they do, while Sidney literally melts onstage he’s so impressed.

Back in Tattertown, Debbie has everyone searching high and low for Christmas stuff. Harvey runs across an individual that looks a lot like a Christmas wreath and is hawking cigars on a street corner. Harvey takes exception to someone selling cigars in his town and is ready to throw down, but Debbie sees the wreath-guy and snatches him up in a hug, accidentally separating Harvey’s head from his body. She runs off overjoyed to have found a Christmas item, while Harvey pops his head back on and does a stylish pose to show everyone he’s okay.

She found some Christmas.

Debbie takes a seat and remembers how at Christmas her family would hang a wreath on the door and how the snow would flutter off of it whenever they opened and closed the door. She gets a little emotional, which confuses Harvey. He then asks her to tell him just what Christmas is and Debbie soon has an audience to listen to her tale. She explains the gist of the holiday, mostly as a kid interprets it, which means she mostly talks about presents. The other characters like this story (who wouldn’t?) causing Debbie to declare that they’ll have a Christmas of their own!

I wish there was more from this pair in this cartoon.

Nearby though, a fly spy for Muffet is watching and he takes off back to the Deadster Zone to inform his new boss of this development. Muffet is shocked and enraged at the idea of Christmas coming to Tattertown and throws a mini temper tantrum over the idea. She then summons two of her lackeys, Tad and Wendell, to spy on Tattertown. Tad is voiced by someone doing a John Wayne impression and he is some sort of device with a machine gun for a nose. Wendell is voiced by Charley Adler doing an effeminate voice. He looks like a blue desk lamp attached to a car battery and he’s plugged into Tad so they have some kind of co-dependent relationship. Is this Nickelodeon’s first unofficial gay relationship? I suppose these things technically lack a gender, but they sure seem like a couple.

This guy may not be much of a tree, but he’s still better than Christopher.

Harvey is shown leading Debbie to a comic and book store in search of some old geezer named Tannenbaum. Once inside, they’re accosted by a book of the 1930s, with NRA emblazoned on the cover, that opens up and a bunch of 30s era gags are allowed to jump out. They soon find Tannenbaum, who is a pathetic looking, potted, evergreen tree with a bowler hat and the voice of an old Jewish man. It’s pretty weird to give such a voice to a Christmas tree, but Bakshi or someone must have though it was a funny thing to do. Debbie wants him to be their Christmas tree, but he wants no part of it, until Debbie mentions there will be no competition so he’ll essentially be the best tree in town. That’s apparently all it takes to get the tree interested, which is a bit odd since he was ranting about needing to run his store. It makes me wonder if she was supposed to whisper something to him about compensation, which would fit the mouth flaps just as well as competition, and someone nixed it since that would be a bad look for this seemingly Jewish character to want to get paid.

Wreath boy here is acting like he doesn’t want in on this, but you know he does.

Tad and Wendell are making their way through Tattertown when Tad is forced to stop abruptly because Wendell stopped to admire a flower. He declares it beautiful, while Tad is annoyed and accuses Wendell of somehow blowing their cover before annihilating the flower with his machine gun nose. Wendell sheds a few quiet tears and then simply places a new flower in its place. They then come upon Debbie instructing the townsfolk on how to decorate a tree. Tad tells Wendell he’s going to waste them right here and now, but Wendell gets one look at Tannenbaum with the wreath guy attached to him and falls in love. He starts running towards the tree while Tad warns him he’s going to overload him since he’s apparently gushing with power now. He does indeed overload, causing the two to go spinning into the tree where they become entangled alongside the wreath. They provide a warm glow though and the townsfolk are transfixed. Meanwhile, the wreath hopes the other tough guys don’t see him like this further implying my suspicion that Tad and Wendell are to be read as gay.

Gross.

Muffet is then showing getting ready to enjoy her favorite dish: tobacco pie. She retrieves it from a safe, and it’s disgusting looking. It’s basically a pie slice with brown filling and cigarettes poking out of it. She gets startled by her fly lackey though and drops it near some creature that looks like a pellet stove. He eats the pie, then squirts out a gray liquid, as Muffet looks ready to cry. The fly comes baring bad news, which only fuels Muffet’s rage and sadness. The news is presented in the form of a Christmas card from Tad and Wendell showing them on the tree. Muffet needs a minute to pout and despair about how exhausting it is to be surrounded by all of these “lower lifeforms.”

Muffit Claus.

Sidney sees and hears Muffet’s tantrum and scoffs at it privately. He decides he would be a better ruler of the riff raff and puts on a crown and robe that apparently belongs to Muffet. She sees him, and suddenly he’s not so confident any longer. She shoves him into a bathtub full of…yellow water…and speaks down to him in a threatening manner. She then pulls him aside and slaps a new outfit on him. It’s clearly a reindeer outfit, though Sidney doesn’t know that, and when Muffet disappears behind a sack of clothes she’s reaching into there’s no surprise when she emerges as Santa Claus. Muffet intends to bring destruction to Tattertown disguised as Santa, and Sidney shall be her mount. She rides him off the roof, and thanks to the fly character holding onto his costume, he floats! Then he does not as flies are not known for their strength, and the trio plummet towards the ground as Sidney screams and Muffet appears delirious. She rounds up the other junk and beckons them to join them on their flight to Tattertown, as Sidney seems to fly just fine now, declaring that Muffet Claus is coming to town!

There’s a dark side to Debbie.

In town, Debbie is trying to teach the others about Christmas carols when some lumberjack robot walks up to their tree intending to chop it down. Debbie stops him, much to the relief of the old tree, and laments how they still don’t understand what Christmas is all about. Through tears, she describes Christmas as a day when people basically stop working and being bad, and set everything aside for the good of the day. The robot somehow sheds a few tears himself, and then when Debbie finishes resumes the cutting down of the tree causing her to smash him with a fist!

She may be new to playing Santa, but she knows what’s expected of her.

The townsfolk then see all of the commotion up in the sky. Debbie, naturally, thinks it must be Santa, but Muffet soon corrects her. As Muffet launches her attack, the beings of Tattertown are actually excited and Debbie is so happy to see her dolly coming back to her. This just makes Muffet even angrier, and as she directs her forces to rain destruction upon Tattertown a red blur crosses her path. It’s the real Santa! He doesn’t appear to be showing up with any purpose in mind, except to wish everyone “Merry Christmas,” but Muffet takes it as a challenge. She turns around and instructs her minions to target Santa, but when one dumb missile smashes into another, a plane assumes that Muffet wants them to attack each other! They’re not very bright, so that’s what they do essentially putting on a fireworks show for all of the onlookers. Everyone loves it, including Santa, but he has work to do and tells Muffet he can’t stay and play with her and takes off leaving Muffet alone with Sidney. She decides she doesn’t need any help and plans to resume her assault on Tattertown solo.

I’m not really sure why the big guy showed up.

On the ground, Harvey is really impressed with the dogfighting he just witnessed above. He tells Debbie that Christmas is quite a show, and then asks when they can eat? Debbie, frustrated that she can’t convey what Christmas is all about, channels her inner Charlie Brown when she declares “It’s all wrong!” She marches over to a big phonograph and makes a last ditch effort by playing “White Christmas” as sung by Bing Crosby. It’s a bit shocking they had enough money in the budget to license this recording, but it has the desired effect Debbie was looking for. Characters are shown crying and embracing as Crosby’s gentle croon fills the air. It even gets to Sidney, who puts on the “brakes” causing Muffet to go crashing through the roof of a nearby jail. He pulls out boxes of soap flakes and starts spreading them from up in the sky mimicking snowfall.

It may not be real snow, but it gets the job done.

In the jai cell, Muffet angrily sits. She pulls out a stocking and empties its contents on the ground, it doesn’t appear to have anything good in it, but when she holds it up it soon magically fills with presents. A tear comes to her eye as she appears close to breaking, until Debbie looks in on her from outside the cell and declares she can be her dolly again! This makes the grumpy expression return as we freeze on this moment for a beat. Miles then comes in to wrap things up as a literal curtain closes on the special with Muffet’s curses ringing loudly in the background.

And that’s how Christmas came to Tattertown. It’s a special that certainly has style and is very evocative in both looks and sound with classic animation. The actual sound quality isn’t great, but that likely has at least something to do with how this special has been preserved these past 30+ years. It would have been interesting to see how this series would have looked once it moved past the pilot. I imagine it would have had to have become a bit more static than what is presented here, but I assume it would have been able to keep enough of the charm it was going for. I also assume Nick would have made Bakshi drop the tobacco references. They’re a bit weird to see, and even though it’s only the bad guys who glorify it, I doubt the censors at Nick would have left it in. It’s the type of thing they won’t pay to have removed from a pilot, which is likely why it’s here.

Muffet left feeling miserable on Christmas.

The actual story and characters though leave a lot to be desired. The pacing of this thing is just odd. It’s trying to hit conventional Christmas special beats, but with little or no setup or transition. It’s just one thing after another and comes across as very disjointed. Debbie is quite bland and most of the scenes featuring her were pretty dull. There’s a little something to Harvey at least, but his character isn’t explored enough in this one pilot episode to leave a mark. Muffet certainly dominates to both the benefit, and detriment, of the episode. She’s very over-the-top, and Jennifer Darling’s performance is part of that. I think she does a good job developing Muffet, it’s just that there’s too much of her and by the end the character has been stretched way too thin. The character is turned up to 10 too often, so the final few rants have no impact and the character becomes annoying. It’s also just a weirdly imagined character – a doll that doesn’t want to be a toy and just wants its own autonomy. That sounds like a noble cause, but the special needs the character to be a villain so it then just makes her evil thus destroying any sympathy the audience could have felt for her. Muffet should be the protagonist, but Bakshi apparently wanted to just toss a curveball at us for the sake of doing so, or he’s just a bad story teller.

At least we got to listen to Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown is definitely an interesting relic and a fun exercise in “what could have been?” Being the first Nicktoon would have been huge for Tattertown, regardless of how successful the actual series ended up being, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be. As a Christmas special, it’s not very good. It’s interesting to look at, but hardly remarkable. It’s story is nothing new and no one ends up learning anything about Christmas in the end. As mentioned earlier, the only way to see this is to find it on YouTube or in other places online. There’s no official release and there likely never will be at this point. I suppose it’s a shame there isn’t a high quality version readily accessible, but it’s also not a great loss either.


Dec. 5 – Pluto’s Christmas Tree

Original release date November 21, 1952.

Today we’re doing the second look-back to one of the best Christmas specials ever conceived, as chosen by yours truly, and it’s one of my all-time favorites: Pluto’s Christmas Tree. Despite being titled Pluto’s Christmas Tree, this Jack Hannah-directed cartoon short from 1952 is actually considered a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Mickey apparently had it written into his contract with The Walt Disney Company that anytime he had a speaking role in a short it was to be considered a Mickey Mouse cartoon, because this could have easily just been a Pluto cartoon. Also showing up in this one is the duo of Chip and Dale. The chipmunks seem to be mostly associated with Donald Duck, but the pair’s unofficial debut came in the short Private Pluto where the two agitate the canine. In that short, they looked more like generic chipmunks and they were identical, it wasn’t until the 1947 Donald Duck cartoon conveniently titled Chip an’ Dale that the pair was more developed.

Today, we go where no special has gone before: inside the Christmas tree!

Pluto’s Christmas Tree is also interesting for being the first Mickey Mouse short with the second, official, voice of Mickey, Jimmy MacDonald, doing the voice of the mouse. Walt Disney famously voiced that character to start, and over the years there was the occasional fill-in, but the role was never handed off to anyone else until Walt did so with MacDonald during the production of Fun and Fancy Free. Walt Disney was a pretty busy man with his hands in all kinds of projects and being the voice of Mickey just wasn’t a priority come the 1950s. MacDonald was already an accomplished sound effects engineer and provided voice work as well, in fact, he was the first voice of Chip.

Just look at how happy they are!

Pluto’s Christmas Tree is the Disney short most likely to put the viewer in the Christmas mood. It opens on a softly lit title card with “Deck the Halls” playing over it. It then zooms in on a Christmas card featuring a home that just happens to be Mickey’s house all covered in snow. The mouse and his dog are about to set out to find a Christmas tree. These were simpler times when a man, or mouse, could just walk out the back door with an axe and find what he was looking for. Pluto (Pinto Colvig) is especially excited to go running through the woods in search of the perfect tree and Mickey lets him go out ahead.

Chip and Dale are mostly going to act like jerks in this one. Here they are making fun of the happy puppy.

It’s not long before the dog is spotted by some would-be agitators. Chip (MacDonald) and Dale (Dessie Miller) are foraging for nuts and they take interest in mocking the dog. One of them pegs Pluto in the butt with an acorn, and the two mock him by jumping around a twig that resembles a Christmas tree and barking. This, of course, gets Pluto’s attention and he chases after them with the two forcing him to smash into a snow drift. On the opposite side, a perfectly formed “snow Pluto” slides out with the real dog behind. Pluto is unnerved by his snow doppelganger and seemingly forgets about the chipmunks. Meanwhile, the pair have taken refuge in a tree. As they have a laugh at Pluto’s expense, the tree begins to shake! It soon falls down as we see the two happened to pick the tree Mickey also settled on. He calls for Pluto, still checking out the snow dog but quickly gets freaked out when it collapses, who is happy to follow Mickey back home. As the pair march along, Dale tries to sneak out of the tree, but upon seeing Pluto trotting along behind him, immediately jumps back into it.

Happy times from before the chipmunks would disrupt their lives.

At home, Mickey sets up the tree and he and Pluto get down to decorating it. He starts hanging candy canes and ornaments as Chip and Dale come out of hiding from deep within the tree to check out their new surroundings. The two stroll along in the tree with Dale remarking, “Well, what do ya know?” as he takes in all of the pretty lights and colors. He then sees the candy canes getting placed on the tree and gets excited. Grabbing a twig, he stick it out of the tree in hope that Mickey will hang a candy cane on it, but he instead places a glass, blue, ornament. Dale inspects it, and while he may have preferred the candy, he seems pretty impressed with the bauble (after momentarily getting freaked out by his own reflection) and retreats deeper into the tree to go show Chip. He finds his fellow chipmunk inspecting a tiny bell, and dangling the ornament over his head, he whistles for his attention. Chip pops up and his head smashes through the bottom of the ornament. Dale, embarrassed, pulls open a cracked portion of the ornament to check on Chip, only to get punched in the face! Chip collapses into a pile of broken glass and then runs over and punches Dale on the top of the head for good measure as Dale gives a sheepish shrug.

Not where Dale was looking to find himself.

Mickey declares his work as done and leaves Pluto to admire the pretty tree. As he lays on a nearby rug, he then notices a light has started to blink. Apparently their lights are not the blinking kind, so Pluto goes over to the tree to check it out. There, we see Dale is twisting a light bulb to make it turn off and on. Pluto sticks his nose through the brush and Dale mistakes it for another bulb. He gives it a twist, causing Pluto to recoil from the tree with the chipmunk still attached. Dale spins around and finds himself eye-to-eye with the canine, and Pluto immediately starts to growl. Before he can snap his jaws shut on the rodent, Chip happens to walk by and uses a candy cane to snatch Dale from harm’s way.

I don’t think Mickey appreciates how amazing his dog is.

Pluto and Dale then bark back and forth at each other before Dale gets an idea. Grabbing an ornament, and tapping on it first to make sure it’s as fragile as the last one, Dale hurls it towards the ground. Pluto, apparently quite fond of Christmas trees, refuses to let the ornaments hit the ground. He dives for it, but Dale quickly tosses another one, and then another, forcing Pluto to stand on one leg with an ornament in each foot. Mickey then comes strolling in with gifts to place under the tree. He takes one look at this awkward position Pluto has gotten himself into and gives a chuckle. Playfully telling the dog to “cut it out,” Mickey places the ornaments back on the tree, only he hung one from Dale’s nose. Pluto points and stammers at the tree hoping Mickey will turn and see the chipmunk, but of course by the time he does Dale has already ascended the tree and retreated inside. Mickey just brushes aside Pluto’s behavior with an “Ohh, Pluto,” and leaves.

That getup might have worked on Goofy, but not Pluto!

Pluto is momentarily irritated, but he turns back to the tree and spots Dale once again. This time he’s left the tree in search of some nuts left out on a table. Pluto cuts him off, blocking his access to the tree, so Dale drops his nuts and runs ending up on the mantle above the fireplace. There, Mickey had set out some Santa candles and Dale positions himself among them and swipes the hat and beard from one in a bid to disguise himself. Pluto races over and finds that Dale’s disguise may have fooled the eyes, but they can’t fool his nose. He sniffs at Dale, causing the chipmunk to sneeze, and Pluto has him right where he wants him.

Mickey is surprisingly dumb in this cartoon.

Mickey then comes strolling back in and finds Pluto gesturing towards the chipmunk candle. Mickey mistakes Pluto’s actions as him wanting the candles lit, so Mickey lights them. When he gets to Dale, the chipmunk blows out his match. Mickey just shrugs, picks up Dale as if he were a candle, and uses an already lit candle to light the Dale candle. Mickey then leaves and Pluto looks broken-hearted that his master failed to notice the disguised vermin. He then turns back to the mantle and brushes all of the candles onto the floor, which seems like a real fire hazard.

Chip takes notice of what’s going on by the fireplace and races over to his friend’s aid. He stands on Pluto’s tail and gives it a tug. It makes a bell sound and Pluto lifts his tail all the way up with a curious expression on his face. Chip salutes him, thanks him, then hops on the mantle to snuff out the flame and snatch his buddy from harm’s way.

How do we not have a stuffed animal of Pluto with presents for feet?

Now the real chase is on as Pluto and the chipmunks race around the room. Pluto crashes into the presents Mickey had set out, his feet going through the boxes. As he tries to run with boxes on his feet, Chip and Dale get back into the tree. Pluto races up a ladder that Mickey had left out and starts barking at the tree, seemingly out of ideas. Dale hops out from the bottom of the tree while Chip pokes hi head out to release the tension on the middle brace of the ladder allowing Dale to push the bottom back together. Pluto tumbles over and crushes the remaining gifts he hadn’t already trampled while Chip drops the star from the top of the tree onto his tail.

Now that’s just adding insult to injury.

Pluto, who has seemingly has had enough, emerges from the mess and dives into the tree. Mickey sees him and races over screaming for him to get out and gets pulled into the scrum. The tree shakes and contorts as if it were in an electric dryer. Soon everything falls off of the tree, Mickey and Pluto included, leaving just the skeletal remains of what was a pretty nice tree. Mickey calls Pluto a dumb mutt and then does something pretty shocking for him: he strangles Pluto! Mickey grabs his own dog, man’s best friend, by the throat and begins to shake! As he orders Pluto to take a look at the mess he made, he finally sees Chip and Dale who are holding each other and staring in bewilderment. Clearly, the two are just as shocked as I am to see Mickey strangle his pet.

I’m honestly shocked this act of violence by Mickey didn’t land this one in “The Vault” or at least get edited out over the years.

Declaring, “Pluto! We have chipmunks in our tree!” Mickey scoops up Chip and Dale and presents them to Pluto, who slaps his own head in frustration. Mickey characterizes them as “cute little fellows,” but Pluto just barks in their face. Mickey pulls them back and scolds Pluto, reminding him that it is Christmas. The sounds of carols then fill the air and Pluto races over to the window. Outside, Goofy, Donald, and Minnie are singing “Deck the Halls” (Clarence Nash can clearly be heard in his Donald voice among the voices, but I don’t know if Minne or Goofy’s voice actors contributed) by a street light. Pluto and Mickey seem to enjoy the caroling, while Chip and Dale join in with a little dance and someone saw fit to have them sing the “Don we now our gay apparel,” line which feels like a hint about the nature of their relationship. Pluto decides to sing as well, only since he’s a dog, he just kind of howls. The chipmunks cover their ears and look at Pluto angrily, then slap a “Do Not Open Till X-Mas” sticker over his muzzle. The dog then looks at the camera in shock as the short comes to an end.

It looks like Christmas is once again the salve for all wounds.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree is a gag-infused short that’s over in the blink of an eye, and usually leaves me wanting more, so I watch it again! What I appreciate most about it is that virtually all of the gags incorporate the holiday theme in some way. We have smashing ornaments, candy canes, Christmas candles, and more all contributing to poor Pluto’s misery. It’s a Chip and Dale vehicle in which the pair create mischief, and really don’t receive any sort of comeuppance. Oftentimes the two are wronged somehow, but on occasion they’re basically just jerks taking advantage of a situation. And in this case, they’re taking advantage of an animal they clearly possess intelligence over, which just raises further questions since a chipmunk and a mouse should be on relatively equal footing, but Mickey clearly towers over the pair. They also live like animals, despite possessing human intelligence, and the whole thing really stops making sense if you give it much thought.

This is basically the only bad thing to happen to a chipmunk in this one. They really are the antagonists.

This one does celebrate Christmas and it’s quite possibly the best Christmas short Disney ever produced. It might even be the best Christmas short ever! The only rival really is Toy Tinkers, which is very similar to this one only swap in Donald for Pluto. I prefer this one just a little bit more, despite my love of Donald Duck, because it’s a touch sweeter and the setup is a little better. And it is also just gorgeous. If I had an endless amount of money to throw at things that I love, I would absolutely track down a production cel of Chip and Dale inside the Christmas tree. It is just drawn and painted so beautifully. It makes me wish I could shrink myself down to the size of a chipmunk to experience Christmas from that perspective. No wonder why my cat always liked sitting under tree.

I love this short so much that I just had to get the ceramic statues. I can’t bring myself to box them up during the off-season.

If you want to experience this fantastic holiday short this year, and you really should, then you have quite a few options. This being one of Disney’s best and most famous Christmas cartoons, it’s been released several times over on VHS, DVD, and Blu Ray as part of holiday collections. Most recently, it was included on the Blu Ray release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. If you’re a subscriber to Disney+, it’s also available on there 365 days a year. Disney also still isn’t particularly protective of its theatrical shorts. It’s really surprising considering how litigious the company can be over the silliest things, but I suppose it’s a good thing that this short (and many others) can often be found streaming in various places on the web for free. In short, there’s no good reason to miss out on this one this year or any year.


Dec. 4 – Family Guy – “Christmas Guy”

Original air date December 15, 2013

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 goes on though, and the Griffin family to which he belonged turned to a new dog: Vinny. Like Brian, Vinny was a remarkable specimen as he too could speak English and chose to walk on two legs, plus he functioned as an Italian stereotype and even appeared to have connections to the underworld. The audience latched onto Vinny, and while no one could replace Brian, we all accepted that these things happen and the best thing we can do for Brian is to never forget him.

Of course, that was all bullshit. No one cared about Vinny and Brian Griffin was as unlikable as basically every other member of the Griffin family at the time of his death. And these deaths never stick, so no one was surprised when the show brought Brian back a mere two episodes later as part of Family Guy’s Christmas episode that year.

This episode takes place during the short-lived Vinny era

Brian Griffin had once been one of the few voices of reason on Family Guy. Despite the fact that he was a dog, he seemed like the most real of any of the Griffin family and many of his problems seemed to stem from the fact that he existed in this unreal world. He seemed to deal with the craziness of being Peter Griffin’s dog with booze and therapy and he seemed to delight in needling the youngest member of the family, Stewie, who was always threatening to kill someone or take over the world, but Brian saw through his bullshit. The two were foils and didn’t seem to really like each other, which is partly what made their team-up episodes, like “The Road to Rhode Island,” so successful.

After Family Guy’s cancellation and return to television, Brian underwent a change. Instead of being the voice of reason, he was made a narcissist who manipulated women and was happy to stand on a soap box and lecture folks on things he had no business speaking on. He took on the role of uninformed liberal capable of regurgitating popular talking points with no subtext. In short, he became insufferable as basically every character on the show took this route, just via different means.

In a show basically devoid of charm (and that’s by design), about the only charming aspect would become the Stewie and Brian relationship. Once adversaries, the pair are now best friends. They understand each other and accept each other’s deficiencies. Their relationship seemed to be solidified in the Season 8 episode “Brian & Stewie” in which the two get trapped in a bank vault over a weekend. Since then, not only is Brian Stewie’s best friend, he’s probably a better father to him than Peter and there’s genuine warmth between the two. This being Family Guy though, their relationship can’t just be sweet so the writers also added a weird subtext where Stewie appears to desire sex with Brian. Why can’t we just have nice things?

I have long since ceased to care about Family Guy as it’s not a show I particularly enjoy. It is a frequent contributor to Christmas though, and “Christmas Guy” felt like an episode worth revisiting. We get to relive the era of Vinny and a story about a baby just wanting to get his best friend back for Christmas is certainly a sweet way to approach the holiday. And it should be better, and definitely shorter, than the other major Brian and Stewie Christmas story “The Road to the North Pole.”

They’re getting ready to celebrate Stewie’s “first” Christmas.

The episode begins with a lovely exterior shot of the Griffin house covered in snow and all decorated for Christmas. Given how inept Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is at virtually everything, I am amazed at how well the decorations look. Maybe that’s just the one thing he’s good at? The family is inside watching television and it’s a version of Home Alone with capable robbers. It’s an observational piece where the robbers enter a house and immediately take note of things like toy cars on the floor and frozen stairs so as to avoid them. When the Kevin character appears at the top of the stairs, they just shoot him and he tumbles down the stairs, dead. We then find out that the family is gearing up for the annual Christmas Carnival that takes place at the mall. Lois (Alex Borstein) is particularly thrilled about celebrating Stewie’s (MacFarlane) first Christmas by sharing the carnival with him. Upon saying that, Stewie says “Again?” which is a clever way for the show to acknowledge that no one ages. I think the one-year-old Stewie has celebrated Christmas a dozen times at this point. This also sets up an awful cut-away joke about how Peter enjoys teasing the clerk at Tiffany’s into thinking he’s actually going to buy something. The joke is that no one in their right mind would believe Peter because he showed up wearing Sbarro wrappers for shoes.

Stewie and Vinny were able to form a fast bond in Brian’s absence.

An exterior shot of the mall lets us know the family has already made the short journey. Stewie is decked out in an elf costume and Vinny (Tony Sirico) makes a few comments on it causing Stewie to ask him if he only uses adjectives sarcastically. Vinny, predictably, responds with sarcasm. The family soon notices that there’s no Christmas Carnival, or really any sign of the holiday for that matter. Stewie suggests whoever is responsible will suffer for it and Vinny makes a smart comment that “tough don’t sell in curly-toed shoes.” Stewie suggests to Vinny that he go buy more cologne setting up another worthless, but at least brief, cut-away.

Lois approaches a security guard to inquire about what happened to the carnival. She addresses him as sir, and he tries to correct her by saying “officer,” but she puts him in his place with a “No, it’s sir, and barely sir.” After the guard hangs his head in shame, he explains he doesn’t know using the term small cog to describe his role in the decision making process. This prompts Chris (Seth Green) to comfort his father by saying “See dad, you’re not the only one with a small cog,” clearly referring to his dad’s penis. Both Lois and Peter respond in unison saying “I told you that in confidence!” so apparently husband and wife are both disappointed in the size of Peter’s penis.

SNL did it better.

Stewie then asks if Santa was killed by Muslims, intentionally mispronouncing the word Muslims. This sets up yet another cut-away as Peter declares he hates being disappointed. This one is Peter in a restaurant commenting on the quality of the coffee, only for the server to tell him it’s Folger’s and call him an idiot for liking it. There’s a tag at the end about how Folger’s is only worth drinking if you’ve been tricked into it. I’ll give them a little credit here as when I saw the joke setup I thought they were just going to have Peter play Chris Farley’s character from the same bit on Saturday Night Live.

It just wouldn’t be a Family Guy Christmas without a little Meg torture.

We’re shown another exterior shot of the Griffin house only it’s nighttime now. Peter and Lois are in bed discussing the events of the day. Lois is worried about Stewie as he seemed so disappointed in the carnival’s cancellation. She remarks he’s been acting out all week and Peter brushes off her concerns with a “He’s a baby, how bad can he be?” We’re then shown the family seated for a meal and Stewie is loosening the cap on the salt shaker. Meg (Mila Kunis) takes it and goes to sprinkle some salt on her food only for the top to fall off completely and out pops a giant snake! It bites her and she instantly swells up to gargantuan size.

We change scenes, and get this, there’s another exterior shot of the Griffin’s house to mark the change! Back to daytime, and the family is once again watching TV so we get another Christmas movie parody joke. This time, it’s Miracle on 134th Street and a guy is shown running to his car in a panic because he left his phone in it. The miracle, and the joke, is that the car has been left undisturbed and his phone is fine. Vinny then enters to say he talked to a bunch of guys and a girl (allowing for him to be casually misogynistic) and found out that the mall’s owner cancelled the carnival and he is none other than Carter Pewterschmidt, Lois’s father. Vinny is then shocked at this twist letting out an exaggerated “Oh!” He then takes his leave as he has to get the “Ohs” out as he keeps saying it over and over. Off camera, we hear them gradually decrease in intensity.

Peter resolves to dealing with Carter, but first has to ask Lois if he’s The Little Caesar’s guy. She responds in a manner that suggests this is a frequent question from Peter and he’s relieved to know that Carter is not, in fact, The Little Caesar’s guy. He then likens Carter’s attitude towards Christmas to a gluten-free Santa, setting up yet another cut-away of a Santa waking a kid up in the middle of the night to ask about what the cookies were made out of. It’s yet another dud of a joke.

Peter and Carter do have an odd chemistry when paired-up.

We then setup the next scene with an exterior shot of Pewterschmidt Industries. Carter (MacFarlane) is seated at his desk filling out some paperwork only pausing to flip off the window washer outside because he dared to make a sound. His secretary then calls to tell him the guy who’s face is on all the money is here to see him and Carter hastily cleans up his papers and welcomes the obvious fake in. It’s Peter, who demands Carter bring back the Christmas Carnival! Carter declines telling Peter he hates Christmas because everyone assumes a rich guy like him will give them expensive presents while giving him nothing in return. Peter vows to return Carter’s Christmas spirit to him and then asks if he can take something home with him from his office. Carter tells him no, and he replies with an “Aww, too bad, because I was gonna pick you!” Carter then confirms that Peter is a weird guy.

Stewie, up to his old tricks.

Exterior shot of the Griffin house! This time, from a different angle though. Seriously guys, we don’t need to see an exterior shot of a building before every scene! Especially a familiar setting like the home of our main characters! Anyway, Peter is struggling to zip-up his coat and refusing Lois’s help because he’s a man-baby. Vinny is there to comment on how crappy it is to have a father who hates Christmas. He then goes off on a tangent about how his old man drowned in a bird bath thanks to a cop, but left directions to “Kick Jimmy in the sack. Go Eagles.” When Lois offers condolences, Vinny brushes them aside and tells everyone his dad was a scumbag. Lois and Peter then start discussing the issue at hand, but they’re in front of a window so obviously we’re supposed to ignore them and see what happens outside. Stewie appears, and he rips down the neighbor’s decorations and molests a snowman before apparently setting off a nuclear explosion that destroys everything in sight. Lois talking about her dad’s disgust towards Christmas leads to another cut-away, this time of Carter going down Santa’s chimney on June 16th in a “how do you like it?” joke. It’s not funny.

I seem to remember jokes at the expense of Carter’s balls in another Christmas episode.

We get another repeated exterior shot of the Griffin house. We didn’t even change settings this time! We’re still in the same place! Did they really need to kill this much time? Peter and Carter are in the kitchen and it’s not explained why Carter would bother coming over. Peter is trying to put Carter in the Christmas spirit by showing him how to write a Christmas letter. He informs Carter it’s acceptable to embellish, so Carter reads the letter and the embellishments are all ridiculous like Peter becoming the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Peter tells him to read what he wrote about him only to find out the only truthful thing in the letter is Peter noting that Carter bought a tiny stool for his balls. The camera zooms out so we can see the stool in use and Carter is pissed because he doesn’t want people to know that.

Now that’s unsettling.

We then get an exterior shot of a generic hotel and Peter and Carter are seated on a bed. Peter has a carton of eggnog and tells Carter this will put him in the holiday spirit. Cater tells Peter he hates eggnog, but Peter won’t take no for an answer. It then gets really uncomfortable as Peter forces the nog on Carter and it’s clear this is intended to be a parody of a sexual assault or violent, degrading, piece of pornography. Carter ends up covered in frothy, white, eggnog and Peter starts filming him and instructs him to degrade himself in various ways. It ends with Carter sitting up and telling Peter “You know, I still don’t like Christmas, but I kind of like what we just did.” Apparently, Carter has some odd kinks.

I bet you can’t guess what’s next! Exterior shot of the Griffin house! Peter and Carter are standing outside the bathroom and Peter tells Carter that Christmas is the one day a year where you masturbate like any other but then feel shame afterwards. He goes into the bathroom for a very short duration, and then comes out hanging his head sadly with his shirt untucked. Carter tells Peter that none of this is working and as he explains Vinny casually walks by causing Carter to interrupt his ranting to remark “Huh, different dog.” Peter confirms this and adds that he’s Italian or something too. Carter then goes back into his rant and Peter tells him he had no idea that Carter was Jewish. Carter, shocked at the suggestion, asks if that’s how he’s coming off and Peter confirms as much.

Carter Pewterschmidt: Not Jewish

Smash cut to the exterior of the mall only now it’s all decorated for Christmas! There’s even a giant banner promoting the carnival with Carter wrapping an arm around a seemingly uncaring Jesus. Inside, the place is fully decorated now and Peter is excited to see the Chinese carolers from A Christmas Story are there singing their rendition of “Deck the Halls.” Peter then tells the audience their beloved holiday classic is extremely racist, which is a gross exaggeration and ruins the observational joke. They could have just had Peter give a disapproving look or something and it would have been funnier.

Is there a sadder place to cry?

Vinny then asks Stewie what he’s going to ask Santa for Christmas. Stewie isn’t sure, but once he’s seated on Santa’s lap and faced with the question he looks to his family and the camera pans from each member and rests on an empty space beside Meg. Stewie then starts sobbing and tells Santa he just wants his friend back. When he explains in further detail, Santa deadpans “You want me to put a dead dog under your tree,” and it doesn’t come off like a question. Stewie confirms this, though immediately after he sees a kid walk by with his parents and a new bike and he adds “and I’d like a bike,” with a whimper.

Vinny’s interpretation of Brian.

After yet another exterior shot of the house, we see Stewie all alone watching television. It’s another holiday parody, A Year Without a Santa Claus or Sex and there’s just some uptight dad bitching to his kid about his wife being busy all of the time. Vinny then enters the picture wearing glasses and a sweater. When Stewie asks what he’s doing, he corrects him by saying he’s Brian and does an Italian version of Brian’s “catchphrase” of “Whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?” Stewie is not impressed, but Vinny says he put a lot of thought into this gimmick by reading up on politics and even outlining his own novel “Wish it. Want it. You blew it.” He reads some of it to Stewie and it’s just another vessel for Italian stereotypes that goes on too long. He then tries to cheer Stewie up with an early Christmas present, but the box contains a severed foot. Vinny says that was supposed to go to someone else, and we cut to a group of gangster types getting ready to celebrate the death of Johnny the Foot something, only their gift contains a train. They then go into a schtick of trying to figure out who the train refers to getting more and more specific and it just goes on and on and is never funny.

Vinny then gives Stewie his real gift which is a bowling shirt. Vinny says it’s a versatile garment that can be worn for any occasion, as long as it’s at the beach or adjacent to a beach, but Stewie seems unimpressed. Vinny then decides they should head to the toy store where Stewie can pick something out for himself. They do just that and Stewie is still in a mood since the toy store before Christmas is usually picked over. Vinny tries cheering him up by pointing out there’s tons of good stuff and demonstrates with some bronze, sheep, bookends that shine a sad light on Vinny’s childhood.

Yeah, there isn’t much mystery here.

Stewie soon notices someone familiar in the store. He follows the kid only to realize it’s him! Vinny is angry and hungry, so he goes to punch a sandwich while Stewie investigates further. Vinny then returns with a black eye and an angry, personified, sandwich. Stewie asks Vinny for his help, but he’s not really sure what he’s after. When Stewie says he needs help stealing something Vinny is suddenly all-in. Stewie explains the other Stewie is him from the past. He time-traveled to the future to get a new Jolly Farm game he couldn’t wait for. Stewie asks Vinny to distract him so he can steal the time travel device in the other Stewie’s backpack. Vinny assures him he knows just how to distract another Stewie.

Work it, Stewie!

Vinny then intercepts Stewie after he’s made his purchase. He asks the past Stewie if he’s ever done any modeling, and Stewie says “not professionally” clearly ignoring the events of the episode “The Son Also Draws.” Vinny continues to butter him up and Stewie actually starts stripping away layers as he poses allowing for the current Stewie to steal the time travel device from the backpack. He retreats to a storeroom and Vinny soon appears telling him he should probably hurry up as the other Stewie is changing into tap shoes for some reason. Stewie explains he intends to travel back in time to save Brian, causing him to realize this will undo his family adopting Vinny. Vinny, now realizing he was duped into helping Stewie significantly alter his life for the worse, seems a bit sad at first, but then lightens the mood by saying “Hey, I’m man’s best friend, not some stupid baby’s!” He gives Stewie a smile and then sits like a traditional dog would allowing Stewie to pat him on the head and assure him he’s a been a good dog (I do love it when the dog characters on this show behave like actual dogs for brief moments). Vinny then stands and announces to a Georgette that he’s coming home and walks out of the scene causing Stewie to ask aloud to himself “Who the hell is Georgette?”

A genuine moment of sweetness for Family Guy.

Stewie then hops on the time travel device and we’re taken back to the past with no establishing shot – it’s a Christmas miracle! Stewie and Brian are setting up their street hockey game and Stewie realizes he forgot his kneepads inside. He awkwardly informs Brian of this suggesting he was using them for some depraved sex act, before running inside. Future Stewie then appears and as the car destined to kill Brian screams around the corner, Stewie is able to tackle Brian and spare him. He then starts celebrating Brian’s un-death, which confuses Brian. Stewie goes on to explain he traveled from the future to save him, for when Brian died a little piece of him died as well. Brian is still confused since he just witnessed Stewie destroy his time machine, but Stewie explains how he ran into a past version of himself in the future which reminds him that he needs to send the time device back. We then see Past Stewie angrily waiting in the toy store as he says aloud to himself he’s starting to think Vinny wasn’t a real modeling agent. He then makes it creepy by adding “and I don’t think that other guy was a real Penis-Butt Inspector!”

So long, Future Stewie.

As Stewie finishes his explanation to Brian, he starts to fade away. By changing the past, he’s erased his own timeline. He’s not sad though, but rather happy to have saved Brian. His “dying” words are “Merry Christmas, Brian,” which must be a little confusing to Brian since I don’t think they’re near Christmas in his timeline. Right as he vanishes though, the now present Stewie returns (conveniently with a new hockey stick after the ones he set down in the road were run over) and asks Brian who he was talking to. Brian replies, “A pretty awesome guy,” with a warm smile, only for Stewie to mock him by suggesting he marry the guy. He punctuates the jab by hitting Brian in the balls with his hockey stick and then does circles around his writhing body chanting “Stew-S-A” over and over.

Right in the balls.

A final exterior shot of a snowy Griffin house ushers in our final scene. The family is celebrating Christmas by opening their presents. Chris got some oven mitts and an unfunny joke is attached to it. Brian then gives Stewie his Christmas present and it’s a picture of the two of them in Christmas attire with the caption “Friends Forever” underneath. Stewie tells him it’s wonderful, and Brian informs him that Stewie gave him the greatest gift of all and that he’ll elaborate further some day. Stewie then looks concerned and questions Brian if they’re pregnant? Brian corrects him, but then adds that Stewie’s his best friend and he tells him he loves him. Stewie begins to respond warmly, but then gets stern and informs Brian that he’s been making creepy eye contact with him all morning and that he wants it to stop! Smash cut to credits!

Stewie’s gift.

Well, that was a mostly unfunny romp through the Christmas season with some genuine sentimentality tacked on at the end. The episode was a rather unique setup for Family Guy as it was like two, distinct, stories that occurred consecutively rather than at the same time like a traditional A and B plot. We had the first half of the episode which was devoted to Peter trying to get Carter into the Christmas spirit, and then the second half which was all about bringing Brian back. If the writers were just trying to disguise the fact that they wanted to resurrect Brian for Christmas then they did a good job as the episode did not point in that direction at all, until Stewie climbed onto the mall Santa’s lap with less than 10 minutes remaining. Stewie’s grief was handled well though and I did like his interactions with both Vinny and Brian. This being Family Guy, they found ways to punctuate those tender moments with jokes. They didn’t always land (like the weird sandwich bit), but they didn’t take away from the moment, but rather just cut out some of the overripe sweetness of those moments. I did like how they teed up a warm closing scene only for Brian to just completely botch it which felt like the right note for a Family Guy Christmas episode to end on.

Aside from that though, the first half of the episode was a real slog. Almost none of the observational humor Family Guy strives for really landed, but they sure kept trying! The Home Alone parody was all right, but the others were lame. The eggnog scene was gross for multiple reasons, and none of the cut-away jokes accomplished anything aside from eating up time. And what is up with the need for exterior shots before every scene?! The Griffin house did look nice, but I didn’t need to see the same shot over and over! The only thing I did like was Carter finally coming around on Christmas because he was afraid of people mistaking him for a Jew.

In the end, this was a somewhat sweet story about a kid and his dog.

This Christmas episode of Family Guy ends up being memorable because it’s the episode where the show brought Brian back, even though he hadn’t been gone very long. Only one episode separates this one and “Life of Brian,” his death episode, so it’s easy to question if the show didn’t let Brian stay dead long enough to really sell the gag. It’s also Family Guy though and no one watches it for anything more than a sequence of jokes. The actual characters are rarely of any importance. Were fans happy to have Brian back? Did they like Vinny? Did they even care he died? I don’t know, but I do think it was a fun storyline to run with and they wrote themselves a nice out of Brian’s death. Aside from that detail though, this isn’t much good. You’re still better off with watching the inaugural Christmas episode from Family Guy if you must, and I think I enjoyed the Patrick Swayze one more that we looked at a couple of years ago.

If you want to watch “Christmas Guy” this holiday season it should be relatively easy to track down. I think. Adult Swim used to air every Christmas episode from the show this month, probably more than once, but lost the rights to air Family Guy this year so now it’s on the Disney family of channels. I’m assuming channels like FXX will schedule the Christmas episodes like they do for The Simpsons, but it is a bit of an unknown. The show is available on DVD and to stream as part of Hulu, which is probably the easiest way to watch it. If you enjoy Family Guy, and it’s fine to do so, then you probably like this one more than I do and will enjoy it. If you’re someone who does not care for Family Guy then you’ll likely hate this so seek holiday cheer from other sources.


Dec. 3 – Super Mario World – “The Night Before Cave Christmas”

Original air date October 12, 1991.

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 presumably got a lot more expensive around Koopa Castle (or should it be Kastle?). Well, he apparently did not agree as he’s left Christmas alone ever since, but Cave Christmas? Now that, is apparently appealing!

In the early 90s, if anything was popular either in toy aisles or on gaming consoles it had a cartoon, and Mario was at the forefront of that. He first had The Super Mario Bros. Super Show followed by The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and concluding with the Super Mario World cartoon. Other popular Nintendo, or Nintendo-adjacent, properties had to settle for a cameo on Captain N The Game Master, but Mario was able to front his own toon. None of these cartoons were any good, and as the franchise marched forward it feels like the budget set by DiC just got smaller and smaller. The live action segments hosted by Danny Wells and Lou Albano were dropped, and the voices of the Mario brothers were replaced with Tony Rosato and Walker Boone, respectively. John Stocker, who saw his character Toad written out for Super Mario World, got to keep working by voicing new addition Oogtar while Tracy Moore (who came onboard for the Super Mario 3 show) and Harvey Atkin (the only one to voice the same character from start to finish) continued to voice Princess Toadstool and King Koopa, respectively.

How do we feel about Yoshi’s portrayal in this show? Love it? Hate it? I can’t decide!

Super Mario World, like the video game it’s based on, is set in the fictitious Dinosaur World. Mario and his friends are vacationing there, only to find King Koopa and his many Koopa kids have followed them. They make friends with the cave people, and Princess Toadstool more or less throws her weight around as royalty to take over, and take-in a young dinosaur named Yoshi (Andrew Sabiston). Each cartoon is little more than 10 minutes in length and DiC wisely dropped the use of song parodies so the syndicated cut and retail releases were able to retain the original music this time around. The show was bundled with Captain N to air as a block and both shows mainly exist to sell video games. There’s not much to the plot of each episode, characters experience little or no growth, and most episodes can be drilled down to a simple formula. Only 13 episodes were produced airing from September 1991 into December of that year. The show didn’t seem to find much success following its initial run as the episode count was likely too small to interest most cable networks. It did receive a DVD release from Shout Factory, and the show today is mostly remembered as being pretty bad with certain aspects of it being enjoyed mostly from an ironic perspective as the character of Yoshi is both annoying and ridiculous, which I guess makes him a tad charming?

The fifth episode for the show is titled “The Night Before Cave Christmas.” It aired before Halloween, but since Cave Christmas is a made-up holiday by Mario I guess it didn’t need to air during the Christmas season? As mentioned before, this is the second, and final, Christmas episode from the Mario universe of cartoons as DiC declined to do one in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. I’d say it’s a shame we didn’t end up with 3 Christmas cartoons, but considering the first one was pretty terrible, and this one might actually be worse, I guess it’s no real loss.

It looks the show is simply titled Super Mario World, but it’s actually “Super Mario-Super-Mario Super Mario….World.”

The cartoon begins with a brand new theme song. The previous cartoon cheeped out by forgoing a traditional theme for just narration over some video game inspired music, a severe downgrade following the greatness that is “The Plumber’s Rap.” This new theme is a bit of an ear worm, despite not being great. It’s full of tribal drums and has a Caribbean feel to it, though I’m skeptical DiC paid for an authentic singer and probably just had some white dude fake an accent. Mark Mothersbaugh is credited as composing the theme, but I don’t know who actually sang on it. The lyrics are a bit lacking as the song closes by rhyming the word blast with…blast! I’m getting flashbacks to the “Wrap Rap” from last year!

Poor little mammoth…

When the cartoon begins, we find Yoshi and Oogtar fighting over some barbecued mammoth ribs, which are pretty small for mammoth ribs (maybe they picked off an infant). Mario starts complaining to Luigi and the Princess about how Oogtar is a pain in the ass who spends all day getting into fights with Yoshi. Luigi points out it’s not just Oogtar, as we pan to see other cave people fighting with each other. One poorly animated boy and girl pair are just hitting each other like Itchy and Scratchy, minus the mallets. Mario then hatches up an idea based on the notion that people start acting really nice to each other around the holidays. Luigi asks if he means Christmas, because it’s currently the middle of August so that doesn’t make much sense. Mario basically responds by reminding him that cave people are stupid and will believe anything they tell them. This cartoon really shines a light on what’s awful about colonialism.

It’s a sparsely populated village.

Mario then goes over to the squabbling Yoshi and Oogtar and starts telling them about Christmas. Mostly, he wants to convey the message that good boys and girls are rewarded with treats and presents, and Oogtar immediately becomes nervous because he knows he’s a little piece of shit. Mario christens it Cave Christmas and hangs a big wreath on one of the stone huts and announces, “Merry Cave Christmas!” to all of the onlookers. Nearby, Koopa pops his head out of what I guess is a trash can fashioned out of a stump. Referring to Mario as a “pipe-squeezer” (which got a chuckle out of me), he questions the plumber’s sanity by noting it’s the hottest day of the year before closing the lid and returning to his hiding spot.

The smell of freshly cut evergreen should help cover the smell of body odor and dinosaur shit.

The gang then sets to making the place look like Christmas. Mario and an unnamed cave person cut down a tree, while Oogtar and Yoshi help the Princess collect nuts from nearby trees. Koopa and his son Bully (Dan Hennessey) watch and Bully informs his dad he wants a Christmas tree too. We then go back to town where Princess Toadstool is trying to hang candy canes on a tree (that has a creepy face), but Yoshi keeps eating them as she hangs them. She reminds him about how he needs to be good if he wants presents from Santa, and the dinosaur promptly regurgitates the candy canes back onto the tree. It’s not made to look as gross as it could have. Bully and King Koopa pop out of the garbage stump and Bully takes note of the Princess’s description of Santa and calls the guy a wimp. His dad agrees, but then the garbage dinosaur shows up and tosses the whole stump (which seems very inefficient) into a stone dumpster strapped on his back.

Looks like someone is getting a savage beating for Cave Christmas!

Since there is a severe lack of toy stores in a prehistoric setting, the Marios have to make the toys for Cave Christmas. In a dome, they’re hard at work building shadow boxes and jack-in-the-boxes. Luigi’s emblem on his hat is miss-colored, a frequent occurrence in this show. Oogtar has snuck in though and is trying to get a peek at the presents. Luigi catches him hiding in a jack-in-the-box. He bolts and attempts to hide in a box of dolls, but Luigi picks him up by his shirt and tosses him out the door.

Even the Flintstones had sense enough not to make their sleigh out of stone

The Princess is then shown piling gifts into Santa’s sack while Mario appears to be constructing the sleigh out of stone and wood. Good luck getting that thing to fly! The Princess remarks how she can’t wait to see all of the kids react to the presents on Cave Christmas morning (she makes sure to include the Cave distinction), but lurking just outside the window is King Koopa once again. He laughs to himself and remarks that the Princess won’t get to see any of that because he plans on stealing the toys so his kids can have a jolly Koopa Christmas (Kristmas?). Considering he is mean and green, I suppose it makes sense for Koops to play the Grinch in our story.

The one true king.

The next day, Mario and Luigi are seen shoving their stone sleigh out the door. Mario expresses joy that its Cave Christmas Eve and prods Luigi by remarking it’s just like being back home, Luigi isn’t buying it though. As they head back inside their makeshift toy factory, Oogtar slips in and heads over to the sack of toys. With an evil look on his face, he lets the audience know he intends to cherry-pick the best toy out of the sack early leaving the crummy stuff for the goody-two-shoes. When he hears someone coming back in, he panics and dives into the sack of toys to hide. He seemed to think it was one of the Mario brothers that were coming, but it’s actually Koopa! Because DiC thinks its audience is stupid, Koopa has to explain out loud that he’s stealing the toys for Koopa Christmas and casually strolls out with the sack of toys and Oogtar inside.

Laughing at Luigi’s hateful gay joke. Apparently, Luigi plays the role of drunk, racist, uncle back in Brooklyn for the holidays.

Mario, who this whole time was just standing mere feet away from the cave-napping, is trying on his Santa costume (What? Did you think he’d actually let Luigi play Santa?!) which consists of a hat, white beard (his black moustache is still visible) and a red toga-like garment worn by the cave people which is worn over his red overalls and looks stupid. When he asks how he looks, Luigi tells him he wouldn’t get away with wearing that in Brooklyn. Mario gives a knowing chuckle and I have no idea how I’m supposed to interpret this joke. This is from the early 90s, so it reads like a homophobic joke. Would they attempt such in a kid’s show? Koopa did refer to Mario as a pipe-squeezer earlier…

How dare Koopa steal fake Santa’s present on fake Christmas!

Mario then notices the toys are gone! They run over to the empty place where the massive sack once sat aghast that someone would steal toys on their fake holiday. The Princess announces she knows who is responsible, which is cute of her since we all know who did it. She picks up a scale from the ground and says it belongs to Koopa, and I say, it doesn’t matter. Koopa and his kids are the only bad guys in this entire world! Santa Mario remarks this is somehow worse than what Koopa usually does (I don’t remember enough of this show to know if that tracks or not, but it sure feels like hyperbole) and vows to get them back!

Well, at least this Christmas special got one thing right.

Mario takes off in his one-dinosaur sleigh as poor Yoshi has to pull that stone monstrosity through the air with his wings power-up. They do find time to pass in front of the moon. Meanwhile, Koopa empties the sack of toys back at his “neon” castle and finds Oogtar inside. Oogtar, apparently lacking any sense of danger, is still preoccupied with getting all of the toys and gets into an argument over it with Koopa who intends to give them to his kids. Oogtar grabs one gift and Koops swats him across the room, rather gently unfortunately. Oogtar rips it open, only to find a ba-bomb inside it which he promptly tosses back to Koopa. He shouts he’s glad Koopa isn’t his dad with a gift like that, but aren’t these all gifts Mario and the gang wrapped? Were they trying to murder Oogtar?!

Merry Cave Christmas, Ratgoo!

The bomb predictably explodes in Koopa’s face, even though he tried telling it that it’s not supposed to blow until Christmas. Oogtar tries to book it, but Koopa grabs him. He’s got something special planned for Oogtar as he strings him up with a pulley system. The rope is a vine and Oogtar finds himself dangling over a pit in which a hungry dinosaur waits at the bottom. Koopa places a lit candle under the vine and leaves Oogtar to his certain death rather than stay and watch. I’d think he’d want to see the little twerp get it, but I guess he has other plans. As he departs, he chides Oogtar by reminding him that his name spelled backwards is “Rat Goo,” an actual worthwhile zinger for this show! I like this Koopa fellow.

Probably not the most discrete way to travel.

Santa Mario and Yoshi arrive and hear the screams of that little baby, Oogtar, coming from the castle. Mario runs over with his toolbox and spies Oogtar through a barred window. Seeing Oogtar in danger, he then runs to a different window for some reason and pulls out some little dinosaur from his toolbox that he uses to bend the bars. Yoshi, who seemingly lost his wings despite not taking any damage, is then advised to help Santa squeeze through the opening he just created, but he’s still too wide. We get a predictable diet joke out of Yoshi, and Mario informs him that a diet is not in the cards and that he needs to push harder! As Yoshi backs up to get a running star, he sees a terribly off-model Boo ghost and panics, crashing into Mario sending both tumbling into the castle where a horde of mecha-koopas descend upon them.

I’ve always felt the Santa suit could use a cape!

We then go into the chase segment. I think every cartoon in this show features one where the characters go running through the castle, avoiding enemies, all while a song plays in the background. The song is almost unintelligible. It sounds like the Koopa Kids making up a Christmas song. There’s something about a sleigh in there and I can’t make much out. It’s not good. Mario rides Yoshi through part of the castle avoiding catastrophe until they have a trio of the football guys from the video game chasing them down. Mario is able to conveniently find a super feather in a block and becomes caped Santa! He grabs Yoshi and the two fly through a pipe that leads them to Oogtar.

Look at this stupid, smiling, asshole. Hopefully Yoshi is happy because he’s thinking about how he gets to fill Ratgoo’s stocking with dinosaur droppings.

Oogtar, unfortunately, is still dangling over the hungry dinosaur infested pit. The vine breaks and Oogtar heads for doom, but Mario grabs the end of the vine. As Oogtar rises out of the pit, Mario goes in! Narrowly avoiding the chomping jaws of the dinosaur lurking within, Mario is able to fly out of the pit, catch Oogtar, and safely land outside the pit while the poor, endangered, creature in the pit is left hungry. Mario does a “ta-da” pose and a puff of smoke seemingly indicates his cape power wearing off, but when the smoke dissipates the cape is still there. Only when Mario starts laying into Oogtar is his cape finally removed from his model. Oogtar tries to weasel out of the discussion, but Mario points out that he’s already gone through all of Santa’s presents. Oogtar finally cops to being a little shit and Yoshi calls him bad (his eyes are all over the place in this segment too and it’s really distracting). Oogtar then promises to be a good little cave kid for the rest of his life, but Mario notes he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back. Oogtar, astonished, asks Santa how he knew and Mario gives a chuckle that he was once a little “bambino” too. Cave Christmas magic!

There wasn’t much screen time for the Koopalings in this one, which is tragic because they’re easily the best characters in the show.

Mario then comes running out of the castle with the sack of toys, which looks much smaller than before. They’re apparently just going to “yadda yadda” over how he managed to sneak into the throne room and grab them. With Oogtar in the sleigh and Yoshi hitched up, Mario tells him to take off, but there’s one problem – Yoshi doesn’t have any wings! Mario retreats to a nearby castle wall and just starts punching blocks until some wings pop out – the solution was so easy why bother even creating the problem in the first place? With the wings in place on Yoshi, they can finally leave, and just in time too as the threats of Bully Koopa start echoing from inside the castle. The whole Koopa clan races out as Santa’s sleigh lifts off.

Don’t fall for his bullshit, Santa Mario!

Back at Dome City, Santa Mario tucks Oogtar into bed. Before he can leave, Oogtar grabs Santa’s shirt so he can tell him that he’s been a bad kid and doesn’t deserve any presents. Being saved from the dinosaur is present enough (I bet the town wishes they could trade the presents they’re about to get in exchange for feeding Oogtar to that dino), but if Santa wants to leave Oogtar something it would make him happy. Mario remarks this isn’t like Oogtar, implying this one bit of manipulation on Oogtar’s part erases how terrible he is. Mario, predictably, leaves Oogtar a present before he and Yoshi fly off into the night.

Way to ruin Christmas, Mario.

The next morning, Mario is snoring away in his very uncomfortable looking vine bed still in all of his clothes. As he sleeps, Oogtar slips in with a wrapped gift as he notes Santa didn’t leave Mario anything. He places the gift by Mario’s bed as the plumber wakes up. Oogtar wishes “Mario dude” a merry Cave Christmas. The episode ends with Mario breaking the fourth wall to ask the audience, “Wouldn’t it be nice if every day were Christmas?”

And that is the rare holiday of Cave Christmas. It’s just like regular Christmas, only Santa is a plumber and his stone sleigh is pulled by a winged dinosaur. Also, the toys look pretty lousy. And it’s set in August. I don’t think I thought much of this episode (or this show) as a kid and have almost no memory of this, specific, episode. As an adult, it’s hard for me to ignore the inherent colonialism in the Mario brothers setting up shop in a remote location among the natives and basically brainwashing them in a bid to control them. It’s actually pretty shitty. It’s made worse by the fact that they’re also spreading a religious holiday to these people, though the religious aspect of Christmas is not touched upon at all, for the better.

Get this piece of rat goo the hell away from my holiday!

Even if I accept that I’m reading way too much into this extended video game commercial, there’s no polishing this turd of a Christmas special. Oogtar is unlikable and pretty damn annoying. I really don’t want to see him learn a lesson or have a merry Christmas in the end, I just want him to go away. He also didn’t really learn anything as I get the impression he just goes back to being a shit the next day once Cave Christmas is concluded. He tried to lie to Santa! Beyond that, the episode is poorly scripted, plotted, and paced and almost demeaning to its audience. The good guys have to be stupid in order to not see a giant turtle monster skulking about town stealing their stuff, and they make sure to tell the audience everything that’s happening because no one apparently trusted the kids to understand this stuff. The only positive I can give this thing is Harvey Atkin is still dynamite as Koopa and he even made me chuckle on two occasions.

You got two tries at a Christmas special, Mario, and you blew it! You are hereby cut off! No more Christmas for you!

If you absolutely must journey to Dinosaur World this Christmas then you’ll be pleased to know that all 13 episodes of Super Mario World are available on DVD. And since the show is bad, you can probably find it for very cheap as nostalgia seekers probably impulse bought it when it was new and then were eager to get rid of it. Nintendo also hates these old cartoons and basically just wants nothing to do with them so no one is actively enforcing the copywrite presently and you can find this one streaming online for free. With seemingly every IP under the sun getting locked into exclusive deals with some official streaming service, this one might actually remain free for awhile since Nintendo doesn’t appear interested in even shopping this stuff around. I’m actually a little surprised they aren’t throwing their weight around to wipe this thing from existence, but I guess their inattention to the show is everyone’s gain. Or loss.


Dec. 2 – Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales – “The Tree Trimmers”

Original air date November 27, 1965

In the early 1960s, content producers were still trying to navigate the lay of the land when it came to television. Animation had been popular for decades in movie theaters and the big studios knew they appealed to kids, but it was just so expensive to produce that few were willing to try it on television. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and one of the earliest Saturday morning cartoons was a production from Total Television titled Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales.

Tennessee Tuxedo was essentially the heir apparent to the series King Leonardo which concluded the same day Tennessee Tuxedo premiered. The show was conceived of by W. Watts Biggers and Chet Stover and originally existed to sell cereal, as sponsorship was the name of the game back then (and for awhile) when it came to children’s programming. Education was also a component as well and the show was setup in a fashion that allowed the main characters to learn a thing or two and serve as an audience surrogate in the hopes that the kids watching at home wouldn’t figure out it was really they who were learning a lesson.

The show starred Don Adams in the role of Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin in a hat and bowtie who lives at the Megapolis Zoo. Adams uses the “clippy” voice he would later perfect on the series Get Smart! and even later as the voice of Inspector Gadget to voice Tennessee. The penguin’s best friend is a walrus by the name of Chumley (Bradley Bolke) and together the two are usually up to something that takes them out of the confines of the zoo and presents a problem for the pair. Tennessee’s catch phrase is “Tennessee Tuxedo shall not fail,” even though he usually does. When the problem gets too big for the pair to manage, they turn to the all-knowing Phineas J. Whoopee (Larry Storch), who is literally the man with all the answers and the way for every episode to write its characters out of trouble. The main antagonist of the show is the zoo director Stanley Livingstone (Mort Marshall) who often threatens to skin the pair. Nice guy!

What a way to close out your opening theme song.

In the early 1990s, few cable networks dedicated significant time to children’s programming. Basically, the only game in town was Nickelodeon, but back then the Viacom-owned network did not produce much in the way of cartoons. Instead, the network was forced to license material to air on its network, but couldn’t pay the big money of the major broadcast networks to attract the best shows. That left Nick with a lot of older material, which is how I was exposed to Tennessee Tuxedo. Not long after the show’s original debut came Underdog, which proved to be the more popular show. In licensing Underdog for syndication, his show would often be packaged with other cartoons, many of which debuted as part of Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales. These packaged shows would air often on Nickelodeon and I watched quite a bit of them, even though I don’t recall actually enjoying them. It was a cartoon and it was on – those were essentially my standards at the time.

As part of the show’s third season we have a Christmas episode. Tennessee is going to take it upon himself to trim the zoo’s tree, even though Stanley would prefer he not do so. I don’t recall seeing this one as a kid and it’s possible the holiday themed episodes were not included in the syndicated package. After all, networks just want to be able to throw these things on at any time and seasonal episodes can mess that up (if the network cares, and often times, they don’t). When this one first originally aired, it was at the end of November and likely the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a plenty appropriate time to unveil a Christmas episode.

The opening title for this one has a very Mickey Mouse Club feel to it, only it looks a lot worse. The scenes in the opening title also seem to suggest kids are getting a show full of high adventure, which is not how I remember the actual show being. It also ends with Tennessee and Chumley dropping onto the title of the show and then two, giant, gun barrels are pointed at them. There’s an explosion, but no animation of the guns actually firing, before the pair is blasted up and out of the shot. It’s a pretty intense close for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I bet you can’t guess what the eagle’s name is.

The cartoon begins with Tennessee and the gang singing a bad Christmas carol. They’re just singing “Merry Christmas to you,” over and over for the most part before they’re interrupted. Flunky (Kenny Delmar), the zoo keeper, comes running over to tell Tennessee that Stanley needs to see him in his office and Tennessee seems particularly annoyed at being taken away from caroling. When Flunky mentions it concerns the zoo’s Christmas tree, Tennessee gets excited as he assumes Stanley wants their help in setting up the tree.

Tennessee and Chumley head over to Stanley’s office ready to help trim the tree. Stanley, who always seems irritated, informs Tennessee he’s to do no such thing! Stanley tells the pair that the mayor has set up a tree contest and that he intends for the zoo to win. He’s hired professional tree trimmers to handle the decorating and wants Tennessee and Chumley to show the decorators where everything is while he’s out fetching the mayor. Tennessee protests a bit and insists he and Chumley can handle it, but Stanley refuses to entertain the thought. Once gone though, Tennessee tells Chumley they’re decorating that tree. Chumley, who speaks in a classic dimwitted voice where every line begins with a “duh,” reminds Tennessee that Stanley forbade them from doing so, but Tennessee insists that they should because it’s the season of giving and decorating the tree will be their gift to Stanley.

This is going well.

Outside of the zoo’s auditorium the pair find a massive tree that Stanley wants setup inside. Tennessee and Chumley each grab one end of the tree which knocks Tennessee flat on his back prompting him to instruct Chumley to, “cut the comedy!” They then try to bring it inside with Tennessee dragging the tree from the top and Chumley from the bottom, only the tree gets stuck about 3/4 of the way through the door. Tennessee tells Chumley to trim off some of the bigger branches so they can fit it in. He does as he’s told and the tree fits, but now the first 8 feet or so of the tree’s base is bare.

The two then go to set the tree up, only the top scrapes the ceiling. Chumley tells Tennessee the tree is too tall, and Tennessee indicates it’s not a problem as they can chop some off. Considering that the bare portion of the tree extends beyond the pair’s head, the viewer is likely supposed to assume Tennessee will cut from the bottom, but he does not, and cuts from the middle. When he’s done, the tree is much smaller, and Chumley remarks that it now looks like a dust broom. Tennessee, once again, assures him it’s fixable as he trims off the “handle.” Chumley then tells him it looks too wide and points out that a Christmas tree should be pointy at the top. Tennessee then takes some clippers and re-shapes it. When he asks Chumley if it’s not the ideal shape for a Christmas tree Chumley agrees, but notes it’s not the biggest tree he’s ever seen as it’s now about a foot tall.

Still less pathetic than Charlie Brown’s tree (which premiered less than two weeks after this episode).

Baldy, an eagle, and Yakkity Yak (both voiced by Kenny Delmar) enter the auditorium to ask what’s going on. Tennessee shows them the tree, and the two immediately start to panic as they know Stanley is going to be pissed when he sees what Tennessee did to his tree. Tennessee Tuxedo, turning to his catchphrase about never failing, tells them not to worry as he’ll just chop down another tree. We then jump to the new tree being setup and it’s actually quite lovely. Now, they need to trim it. Tennessee heads up a ladder and instructs Yak to start tossing him ornaments, only Yak’s aim is terrible and they just smash on the floor. Yak then decides it would be better to simply hand him the ornament and Tennessee places it at the top of the tree. He’s so enamored with the ornament’s beauty that he descends the ladder to admire it and promptly falls onto the other ornaments, breaking half of their allotment.

Tennessee places the rest on the tree and searches for compliments, but Yak is honest in his assessment that it’s pretty bare. He assures him it will look better with lights on it and turns to Baldy, who is about to plug in a string of lights to test them. As he does so, Tennessee examines the string and notes there’s a missing bulb. He sticks his finger in the socket right as Baldy plugs them in and is soon electrocuted. The effect is super basic as Tennessee just slowly flashes different colors before a cloud of smoke explodes.

Electrocution gags will get a lot better over the years.

With the tree bare and lacking lights, the only thing that can save it now is the star. Tennessee heads up the ladder once again to place the star at the top, only the ladder starts to shake right as he reaches to place the star in its rightful place. Despite Chumley telling him to be careful, Tennessee predictably takes a tumble right into the tree. The whole thing comes down and Yak quickly notes that now all of the ornaments are broken. Tennessee, with the star stuck on top of his head, rises from the shattered tree and tells Chumley it’s probably time they go seek the aid of Mr. Whoopey.

Your ornament sucks, Whoopey.

We find Mr. Whoopey casually seated on his desk as Tennessee tells him about their dilemma. Before he can finish, he remarks that Mr. Whoopey has a really fine tree in his office. This sets Mr. Whoopey on his instruction for the day as he tells them how to make shitty ornaments out of paper. The guy loves paper as most of the ornaments and garland he recommends begins life as a piece of paper, which seems really dangerous considering the lights utilized in the 60s were those giant, colored, bulbss that got super hot after about five seconds. He also tells them they can put cookies and candy on the tree as ornaments and shows them how to string popcorn and cranberries using a needle and thread. These guys can’t even work a ladder without destroying a tree, I don’t think they should be allowed to string anything with a needle. The advice all seems terrible, but Tennessee disagrees as the pair enthusiastically head back to the zoo.

Oh Stanley, you’re in for a treat!

We then see Stanley leading the mayor and his wife to the auditorium. As Stanley opens the door, he boasts about hiring professional decorators to trim the tree, but then looks at his tree in horror. He runs in wanting to know what happened to all his ornaments, but soon realizes the tree looks pretty good. And it does, and it magically has non homemade ornaments on it as well as the popcorn garland. They also apparently found more lights. The mayor’s wife really likes it and declares it the prettiest tree she’s ever seen prompting the mayor to inform Stanley they’ve won the contest. Tennessee then doffs his cap (which has switched back to his normal, yellow, hat) to wish everyone a merry Christmas and the whole gang assembles in front of the tree (and Tennessee’s hat has switched back to his red stocking cap) to resume the awful carol the episode began with.

Looks like it’s time to start singing again.

As they all sing, the other zoo animals start popping their heads out of their homes. They all react favorably to hearing the carol as they all start to leave and descend upon the auditorium. They enter and the carolers inside appear happy at their arrival and soon we have a large group shot of everyone singing the song. Tennessee, who now has his yellow hat again (this is insane!), acts like he’s conducting their choir or something. The cartoon closes on an external shot of the auditorium at night and then zooms in on the Christmas Star which sparkles in the night.

And now everyone gets involved!

“The Tree Trimmers” feels like an episode that was written in all of five minutes. Someone must have got the mandate to do a Christmas episode, and the writers quickly came up with Tennessee and Chumley struggling to properly decorate a tree. Even the educational segment was rather weak as Mr. Whoopey gives lazy advice on how to cut paper into half-assed ornaments. Seriously, if your kid came home from school with one of those you’d probably feel cheated. Everything turns out fine in the end because it’s Christmas and it has to. At least the song, even if it’s mediocre, appears to be an original rather than some public domain Christmas carol.

Being a cartoon from the 60s intended for television, it’s probably no surprise to hear that this one is pretty rough looking. The animation is very basic as the characters only move when necessary and they just sort of slide across the screen with no bounce in their step. There’s no wasted movement or embellishment anywhere. I can at least appreciate that they made the effort to put everyone in mildly festive attire with Tennessee and Chumley ditching their usual hats for winter ones. The vocal cast is okay and I do like how Adams plays Tennessee and Stanley is a well-acted antagonist, even if he’s barely in this cartoon. The show wisely lets Adams dominate every scene as the other actors really aren’t asked to do much more than just set Tennessee up for whatever comes next.

The final shot rests on a star. I would have preferred Santa.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this in 2021 (and beyond) that Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales is not airing on any network these days. I don’t think it’s even streaming anywhere. The show was made available on DVD by Shout Factory in 2012 so if you want to own this episode, and every other episode, you can. It’s out of print though so it’s not exactly cheap, but also it’s not the sort of thing that has become insanely expensive. It can basically be had for around 30 bucks brand new, which is probably right around the original MSRP. If you were to find it used, maybe you could get it for 20. I don’t think it’s worth it, but at least the option is available for those who do like this show or just like to amass a large collection of animation. This episode can also be found on the internet for free, if that’s your preference. It’s not likely to bring about those lovely Christmas feels, but it’s certainly a Christmas themed episode and since it’s only about 10 minutes you probably won’t feel like you wasted your time. At least not much of your time.


Dec. 1 – Frosty the Snowman

Original air date December 7, 1969

Welcome back, lovers of Christmas, to the 7th edition of The Christmas Spot! If you missed the introduction a few days ago, we’re doing things a little differently this year. Yes, you’re still getting a dedicated write-up each day through Christmas about a beloved or not-so-beloved holiday special, but this year we’re also going retro by this blog’s standards. In order to shine a brighter light on the best of the best in the field of televised Christmas specials, we’re revisiting some of the 25 best as laid out in 2015 and reaffirmed just a year ago on this blog. When the subject was first discussed, the format for The Christmas Spot was to do a mini review of each special as opposed to the full-on walkthrough it has turned into. It didn’t make sense that so few words were reserved for the best the holiday had to offer, so we’re going to start rectifying that this year. Not every one of those inaugural 25 are being rehashed this year, just a select few of my choosing. Maybe next year we’ll look at some more, maybe we won’t, it’s all rather fluid.

Today, we’re kicking things off with a lookback to one of those 25: Frosty the Snowman. The Rankin/Bass classic was originally ranked at number 15, but was dropped down to 19 last year. Being in the top 20 is still nothing to sneeze at as Frosty is here to stay.

The 1969 classic is now one of the longest running Christmas specials on television today. For the past several years it has been the unofficial start of the holiday special season as CBS has chosen to air it the day after Thanksgiving for quite awhile now. As streaming services continue to take over, the days of the event special may be coming to an end. Last year saw Charlie Brown and the gang get axed from a network timeslot all because Amazon scooped the property up and intended to put an end to the tradition. What happened was people were so pissed about missing out on annual viewings of the Peanuts holiday specials that Amazon rethought its position and made the Thanksgiving and Christmas special available for one night only each on PBS. They aired at 7 EST and were barely in prime time, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. ABC also seemed to reduce their holiday output since it now has Disney+ to stash its specials on. It’s likely we’ll continue to see massive corporations hoard these valuable pieces of television history and what was once a shared, viewing, experience each year is just another thing to binge at your leisure.

For now, we still have Frosty. The special, which is obviously adapted from the song written by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson, was written by Romeo Muller and directed by the tandem of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. It’s narrated by comedian Jimmy Durante and features voice work from Jackie Vernon, Paul Frees, Billy De Wolfe, and June Foray. It’s a special that always stood out to me as a kid because, unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it was a cel-animated production from Rankin/Bass instead of stop-motion. I feel like everyone associates Rankin/Bass with stop-motion, but their more traditional animated works are pretty noteworthy as well. When it came time to animate the special, Rankin/Bass turned to Mushi Productions, the animation studio based in Japan founded by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Yes, Frosty the Snowman is basically anime. It would be more obvious if Rankin/Bass had not hired Paul Coker Jr. to first design the characters for the special, but you can certainly see the Japanese influence in several places.

Jimmy Durante will be our guide through the story, and song, of Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty the Snowman opens in idyllic fashion. Snow is falling and the people of this small community are busying themselves getting ready for Christmas. Our narrator, Jimmy Durante who is animated to resemble himself, explains that this is the first snow of the season and that it’s actually a Christmas snow. Why is that important? Apparently, when the first snow of the season happens to fall on Christmas Eve, something wonderful is bound to happen!

Our attention then shifts to a small school house. The kids are restless as they want to go play in the snow and their teacher (voiced by June Foray) has organized a Christmas party. Yeah, those days were always long even if they weren’t filled with education as no one wants to be in school so close to the holiday (and basically no one goes to school on Christmas Eve these days). The teacher informs the students that she’s hired a magician to entertain them. Considering the teacher had to pay out of pocket to bring this guy in, you can probably guess just what kind of magician a teacher’s salary can afford.

Behold! The worst magician in the world!

Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe) is introduced by the narrator as probably the worst magician in the world. He begins his routine by tossing some eggs into his “magic” hat, says some traditional magic words, and then turns the hat upside down only for the eggs to fall out and smash on the floor. The kids are disappointed, which is perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of this special about a snowman coming to life as any group of kids I know would have laughed at a trick going so poorly. Hinkle then tries to retrieve a rabbit out of the same hat, which is going about as well as the egg trick. Declaring the hat is only fit for the trash can, he chucks it towards the waste basket only for the rabbit to finally pop out. Before the kids can react to the reveal of Hocus Pocus, the bell rings and they storm out of there basically trampling the magician in the process.

Once outside, the kids race through the snow. Most apparently did not consult a weather report earlier in the day as several are wearing shorts. One girl is sporting short sleeves and a pink skirt with suspenders which really can’t be comfortable. Some of the boys immediately start building a snowman, and it’s during this process we really get to meet Karen (who was voiced by Foray in the original, now lost, airing and re-dubbed by Suzanne Davidson) as she volunteers to build the head for the snowman. She declares it’s the most difficult part of snowman construction, and even challenges the boys to ask anyone on the subject for confirmation. Well Karen, I’ve built a few snowmen in my day and I have to strongly disagree. The head is quite possibly the easiest part, especially if you’re building a snowman like Frosty who has actual legs! Seriously, that’s damn near impossible.

Never in my life have I been able to make a snowman half as good as what’s present in cartoons.

Once the snowman is assembled, the kids gather around to choose a name. After some truly wretched suggestions, including an unintelligible suggestion from one kid who apparently just speaks in sound effects, Karen proposes Frosty and the kids all seem to agree this is a fine name. They then clasp hands and spontaneously break-out into song. Either they’re all amazing at improv, or they’re just as unoriginal as most kids and they named their snowman after a song that already exists in their world. While they’re singing, the rabbit Hocus Pocus comes bounding out of the school house in the discarded hat which Karen tosses on Frosty’s head to complete his ensemble. Much to everyone’s shock, the hat brings Frosty to life as his lifeless, coal, eyes become whole and he greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” Considering it is essentially his birth day, it’s an appropriate greeting, if a bit unexpected.

Professor Hinkle is there to witness the whole thing as he had been chasing Hocus. When Karen declares the hat must be magic, Hinkle decides he wants it back as a fortuitous wind blows it off Frosty’s head and into his waiting arms. When the children protest, Hinkle plays dumb and claims he didn’t witness any such nonsense. He admonishes the children informing them that when they’re grown up they’ll understand snowmen can’t come to life. As he takes off with his hat and rabbit, the kids turn forlornly towards Frosty and reassure the snowman that they did see him come to life. Durante then comes back in to sing a jolly rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” as we’re finally shown the opening credits for the special and the major network gets to toss some commercials our way.

Get a load of this asshole.

When we return from the festivities, our informative narrator makes it clear that Professor Hinkle was wrong to take Frosty’s hat. He doesn’t elaborate, but I guess we’re to hold him to his momentary anger at the hat when he tossed it at the garbage. That seems a bit extreme, but it’s important the viewer hates this guy (and denying life to a snowman is a pretty shitty thing to do) as Hocus Pocus is about to take action. As the magician walks past people on the street greeting them happily, Hocus quickly swaps the hat with a wreath and bounds off.

When Hocus returns to the site of Frosty’s awakening, the kids are still just standing around accepting defeat. Karen notes the hat is back, seemingly oblivious that it was the rabbit who returned it, and she places it back on Frosty’s head. He once again greets the children with a “Happy Birthday!” and then begins to question his existence. Rather than be burdened by some truly out of this world thoughts on who he is and why he’s here, he just humbly accepts that life has been granted to him and then begins to test out his bodily functions. No, nothing weird or gross, mainly just juggling and checking if he’s ticklish. Okay, that does sound a little odd. His right hand also sprouts an extra finger so he can count to five (like most cartoon characters, Frosty only has four digits normally), but that’s just one of many odd animation quirks we’ll endure.

Frosty admiring his own rump.

Once Frosty is satisfied that he’s alive, the dancing can commence! We get a little more of the song as sung by Jimmy Durante as we’re basically just going to hear a verse here and there until the special is over and the song concluded. Once they seem to get over the thrill of life, Frosty wipes some “sweat” off of his head and takes note of a nearby thermometer. I question its accuracy, as it appears to be pushing past 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the point is made and that’s snow is destined to melt, which means Frosty is destined to melt. This is where the special takes a hard pivot from the song. The lyrics make it sound like Frosty accepts his fate as all snowmen must melt and resigns himself to have a good time until the moist, dripping, splash of death consumes him. In the special, he immediately decides death is quite a bummer and a thing to be avoided. Where can a snowman cheat death? Why, the North Pole of course! When Frosty shares this bit of info the children decide they have to help him get to the North Pole, so they have a parade! All right, that part is a little weird, but I guess if you need to head to a train depot you might as well make a parade of it.

We deserve a sequel that explains if this guy ever got his whistle back.

As Durante sings more of the song, we see Frosty lead the children through town (with Hocus in tow) which contains some visual gags of people reacting with shock at the sight of a walking, talking, snowman. The parade comes to a halt when they encounter the traffic cop the song makes mention of. He’s directing pedestrian and automobile traffic and has to scream at Frosty in order to get him to stop. This begins a 1920s-esque bit of shtick as the cop questions Frosty on the various signs and signals all around him, never once seeming to realize he’s speaking with a snowman. Frosty is ignorant of basically all things, and Karen has to explain he just came to life and the cop then backs off. After instructing the gang to move along, he remarks to himself that snowmen are so stupid when they first come to life. Only then does he realize how absurd the whole situation was as he exclaims to himself “Come to life?!” and swallows his own whistle.

The parade finally reaches its destination, a train depot. The clerk (Paul Frees) working the ticket counter is fast asleep when the kids approach requesting a ticket to the North Pole. He then springs into action as he stamps a whole sleeve of tickets remarking how their journey will take them through the Klondike and for some reason mentions aurora borealis. He’s clearly lost in his work. He returns with a stack of tickets, as this journey is going to require quite a few trains, and then requests payment: three-thousand dollars and four cents (including tax). When Karen sheepishly responds that they don’t have any money, the enraged clerk slams his fist on the table causing the whole pile of tickets to spring up and wrap around him. He then utters perhaps the most quotable line in the entire special, “No money, no ticket!”

He’s so angry that he just closes up shop and quits the business right here and now.

Well, if you can’t buy a ticket to the North Pole, just do like the old hobos do – stow away! One of the kids takes note of a refrigerated box car on a train apparently heading north. That’s good enough for Frosty as they inspect the car. It’s full of ice cream and frozen Christmas cakes, which we’ll find out is a splendid way to travel for a snowman. Frosty climbs aboard, and so does Karen. All of the other kids have sense enough not to attempt to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and Frosty is too dumb himself to point out that Karen climbing aboard is a bad idea. She seems to think she can get there and back before supper which begs the question how old is Karen supposed to be? Hocus Pocus also climbs into the car as I guess he would prefer the North Pole to whatever town they’re currently in. As the train speeds off, we see there’s another stow away on board – Hinkle!

After the break, we take a look inside the box car to find a contented snowman and relaxed rabbit, but a freezing girl. It takes Frosty a few seconds to realize that this is a bad situation for a little girl. Proving he’s not some selfish jerk, he elects to scoop Karen up in his arms and leave the frozen confines when the train has to stop at a crossing (the animation makes no sense as the train goes past the junction, then stops, and an express train goes past behind it). Hinkle, still clinging to the caboose, sees the trio hop off as the train starts to leave and thinks they’re trying to ditch him. As he shouts at them “No fair!” it’s hard to tell if Frosty actually takes note of him or not. Hinkle is then forced to jump from a moving train if he has any hope of getting his hat back. He hits the ground and stats flopping down a snow-covered embankment before finally crashing into a tree. As he falls, the person doing the sound effects just goes nuts as there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the sounds we’re hearing, but it certainly sounds painful for Hinkle!

He deserved that.

Frosty, Karen, and Hocus wander through the cold, darkening, woods as Frosty frets about finding warmth for Karen. Hocus, through pantomime, suggests he build her a fire, but that’s not something a snowman can do. They press on and eventually come across a bunch of animals. They’re slightly personified, sort of like Hocus, and they’re decorating the forest for Santa’s arrival that night. It’s a bit preposterous, but I suppose not out of character for a Christmas special. Frosty asks Hocus to communicate with the animals about building Karen a fire. He does as he’s told, and soon the deer, squirrels, and such get a roaring fire going for Karen to get warm by. It’s pretty damn goofy to behold.

As Karen warms herself by the fire, Frosty stays far away. With Hocus by his side, he contemplates how he can get Karen home and himself to the North Pole. Hocus acts out some suggestions including the marines and President of the United States. Hocus then covers his face in snow like a beard and struts suggesting Frosty seek the aide of Santa Claus. Frosty thinks that’s a great idea and smiles at the camera apparently happy with himself. Hocus is ordered to be a Santa look-out, and once the guy flies overhead, he’s expected to somehow get his attention even though he’s a fluffy white rabbit standing amongst a bunch of snow.

It’s belly-whopping time!

Unfortunately though, a roaring fire in a dark forest is quite visible and Hinkle soon stumbles upon Karen. He taunts her before laughing then demonstrates he has some amazing lungs as he literally blows the fire out. Frosty comes running over and Hinkle demands he hand over the hat. He makes an empty threat, which Frosty calls him on, and Hinkle just stamps his feet like a toddler screaming to get his hat back! When he makes a lunge for it, Frosty deftly sidesteps him and drops down onto all fours. Frosty tells Karen to jump on his shoulders and our narrator interjects that Frosty, being made of snow, is the fastest belly-whopper in the world! He basically shoots off like a rocket across the snow, down a small hill, up another, and down again leaving Hinkle far off in the distance.

This is where Hinkle goes from annoying to evil.

The ride comes to an end at a random green house in the middle of no where filled with poinsettia. Karen is pretty cold from the ride, and also likely because she’s currently being cradled in the arms of living snow, so Frosty decides to bring her inside. She reminds him he’ll melt in there, but he suggests he’ll only stay in to melt a little and makes a joke about losing weight. Hinkle then arrives, suggesting he not only has tremendous lung capacity, but he’s also really damn fast. Honestly, I feel a little betrayed by the narrator who said he was left far off in the distance just seconds ago. Anyway, Hinkle sees the snowman in the green house and promptly slams the door shot. It must lock from the outside, or Frosty just isn’t very confrontational, because they’re trapped. Hinkle laughs devilishly proclaiming the hat will soon be his as Frosty looks on with horror.

Up in the sky, Santa passes by! Maybe he’s just out for a quick preflight check or something, because he only has four reindeer and no sack of presents. He comes across the woodland critter celebration where he is informed by Hocus what’s going on with Frosty, Karen, and the magician. Hocus leads the big guy to the green house, but when they arrive they’re met with a terrible sight. Karen, on her knees sobbing, is beside a puddle and Frosty’s “parts” are floating in it. I feel like there’s a darker cut of Frosty the Snowman where we watch the poor snowman melt and Karen is forced to look-on helplessly. That girl has seen some shit and Hinkle, who presumably watched it all unfold too, is quite an evil soul.

She’s going to need some therapy.

The narrator tells us that Santa is too late, but he breaks the fourth wall to correct him. With a big, booming, voice, Santa (Paul Frees) shouts “Nonsense,” at the suggestion of being too late and then sets to comforting Karen. He tells her that Frosty, being made of Christmas snow, can never disappear completely. This does little to cheer up Karen since her friend is still a puddle, but Santa just chuckles and opens the green house door. He commands Frosty to basically pull himself together as a cold wind enters the green house, scoops up Frosty’s parts, and recreates the snowman outside the green house. The only thing left to do is return the hat to Frosty, but now Hinkle makes his presence known demanding the hat be returned to him.

Santa, who almost looks ready to throw-down, instructs Hinkle not to lay a finger on the hat. Rather than threaten him with the violence he so richly deserves, Santa just tells him he’ll never bring him another Christmas present so long as he lives. Earlier, Hinkle seemed to think a magic hat would make him a millionaire magician so I don’t know why he places any value on future Christmas presents, but he’s not the sharpest guy. He immediately begins to pout and kicks a can that mysteriously appeared in the snow before remarking, “We evil magicians deserve to make a living too.” Santa then tells him that if he goes home right now and writes one-hundred-zillion times that he’s sorry for what he did to Frosty, then maybe he’ll get a new hat for Christmas. Despite being handed an impossible task, Hinkle seems pretty happy with this arrangement as he starts hopping up and down with excitement. In probably my other favorite quote from this special, he hollers “Sorry to lose and run, but I’ve got to get busy writing! Busy! Busy! Busy!”

Santa will make everything right!

Santa slips in a little chuckle as Hinkle disappears into the night, then turns his attention back to Frosty. He returns the hat, and once again Frosty greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” I guess it still is his birthday, after all. We then slip into a bit of a montage as the song returns. The group celebrates a bit before getting back to business. Santa, after all, has a long night ahead of him, but he still finds time to return Karen home. Maybe he’s a little ticked off though about the extra work on Christmas Eve since he leaves her stranded on her roof before taking off with Frosty. The narrator then pops in to let us know that Frosty would return every year after that and the whole town would have a big celebration in his honor. The song gets into full swing now and we basically see everyone from the special in Frosty’s parade, including Professor Hinkle in a new hat. Jimmy breaks from the song again to wish us all a very, merry, Christmas as Santa swoops down in his sleigh (again, only four reindeer) to retrieve Frosty as the song ends. Frosty gets the last word in as he alters the closing line of the song, “I’ll be back on Christmas Day!”

Santa finds time to fly past the moon, now how the hell is Karen getting off of that roof?

Frosty the Snowman is sort of like the Christmas special baseline. It’s cheerful, charming, magical and it has some memorable characters. It helps that it’s anchored by the classic song, which is catchy enough and isn’t as overplayed (or annoying) as other Christmas songs. It might not be anyone’s favorite Christmas special, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hated it. There’s definitely some goofy logic at times, and the animation is merely adequate. This is from the 60s so I think most of the animation warts are only really apparent with modern eyes. I don’t think it’s as good looking as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it’s definitely better looking than A Charlie Brown Christmas. And it has character with the design of Frosty being simple, but pleasant, and Hinkle looking quite memorable. About the only thing I don’t like when it comes to the visuals are the deer. They just look stupid, but not offensively so.

Rankin/Bass seemed intent on transforming Frosty from a character that was just a wintertime creation to a Christmas icon. As much as the old song is associated with the holidays, it doesn’t make mention of Christmas at all. Maybe that’s why when Rankin/Bass did return to the character with Frosty’s Winter Wonderland they left Christmas out. They did produce Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, one of the lesser stop-motion efforts from the studio, but otherwise Frosty has mostly left Christmas behind. Today this special is almost always joined by the non-Rankin/Bass production Frosty Returns every year, even though that special has nothing to do with Christmas. In 2005, Classic Media produced another pseudo-sequel titled The Legend of Frosty the Snowman. That one features a Frosty that looks identical to the one presented here (and that’s because Classic Media bought up the Rankin/Bass library), but otherwise tells a new story and also has nothing to do with Christmas.

He says he’ll be back on Christmas Day, but it’s an empty promise.

This Frosty the Snowman is truly the only worthwhile one. I don’t particularly care for the other animated specials, and the feature with Rudolph is a tremendous slog that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone. This one though is an annual tradition and no Christmas season goes by without at least a viewing of Frosty the Snowman in my house. It’s become a favorite of my kids, so I actually am subjected to it a lot each year and I’m totally fine with that. If you’re hoping to catch it on television this year, check cable and keep an eye on CBS. They already did the first airing, but often will re-air it later in the month. It’s one of the harder ones to miss.


NECA TMNT Cartoon Channel 6 Newsroom SDCC Exclusive Set

BREAKING NEWS: San Diego Comic Con exclusives are now shipping! Full story at 10.

Remember San Diego Comic Con? You would be forgiven if you did not since, like last year’s edition, the event was a virtual one once again. Only unlike the 2020 version, this one came with the expectation it would be virtual. It also coincided with a global shipping crisis, so combine that with the expectation that no one would be in attendance, the various companies who were on-hand for the virtual event had little reason to have actual product ready for distribution. Because as many know, SDCC isn’t about just unveiling new things, it’s about selling exclusive merchandise and for toy producers this is usually a pretty big deal.

When it comes to NECA, the company has had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed item for several years now. With the lines expanding to retail just a couple of years ago, NECA is now in a position where it can make its SDCC sets a little more off-beat. Last year, we saw the company release The Musical Mutagen Tour 4-pack of turtles based on their appearance in the so bad it’s good Coming Out of Their Shells tour from the early 90s. That set definitely fit the bill of one that likely would appeal to a small portion of the TMNT fanbase and not create the sort of intense demand we had seen in the past. As a result, some were disappointed to see NECA devote this year’s set to the Channel 6 news crew from the cartoon.

It’s a NECA four-pack, so expect fancy packaging!

Even though the members of Channel 6 were not mutants, or fighters, they were an integral part of the classic cartoon series simply by virtue of being there. April and her co-workers Irma, Burne, and Vernon were in more episodes than they weren’t so the now adults who watched the show have a pretty strong attachment to them. So far, we’ve seen April and Vernon receive a retail release in the toon line, but Irma and Burne have been shut out. Now, they find themselves in an exclusive set and some were a little irritated about it since they’re definitely characters deserving of a wider release. Those concerns seem to be a bit of a stretch though, as the set went up for sale in July and remained in stock for most of the day. And that was just the initial sale as more are headed to Target in the coming weeks minus some additional swag that was part of the online sale (and had to be paid for).

Even though San Diego Comic Con was in July, and this set was sold in July, it’s just now arriving at the homes of those who purchased it likely due to the shipping issues faced by everyone. When the set went up for sale, it wasn’t clear when it would be released or that it was even a pre-sale thing. It was then speculated by NECA that it might show up in October, but apparently even that was wishful thinking. It is what it is, but after the extended wait I’m here to tell you if this one was worth it, or not.

There’s some familiar faces.

The Channel 6 Newsroom set is a four-pack of action figures based on the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: April (as a mutated cat), Irma, Burne, and Vernon. Two of those figures will be familiar to collectors of this line as April is essentially a repaint with a new head and forearms while Vernon is a re-release of the same figure from the two-pack released back in January. He does have two new portraits, frightened and blindfolded, and the coloring on his clothing is slightly different, but otherwise he’s old news. The new figures are the long requested Irma and the less requested Burne. Irma is the secretary at Channel 6 and someone seemingly always in the orbit of April. She has several starring moments on the show, but despite that this is only the character’s second figure. And the first was this weird yellow and green thing put out by Playmates. Burne is the resident blowhard of Channel 6, a J. Jonah Jameson type who hates the turtles with little reason why. He’s an unlikable sort and not featured as prominently as the other members of the crew, but he’s a pretty essential character too. And like Irma, he only had the one release in the Playmates line, though his was actually pretty good for that line aside from the sculpted hamburger permanently in his hand. And like most of NECA’s four-packs, this one includes a bevy of accessories which, at the end of the day, are likely to be the only exclusive items in here when all is said and done. Well, that and maybe Cat April.

They’re free and ready to…report?

As has been standard with past NECA four-packs, this one comes in a highly decorative package. There’s a slipcase with artwork depicting The Catwoman of Channel 6 that has April in her cat form superimposed over a more scenic pic of the Channel 6 building. Slide that off and you get a five-panel window box that has April on the front as-if she’s broadcasting through a television. The flap is secured via Velcro and once opened the figures are present via the window along with all of their stuff. Mine arrived slightly damaged, which is a bit of a bummer since this is a box I actually intend to keep. The inner box has a puncture in it, though the slipcover is fine. Inside is a backdrop featuring the Channel 6 studio which should actually make for a decent display for the figures when removed. It’s pretty standard packaging at this point, though this one is a bit deeper than the other four-packs and will thus occupy more real estate on your shelf.

April looks fine, though for once I think NECA went too far with the added linework, particularly around her muzzle.
She can strike a good pouncing pose.

Before we get to the new figures, we should probably talk about the familiar figures and we’ll start with Cat April. This is from the episode “The Catwoman of Channel 6” where April is accidentally mutated and then put under Shredder’s control via a collar. It’s a fairly memorable episode, and a worthwhile variant to explore. The figure’s body is the same as the much maligned April we got before. That April is probably the worst figure in the line so far owing to the fact that it’s not in scale with the turtles and the head-sculpt is just not particularly good. This figure repeats the scale issue since it uses the same body, but it at least is able to rectify the head issue by giving April an all new cat sculpt. It looks quite nice and the collar is also present and removable if you pop her head off. The chest and forearms had to be altered as well by painting them to match the fur of her face and to give her claws. Because of that, it wouldn’t be a simple thing to include a standard April head to switch to as NECA would have needed to basically swap out the whole upper torso. And there’s also the matter of the tail which removing such would leave a hole in the figure’s rear. I’m not going to run down the articulation on this one again, but know that it’s fine and you now have a bendy tail to add to it.

Vernon’s back and he has lots of stuff this time.
Old Vernon left, new Vernon right.

Just like April, Vernon is essentially the same figure as before so I don’t feel the need to go over everything again. The only difference with this Vernon is his tie is a different color and his facial portraits are new. The tie thing is cartoon accurate as he had multiple looks. The other colors of his clothing have also been lightened a bit so his shirt is a paler pink and his jeans a lighter blue. That’s not likely to excite anyone, but what I think will please most is the new frightened expression he comes with. Vernon is a character with barely more than two emotions, smug and scared, and this captures that second one very well. It’s the expression I think of first with the character as it seemed to become his dominant trait as the show went along. The first release gave us smug, so it was nice to get this one. The second portrait is a blindfolded one, which looks fine, but has limited uses. Honestly, after taking a few pictures here I probably won’t use it again. I would have much preferred an agitated Vernon giving us a good trifecta of expressions of smug, scared, and angry to go along with the mutant rat parts released previously. I was tempted to grab a second Rat King/Vernon set just so I could have mutant Vernon on my shelf at all times, and now I can!

Irma! Nice of you to join us!
She can’t do much, but at least she can answer a phone.

All right, lets talk about the new characters and first up is Irma. I don’t think it’s a hot take to call Irma a fan favorite. Maybe kids watching the show didn’t think much of her, but I definitely find her as a source of entertainment in the show when I go back to it. Not much about this show holds up on adult viewings, but Irma might hold up the best. She’s depicted in her standard attire: blue sweater, red glasses, long skirt, yellow shoes. For her facial expression, NECA went with a concerned, or worried, look. I think they were aiming for neutral, but it comes off a little awkward. It’s not a bad look for the character as her eyebrows had a tendency to always be in that concerned position, but I wish we got a second portrait for a little variety.

This isn’t going to help her get a date.
She picks up an extra point of articulation with the jaw on the rat head.

Her unique attire makes her articulation a bit lacking. Her head is on a ball peg and she has sufficient range there though her hair keeps her from looking up. Her shoulders are ball-hinges and she has the same style of double elbows as April. Her forearms rotate where they meet her sleeve and her wrists are swivel/hinges. The torso doesn’t feature any articulation, but her waist is joined to the hip with a ball-peg so she can pivot and rotate. Unfortunately, the long skirt kills most of her leg articulation. I think she has ball joints at the hips and double knees below, but you won’t be getting much out of them. At the ankles are hinges and rocker joints.

Shredder always used turtle soup as a threat, but only Burne followed through.

Burne is our other new figure this time around and he’s quite different from his box-mates. Short and squat, Burne is definitely the heaviest figure in the box and the chunkyness of the sculpt makes me think of the vintage toy line. He’s depicted in his standard, very blue, attire of light blue work shirt, dark blue tie, and blue slacks. His default look out of the box is this angry expression where he’s almost twisting his head in rage. The other is a smug look. I’m not sure which I prefer. I think angry when I think of the character, but the smug one looks more on-model to me, though both have their charms. He’s painted cleanly and really looks the part so if you’ve been waiting 30 years for a toon accurate Burne this should do the trick.

“Is this some kind of sick joke?!”

Even though Burne is rather chunky, he’s still expected to be able to move well since he is, after all, an action figure. He’s got a ball-peg at the head with solid range, shoulder hinges, and single-jointed elbows. I thought they might use the same double elbows the other characters possess, but NECA opted for something that’s definitely cleaner. It’s just not super functional as I can’t get his arms to go straight, nor can he really bend past 90 degrees.. He’s got swivels and hinges at the wrist and a ball-joint in the waist that lets him move around pretty well, though he lacks torso articulation. The ball joints at the hips work well considering the roundness of this area of the figure, and NECA did include double-jointed knees that let Burne kick all the way back to his own ass. I can’t seem to engage both joints though no matter how much heat I apply, which is a bit frustrating. The ankles are hinged and pivot, but they’re very stiff and the hinges were painted a dark brown over blue plastic which looks bad once the paint flakes.

“Yeah, that’s MY girl.”

On the quality control front, this set is a bit of a step back from more recent releases. I had a lot of stuck and fused joints out of the box, in particular with Burne and April. Burne’s left knee just didn’t want to do anything, and after heating only the top hinge works. With April, her knees are also a pain point as the top hinge won’t go into a default pose. As you can see in my pictures, her knees are always slightly bent. She arrived that way, and heating them and then plunging them into cold water hasn’t done the trick. Just straight heat makes them rather gummy and are more likely to warp or damage them further if I persist. I’ll just keep her in a pouncing position, I guess. April also has paint-flaking issues on her arms with white or clear plastic beneath. Irma runs into the same thing as do the flesh portions on Vernon. It can lead to an eyesore which just makes me want to leave these figures alone once I find a pose I like and call it a day.

Check out all of the stuff!
These giant cameras are arguably the real stars here.

NECA included a fair amount of accessories with this set, and the big ones are the two studio cameras and lights. They look terrific and the paint on these is excellent. The lights can pivot and rotate and the cameras do the same. They all have plugs too which makes me want outlets that can accommodate them. There’s also a cat with a toy mouse and the cat’s head is on a ball peg so it can move a bit, but nothing special. There’s also a pair of turtle versions of Burne and Vernon that are pretty fun to look at and can be hidden in a display as the cowardly pair try to avoid getting squashed. There’s also a boom mic which is affixed via a non-removable cord to a messenger bag. The bag is similar to Dirtbag’s backpack in that it’s a soft plastic that can actually open.

Now we have a duo of rat people!
I guess the toy mouse is an April accessory?

As for more character specific accessories, we have a few. Irma has a pair of open hands and a wider gripping hand to go with the more relaxed gripping hands attached to her by default. And like the first release of Vernon, she has swappable rat parts to duplicate her mutant rat form. The only nitpick with her though is she should have visible non-mutated flesh by her ankles, but NECA “cheated” and instead made her leggings extend to her shoes rather than make her shins swap. There’s also a rotary phone that’s either for her or Burne, but either one can use it. It’s fun and in the same fashion as the Sam and Max phone from Boss Fight Studio pair I looked at earlier this year. For Burne, he comes with fists, but also has a pair of gripping hands and open hands that look like they should be typing. It makes me wish I had a desk to pair with him to set him up with the phone and Chrome Dome’s PC. He also has a bowl of turtle soup and a spoon to consume it with. There’s also a framed photo of his girlfriend, Tiffany, and the image is a rendered one that makes her kind of look like an action figure. Maybe an actual figure will be crafted in the future, though she definitely feels like a Loot Crate release. There’s also a framed photo of a “hunky reporter,” as the box refers to it, that I think was someone Irma lusted over. Vernon also has gripping hands and a pointing hand plus one more wider gripping hand. April has no extra parts.

In case you prefer your Vernon blindfolded.
Swag!

If you bought this set from NECA direct, then you also got some extra swag. If you’ve purchased a Loot Crate since NECA took over, then this basically feel like that. You get a t-shirt, pin, patch, badge, and poster. The shirt contains original, toon-inspired art, of the figures present in this set plus a few other characters from the show. It’s printed on blue and it’s okay, but the art is way off model when compared to the toon and some of the designs (like Burne) I do not care for. The patch is a Channel patch while the badge is a replica of April’s press badge. Unlike the badge we just saw with the movie April, this one is a nice, thick, plastic and feels like a badge should, I just really dislike the picture of April used for it. It’s the same one from the box of the April and Foot two-pack from last year. The pin is an enamel one of the news van and its fine if you’re into pins. The poster is an 11″ by 7″ print of the Channel 6 building. It comes rolled up so it’s a bit of a pain to flatten out. It might make for a decent backdrop though for your figures. The retail version of this box set released at Target won’t include any of these items, but it will also be cheaper as a result and the trade-off is probably better for those who find this in stores.

That new April can’t come soon enough.
“APRIL! WHY AM I ALWAYS SHOUTING?!”

The Channel 6 set from NECA is a solid release, it’s just not as fun or as exciting as some of the other four packs NECA has done. Irma is a great character, but her figure is so limited due to her design which really saps a lot of the fun out of her. I’m left wishing that NECA went the Super7 route and gave collectors the option of a sculpted skirt or a soft goods one. It’s really needed for her rat mutation as she just looks so static posed with Vernon in his mutated form. On the plus side, I don’t feel a desire to get a second Irma as a result to display both versions, I’ll probably just keep her unmutated. Burne is a solid representation of the character, he’s just also limited by his design. And he’s Burne, the least entertaining character from this assortment. As for Vernon and April, well, I don’t mind having a second Vernon so I can display the rat one too and he’s fine. April is still a bit off as far as scale goes, but I’d like this figure a lot if the joints weren’t so stuck and flaky. It’s a memorable version of the character at least and one I’m happy to have. NECA is allegedly prepping a deluxe April for the toon line to release in 2022, and I hope it’s just an all new figure to properly correct the scale issues.

“Oh no! April’s turned into a cat!” “Hey Leo, you remember your laser point?!”
The new characters scale pretty well. April is still off.

If you missed out on the NECA sale and want to add this set to your collection it should show up in Target sometime in December. I’m not sure what it’s going to retail for once there though as I believe it’s going to be more expensive than the Turtles in Disguise set, which was $125. It’s not cheap, but for now, this is the only way to add Irma and Burne to your collection. I suspect Irma will get a two-pack release eventually, but I’m less confident when it comes to Burne. We’ll see. Even though this set didn’t “wow” me, I’m still happy to have it as these are characters I want in my display. Hopefully, everyone that wants one has a chance to buy one and happy hunting to all who are braving the stores this holiday season!

“What is happening to me?!”
Had to make a new shelf for this one.

DC Collectibles BTAS #42 – Gray Ghost

Beware! The Gray Ghost!

I have long maintained that the best episode of the now classic Batman: The Animated Series is the Mr. Freeze story, “Heart of Ice.” It is not, however, my favorite episode of the show as that honor belongs to “Beware the Gray Ghost.” That episode introduced the character Gray Ghost, a superhero from television who was the in-universe inspiration for nearly every aspect of the Batman character. There’s a terrific sequence at the start of the episode where shots of young Bruce Wayne watching his favorite program are cut with acts of Batman in the present virtually mirroring his childhood idol. We’ll find out during the episode that not only are many of Batman’s mannerisms based on the character, but even the very layout of the Batcave. Turns out, Batman is just a nerd in a cape and shares more similarities with his audience than previously thought.

Peeling back some of the untold origins of the Batman character can certainly make an episode memorable, but what really makes “Beware the Gray Ghost” work is the casting of the Gray Ghost himself. In the show, the Gray Ghost was played by actor Simon Trent, who following his show’s cancellation found himself typecast and unable to find consistent work. He’s a Gotham resident and nearing the end of his rope as he’s forced to sell nearly every piece of memorabilia he saved from the show just to make rent. And playing Trent is none other than Adam West. Come 1992, when the episode first aired, West was quite similar to Trent in that he struggled to land big roles following his turn as the caped crusader in the 1960s television series Batman. His campy character had also been usurped by a more brooding Batman as seen in 1989’s Batman. West was viewed more as a punchline as a result, his Batman being a dork while Keaton’s was a brutal enforcer.

Gray Ghost unboxed. I’ll spare MOC collectors from having to look at him in-box since I went ahead and removed a valuable figure from its packaging. That would be torture for some, and I’m very much against torture.

For those who worked on BTAS, that wasn’t the West they grew up with. For them, and even kids in 1992 like myself, West’s Batman was the first Batman we really knew. He wasn’t campy, he was smart, capable, and could kick the butt of any hoodlum thrown his way. It was only as we grew older that we realized what that show, and character, were aiming for. And it’s a great show! I recommend it to anyone. No, you’re not getting the same Batman Frank Miller wrote, but this is a character that’s been around for nearly 100 years and has had lots of contributing writers. There is no one Batman, no “best” Batman, just many Batmen. And this episode felt like the show trying to take that back, to shine a light on actor Adam West and provide almost a final say on that era of the character. We loved him as children, and we love him as adults. It’s a beautiful episode of the show and it’s only more poignant with West’s passing.

Simple, effective, paint apps on the face get the job done.

Because of my love for that episode, and that character, I was immediately drawn to the DC Collectibles Gray Ghost action figure from its line of figures based on Batman: The Animated Series. Even though it wasn’t a line I actively collected, I wanted to make an exception for this figure. I assumed I’d run into it eventually at a comic or collectibles store as one of my routines was to walk to a local one near my office in Boston, but I never did run into this figure. And once COVID arrived, I found myself working remotely and those casual strolls are long over. I sort of lost track of this one, but when I got the new Batman over the summer from the sequel line The Adventure Continues I was reminded that I really wanted a Gray Ghost to pair with it. Unfortunately, so did many others as after-market prices were ridiculous as DC Collectibles was folded and production ceased. A lot of the figures, especially the ones released late in the line, are now prohibitively expensive save for a select few. I kept my eye out for a deal, but honestly never really expected one to happen.

Fast-forward several months later, and a deal was found! Prices have been falling on Gray Ghost, maybe in anticipation of more re-releases, or maybe the COVID bubble is starting to burst on collectibles. Whatever the reason, I started seeing lots of “Buy It Now” listings on eBay just sit and finally a true auction came along and I was able to snag it! No, I didn’t pay retail for the figure, but I also didn’t pay triple retail. I paid enough though as this is a line that isn’t great. There are a lot of bad designs, many characters that look fine, but can’t move or function very well. Even that Batman I got over the summer is just “okay.” Aesthetically, it’s pretty great and in some respects I like it more than the far more expensive MAFEX Batman I bought around the same time, but he’s not very posable and feels a bit fragile. I certainly had concerns about Gray Ghost as a result, but the construction of the figure looked okay from a distance, and now I know for sure since I have it in-hand.

Who needs Robin when you have Gray Ghost?

The Gray Ghost is depicted in his costume from “Beware the Gray Ghost” when Trent puts it on and helps Batman in solving the mystery of the mad bomber. Even though Trent was an older guy, he’s still in pretty great shape so his body shape is pretty much the same as Batman’s. Broad shoulders, long limbs, he looks like a guy who could handle himself in a fight. He also stands nearly as tall as Batman coming in at 6 1/8″ roughly, which is about an eighth of an inch shorter than the caped crusader.

Tagline for the poorly conceived Gray Ghost reboot: He’s no friendly ghost.

As the name implies, the Gray Ghost is clad almost entirely in gray. His hat and cape are more of a slate gray, while the uniform is a paler gray and quite close in color to Batman’s uniform. He has black shoes and a black ribbon around the hat to go along with gray goggles that blend into his gray hair. It’s odd to see the hair and goggles painted in the same shade of gray, but the show looks to have done the same. The only other color on the figure is the flesh of his face and the blue on the lenses of the goggles. And that’s fine as it’s in keeping with the character’s look in the show which seemed to have a philosophy of “keep it simple, stupid” for animation reasons. The coat of the Gray Ghost is like a double-breasted coat without a collar. The buttoned portion is sculpted on the figure while the cape is laid over it and likely affixed with glue. The only other sculpted detail on the figure really are the folds in the bottom of the pants and the cuffs of the gloves. The face is done well as the designers captured his sunken cheeks and the lines around the mouth are sculpted in as well. He has a serious, almost grim, expression and it’s suitable for when he was stalking the night alongside Batman.

As Gray Ghost inspects the subpar painting on his car, you can also see, just barely, the flesh-colored paint by his right armpit.

Because Gray Ghost is so lacking in color, DC Collectibles also could save money on paint. Basically, all of the paint is reserved for the head, which makes it hard to explain why my figure has some flesh colored paint near his right armpit. It’s on the front of the figure and kind of a bummer, but I’ve been able to scratch most of it away. I just don’t want to damage to figure underneath. Aside from that, what little paint is present is applied well enough. The painter just barely missed the sculpted outline of the goggles on the left side of the figure, but it’s only noticeable to someone really looking carefully. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cape is painted, but I don’t know for certain. You just may want to exercise caution when flexing it as it’s a soft, rubbery, cape.

Imagine if this could have been done like a Micro Machines car? As is, it’s still pretty cool.

Overall, I think this figure looks very good. Especially for this line and he fits in well with the Batman figure I already have. What usually concerns me about this line is durability and articulation. And when it comes to articulation, I am mostly concerned with the aesthetics of it and how it relates to the durability concerns. Thankfully, most of these concerns are for naught with this figure. Gray Ghost is fairly chunky and thus doesn’t feel particularly fragile. The only thing I don’t like is swapping hands as the pegs are small and have a snug fit. I worry about them breaking at the hinge more so than snapping. Otherwise, all of the other joints feel okay. They’re stiff and it was a little concerning out of the box as should I have broken anything it wasn’t like I could easily replace it, but no such breaks occurred.

This little VHS accessory is my favorite in this one. The rear of which is blurry with the naked eye, and worse through an iPhone camera.

In terms of points of articulation, Gray Ghost is fairly vanilla. He has a ball hinge at the head. It works fine, but considering that area is about the only paint on the figure you will want to make sure it’s not rubbing any part of the collar below. The shoulders are just ball-hinges and he can raise his arm out to the side just fine, but the cape will prevent him from being able to do Pete Townsend impressions. The elbows are single-hinges with swivels. They can get to about 90 degrees on a bend and look fine as he doesn’t have the weird elbow overhangs that Batman has. In the torso is nothing, as far as I know. The coat is rigid so I don’t think it’s an overlay and if there’s a waist twist or ball joint I can’t tell as the coat comes over the crotch. And at that crotch is one of those soft, plastic, “diaper” pieces that offers some flexibility, though you’re not likely to do much with the legs. They’re affixed via ball joints ditching those awful hinged things this line was known for. There’s a twist there as a result, but not a true thigh cut. He can’t kick that far forward without hitting that diaper. If you wanted to force it you probably could, but I don’t want to risk warping the plastic there. The knees are double-jointed and look great when his legs are straight and just a little messy when bent as they wanted to keep the uniform shape of the pants. The joints can be a little stubborn, but it’s functional if you want to do something like a running pose. At the ankles, there’s a hinge and a rocker. They’re tight, and the feet sit fairly deep in the cuffs of the pants. If they can twist, I haven’t been able to get them to go. It was a little dicey even figuring out the ankle pivot, but it’s there, and it works.

Gray Ghost ready to meet his adoring fans.

Gray Ghost is okay when it comes to the action portion. He’s best served to mostly stand there, and his accessories at least aid in that. He comes with gripping hands in the box and they’re fairly wide. They look a little silly for default hands as a result, and I wish he had either fists or relaxed hands for a more neutral pose. He also has a right, trigger finger hand and a handgun to pair with it. The handgun is all gray and has a boxy design to it with some sculpted details. It’s not something Trent handled during his evening with Batman, but he was seen with a gun on a poster in the episode. The episode specific accessories are an RC car and VHS set. The car is what the mad bomber used to deliver his payloads. It’s the #3 car and the sculpt looks pretty good. The tires do not rotate so it’s just a brick of painted plastic. The paint job is not great. The base color must be black or gray because some parts of the orange appear thin with the darker plastic seeping through. There’s also some slop as there’s a lot of paint on a small object. It fits in his hands okay, but definitely be careful as I’d hate to see orange paint transferring to the gray hands of the figure. The other accessory is the VHS set Gray Ghost can be seen autographing at the end of the episode. It’s a chunky piece of blue plastic with a front and back printed onto it. It looks great, though it’s a bit weird that one of the images on the back of the set is young Bruce watching the show. I suppose it’s just a nod to the episode, but it doesn’t make sense for Bruce to be there. Gray Ghost comes with another right hand that’s holding a writing instrument so he can be posed autographing it for Batman. The end of the pen is curled on mine and I don’t know if that’s supposed to be like that or not. It works well enough though to achieve the look the designers were going for.

“Can you please make it out to, umm, Bruce…your number one fan…”

All in all, a light assortment of accessories for the Gray Ghost, but an appropriate assortment. The only thing I miss are just more hands because the car and VHS are so bulky that his gripping hands needed to be wide enough to accommodate them, which means they look kind of silly when not holding anything. I suspect, as a result, most have no use for that right, gripping, hand as he’ll either be holding his gun or signing the VHS. I suppose you could position him looking for a handshake from Batman, but he doesn’t really have a hand shaking hand to go with it. There’s also no stand included, which many of the older figures came with, but was also universally maligned, it would seem. It’s no loss, though I wish he had peg holes on the bottom of his feet. He stands fine without any help. There’s a little weight on the back of the figure due to the cape, but I don’t have to tilt his upper body forward to get him to stand. It’s more of a case of me being fearful of breaking or having this guy take a shelf dive since he’s so hard to get and wanting a little extra security.

DC Collectibles’ take on the Gray Ghost was able to meet my expectations. I suppose in some respects the figure exceeded them as I don’t really have any issues with the figure’s construction. I wish he had more hands and maybe a waist twist, but he looks good and that’s the most important piece to me. This is the Gray Ghost I want and I didn’t trust McFarlane to deliver as that company’s animated characters do their own thing, design wise. This looks like the character I fell in love with almost 30 years ago and that’s exactly what I want. I can position him with my Batman and be reminded of that viewing experience every time I look their way. There are a few other figures from this line I would like to have, but Gray Ghost was the only one I felt I needed following Batman and I’m glad I have him.


NECA TMNT Cartoon Wingnut & Screwloose

Don’t call ’em mutants.

For most fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the 1980s, you reside in two camps when it comes to how certain characters are remembered: either from the cartoon/comics, or from the Playmates toy line. For Wingnut and Screwloose, I suspect most associate them with the action figure, but there are those who think of them first as members of the Mighty Mutanimals, the Archie Comics sister book to their version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When it came to the toy line, many of those characters would be brought over and usually as villains. What many consider to be classic villains Slash and Leatherhead, actually started off as heroic allies of the TMNT. And when it came time to bring them into the animated universe, it was usually as characters based on the toys so to the rogue’s gallery they went. Even some of the few that were made heroes by Playmates would get the villain treatment, like Mondo Gecko, though he would come around by episode’s end.

For Wingnut and Screwloose, they too got the villain treatment despite being counted amongst the allies by Playmates. Their Playmates design also differed wildly from the comic as the toy maker preferred to envision Wingnut as a Batman parody. The mutant bat is clad in blue and gray evoking memories of Batman’s past. He’s also a little on the paunchy side, which might have been Playmates poking a little fun at actor Adam West. By the early 90s, the Batman most associated with the brand was the one featured in Tim Burton’s film. He was a brooding character sporting all black, muscled, features, even though actor Michael Keaton wasn’t exactly the brawny type. It was quite fashionable in those days to poke fun at the campy show from the 1960s and West’s “pure West” physique, while certainly not overweight or anything, was definitely not the muscled look the character had undertaken. Nevertheless, the design was quite interesting and Wingnut was a favorite of many of my friends. Screwloose, on the other hand, was just a sculpted lump of plastic, one of the earliest “buddy” accessories to be featured in the line. I’m actually not sure which buddy was my first, but I think it was either Screwloose or Joe Eyeball.

Such a lovely couple.

Why the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decided to take a clear Batman parody, or homage, and make it a bad guy is beyond me. Sure, Wingnut is a bit fearsome looking, but I never confused him for a villain. The show decided to make him and Screwloose a pair of invading aliens, with Screwloose actually serving as the brains of the duo. Making them aliens actually kept them inline with their comic counterparts, who did start off a bit villainous before switching to the side of good, but otherwise they’re kind of their own thing here. The design for both is clearly taken from the toys, something the cartoon seemed more willing to do in later seasons, probably because it was hard to come up with a bunch of new designs with those larger episode orders. And now, NECA Toys has made it so we can have toon accurate versions of these characters for the very first time.

Wingnut is definitely one of the heaviest figures to grace this line.

Wingnut and Screwloose come in an oversized two-pack box. The actual design is standard, it’s just massive. The height and width are essentially universal for the line, it’s the depth where this one gets beefy. I have it at 5 1/4″ which is about an inch deeper than the recent Groundchuck and Dirtbag box. The box depth obviously varies, but for comparison’s sake the Casey Jones and Foot two-pack was a miniscule 2 1/2″. The end result is you know when you’re handling this one as to grip it across the top with one hand results in me being able to feel the skin between my thumb and index finger stretching.

These wings are something to behold.
He’s not much taller than a turtle, but he’s a whole lot chunkier.

The box has to be this big because Wingnut is an especially large figure. As far as height goes, he’s a rather ordinary 6 1/8″ to the top of his head and a full 7″ to the top of his ears. It’s his bulk though that makes him quite large as this is a big boy. The Playmates figure was a little on the soft side, but cartoon Wingnut is a bat that’s clearly let himself go. He’s got a huge backside and then when you add in the wings the figure gets even deeper. And because he’s so chunky, he’s got quite the heft to him. Screwloose, by comparison, is far more diminutive and is in-line with figures like Baxter and Splinter. He’s around 4 1/2″ tall and not particularly bulky or anything. Though it certainly makes him a lot bigger than the vintage toy. I don’t have my old toy for comparison, but I think most of the sculpted details of the figure were carried over to the show so he’s got a tank top, four arms, pants, and shoes to go along with his bug features like wings and a tail. I remember the figure having a little belly on him, and the cartoon retained that. It was interesting getting a better look at Screwloose as a kid when he showed up in the toon, and it’s nice to see him finally have a proper figure.

The Little Brigade.
Everything about this figure is big, including the gun.

Back to Wingnut. As I said, his design mimics the toy, but in bringing him to the show some details were either scrapped or simplified. He no longer has a logo on his chest and his uniform doesn’t feature any rips or holes. His face also just features less detail and his tongue is no longer permanently sticking out. The dominant color of his suit is a gray that appears to have a touch of purple mixed in. It complements the blue mask, gauntlets, and boots and the pale yellow of the belt and pouches is certainly evocative of classic Batman. In true NECA fashion, there’s lot of black line work painted on and the rear of the figure is cast in darker shades to evoke the cel-shading present in the show. In this case, the rear of Wingnut is very much a shade of purple while the blue is just a richer shade of blue. He has a somewhat menacing, teeth-gritting, expression on his face that was, more or less, his default look on the show. What really stands out though are those wings. Wingnut has these tiny, little, bat wings that probably weren’t suitable to handling his massive bulk, so either he or someone else outfitted him with metal wings that fit over them. They’re riveted and feature what look to be thrusters on the bottom and guns at the top. What’s really neat though is NECA was able to sculpt and paint the biological wings inside of them and the result is so impressive that I can’t tell if it’s one sculpt or two.

This is unfortunate.

What’s less impressive though, is some of the paint applications. The paint on the wings is phenomenal, but on the figure itself there are some problems and chief among them are the teeth. Wingnut is supposed to have pretty normal looking toon teeth, but with two fangs in the front that were illustrated to fit over the teeth, rather than apparently exist as teeth on their own. This apparently caused problems for the painting as it looks like those fangs are sculpted, but the factory just did normal, grid-like, line work for the teeth. It’s messy, and it seems to be a consistent problem with this figure based on the others I’ve seen. Beyond that, the other paint imperfections are largely minor. There’s some black lines that aren’t quite lined up with where they should be and some bleeding over the edges, such as with the blue on the fingers, in other places. It’s the type of variance one would expect. I will add, that after a mostly paint-flaking free experience with Dirtbag and Groundchuck, this figure is definitely a messy one to handle at first. Lots of painted joints, which means lots of paint flakes winding up on whatever surface you’re handling him over.

That’s quite the profile.

With Screwloose, the expectation is that he’d be a lot less interesting in comparison with his box-mate based solely on size. And that’s true, but he’s also less interesting just because his sculpt requires far less detail. He’s dressed like a bum, though his shoes are a bit fancier than a bum would dress, so there’s not a lot of texture work with him. Possibly because he’s mostly yellow, NECA didn’t really do much with the paint as far as the usual light on the front, dark on the rear goes. They mainly just did it with his shirt, while his purple pants appear to be uniform in color. His stomach is painted green, which I always felt was an odd choice on the part of the toon and he does have some green spikes on his arms. He’s painted well enough though, but he does have some of the older problems from this line. Namely, the paint on the joints will flake off leaving a clear plastic beneath. It’s definitely not the eyesore some of the other figures experienced, but it’s unfortunate. There was also some paint rub from his arms or back to the wings so mine have a little yellow on them.

Paint rub and flaking is more of an issue with this guy as you can see the white, or clear, plastic in some of the hinges has been exposed after just light manipulation.

In terms of articulation, these guys basically do what you’d expect of them. Wingnut’s head appears to be on a double-ball peg so he gets movement at the head and the neck, which is concealed in the body. He can look down, and if you have a flight stand capable of supporting his bulk, he can even look ahead in a horizontal flying pose. The arms are ball-hinged at the shoulders with those bulky, NECA, double-elbows. They twist above the joint, and below, and genuinely look fine because there’s so much going on with the costume. He can bend his elbow a little past 90, but if anything I have a problem getting his arm perfectly straight. He’s tight, and I can’t tell if he’s only supposed to go so far or not. At the wrist though we have the usual swivel and hinge system. In the upper torso, there’s a diaphragm joint right below his “bust” that allows him to tilt, rotate, and even crunch forward and back a bit. There’s no true waist twist, and the legs on the new ball pegs. They’re plenty secure, which is good for such a big figure. The knees are just single joints and they’re either really tight, or slightly ratcheted, as mine kind of click when I move them. They don’t offer much range as this is a character meant to always be hunched slightly, but they work fine as far as allowing the figure to stand effortlessly. His ankles are hinged, and they don’t have much range there, but they do have rocker-tilt which works just fine. Wingnut’s tail, tiny as it may be, is on a ball hinge so there’s some play there. The wings are also on ball hinges so they can rotate and “flap” as well as they probably need to.

These guys aren’t super poseable, but they’re still capable of looking cool on a shelf.

As for Screwloose, he’s basically the same. His head is just on a ball peg, but there’s enough range to let him look in basically any direction, he’s just going to have a bobble head from certain angles. All four shoulders are standard ball hinges and are quite tight. I think it’s due to them sitting fairly deep in the sculpt, but moving them around gets messy due to all of the paint flaking. The elbows are just single joints and they rotate as well. The knees are single hinges too and there’s a ball peg, I think, between the shirt and belly that lets him rotate and tilt ever so slightly in all directions. The wings are ball-hinged like Wingnut’s, though the tail appears to just swivel. It was also so tight initially that I wasn’t sure if it moved at all, but it just needed to have its seal “cracked.” I also think his ankles can pivot, but they sure don’t want to. He’s quite light though so he doesn’t need his ankles to do much in order to stand.

This gun is chunky and long.
Raph, you’re probably going to want more than your sai here.

This set is definitely not the most dynamic as far as posing possibilities go. Screwloose just doesn’t have a ton of options, while Wingnut is mostly limited by his bulk. That doesn’t mean they can’t look interesting on your shelf, and NECA did include some accessories to help there. With Wingnut, we get three sets of hands: fists, open, and gripping. The gripping hands are meant to wield his massive bazooka. Initially I thought it was the Triceraton gun with some parts swapped, but this is all new and much bigger. It’s a gun he handled for all of 2 seconds in his lone cartoon appearance, but it is toon accurate. The grip is a touch loose, but that’s probably a good thing in order to avoid lots of paint rub when inserting it into his hands. And even so, you’re likely to experience some anyway. Screwloose, on the other hand, gets nothing. He has two open hands and two gripping hands and you can easily move them from one arm to another, but that’s all. He does come with a flight stand, and it’s the improved one we saw with the video game Baxter that has an extra joint in it. It’s still annoying in that you can’t have the claw at a true horizontal angle, but it works all right. Lastly, NECA included some paper goods. There’s a wanted sticker for Smash, leader of the Crooked Ninja Turtle gang, as well as Wingnut’s W logo from the toy and a sticker for a map. The map is from an episode where it’s discovered Splinter’s kimono hides a secret and you can stick it on your Splinter if you want. I probably won’t There are also four, mini, comic books for your turtles to read taken from the episode. A fun, little, touch, for sure.

Screwloose just gets a flight stand, but hey, at least he can fly!
Novelty toss-ins, or hints of what’s to come?!

Wingnut and Screwloose are a fairly iconic pair in the Turtle-verse owing mostly to their appearance in the vintage toyline. Their animated appearance was far more forgettable (especially since it was a Zach-centric episode and he sucks) and downright bizarre in some respects, but the designs were still fun since they basically mirrored the toys. As an action figure pair, there’s definitely some warts present, but nothing that comes close to ruining the experience. The accessories are a bit on the light side, but there really wasn’t much to source from the episode they were a part of and NECA even tossed in the deep cut that is the map sticker and included a flight stand for Screwloose. And possibly because they didn’t have to go too nutty on the accessories, this one comes in at a price point of $55, cheaper than Dirtbag and Groundchuck even though, like that pair, these guys appear to feature all new tooling. The only real issue I have are Wingnut’s teeth as they look rather bad and since they’re right on front of the figure’s face there’s no avoiding the issue. Again, it’s not enough of an issue for me to not recommend this set. These guys succeed like almost every other figure in the line in achieving that “pulled right from the cartoon” aesthetic, and a giant Batman parody and four-armed mosquito are inherently fun designs. I would definitely suggest adding this set to your toon display as it’s one of the better two-packs NECA has put out so far.

Chrome Dome still towers over all!

Wingnut and Screwloose are currently showing up at Target stores across the US. They appear to be arriving in solid quantities, and being that they’re cartoon appearance isn’t particularly memorable, the sets appear to be hanging around longer than a few minutes. Good luck!


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