Category Archives: Television

Dec. 8 – The Soulmates in The Gift of Light

This one aired sometime in 1991 and probably only in Canada.

It was around Labor Day of this year that Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) took to Twitter to uncover the origins of an image that had confounded his girlfriend and him for the past five years. It was actually a return plea as he had posted the same image 3 years prior. The image in question was a grainy, animated, elf character. It’s origins were only that it appeared in a photograph on a television set of an acquaintance of his girlfriend. It was basically an image of just a random moment in the lives of those involved with the image. Three children embracing, a giant console TV in the background, a Super Nintendo on the floor beside it dated it to be the early 90s. The only other clue was the setting of Ontario.

Like virtually all who came across the picture, I had no idea where it was from. It looked to be of its era and the character did look to be a Christmas elf of some kind. It was not recognizable as being a Christmas episode from a more famous show and I had to snicker to myself at every suggestion of The Littles. I suspected it was a one-off special, possibly one only shown in Canada, or even perhaps a commercial that featured original animation. The fact that it had been out there on the internet for multiple years without a satisfactory conclusion was the most incredible part of it all. How did the collective hive mind of the internet not know where this came from?

Apparently, a new plea for help is all it took. Sloan reposted the image on September 2nd and come the weekend the mystery had been solved. It’s all detailed in this piece he wrote for the New Yorker because this thing had become so popular so fast that even the New Yorker needed to address it. Our faith in the internet was restored, and the general public was able to be re-introduced to a forgotten Christmas classic: The Soulmates in “The Gift of Light.”

Or not. I don’t get too many chances to be topical with The Christmas Spot, so I had to check this thing out and do a post on it for this year. It’s also known as The Christmas Gift of Light and was indeed a one-off Canadian production that few remember. It is not, unfortunately, a forgotten classic. It is a rightly forgotten piece of animation that many folks undoubtedly worked very hard to produce, but despite the special’s central theme of remaining positive can allow one to do almost anything, their collective efforts produced this. The special is directed by Chris Schouten who is credited as working on more famous productions like Anastasia and Heavy Metal, but is someone who IMDB has very little info on. The writer and credited creator of this special, Gabrielle St. George, has a similarly slim profile. The special itself does not have much in the way of credits, as in, people are listed, but the roles are unspecified. Some of the voice talent is recognizable for folks who consumed a lot of animation during the same era, but to the average person they are not. Since they’re not attributed to individual characters, I’ll just list them here in the same order as the actual credits: Al Waxman, Sheila McCarthy, Gema Zamprogna, Wayne Robson, John Stocker, Ray Landry, Robert Cait, Kurt Reis. The theme song, “Soulmates,” is sung by Shawne Jackson with the animation done by Schouten Animation and Jade Animation Productions. The production company is listed as Soulmates Productions indicating to me that it’s likely those involved hoped to launch a franchise from this, but that obviously did not happen.

Just a friendly reminder before we start this thing.

This being The Christmas Spot, we have to do this, so let’s do it. Right up front I will say I am watching this on YouTube since the only other way to do so is to track down an old VHS copy. The video quality is fine, but the audio sounds poorly mixed. Is it the transfer or is it just how this thing sounds? I don’t know. The actual special is essentially about the power of positivity. It didn’t even need to include Christmas, but by doing so it probably helped to make it more marketable so they could get as many eyes on this thing as possible. That strategy obviously didn’t pan out, but the reasoning seems sound. We basically saw the same thing with another failed IP last year with Christmas in Tattertown. That one did at least see rebroadcast on a major cable network for several years before fading into obscurity.

This one begins with a reminder of its source right off the bat as there’s a disclaimer about adjusting the tracking on your VCR for the best quality picture. This was apparently distributed by Questar Home Video which isn’t a brand I recall, and I had a bunch of various VHS tapes as a kid. The color combo looks familiar though so maybe this was a Canadian offshoot of another brand? We then fade to a dark and snowy evening as a narrator comes in to tell us it’s the night before the night before Christmas. Yes, you read that right, so it’s December 23rd and they just found the most awkward way to say it. That type of repetition is going to be repeated in a bit so maybe they thought that could be a running thing.

These are the bad guys of this special in case the moustache and cigar didn’t give it away.

Two sketchy looking characters are sneaking around the town. One looks like some Dick Dastardly type merged with Jack Frost and with him is just some little fellow who looks like he’s had a rough life. He has a cigar hanging out of his mouth surrounded by a five o’clock shadow and just looks like an all around bad seed while the big guy is decked out in a fur-trimmed coat and a black cowboy hat. He’s armed with a staff that’s apparently magical and he’s blasting something from it that looks like lightning, but isn’t destructive on its own. He takes aim at the star atop the town’s Christmas tree and it just puts it out. Meanwhile, the little guy is eye-balling a snowman with evil in his eyes (leave Frosty alone) until the big guy grabs him by the collar and refers to him as Thomas. The real striking part of the scene is every time the big guy uses the wand we get this loud guitar sting. It sounds like they paid a hair metal guitarist to just react to what he sees on the screen and he only had one reaction. I keep going back and forth on if I love it or if I’m annoyed by it.

They’re very amused by their minor pranks. Homer Simpson caused more mischief on that college campus than these two.

Big guy, who I’ll just tell you now is named McBragg since I’m already tired of calling him big guy, uses his wand to make energy hands that pluck a stray cat off of some garbage and put it up in a tree – that bastard! The cat cries over and over and we stay with that cat way too long. A kid takes notice, and what’s he doing out so late, and McBragg uses the same trick to pull his hat over his eyes. This guy’s a menace! The kid falls over into a snow bank and McBragg and Thomas have a laugh and run off into the night boasting about spreading negative energy or something. The music is so loud that it’s hard to hear.

The car is cool and all, but I question the use of a convertible in the snow.

We then move to a brick house and a white dog walks out of the front door to stand on the top of the stairs. He looks like a poor man’s Pongo, but without spots, and he has some kind of harness on. We then see a girl of indeterminate age inside humming “Jingle Bells” as she puts on a red coat and hat. She then walks over to a nearby table and we see her hand feeling the table’s surface in search of her scarf. It’s a nice touch for if you didn’t realize the dog was wearing a guide dog harness, this extra little animation would definitely alert you to the situation. So far this thing actually looks fine and is of better quality than I anticipated.

Where is this blind kid going at night? And is she deaf too? She probably should have heard the car coming.

Outside, McBragg and Thomas are still creeping about and they take aim at the dog. The weird, energy, hands zap the dog in the eyes and I’m not really sure what the implication is here, but they start flashing yellow. They’re then shown seated in a black convertible, very appropriate for a snowstorm, that sits on sleigh runners. It lifts off of the ground like a harrier jet and the skis retract leaving just a black, flying, car that looks like a cross between the 1960’s Batmobile and one of those cars driven by the Neutrinos from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The girl then comes outside, but the dog has its head down, and she just walks down the stairs. I guess she thinks the dog is waiting for her at street level? Either way, a car coming down the road has to lock-up the brakes to avoid hitting her before the dog is able to get to her side. Like nothing happened, the two just walk off, but the dog is bothered by what just occurred. He talks aloud to himself and ponders if he’s getting too old to be a guide dog. I can’t tell if this is one of those situations where people can’t understand animals or not since no one reacts to the dog talking.

Look! It’s everyone’s favorite icon of Christmas: Depressed Santa.

We then move to another snowy climate: The North Pole. A defeated looking Santa is seated in a very futuristic setting flipping through a newspaper that features headlines like “Hostage Taking” and “War Breaks Out.” He sets the paper aside and starts musing about how the Nice List gets shorter and shorter each year. He questions why he does what he does and it sure seems like old Saint Nick is ready to give up on Christmas. He turns on his giant television (this setting looks like a dim version of The Jetsons) and watches some guy run by a bell-ringing Santa and shove him over so another guy can come along and steal the money he’s collected for charity. Santa then moans about no one believing in him anymore and adds that he doesn’t even believe in himself. He then demonstrates that his recliner can drive and steers the thing off camera. We cut to an exterior shot of his work shop to see him blasting off in a sleigh, sans reindeer. This is one high tech Santa.

Now we have our stakes, and our main characters. These two need to “liberate” Christmas!

The narrator returns to tell us we’re now on the other side of the other side of the universe. See? I told you that confusing wordplay would return. There’s some little guy just chilling out in the vacuum of space on what looks like a knee board. His name is Orion and he has a sister? Friend? Lover? Whatever she is, she shows up and is named Orillia. These two are the Soulmates the title of this special refers to and some moon with a face comes along to tell us they’re needed on Earth. He shows a video, or something, of Comet the reindeer calling out for help because Santa has gone missing and it’s almost Christmas. It’s at this point the Soulmates song comes on. It’s upbeat, the vocalist is nice, but it’s also corny and distracting. This special has a pretty thin plot and music is going to be relied upon to pad this thing.

Orillia and Orion are Soulmates. What that means for them, I don’t know.

As the song plays, these two bounce around as balls of light with their moon boss as they make for Earth. The universe is apparently pretty small as it doesn’t take them long to cross it. Once outside Earth, the song cuts out and moon guy gives the two a pep talk. This is their first mission and they don’t seem daunted at all. They just need to spread positivity and their magic will take care of it. They seem to get the message as they’re about as positive as can be, even though they bump heads before flying down to the surface.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just a humble, ordinary, cigar-chomping, elf.

Back at the North Pole, Comet is instructing the other reindeer on what to do. Each one is assigned his own “sector” and they soon disperse. I will say, each reindeer appears to have a unique design and there are indeed eight of them. I’m not sure why Comet is the de-facto leader of reindeer, maybe someone just felt like it was his time? Can’t let Prancer hog the spotlight. As the reindeer fly off, an elf encourages them to “break a leg” and Comet is horrified by the suggestion. I’d call him a dope, but he is a reindeer and maybe I shouldn’t expect him to be familiar with such a common expression? He reprimands the elf who said it, Thomas, and it is the same Thomas we saw sneaking around with McBragg only now he’s dressed like an elf. He’s still got that cigar in his mouth and seems to realize it’s not very becoming of him and swallows it – gross! Comet expresses some uneasiness about this newly hired elf to a larger elf named Pops. Pops is the guy from the picture and the whole reason why we’re even talking about this thing. Pops assures him he came highly recommended before Comet takes off to search his assigned sector.

Because of one incident, the dog apparently thinks it can’t serve as a guide dog for this girl. Rather than stay onboard and train a successor, he’s just going to bail. I guess he really is a bad dog.

We then cut to a book written in brail. It’s obviously the blind girl from before and she’s reading A Visit from Saint Nicholas as she says the final line of the poem out loud. The funny thing is she’s clearly in the middle of the book as drawn despite being at the end of the story. Maybe it’s a compilation? She sets the book aside and we see the dog is laying on her bed with her. She gives the dog a hug and tells him she loves him and says something about him being a great friend. Again, the music is so loud it’s hard to hear what she’s saying. She lays down to sleep and another song comes on as the dog looks at her. He’s sad and hops off of the bed and sticks his head under it to pull out a little blue bag. The shape of it reminds me of those toy doctor bags. He then heads downstairs and grabs a picture of he and the girl off of a shelf and heads outside. He’s apparently a talented enough dog to be able to open the front door, but he’s an asshole and leaves it open as he walks off. We then hear the voice of the narrator, who is the moon guy, bemoan the presence of negative energy in the air and suggests the Soulmates have their work cut out for them.

Too bad Comet didn’t accidentally swallow them then this thing would be over.

It’s dawn and Orion and Orillia are flying through the clouds on their surfboard things. They encounter Comet and are pumped at their good fortune, while Comet is thoroughly confused by their presence. At first he thinks they’re bugs, but they correct him by telling him they’re Soulmates here to liberate Christmas! That’s a weird way of phrasing it. Comet is feeling profoundly negative about the situation and the Soulmates encourage him to be positive. They basically say that’s all he has to do to find Santa. Suddenly, McBragg comes flying by and nearly hits the trio. Comet complains about the air traffic control in the area (I doubt he logged a flight plan) while Orion notices that Orillia is missing. They soon abandon concern for the girl because they spy Santa’s wacky looking rocket sleigh in a tree below.

“Hmm, I guess we could share this bench…”

At surface level, Santa is walking through the park and so is the dog from earlier. They both come to rest on the same bench and try to lay claim to it. Santa, being the sensible one, suggests they share it which seems quite fair since it’s plenty big enough for the two of them. Santa can clearly understand the dog, who introduces himself as Truman, and I don’t know if that’s because he’s Santa and he’s magic or if all dogs can talk in this universe. If it’s because he’s Santa you would think Truman would be amazed a human can understand him. At any rate, Truman says he looks familiar and asks if he knows him from before. Santa plays dumb, but when he introduces himself he uses the name Santa Claus. I was expecting an alias of some kind. Truman is one dumb pup though and doesn’t think anything of it. Apparently no one believes in Santa just as he said. Truman then offers to share his newspaper with Santa who wants nothing to do with the front page saying the headlines are too depressing.

Comet actually calls Santa a bum – what a jerk!

Comet and Orion watch from above as Truman and Claus take naps on the bench using the newspaper like a blanket. I am profoundly confused by what Santa is doing here. I get him being depressed and all, but where was he going? He left the warm confines of his work shop to sleep on a bench in an unnamed city? Okay, solid plan, Claus. Comet refers to him as an “old bum on a bench,” real nice, Comet, before flying down to inspect him. He’s surprised to see it is Santa and tells the old man he needs to head north. Santa confesses it’s hopeless, Christmas is over, and Truman looks disturbed to hear this.

Thomas’s full name is actually D. Thomas, and the D stands for Doubting. His parents really set him up for success.

In the North Pole, Thomas has rallied the other elves and is explaining how Santa is gone, but they must continue with a new leader. Pops is practically mortified at the suggestion of replacing Santa, and that image that started it all appears to originate from this scene. Thomas gets in his face to tell him he’s wrong, but the two are interrupted by some jolly laughter. Pops thinks Santa has returned, but we pan to the fireplace to see a sack of toys appear and it’s handled by the magic arms of McBragg. He follows and Thomas introduces the replacement for Santa. He thanks Thomas for handling things up north, and Thomas now feels secure enough in his position to resume smoking. McBragg then produces something from his sack – a Soulmate in a cage. He apparently snatched Orillia right out of the sky when he buzzed them earlier. What he intends to do with her we don’t know, but she’s apparently been running her mouth since he knows what she is and what her intentions are.

And considering Doubting Thomas is set to be the hot, new, toy this Christmas I guess his parents really did know what they were doing!

There’s a cut for a commercial break and when we come back McBragg is hanging the cage with Orillia in it while she insists they’re going to find Santa and save Christmas. Thomas doubts her claim, but she insists that with her Soulmate powers they won’t fail. McBragg sticks his finger in her mouth to silence her, then informs the elves they’re to take orders from Thomas. He then shows them what they’re going to make: a Doubting Thomas doll! The doll looks exactly like Thomas and there’s no attempt to actually make it look like a toy, it’s just a tiny Thomas. McBragg says it’s going to make children doubt themselves, and when Pops explains that’s not what Christmas is all about, McBragg corrects him to say it is now. He then threatens Pops by saying he’ll use the doll on him if he doesn’t fall in line then orders the elves back to work. Thomas starts to sing “Heigh-ho,” but doesn’t get far enough apparently to trigger a copyright claim as he hands out instructions to the elves as Orillia looks on with concern.

Truman just keeps making the same joke, but no one laughs. The writers were cruel to this dog.

In the park, Truman and Santa are playing Checkers on the same bench while Comet whines about Christmas being ruined. He asks Orion for help who cheerfully tells him not to worry because he has “awesome Soulmates powers!” That sure sounds convenient. He then reveals his head is some sort of magic telephone that can call his soulmate Orillia. Truman thinks it’s hilarious that his head is a phone (Head…phone…get it?!) and makes a comment about it twice, but no one laughs. Dumb dog.

They’re really taking advantage of a blind person here.

At the work shop, the elves are building the Thomas dolls as Orillia gets a “call” from Orion. They exchange information, but the mounting negativity around Orillia causes the signal to get blocked. Orillia doesn’t let this get her down though, she has to be positive! She calls on her power, referred to as “Magic Imagining.” She believes she can help, so she basically wills that ability into existence. It’s all very convenient. A bolt of light leaves her body and soars through the air and finds Ella. Who is Ella? The blind girl from before. She was in the middle of typing a letter to Santa, but her mother calls up to tell her it’s time to rest. It’s the middle of the day, and the poor girl just climbs into bed. She looks far too old for a nap and I’m forced to assume her mom is just messing with her since she can’t tell the sun is still out, which is just plain cruel of her. The ball of light finds the letter though and pulls it out of the typewriter and whisks it away out the window.

That is one sophisticated doll. I think I want one?

At the work shop, McBragg is feeling mighty positive for a guy promoting negativity. He then demonstrates how the doll works by yanking on a pull string and pointing it in Orillia’s direction. It basically hypnotizes her and the negative effects of the doll actually break the Soulmate. In the park, Orion stars slapping his own head as a phone operator voice can be heard saying “The soul you are trying to reach is currently under a spell.” Pretty cute there. Orion declares the situation “Bogus,” and implores the others to help him do some Magic Imagining. Comet is down and Orion tells him to “See it, believe it, and it will come true.” There’s also something about putting his thought into a pink bubble which shockingly doesn’t confuse the reindeer. A saxophone then comes in as we get another loud song as the two float above the park. Another blast of light emerges and it goes all the way up into space to the moon guy. He absorbs it and gets all giddy and then sends it back to Earth. I guess this guy needs to amplify the power or something? I don’t know.

I like her better this way.

The positive energy heads to the North Pole where Thomas is having fun with this new, negative, Orillia. She actually looks ready to kick his ass and even punches him in the nose so he’s probably lucky the magic energy comes flying in and strikes the both of them. Now imbued with the power of positive energy, the two can focus on what’s needed to save Christmas. And Thomas stopped smoking and his chin stubble disappeared, because everyone knows facial hair is caused by negativity. Orion can apparently sense this and he’s pumped and attempts to rally the troops, but Santa still isn’t feeling it. He tells them to go away, but before Comet and Orion fly off Orion reminds Santa that anyone can do Magic Imagining as long as they truly believe! Hear that, kids? When bad things happen it’s because you didn’t believe hard enough!

This might be the dumbest part of this whole, dumb, special.

McBragg is then shown yelling at the elves as he emerges from the factory. Thomas comes strolling along and asks him what’s in his hand. Apparently, getting full of positive energy made him forget about stuff because he doesn’t recognize the Doubting Thomas doll in McBragg’s hand. McBragg is confused, and he’s even more confused when Thomas complains about the doll’s “scowly” face. Orillia then enters the picture and McBragg is not pleased to see her out of her cage. When he inquires why she isn’t under his spell any longer she boasts about her Soulmates magic! It’s all pointless, and rather stupid, because he just threatens to use the doll again and the two put their hands up as he marches them inside. What were they doing? Just sticking it to McBragg that they beat his spell? Again, very pointless.

Good thing we have a talking dog that can read or else Christmas would be doomed.

Back at the park, Ella’s letter comes floating on by. Truman and Santa come into possession of it, but Santa can’t read it without his glasses which he lost. Truman reads it for him and it’s a letter to Santa asking for him to bring their friend back. The letter is unfinished and Truman has no idea it’s about him, but just this one letter is enough to reinvigorate Santa! He tells Truman they can use some reverse letter looker upper thing at his work shop to find out who wrote it and the two set off. Truman is skeptical that Santa can find his way back to the North Pole in time without his glasses, but Santa reminds him he’s a guide dog and he can guide him. Truman is still full of self doubt and Santa wishes Orion was there to use his Magic Imagining. I swear they had a quota in mind they were trying to hit with that phrase. Santa then remembers anyone can use it, but they have to believe! I guess that’s all it’s going to take to repair his sleigh and get it out of the tree?

It’s Santa! Back in his old threads!

The elves are shown being held up by McBragg and his Thomas doll. Pops comes running in with a box and informs McBragg his evil toys are ready. McBragg instructs him to harness up the reindeer, but when Pops reminds him there are no reindeer he just laughs and orders him to harness up some elves! The elves seem horrified by this suggestion so apparently this is a death sentence. Orillia gets in his face to say she won’t let him as Orion and Comet arrive. McBragg hits his head (again) on the low ceiling and informs the Soulmates that they’re “A real pain in the a…”

And the dolls are now vessels of positivity! Christmas is saved!

Before McBragg can finish his line, Santa enters the workshop! He’s back in his Santa gear and dishing out a hearty laugh. McBragg turns to “fire” the Thomas doll at him, but when he pulls the string back Santa’s magic converts the doll into a being of positivity. The scowl fades and it says “Believe in yourself and you can do anything!” McBragg looks at the doll with a befuddled expression and when he questions how that happened Santa laughs and says “It’s Soulmate power!” Pops then tells everyone that all of the evil dolls have been converted and the elves let out a hearty cheer.

That is one sturdy chimney. It doesn’t even budge! My compliments to the builder.

McBragg decides to make his exit. The Soulmates fly after him, but it’s not like they’re going to actually do anything. McBragg repeatedly bumps his head as he leaves then slips and falls down some stairs. For good measure, he even crashes his flying car into Santa’s chimney. All indirect violence. And he sure gives up easily. The elves and Santa emerge from the workshop apparently pleased to see all of this.

Looks like we’re in for a merry Christmas now! I wonder if they only have these dolls to give out?

We then cut to Santa and Truman flying in his sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. Truman tells Santa that he hopes he gives Ella what she wants for Christmas and Santa assures him that he intends to. He then asks Truman if he remembers the letter and it finally dawns on him that it was from Ella. The Soulmates then chime in with some positive reinforcement for Truman: if he can guide Santa to the North Pole then he can guide Ella through life. I hate to be a downer, but I doubt Truman will live long enough to pull that off. Maybe he can guide her through middle school?

Truman gets to go on a sleigh ride.

The sleigh lands on Ella’s roof and she awakens to the sound. Santa wishes Truman a merry Christmas and thanks him for his help. We then see Truman jump into Ella’s bed and lick the girl who returns the affection with a hug. Outside the house, we see the two in the window (Ella turned on a light for some reason) and they appear to be looking up. Above the house, the sleigh takes off and soars past a full moon. The moon rotates and it’s moon guy! He gets the last line as he states that “It’s positively a merry Christmas.” We then cut to an image of the Soulmates from earlier just so that our lasting image is of the main characters as “Everybody Needs a Soulmate” returns for the credits.

At least the kid got her dog back.

Well, that was pretty bad. Actually, bad might be too strong a word. It was a thing. For a show with the word “Soulmate” in the title, it was pretty soulless. The premise of a guy perverting Christmas with negativity isn’t terrible on the surface, but the counter being two beings that just will positivity into existence sucks. Negativity for the sake of negativity is bland and awful and the same is true of positivity for the sake of positivity. I get so irritated when people complain about a lack of positivity in a conversation, on social media, or wherever. You can’t make bad things, or feelings, just go away with sheer positivity. It doesn’t work like that. It’s about as useful as telling someone who is depressed to just stop being depressed.

They at least knew enough when making this one that you have to include a shot of Santa flying past a full moon. The moon is always full on Christmas.

Perhaps that is why nothing came of the Soulmates. That was their premise, their function, to just be positive and positivity would follow. That’s their magic and it’s a terrible message to give anyone, especially children, because it goes right back to my depression analogy. And this episode takes a depressed character in Santa and magics away his depression. How convenient? Terrible storytelling and a poor message. I’m sure everyone’s heart was in the right place who worked on this, they just needed to workshop the idea more and complicate the process the characters go through, but there’s only so much you can do in 24 minutes. Because of the approach, Orion and Orillia really have no personality. There’s nothing about them to like, and if anything, they teeter on being annoying. These definitely weren’t characters designed for the 90s. They were dead in the water. Maybe they could have worked in a preschool show, but not here.

As a Christmas special, there’s not much this special does for me. As I mentioned at the start, this thing takes place at Christmas and utilizes Santa, but it didn’t need to. The characters and situations feel very plug and play. Santa could have been anyone, McBragg could have inserted negativity into the water supply, or radio waves, or really anything a lot of people come into contact with. It’s easy to see how this format could work for a series because it’s easy to write, just as it’s easy to see how it wouldn’t work as entertainment. Still, it does do some things right by including eight reindeer and giving us the classic Santa in front of the moon thing. Some of the scenery in the North Pole is interesting, if a bit limited. On the whole, there aren’t a lot of backgrounds in use which is where one can see how the budget may have been limited, but the animation is fine. It’s no better or worse than most early 90’s television specials. Again, it’s a thing that exists.

“The Gift of Light” will be remembered for the circumstances that brought it to our attention. That’s its legacy. Few will remember the special itself because it’s so forgettable. There’s a reason why it took years to finally track it down. If you’re curious and wish to see this one yourself, I already linked to the YouTube source I watched it from. It’s also available on VHS, but I have no idea how easy that will be to track down. It’s really not worth the effort, but that’s up to you to decide. I am curious if Will Sloan and his girlfriend are watching it this holiday season though.

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

Dec. 8 – TV Funhouse – “Christmas Day”

When someone hears the title TV Funhouse they probably first go to Saturday Night Live and The Ambiguously Gay Duo, a cartoon Batman and Robin parody that hypothesizes the relationship between the two heroes is more than just friendship. What many aren’t aware of is that the comedic short starring Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert…

Keep reading

Dec. 7 – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)

Original air date December 13, 1970.

In 1964, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass unleashed a Christmas Classic upon the world in the form of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The special basically put the company on the map and put it on the path to holiday domination for decades to come. Despite that, few of the specials that followed Rudolph truly hit the same highs and it’s likely due to a case of diminishing returns. Still, that didn’t stop the company from trying to replicate its original success with Christmas and today’s subject feels very much like a retread of Rudolph only with a different protagonist.

As popular as the character Rudolph is these days, he’s still in the shadow of the main man himself: Santa Claus. Maybe it was a bit odd to target Rudolph first with a Christmas special, but in 1964 the character wasn’t as explored as Santa. From that perspective, it makes sense to come back with Santa as the main character for a subsequent special which is likely how we ended up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Just like Rudolph, this special takes a popular song and uses it as the basis for a television special. It’s also going to bring in a celebrity narrator like Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman to basically push the story along and that’s a tactic the company loved returning to in the years to follow. Unlike Frosty, this one uses the “Animagic” stop-motion process so it looks more like Rudolph. That look is basically synonymous with the company now making specials like Frosty the exception, but in 1970 it wasn’t quite established that the Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass would all be animated with stop-motion techniques.

These two are responsible for a lot of Christmas memories. We lost Arthur Rankin in 2014 at the ripe old age of 89 while Bass recently passed away in October at the age of 87. R.I.P.

As a kid, I grew up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town as part of my cherished Christmas Tape. Despite that, it’s one of the handful of specials from that tape that I don’t count among the greatest ever produced. Santa Claus had the unfortunate placement of coming after Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and right before Rudolph. Grinch has long been my favorite, but when I was a kid it was pretty much neck and neck with Rudolph. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is basically the comedown special on my old tape, but since it’s an hour long, that comedown had a tendency to overstay its welcome. My sister and I often just endured this one to get to Rudolph. It’s basically the same length and the structure is similar as we’re hearing a story we basically know, but having a lot of it filled in. There are songs to break up the narrative, but I think with this one they’re just not as good. And even though there’s a clear cut villain to root against in the form of the Burgermeister, he’s almost too ridiculous and the film also doesn’t really deliver a comeuppance for him. We’ll have time for it all, but basically I’ve been putting an entry like this one off for years because it’s not a favorite and it’s an hour long. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

Because I am celebrating my own personal Christmas Tape this year, all of the images in this post are ripped from that 35 year old tape. Above is what was used as the TV bumper in 1987.

We’ll probably be making several comparisons to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and here’s another. This one begins with a fake news reel. Narrated by Paul Frees (who is going to do a lot of heavy lifting in this one), it’s presented in black and white and uses what I assume is just stock footage of kids. He says in a rather stern voice that children are reminded not to cry and not to pout as he’s basically just introducing the theme of the song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” As a kid, this always felt a bit ominous and thus unsettling. It’s a bit of a weird note to start on, but maybe the idea was to present Santa as a bit of an authority figure when it comes to Christmas and what follows will soften his image?

Here is the most enduring part of this special, the often parodied Special Deliver Kluger.

As the news reel comes to an end we’re taken to a winter setting where an interesting looking mail truck is driving over the snow. It looks like a conventional mail truck, except with tank treads. I always thought it was pretty cool. It’s marked Special Delivery, and our humble driver goes by the name Special Delivery Kluger. Fred Astaire provides the voice, and the lanky, long-chinned, fellow is a bit of a caricature of Astaire in the same way that there was a little bit of Burl Ives in the look of Sam Snowman and certainly a lot of Jimmy Durante in the narrator of Frosty the Snowman. His neat looking truck breaks down and he gets out of it to seemingly notice us, the viewer. We soon find out that old SD here is heading to the North Pole because he has some letters to deliver. He’s talking to us and breaking the fourth wall, but also, the disembodied voices of children can be heard asking questions about Santa Claus, most of which strike me as unimportant (“Why does he have a beard?”), but they are the questions kids ask. And these questions are coming from the letters that SD here is supposed to be delivering, not opening and reading. Seriously bud, that’s a federal offense! Well folks, we’re in for a treat because SD here is going to answer all of those questions and sing us the song for good measure.

Our setting is the always gray Somber Town.

Special Delivery begins the song we all know which takes us into the opening credits. As it goes through, the melody changes and we basically get a sampling of the songs that will follow while Kluger dances around and mishandles the mail which serve as title cards. You would think this guy is in a hurry to get these deliveries out of the way, but I guess not. It’s story time! We’re going to a place called Somber Town which is at the base of the Whispering Mountains. It’s very dreary looking and we’re taken to the home of the Burgermeister (Paul Frees). I guess he’s sort of a mayor or something? His full name is Burgermeister Meisterburger and he’s busy eating. He’s eating some massive hunk of meat with a bib – how cute?

This asshole is known as the Burgermeister.

The head of the guard or something, Grimsley (Frees), enters with something to show his boss. It’s a baby and there’s a note requesting they take care of it from his mother. The only identifying information on the child is a tag that says Claus. The Burgermeister wants nothing to do with a “brat” like this and tells Grimsley to take it away. He does as he’s told and apparently to get to an orphanage you have to pass through some pretty rough terrain. It’s also dark, and it’s snowing, and he’s dragging the baby behind him in a cradle/sled. The wind picks up in intensity and the rope snaps. As Grimsley calls out for Baby Claus to come back (a lot of good that will do), we see it literally lifted by the wind and taken into the forest. No more baby.

There’s a baby under that pile of sticks.

The forest is apparently home to a being known as the Winter Warlock. He’s someone not to be trifled with, so when some animals come upon the baby (the cradle somewhat comically smashed into a tree and the baby just tumbled out) and hear the warlock approaching, they quickly hide him under branches and leaves. The warlock just strolls on by and all we see are his robes. Once that danger has passed, the animals know what to do as they take the baby the rest of the way over the Whispering Mountains to Rainbow River Valley where a family of toymakers reside: the Kringles.

These Kringles are confirmed as elves and the animals just leave the baby on their doorstep and get the hell out of there. The door is answered by an elf named Dingle. He looks like a smaller version of Santa, though not particularly elf like, though he does speak in a voice that’s pitched up. He calls for his four other brothers: Ringle, Tingle, Wingle, and Zingle. They’re all voiced by, you guessed it, Paul Frees. They’re all pretty happy to find a baby and immediately take ownership by declaring “Our baby is the best baby of them all.” One of them rather comically just says “I like babies.” He’s the original “I like turtles,” kid.

Meet the Kringles, the only elves I know that don’t have pointed ears.

The elves take the baby in to see their matriarch, Tanta Kringle (Joan Gardner), who seems to be in agreement that the baby is now theirs. She declares they will call him Kris, and raise him as a Kringle. And then we get a time-jump and see Kris as a boy while our story-teller informs us that the elves taught him everything he needed to know, and stuff he didn’t, like how to make toys. Apparently, the Kringles make toys, but have no children to sell them to so they just pile up. They’re too afraid to take them over the mountain and past the Winter Warlock. Apparently, there are no other towns worth exploring except for Somber Town. Kris then vows that he’ll deliver toys to Somber Town when he’s big enough, and Tanta reminisces how that will be the day that will restore the Kringle name. She then goes into the first song of the special, “The First Toymaker to the King.” It’s fine, but it pays off in a little bit for another reason. The thing I like about the song most though is they present a lot of it like a storybook so we get some illustrated versions of the Kringle characters. It almost makes me wish the whole special looked like that.

The song concludes with some disembodied children pointing out that’s how Santa learned to make toys. Yeah, no kidding. This is a running thing throughout the special where Special Delivery says something, and some children comment on it, usually just to reenforce what SD just said. When the song is done, SD goes on to say that Kris also learned a lot from the animals nearby, and most importantly, it was a seal that taught him how to laugh. As he goes “Ho ho ho,” we get another time jump and find an adult Kris (now voiced by Mickey Rooney) who declares to Tanta he’s a man now! Did they just finish doing something?! At any rate, he can take those toys over the mountain and the elves are pretty excited by the thought.

Everyone’s favorite character: Topper.

Later that night, Kris is packing for his journey when Tanta comes barging in. She’s got a present for him: a red suit. He’s overjoyed to receive a real Kringle suit which looks just like the traditional Santa outfit. We jump to morning and Kris is shown saying goodbye to everyone and sets off up the mountain. It only takes a moment before a penguin comes slamming into him. He questions the penguin on what he’s doing out there and deduces he’s looking for the South Pole, which is pretty damn far from where they are. Kris invites the penguin along, and decides to call him Topper who seems to like the name though we don’t know for sure because he’s a penguin and can’t talk. As they resume their march, a booming voice fills the air. It’s the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) who basically tells them to beat it and never come back or they’ll be sorry. Kris encourages Topper to follow and the two race off.

This guy’s job is to take toys away from children. His mother must be so proud.

It’s the next day, and the Burgermeister is heading outside when he stumbles down some steps. The culprit? A toy was carelessly left out. He had to get his foot wrapped and he’s back in his estate where he vows to outlaw all toys! I’m doing this part from memory because my source for this special, The Christmas Tape, is missing a chunk of the special because someone failed to resume recording after the commercial break. It picks up when Burgermeister is singing his version of “The First Toymaker to the King,” which is now enforcing a message of “There will be no more toymakers to the king!” It’s a horrible message, but the song is kind of cute as it uses the same storybook technique as Tanta’s version, only now the ballerina’s are being arrested and the toy soldiers melted down. When the song is over, we see a soldier collecting toys throughout the town and chucking them into a wagon pulled by a fairly evil looking horse. Vicious!

It’s this toyless world that Kris stumbles into. He’s got his sack of toys over one shoulder and goofy red suit which everyone stares at. The people of Somber Town are depicted almost exclusively in black and white. Even their flesh seems to lack much color. One old woman even admonishes Kris for his clothes and he seems both hurt and confused by this. When he says he’s there to just give away some toys everyone freaks out and runs into their house leaving Kris even more confused.

Pictured: life without toys.

Kris continues on his way and comes across two kids washing their socks in a fountain. They explain to Kris that’s basically how children are judged in this town: by how clean their stockings are. He tells them they don’t have to look so sour and when they ask why he just says “I don’t like sour faces.” He then recites some of the song, the whole you better not pout or cry part, and when they keep asking why he says, “Because I came to town!” He then reveals what he brought and the kids perk up. They’re a bit apprehensive, but when they mention the Burgermeister Kris says he’ll just give him a big, red, yo-yo. The kids then dig in, but are soon interrupted by their school teacher Miss Jessica (Robie Lester) who dismisses toys as frivolous. She tries to further malign them, but Kris just sticks a china doll in her face and she immediately melts. Apparently she always wanted one and when she hugs it she even squirts out a tear.

We then go into our next song, “Be Prepared to Pay,” which states that kids must sit on Kris’ lap and give him a kiss to get a toy. Umm, suddenly it makes sense why people seem to eye this character suspiciously. When that’s done with, we see the Burgermeister being wheeled through the streets in a wheelchair. This is the same guy who was singing and dancing not that long ago on his bum foot, but now needs a wheelchair. What a fraud! He remarks to himself how nice it is to see the children all playing with their toys, which is to setup a “Guffah!” kind of joke where he realizes the kids are doing exactly what he doesn’t want them to do. He then demands that all of the kids are under arrest for playing with toys!

He’s breaking his own law!

Kris comes running in to take the blame. He explains that he gave them the toys and it’s he who should be arrested. The Burgermeister appears to be taken aback by the Kringle’s clothes, as so many others were earlier, but agrees that he needs to be arrested. Kris stops him in his tracks though when he presents that yo-yo he mentioned earlier to him. Now it’s the Burgermeister’s turn to be disarmed by a toy as he clutches it and tells Kris he loves yo-yos. He goes back to his childhood and talks about all of the tricks he knew while he, sort of, demonstrates that by playing with it. He’s having a pretty good time, but if you thought he would be turned as quickly as Miss Jessica you’re sorely mistaken, as Grimsley reminds him that he’s breaking his own law. This seems to snap the Burgermeister out of his toy-induced trance and he tosses the yo-yo and demands that Kringle be arrested!

Well he looks like a happy guy.

Kris isn’t going to just surrender though as he takes off knocking the soldiers down in the process. The Burgermeister then comments on his fleeing abilities remarking he climbs like a squirrel, leaps like a deer, and is as slippery as a seal. These are all animals you can apparently compare Santa Claus to. Kris demonstrates all of these qualities by scaling the wall surrounding the town and escaping. The soldiers give chase, but once Kris and Topper head into the woods they decide to back off. They claim they’ll never find him, but I think they’re just scared of the warlock as they rightly should be for Kris and Topper don’t get very far until they’re grabbed by trees. Yes, trees, and the Warlock shows himself! He’s basically all white, even his face, and he has a long robe, pointy hat, and big, white, beard. He gestures to Kringle and informs him that he has disturbed him for the last time and that he’ll never get away!

Come on, you weird old hermit, walk through the door that just appeared.

Kris figures he can talk his way out of this, so he requests that the Winter Warlock release him for a moment so he can give him a toy. The Warlock is pretty surprised by this, but immediately cheers up. He orders Willy Willow and Peter Pine, the trees, to release the Kringle so he can receive his toy. Kris presents him with a toy train, which the warlock refers to as a choo-choo. He starts to cry, and when Kris asks what’s happening he explains that his icy heart is melting. Once it does, his face goes from white to a natural flesh color and his mouth is no longer full of sharp teeth. He then wonders how he can go on and describes himself as a wicked creature at heart. It would seem this is Kris’ opportunity to stab him or something, but instead he laughs and insists that the warlock, who now wishes to go by Winter, can change. He reasons that turning from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step, which leads into the next song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” It’s an okay tune, but the animation that goes with it is weird as it seems to imply that Winter doesn’t really know how to walk. He looks rather awkward, and must have been difficult to animate a robe in stop-motion, but by the end he’s walking and feeling pretty damn good about himself.

That won’t be the only ball he shows her.

When the song is done we find Winter and Kris seated by a tree in the snow. It can’t be very comfortable, but I don’t think this Winter fellow actually has a proper house though Special Delivery claimed he had an ice palace. He has a proposition for Kris in that they can help each other. In exchange for more toys, he can show Kris some of his magic. He demonstrates this by making a large snowball and tells Kris to gaze into his magic, crystal, snowball. Someone is looking for him – Miss Jessica. It would seem she’s wandered into the woods to find him, and when Winter tells him to go to her he basically just falls from the sky beside her. Was that more magic? Either way, she informs him the kids are looking for more toys and Kris agrees to provide said toys so long as they’re good. When she asks how he’ll know, he shows her the snowball trick that Winter just demonstrated. This is apparently how he spies on children and he and Miss Jessica basically recite some more of the song through their dialogue which feels rather forced. Kris explains that he can’t just walk in and hand them out like last time, so he tells Miss Jessica to inform the kids to leave their doors unlocked and that he’ll deliver them under cover of darkness. And for being so nice, he even gets a kiss from Miss Jessica – golly!

Back at casa de Kringle, Kris is preparing for his toy delivery. Winter is there too as he apparently doesn’t want to hang out on a cold mountain anymore now that his heart is unfrozen. Kris is making his list, and checking it twice, but seems to determine that all of the kids are nice. I’m not sure if he takes this all that seriously, kids. He heads into Somber Town and basically just enters every unlocked house and leaves toys behind. The next morning, Burgermeister is royally pissed off to see the kids outside playing with their toys and makes a new law on the spot: all doors and windows must be locked at night!

Tanta is gonna be pissed when she sees that suit.

Kris returns the next night, but can’t get into the houses since they’re all locked. It’s pointed out he really needs to deliver a toy for a sick kid and is determined not to let her down. Topper is the one who points out the chimney, though it takes Kris a minute to figure out what he’s getting at. Kris thinks it’s a great idea and absolutely loves going down the chimneys. He visits all of the houses, but the next morning we find the toys all confiscated by the Burgermeister. Are the kids still playing with them outside? Seems pretty dumb. He mentions he knows they were left by the hearth of each house so he orders that every building will be inspected at dawn for toys. Talk about government overreach. After he makes his declaration, he accidentally sits on a tin solider and stabs himself in the ass. Good for him.

All right, we’ve explained elves, toys, chimneys, and now stockings. I guess next is reindeer?

Kris keeps getting letters for toys delivered by animals, but he doesn’t know how to deliver them. He soon figures out that the stockings are a solution and sends a letter to Miss Jessica via the animals. We cut to the next morning and the Burgermeister, now with a bandaged ass, is inspecting a house. He’s pleased to find nothing but drying stockings by the fireplace and takes his leave. The father of the house breaths a sigh of relief, while the kids run for the stockings to uncover their toys. The Burgermeister really is an idiot since empty, drying, socks look a lot different than socks filled with toys. The kids though are arguably dumber because they, once again, take to the streets with their toys and the Burgermeister remains furious (somewhere along the way he apparently decided against arresting children). He then tells Grimsley he’s going to do what he should have done from the start: set a trap for the Kringle!

Busted!

Miss Jessica overhears this declaration and tries to warn Kris, but once she gets to the Kringle home it’s nighttime and Kris is gone. She asks Winter for help via his magic, but he explains he’s all out of magic and seems pretty down about it. Then Grimsley shows up with a small assortment of men to arrest the Kringles. It would seem rendering Winter nice backfired as there’s no way they would have braved the mountain beforehand. We then see Kris getting bagged by the Burgermeister who arrests him on the spot. To make a spectacle of the whole thing, he burns all of the toys in the town square as the children look on with tears in their eyes.

That is definitely not the way to do a reflection in stop motion.

The next day, Jessica approaches the Burgermeister and pleads with him to free Kris and the Kringles. He laughs her off and it’s not explained why they didn’t round her up with the other Kringles since she’s an obvious accessory to their toy delivery scheme. As the Burgermeister takes his leave, Jessica claims her eyes are now open for the first time. I thought they were before? Whatever, she goes into the worst and shortest song of the special, “My World is Beginning Today,” which features the amusing shot of Jessica looking at a reflection of herself in the fountain, but it’s clearly a paper print-out of her puppet and not an actual reflection. She lets her hair down for the song though and looks lovely.

Reindeer! We’ve got reindeer!

When the song is over, Miss Jessica is seen lurking outside the town’s prison. She finds the cell containing Winter and once again calls to him about using his magic to get them out. He’s pretty despondent about the loss of his magic and shows her the collection of useless stuff the jailer apparently let him keep: a short-circuited wand, dried up magic potion, stubs from old candles, and some magic feed corn. Jessica asks about the corn and he says it’s only use is to make reindeer fly. Jessica thinks that’s their answer and she takes the corn and rounds up some reindeer. This is apparently a pretty easy feat. Like most Christmas specials, the reindeer look like white-tailed deer and not actual reindeer, but she feeds them the corn and suddenly they can fly! The kids listening to Special Delivery’s story very much like this part, and one kid even says “don’t forget…” when the reindeer are introduced and we get a glimpse of Rudolph, but Special Delivery insists that’s another story.

A different sort of moon shot than we’re used to.

The reindeer are just what they need for an escape though. Well, we’re never told how they actually broke out of their cells, but I guess that was deemed unessential. They all fly off and Winter is especially happy to see he had a little magic left after all. It’s easily the most triumphant moment of the special as we get an instrumental version of the title song in the background as the whole crew flies in front of a crescent moon. I guess it can’t be a full moon until he’s finished his transformation into Santa.

I guess we need an explanation for the beard too.

With the Kringles free, the Burgermeister vows to hunt them down. The crew returns to their home, but it’s been burned to the ground. Kris determines it’s no longer safe and that they need to run further north, so they do. There’s wanted posters (dead or alive, which seems extreme) put up for them, so Kris does the smart thing and grows a beard (probably should ditch the identifiable threads). It’s at this point that Tanta raises the idea of changing his name and shows him the Claus tag he was found with. Some kid chimes in “I knew it! I knew it! That’s where he got his name!” the kid’s a real rocket scientist. They don’t explain the Santa part. Jessica and Kris are then shown getting married under the first Christmas tree. Winter lights it up with a last bit of magic.

So…are the animals planning on sticking around to watch them consummate this thing?

The crew is then shown heading further north until they hit the North Pole where Kris giddily announces it’s here they’ll build a new home to make toys. How they did so is not explained, but they do it. The animals deliver the letters and time just keeps marching forward. Kris and Jessica get rather “comfortable” with married life though he wonders how he can keep up with the orders. We’re then told that the Burgermeisters have fallen out of power and that Kris is no longer perceived as an outlaw. He’s old now, and realizes he can’t just keep delivering toys all of the time so he decides to do it on just one night a year and he settles on the holiest night of the year: Christmas Eve.

The North Pole is apparently a far more comfortable place to live than I’ve been lead to believe.

Santa Claus is then shown exiting his home to hop in his sleigh. Winter is there and apparently his magic is just fine now as he promises a nice, white, Christmas. Santa is pleased and he gets in his sleigh and takes off. Special Delivery comes back to tell us that’s the end of the story. He also takes a moment to mention how there’s still people who don’t like Santa and Christmas and we cut to a Scrooge-like character and some other adults that dislike the holiday. SD wishes everyone could be more like Santa, but there’s no time for moralizing here. He quickly remembers he has a ton of letters to deliver, and he also owes us a rather important song. Special Delivery then, delivers, on the promise of the special’s title and sings us the full version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” as he makes his way north. The song ends with him pulling up on Santa’s workshop and the old dude comes outside to wave at the camera while the children shout “Merry Christmas!”

And that’s how Santa Claus came to be. Or one way, there’s a bunch of others at this point, but when I was a kid this was definitely the one that framed my idea of Santa the most. I don’t think I necessarily thought the guy who brought me presents was also once harassed by some guy with “burger” in his name, but I definitely rolled with the magic feed corn makes reindeer fly and thought of him as adopted by elves. The magic snowball also resonated with me, but I also grew up being told that the birds spied on me for Santa. Both seem equally plausible at this point. Well, it would be hard for Santa to actually watch every kid in the world with his snowball. Maybe they should have added something at the end with Winter and his magic to try to explain how he could pull off bringing toys to the whole world. We only see him do it for one town, after all.

This one will always live in the shadow of the more famous one about the reindeer with a blinking nose.

I guess that’s a story for another day. As for this one, it’s all right. It maybe longer than many specials out there, but it moves fast. If anything, it’s the songs that drag it down and help make it feel long when I think they’re supposed to have the opposite effect. And it’s not that they’re bad, they’re just not nearly as good as the songs in Rudolph. None of these songs are worth listening to outside of this special except for Fred Astaire’s rendition of the title track. And even then, I’d rather hear another version if it was up to me, but his is fine and it’s utilized well. It’s also a bit of a bummer that we never see the Burgermeister get his comeuppance. He does get hurt throughout the special, and he’s basically the cause of it, but maybe we should have actually seen the people overthrow him or something. Instead, we just see one kid tossing his portrait in the trash.

The animation is obviously a tremendous source of charm for this as well. The special definitely attempts some ambitious shots, but few of them really land. Some things are just funny when they probably shouldn’t be, like the baby at the beginning just floating around and smashing into a tree. That Santa must have one hard head! Winter is very awkwardly animated to the point where I almost feel anxious when watching him because he moves so slow. The reindeer flying in front of the moon are also pretty goofy looking, but the closeup shots of them flying look nice. And a credit to the animators for getting that sleigh off the ground with eight reindeer at the end. That could not have been easy.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

The legacy of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is that it’s the spiritual sequel to a special that’s more beloved in Rudolph. Because it is old and tells an important story to the Christmas holiday, it’s hung around and likely will for a long time. It’s also the start of Mickey Rooney’s long run as Santa for the Rankin/Bass company and it’s basically the role I associate him with the most at this point, but I also didn’t grow up watching The Little Rascals. As a once a year viewing, this one is all right. I think I just saw it too much as a kid so at this stage of my life I literally never desire to watch it. I’ll watch it usually once out of habit and out of stubbornness as I refuse to skip specials on my Christmas Tape. Once I get through that initial viewing though, this one becomes the point I often check-out. I guess that’s its legacy in my house.

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

Dec. 7 – Bedtime for Sniffles

Not every Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies star had to be inherently funny. Sure, most of them were and that’s often what many cartoon enthusiasts will point to the Warner catalog of cartoons as having over Disney, but it wasn’t some hard and fast rule. That’s why when a guy by the name of Chuck…

Keep reading

Dec. 7 – SuperTed Meets Father Christmas

When it comes to British imports and the subject of bears is brought up, most probably immediately think of Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. Few probably recall SuperTed, the Welsh teddy bear brought to life by a spotted alien and given super powers by Mother Nature. SuperTed is similar to Mighty Mouse in that he…

Keep reading

Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

  Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another…

Keep reading

Dec. 5 – A Garfield Christmas

Original air date December 21, 1987.

This year, I’m bringing back a feature from last year where I take another look at, what I consider to be, the greatest Christmas specials ever made. I explained my reasoning for doing this in prior posts, but in short, the first time I looked at some of these specials I did just a short write-up and not the deep dive approach I would adopt in subsequent iterations of The Christmas Spot. It seemed silly to go lean with the best of the best, so I’m righting a wrong. Today is the first such repost of the year with more to follow and it is indeed one of the great specials of Christmas: A Garfield Christmas.

Garfield the cat, created by Jim Davis, is a character that has never completely gone away since its debut as a comic strip in the 1970s. He has definitely seen his popularity wane as the decades have gone by so it may surprise younger readers to find out that Garfield was on top of the world in the 1980s. The strips were so popular that Garfield made the jump to television via 12 animated specials before eventually getting his own television show. His popularity stayed relatively high well into the 1990s with the Garfield and Friends show lasting in syndication beyond that before giving way to new content. Coming in at number 7 on the list of television specials based on the gluttonous cat is 1987’s A Garfield Christmas.

The cat who ruled the 80s is taking on Christmas!

A Garfield Christmas premiered on December 21, 1987 and if you read the first entry in this year’s countdown you’ll know I referred to it as one of the specials that got away. My mom decided that 1987 was the year to record a bunch of Christmas specials for my sister and I to have throughout the years to come, and despite her being a fan of Garfield, she failed to record this one. Maybe it was because it aired so close to Christmas she felt the tape might be nearing its end? Maybe she had just run out enthusiasm for the exercise come the 21st? The last special on the tape is A Muppet Family Christmas which aired on December 16, so it’s certainly plausible. Maybe we had plans that night and she didn’t want to bother with the timer? I don’t know, she doesn’t know, and I’m certainly not mad about it, but I do wish I had grown up watching this one as frequently as the specials on that tape. Now we can browse YouTube and see some of the bumpers from that very year and I see some of the other specials I missed out on. It’s not really something I’m upset by, but it does make me wish we could go back to every week in December being event viewing because CBS was loaded that year seemingly devoting two nights per week to airing Christmas specials. And that doesn’t include the various holiday themed episodes of their regular programming.

The house of Garfield’s dreams is surprisingly festive.

A Garfield Christmas is another Film Roman production directed by Phil Roman and features the talents of Lou Rawls, Ed Bogas, and Desirée Goyette handling the music end with Jim Davis the credited writer. Davis considers this one to be semi-autobiographical as it features Jon (Thom Huge) returning to his home on a farm for a good old-fashioned family Christmas. We’ll get to know Jon’s immediate family, including the oddly named brother Doc Boy (David Lander), and spend some quality Christmas time with Grandma (voiced by the recently departed Pat Carroll – R.I.P.). Of course, we also have Garfield and Lorenzo Music reprises the role he was born to play. His deadpan delivery is perfect for the sleepy cat and I feel bad for talents like Bill Murray and Frank Welker who have had to follow Music in the role, but will never be as good.

And the interior of the house of Garfield’s dreams is done in crayon.

The special begins with an exterior shot of Jon’s house decorated for Christmas. The color palette is slightly washed out which is a stylistic choice because this is a dream sequence. Garfield is sleeping in his usual spot and Jon, dressed as an elf, implores him to wake up because it’s Christmas! He has his arms full with Garfield’s numerous breakfast lasagnas and lays them out in a row so that Garfield can eat his way to the tree. There he’s told that he has a present coming his way and Jon steps offscreen for a moment only to return driving a forklift with a giant, green, gift on the front. He drops it down beside Garfield and it bursts open to reveal a real kitschy looking robot Santa in a chair. Jon then demonstrates that this is the gift that keeps on giving. He sits in the robot Santa’s lap with his cat, thinks up a gift he wants, and is promptly given a green hat to complete his elf costume (which looks a bit like a Robin Hood costume). Garfield, ever the opportunist, shoves Jon off of the machine and puts the helmet on his own head and is immediately rewarded with a handful of jewels and a pearl necklace. Remarking to the camera, “That’s just for starters,” as he holds his reward he immediately starts conjuring up countless gifts as the special goes into the song “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” and the title is displayed above the happy cat.

Finally, a gift worthy of being called the gift that keeps on giving.

The musical number is up-tempo and quite jaunty as Garfield frolics in his gifts. Declaring a love for all of the things piling up around him, including greed and avarice, he jives to the music and we’re clearly being setup for Garfield to learn a lesson about what Christmas is all about. Garfield is soon woken, for real, by Jon and the setting reverts to something more familiar for a Garfield cartoon. The sleepy cat is not particularly pleased about being woken up. He refers to Jon as, “Oh, it’s you,” and instructs him to leave a number as he pulls his blanket over his head and looks like an adorable, little, blue, meatloaf. Jon excitedly asks Garfield if he knows what day it is and Garfield sticks his head out to tell him he doesn’t do pop quizzes before breakfast. Undaunted, Jon tells him it’s Christmas Eve morning and describes excitedly how they get to pack the car and go to the farm to see mom, dad, grandma, and Doc Boy! Garfield sarcastically responds he can’t wait to meet other “Boys,” like “Oh Boy,” as Jon takes his leave. Garfield then emerges from his bed to question why he has to leave his warm bed every Christmas to see some “stupid” relatives. He finishes his list of questions to himself with “And why am I whispering?” before the scene fades to black.

Those two should be riding in carriers.

We cut to a shot of Jon, Garfield, and Odie (Gregg Berger) in Jon’s car as they leave their city confines for the farm. Jon is in a nostalgic mood while Garfield wants nothing to do with it. He reminisces about Christmases past which soon leads into a song. It’s a bit of a call and response as Jon recalls a memory and Garfield interjects with a cynical take on it that associates a tradition with work. For example, Jon recalls decorating the tree fondly, and Garfield pipes in to call it “Gardening.” The song is called “Can’t Wait Till Christmas” and it does a good job of showcasing one character’s enthusiasm for the holiday, and another that has a decidedly different take. Garfield punctuates the end of the song with the very observant, and relatable, line about the best gift of Christmas being the insomnia and anxiety kids get from having to wait. Oh were there many sleepless Christmas Eve nights spent in my bed. The song ends with Garfield instructing Jon to wake him when Christmas is through.

Nice to see you too, Grandma.

We then see Jon roll up on the old farm and is warmly greeted by his mom (Julie Payne) who is one of those annoying animated characters that rarely seems to open their eyes. He moves to greet his dad (Pat Harrington) and brother Doc Boy, who seems to hate his nickname. We then hear from Grandma who is in a rocking chair facing a window as she guilt trips Jon into coming over to pay his respects to his poor, old, lonely, grandmother. Not that she needed to for Jon enthusiastically strolls over referring to his grandma as his favorite girl (genuinely sweet) and she pops out of the chair to give him a warm hug. She then points out that he’s developing a bit of a belly and questions if city life is making him soft. She punctuates the thought with an elbow to the belly that doubles Jon over causing her laugh. She reprimands him for not taking care of himself and reveals that she does 100 sit-ups a day. She gestures to her belly saying it’s hard as a rock as a result and urges Jon to take a shot at her.

Open your eyes, Mom!

Jon, not wanting to punch his grandma, deftly changes the subject and asks if she remembers Garfield and gestures to the cat and Odie (I’m not sure why he didn’t ask her if she remembered Odie, poor dog is always getting forgotten). She picks Garfield up with an amused look on her face as she seems to regale the cat as an oddity remarking they used to only have wood burning cats (whatever that is). Garfield is not amused. Mom then remarks how nice it is to have the whole family together for Christmas. As she gushes about being happy everyone is there, Grandma instructs her to “Put a sock in it, deary,” and suggests they go finish dinner. Garfield has now settled into Grandma’s arms and remarks to the camera “I can see Grandma and I are going to get along just fine.” When Grandma snaps at Jon’s mom her eyes actually “opened” for a moment too. I can’t figure out if Grandma is supposed to be her mother or mother-in-law. Grandma looks a little more like the mom than she does the dad, so I guess she’s her mother, but they have an adversarial relationship (which we’ll see more of) that screams classic mother-in-law.

We’ve seen this happen to Wile E. Coyote before.

We cut to an exterior shot and Jon is enthusiastically leading Odie and Garfield to the barn presumably to get more firewood. He’s put on a stocking cap to fight the cold, but not a jacket or even a pair of gloves. I guess he’s more hearty than he looks. Jon is still aglow from being home for the holidays and encourages Garfield to take in the scenery. Garfield remarks he can only see darkness and we see why as the snow is over his head. The only visible part of Garfield is his tail sticking out of the snow and he soon walks right into an exposed water pump.

The great Gravy War of 1987.

Meanwhile, inside the kitchen Grandma is creeping up on the stove. She tastes the gravy cooking there, and apparently dissatisfied, produces a can of chili powder. Mom comes up behind her and politely suggests she isn’t thinking about adding any chili powder to “MY” sausage gravy. Apparently there is some sort of competition between the two concerning the presence of chili powder in sausage gravy. Grandma plays nice and suggests she wouldn’t be doing that, but when Mom walks away she turns a bit sinister. Muttering softly to herself “Just because my chili gravy won a blue ribbon at the county fair and your gravy didn’t even place! Who am I to tell you how to make gravy? The Green County Gravy Champion, that’s who!” Par Carroll’s delivery of these lines is so perfect and so sincere it’s no surprise that Grandma had to return for the Thanksgiving special to follow.

He’s part dragon.

Jon and Garfield then enter the kitchen while a simple rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” plays in the background. Jon asks Garfield where Odie went who responds curtly “In-the-barn-let’s-eat.” We cut to Odie sniffing around some junk. He pulls out some scrap wood and a gardening tool and looks rather pleased with himself as he runs off. Back in the kitchen, Garfield’s nose has detected the scent of sausage gravy. He hops up on the counter and runs his finger through the brown liquid and gives it a taste. A look of satisfaction appears on his face as he licks his fingers which is soon replaced by one of pain. His face turns red, steam shoots out of his ears, and he releases a plume of fire from his mouth. He then returns to a contented expression and as smoke still trails from the ends of his mouth he remarks, “Perfect.”

Suck it, Doc Boy!

The family is then shown gathering around the table for Christmas Eve dinner. Odie slips back into the house unnoticed while Doc Boy is reprimanded for reaching for a dinner roll before anyone has said Grace. He’s instructed to do so, but he protests this responsibility until Grandma strikes him on the head with a wooden spoon. He then recites a fairly routine prayer that Mom punctuates with an “Amen!” when he’s apparently finished. As the others get set to dig in, Doc Boy rises from his chair and goes into a more poetic poem. No one looks pleased, especially Grandma, who strikes her grandson once more with the wooden spoon prompting him to end the misery.

Best seat in the house, apparently.

Jon requests his mom pass the potatoes, and she asks if he wants fried, baked, mashed, etc. which causes Jon to remark she always prepares too much. Unable to decide, he just asks for a piece of pie instead (no wonder why he’s acquiring a belly) and is met with another impossible decision as his mother prepared six different types of pie. We then cut to Grandma as she slips plates of food under the table to the hungry pets. Garfield, looking fatter than usual, and Odie are enjoying sitting beside Grandma. Garfield then praises the quality of the food and service, but criticizes the décor. He decides to rate the “restaurant” a mere 2 stars. Dad notices the empty plates before Grandma and makes a comment about her really “putting it away.” She responds that she’s eating for two now (really three) and Dad gives a smile which is soon replaced by a look of shock and confusion.

That is one contented cat.

Grandma begins cleaning up while Jon praises his mom for the meal, which Grandma makes a throat-clearing sound to get Jon to acknowledge her hand in the dinner as well. He then tries to give Garfield some leftovers unaware he’s been eating this whole time. The now very fat cat politely declines and indicates he’s watching his waistline this holiday season. Mom then calls everyone over to the naked Christmas tree which requires trimming. Odie pops out of the box of lights and garland apparently searching for something. He pulls out what looks like a small bit of wire before slinking off with it.

You mean to tell me they live on a farm and don’t have a step ladder?!

The rest of the family then gathers around to trim the tree. All except Grandma who has returned to her rocking chair with Garfield on her lap. She makes a remark to the cat about the rest of the family sounding like a pack of banshees and even refers to them as crazy. She then adds that you need a little crazy to make it through this life, then declares herself proof of that since she talks to cats! We cut back to the tree and Dad is awkwardly climbing on Doc Boy to put the star on the tree and this doesn’t look like a scene that will end well for anybody. Dad wisely asks why they always wait to put the star on last when it would be a lot easier to do it first before the tree is up, but Mom dismisses the thought because “It just wouldn’t be Christmas,” that way. I had no idea so much was riding on when the star was placed on the tree. I suppose the same is true for those who place an angel or something else up there instead?

All hail the Hero of Christmas!

Jon then gets the bright idea to ask Garfield if he can climb up the tree and put the star on top. Jon sells it as a very special request suitable for a true hero, and to my surprise, Garfield goes along with it with far more enthusiasm than I expected out of the old cat. He tells Jon if he’s not back in an hour to send a banana cream pie up after him and then approaches the tree. Garfield feels this will be a piece of cake and begins his ascent. As the tree wobbles to and fro, the rest of the family looks on with concern. Jon can barely seem to watch. Soon Garfield emerges from the top of the tree triumphantly, though he looks at how high up he is and seems to momentarily lose his balance. He rights himself and places the star atop the tree to raucous applause. He decides to take a bow, soaking in the adulation, and promptly falls. He strikes the ground with a thud wrapped in lights and garland and then utters what was a very dark catchphrase of sorts at the time for Garfield, “Whoever invented Christmas trees should be drug out into the street and shot.” An ornament then strikes him on the head which seems to indicate the tree does not share in Garfield’s sentiments.

Garfield’s moment in the sun took a very quick turn.

Dad then beckons everyone to look upon the tree as he plugs in the lights. It gives off a warm glow and everyone “Ooo’s” and “Aah’s” at the sight. Mom then informs us that Doc Boy is going to sing us a Christmas song, which he wants no part of, but Dad insists given they spent a bunch of money on “pie-anno” lessons. Doc Boy goes into a slow and melancholy rendition of “Oh Christmas Tree,” but Grandma has heard enough. She shoves everyone aside to take over the keys and plays a much livelier, and shorter, version of the song and then turns to the family with a look of satisfaction on her face. Mom refers to it as interesting, which doesn’t seem to bother Grandma. This is basically the only part of the special where I think they’re trying a little too hard to make Grandma seem “cool.”

The shot likely to linger with you when this one is long over.

Jon then encourages his mom to play and we go into another musical number, “Christmas in Your Heart.” While the family gathers around the piano, Grandma returns to her rocking chair and Garfield. She asks him “How did you know I needed a cat in my lap?” She then talks about her departed husband and the Christmases they used to have. She covers the usual numbers, how they didn’t have much, but would always find a way to give the children a good Christmas. She adds that the old man was the type who didn’t show much affection, but on Christmas that would change for a day. She hypothesizes that it was his favorite day of the year given how excited he would be for the children to wake up and see what was under the tree. It gets a little sadder after that as she tells Garfield sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking he’s still with her adding, “This is the night I miss him the most.” In a cartoon about a fat, orange, cat, who knew something so crushingly relatable could be found?

At least it’s an original story, Dad.

Mom is done playing her song and enthusiastically declares it’s time to move onto the Christmas story. This is the part of the special where Jon and Doc Boy regress into man-children. They enthusiastically inform us that the family Christmas story is “Binky: The Clown Who Saved Christmas” and the responsibility of reading the story falls on Dad. He wants no part of it and seems to be the only one capable of recognizing that this is a pretty weird tradition to carry on now that their boys are grown men, but the rest insist. They gather around Dad’s favorite chair, and Garfield and Odie even join in by sitting on an armrest each, as Dad begins the story. It’s clear that Jon and Doc Boy do derive pleasure from this ritual simply because it makes their dad feel awkward and silly. When he starts reading the story, Jon points out to his father that he needs to read it with more emotion and Doc Boy reminds him to do the voices. He lets out an enthusiastic, Binky-like, “Hey! Kids!” which Odie demonstrates his approval for by licking the man’s cheek, which Dad does not enjoy.

There’s a nice, wholesome, image.

Dad finishes the story and Doc Boy gets in another little rib at his expense before Mom resumes treating the boys like children and declares it’s time for bed. The two enthusiastically run off like children while Odie takes a walk over to the closet. He finds a plunger inside, but removes the rubber end leaving just a handle, and tries to leave the closet with it, but gets stuck on the doorframe for a moment. He eventually figures it out and leaves and we fade to a shot of Garfield and Odie sleeping by a warm fire. Odie’s eyes snap open and he checks on Garfield to see if he’s awake. Seeing that he isn’t, he smiles rather slyly and scampers off.

Odie’s masterpiece!

Garfield wakes up shortly after and is surprised to see Odie missing. He heads over to the window to look for him and another song comes on, this one sung by Rawls and Goyette and titled “You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One.” The bouncy little number hums along as we see Odie assembling all of the stuff he’s been collecting throughout his time at the farm. Using a base, pole, and the gardening tool he makes some kind of a post which he covers with a paper bag and proudly carries back into the house. As he scampers out of the barn, Garfield emerges with a smile on his face seemingly amused by the pup. He then stumbles and falls off a box he was standing on and a smaller box empties its contents into his lap. It’s a wad of letters and a look of surprise comes over Garfield as he informs us they must be 50 years old.

These two deserve to be punched.

We cut back to the inside of the home and Jon and Doc Boy are checking-in on their parents who are fast asleep. They start off with whispers directed at their dad asking if he’s awake, but soon evolve into something closer to a yell and Jon flips on the lights. Dad angrily wakes up and asks them what they’re doing, but their metamorphosis into children has fully taken hold and they want to open their presents. It’s 1:30 in the morning and their dad tells them to go back to bed. Jon tries to reason with him that it’s technically Christmas morning, but he’s having none of it and the two grumpily return to bed.

What the hell is Doc Boy wearing?

We cut to an exterior shot of the house at night and the sun soon rises behind it. Inside, Mom and Dad are by the tree setting out some last minute presents while Jon and Doc Boy come into frame. We only got a sense of what they were wearing last night, but we now we see that Jon is decked out in orange-striped pajamas with bunny slippers while Doc Boy is taking things even further with full bunny rabbit pajamas. Seriously, don’t leave your kids alone with Doc Boy. Dad then playfully asks if they want to do chores, eat breakfast, or open presents first and the boys predictably choose presents.

That cat is so proud of himself.

We get a time lapse and see the family seated and enjoying their new stuff. Dad got a giant hat, Jon a sweater, Grandma a bowling ball, and Doc Boy…a toy airplane. Mom apparently gets nothing. Mom declares that it was a very nice Christmas, but gets interrupted by Garfield tugging on her skirt to tells us it’s not over yet. He then drags over the bundle of letters he found last night and gives them to a surprised Grandma. She softens immediately as Jon asks what they are and she tells him they’re love letters from his grandfather. She begins to read one aloud, but when things start to get a little steamy she just laughs. Mom asks what he said next, but she declines to share the spicy details.

Odie might have to patent this thing!

We’re still not done though! Odie then gets Garfield’s attention and drags over his contraption. When he removes the paper bag Garfield is a little puzzled, but Odie is there to demonstrate that he’s invented a cat scratcher. He rubs himself all over the thing and seems to really be enjoying it. Garfield thinks it’s great and happily gives it a try. Declaring it the best gift a cat could ever receive, he tells Odie that sometimes he surprises him and gives him a hug. The family looking on let out a loud “Aww” which prompts Garfield to address everyone. I don’t think any of them can hear him, but we can, as he tells us “Christmas: It’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving. There, I said it. Now get out of here.” See, he learned what Christmas is all about in the end!

All right, I’m going to say it too, “Aww!”

We then break into “Good Old-Fashioned Christmas” which is like a rag-time kind of song. Everyone dances and sings and it’s the song that takes us into the credits. A Garfield Christmas is a bit of a good old-fashioned Christmas, the kind that would make Clark Griswold jealous. We get to see Garfield go from viewing all of the traditions of Christmas as a chore, to happily partaking in them and even getting in some gift-giving. His window-side chat with Grandma is touching and definitely makes me miss my own nana who always seemed to miss my grandfather the most at Christmas after his passing. I still remember the first Christmas without him and as the dust settled on the frenzy that was the opening of presents by the younger crowd, her taking a seat in his old chair and having a little cry. It’s the nice, but also the sad part of the holidays which always seem to conjure up memories of holidays past and all of the people we lost along the way to get to the current one.

All right, let’s dance!

Not to say there isn’t a bunch of humorous moments in this one. Garfield is a character basically made for Christmas. He can be dismissive of the chores, but welcoming to the food and merriment. Jon’s family is fairly ordinary, though the lack of kids from either Jon or Doc Boy gives the gathering a different feel. Of course, we see a lot of Jon and Doc Boy and it’s readily apparent why neither has children. I’m not even sure Doc Boy has moved out of that house. It’s largely a special of small moments that build to Christmas morning. The moments are almost so small and meandering that there is a bit of an anticlimactic feel to it, but it comes across as nice and more believable a Christmas than some of the specials I’ve seen that don’t feature a talking cat.

That Arbuckle clan knows how to party!

If you’ve seen any Garfield specials before then you know what to expect from the presentation. The performances by the actors are all well done, especially Pat Carroll as Grandma and, of course, Lorenzo Music as Garfield. The music is also pretty damn terrific. The song “Keep Christmas in Your Heart” does border on being a bit too sappy, especially the way they use it to cap the somber moment between Grandma and Garfield, but it’s okay and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The classic, public domain Christmas songs are used sparingly, but with great effect. They’re just subtle ways to keep the Christmas theme going in scenes when it wouldn’t be obvious you’re staring at a Christmas special. And the animation is quite lovely from Film Roman. It doesn’t attempt anything incredible, but the characters emote well, they’re bouncy when they need to be, and I love the little touches in the backgrounds.

Everybody call their grandma, if you’re fortunate enough to still have one.

If you haven’t seen A Garfield Christmas by now then I don’t know what you’re waiting for. The special turns 35 in a few weeks and is sadly no longer shown on television. It is available for free on YouTube and has been printed numerous times on DVD usually with other Garfield holiday specials that are also well worth your time. It’s definitely not a hard one to view and I definitely think it should be in your holiday rotation this year and for another 35 years at least. All right, now I really want some lasagna.

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

Dec. 5 – Pluto’s Christmas Tree

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…

Keep reading

Dec. 5 – The Captain’s Christmas

Did you ever wonder where those speech balloons in comic books came from? Maybe you just assumed they were always there, but they actually originate from a comic strip titled The Katzenjammer Kids. The strip was created by cartoonist Rudolph Dirks and it debuted in newspapers in December of 1897. It was incredibly popular for…

Keep reading

Dec. 5 – The Weekenders – “Worst Holiday Ever”

When I was a kid, and going as far as back as the 1970s, Saturday morning meant one thing:  cartoons! Usually beginning at 7 AM, all of the broadcast networks came at me with full cartoon force. Now, rarely was I awake that early and programmers seemed to know that. The earliest hours were often…

Keep reading

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

Original air date December 20, 1999.

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

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

Not just a popular series of video games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Klump salutes his king.

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

Pictured: not candles.

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

Elton Klump.

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

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

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

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

Yikes! Candy Kong isn’t looking too hot.

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

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

Apparently DK seeks advice from a creepy statue often.

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

An alliance is forged!

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

Why would a crocodile have nipples?

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea what makes this thing so special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a sing-along time.

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

These guys are a lot faster than they look.

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

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

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

Time for Donkey Kong to explain the lesson he learned.

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

Aww, don’t they look cute together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 2 – Toy Story That Time Forgot

When the credits started to roll in 2010 signaling the end of Toy Story 3 I think most who were watching it assumed this was “good bye.” The toys which had captured the hearts of movie-goers going on two decades were saying good bye to their former owner and playmate, Andy, and so too were…

Keep reading

Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a…

Keep reading

Dec. 1 – 35 Years of The Christmas Tape

Oh have I got something special to kick things off this year!

Welcome back to another year of The Christmas Spot! This year we’re kicking things off with a post I’ve been sitting on for a few years now. When I utter the title “The Christmas Tape,” I’m curious what comes to the minds of readers. It sounds both generic and specific and I suspect a few people will read the title of this entry and try to recall a special with that title. Well, there is no special that I’m aware of, but if you’re old enough to have grown up with a VHS in your household then you may have a frame of reference for such a thing.

It was back in 1987 that my mother made the decision to record as many Christmas specials that aired on television that year as possible so that my sister and I would have them to watch whenever we wanted. Or rather, we could watch them as much as we wanted starting on the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s. That recording would come to be known in my house as The Christmas Tape. It was watched so much over the years that the audio has started to fail, the tracking at the start of the tape is well-worn, and the tape itself is being held together by a different kind of tape – Scotch tape. 1987 might have been the first Christmas my family actually had a VCR which explains why it was that year this tape was created. And since my mother was probably new to using a VCR, she made it easy on herself and left the commercials in. And that’s the gold mine today. YouTube has somewhat lessened the charm, but watching a bunch of advertisements from 35 years ago is far more interesting than the actual programs. Unfortunately, my mom did get a bit savvy and towards the end of the tape she started stopping the tape for commercials, though the final special has them.

To get the festivities started around here this year, I decided to walk my readers through this relic of Christmas past. I’ve done a proper entry on almost everything on this tape, and the few I have only addressed in short order should probably be rectified this year. For the reason that a lot of this is old news, I’m going to focus mostly on the commercials and esoteric qualities of this tape. All of the images in this entry are taken directly from my aging tape. Well, to be more specific, they’re captured from a DVD of the tape I made nearly 15 years ago. Yes, this tape is so old that the DVD copy I made to preserve it is almost old enough to drive. The actual tape is still alive too and enjoying its retirement as it’s rarely called upon to offer up the holiday goodness. All right, it’s time to get nostalgic!

It has begun!

This tape begins with the very end of a Christmas themed 7 Up commercial. It’s a commercial that will return numerous times so we don’t need to talk about it now. The audio early on is very low and when I watch this tape today I need to crank it up. It gets progressively better as the tape rolls along, but it’s obvious that my sister and I would most often watch the start of the tape as opposed to the end. That’s because it’s long – around 6 hours, so we rarely made it all the way through in a sitting. Most of our viewings as children started from the beginning and we’d watch pretty intensely for a little while, then gradually drift away to toys and such while the tape kept rolling in the background. The closer to Christmas we got, the less engaged we would be with the tape since it was a case of diminishing returns. Since we were raised with a VCR though, we were well-trained to rewind the tape whenever we were done with it so even if we turned it off before it reached the end (or more likely, my mom did) it would get rewound to the beginning.

Come on, kids! Let’s go eat some garbage!

The first commercial captured in its entirety is one for McDonald’s. It’s not holiday themed and it’s actually for “The Fry Step.” Remember the Fry Kids? If you don’t, they were like pom-poms with legs and googly eyes. They dance with some kids and Ronald McDonald with a song to accompany it. It ends with the slogan at the time for McDonald’s – “It’s a good time for the great taste of McDonald’s!” It was one of their catchier jingles. We then get our first special: Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Only it’s not quite as it seems. This special aired on NBC in 1987 and was broadcast over the course of an hour. If you’re familiar with the special, then you know it’s not suited to fill an entire hour so Disney packaged it with three holiday themed shorts. Or rather, two winter shorts and one Christmas short. They also tied everything together with still images, created in the style of the sepia-toned images in the opening and closing title of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and some narration from Mickey. The framing device is Mickey wants his pals to share their favorite Christmas memories, and their voice pops in to introduce a short. The characters will actually recall several memories set to clips before settling on the one memory they want to share most.

This version of Mickey’s Christmas Carol is really the best it can be due to the inclusion of the added shorts and these cute, little, bumpers.

Up first, is Donald Duck. Mickey suspects Donald might not even like Christmas, but the duck informs him how wrong he is. As his voice pops in, we’re treated to an image of Donald looking pretty pissed that he just opened a box of Mickey Mouse ears for Christmas. We then see clips from Toy Tinkers as Donald recalls his fondness for decorating and playing Santa as well as a clip from the short The Clock Watcher of Donald getting pelted by toys. After that, Donald settles on the notion of enjoying spending time with his nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, around the holidays. This brings in the short Donald’s Snow Fight. It cuts off the very beginning and picks up with Donald walking up a hill with his sleigh. It also cuts off the end when the nephews do an insensitive Native American demonstration. It’s not a Christmas toon, but it is a lot of fun as it’s just an escalating snowball fight. There’s some imitable violence and the previously mentioned Native American bit likely keeps it off of Disney+, but it’s worth seeking out if you’ve never seen it or just wish to see it again!

When the short is over, we go back to a still image of Mickey and Pluto cutting down a tree to introduce the next short. It’s rather surprising NBC didn’t shove a commercial in here, but I suppose it’s good for us. Or was in 1987. The short we jump into is Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which we’ve covered here a lot. Like Donald’s Snow Fight, the very beginning is cut as Mickey’s introduction is all the setup we need. There are no cuts after that, which isn’t a surprise as there’s nothing particularly violent or problematic in this one so you can watch it on Disney+ and on many physical media releases.

That guy should look familiar if you’ve been coming here for awhile.

Following Pluto’s Christmas Tree we get our first commercial break of the tape. It’s for 7 Up, which dates this tape because when was the last time you saw a 7 Up commercial? It shows an elf, and these guys had multiple commercials that we’ll see. He’s dragging a pallet of cans and uses some Christmas magic to fill a fridge with 7 Up and Cherry 7 Up. It’s narrated, and the narrator alerts parents that if you buy 7 Up right now you’ll get a paper advent calendar for your kids. It’s Santa’s face and the numbers 1 – 25 are on Santa’s beard and kids are supposed to glue cotton balls over each number to countdown to Christmas. It’s also the header image on this blog during the holidays as well as the lone image on The Christmas Spot page, and you’re damn right I bought one of these on eBay years later. I also had one as a kid and really did the countdown one year as 7 Up had these for multiple holidays. We then go into a Puffalumps commercial which has a sleepy lullabye. Puffalumps were these very light, polyester, plushies. My sister had one, Bunny Grabbit, and they had at least two series before being discontinued. Following that we get the classic Halls of Medicine commercial that aired for many years, then a Wendy’s commercial advertising Furskins, country bumpkin teddy bears. A network bumper follows reminding kids to come back on Saturday morning for Smurfs and the animated Alf, and then we’re back to Mickey. It’s a bit of a bummer we only got one holiday themed commercial in that first break.

I love this picture.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol returns with a depiction of the Norm Rockwell “Freedom from Want” painting, only with Mickey and the gang in its place. I’ve always wanted to get that as a poster, but never found it. Up next though is Goofy, and we get some quick clips of his antics from On Ice and Polar Trappers before deciding that he wants to share with us the Christmas where he learned to ski which brings in The Art of Skiing. Once again, it’s a winter themed short and has nothing to do with Christmas, but it is entertaining and you’re damn right that I have the ornament of Goofy doing some downhill skiing on my tree! When this short ends we go to commercial, and we get just our second Christmas commercial.

Guys, you can’t just go gifting stars to clowns.

And it’s a good one as we go into “Star Wish” from McDonald’s. I talked about this commercial awhile ago in a post about Christmas commercials, but it’s really interesting because it’s like a greeting card turned into a commercial. There are no McDonald’s products pitched, it’s just a story of Birdee and Grimace giving Ronald McDonald a Christmas present. And that present is a falling star that they apparently catch. It’s depicted with 2D animation, while the other characters are live-action. The star doesn’t like being a possession though, so they “Wish him home where he’ll twinkle and glow!” And the star returns to the sky, and Ronald comments that he already has the best gift of all, “Friends like you.” Happy holidays, from McDonald’s. A supremely nostalgic commercial for folks my age and up since all of these McDonald Land characters have basically been put out to pasture because it’s apparently not great to advertise junk food to kids. And it just occurred to me that many readers might not even know who these characters are at all. Ronald McDonald is the old McDonald’s mascot usually played by a guy in makeup (played by actor Squire Fridell during this era of the character). Birdee and Grimace are played by live actors as well, but in huge suits similar to characters in Disney World with big, plastic, heads. They have nothing to do with the food at McDonald’s and these characters just existed to entertain children and sell them junk food.

This one is for my fellow New Englanders. Recognize any of these people?

After that we get a bumper reminding us what we’re watching, then a network spot for Our House and My Two Dads. I remember My Two Dads, but not Our House. Then we jump back to commercials and it’s for Burger King and it’s holiday themed! Burger King was running a promo at the time for Hallmark’s Rodney Reindeer line of original characters. They’re a stylized reindeer that still shows up from time to time at Hallmark stores around the holidays. At the time you could buy a book of gift certificates for 5 bucks for the privilege of being able to pay $1.99 for a reindeer. Seven bucks in 1987 is not insignificant so I’m curious how well the promo went. It’s cute though as the plushes are shown getting tossed around the kitchen, making food, and waving to each other at the end. And yes, I have a complete set of four to this day. As for Burger King’s slogan in 1987, “The Best Food for Fast Times,” was just a so-so one. The delivery of it at the end of the commercial is trying to be way too earnest when it should be up-beat and fun. It’s like they want you to come to Burger King to make lasting memories when it should be about eating garbage and buying reindeer. Following that is a local affiliate ad for an upcoming charity. New England natives might get a kick out of seeing some of these old anchors who have long since retired. It’s also interesting because this is WBZ-TV Channel 4, which in 1987 was an NBC affiliate but is now a CBS one. It was a confusing day in New England households when CBS and NBC switched places on the dial.

Following that we return to Mickey’s Christmas Carol for the main event. In keeping with the framing device, it’s now Mickey’s turn to share his favorite Christmas. He first reminisces about the Christmas where he and Pluto had nothing except each other accompanied by a black and white clip from Mickey’s Good Deed followed by the Christmas he taught Minnie how to skate and we get another clip from On Ice. He then settles on the Christmas they all got together to tell the story of A Christmas Carol and it’s introduced with our third clip from On Ice which just shows various characters skating around before the short comes in complete with its original, theatrical, intro.

Use the Force, elf. Quench thy thirst with the feeling of Christmas!

We’ve covered Mickey’s Christmas Carol rather extensively on this blog, so I don’t think I need to say anymore on it. It’s great. Go watch it. Our first commercial break occurs when Scrooge retires for the evening muttering about spirits to himself. It’s another 7 Up commercial, and it’s the one the tape started with. The elves are working hard, until one uses some Christmas magic to “Force Pull” a can from the fridge. When he opens it the sky begins to snow. It’s dark and the elves all go into party mode and frolic in the snow. Santa pops his head out of the work shop to chuckle at his minions and we’re reminded, once again, that 7 Up has the feeling of Christmas! They really should come back and try to brand 7 Up as the perfect holiday un-cola.

These kids really don’t know what to leave for Santa…

We then go to a Crayola activity set commercial – gotta get those toy commercials in! I can recite this thing word for word by memory as some kid brags about his car picture and a little girl shows us where the cow lives. Jessica has also gained newfound respect for her name. We then get another Christmas commercial and this time it’s for Cinnamon Toast Crunch with all three of the chefs. Budget cuts in the 90s caused them to reduce the chef count to one. Two kids wonder what they can leave for Santa, and the magic chefs pop in to suggest Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s hard to tell because a standard definition broadcast preserved on a 35 year old VHS has poor fidelity, but the girl in this commercial looks a lot like Ariana Richards from Jurassic Park. The commercial ends with the kids saying “Happy Holidays,” and I thus remind the War on Christmas people that Happy Holidays has been an acceptable holiday greeting for many decades. Anyway, after they say that the chefs add the little Cinnamon Toast Crunch jingle and we jump into an animated segment for Santa Bear Express! That’s because the cereal company was running a promotion where you can enter a contest to win a stuffed Santa Bear, Miss Bear, and their plane (which was cardboard). Some kids are shown with the loot at the end and emphatically yell “We won!” to make it seem realistic for any of the kids watching at home that they too could win. Unless you lived in Vermont, for some reason they were excluded per the text of the commercial. I bought a set of these bears for my sister as a Christmas gift many years ago because of this commercial. The animated portion of the commercial is also from a Christmas special that aired in 1987 which we may or may not have a look at this year.

We then get to hear from pediatrician, author, and peace activist Dr. Benjamin Spark as he stumps for TV. It’s a very bland commercial and was produced by NBC just to say “Look! Smart people think TV is great!” NBC. Tuned into America. In case you’re wondering, Dr. Spock has been dead for over 20 years.

Look at all that Sunny D getting wasted on that bear. I hope mom has a funnel.

We now return to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and our next break is after the short concludes. Despite that though, we are assured by the bumper that Mickey’s Christmas Carol will return after these messages. We’re onto commercials, and up first is one for Sunny Delight (I could only find a truncated version of the commercial, unfortunately). Surprisingly, there is no mention of purple stuff in this one as it begins with an animated segment about the Masked Avenger, a kid with a cape, mask, and ray gun, stalking the evil Professor Spot – a panda. They wrestle, until the kid cries out “Mom! Can I have some Sunny Delight?” and the animation is replaced with live actors. The kid is just some kid with a stuffed panda, and he requests some Sunny Delight for his bear as well. His mom enthusiastically says yes, and after we hear about how good Sunny Delight is from the announcer, we return to the mom toasting the efforts of the Masked Avenger and his faithful friend, gesturing to the bear. The woman is clearly not in touch with her son’s make-pretend time or else she would know the bear is the Masked Avenger’s foe, not friend. There’s also a giant glass of Sunny Delight by this bear – a total waste that bothers me to this day!

“Need a ride?” So many lines from these commercials are burned into my brain.

Another McDonald’s commercial follows, this one specifically advertising the Happy Meal. It’s set in a movie theater where the Happy Meal is the feature presentation that Ronald is eager to be seated for. On the screen, the Happy Meal components are shown as talking puppets. It’s a hamburger, soft drink, and fries – all regular size, the enthusiastic puppets proclaim! We then get to see what every kids cares about: the toy. At this time of year it was Disney, but not Christmas themed. They were activity books for the films Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, The Sword in the Stone, and Dumbo – an interesting mix. Definitely not a great toy, but I did have a couple of those books. I thought 1987 was the year McDonald’s sold Christmas themed Muppet Babies stuffed animals of Kermit, Fozzy, and Miss Piggy, but the Muppet wiki says that was 1988. Interesting that McDonald’s had no counter to Burger King’s reindeer. We then get a repeat Halls commercial before going into network promos for Alf and the TV movie Eye on the Sparrow about a blind couple seeking to adopt a kid. The actress in it shouts “What kind of people are you?!” through tears and it’s stuck with me, though I’ve never watched this thing. The Alf promo is surprisingly foretelling as he becomes president and remarks how he’s perfect for the job due to his disdain for pants. Slick Willy took that one to heart!

“Let’s party!”

We then return to our feature just to see the ending credits and get in one last Merry Christmas from Disney. Over the ending credits, kids are specifically called out to come back for Saturday morning to watch Smurfs and those loveable, huggable, Gummy Bears (I don’t think whoever wrote that one has ever watched The Adventures of the Gummy Bears). When it’s done we get an actual bumper for Alvin and the Chipmunks and the animated version of Fraggle Rock. We then get a quick clip of a Golden Girls commercial that gets cut off and replaced with forgotten cop show The Oldest Rookie. We’ve jumped networks, and this bumper is telling regular viewers of the show to check back next week because we’re getting a CBS special presentation! You know the one, the word “Special” comes spinning in a rainbow font before turning purple. What follows is Frosty the Snowman, which should be well known to anyone reading this and not just because we covered it extensively last year. There is nothing remarkable about this broadcast of the venerable special, so lets jump to our first commercial break following the opening credits. It’s “Star Wish” again as this viewing is brought to you by McDonald’s! It’s the lone commercial of the break.

Right now this man is wondering if it’s ethical to eat a fruit that can dance.

Our next break occurs when the train pulls away and it’s 7 Up once again, the one where the elves frolic in the snow to Santa’s approval. We then get a commercial from the California Raisin Advisory Board and people my age know what this is – The California Raisins! It’s in Claymation, and sadly, A Claymation Christmas is not on this tape. That and A Garfield Christmas are the two specials I miss most, but maybe we weren’t home the night they were on or they conflicted with another special that is included or my parents just wanted to watch something else the night they were on. Anyway, some bald dude (who appeared in an earlier California Raisins commercial) goes searching for a midnight snack and settles on a box of raisins which come alive to “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” As he dances and grooves with the raisins, we hear his wife call from another room to admonish him for playing with his food. He makes a sad face, and the commercial ends presumably because things got pretty gruesome as he ate his newfound buddies. A network promo follows for our next special following Frosty, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, and then Scott Hamilton pops up to tell us alcohol is bad. This was part of the Be Smart, Don’t Start campaign. It’s not really aimed specifically at kids, it’s just a series of public service announcements telling people to never drink – a bit extreme and unrealistic. I don’t think it was a success.

Man, there sure was a lot of sentient food in the 80s. And we were expected to eat it?!

Frosty returns and does his thing up until he dies and gets remade by Santa, but before the hat is returned to him we jump to commercial. The commercial is 7 Up once again, the Santa’s beard-building one, then more from McDonald’s. It’s a hoedown starring the McNuggets, or rather, the Sons of McNuggets ragtime band, and was part of the “We Love Chicken McNuggets” advertising campaign. Ronald is watching as their overlord while the McNuggets are quite enthusiastic about jumping into barbecue sauce for consumption. At least they seem happy in their work. The McNuggets, and even the packets of sauce, are all puppets and there’s a charm to it all. I wish we still got commercials like this from McDonald’s, but I don’t know if they’re even allowed to push chicken nuggets on kids anymore. The commercial ends with a silly pun and Ronald making the golden arches magically appear with his hands. I forgot he used to do that!

You will never again see a commercial where Teddy Ruxpin hangs out with Mickey Mouse.

Back to Frosty. There’s only about two minutes left, just Frosty coming back to life, Karen getting ditched on a roof, and the reprisal of the song. After it’s over, we get a quick advertisement for Friday’s double-feature of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Frosty aired on Wednesday) and then jump into a commercial for the long dead Child World. Child World was a toy store like Toys R Us that didn’t survive far into the 90s. The commercial is a Whack-A-Mole parody with some guy in a bad suit popping up holding a “Sale” sign in place of a mole, that’s because Child World is committed to delivering the lowest prices around without the need for a sale! This setup was apparently a template they could drop product ads into, so I couldn’t find this specific commercial on YouTube, but here’s one with the framing device and here’s a separate commercial for the product to follow. It then advertises Boppers from Worlds of Wonder, the maker of Teddy Ruxpin, which is why the Boppers are a bunch of Disney characters plus Teddy. They’re just animatronic stuffed animals that dance, or bop, to music and sound. Stuff like this is still sold, just without the reacting to sound gimmick in favor of a button that makes the doll dance. I never had one of these and I don’t recall every seeing one in the wild leading me to conclude they weren’t very popular. They were also $17.99, pretty pricey for a lame gimmick. Worlds of Wonder, like Child World, is also long gone.

I had to sneak this guy in at some point.

The next commercial is the same Burger King commercial from before pushing those reindeer. There’s a quick bumper for local news, then the Special intro returns and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas begins. Like Frosty before it, the first break takes place after the opening credits and it’s the 7 Up elf frolic commercial again. I’m not tired of it. Then we get a new commercial for Nestle Toll House morsels, or chocolate chips, and the resulting cookies look delicious. It’s just a sequence of little kids enjoying chocolate chip cookies with a little jingle in the background. Following that is an unremarkable commercial for Taster’s Choice, absolutely awful instant coffee from the era. I can’t hear Taster’s Choice and not think of the Dana Carvey line where he critiques the film Water World (as George H.W. Bush, if I’m not mistaken) by saying “You can’t pee into a Mr. Coffee and get Taster’s Choice!”

This little girl loves her So Big Crayola Crayons. I hope she still has them.

We now return to our feature presentation and a mild controversy in my house. Someone pushed “Stop” on the VCR during the recording of this special when the clock tower goes kerplooey. I think my mom blames it on my sister, but she might have been trying to cut down on commercials or something. It probably was my sister. It’s not a great loss as this special is merely so-so, and we just lose a little snippet before the break. When the VCR was reset to record, it picks up during a commercial for Sunkist Dinosaurs fruit snacks. Yes, the maker of orange soda also had a line of fruit snacks in the 80s. These commercials had a puppet tree mascot, if he had a name I don’t remember it. He just gets to laugh in this one as a giant dinosaur comes into view. The snacks look delicious. Following that is another Halls of Medicine commercial, the same one we’ve seen a couple of times now, followed by a Crayola commercial. This one is set to “The 12 Days of Christmas” as kids recount the type of crayons they want for Christmas like the So Big variety and a box of 64. This is another commercial I can recite from memory. We’re then reminded to stick around for The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Show following the Christmas specials. Ray Charles, BB King, and Hank Williams were being honored, among others. We then get a promo for Newhart, a non-holiday themed one, which promotes the entire Monday Night lineup for 1987.

Wait! You can bribe Santa?!

When we return to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, everyone is mopey because the clock fix failed so the VCR mishap didn’t cause us to miss much of anything. The next break is after Santa leaves and it’s the 7 Up commercial again pushing the Santa’s beard advent calendar. Following that we get a new commercial – Holidays! Back in the 80s, M&M/Mars would release Holidays, which were just red and green M&Ms with little Christmas trees and other holiday themed images printed on them. The commercial features a girl with an excessive one pound bag of them sitting on a department store Santa’s lap. She’s basically bribing the guy so she can get what she wants for Christmas and she unfurls her massive list at the end of the commercial. There’s nothing like Holidays for your holidays, the commercial tells us before Santa welcomes another handful. It’s cute.

Sorry folks, but Beauty and the Beast will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you a special presentation.

We return to the program just for the credits, as this was apparently pretty standard at the time and end on the old Rankin Bass animation tag. We get a quick advertisement for A Charlie Brown Christmas before we jump to Friday as we’re told Beauty and the Beast (starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman as the beast, a show my family would watch each week) will not be seen tonight so that CBS can bring us a very special presentation. It’s old Chuck, and this broadcast is a bit interesting because we have some edits. Specifically, the sequence where the kids try to knock cans off of a fence with snowballs. That’s the scene that was famously edited following the special’s original broadcast because it contained a Coca-Cola advertisement animated into it, which was covered up with a regular can. That comes later though, as our first break occurs after the title card where Charlie Brown gets tossed into a tree by Snoopy. This broadcast is brought to us by Mounds, Almond Joy, and York Peppermint Patty as well as Nabisco so we’re in line for some new commercials. This segment and the next several paragraphs can all be found here thanks to YouTube user Walker Brown!

That’s right, Alex, he ate the cookies.

And our first commercial is a classic, the Oreo Cookie commercial where the Oreo jingle is repurposed into a song about waiting up for Santa. Little Alex descends the stairs to wait for Santa, but he falls asleep before the big guy arrives. And when he does he’s delighted to find a plate of Oreos waiting for him. He gobbles that stuff up, “Like he did when he was little,” and disappears up the chimney as the kid wakes up to find an empty plate and a thank you note from Santa.

They had to stop running ads for York Peppermint Patties because too many people ruined their coffee table.

We return to A Charlie Brown Christmas to find old Chuck staring out the window wishing for Christmas cards. Our next break won’t occur until after Charlie Brown selects his mediocre tree. It goes into a commercial for York Peppermint Patties, a classic one where some guy named Arthur fantasizes about competing in the ski jump event whenever he bites into a peppermint patty. This commercial would air for years and because of this tape I associate it with Christmas, even though it’s not a Christmas commercial. We then get a commercial for A.1. Poultry Sauce. Yes, A.1. tried to expand to poultry at one point in time and I don’t think it went well since this stuff no longer exists.

Stupid duck ate a giant potato chip.

When we return to the special, Snoopy does his thing on the piano and the next break isn’t until Charlie Brown takes his tree and goes home, which is actually a shorter break than we’ve grown accustomed to. The next commercial comes courtesy of Nabisco for their Goldfish-adjacent snack Quackers. It’s a pretty terrific commercial as a British sounding announcer asks the viewer if they’d like all of the sour cream and onion flavor of a sour cream and onion chip – in a little duck! You get a little duck cartoon as he eats a chip and expands and he does the same thing with a cheese doodle puff snack too. Another snack that is no longer with us. One that still is comes next: Wheat Thins. It’s a catchy commercial jingle, but it’s not a Christmas one. Honest to good little snackers, Wheat Thins are something like a cracker, but more like a snack!

Merry Christmas, pal.

A Christmas commercial does come next, and it’s another Nabisco one – three in a row! You get that kind of treatment when you sponsor a broadcast. This one is for Milk-Bone and it’s like the Oreo commercial, only with a dog instead of a kid. He comes down the stairs to scope out the presents under the tree. As he shakes the present for him, you can see the puppet arms end where a handle likely exists for the human operator, only there’s a real dog behind it to sell the illusion, and it’s pretty funny. The dog’s name is Duke, and he must be long dead by now. Sorry to bring you down. At least he got some Milk-Bones for Christmas.

Ladies, how do you feel about this being marketed as “casual wear” in 1987?

We return to Charlie Brown as he comes upon Snoopy’s award-winning dog house, so there’s a bit more than just the credits left. When it does end, we go to a black screen and white text is displayed saying “A few words about Almond Joy.” We don’t know what those words are as the commercial is cut-off in favor of one for department store Bradlees. I don’t think this is an error with my tape, but the network. I’m also not sure if Bradlees was regional to New England so it could have been a local affiliate commercial. It is holiday themed though as some little, old, man dressed like an elf is spreading fairy dust as we’re shown products the store was pushing for Christmas. I can’t find this exact one on YouTube, but a similar commercial exists with the same elf. The most hilarious aspect is active wear that converts into casual wear. Some women in spandex basically just put on stretch pants to pair with their leotards and add a fashion scarf and purse to create a look no one would leave the house in. Some 10 dollar handbags follow as the store’s slogan is apparently “Smile, smile, smile.” I vaguely remember this store, mostly because my cousin heard that the Bradlees in Woburn, Massachusetts had Super Shredder action figures and we begged our mothers to take us, but they refused. We both got Super Shredder for Christmas so don’t feel bad for us.

“It’s a good time, for the great taste, of McDonald’s!”

Following the Bradlees commercial is one for Yankee 24 automatic-teller machines. Apparently ATMs were new enough at the time that you could see a commercial for them. Yankee 24 was the largest ATM brand in New England at the time and would eventually merge with NYCE forming Infinet in 1993 so, they too, are long gone. We’re then onto the best special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! It is another McDonald’s sponsored presentation, so expect some repeat commercials. Our first break occurs when Grinch is looking down from the mountain at Max as they begin their descent to Who-ville. And our first commercial is a repeat one: The California Raisins. I’m fine with that one again! Following that is 7 Up, again, and I’m still not over how frequent 7 Up commercials were on air.

There’s a face you could pee on.

We pivot from products to network bumpers. If you’re following along with that Walker Brown video, we’re now at the 5:30 mark. Kate & Allie are robbed at Christmas time, and either Kate or Allie (I never watched this show) proudly displays a Christmas themed toilet seat by placing her head inside it – nice! Then there’s an ad for Frank’s Place, another show I never watched, as they try to prepare for a Christmas party in a warm weather climate. A black actor is shown declaring that he’s Santa Claus, and I think it’s being played for comedic effect because a black guy wants to play Santa – how ridiculous! Then we get a promo for a show I did watch – Pee-Wee’s Playhouse! Surprisingly, it’s a generic commercial and not for the Christmas special as that wouldn’t be a thing until 1988. After that is another Be Smart Don’t Start PSA, this time starring Michael Dorn in an ugly sweater.

I miss bumpers, they just made this stuff feel extra special.

We now return to the Grinch as he infiltrates Who-ville. This special, like the previous one, is edited for time and the edit occurs when “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is reprised for the first time. It’s a curious place for an edit, but other broadcasts would sometimes cut out part of the sleigh ride which is a fantastic segment so I’m torn. Obviously, the best place to cut the special is not at all! At any rate, this recording was how I saw this special every year so I was really confused when Kevin is shown watching it in Home Alone and it’s a part that I never saw thanks to CBS.

I’m so sad this commercial got cut off. I’m way more sad about that than missing a part of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Our next break doesn’t take place until the special concludes, and it’s a sad event. Following “The End” and a bumper about announcing some upcoming “messages,” we go into a classic commercial for Fruity Pebbles. It’s the one that begins with carolers singing “Season’s greetings in our souls,” ushering in Fred to sing, “Yummy Fruity Pebbles in our bowls!” What’s to follow next is Barney descending the chimney as Santa, but my mom stopped the recording. That commercial won’t come back and I mourn for it’s loss every time I see that snippet. It’s also not on the YouTube video we’ve been watching, but don’t close out of that yet as it will be useful coming up. This is also the end of commercials on my tape for awhile. The next special is from a Viacom affiliated channel, I’m not sure which as this must predate their merger with CBS, but the special is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. My mom got clever, too clever, as she started pressing stop for commercials. She must have realized all of these specials had bumpers that welcomed you back from commercial breaks which made it really easy to pause a recording without missing any of the actual show. She may have been worried about filling the tape prematurely, but this and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which follows, are both commercial free. Bless her heart, but it was the wrong move. That same Walker Brown YouTube video though includes commercials that aired during Rudolph so I can actually watch what was lost. Isn’t modern technology great?

Here come the Muppets to save the day! Even the end of this tape looks pretty shitty, no?

It’s not a total loss though, as we have one, final, special on the tape and it’s an eventful one. A Muppet Family Christmas was broadcast in 1987 for the first and only time on a major network. And it was the only time it was shown complete. And my mother decided not to attempt to cut out commercials, it also didn’t have bumpers like the other specials, so we get one last hurrah. Plus it’s an hour-long special and on a different network (ABC) so there should be some new commercials. I might be missing the very beginning of the special as it begins abruptly with the Muppet gang singing in Fozzy’s pickup. The first break is pretty deep into the special and happens after the “Jingle Bell Rock” performance.

Damn! Missed the entry deadline!

The first commercial is for OshKosh. It’s just a bunch of kids running around in their overalls in a very non-Christmas setting as it’s bright, green, and looks pretty warm. There’s a tortoise for some reason, and it’s forgettable. Next is a trailer for a new movie, Filmation presents Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. I’ve never seen it, but it looks terrible. The trailer even contains the line from Pinocchio, “I’m a real, live, boy again!” so he apparently gets turned into a puppet and back to a real boy during the movie. Very creative! Following that is another well-remembered commercial of the era for Doublemint gum. The classic twins spot and we get a pair of women dressed like Doug Funnie in matching green sweater vests as two men try to charm them. Good thing they have their gum! Double pleasure is waiting for you. After the two girls share their gum we get the Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial from earlier in this tape. A promo for the ABC Sunday Night movie follows, Not Quite Human starring Jay Underwood and Alan Thicke. I’ve never seen it, but it doesn’t look very good. It would get a sequel in 1992 so someone must have seen value in it.

I’ve had lots of Sony products, but I don’t think I ever had a My First Sony.

We return to A Muppet Family Christmas for Fozzy and the Snowman’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride.” The next break takes place after Miss Piggy makes her grand entrance. We then get another gum commercial, this one for Extra sugar free gum, another product of Wrigley. It’s far less memorable than Doublemint and features lots of kayaking for some reason. Then we get another trailer, this one for the infamous bomb Leonard Part 6 starring a guy who should be forgotten. I’m not linking that one. We then get a toy commercial. It’s not Christmas themed, but it is good as it’s for My First Sony which contained a memorable jingle that has kids singing about their chosen first Sony product. It was a kid’s line of tape players and other electronics and the jingle would go something like “I like pizza pie, I like macaroni, but what I love is My First Sony!” It ends with a kid chiming in, “It won’t be your last!” and I suppose that kid was right. During the last segment there does appear to be a Christmas tree in the background, so I guess it is a holiday commercial.

So many dead cereals.

How about another cereal commercial? Remember Post’s Crispy Critters? It was like Kix, but shaped like animal crackers, and the commercial contains a bunch of puppets of the cereal shapes exclaiming “Indubitably” about the cereal. There’s a song performed by a Fraggle-wannabe who sounds like Jimmy Durante, so it’s kind of a nice bookend given the real Jimmy Durante appeared near the beginning of the tape. Man, now I want some Crispy Critters. A promo for the insane Sledge Hammer! follows that, a short-lived series that seems impossible if you read a synopsis of it. Another wacky sitcom, The Charmings, is promoted next which starred a bunch of witches or something. The was ABC’s Thursday Night lineup in 1987 so you can see why the other, major, networks were crushing them at the time.

I had to include a shot from this M&Ms commercial just because it’s so festive, and so many commercials at the end of this tape are not.

The next break occurs during the big sing-along at the end of the show and it’s a Christmas themed M&M’s commercial, not Holidays. This is when M&Ms were just green, brown, red, orange, and yellow – not very colorful. The tagline is “Grab onto that M&M’s feeling,” and it’s pretty corny. Not one of the best. They do slip in the melts in your mouth, not in your hands, line into the little jingle. There’s a lot of Christmas imagery in it though so it’s okay, but who is buying M&M’s at Christmas time when Holidays exist? The next commercial is for OshKosh again and it’s just a sequence of little kids trying to say OskKosh B’gosh. It’s supposed to be cute because the kids struggle to say it. I mostly remember it because of a puppet named Freddie one of the kids has and I only remember it because my neighbor had the same puppet. I don’t know if he was an OshKosh character or if it was just a random toy. We then get a promo for the next special, Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Christmas. My mother mercifully did not record that one. I have since watched it on YouTube and it’s pretty terrible, but it has John Denver!

Sorry, we will not be covering The Sound of Christmas this year or any year.

We return to A Muppet Family Christmas for the conclusion. There are no more breaks as when this special ends it quickly cuts to an aerobics workout ever so briefly because my mom must have taped over her aerobics when she created The Christmas Tape. That’s the end though and if you stayed with me this long I would like to thank you for taking this trip through a 35 year old tape via nearly 7,000 words and numerous links to old commercials. I’m a bit sad this kind of thing no longer exists because no one uses a VCR to record television anymore and everything is on-demand. These tapes that my mom and millions of other moms and dads around the country created are like little, holiday-themed, time capsules and they’re such a delight to revisit. I don’t know if this sort of thing was fun for those who don’t have a copy of this tape or one like it, but for me, The Christmas Tape is an important part of my holiday viewing each and every year. And it has been ever since its creation and I hope to keep that going for many years to come. And if you hated this entry, well don’t worry as tomorrow we’re back with a more traditional entry about a holiday special. And we’ll have 23 more after that, so bookmark this page now or face the wrath of Christmas!

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

Dec. 1 – Frosty the Snowman

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…

Keep reading

Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it…

Keep reading

Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Mystique

Mystique is bringing the big guns.

The penultimate figure in this series is a bit of a curveball. When one thinks of the animated series X-Men, the first villains that come to mind are Magneto, Sinister, Apocalypse, Sabretooth, and then it gets muddled. Graydon Creed made quite the impression in the show’s second season and may even be the most hate-able villain the show produced. Omega Red was certainly memorable since he was a very 90s sort of villain and being tied to Wolverine never hurts. And, of course, we have Mystique, the character Hasbro selected to be the second villain of the line (third if you want to count Morph). I think she has a claim to that fifth spot and I can certainly see an argument for Mystique as one of the most memorable villains of the show. It’s just that her character is very much tied to others. She does briefly cross paths with Sinister, and her box art appears to be inspired by that scene, but she’s not really associated with him. There’s her adopted daughter Rogue, biological son Nightcrawler, and her lackeys in the form of Pyro, Avalanche, and the Blob. All of those characters could certainly make an appearance in this line, and I would certainly argue that Rogue should be, but it strikes me as odd to get Mystique before some of these other characters. And it’s especially surprising considering she is, as I mentioned in the first setence, the penultimate figure of the line with the only remaining character set for release being Cyclops. Hasbro left open the possibility that they will return to the world of the X-Men animated series, but for now we basically have to consider it done which just makes this selection an odd choice.

Are we all in agreement that the box art is the best thing about this line?

I don’t know how Hasbro settled on the characters for this line, but my guess would be it’s largely sales related and cost-oritented. You can’t do this line without Wolverine, and basically any member of the team can’t be considered a surprise. I’m guessing Hasbro skipped over Rogue and Gambit because of their recent retro card released figures, and the same is true for Beast who has a new figure shipping now. Magneto also had some recent figures, so maybe that’s why Hasbro went with an older figure like Sinister. He was prominent enough in the show that it was hardly an upset to see him released as soon as he was, and he pairs well with Morph who was a character they absolutely had to do. With Mystique, it’s possible she’s a favorite of someone on staff who pushed for her, but it seems more likely to me that this release has more to do with Hasbro and the Legends team wanting to get her back out there. Like most of this line, Mystique is a re-paint with some minor additions and the previous figure was released as a Walgreen’s exclusive. Retail exclusives can be a pain to track down, so putting out another version that’s easy to acquire is often a welcomed development. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess on how Mystique made it into this 8 figure line.

I don’t hate this figure, but I would like it a whole lot more if it actually looked like the render on the box.

Mystique comes in the customary VHS styled box with artwork by Dan Veesenmeyer. It depicts Mystique in a shadowy area holding a candelabra which gives it a real horror vibe which mixes well with the character’s blue skin and affinity for skulls. It might be my favorite illustration in this line so far. On the spine is the usual profile shot and on the rear is the customary product shot, only with this figure the product on the back is not representative of the figure inside. In what has become an annoying and, frankly, unacceptable trend with Marvel Legends of late the promotional renders for figures have been using the wrong molds. The actual figure is on the same female buck that the former Mystique figure utilized, while the render on the back appears to be based on the newer Shriek figure. It’s a much better base for a superhero line as the figure is well proportioned, looks like a woman of impressive physical fitness, and it’s an all-together better looking figure than what’s actually in the box.

“I have some information about your daughter…”

The render basically gives Mystique an unfortunate hurdle to overcome right out of the gate and I’m going to try to not let it impact my feelings here, but the simple fact is this older female body is just okay. It’s very slight and not particularly heroic looking (granted, she is a villain). It has articulation limitations as well which we’ll get to and it’s just a base body that I would like to see retired. Mystique does feature her cartoon accurate costume of a white, sleeveless, dress with long gloves and boots. The head has been reworked to give her a new hair piece which looks fine. I love her wicked grin which is very appropriate for the character and they got the little skull on her hairline correct. Her body is mostly colored plastic as she’s basically a two-toned figure of blue and white. The controversial cel-shading is also present and, once again, Hasbro made the odd choice to use gray instead of black and it’s a shade of gray that looks too close to the gray-blue of her skin. It’s applied okay here, certainly not as bad as some of the other figures in the line, but it still comes across as half-assed. She really should have multiple shades of gray, black, and blue to do her justice and considering she’s a character who often featured heavy shading in the show it really feels like a missed opportunity. There’s no shading on her hair or on her yellow belt and it just very much feels like an afterthought. The only shading is applied to the clothing. The belt is a floating piece and the skirt portion of her outfit is a part of the belt which is a little odd. I think an overlay might have worked better, but then you lose the articulation in the torso. I am forced to reiterate, once again, that I love the idea of putting shading on these figures, but if they’re not going to put the effort in then don’t do it. She really needs some on her face to bring her to life, but I’m not brave enough to try my hand at customizing. She also has a hole in her back which is unnecessary and unwanted.

“Lord Apocalypse!”
I don’t know if she ever had a gun this large in the show, but at least it opens up the smaller gun for another figure.

Mystique comes with a fair amount of accessories, though most are just reused from elsewhere. She has open hands out of the box with her right hand being more “cupped” than the left like she should be holding a long-stem glass. She has optional trigger hands and they’re for her two guns. One is a large, machinegun, type and the other a pistol. Both are just cast in the same blue-gray plastic used for her flesh which is pretty damn cheap on Hasbro’s part and it makes the larger gun, especially, look stupid in her hands. The pistol is the same gun that came with the movie Deadpool. At least being blue makes it kind of resemble the gun she used in “The Cure” and the one Morph was seen with at times. Her final accessory is a more thoughtful one, but again, Hasbro’s cheapness ruins it some. That accessory is a baby Nightcrawler wrapped in a brown blanket which has better shading than most of the figures in this line. This is a callback to the show and the scene of Mystique preparing to toss her unwanted mutant child off of a waterfall. The problem is, this baby is repurposed from a baby Hulk figure. It lacks Nightcrawler’s defining pointed ears and he has this pompadour styled hair that looks stupid. He also has a yellow pacfier, which he did not possess in the show. Lastly, Mystique’s portrait is inappropriate for posing her with the child. Had they included a secondary one with tears streaming down her face that would have been something. Should we give Hasbro credit for at least referencing the show? I guess, but I’m also the type who sees little point in doing something if you’re not going to do it right.

And the other character in need of a gun is Morph. This blue one looks a little like the gun he featured in “Till Death Do Us Part.”
I appreciate the thought, but that’s not Kurt.

The last thing we need to consider with this action figure is the articulation. Mystique, being essentially on the same body as Jean, has few surprises. The ball-hinged neck lets her look in all directions save for up since her hair gets in the way. The shoulders can lift out past horizontal and rotate fine while the arm articulation is limited to single-hinged elbows with a swivel point in the elbow. She can’t quite hit 90 degrees and the lack of a bicepts swivel is a disappointment. The wrists rotate and hinge with the right trigger hand featuring the proper, vertical, hinge so that’s good. The torso has the diaphragm joint under the bust which offers little more than some rotation and tilt with very little forward and back. There’s no waist twist, and the legs can barely manage a 45 degree spread. She does kick forward okay, but not back, and there’s a thigh cut for rotation there. The knees are double-jointed and they feel less gummy than Jean and Storm’s. There’s no boot cut and the ankles hinge forward and back a decent amount and rock side-to-side. It’s a mediocre spread of articulation. She can at least pose fine with the hand gun.

“Oh, my beloved child. Wait…you’re not my baby!”

Mystique is another bare minimum type of release from Hasbro in this line. She looks okay, the cel-shading is at least passable, and there’s a tiny bit of re-tooling with the head. They still half-assed the accessories and really should have just used the new body they had already made for other figures as I bet this belt and head would have fit just fine. Why they didn’t is not something I can figure out. And making the guns the same color of plastic as her body is just weird and cheap. Imagine if everybody ran around with guns that matched their skintone perfectly. That’s Hasbro not wanting to pay to change the color of the plastic in the machines. And the baby Kurt is a nice thought, but a poor execution. At least the box art looks great.

“So long, imposter!”

Mystique is presently available via Hasbro’s Pulse website and the Shop Disney webstore. Like all of the figures in this line, she comes with a slight upcharge that’s not really reflected in the product. Chances are, if you’ve been collecting this line then you’ll probably want to add Mystique to your shelf. She could have been a lot better, but by the standards of this line she’s actually one of the better releases. I suppose I’d stick her somewhere in the middle, and I probably prefer her to any of the X-Men women. I’m still left wishing she wasn’t the character we got with one of these precious 8 slots Hasbro budgeted for, but at least she’s not a dud. That means we only have one more figure to look forward to in this line, Cyclops, before we say “goodbye for now.” Hopefully it’s a good one, but it’s not looking like it will arrive before the year’s end so check back in 2023 for my thoughts on Cyke.

If we’re only getting a few villains out of this line, at least they fit reasonably well thematically.

Marvel Legends X-Men Retro Card Series Apocalypse

“I know more of this world than you could even dream, that is why I must…destroy it!”

It is Halloween and that means it’s time for costumes, candy, and spooky fun. It’s also Halloween 2022, a pretty important date if you grew up loving those mutants who ran around in colorful spandex fighting for a better tomorrow. That’s because 30 years ago on this very night, the animated series X-Men premiered on the Fox network. The decision to debut a cartoon in prime time with characters still on the periphery of mainstream appeal was both a bold choice and one brought about by necessity. Fox had done the same recently with Batman – The Animated Series, but that hardly feels like a gamble considering that was coming hot on the heels of Batman Returns. You see, the show should have premiered in September on Saturday mornings, but the project was fraught with delays and the early animation sent back from studio AKOM was said to be a disaster. And since the show wasn’t going to be able to premiere as planned, the producers involved decided to focus on the first two episodes to get them ready for a Halloween premiere with the rest of the season to follow in early 1993. Marketing dubbed it a sneak peek, and it must have worked because before long the show was a ratings hit and the rest is history.

Given that it’s such an important day for an elder X-Men fan like myself, it only felt appropriate to forego something spooky this Halloween in favor of something celebrating that show. Now, I originally intended to debut my review of Hasbro’s Morph, but I received that figure in late September and I was just too eager to talk about Morph. The timing just didn’t make sense, so we’re pivoting to something else. Had Mystique, the next planned figure in Hasbro’s dedicated X-Men animated line, arrived this month she would have been featured here. And she even embodies a bit of that Halloween look with her blank eyes and affection for skulls. Instead though, I think we have the next best thing with one of the major villains from the show: Apocalypse.

This card is stupid big.

Hasbro’s retro card series of Marvel Legends has caused some confusion in the collector community, and I’m afraid this Apocalypse only adds to that. It started a few years ago as an homage to the classic ToyBiz line of figures from the 90s. Hasbro created updated blister cards based on those styles and packaged Legends in them. They had to be slightly oversized to accommodate the larger Legends figures compared to the classic ToyBiz ones, but who in the collector community doesn’t love a good dose of nostalgia? They’re definitely neat, and since the designs of the figures are largely based on their 90s appearances they hit pretty hard when it comes to nostalgia. It was successful enough that Hasbro then did the same with Spider-Man. Unlike the old X-Men line, the Spider-Man line from ToyBiz was a direct tie-in to the animated series that premiered on Fox (in sneak peek fashion as well since it worked so well with X-Men) in 1994. As a result, collectors weren’t sure if these new Spider-Man retro card releases were based on the animated series as well. I’ve seen many collectors refer to the Hobgoblin, especially, from that line as being animated inspired, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The only one released that is definitely based on the cartoon is the PulseCon exclusive Venom from last year (which is being followed-up with an animated Spider-Man this fall).

The actual figure though? Not really that big. I would have actually liked a little more height out of this guy.

Now adding to any confusion that still exists out there is this Apocalypse figure. Apocalypse had multiple releases in the ToyBiz days so a retro card release makes sense. However, this particular figure features a purple and blue deco. That is significant because that’s the color scheme Apocalypse had in the animated series. No where else has Apocalypse ever looked like this. And to drive the point home further, he comes with an interchangeable gun attachment for his arm that is pulled right from an episode of the show which has left many to ask “So why is this not a release in the VHS line?” And the answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t think any of the marketing team for Legends has explained that one. My guess is that someone on the team really wanted to do this character in this look, but the budget for the VHS line couldn’t accommodate it so they did it this way. It’s bizarre, because this figure does not feature the cel-shading paint job of the VHS line so it’s not just a difference in packaging. This figure is also based on the build-a-figure Apocalypse released a few years ago, so disassembling it to fit in a VHS box would not have been problem. Plus, as illustrated with Mr. Sinister’s VHS box, Hasbro is willing to adjust the sizing when necessary on those boxes so there’s really nothing stopping Hasbro from releasing the figure in that line from a design standpoint. I know the cel-shading is a bit of a contentious topic in the community, but this figure is so cartoon specific that I can’t imagine there was a ton of demand from collectors not interested in the animated series. This version of Apocalypse has always been viewed as a little “goofy” because of those colors so comic collectors are most certainly not the target audience, but here we are.

This is unquestionably supposed to be Apocalypse from the cartoon, you can’t fool me Hasbro!

Because of the colors on this guy, I definitely consider him to be part of the animated series line of action figures. It’s bizarre, and if it’s simply a matter of budget then I don’t know why they didn’t just hit this guy with more paint so he would fit in, but here we are. That said, I’m happy to have Apocalypse in this deco as it’s been perhaps the figure I’ve wanted most to come out of the animated line next to Morph. This funky color palette just hits right for me. Like most kids in the early 90s, I was confused why Apocalypse looked like he was painted for Easter in the show and would have preferred him in black and blue, but over time this look has just become a hallmark of the series for me and I appreciate it more as a result. Plus, Apocalypse is so bad ass that he can look like this and still be feared!

The figure does come on the aforementioned blister card and it is pretty massive. It’s almost comical to look at how big this thing is relative to other retro card releases and even more ludicrous compared to the 90s cards. It features some nice artwork, though not in the animated style aside from the suit colors, and definitely has that old school ToyBiz feel. Many like to keep these releases mint-on-card, but I am not one of them. If you want to preserve the card as much as possible, I recommend slicing the bubble from the bottom with a blade which will allow you to slide this big boy out. And once removed, he is indeed rather big standing at around 8.25″.

Even this gun attachment is taken right from the show.

In looking at this figure, what immediately stands out as “animated” aside from the colors is the sculpt of the chest. I mentioned earlier that this figure is based on the build-a-figure from a few years ago, but it’s been re-tooled in several places and the upper torso is one such place. The musculature has a very soft look to it which is in-line with the show. There’s basically just a hint of pectorals and nothing more. The other details of the costume, such as the shoulders and the collar area, look as they should. The only parts not exactly screen accurate are the boots and the gloves. The boots are just all-together busier in their design, something an animated show would strive to eliminate. The hands are similar, but they’re also just not sculpted right as he should have a blue knuckleguard on each hand. Lastly, the cables that connect his arms to his back should plug-in around the elbow and not the forearm. Obviously, these inaccuracies exist because Hasbro is reusing old parts and I would say it’s mostly fine. While I would love to buy action figures that are committed to matching the source material to a more exact specification, I know that’s not Hasbro’s approach. They do things mostly with cost in mind and basically think giving us a new torso is good enough. The issue now is that approach was more acceptable when these figures were a lot cheaper. It’s something that will bother some folks, and for others it won’t. In my experience Hasbro has done a good job of conditioning its fanbase to accept these figures for what they are so my expectation is most will be unbothered.

In typical Hasbro fashion, they give you some of what you want, but not everything. This gun has four barrels, but you get just 3 blast effects.

As a last bit of aesthetics, we should talk about the paint job. Apocalypse is quite purple and quite blue, as he should be. Hasbro prioritizes using as much colored plastic as possible with their figures and this one is no exception. The paint is mostly limited to the head, upper torso and the gauntlets. The head is where the most paint was needed and it’s done well enough. We’ll talk about the appropriateness of the expressions when we get to the accessories, but there’s enough paint to bring out the sculpted details of the face with minimal slop. He’s not the easiest face to paint as the lips basically wrap around the whole head and he has that gap in the blue on top of the head, so Hasbro did a very nice job here. What is unfortunate though is his head is in two pieces glued together and there’s a blue seem as a result between his forehead and the portion of his flesh that runs up his head and it looks stupid. Otherwise, the paint details are fairly simple and done well enough. The chest even has this really nice, matte, finish which looks great, but also makes the shiny, plastic, portions look worse by comparison. Where they had to match colored plastic to painted, the figure also looks fine.

The source material for the gun is clearly the show, though it was simplified a bit for this release.

The elephant in the room when it comes to paint is obviously the exclusion of cel-shading. This is a retro card release, so cel-shading isn’t normally expected, but he’s also animated Apocalypse and the other X-Men animated figures all have it. Personally, I would like characters based on a cartoon to feature a paint job that reflects that medium. On the other hand, I concede that the cel-shading in the VHS line has been applied poorly. Part of me would like to give Hasbro some credit here in thinking that with a bigger figure to work with, the cel-shading would turn out better, but there’s no guarantee of that. They seem to struggle just finding the right colors to use when shading (see the hideous mustard color they use to shade yellow). Ultimately, it is what it is. I would love some shading on the torso, especially, but it’s not here. Maybe that’s a good thing? I don’t know, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t think he clashes in a significant manner amongst the other figures in the VHS line so I guess it doesn’t matter that much. As was the case with the accuracy of the sculpt, the absence of shading is going to matter more to some, and not at all to others.

Would it have been hard to just give us one more teeny, tiny, piece to stich in that bottom barrel? Though the proper thing to do would have been to sculpt a new, double-barrel, blast effect that plugs into both at the same time.

Moving on to accessories, Apocalypse is pretty much par for the course when it comes to Legends these days. He doesn’t have a lot, but at least here what he does have is done well. First of all, he has two sets of hands: fists and open, “clenchy,” hands. That’s fine as it allows him to look menacing, dramatic, and you can even get those clenchy hands to grab onto another figure. He also has two heads: an angry one and a stoic one. The angry one is reused, and the stoic is new. As a comic inspired sculpt, I think the angry head is fine. As an animated Apocalypse? It’s terrible. He basically never looked like this in the show so I probably won’t be using it. The stoic head is more my thing. It’s still done in the Legends style so it’s not a toon-accurate look for the character, but that’s been true of almost every release in the VHS line as well save for Wolverine. I refer to it as stoic, but he is frowning and looks kind of ticked off. I do wish the shape of both was different as Apocalypse tends to have a wide jaw compared with the top of his head, in both the comics and the show, but these heads are pretty uniform. If it were up to me, I’d have gone with this head, but with less detail to remove the frown and paired it with a laughing head. Imagine a laughing Apocalypse on your shelf with his fists on his hips or his arms crossed? Perfection. Lastly, we have the optional gun part. It attaches to the forearm and the cable can even plug into it. It is taken directly from the “Beyond Good and Evil” plotline when Cable confronts Apocalypse at the start so it is pulled right out of the show. It looks nice and Hasbro even included some blast effects for it which I would not have expected. It’s nice to have as it allows you to display Apocalypse as a menacing overlord on your shelf, or as someone willing to get his hands dirty which was rather true of the character in the show. They could have loaded him up with more arm attachments, but this feels like a fine selection of stuff for Apocalypse. It just would have been nice to get a new effect part for the main part of the gun that plugs into both of the center barrels. Since they instead gave us three separate pieces, one barrel will always be empty.

The gripping hands are wide enough that you can make your Apocalypse perform chokeslams on Wolverine.

Time to talk about the articulation. Despite being a big boy, Apocalypse moves okay and is pretty standard for the line. We have the ball-hinged head that lets him look up and down, all around, and even tilt the head a smidge. The collar doesn’t really get in the way until you try to rotate the head, but the range is decent. The shoulders are just ball-hinged and he can raise his arms out the side and rotate them pretty well even with the shoulder pads getting in the way slightly. The elbows are single-jointed and he can’t quite hit a 90 degree bend, so that could be better. The wrists rotate and hinge horizontally. In the torso, we get an ab crunch that lets him bend back a bit, and crunch forward a decent amount. It’s mostly colored plastic here so paint rub shouldn’t be of great concern, but it’s worth being mindful of. The waist is just a twist and the legs are ball-pegs. He can damn near do a full split and is capable of kicking forward just fine, though the cheeks will prevent much rear leg motion. There is a thigh cut which does what thigh cuts do and the knees are double-jointed. There’s no boot cut, but down in the ankles you have the usual hinge and rocker combination which works just fine. More importantly, everything is nice and tight so he shouldn’t be toppling over on your shelf. Apocalypse really only needs to hit a few poses and this figure is capable of doing that.

He is here to crush the mutants, and seems capable enough.

All in all, I am quite pleased with this release for Apocalypse. Yes, I would have preferred this come in the VHS line for both the packaging and the cel-shading, but since it didn’t, at least we got a fairly robust release as far as accessories go. I’ve been pretty disappointed with the majority of the VHS line because of the poorly applied cel-shading, inappropriate reuse of some sculpts, and the dearth of worthwhile accessories. It’s really been a money-grab kind of line and at least this Apocalypse feels more substantial and like a better value. They actually did some re-sculpting to make the figure more cartoon accurate, and while they didn’t go as far as they could with that, I think most will find they went far enough. My preference would have always been to receive figures with sculpts actually designed to mimic the animated look, but Hasbro was never committed to doing that for one reason or another. This figure does suffer a bit as a result because the head isn’t right and the veiny biceps look stupid on Apocalypse (and they would look stupid on any version of Apocalypse so I don’t get the thinking here). The rest of its shortcomings are just par for the course with Marvel Legends, like the dearth of paint apps (the cables look especially plain), so regular Legends collectors will likely be content. Unless someone else can get the license to produce animated X-Men figures (highly unlikely), this is unfortunately the best we’re likely to get. And at least with Apocalypse, this one does indeed feel good enough. Most of the VHS figures are not and the feeling of settling is palpable with each one, but here I don’t feel that way. At least not as much.

Apocalypse does come at an inflated price though of $40 which is obviously a lot for a Marvel Legends release. This one at least feels more worthy of that price compared with the VHS figures at around 28 bucks. A comparable figure would probably be NECA’s Chrome Dome from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line which was also $40. I would argue that the NECA release is a better value than this as it came with more stuff, more paint, and was 100% new tooling, but it also came out a year ago so maybe in 2022 it would be $45. Value, as always, is rather subjective, but in this case I think the value is there. If you’re interested in picking this one up, you may have to dig around a bit as it is sold out in several places. Hasbro Pulse still has it open for order so that may be the safest bet. Amazon does as well, but they can be hard to trust. Re-stocks may be on the way too so I don’t think it’s one you’ll have to spend a fortune on eBay for, but I also would recommend acting fast since I don’t think this one is ticketed for big box stores which would indicate there will be fewer of these out in the wild than the Age of Apocalypse version, by comparison. More importantly, if you can find some time today (admittedly, difficult given the holiday) or maybe even just this week throw on some classic X-Men and take a trip through time. It’s incredible to think I was watching the show as a kid 30 years ago, and while it may not hit the same as it did for me then, it’s still a worthwhile nostalgia binge and a show I think is worth celebrating. Or if you want to read more about it, I’ve covered both Previously on X-Men and the X-Men art book and recommend both to fans of the show. Here’s hoping the sequel series due next year is able to carry on its legacy.


The Robot Spirits MS-07B-3 Gouf Custom (VER A.N.I.M.E.)

Norris is back and he has a new toy.

It’s time to take a look at one of my most anticipated releases in Bandai’s The Robot Spirits line based on the anime Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team. And that figure is the Gouf Custom which was piloted by Colonel Norris Packard during the climactic battle at the end of that series. The Gouf is basically a Zeon mobile suit that’s pretty similar to the Zaku which we already looked at. It’s just got a cooler design and a different weapons loadout. My expectation was this figure would be very similar and share some parts with that previous release, but to my surprise, it does not. Is that a good thing? Well, the Zaku is a terrific action figure so if another figure to follow was going to imitate it then that would be fine by me, but who also doesn’t love a figure that’s unique on their shelf?

The Gouf Custom comes in the standard window box this series is known for. The window is tiny and just gives a peek at the figure and it’s adorned with product shots that are probably renders as opposed to actual photography. It’s easily resealable and the tray that holds the figure in the box just slides out. There are no tie-downs, which feels like a god-send given the amount of those things that wind up in my carpet.

That is a lot of hardware for one arm.

Once removed from the packaging, the Gouf is quite familiar in size and build quality. It’s only around 5″ tall not including the fin on the helmet so it’s a quaint little guy. The Gouf follows a lot of the same design elements as the Zaku with the single-camera “eye” and various hoses along the body. The shoulder pauldrons are horned for added menace, but unlike the Zaku, both shoulders feature the same design. The legs are similar, but different, as far as the molds used go. There’s really not much reuse here, maybe the hands or the rear skirt piece, as the Gouf is just different enough to necessitate it’s own molds. The main difference between the two is the color palette. The Zaku goes for that traditional, military, olive drab while the Gouf opts for a rather pleasant sky blue. The torso is a darker blue-gray and there’s some black on the knees and feet, but the dominant color is clearly the blue. And I like blue, so I’m just naturally drawn to this one. And like most releases in the line, there’s very little paint. It’s mostly limited to the eye and some red on the chest. Otherwise, we’re mostly dealing with colored plastic and it looks okay, but a paint wash wouldn’t hurt.

Similar, but different.
He can handle that massive amount of plastic on his arm, but add an effect part…

Since this figure required extensive new tooling, it also differs when it comes to the articulation. The head still sits on a ball peg and the base of the neck can hinge back allowing the Gouf to look up. It’s limited in looking down, and the top of the head is removable to allow for the eye to be re-positioned. The shoulders are pegged in and the joint it pegs into moves a bit for mostly nuance posing. The pauldrons peg in as well and they’re going to get in the way. The Gouf can’t quite raise its arms out to the side, but can get reasonably far. The arm rotates just fine, and there’s a pseudo-butterfly joint in the torso that affords some minor movement there. There’s a biceps swivel, but surprisingly just a single hinge at the elbow. The Gouf can just about hit a 90 degree bend, but I’m surprised it can’t go farther. The hands are on ball pegs, per usual, and the tolerance is just okay. I wish they were tighter, but we’ll talk more about that later. The torso has a ball-joint and hinge in the diaphragm that lets it tilt side-to-side a little. He can bend back just a tiny amount, but not forward at all because of the design of the chest. Once you engage the hinge, however, you can make this thing bend back really far, but it exposes a giant gap. It does provide some clearance though for the front, diamond-like, piece on the chest to slip behind the lower torso to get some better ab crunch. There’s a waist twist below that, but the hoses that wrap around the figure restrict the movement there quite a bit. At the hips, we have some big old balls that peg into a really small piece of plastic which looks a bit scary. The Gouf can’t quite do full splits due to the skirt pieces, but it does kick forward very far and back a little. The knees are double-jointed and there are no issues there nor are there any issues with the thigh twist. The ankles are surrounded by a lot of plastic, but the feet hinge forward and back and you get a little rocker action. They also have that joint in the middle of the foot that allows for more bend in the same style as a toe hinge, only it mostly provides range down as opposed to up so I don’t know that it’s very useful for standing. Lastly, there’s two thrusters on the rear of the figure on ball hinges for some directional posing when using effect parts.

If I so much as breath on this guy right now that arm is falling down.
If I’m going to display this guy utilizing the blast effect, I think I’ll go with the smaller gun because the figure can handle that.

The Gouf moves just okay. Part of that is due to the hoses around the body of the figure which didn’t allow for much. Bandai could have tried adding some sliding pieces there to allow for more movement, but that would come at the cost of some of the aesthetic. I’m more disappointed in the elbows and wrists. I keep checking out the elbows thinking I’m missing something, but they really are single-hinged. The wrists feature fine range, but like some of the other figures I have from this line, they’re too weak. This guy has trouble holding heavier weapons which happens to matter quite a bit if you want to hand it a Zaku bazooka. As we’ll see shortly, at least the weaponry the figure comes packaged with matters more for the shoulder joint than the wrist, but that’s also a problem as the shoulder joint could stand to be tighter.

The heat wire is neat, but did it have to be this long?
Now he’s like Batman!

The Gouf comes with the standard assortment of hands and a tree to place them on when not in use. They are: gripping, trigger, slightly wider gripping, open, and style posed. His melee weapon of choice is the heat saber which is just a sword. The blade is done in gray, but with a nice, graphite, finish and the hilt is a blue-gray piece of unpainted plastic. He has a three-barrel gatling gun that clips onto the left wrist with an effects part that can be affixed to any barrel (a special three-barrel effect part is coming in a new options set next year). On top of that, a shield can be affixed which is on a hinge piece like the Gundam Ground Type so it can be raised off of the figure’s arm which is necessary to make use of the effect part. When stored flat, the heat saber can slide behind the shield and a massive gatling gun can fit over that. This gun can accept the effect part plus an added burst effect as well, but doing so creates a lot of weight on the figure’s left arm and it’s rather cumbersome to pose. The last weapon is the heat wire which clips into a peg hole on the right arm. There’s a tiny plug that has to be removed first which is a nice bit of accuracy, but also a touch impractical since it’s hard to get it out and easy to lose. The wire itself is bendy so you can do some fun stuff with it and topped with a grappling hook. It’s also around ten inches in length so you have a lot to play with, almost too much. If you want it to just be firing in a straight line it looks kind of ridiculous and can’t support its own weight. I much prefer a coiled look, but I don’t think that’s anime accurate. The last two accessories are thrust effects that can be used on the jetpack or the feet. Like all figures in this line, it can accept a flight stand so opting for a flying pose is possible if you so desire. The effect parts are the superior ball-hinged variety so positioning them is quite easy. Bandai also included an extra fin piece for the head in case one gets lost or breaks. It does pop out very easily.

Maybe I’ll display him flying with all of that stuff on his arm just for the sheer lunacy of the visual.

The Gouf Custom looks the part and comes with enough stuff to really outfit it for battle, but I do find myself a little disappointed with this one compared with the other releases in this line. It’s design makes posing it less fun than the others, and the cumbersome accessories add to that frustration. It basically looks cool in a vanilla pose, but struggles with the more dynamic stuff. It also has a more fragile feel to it which just adds a layer of anxiety to the experience that isn’t much fun. And given that most places price this figure at around $80, it makes it harder to recommend. On one hand, if you’re really into The 08th MS Team it’s hard not to include the Gouf Custom, but on the other hand if you’re more interested in just having a figure or two from the line then it might be easy to just skip this one. If I was only getting one enemy mobile suit, I think I’d go with the Zaku over this which is not what I expected going into this review, but it is what I got.


TMNT Loot Crate Series 2 Vol. 4 – Donnie Batman and the Bat Guy (Bats!)

The Dark Turtle and Bat Boy have arrived! Is this the best Loot Crate yet?!

It’s been a little more than 3 months since our last dance with Loot Crate. If you’re new to the experience, it has been quite a drag. Crates that were supposed to ship a year ago are still outstanding, communication has been poor, rumors have painted a dire picture of the company’s finances, and the actual quality of the product has taken a hit as well. Since we last looked at one of these, someone decided they were so fed up with the experience that they doxed NECA director or product Randy Falk which he was understandably not happy about. That was a dick move on the part of whoever did that and anyone who actually took the time to call Randy on his cell phone or shared that info is a grade A asshole. That’s the type of entitlement that makes me embarrassed to be a part of this hobby.

Well, it’s more full than last time.

Ugliness aside, Randy didn’t deserve that. Saying that doesn’t mean we’re letting Loot Crate off the hook though. They’ve been pretty terrible, but I don’t feel the need to get into that once again. If you want more of a rant, check out the last entry on the subject, for the rest of this one I’m just going to talk about the contents of the latest crate.

The TMNT pin-collecting community has just been dying to get their hands on this Triceraton pin!

And this latest crate is the fourth one which is themed around the 1987 cartoon series. What happened to crate #2? Nobody knows, but it was skipped in favor of crate #3 and now we’re onto #4. I guess they’ll come back to it, hopefully in another 3 months or less. The toon one, being the fourth one, comes with a bonus figure as well so we have a lot to talk about. When consumers had the option to subscribe to this service, they could either purchase individual crates or all 4. Those that bought all four were to receive a bonus figure, Scrag, one of the gang members from the original mini series who hung out and committed crimes with Bebop and Rocksteady. He had his own little arc in that mini series. Despite never being named, or having a line to speak, we saw him go from punker, to mutant bat, back to punker again. After that, he went away and was never heard from again.

Oh boy, it’s an apron!

We’ll do Scrag last, but for now lets get the other junk out of the way. The Loot Crate model is to take something people want, like a NECA figure, up-charge it and toss in some junk to make it seem like it’s worth the $50 price tag. Obviously, it’s not or else they wouldn’t do things this way, but it’s always going to be a case of “your mileage may vary.” The bonus figure is another added layer of grift since you may not care about one of the other crates, but if you care about Scrag, you have to buy them. NECA and Loot Crate will point to eBay sales as a way to suggest you’re not being taken advantage of, but again, if they actually had that much faith in the product they’d just put them up for sale and let you buy what you want.

I’m not sure I trust the health of my hands when handling hot items to Loot Crate.

The model for these crates has been to include a t-shirt, some pins, and a few extras. Maybe a keychain, a sticker sheet, whatever. The first wave of crates definitely had more, while this current wave has had severely less. And this crate has the distinction of being the first without a t-shirt. I thought these things were advertised to always have a shirt, you even select a size when subscribing, but I haven’t looked up the actual solicitation so maybe that wasn’t the case. It’s certainly an expectation that one will be included. Instead of a shirt though, we get an apron. It has a Ninja Pizza logo printed on it which is taken from the show, but is otherwise just an off-white apron. Do people still use aprons? It being October, I just re-watched Beetlejuice once again and thought how old-fashioned Geena Davis looked sporting an apron at the film’s start. I have aprons in my house as they tend to be something you acquire through things like a bridal shower, but I don’t think I’ve ever used one. And I don’t recall ever seeing my mom or dad wear one. Same for grandparents. And when I go to my local pizza shop, few of them wear one. And if they do, they don’t bother with the top. Maybe they were more popular when washing machines were less common? Now if I’m cooking I just change my clothes if they get dirty in the process. I guess I’m just saying a novelty apron is not something I’ll ever use or know what to do with. It’s not that I need more t-shirts either, my dresser is bursting with them, but I at least wear them.

The license plate is stupid, but at least it’s “fun” stupid.

What pairs well with an apron? How about some oven mitts! We get a pair of pizza monster oven mitts. They’re yellow and they have a face on them so they look like cheap puppets. They’re a bit thin and are only rated for temperatures up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit which seems pointless since most pizza is cooked at a temperature above that. There goes my master plan of preparing pizza in my Ninja Pizza apron and pizza monster oven mitts. We also have the customary pin, this time it’s the head of a Triceraton from the cartoon. Lastly, we get a novelty license plate. It’s yellow and green with the Statue of Liberty in the center like an actual New York plate and it reads “PRTY WGN.” Cute. I’ll probably display the license plate in some fashion, but the rest will probably live in a drawer somewhere.

What everyone really paid for.

Let’s get to the main event, or the first main event, which is Donatello as The Dark Turtle. Dark Turtle has been on my wish list for a couple of years now. He’s from the same episode of the show as the Triceratons (“Night of the Dark Turtle”) and I just think he looks neat. In the episode, Donatello gets electrocuted and basically becomes a parody of Michael Keaton’s Batman. I’ve always liked the look of the character because the costume is a great Batman knock-off and the character looks really interesting because the artists cheat with him. They basically give Donatello a superhero-type body and ignore the fact that he’s a turtle. He still has the rear shell hidden under his cape, but the torso where the plastron should be just looks like a muscular dude bod. It makes no sense, but it looks cool.

“Do I know you?”
Wired capes rule. I see you down there, Rat Vernon…

NECA’s approach to the figure is basically the same as the artists who designed the character. They didn’t just take their existing turtle body and re-paint it, they actually did a new torso. If they reused it from another figure, I can’t easily tell, though most of the figures in the line also feature an overlay of some kind so maybe this body is underneath another piece of plastic somewhere on my shelf. Either way, it looks cool. He looks very close to the character in the show. He might be a little more squat and chunky, but essentially looks the part. His face is sporting a yelling expression, but it’s also the same engineering used in the Turtles in Disguise set so you can swap his mouth piece out in favor of another expression if you have that set. The costume is done in a gray with shading on the sides and rear and I love how the belt and chest insignia came out. Best of all, the cape is wired so this guy can really hit some dramatic poses. He looks great and whatever corners may have been cut for a Loot Crate release do not come through in the quality department.

What doesn’t rule are NECA flight stands.

The paint job on The Dark Turtle looks pretty nice. The main color is gray, and NECA shaded it slightly differently from other figures as they included it on the sides of the torso. I wish they continued it just a little further and under the pectorals, but what they have here adds some nice definition to the figure. On the arms and legs, it’s more of the same with light gray on the front and dark on the back. There’s plenty of line work throughout the figure and the trim of the gloves and boots features some purple, a nice touch since this is Donatello, after all. I love how the belt came out which features three holstered turtle bombs that are probably glued on. The cape is pinned into his chest via the insignia on the front and it too is likely glue down. The cowl on the head is cast in black and the eyes are painted. Lastly, we have the cape which is black on the outside and purple on the inside. It’s all quite neat and clean and the only blemish on mine is a little black mark on the stomach. If I can get a magic eraser in there I might be able to take it off. I think he turned out well though and NECA didn’t take any shortcuts with the costume in making it screen accurate which is nice to see.

Watch out! He has a turtle-shaped smoke bomb and he knows how to use it!

The cuts they did have to take will come through in the accessories. That’s been the case for all of the figures released this way and Dark Turtle is no different. He comes with gripping hands in the box, but also has a right pointing hand, and left open hand. Unlike the mouth, you can’t technically use hands from other sets with this figure because he wears black gloves. I think it’s a bummer they just didn’t give us a set of fists, a set of open hands, and maybe one pointing hand. Tossing in an already tooled accessory like a hand adds minimal cost, but obviously it wasn’t a cost NECA was willing to absorb. Dark Turtle does at least come with one accessory, his turtle smoke bomb. It’s a newly tooled accessory, so that’s cool, and it’s well-painted. It would have been nice to get another Turtle Hook accessory, but I wasn’t expecting one and I definitely wasn’t expecting a tooled version of Dark Turtle’s unique grappling hook.

“Hold it right there, Shredder! This ends now!” “Who is this psychopath?!”
He might have to live up here in my display because this just looks too cool.

Dark Turtle is mostly reuse from the other turtles, and as a result largely moves the same. The head is still on a double-ball and the base of the neck articulates as well. He can look up and down just fine with plenty of nuance posing available as well. The shoulders are just ball-hinged and he can raise his arms out to the side, rotate, and so forth until he hits the rear shell. The left shoulder hinge on mine is pretty stuck and I haven’t been able to get much movement out of it, which is a bummer. There’s a biceps swivel after that and the elbows are still single-hinged with rotation and they bend pretty close to 90 degrees. At the wrist we have swivels and horizontal hinges. The torso is the big change as we have this big diaphragm joint. It feels like a ball peg, but we get some twist and tilt plus a little crunch forward, but not a lot. There’s basically no rear movement because of the shell, but it’s cool to have something here for a change on a turtle. At the waist, there’s a twist, but you get less than you do with the standard turtles because he’s wearing a black “diaper” piece. The hips are ball and socket joints and he can nearly do a full split. He kicks forward just fine, though not back due to the shell. There is a thigh pivot and the knees are double-jointed and bend past 90. At the ankles, we have the hinge and rocker combination that works well. He’s pretty decent for this line, and technically a little better than most since he does have some posing in the chest, but it’s so limited that it’s hardly worth celebrating. I just wish mine didn’t have the frozen shoulder joint. I’ve tried hot water, but I don’t want to risk breaking it so I might just have to live with it as-is.

The many expressions of The Dark Turtle.

The last thing I want to talk about with Dark Turtle is the face-swapping. Just like the other turtles from the Turtles in Disguise set, Dark Turtle’s mouth can separate from the top of the head so you can mix and match expressions. The top piece even features a little tab on the rear to cover the cut-out for the bandana knots on the mouth pieces. He comes with a yelling expression, but he looks good with basically all of the other mouths. He’s always going to be frowning so any smile gives him a real sinister vibe. This figure is done in a matte style, so the glossy first-run set of the Turtles in Disguise do look a bit jarring on him. I have since picked up a matte version and I like the look of those much better. Also of note, the mouth on Dark Turtle is a newly tooled piece. The prior yell mouths NECA did were glued together from the top and the seam lines stood out. This one is glued together from the bottom and just looks much cleaner. I didn’t get the style guide four-pack so I don’t know if that change was done there, but it’s nice to see NECA continue to refine their product when the opportunity arises.

“You lookin’ for me?!”

That’s a rather positive review of The Dark Turtle, but now lets turn out attention to Scrag. Scrag is an interesting character in that he just appears in the original mini series and then is never heard from again. For me, he was always the most recognizable of Bebop and Rocksteady’s original gang. We even see him before we meet the turtles! In the show, he’s never named and speaks no lines of dialogue. He just joins in on some vandalism and the whole threatening of April before getting experimented on by Shredder. For some reason, Shredder didn’t think much of the rest of Bebop and Rocksteady’s gang and only chose to keep those two. If they were the best that gang had to offer then the others must have been pretty terrible. Scrag is shown on a monitor when Shredder makes a comment to Krang about experimenting on the punks, and when that happens, we see he’s become a bat (some supplemental material even gave him the name Bat Boy). There’s a quick shot later of the punks locked up in a cell, but Scrag’s final appearance comes in the fifth episode (the final of the original mini series) where Shredder uses him to demonstrate a reverse mutation ray which restores his original, human, look. After that, who knows what became of old Scrag? Presumably Shredder didn’t waste more mutagen on him to re-mutate him so he was either disposed of or allowed to leave. Shredder and Krang weren’t really portrayed as killers, so my guess who be they opened a portal and just chucked him somewhere and had a good laugh about it later.

I wouldn’t say the gang’s all here, but it’s more of it than we’ve ever had.

For a figure of Scrag, NECA turned to their Vernon body. We’ve seen that one reused before for Ace Duck and here it’s going serve us well as Scrag. And that’s because it will allow Scrag to be displayed in human or mutated form, but first let’s talk about human Scrag. Scrag stands a bit over 6″ and sports a black trench coat, purple shirt, and blue jeans. The main part of the coat is an overlay, as is the shirt, while the sculpted parts are basically all from Vernon including the neck piece. He has different shoes, which are just all black, and features these silly looking Mickey Mouse styled gloves. The head is the most obvious new piece and he looks pretty damn good. Some have been disappointed that the head-sculpts for this figure appeared to change noticeably from the initial solicitation, but I think both were changed to better reflect the source material. I suppose if you prefer one over the other that’s subjective, but as far as accuracy goes, this head-sculpt looks great. He has his unique hairstyle with hot pink painted on top and black on the underside plus his recognizable shades which feature one, continuous, lens, surrounded by a yellow frame. The only room for criticism I find with this guy is that just by virtue of sharing a body with Vernon he’s not exactly an impressive, physical, specimen. Scrag probably would have benefitted from some more mass, but the coat helps and I’m not surprised they went in this direction.

Scrag is also packing heat.

The paint on Scrag is less ambitious than what we saw with Dark Turtle, but still looks solid. The coat is all one color, save for the little logo on the chest that looks like a Pokémon, which is black so NECA didn’t bother shading it. And since it covers the shirt, they didn’t shade that either. There is shading on the pants with blue on the front and a dark blue on the back, but that’s it. The head is painted very clean though and there’s still plenty of painted black linework to be found on this guy. The white gloves are painted, but also appear to be cast in white plastic and they look fine, but will also transfer some of that white paint to anything he holds which is a bummer. I normally talk about accessories separately, but for the bat head I will say the paint looks awesome on it. There’s some nice linework inside the ears and his nose and teeth are painted cleanly. The frames of his glasses have a little gray sneaking onto them so that could have been cleaner, but it is what it is. It’s a tough spot and if it came out perfect I would be praising it, but since it didn’t, I have to mention it even if it’s understandable for this type of figure.

A bat holding a bat; now I’ve seen everything.

The articulation on Scrag is basically the same as Vernon only now we have a big overcoat to contend with. Both heads on this guy are pretty tight on the neck, but the base of the neck is articulated so I don’t have much trouble getting him to look up and down or rotate. And at least with it being tight, the front of the throat stays in-line with the chin on the un-mutated head. The shoulders are ball-hinged and oddly they’re very “clicky,” almost like they’re ratcheted. Maybe that was to help keep them in place since people will be tugging on the forearms to swap out parts? I don’t know, but by being this way it means you lose some nuance as the arm moves from click-to-click. They raise out to the side just fine and the elbows are the goofy NECA double-elbows with two swivels and two hinges, but they look okay on jacketed figures. The forearm rotates where it meets the sleeve and at the wrist the hands rotate and hinge in and out. There’s a diaphragm joint in this guy, but the overlay makes it useless. The waist rotates on a ball so you do get some nuance posing there as well. The hips are ball and socket joints and, like Vernon, are looser than I would like. He seems to stand better than either Vernon I have, but any wide stance would probably start to slide on its own after awhile. There is a slight thigh twist and the knees are double-jointed. The feet peg into the legs so you do get rotation, but it was very tight on mine. I only know it’s there because my figure’s toes were not in-line with the knees so I had to rotate them into place which took some force. After that though they move quite freely so I must have just needed to break up some paint. The ankles also hinge and rock side-to-side.

This is basically the only thing mutated Scrag did in the show – get shot.

Scrag moves as expected. There’s some room for more dynamic shots, but mostly he’s just going to stand around and try to look intimidating on your shelf. To help him do so he comes with a pair of weapons. Up first is a mallet. To my surprise, it’s not a repeat of the mallet that came with Casey Jones. I don’t know if it will show up somewhere else, but it looks fine. The handle is just a light brown while the head is sculpted to resemble an actual mallet, as opposed to just a rectangular cube, and it’s fine. The hands will likely transfer paint onto it though if you’re not careful. The other weapon is a revolver. It’s surprisingly not the same as the one that came with Ace Duck and it’s painted gray with a dark gray handle and some black linework. To wield these he has a right trigger finger hand and a left gripping hand. The trigger finger is subtle enough that it can work as just a gripping hand with the mallet. Both are hard plastic though and to get the weapons into his hands as clean as possible you may want to heat them up first. Especially if you want the trigger finger in the proper spot on the revolver. I plan to heat that hand to get the revolver on then just leave it.

How it might have looked if Scrag had been accepted into the mutant gang.

Lastly, Scrag has his optional bat parts. I already mentioned that the head is well-sculpted and pretty well-painted, so I don’t have much to add there. The forearms have fur sculpted onto them so they’re not just gray and the cuffs of the gloves are sculpted on as well so they’re not just taken from Vernon. The hands are these somewhat relaxed gripping hands which is a bit of an odd choice. You can swap the hands between the two sets of forearms, which is why I would have preferred something more dramatic, I suppose, for the bat arms. Or maybe just fists? These wide hands can’t hold either weapon, but I suppose could hold some of the stuff Bebop and Rocksteady came with in the Premonition of a Premutation four-pack. I’d try a spray paint can, but I don’t want the white paint to transfer. As far as swapping the parts goes, only the right arm was easy on mine. Getting the left arm off was easy, but the bat arm didn’t want to go on (and taking off is no picnic either). I had to heat that up. The head also didn’t want to come off so I heated that as well. I probably could have forced the issue, but I was afraid of the head coming off of the neck joint which would have been a pain to correct for. The hot water worked fine though and ultimately I’m not sure how I want to display this guy. I think his human form will work a little better in my display since he can go with the pre-mutated Bebop and Rocksteady. I also think the human form looks just a little bit better as the bat head sits really low on the shoulders. It doesn’t look bad or anything, but another half-centimeter on the neck might have helped.

I like the look of Bat-Scrag, but I think this is how he’s going to live on my shelf for now.

As is the case with all of these Loot Crates, how much you like this one will largely depend on how you feel about the included action figures. And in this case, I think we may have received the best ones yet. Dark Turtle was a figure high on my wants list and I think he turned out awesome. Scrag is another figure I wanted because he’s never had a figure before and he has a memorable look and he turned out just fine. And the fact that both came with this crate makes it feel like a good value. Of course, that part is purely subjective. Each crate costs 50 bucks so if you want to you can rationalize it as paying 25 each for Scrag and Dark Turtle, which is below MSRP these days at retail. On the other hand, you had to buy the other 3 crates too to get Scrag so it’s more like the price for that figure is spread amongst the others. Again, it’s all in how you want to rationalize it for yourself. The other stuff included really adds little or no value for me. I said I’m likely to display the vanity plate, but had that been sold separately it’s not something I would have purchased. Ultimately, we got two new figures for the toon line and I’m pretty happy with them.

That leaves one crate outstanding. The supposed crate #2 features Armaggon and is video game themed. We know the figure has been done for months and I believe even Randy at NECA confirmed it’s on US soil as well so something else is holding it up. My hope is it gets shipped soon so we can put this Loot Crate nonsense behind us. It sounds like there’s very little enthusiasm on NECA’s part to continue with this release model, but nothing has been confirmed. NECA has even shown off prototypes for the rest of Bebop and Rocksteady’s gang so we know they’re on the way, we just don’t know how NECA plans to release them. The very fact that they’ve been shown is a good indicator that they won’t have anything to do with Loot Crate so that’s a plus. Hopefully they’re not part of this NFT garbage the company recently unveiled through Walmart as that is a non-starter for me thus far. Whenever that crate gets shipped though, rest assured I will be here to tell you all about it.


Marvel Legends X-Men Animated Series Morph

It’s everyone’s favorite mutant back in plastic!

This is it! This is the big one! Back on Halloween of 1992 Fox premiered X-Men and we were introduced to a character named Morph. For comic readers, it was a bit of a re-introduction as Morph was based on the character Changeling, but for copywrite reasons, had to undergo a name change. Changeling wasn’t a popular character and was only briefly considered a member of the X-Men, but he was somewhat famous for basically one reason: he died. Comics, like soap operas, tend to feature death that is rarely permanent. Characters either die or appear to die, but often return and usually with some new threads! Changeling was a bit unique because he died and stayed dead and that’s what made him appealing to the writers of the show.

When the team headed up by writer Eric Lewald got settled in to write X-Men they really keyed in on the social commentary that was present in the story. A group of individuals are outcast due to no fault of their own while one of their chief villains is a survivor of the Holocaust. It was very easy to draw a straight line from the civil rights movement to what was going on in X-Men. Because of that, even though they were writing a TV show that would primarily be watched by children, they felt it needed to be grounded and also needed some real stakes. Taking a character and killing him off in the second episode was a way to create such stakes. In hindsight, the death of Morph should have been easy to see coming. He was modeled on a dead character from the books and he wasn’t even included in the show’s intro. We don’t learn anything about him during his brief stay on the show, he’s just there to be likable and make others laugh via his unique shape-shifting powers.

“Wolverine! Fall back!” (I had to do it)

And yet, we loved him. When you present something to a child and then tell them they can’t have it, it tends to create even more desire for it. That was the case with Morph. He seemed fun enough, but had he been a character like any other it’s quite possible he would have been one of the least favorites on the show. Because he was killed though, it’s totally different. We may not have known him very well, but we did get to see how his death impacted those we would get to know which made it resonate even more. The network would go on to claim that he ended up being the stated favorite character of the majority of kids who chose to write-in and share their thoughts on the show. There was enough of such letters that the network convinced Lewald to bring him back, even though he had intended for Morph to die and stay dead. He eventually agreed, but on the condition that he come back as a villain. You can’t just have someone die and come back all sunshine and flowers, they’re going to be pretty affected by such a traumatic thing, which is how we got Evil Morph in Season Two.

Because Morph is viewed as a unique creation for the show it was assumed that he would show up in this line of action figures from Hasbro eventually. And apparently some of those child letter writers from the 90s are still among us as there’s been a lot of support for a Morph figure based on his toon appearance for years. As a result, it was expected that this figure of Morph would have appeal outside of the line and those who aren’t interested in cel-shaded X-Men would cave for a Morph figure. Which is why it was hardly a surprise to see Morph unveiled as the line’s sixth release. We knew he was coming, it was just a matter of when. I thought maybe they would save him for a convention or maybe even as a tie-in for the show’s 30th anniversary, but he was just tossed out there in May and made available for pre-order shortly there-after. I have not been shy about my displeasure with the quality of this line and the shortcuts Hasbro has been willing to take. My hope has always been that the budget on some figures was lower than others so resources could be put towards a proper Morph because, perhaps more than any other, this figure needs to be good because this is THE character from the show and unlikely to see another release. And in some ways, my faith was rewarded, but in others not so much. Reader beware, I have a lot to say about this figure and it might come across as nit-picky so if you just want a fluff piece this won’t be it.

No one left you behind this time, Morph. And take that Cyclops, Morph is here before you!

Morph comes in the same VHS styled packaging with art by Dan Veesenmeyer as the rest of the line. It looks nice and we have a joyful looking Morph running from the Mutant Control headquarters just as he did in the show before tragedy struck. The figure itself is contained within and comes in a little bag. Many collectors hate this approach, but I can’t say it’s really done any harm yet as all of the figures I’ve received have been fine. Once free, Morph stands around 6.5″ and is depicted in his blue and yellow costume with the flight jacket. Morph is a slightly tricky release because for a character with just a handful of appearances in the show, he did have some different looks. We saw him with the jacket and without as well as with yellow gloves and without. He also switched from black to brown hair in his later appearances which is what the old Toy Biz figure went with in the vintage line. He’s probably a bit oversized as represented here, but not egregiously so.

Why can’t his face just look like the reference art?!

Let’s first talk about this head. Like most figures in the Marvel Legends line, we have a lot of reuse here, but the head is unique. For it, Hasbro tapped the excellent Paul Harding to sculpt it. Harding is one of the best out there and we’ve already looked at some of the stuff he’s done for NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line. A sculptor can only do as directed though, and for this figure Harding was instructed to do Morph, but make him in the “Marvel Legends style.” That style is to take a character from a comic, or in this case cartoon, and up the realism. Make them look believable. Unfortunately, I strongly disagree with this approach. You’re making a line of toys based on a cartoon specifically to match that look. We have Wolverine, Storm, Jubilee, etc in these costumes already in Marvel Legends, why do animated versions of them if they’re going to just be in the same style? It’s pointless! And it’s confusing, because we already received Wolverine and Hasbro gave him a new head that looks like the cartoon. Hasbro has done figures based on properties like Into the Spider-Verse within Marvel Legends which took a screen accurate approach, why not here?

Let me be clear, cel-shading on action figures is a good thing. It can really capture a certain aesthetic. Hasbro’s attempt at cel-shading is not. Why does the shading just stop at the shoulder, but pick up again after the bicep? Make it make sense!

As a result, this head-sculpt that comes on Morph leaves a lot to be desired. He’s very square-jawed when the show Morph had a very pointed chin and sunken cheeks. The extra detail on the face and painted lips (again, something Hasbro didn’t do with the animated Wolverine) further take away from the animated aesthetic had it been allowed to exist. They also did his hair in a dark brown. It’s too light to be the black-haired Morph we saw in seasons one and two, but too dark to be the brown-haired version we saw in “Courage” and later appearances. His expression is also very bland. It’s stoic, when anyone who has seen the show thinks of Morph in the same way he’s presented on the box art: with a smile. He’s a goof, that’s his defining characteristic. Practically every line out of his in the first episode is intended to make someone laugh, and if no one is around, he’s trying to make himself laugh as we saw when he’s watching TV. This head is so inappropriate for this character and release that I find it almost completely useless.

“I found your lifeless body…”

The rest of the figure is a mix of old and new. As far as I know, the entire upper body is recycled from a prior Cyclops release in a flight jacket. The main portion of the jacket is a soft plastic and features sculpted pockets and a zipper which looks fine, though the zipper is unpainted. The sleeves are molded, hard, plastic so the jacket is non-removable. The legs are new, and the floating X-Men belt might actually be new too. The legs are new so that they could make the thigh straps part of the sculpt which is a good move because they looked horrible on the old Cyclops figures. Some feel Hasbro placed them too high on the thigh, but I think they look fine and they’re obviously there to hide the thigh cut. And when I say “part of the sculpt,” I actually mean they sculpted out room for the straps on the legs as it still appears that the straps are a separate piece of plastic slid over the leg and glued in place. The knees are pin-less, and the straps above the boots are also sculpted in yellow plastic like the thigh straps. The body looks okay, maybe a little too thick for Morph, but not horribly out of place or anything. His hands do seem really large, but that’s a minor complaint. The neck is also inaccurate as there’s no end to Morph’s costume. Pretty much all of Morph’s neck is visible in the show, but here he has a turtleneck. Hasbro just had to paint the neck, but chose not to. And the paint in general is not great. The cel-shading is barely present on the jacket. There’s a swath of dark brown starting on the figure’s right collar going to the shoulder where it just stops for some reason, bypasses the biceps area, and then resumes at the elbow. On the figure’s left arm, it just starts at the biceps. There’s no shading on the front of the jacket at all and just a little under the pecs underneath. There’s a little hit of it on the belt which carries down to the trunks and one minor hit on each thigh and boot. Once again, Hasbro is using a mustard color to shade yellow which doesn’t look great, and for some reason the shading on his right boot is in a wavy line and mostly looks bad. Hasbro, if you’re going to do this bad of a job with cel-shading then why bother doing it at all?

“You will listen to me, Morph!”

It was my hope that Hasbro would go all out with Morph and really make him feel like an “ultimate” version of the character because how likely are we to see future Morph figures? Hasbro could have done so with accessories, but Hasbro declined to do much in that area. Morph comes with two heads: standard and evil. The Evil Morph head turned out rather well. He has a more gaunt appearance and the hair is a little darker. It’s also a little messy and he has the dark shading around his eyes as he has a hit of purple under the eye and black over it. Technically, his skin should be paler with a touch of yellow, but I’m not surprised to see Hasbro ignore that since then they would have had to do good and evil versions of his hands. Even ignoring that inaccuracy, it’s so much more livelier and on-model when compared with the standard head that I suspect most are going to display him as Evil Morph. Aside from that though, we get just two sets of hands: fists and open. Why not do a third head so we can have a brown haired option and a black haired one for standard Morph? Or a “Wolverine! Fall back!” expression? Why not a set of gripping hands, or at least one, so he can wield a gun like he did in the show? And how about said gun?! I personally would have loved a second set of arms to do a coat on or off look, but I didn’t actually expect that. I did expect more though and it’s a shame this is all we received. I really wanted Hasbro to go all-out for Morph, even if it meant tacking on a higher cost to purchase him, but they barely did half-ass.

Yeah, evil head all the way.

The articulation for Morph is basically what you expect out of Marvel Legends. He has the ball-hinged head that provides for good range, though looks “broken” from some angles. Even with the collar on the coat, he can still look up pretty well and range isn’t an issue. The ball-hinged shoulders let him get his arms out to the sides and rotate. There’s a biceps swivel, and single-hinged elbows that also swivel plus wrists that swivel and hinge. He does have a butterfly joint in the shoulders as well, but it’s functionally useless because of the jacket. The torso features an ab crunch that works fine though you have to work around the coat when bending backwards. The waist rotates and the hips go out to the side better than 45 degrees, but short of a full split. The legs kick forward to not quite horizontal and only kick back a touch since he has a sculpted bum. There’s a thigh swivel above the strap, so it’s well-hidden. The knees are double-jointed and work fine. There’s a boot cut below the straps and the ankles hinge and rock side-to-side and also work fine. It’s all pretty standard stuff and one of the things you can count on with Marvel Legends, be it the good parts or bad. I would like to see double-jointed elbows, but even without them his elbow can bend a little past 90 degrees and the aesthetic does at least look fine.

I don’t have any Marvel Legends hands to source, but a NECA TMNT Foot Soldier hand can work for Morph if you want him to wield a gun. The tone is slightly different since NECA paints it’s hands, but if you don’t pose it by his head like I’m doing here it probably looks fine on a shelf. The gun is from the Marvel Legends MCU Deadpool.

Morph is not the homerun I was hoping for, but he’s also not the dud that Jean was. The things holding him back are Hasbro’s direction and cheapness. I wish his standard portrait looked more like the show. I understand why it doesn’t, but I don’t agree with the approach. I don’t know who is responsible for the choice of expression on that head, but I also dislike that aspect of it. I also wish he had more stuff and that the cel-shading was better applied. One of those things is dictated by cost, the other by effort, and that’s a shame. No gripping hands is borderline unforgivable though. How much would that have cost? Twenty cents? Molds already exist for un-gloved gripping hands so it’s literally just the cost of plastic. If you don’t want to give us a gun, fine, but at least give us the hands so he can hold one from another figure. Mystique is on-deck, after all, and she has two guns! I could easily give one to Morph if he could only hold it. That’s less of an issue for those who are deep into Marvel Legends since they likely have some extra hands at their disposal, but I am not so lucky. If you’re collecting this line or have affection for the cartoon, you’re probably getting this figure no matter what I say. It’s an okay release, probably not worth the price Hasbro is charging these days, but most will be reasonably satisfied. It’s a shame that’s all we can seemingly hope for with this line, but it is what it is.

“Leaving without saying ‘goodbye?'” “Goodbye.”


%d bloggers like this: